Spiritual Contemplations for those who serve the Lord
“And above all things have fervent love for one another, for 'love will cover a multitude of sins.'” (1 Peter 4:8)
The subject of this month's article is fervent love and its wonderful effect on our hearts and emotions as well as the blessings wrought by it. By the nature of our calling we, servants, come face to face with human weaknesses and shortcomings; and we are called to deal with them not only in love but to do so fervently. Ardent love does miraculous behavioral changes. These alterations are manifested in four virtues.
A heart full of compassion finds excuses for a brother's fault without lingering too long nor too much on those mistakes. While the apostles were impatient with the multitude pushing them away from the Master considering them ignorant and chaotic, Our Lord Jesus Christ regarded the people as a herd in need of a shepherd never complaining about their pressing hard and close to Him. “But when He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd. Then He said to His disciples, 'The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.'” (Matthew 9:36-38). “Then little children were brought to Him that He might put His hands on them and pray, but the disciples rebuked them. But Jesus said, 'Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of heaven.' And He laid His hands on them and departed from there” (Matthew 19:13-15).
What a lesson for all the servants who appoint themselves soldiers ordained to chastise, scold and threaten; forgetting that they are called to be compassionate, loving teachers. Fervent love creates a new prospect of kindness towards people rejecting their bad behavior while still loving them; understanding the inherent weakness of the human nature which is shared by all people. The same mistakes you hate are the same mistakes and many more with which Satan tempts you causing you to fall in their snare away from the eyes of the public.
This type of tolerance is the reality that God had revealed to Jonah when He explained to him the reason for wanting to save Nineveh. “And should I not pity Nineveh, that great city, in which are more than one hundred and twenty thousand persons who cannot discern between their right hand and their left—and much livestock?” (Jonah 4:11). Son of Sirach offers an advice on how to treat the elders, “Son, support your father in his old age, and do not grieve him in his life. And if his mind should fail, show kindness; and do not spurn him when you are in your strength. For almsgiving to the father will never be forgotten. For even in return for the sin of the mother, good will be repaid to you” (Sirach 3:14-16).
The best example of forbearance offered by the Holy Bible is that of Jacob. His love for Rebekah led him to relentlessly bear Laban's tyranny who deceived him into serving double the time they had first agreed upon. There is no human interpretation for Jacob's performance except his internal stamina and love for Rebekah that urged him to accept to work seven more years that seemed like a few days.
Let us learn genuine covering of our brethren's sins from our Lord Jesus Christ Who in spite of the Pharisees' endeavor to defame and execute the woman found in adultery; yet artistically He covered her sins encouraging her to stop sinning and offer repentance. So many people are in the same situation as that woman and are in need of cover instead of exposure because they are exposed enough before themselves covered only with shame and low selfesteem. Our Lord Jesus Christ recommended and reciprocated mercy. “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” (Matthew 5:7). “And above all things have fervent love for one another, for 'love will cover a multitude of sins.'” (1 Peter 4:8).
Fervent love does not know hatred, or live with resentment or hard feelings; because that would be contradictory to the nature of love. If you cannot forgive even the big grievances, how can you love? Our Lord Jesus Christ stated the principal, “You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them” (Matthew 7:16-20).
Lack of forgiveness is lack of love; and the inability to forgive springs from the inability to love. We do not often talk about the loving heart of the prodigal son's father. However, such pristine quality deserves more attention. Despite the grievous offence directed to him from the ungrateful son, whose act implied inheriting his father like a dead person would be inherited; yet the father met that ingratitude with immense love. Every day he would wait for his son's return with a heart full of love and an attitude full of forgiveness and readiness to erase the son's deeds as if nothing had happened.
The father was preoccupied not with seeing the situation fixed, but with seeing his son's heart and mind fixed. Lack of forgiveness has closed hearts and homes and opened the court doors wide open for divorce and the destruction of the family structured and blessed by God. God has always been in favor of forgiveness, ready to implement it; “'Remember these, O Jacob, and Israel, for you are My servant; I have formed you, you are My servant; O Israel, you will not be forgotten by Me! I have blotted out, like a thick cloud, your transgressions, and like a cloud, your sins. Return to Me, for I have redeemed you.'” (Isaiah 44:21-22). “I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions for My own sake; and I will not remember your sins” (Isaiah 43:25). It was for salvation and the forgiveness of sins that Christ came to our world. “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:14- 15).
Appreciation is an offspring of love. Where there is no love there is no appreciation. To appreciate someone is to value them and praise their performance no matter how trifle it might be. Accumulated insults lead to hardening of the heart leaving no room for reconciliation. Hence the common expected question, "how can I forgive all these offenses that are beyond human capacity?" Human capacity is limited when it comes to dealing with hurtful or traumatic situations. However, the only solution resides with grace granted by the Holy Spirit. Only God's grace is capable of upholding us.
Fervent love inspired and upheld by the Holy Spirit, does wonders in terms of giving energy to appreciate each other, forgive insults, forget offences and cover up for others' sins. “Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away” (1 Corinthians 13:8). The virtue of love is not inherent in us. We receive it from God, the source of all love. “He who loves his brother abides in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling in him. But he who hates his brother is in darkness and walks in darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes” (1 John 2:10-11). “He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another ” (1 John 4:8-11). “And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold. But he who endures to the end shall be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:12-14).
May God the source of all love fill our hearts with genuine fervent love. The message of fervent love is the only message of hope we, servants, can deliver to a sinner burdened with sin and to a world filled with the venom of hatred. “But if you will not hear it, my soul will weep in secret for your pride; my eyes will weep bitterly and run down with tears, because the Lord’s flock has been taken captive” (Jeremiah 13:17). “Hear the word of the Lord, O nations, and declare it in the isles afar off, and say, 'He who scattered Israel will gather him, and keep him as a shepherd does his flock.'” (Jeremiah 31:10). “As a shepherd seeks out his flock on the day he is among his scattered sheep, so will I seek out My sheep and deliver them from all the places where they were scattered on a cloudy and dark day” (Ezekiel 34:12).
Communication in its simplest definition is the act of transferring information. Every communication involves a sender (or senders), a message (or messages) and a recipient (or recipients). Communication was created by God as a fundamentally important means to the existence and survival of His creation, sharing with them His ideas, information, views, facts, feelings and they alternatively with each other.
The Old Testament is full of incidents of God's communication with humans starting from Adam to Abraham, Moses, and all the prophets just for the purpose of sending messages and sharing His mind and purpose. Therefore, it is necessary not to think of communication as a modern innovation limited to and enhanced by the modern technological means.
