The verses listed below are all commonly quoted out of context. They are quoted to make points that are taught in scripture but if we are people who believe the bible, we should quote verses in their proper context. We shall take each passage in turn;
“There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”
This is the verse quoted in many evangelistic tracts to make the point that all people are sinners. It is an undeniable fact that the Bible does teach that all people are fallen, as Paul states earlier in the chapter (Romans 3:10-12) but his point in verse twenty-three is that the church is made up of fallen people. Here is the quote in full;
“This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” (Romans 3:22-24)
“Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me”
This again is a verse used in evangelistic preaching and writing. Whilst it is certainly true that the Lord Jesus is seeking after lost people, (Luke 15, 19:10 and many other places), it is being dishonest to suggest Revelation 3:20 applies to unbelievers. The verse is part of our Lord’s call to a church, Laodicea, a church that was struggling, back -slidden and lukewarm. The previous verse states;
“Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent.”
If you are a believer, it is very good news. It means that the Lord Jesus is not satisfied with a failing relationship with us, even though its our fault. He is still seeking to have real and meaningful fellowship with his people.
The final passages quoted, Philippians 2:5-11 and Mark 10:45 are a little different in that both articulate towering spiritual truth and that truth is expounded correctly in the main. Many believe the famous passage in Philippians 2 made up part of an ancient song. The themes are majestic; the eternal status of Christ, his humility in life and death, his triumph and exaltation. Theologians study it in great depth and so they should, there is layer upon layer of wonderful truths set out in a few short verses.
In Mark 10:45, the Lord Jesus gives one of the clearest statements as to his great purpose and approaching redemptive sacrifice. It’s no wonder we concentrate on the idea of our Lord giving his life as a ransom for many, it is after all the heart of the Christian message, the Gospel.
However, when we read both passages in their context we see that the Lord Jesus and the Apostle Paul are addressing the same issue, selfishness. In Mark 10, the disciples are arguing as to who was the greatest among them (Mark9:33-34, 10:35-41). The response of the Saviour is extremely telling;
“You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:42-45)
The Lord is saying ‘If you want to follow me, start by being a servant because that’s my mission to serve and lay down my life’ . It’s so much easier for the Christian to think about Christ’s service for us than it is for us to think about being like him and serving others.
It gets even more difficult to ignore when we look at Philippians 2. Consider how Paul sets the scene;
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God…..” (Philippians 2:3-6)
If we miss it the first time, Paul keeps hammering away;
“I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, that I also may be cheered when I receive news about you. I have no one else like him, who takes a genuine interest in your welfare. For everyone looks out for his own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 2:19-21)
I could go on, as the point is made many times both here and elsewhere in the New Testament. As with the Mark 10 passage, it’s so much easier to dwell on the towering theology than it is to take in what Paul is actually saying; “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus”. Ouch!
We hear much of the ‘selfish gene’ but selfish attitudes have no place in the ‘Body of Christ’. We follow one who calls us to be slaves to all, he is our great example, the selfless suffering servant. Sadly, I think two attitudes pervade the 21st Century Church; firstly, I want power, to be in charge, let me entertain you and secondly, what’s in it for me, make me feel better, entertain me.
The default position for the Christian is to be a servant. It was a position adopted by Christ (Romans 15:8, John 13:1-17, Philippians 2:5-11), it is the label Paul used to describe himself on numerous occasions (Romans 1:1, Galatians 1:10, Ephesians 3:7, Colossians 1:25, Titus 1:1) as did Peter, James and Jude and it is the calling of every believer. We are called to give rather than receive.
Pliny the Younger was the governor of Bithynia 110-117AD and is perhaps best known for his many letters to prominent people that have survived. In a letter to the emperor Trajan, he seeks advice in his dealings with Christians. It is not an easy thing to read as he describes the persecution of believers, some to death and others, who out of fear, were forced to curse Christ. Near the end of the letter he chronicles the interrogation and torture of two slave women; I am told that evidence from slaves was only admissible if obtained through torture. He writes:
The fact that Pliny missed completely, as he had no knowledge of our faith, was that to be a Christian deaconess (servant) is to have an official role in the life of the church. Those who are great are slaves to all.
We follow a Saviour who washed dirty feet;
“When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” (John 13:12-17)
Sobering isn’t it.