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Philip Conley's Morning Thoughts

Morning Thoughts (John 13:14 – “Our Debt of Service”)

“Our Debt of Service”

(This subject is by request.)

John 13:14, “If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet.”

This morning, what is real service? What does it look like? Our present day, self-centered culture has lost touch with what true service entails. With governments throwing money at poverty and the rat race becoming more and more fast paced, we rarely give time or thought to what could be done for those in need. Whether on a personal or community level, the sense of aid and altruism looks more like the exception than the rule. To combat this – or any other problem in life – we only need consult the source material for standards: The Holy Bible. There we find a plethora of commands that instruct us to put self on the back burner so that others would be blessed. Years ago, a former football player – Gale Sayers – penned a book whose title gets to the heart of this subject called “I Am Third.” In the book the title is expounded to reflect God first, others second, and I am third.

Our study verse is one of the more well quoted verses during a communion and feet washing service. We hear about our Lord’s majestic stoop to servitude by washing His creation’s feet, and then the simple command He gives for us to do likewise. Yet, though the command is simple, consider how profound it truly is. Simple words with simple meanings can really bring to bear the great import of statements like this. While growing up, my natural father used the word “ought” a lot. One of the most common examples was when he would have to run errands in town. He would line out my work to do around the house and say, “When I get back from town, you ought to be done with all of this.” Heaven help you if he came home from town to find the tasks unfinished with no certifiable reason. Yet, even in that common usage growing up, we still do not really find the teeth of the word’s meaning.

The word “ought” is literally rendered to mean that we owe a debt. Instead of a suggestion, this command shows our responsibility. We owe debts to creditors who have power over us due to what is owed. Currently, I live in a house that is partly owned by a bank until I get the note paid off. My house payment is not a voluntary monthly item. If I want my family to continue to enjoy living there, I must pay it, else the bank has the power to forcefully remove my family and me from the house. That is the nature and power of a debt. Though this instance happens during a literal feet washing service (which is simply commanded to the church to keep literally as His example and service), the verse is a microcosm of a much broader application. What is to be performed literally in that service should be mirrored and reflected in all portions of service.

Let us begin by considering the Speaker, and then we shall turn our attention to His audience. In doing so, I believe the profound nature of this word (ought) will shine forth in exceeding splendor. The Speaker is the Lord from heaven. He is the Incarnate and Eternal Son of God. He is God. No less in power than the Father or Holy Ghost, He has all power, honour, knowledge, and glory. Would it be proper to say that this Great One was in debt? Years ago, I would have answered the question incorrectly as I have heard it said all my life, “God does not owe us anything. He is not obligated to us at all.” While the statement was made honestly, the sense of it is wrong. It would be more proper to say, “God did not owe us anything, and He was not obligated to us at all.” What is the difference between the two? The difference of sense comes from a difference of tense.

In God’s character and nature, He owed us nothing. As the eternal, self sufficient, and great I AM, He was beholden to nobody and nothing. Should He have chosen never to create a universe, nothing in His essence or being would have changed. Yet, He chose to create this great physical realm. He chose to create man in His image. Further, He covenanted with Himself (before creation itself) to redeem His people from the ruin of sin-cursed creation that He knew we would enter into. To affect this covenant, His Son willingly and joyfully entered into the contract to redeem us from ruin by becoming one of us (a man) and standing where we should have stood. He died the traitor’s death so that traitors would live in glory with all majesty.

In addition to that, He agreed to fulfill all that was foretold and laid upon Him. Not only did He die for us on Calvary and rise again from the dead, He also lived for us to show us the good way where rest is found for the soul. In that short 33.5 year span, He fulfilled every prophecy made of Him, fulfilled all righteousness through His conduct, and gave us the perfect, supreme example of what a true servant does in his service. The high water mark of this living servitude came that night when He knelt down before them. Not only had they never seen a master do this, no master compared to this Master! Doubtless, Peter was honest in his initial prevention of Christ just as John the Baptist was with his until Christ instructed both of them more perfectly. John was told that his participation with Christ fulfilled all righteousness. Peter was told that unless washed he had no part with Christ. Both of them then willingly submitted to the service.