Communication and Service
Since God Himself shad sensed the importance of communication, therefore, we His servants must follow His footsteps and communicate with those whom we serve. Communicating here does not mean learning how to use the modern means of social media but communicating in the sense God has meant it to be as for example, when He sent Moses saying to him: “Then Moses said to the Lord, 'O my Lord, I am not eloquent, neither before nor since You have spoken to Your servant; but I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.' So the Lord said to him, 'Who has made man’s mouth? Or who makes the mute, the deaf, the seeing, or the blind? Have not I, the Lord? 12 Now therefore, go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall say.' But he said, 'O my Lord, please send by the hand of whomever else You may send.'” (Exodus 4:10-13).
Another example is Jeremiah: “But the Lord said to me: 'Do not say, ‘I am a youth,’ For you shall go to all to whom I send you, and whatever I command you, you shall speak. Do not be afraid of their faces, for I am with you to deliver you,' says the Lord. Then the Lord put forth His hand and touched my mouth, and the Lord said to me: 'Behold, I have put My words in your mouth. See, I have this day set you over the nations and over the kingdoms, to root out and to pull down, to destroy and to throw down, to build and to plant.'” (Jeremiah 1:7-10).
Three Important Cornerstones of Communication
1-Communicating with God
Communicating with God, in its rudimentary meaning is standing before God and continually remaining in His presence. “This shall be a continual burnt offering throughout your generations at the door of the tabernacle of meeting before the Lord, where I will meet you to speak with you” (Exodus 29:42). “But the priests, the Levites, the sons of Zadok, who kept charge of My sanctuary when the children of Israel went astray from Me, they shall come near Me to minister to Me; and they shall stand before Me to offer to Me the fat and the blood,' says the Lord God” (Exodus 44:15).
Those two incidents prove that God stresses the importance of standing before Him and communicating with him our hearts' desires conveying through prayers and supplications our needs and the ones of those whom we serve.
For a servant, communicating with God means:
A servant who excels in communication with God will earn wisdom, discernment and immeasurable peace.
2- Communicating with Co-servants
A servant may be highly qualified and skilled; but if he does not possess good communication skills, all his ability becomes irrelevant. A servant must realize the importance of effective communication with the other servants serving with him in the same service. Unfortunately, ignoring this aspect of communication, either intentionally or unintentionally, becomes detrimental leading gradually to big problems, opening the door wide to Satan to plant the seeds of strife and dissension that will ultimately lead to loss of love and compassion.
Communication can be conducted in various ways: verbally, nonverbally, visually or through writing. If any of these means are misused or abused through authoritarianism, disrespect, domineering, ignoring of others' opinions, belittling the service of others; then the result will ultimately be bad communication or the complete lack of it.
On the other hand, transparency and openness are the best tools of successful communication. St Paul practiced and taught good communication as it is obvious in his words to the Ephesian elders, “From Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called for the elders of the church. And when they had come to him, he said to them: 'You know, from the first day that I came to Asia, in what manner I always lived among you, serving the Lord with all humility, with many tears and trials which happened to me by the plotting of the Jews; how I kept back nothing that was helpful, but proclaimed it to you, and taught you publicly and from house to house, testifying to Jews, and also to Greeks, repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.'” (Acts 20:17-21).
Effective communication brings about:
3- Communicating with those whom you serve
Communication with those whom you serve, the backbone of service, has totally different facets because a servant is chosen not for the purpose of implementing his own agendas and opinions. Rather a servant is primarily God's servant of God's children and their shepherd.
Christ has given the specifications of the good shepherd '"I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep. But a hireling, he who is not the shepherd, one who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees; and the wolf catches the sheep and scatters them. The hireling flees because he is a hireling and does not care about the sheep. I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own. As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd.'” (John 10:11-16).
A servant is said to have accomplished successful service when:
The essence of true love is defined by St John, “My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth. And by this we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before Him” (1 John 3:18-19).
The meaning of unreserved devotion to service is expressed by St. Paul, “What then was the blessing you enjoyed? For I bear you witness that, if possible, you would have plucked out your own eyes and given them to me. Have I therefore become your enemy because I tell you the truth?” (Galatians 4:15-16).
Both St. John and St. Paul have lived in an era wherein none of the present means of fast communication had existed; yet their messages have spread throughout the whole world in the most powerfully effective, concise, emphatic friendly, appreciative, polite emotion-controlled ways. How much more successful could service ever be!
That achievement is described as success beyond success.
* Adapted from The Monthly Message to the Fathers, the Priests - Coptic Orthodox Diocese of the Southern United States - November 2021
St. Gregory the Theologian, said in the Gregorian Divine Liturgy, "You, O my Master, have turned for me the punishment into salvation" (St. Gregory Divine Liturgy). How wonderful is this love that has turned punishment into salvation and restoration. Stunned by the height, depth, length and width of this love, St. Gregory reiterated, "Ineffable is the power of Your wisdom, and no manner of speech can measure the depth of Your love toward mankind" (St. Gregory Divine Liturgy). About this unlimited love, St. John says, "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life" (John 3:16).
When describing the time of our Lord's departure, St. John also addressed this love saying, "Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that His hour had come that He should depart from this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end" (John 13:1). Describing furthermore this love, St. John wrote, "Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God! Therefore the world does not know us, because it did not know Him" (1 John 3:1).
After Adam and Eve had sinned, we inherited death. However, God, out of his unlimited love, had already prepared a salvation plan, the heavy cost of which, was paid by his death with us and for us for the sake of saving us from the tongs of eternal death granting us eternal life.
St. Paul described this plan succinctly saying, "who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Philippians 2:6-11).
To many people, death is a dark, despicable, frightening issue to be avoided if possible. However, through His incarnation, Jesus Christ has changed the concept of death completely. St. Paul says, "Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage" (Hebrews 2:14-15); "but has now been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ, who has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel" (2 Timothy 1:10). We also read in the Holy Gospel according to St. John, "Jesus said to her, 'I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live.'" (John 11:25); "Jesus said to him, 'I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.'" (John 14:6).
God created Adam a living being, "And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being" (Genesis 2:7). Consequently, with Adam's disobedience, the spirit of God could no longer find rest in Adam and Eve. "And the Lord said, 'My Spirit shall not strive with man forever, for he is indeed flesh; yet his days shall be one hundred and twenty years.'" (Genesis 6:3).
As a result, the Word of God condescended and chose to incarnate without losing His deity. Then, at the appointed time for Him to start His ministry, He got baptized in the Jordon River. "And John bore witness, saying, 'I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and He remained upon Him. I did not know Him, but He who sent me to baptize with water said to me, 'Upon whom you see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.' And I have seen and testified that this is the Son of God.'" (John 1:32-34).
Since He is the One Who would eventually baptize with the Holy Spirit, it was necessary that He be baptized for our sake because He bore us within His flesh. As St. Paul has vividly described it, "For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones" (Ephesians 5:30). St. Cyril the Pillar of Faith says, "Christ has not received the Holy Spirit for Himself; but for us who are in Him. For, all the good things flow in us through Him. For, as Adam through his succumbing to the deception and subsequent disobedience and sin, could not retain the grace of the Holy Spirits thus incurring the loss of God's good gift on the whole human race, it was necessary for the Logos, Who knows no change, to become man in order as a man to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit and restore it forever in Him for our sake."
