Lose your Life
by Phil Martin
This past Sunday I had the honor to preach at Waynesboro Grace. They asked me to fill a spot in a series on the disciples, specifically on how these ordinary men were transformed by grace. My task was to explain how James, the son of Zebedee, was transformed by grace. In short, James epitomized a particular misunderstanding of the disciples. They knew that Jesus was the Christ, that he was King, and that they were to be committed to the kingdom. Their misunderstanding was about the nature of that kingdom. How was Jesus going to be exalted? Jesus repeatedly said it was through suffering and rejection. The disciples repeatedly missed the message.
Why? Well, because they were blinded by their own idols. James had approached our Lord with an attitude of, “What can I get out of the this?” For him it was honor, prestige, and power. A place at the right hand of the King. The power to call fire out of heaven like Elijah. The inside of the inside circle.
Interestingly, I’m in the middle of a study on the place of power in evangelical churches today. Consistently, money, sex, and power are named as the three biggest temptations for humans. We’ve embraced all sorts of measures to protect our leaders from the dangers of sexual immorality and selfish gain. Somehow, the danger of power has escaped our radar. How many ministries gladly give unchecked power to one man in the hope that he will secure church growth? How often is that power misused for the glory of that one man rather than the service of God’s people?
For Sara and I, leaving for China in roughly 100 days, this is a humbling reminder. There is a hidden danger in leaving family and friends behind for gospel ministry. We can fool ourselves into thinking that making that sacrifice means we are dying to ourselves. It is not the case. There are plenty of idols that are served by ministry, some even more so by cross-cultural ministry.
James had idols that were served by forsaking his father and their business and following Jesus. His moment of truth was in the garden of Gethsemane. At that moment, following Jesus didn’t mean honor, but rather shame. It didn’t look like a seat next to the king, but next to a criminal. So James fled. And yet the relentless grace of God reached him. The forgiveness and righteousness available in Christ transformed him. 10 years later, he taught the early church through his martyrdom what it means to die to yourself.
The call to die to ourselves rings on today, just as it will till Christ returns. We pray that our work in China will be marked by service to God and to other rather than devotion to idols of power and honor.