Why would THE LORD and THE MASTER kneel down to creation? Isaiah 42 prophesizes this when the LORD declares that the GodMan Jesus (His Elect) would be His servant. No doubt this prophecy pertains to Christ as the New Testament tells us so, but the LORD calls His Son “My servant.” To fulfill all that this pertained to, Christ had to come in the form of a servant though He be Lord of all. Consider Him. Consider His humility and meekness. Consider the power of this one to submit to such a contradiction of sinners against Himself. (Hebrews 12:3) He not only fulfilled the legal requirements of the law for our justification, He fulfilled all the prophecy for our chief example for life. Why? Because He owed a debt. What debt? To do all that the Godhead promised to do. He owed us, not because we were His creditors, but because we were the blessed recipients of His contract. God obligated Himself to us! To fail to do pay any portion of His debt of service would have invalidated His covenant and His nature, which is why the Lord included in Isaiah’s prophecy (Isaiah 42:5) that He will not fail nor be discouraged. Blessed thought!

Looking from the Speaker to His audience, let us point the glass at ourselves no matter how bitter the image. How well are we paying our debt? We have a debt, as this verse tells us. We owe Him our service, our best affection, and our first priority in life. To fulfill that, it is imperative that we view one another (His people) as we view Him. The King will one day tell His sheep “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” (Matthew 25:40b) Whether in literal stooping at our brother’s feet or in various aspects of servitude, we are “paying” on the debt we owe Him. He receives our service to one another just as if it were a payment made directly to Him. How often do we think of that when dealing with our brethren? Sobering indeed.

Whether speaking of officers in the church (elders and deacons), fellow disciples of Christ, etc. we owe Him service and ought to be willing and obedient to pay. Elders serve the church ministering to her in the feeding of knowledge and instruction, being apt to teach. (Jeremiah 3:15, I Timothy 3:2) Deacons serve the church by holding the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience so that they can purchase to themselves a good degree with boldness in the faith of Christ Jesus. (I Timothy 3:9, 13) As “leaders,” the leading comes through the example of service. Pastors serve through example, and deacons do as well. The example of knowing and/or instructing in the principles of the faith and showing forth with all fidelity the good life to lead. In like manner, devoted disciples show forth the same fidelity and care one for another, with each esteeming others better than themselves.

Consider us. We do not have the eternal nature and self sufficiency of Him. We have not created. We have not redeemed. We are not perfect. Yet the One who is all these things and more did these things for us. How reasonable is it that we do these things for Him through and to one another? Years ago, I observed perhaps two of the most touching things during a communion service that have stayed with me ever since. I observed an old and respected deacon as he washed his brother’s feet. While washing, his tears fell into the bowl, and as he rose from his knees, he cast his eyes to heaven saying, “Lord, there is some of what I owe you.” This man held the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience, knowing what the word “ought” means.

Years later, my wife and budding family were visiting with a church during their communion. The children we had were very small and getting loud. Sitting up front assisting the service, my wife was forced to wrestle them alone until she had to go out due to their noise. She stayed out of the sanctuary until we starting singing the hymn before going out. As she re-entered, the pastor leaned in and said, “We need to keep singing for a while.” Nodding to the deacons who distributed the table, they took the bread and wine back to my wife as the sisters began a procession line to her. After partaking of the table elements, some of the sisters took the children from my wife, while another who was already girded knelt down before her to allow her to partake of the service. Friends, they may have been singing, but I was too touched to do anything but weep. After service, I thanked everyone that had assisted in allowing my wife to partake, and they all said the same thing, “It was the least we could do. He has done so much for us.”

Whatever your calling and station in life, remember how much we owe Him. Remember how devoted He is to us. So should we be devoted to one another. Many times you will hear it said at communion, “You can’t be at your brother’s throat, when you kneel at his feet.” When our hearts stay prostrate before our Lord and our brother’s feet, we exemplify the attitude and position of Christ. When our affection is tuned to things above, we really are third. Remember my house analogy from above. I live in a house the bank owns. One day I will live in a house that God dwells in that His Son bought for me. While here, I live in His earth, and dwell in His church. They belong to Him, but I get to use and enjoy them. Just as I must pay the bank for the living in my house, I owe the Lord to live here and the privilege of being part of His kingdom and church. May we daily and constantly serve, knowing that our Master is owed these things, and use His willing and cheerful example to guide us as He paid all that was required of Him.

In Hope,
Bro Philip

Philip Conley's Morning Thoughts

Morning Thoughts (John 7:6 – “Time to Die”)

“Time to Die”

This subject is by request.

John 7:6, “Then Jesus said unto them, My time is not yet come: but your time is alway ready.”

This morning, one of the more common misconceptions across the Christian world is the idea that everyone has a fixed, unchangeable “time to die.” Many very well-meaning people do not consider the ramifications of such a belief, and even the most Arminian “I can do it” types still lean heavily on this very fatalistic thought. It is not uncommon to hear a group of people say shortly before or after a funeral, “Well, nothing you can do about it. When your time to punch out comes, that’s it.” Though it is undoubtedly true that God knows when all people will die (He is omniscient), that does not mean that there are not factors and circumstances regarding people’s exit from this life. Since we were asked to write about this subject, let us consider the idea of our “time to go.”