Pain and Death for Salvation and Resurrection
St. Cyril continues to say, "For what purpose had the Logos, the only begotten Son, obtained for Himself a human body becoming man just like us in appearance? It was for the sake of ridding the human nature of sin by killing sin and subsiding the sting of the instincts that lead to abominable desires. However, He did not accomplish all of these goals for Himself (since He is without sin); but it was for the sake of reconstructing our nature once again and of making it in His likeness, sanctified, blameless without sin that He became man like us."
He preceded us in everything so that when we follow His steps, we obtain death, that is to say dwindling of the sinful desires within us. "And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence" (Colossians 1:18).
St. Cyril explains that God, the incarnate, has gotten for Himself a mortal body like ours in order to experience our pain, and be tempted with the same temptations. This means that He does not get to know pain and temptation as God; but as man.
St. Paul refers to the sufferings that Jesus Christ had bore in His human nature, having overcome them and having granted us the power to overcome them as well. "For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted" (Hebrews 2:18).
"Therefore, since Christ suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind, for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin" (1 Peter 4:1). "For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps" (1 Peter 2:21).
"who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously; who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness—by whose stripes you were healed" (1 Peter 2:23-24).
The Lord Jesus Christ suffered in the flesh, but was alive in the spirit. Therefore, He destroyed death with His death and revealed Resurrection through His resurrection, "For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit" (1 Peter 3:18).
Raised and Seated with Him in the Heavens
St. Paul says, "Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin" (Romans 6:4-6).
God was not just satisfied with emptying Himself becoming like a slave in the likeness of people; but in love for His handmade humanity, He willingly bore our pains and sufferings and obeyed to the extent of accepting death on the cross. He could have possibly destroyed that generation of sinners and created a new one as He had told Moses after the people had carved for a statue for worship. "And the Lord said to Moses, 'Go, get down! For your people whom you brought out of the land of Egypt have corrupted themselves. They have turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them. They have made themselves a molded calf, and worshiped it and sacrificed to it, and said, ‘This is your god, O Israel, that brought you out of the land of Egypt!’' And the Lord said to Moses, 'I have seen this people, and indeed it is a stiff-necked people! Now therefore, let Me alone, that My wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them. And I will make of you a great nation.'" (Exodus 32:7-10).
Therefore, not because of any deservedness on our side, we who are fallen in sin and dead in iniquities, but in His rich mercy and abundant love, God made us alive in Jesus Christ. By grace we are saved. "But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus" (Ephesians 2:4-6).
St. Gregory of Nyssa wrote, "Since our nature needed total rescue from death, He stretched out His hand and stooped coming very close to that dead body as if to personally come in touch with death in order to allow His life to run through our dead nature and thus resurrect man completely. Because His human body that carries His deity and which through resurrection is raised with His deity, is from the same texture of our human body, therefore, His resurrection has been transferred to us all by virtue of the connection and unity between all. An analogous situation is the spread to all the body the sensational effect caused by one of the senses."
Thus when Jesus Christ rose from the dead He raised us with Him. That is why St. Paul said, "The Lord said to my Lord, 'Sit at My right hand, till I make Your enemies Your footstool.'" (Psalm 110:1). He said it again "and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus" (Ephesians 2:6). To the Ephesians He says, "even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)" (Ephesians 2:5).
"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will" (Ephesians1:3-5). "If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God" (Colossians 3:1).
In His concluding prayer, the Lord asked of the Father for our sake, "'Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me; for You loved Me before the foundation of the world.'" (John 17:24).
Thus the Lord has reigned and is clothed with majesty, "It is good to give thanks to the Lord, and to sing praises to Your name, O Most High" (Psalm 92:1).
Therefore, since we are "members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones", our place is with Him because He is in us and we are in Him. Through His resurrection, He has brought to life the hope in an imperishable inheritance in heaven described by St. Peter as, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you" (1 Peter 1:3-4).
The Need for Self-Evaluation
Every servant should look at self-evaluation as a necessary process carried out not only at the end of a fiscal year but as a continuous endeavor that throws light on his performance and the success or failure therein. Self assessment requires sitting quietly with oneself, developing self awareness that leads to evaluation of performance, productivity, achievements and hence the required improvements.
In addition to the assessment, correction and direction of the Holy Spirit,; self evaluation requires emphasis on three important dimensions:
2. Emotions and motives
1. Assessment of Goals
A servant's goals in service, both for himself and for those whom he serves, must be spiritual in nature entirely stripped of personal or earthly gains; always pointing towards Jesus Christ and spiritual accomplishments under the direction of Jesus Christ's teachings. St. Paul emphasized this concept saying, “For I am jealous for you with godly jealousy. For I have betrothed you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:2).
Focusing on spirituality as a primary goal, safeguards against dispersion of thoughts and loss of peace. In addition, remembering that service is from the Lord directed to the Lord, will confirm the need for the Lord as the one and only one goal; as Lord Jesus Christ Himself has confirmed “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.'” (Luke 10:41-42).
It is important to know that spirituality does not stand in the way of diversification and innovation in service provided spirituality remains the main goal. The best example in balancing out a spiritually directed service is St. Paul as revealed in his words, “to the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. Now this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I may be partaker of it with you” (1 Corinthians 9:22-23).
Any service that has the salvation of souls as its primary goal is a quiet, faith-charged service full of consolation and satisfaction.
2. Assessment of Emotions and Motives
In general, self-appraisal is not an easy task. It requires honest and thorough critical reflection on oneself. Such reflection helps synthesize emotions and motives of the heart and analyze the modes and causes of actions in order to gain control over one's own spiritual growth and promote it. “For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God” (1 Corinthians 2:11-12).
A faithful servant should be honest with himself not allowing delusion to creep in his heart because of people's praise. Critical reflection helps a servant analyze the motives behind his service whether they are for financial gains, love for authority, egoistical satisfaction; all of them being anything but spiritual and all them being far away from the real godly goal in service which is the glory of God and not the self.
Solomon gives the most outstanding sequence in conducting critical thinking and the therapeutic steps to be taken thereafter “Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life. Put away from you a deceitful mouth, and put perverse lips far from you. Let your eyes look straight ahead, and your eyelids look right before you. Ponder the path of your feet, and let all your ways be established. Do not turn to the right or the left; remove your foot from evil” (Proverbs 4:23-27).
The "servant" status is neither guarantee nor immunity against change of motives and personal agendas. In fact, replacement of goals with new earthly ones can easily take place and any servant is very much exposed to abominable changes of heart.
Judah Iscariot is an example of a perverted heart. His presence and service with Jesus Christ in very close proximity did not stop him from selling his Master. King Saul is another example of a perverted heart. Although God had given him a new heart and zeal for accomplishing God's mission, yet gradually his heart started to change becoming filled with envy and jealousy against David to the extent that he wanted to kill him.
St. Paul urges the Philippians to follow his example and pattern “For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame—who set their mind on earthly things” (Philippians 3:18-19).
This proves the constant need for revising our goals and motives always praying for God's protection repeating with David, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my anxieties; and see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23-24).
3. Assessment of Performance
Performance incorporates a servant's manner and style of conducting service which is in direct relation with his personality. Examples of different performances resulting from different personality profiles appear in different styles of management ranging from very strict to very lenient, very spiritual to very dialectical and very rule oriented. Hence, for the boat of service to sail smoothly in a sea of ups and downs and lots of turmoil, a servant may need to avoid rigid imposition and make some personality adaptations if his work in some areas is not adequate before his service fails and he gets to be blamed.
This does not mean that a servant changes his personality to the extent of becoming pleaser of men. Rather, he should ask the Holy Spirit's wisdom and guidance to fulfill his primary goal which is relaying faithfully the message of the Lord Jesus Christ for the salvation of souls taking St. Paul's service as an example of a balanced service feeding milk to those who were not ready to receive solid food, “And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ. I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able; 3 for you are still carnal. For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men? For when one says, 'I am of Paul,' and another, 'I am of Apollos,' are you not carnal?” (1 Corinthians 3:1-4).
The best example of a servant who has adopted critical thinking as a route to self-evaluation, assessment of performance under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and stability of goal is the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.
This is clear in His words to the apostles wherein and thereby he has established a number of norms. “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you. All things that the Father has are Mine. Therefore I said that He will take of Mine and declare it to you” (John 16:12-15).
The Lord Jesus knew when and how to cater for the needs of different genres of people addressing His disciples differently than the multitudes of people or the Pharisees and Sadducees. Since variables are too many and the constants are few, priests should remain constant to the constants i.e spirituality in service while revising their production according the requirements and needs of the time of their service. David describes the various manners God uses saying “With the merciful You will show Yourself merciful; with a blameless man You will show Yourself blameless; with the pure You will show Yourself pure; and with the devious You will show Yourself shrewd. You will save the humble people; but Your eyes are on the haughty, that You may bring them down. 'For You are my lamp, O Lord; the Lord shall enlighten my darkness. For by You I can run against a troop; by my God I can leap over a wall. As for God, His way is perfect; the word of the Lord is proven; He is a shield to all who trust in Him.’” (2 Samuel 22:26-31).
“The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer; the God of my strength, in whom I will trust; my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold and my refuge; my Savior, You save me from violence” (2 Samuel 22:2-3).
May the Lord guide us with His Holy Spirit while we revise our goals, assess our performances in our service and make the necessary adjustments.
People needs guidance from servants. They get teaching from their mouths considering it the Church teaching. Therefore, we need to observe the purity of our teachings which we give to people lest we offend those who put their trust in us.
St. Paul mentioned this in his talk to servants saying, “You, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that a man should not steal, do you steal? You who say, “Do not commit adultery,” do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples?” (Romans 2:21-22)
In his trial when St. Paul was talking to the chief priest who gave an order to strike him on his mouth, St. Paul said to him, “God will strike you, you whitewashed wall! For you sit to judge me according to the law, and do you command me to be struck contrary to the law?” (Acts 23:3)
1. To be out of pure conduct
“Remember those who rule over you, who have spoken the word of God to you, whose faith follow, considering the outcome of their conduct” (Hebrews 13:7)
This is according to what our Lord said, “First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck that is in your brother’s eye” (Luke 6:42)
The plank in your eye is hindering you from clearly seeing the mistake in your brother to guide him.
Therefore, Lord Jesus Christ likened whoever does this with a blind leading a blind. This is the wrong teaching of the Pharisees which people observed in them and about whom Jesus Christ said, “Woe to you also, lawyers! For you load men with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not touch the burdens with one of your fingers” (Luke 11:46)
Therefore, St. Paul said to his disciple, “Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine” (1Timothy 4:16).
Our fathers, the Church teachers, had this good conduct, which is righteousness, otherwise their teaching would be abstract theological theories that only increase one’s knowledge (knowledge puffs up)
It is hard when people feel that our teachings are directed meaning they are connected to certain persons, certain benefits, or compliments. Therefore, we accept the teaching of a certain person because of his rank while we refuse the same teaching from another person as our teacher St. James says, “My brethren, do not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with partiality….. and become judges with evil thoughts? ……. but if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors” (James 2:1-9)
Therefore, the Holy Bible warns us not to fall under the curses of this contradiction. In such case, we take a curse from the Lord instead of taking a blessing, “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; Who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!” (Isaiah 5:20)
2. To be paired with good deeds
Our Lord said, “But why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do the things which I say?” (Luke 6:46) What matters is not what we say but if we do what we say.
When the Lord gave a metaphor of those who do and those who do not, He gave the parable of the wise man who wanted to build a house, “Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock “But everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall.” (Matthew 7:24-27)
Whoever notices the difference between the two will find no outward difference as both built two houses seen by people. But the difference between them is a hidden difference that people cannot see which is the foundation. Is the Lord Jesus Christ, the true Rock, the foundation of our teaching?
The only thing that illustrates the difference between the two buildings is the coming floods (the tribulation). Sometimes, God allows tribulations to come upon us to purify His church from impurities (strange teachings), to characterize the believers and saints and to steadfast them.
Our teacher St. Peter emphasizes this meaning in his saying, “Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial, which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you” (1Peter 4:12)
In the first book of Samuel, we find David the prophet talking with assurance about his trust that God would give him victory over Goliath. This trust is coming from a practical experience he got when he struggled with a lion and a bear. There is a huge difference between a servant who talks out of practical experience in God’s work with him and another one who talks without this experience.
3. To be taken from the Church
In the book of Acts, when the Council of Jerusalem was held, the apostles said nice words, “Since we have heard that some who went out from us have troubled you with words, unsettling your souls, saying, “You must be circumcised and keep the law”—to whom we gave no such commandment” (Acts 15:24)
What the Fathers said shows that the sound teaching must have reference from the Church. St. Paul himself presented his Gospel to the Apostles, who seemed to be pillars, lest he taught his own teaching instead of the Church’s.
St. Paul reminds us that we were handed an unshakable kingdom. Preaching the Kingdom is a tradition handed to us by the church. He warns us to be carried not by strange teachings, “Do not be carried about with various and strange doctrines” (Hebrews 13:9)
Unfortunately, teachings are plenty nowadays. Some of them are cheap and others are precious. But among all these teachings, we must know those of the Church. Even the sayings of the Fathers, although they are deep and dense, yet we must understand them through the Church understanding. If the sayings of St. Paul were distorted by some people who do not understand or study well (as our teacher St. Peter said), we would rather be cautious when we study and understand the sayings of the Fathers.