Scripture does teach that death has a time as Solomon speaks of a time to die in his Ecclesiastes 3 discussion. So, the term appears in Scripture, but it does not appear in the vein that so many use it today. If it were true that the phrase a “time to die” in Ecclesiastes 3 spoke of an unalterable time that we could not change one way or another, then it would equally hold that the coupled phrase a “time to be born” would be likewise. However, many factors can contribute to a child not being born “on time.” Some come early through problems, some are taken early through C-sections, and other examples could be used. This “time to be born” was not fixed and unalterable, particularly in those cases where doctors did emergency surgery to save the child and mother’s life. Solomon is simply saying that both birth and death are time bound situations. Birth and death do not exist outside of time, season, and life under the sun. We will die in time, but our death does not prevent nor follow us to the wonderful shores of eternity.

Getting to our study verse, Jesus very succinctly shows 2 things in His statement. 1. His time to die was fixed and 2. Ours is not. If anyone had a “time to die” that was ordained, Jesus would be the one, since the Bible is replete with examples of His time being not yet come, and His hour not yet come. Some might balk at the idea of Christ’s death being ordained since men were instrumental in what happened to Him, but consider the following: 1. They wanted Him dead many, many times before Calvary but were prevented, 2. They could only take Him that night in the Garden of Gethsemane when He suffered it, as He not only prevented Peter but did not request more than 12 legions of angels from His Father, 3. Even while suffering on Calvary, He would not die until He (Life Itself) allowed Death through the door by laying down His life. Though sinful, wicked men did to Him what they had wanted to do since His birth, He is victorious in the laying down and taking up again of His own life.

Jesus’ death hour was both known and agreed upon by the Godhead, and therefore, Jesus did not recoil at the idea in the opening verses of John 7 that the Jews were actively seeking to kill Him. Our study verse is a response that Christ makes to the people that warned Him of the Jews’ purpose. He knew His hour and time, but He then remarked that our time is alway ready. When I think of this statement, it literally can be read, “You can go at any time.” This idea goes hand in hand with Job’s warning, “No man is sure of his life.” (Job 24:22b)

Both the statement by our Lord and Job seem to slice at the heart of the idea that we have fixed, absolute points of death that nothing changes. Were that true, what is the point of being responsible behind the wheel of a car? If it is your time, it does not matter, and if it is your time, it does not matter. What would be the point of punishing murderers? They were simply carrying out fixed and ordained “time slots” by ending lives when they were supposed to end. However, the most damning illustration of this erroneous idea is the thought of praying for loved ones. If one of our family is dying, why pray for their recovery? If it is their time, they will go. If it is not, they will stay. So, why pray?

Friends, the truth is far more sobering. Our lives are fragile things, as the Lord here states. We are – as David said – but a step between us and death. (I Samuel 20:3) Jesus’ statement should serve as notice for us to be circumspect and diligent in our efforts to serve Him as well as we can. We do not know how many more opportunities we may have in this life. We could step outside later and perish in the street, or we could simply pass away before ever going outside. We lay down at night not knowing for sure whether we will awake in the morning. Our lives are just that brittle, and we can go at any time. This idea lends itself to a far more God-honouring service than the belief that we will die when “it’s our time.”

The erroneous “time to die” thought can breed reckless endangerment, but the “we can go at any time” thought of fragility breeds fervent and passionate service. Consider the next opportunity that you have to go to God’s house for worship. Could that be your last time? What about the next prayer you make? Might that be your last one? Today’s reading and studying of God’s word might be your “last pass” across the sacred pages while occupying this weak dusty frame. If we truly considered how these events might be the last time we ever get to do them, what efforts would we take to make them our best moments in those activities?

Years ago, I heard a minister (at the time of this writing he is very weak physically and almost completely debilitated from a stroke) say something at an associational meeting. He was addressing the idea of how we come to the house of God, “I’m getting quite old, and I know that each moment here could be my last service with the saints in the church. But, young folks, this could be your last too. None of us knows. Since we don’t know, how about we come here determined that this is going to be our best time in the house of God? How about we lay down anything that doesn’t need to be here, and put all our heart, soul, mind, and energy into making this service the best we ever had?” Amen and amen. Brethren, we can go at any time, let us put our hands in together and work to make our last moments on earth the best moments we ever had.

In Hope,
Bro Philip