4. To acquire the virtue of discernment
This is one of the most important virtues through which we can discern the teaching offered to us and to discern the one we give to people. We ought not offer everything, and you may mention sound information and right words that are not convenient to the listeners.
Therefore, St. Paul says to the Corinthians, “I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able” (1 Corinthians 3:2)
Our Lord Jesus Christ rebuked the Pharisees because they were able to discern the face of the sky and were not able to discern the times.
In the book of Acts, there is a nice story about a servant named Rhoda. This girl was able to discern the voice of St. Peter although she did not see him as he was behind the door. Yet, she entered inside telling everybody that Peter was outside. Our Lord Jesus Christ said, “My sheep hear My voice” (John 10:27)
Job did not accept the words of comfort from his friends because he did not feel they were God’s voice to him. Therefore, Job’s friend became like students who memorized the curriculum and rules without understanding how to apply what they knew.
May the Lord grant us to be honest in our teachings and to observe its purity. Amen
*Adapted from the Coptic Orthodox Diocese of the Southern United States - Monthly Message for the Consecrated May 2021
Both popularity and proliferation are the sweet poison offered by Satan on the battleground of social media. 'Popularity' by definition is the state or condition of being liked, admired, or supported by many people. 'Proliferation' by definition is the fact of something increasing a lot and suddenly in number or amount.
It is true that the various social media have offered plateaus for communication widening the scope of relation among people far and near; yet they have also become a sweet-sour nourishment for souls hungry for fame, acceptance, praise, and thus the subsequent false gratification existing therein from and by the biggest possible number of the so called 'followers'. Unfortunately, some servants have fallen into this trap of conforming to the present custom, fashion, and established mode to which St. Paul responded, “For do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ” (Galatians 1:10).
Outcomes of Popularity and Proliferation
1. Self-Glorification & False Joy
This temptation of desiring to become well known and praised is not new. When St Paul saw that the Corinthians were leading the servants into that pit, he explained emphatically “For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence. But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God—and righteousness and sanctification and redemption— that, as it is written, 'He who glories, let him glory in the Lord.'” (1 Corinthians 1:26-31).
Today's servants should strive not to aspire for joy derived from people's opinions on social media nor measure their success by the number of "likes" received. On the contrary, their benchmark that measures success should reside in the salvation of people and in the change brought in hearts because of their service; as the case was with the disciples. “Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, 'Men and brethren, what shall we do?'” (Acts 2:37).
St. Paul said to the Romans, “For if we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and rose and lived again, that He might be Lord of both the dead and the living. But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. For it is written: 'As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to Me, and every tongue shall confess to God.' So then each of us shall give account of himself to God” (Romans 14:8-12).
Lord Jesus Christ described this self-centered input and warned against its subsequent dangerous output of pursuing personal glory in service “But all their works they do to be seen by men. They make their phylacteries broad and enlarge the borders of their garments. They love the best places at feasts, the best seats in the synagogues, greetings in the marketplaces, and to be called by men, 'Rabbi, Rabbi.'” (Matthew 23:5-7). Unfortunately, social media has blocked "the lowest places" opening accounts only for people who are ready to compete for "the best places" not recommended by the Lord, “For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 14:11).
2. Growing Competition
St. James has outlined the real causes of strife among people mainly because of competition, “Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures. Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you think that the Scripture says in vain, 'The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously'? But He gives more grace. Therefore He says: 'God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.'” (James 4:1-6). Not only has the various social media provided ground for these spiritual ailments to grow; but they have also provided the ‘trumpets’ that our Lord has warned against, “Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven. Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly” (Matthew 6:1-4).
3. Distorted Goals & Spiritual Emptiness
Distorted or 'divided' goals lead to disastrous self-gratification and spiritual emptiness. As our Lord has described it, “'Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and a house divided against a house falls.' When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are in peace. But when a stronger than he comes upon him and overcomes him, he takes from him all his armor in which he trusted, and divides his spoils. He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters” (Luke 11:17,21-23).
In the Holy Book of Revelation, Lord Jesus Christ has warned against spiritual coldness, negligence and lukewarm hearts, “And to the angel of the church in Sardis write, 'These things says He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars: 'I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead. Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die, for I have not found your works perfect before God. Remember therefore how you have received and heard; hold fast and repent. Therefore if you will not watch, I will come upon you as a thief, and you will not know what hour I will come upon you. You have a few names even in Sardis who have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with Me in white, for they are worthy. He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; but I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels. 'He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches." (Revelation 3:1-6).
Let Jesus Christ be our example in our service. He never sought praise or glory from the congregations. Based on what she had seen Him say and perform, one woman expressed her 'like' saying “…‘Blessed is the womb that bore You, and the breasts which nursed You!’" (Luke 11:27). Our Lord immediately diverted her attention to the essence of the matter saying, “…More than that, blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” (Luke 11:28)
St. Mary qualified for both blessings, the first for being the womb that carried the Son of God and the second for fulfilling every virtue and service in silence. Likewise, we as servants should make our primary goal to “…hear the word of God and keep it” (Luke 11:28). Certainly, God's word does not wait to be glorified on social media nor is it intended to be human pleaser.
4. Resulting Disappointments
“…your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly” (Matthew 6:4). Sadly enough, the various social media have left no "secret" for the heavenly Father to see in secret and reward openly. They have become the sounding trumpets by which all achievements are advertised. To warn against exposing to the public charitable deeds and spiritual endeavors, Jesus Christ used the cautionary words, “But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing” (Matthew 6:3).
Such modern advertising instruments can breed disappointment and grievances among servants and churches that have not reached that so called level of success. Hence rivalry, strife, jealousy get seated in such hearts, service objectives lose definition and goals roam astray. When facing such circumstances, St. Paul made the best out of them focusing on the joy therein, “Some indeed preach Christ even from envy and strife, and some also from goodwill: The former preach Christ from selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my chains; but the latter out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is preached; and in this I rejoice, yes, and will rejoice” (Philippians 1:15-18).
Now that the social media have become available in all means and by all means, there is a need to counteract their negative effects with great circumspection in order to avoid their spiritual, social, physical, mental and psychological harm remembering to serve God in fear because “'The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. For by me your days will be multiplied, and years of life will be added to you. If you are wise, you are wise for yourself, and if you scoff, you will bear it alone.'” (Proverbs 9:10-12).
Servants should rest assured that personal popularity is detrimental when sought in service and when thought of as a measuring stick for success. There are people who have devoted their life completely and faithfully to serve God “in the secret” For example, Simon the Canaanite of whom we know little but who is fully known to God and who has certainly been ushered into the kingdom with the assurance, “…‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord’” (Matthew 25:23).
*Adapted from HGBY monthly clergical letters - February 2021
While on earth, our Lord Jesus Christ sent out two missions. One to be conducted by the twelve disciples and the other by the seventy apostles He later on had chosen. Before sending those missions out in the field of service He established very important precepts which were to be followed by the first disciples and apostles and by the church up to this present day.
God is the Caller
"You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you" (John 15:16). These words, from the blessed mouth of our Lord, confirms that service is a calling from the almighty that needs subsequent joyful and willing compliance, obedience and submission.
Two by Two
The Lord instructed His disciples to go out in pairs. The number two has its significance in both the old and new testaments. In this particular incident, number two signifies solidarity, support, encouragement, empowerment and uplifting. Although our Lord openly contended that "the harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few" (Matthew 9:37), which would logically make single mission more economical and productive; yet our Lord at that point in time was more concerned about the quality of service rather than quantity believing that God is capable of sending more workers to His field.
A Compensatory Plan
Sending His disciples out in couples reduced by half the coverage area of service. Knowing the vital indispensable need for more servants would not be met except by prayers, "Then He said to His disciples, 'The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.'" (Matthew 9:37-38). This command was not given to the disciples only but to the Body of Christ throughout the centuries. How many times do we remember to pray for more faithful servants?
An answer to God's calling to serve must be followed by consecration of one's life. This consecration can be either:
Qualifications for the Calling
The first prerequisite is meekness in order for the mission to succeed. Our Lord realized how rough and crude the road would be but also knew the landmarks on those rough roads. "Go your way; behold, I send you out as lambs among wolves" (Luke 10:3). His words presupposed the preexistence of wolves to which the lambs would be sent. Safety and security of the lambs were not promised. However, conversion of the wolves into lambs was feasible. Christ's followers should not lose their meek nature in the midst of ungodly people but trust they will certainly affect the unruly and change their nature. The Master of the game is our Lord Himself and we are to learn directly from Him, "Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls" (Matthew 11:29).
The second prerequisite, readiness for service, is manifested in the willingness to sacrifice personal comfort, time, money and even life. St. Paul laid it down clearly when he said, "As it is written: 'For Your sake we are killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.'" (Romans 8:36).
The ceremony of bishop ordination symbolizes very vividly this concept of laying down the self. The bishop to be ordained gets escorted by two other bishops who pull him by the end of his sleeves up to the altar thus indicating what persecutions, pain and sufferings await him just like his Master who like a sheep taken to slaughter did not open his mouth (Isaiah 53:7). Joshua, son of Sirach says, "My son, if you draw near to serve the Lord, prepare your soul for temptation" (Sirach 2:1).
A true servant's role is to carry the others' burdens, weaknesses, infirmities and sins causing them to become his, and after that struggle and strive before God in order to be healed from them. St. Paul says, "We then who are strong ought to bear with the scruples of the weak, and not to please ourselves" (Romans 15:1).
During the Divine Liturgy, the priest prays in the inaudible prayer of preparation, "Receive this sacrifice on behalf of my sins and the ignorance of my people" thus calling what people committed as ignorance and his, as sins. That is the epitome of submission and readiness to suffer on behalf of the others. Another symbolic item is the crosses on the priest's tonic. For while the back cross is smaller than the front to signify the sins of the congregation, the front one is bigger to stand for his own sins.
Rejection of the earthly
Materialism is a big hindrance to service. Our Lord's instructions in this area were loud and clear "Carry neither money bag, knapsack, nor sandals; and greet no one along the road" (Luke 10:4), thus indicating the need for complete liberation from concern about material needs. His cross examination of the disciples after coming back from their mission was whether they needed anything "But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us" (2 Corinthians 4:7). Since He is the provider, get preoccupied and concerned about the Provider and stop worrying about the provision.
A church that relies on her richness and monetary funds puts her faith at risk. Depending on money as a primary source for spreading the Word of God is against our Lord's teachings. It is quite surprising to see a congregation standing crippled before the advancement of their church service because of money. "We do not have the money for it." Such people do not realize the power that exists in this lack. In a similar situation, St. Peter's answer to the crippled man "Then Peter said, 'Silver and gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk.'" (Acts 3:6).
Preoccupation with the Spiritual message
The message: "The kingdom of God is near" is the core of service. Advancing the Lord's kingdom and leading people to repentance and reconciliation was the disciples' major concern according to the Lord's directions. After the disciples service had extended, and fearing getting too much involved in what was beyond their scope and focus, they decided to delegate others to carry on with the social part of service including caring for the widows and the poor (Acts 6).
What to Expect on the Journey
When sending His disciples out on their first mission, our Lord gave them instructions not to take with them any provisions but to trust to have their needs met "And remain in the same house, eating and drinking such things as they give, for the laborer is worthy of his wages. Do not go from house to house" (Luke 10:7).
Every city they entered they were to eat and drink as they were given them; for the laborer is worthy of his wages. "Whatever city you enter, and they receive you, eat such things as are set before you" (Luke 10:8).
He forewarned them against rejection and gave the solution. "'The very dust of your city which clings to us we wipe off against you. Nevertheless know this, that the kingdom of God has come near you.'" (Luke 10:11). While refusing to take anything from such people who rejected them, they were still to relay the spiritual message that "the kingdom of God is near" and that people should repent and confess their sins. The message for us today is that the church still remains open in spite of people's hard heartedness and resistance.
Meeting Needs and Expenses
When the disciples returned back, He rhetorically asked them whether they lacked anything. Our Lord wanted to hammer in the need for faith in God the provider. The church does not put any burden on people except that of love and sharing the good news of Salvation. However, it is in people's advantage and blessing to contribute with their financial resources towards building churches and supporting service.
St. Paul expressed this concept clearly saying, "Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that abounds to your account" (Philippians 4:17). Also that explains the church's stance from money that comes from sinful gain or worldly resources. A sinner's donation is a defiled one. In 1 Chronicles 21:18-26, King David refused free service for God. "Then King David said to Ornan, 'No, but I will surely buy it for the full price, for I will not take what is yours for the LORD, nor offer burnt offerings with that which costs me nothing.'" (1 Chronicles 21:24) asserting the fact that it is the congregation's duty to meet their church's needs and finance their projects without relying on outside sources. It is sad to say that nowadays many churches are no more houses of God preaching the message of repentance and reconciliation. Many church buildings have been converted into places of social or business activities.
Attending to Other's Needs
In order for God's message of Salvation and Reconciliation to make sense and be accepted, attention must be directed to their physical needs. In order for people to listen, they must be healed first of their infirmities. That was our Lord's command, "And heal the sick there, and say to them, 'The kingdom of God has come near to you.'" (Luke 10:9). Even if total physical healing does not take place, yet praying with a sick person matters much and alleviates at least psychological pain. St. Paul went about performing healing miracles while he himself was denied one and the Lord told him, "And He said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me" (2 Corinthians 12:9).
The Content of the Message
The Outcome of the Mission
As expressed in the disciples words "Then the seventy returned with joy, saying, 'Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your name.'" (Luke 10:17) and recognized and admitted by the Lord Himself "And He said to them, 'I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.'" (Luke 10:18). However, the secret of Christ's true joy is to see all His sheep having arrived safely to the shore without damage of straying "And again: 'I will put My trust in Him.' And again: 'Here am I and the children whom God has given Me.'" (Hebrews 2:13).
"Do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven" (Luke 10:20). More important than the joy incurred by the gifts of the Spirit and success in service is the fact that our names are written in heaven because of the work of Salvation in us. While the first may put us in danger of perdition because of pride or too much trust in the gifts and the self, the second grants us everlasting life and permanent Salvation and Redemption.
St. Paul was cautious of this truth about the risk of losing one's salvation. So, he decided to "But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified" (1 Corinthians 9:27).
Service is not only for priests and deacons. There are different types of service. Any Christian person believing in Christ and having renewed his life and put on the new man is called for consecration and service. Consecration can be total or partial. Service has a price tag that comes with it. Our Lord said "But Jesus said to him, 'No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.'" (Luke 9:62) but bear the cross and follow Him looking forward to the honor and glory that awaits those who serve with patience and faithfulness.
*article by HG Bishop Youssef www.suscopts.org
“I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance” (Luke 15:7).
At the beginning of the New Year, this verse that transcends all understanding and cognition, compels us to meditate on the process of 'repentance' and the outcome therein and thereof. When sinners comprehend the magnitude of this verse, they will not dare live in sin anymore nor return back to it. Just contemplate the fact that all the residents in heaven are watching over us, waiting patiently and anxiously for our repentance and return.
“For He shall give His angels charge over you, to keep you in all your ways. In their hands they shall bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone. You shall tread upon the lion and the cobra, the young lion and the serpent you shall trample underfoot” (Psalm 91:11-13).
Such a truth will ultimately lead us to consider our value in God's eyes and the joy we procure to His heart and which will be extended to be shared with the angels. The price of sinners in God's eyes is to some extent comparable to the value of offspring in their parents’ eyes. While parents eagerly watch their babies grow, keeping record of every new step taken, new hair grown, new tooth appearing and new word said, the rest of the world remains oblivious and incognizant of what parents are preoccupied with. Likewise, God sees us from a totally different perspective; not appreciated by the world but dearly valued by the angels and saints in heaven.
Let us consider what repentance procures; treasuring and guarding it because it brings perpetually unfathomable joy in heaven while at the same time proclaiming and sealing our value.
“I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance” (Luke 15:7)
The Magnitude of Repentance
The magnitude of this verse is beyond our limited human understanding; and we need to ask God to help us grasp at least part of its actual meaningful content. The comparative adjective "more" for "one" than "ninety-nine" says it all; and the difference in the percentage is truly great. What a privilege to know that offering joy to heaven's residents is at our disposal; keeping in mind that humanity had previously grieved the heart of God, the Son, causing Him to weep as He did before the tomb of Lazarus who represented humanity at its worst fall which is death, “Jesus wept. Then the Jews said, 'See how He loved him! ”' (John 11:35-36).
Lord Jesus Christ had to pay the heavy price in order to restore that joy to heaven. It is our duty to maintain this joy through repentance.
“Surely, He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:4-6).
The Consequences of Repentance King David sinned. However, once he realized what he had done, he offered a wholehearted repentance. After that he could boldly reap its fruit, “Bless the Lord, O my soul; and all that is within me, bless His holy name! Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits: Who forgives all your iniquities, Who heals all your diseases, Who redeems your life from destruction, Who crowns you with lovingkindness and tender mercies, Who satisfies your mouth with good things, so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s” (Psalm 103:1-5).
The Scope of Repentance
The scope of repentance should not be limited to its efficacy in removing sin, wiping away punishment and procuring blessings; but should be widened and extended to include the joy that it brings to the heart of God and which is basically rooted in our relationship with God. The holy word of God explicates in depth our relation with God.
David expressed God's utmost protection in the Holy Book of Psalm 91 saying “He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, 'He is my refuge and my fortress; my God, in Him I will trust.'” (Psalm 91:1-2).
To abide means to dwell, remain and continue staying in a well secured place beyond the reach of any harm. That place is no more and no less than the shadow of the almighty God. Our Lord Jesus Christ summarized it all saying to Nicodemus. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved” (John 3:16- 17).
Both the Old and New Testaments are full of God's good promises and assurance of His everlasting love. Therefore, is it not obligatory that we seek what pleases the One Who is constantly reaching out to please us? He has not asked for more than a penitent heart. Let us refrain from anything that saddens the heart of our creator.
Let us follow David's example in searching for ways to reward God for all His favors, “What shall I render to the Lord for all His benefits toward me? I will take up the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the Lord. I will pay my vows to the Lord now in the presence of all His people” (Psalm 116:12-14).
The Value of Repentance
Surprisingly enough, the value of repentance is equal to the value of the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. This is revealed in the Holy Book of Leviticus. God gave detailed instructions to Moses on how sacrifices should be offered, "'If his offering is a burnt sacrifice of the herd, let him offer a male without blemish; he shall offer it of his own free will at the door of the tabernacle of meeting before the Lord. Then he shall put his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it will be accepted on his behalf to make atonement for him. He shall kill the bull before the Lord; and the priests, Aaron's sons, shall bring the blood and sprinkle the blood all around on the altar that is by the door of the tabernacle of meeting. And he shall skin the burnt offering and cut it into its pieces. The sons of Aaron the priest shall put fire on the altar, and lay the wood in order on the fire. Then the priests, Aaron's sons, shall lay the parts, the head, and the fat in order on the wood that is on the fire upon the altar; but he shall wash its entrails and its legs with water. And the priest shall burn all on the altar as a burnt sacrifice, an offering made by fire, a sweet aroma to the Lord.'” (Leviticus 1:3-9).
The sacrifices of the Old Testament were prophesying the offering of the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, the sweet aroma that went up before God in atonement for our sins. Every repentance is a sweet aroma before the throne of God and every return is turning over the old page and starting a new page.
As prophesied in the Holy Book of Isaiah, “I have blotted out, like a thick cloud, your transgressions, and like a cloud, your sins. Return to Me, for I have redeemed you. Sing, O heavens, for the Lord has done it! Shout, you lower parts of the earth; break forth into singing, you mountains, O forest, and every tree in it! For the Lord has redeemed Jacob, and glorified Himself in Israel” (Isaiah 44:22-23).
God is not interested anymore in animal sacrifices, but longs for repentant hearts. As He said through Isaiah, “'To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices to Me?' Says the Lord. 'I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed cattle. I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs or goats.'” (Isaiah 1:11). How much ought we to cherish repentance! Let us hide and find refuge in the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ who died so that we may live and instructed us that the only way to maintain this life in Him is through repentance, “From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, 'Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.'” (Matthew 4:17); what a great value we have been granted through repentance.
The Appreciation of Repentance
Not only is it important to know the value of repentance, but also to hold a deep appreciation of it. The Jews who were referred to as "the sons" by our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, did not appreciate the essence and value of this sonship all because of their pride and arrogance, “But He answered and said, 'It is not good to take the children's bread and throw it to the little dogs.'” (Matthew 15:26).
Consequently, because of their stubbornness the honor granted to sons was transferred to outsiders. A proof is found in the humble non-Jewish woman of Canaan who received healing for her daughter just because of her humility and faith, “Then Jesus answered and said to her, 'O woman, great is your faith! Let it be to you as you desire.' And her daughter was healed from that very hour” (Matthew 15:28).
God does not know favoritism. All He requires is faith in the sacrificial lamb Jesus Christ, a repentant heart, returning feet and a professing tongue that knows how to say, “And the son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am nolonger worthy to be called your son.'” (Luke 15:21). After that, all things are ours; “And he said to him, 'Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours.'” (Luke 15:31).
Let us pray saying, “Lord, grant me perpetual repentance that gladdens Your heart. Cause it to be charged with cleansing tears and loaded with joy and gladness extended from the joy my repentance brings to Your heart. Grant me a small portion of penitence-wrought consolation and joy and that will be enough for me. ‘Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their masters' table.’ (Matthew 15:27).”
“O Repentance! Who does not adore you? Everyone blesses you except Satan because you have grabbed all his spoils, wasted his treasures rendering him poor and devastated, void of all the inheritance that he has usurped unrightfully. He detests you truly because you always stand against him. For, there is no one who has fallen a victim in his hands but called upon you and was not rescued by you. There is no one who has been thrown between his teeth but called upon you and you did not hurry to his deliverance. There is no one swollen in Satan's belly but called upon you and you did not cut open Satan's belly and got him out. There is no one whom Satan tied with his ropes but called upon you and you did not sever up all those ropes and liberated him. there is no one whom Satan had hunted but called upon you and you did not hurry to set him free. For this reason, the enemy hates you because you have first detested him and have stood against him constantly. Satan abhors you because he first abhors your owner; and you are against him because your owner is first against him too” (The Spiritual Elder).
In this post, there are thirty sayings concerning service. Read every day one saying and make it the subject of the whole day's meditation:
"After these things the Lord appointed seventy others also, and sent them two by two before His face into
every city and place where He Himself was about to go." (Luke 10:1)
At the point of sending out the seventy apostles (according to the Coptic Tradition they are seventy-two)
on the important mission of teaching about the kingdom of God, the Lord Jesus Christ has given them a set of perennial advice applicable in today's service and useful to those who serve Him.
Praying for the Service and those Served
Our Lord Himself recommended praying "Then He said to them, ‘The harvest truly is great, but the laborers are few; therefore, pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.’" (Luke 10:2). "The harvest" refers to service itself and "the laborers" refer to the servants. Prayer is the foundation of the success of service, the pledge that binds the servants together, with the bond of brotherly love. It is noticeable that prayer is a deep mystical tie that connects "the Lord of the harvest" Himself with the servant and those served. Here lies the secret of the success of some services and servants more so than others.
Trusting Only in God's Support
A prerequisite set by the Lord Himself, which entails in His words, "Go your way; behold, I send you out as lambs among wolves. Carry neither money bag, knapsack, nor sandals;" (Luke 10:3-4). A servant is called to be neither afraid of hazards nor concerned about the needs of his own personal life or those of his service.
God is both the sender and provider. He is capable of moving hearts and covering all areas of demands through His blessings only. A paradoxically astounding incident in the life of Elijah is God's dispatching him to a poor, needy widow who would take care of him while she herself was in dire need. "See, I have commanded a widow there to provide for you" (1 Kings 17:9). What a clear message from God that He is the one in charge. He is capable of using means and tools unfathomable by the human mind.
"…and greet no one along the road" (Luke 10:4). This command is a call for unshaken, unmoved concentration on service. One of the dangerous attacks against this generation of servants is distraction caused by relations with others and preoccupation with social events and occasions.
Lord Jesus Christ's servants are not meant to be isolated or non participants; but while being involved in the community, they are to guard their minds and feelings against distractions caused by relations and worldly affairs, knowing that God's service takes priority in time and devotion. Such servants know very well how to participate in communal life with brotherly love fulfilling St. Paul's words, "Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep" (Romans 12:15); without losing focus on the main objective of his mission in service; but utilizing all the social duties to deepen the bond of brotherly love and bring people to God.
The best example of the most rounded servant is Lord Jesus Himself; He attended the wedding at Cana and turned the water into wine symbolizing His redemptive love. He wept with Martha and Mary at Lazarus' tomb and raised him from the dead causing many people to believe in Him.
Being a Peacemaker
"But whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’" (Luke 10:5). One of the most prominent signs of successful service is granting peace to those served. Lord Jesus has granted it to His disciples as a distinct, unequalled blessing "Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you" (John 14:27).
Therefore, it behooves God's servants to be searchers, pursuers and establishers of that peace in themselves and among people. The establishment of peace is an important sign of a spiritually successful service.
It is just illogical for such servant to claim or imagine being a servant of the King of Peace while not in peace with himself or in strife with anyone of his social circle. St. Paul is emphatic about this issue saying, "But if anyone seems to be contentious, we have no such custom, nor do the churches of God" (1 Corinthians 11:16).
Guarding against Appearance Deception
"Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven" (Luke 10:20). What is striking about these words of the Lord is that while He has given His disciples (and subsequently faithful believers) the power over demons and the authority to cast them out, He commands them not to put much weight or rejoice in the external feature of the act.
God does not care the least about appearances. Therefore He expects His servants to exhibit the same attitude. He warns against getting deceived by the outward form or fruit of a service. After his long epilogue concerning the spiritual gifts, He concluded saying "But earnestly desire the best gifts. And yet I show you a more excellent way" (1 Corinthians 12:31); after which He spoke about the importance of love. Jesus Christ demanded of His disciples to focus on the most important and precious thing in service and that is the Kingdom of God and eternal life both being the main true goals of any service.
A class or meeting full of attendees may be pleasing to the sight of a servant as he walks in to offer whatever service. However, true joy and satisfaction should be brought not by the size of the attendees but by the repentance of its members.
God is gracious to grant us alert hearing and sharp ears similar to those of our beloved pure apostles so that in our service we may fulfill the Lord Jesus Christ's commandments to the last breath
Monthly articles for servants. Adapted from HGBY and other fathers' writings.