Significance in Submission

Last week, I had the privilege of walking through Psalm 8 at Brentwood Baptist Church with a group of men who are meeting regularly for prayer and Bible study in the Psalms. Below is a synopsis of my talk.

What is it that makes a human being significant?

More personally, what is it that makes YOU significant?

One of the easiest ways to answer that question is to think about how we introduce ourselves to others who do not know us. Something like, “Hello. My name is Joe. I have a wife and three kids, and I work at a button factory.” Or maybe, “Hello. My name is Rob. I have a wife and three kids. I am a husband, father, pastor, educator, and author.” An answer like these shows that such a person finds his roles or activities as the foundation of his identity.

“I am what I do.”

“I am who I know.”

Of course, in a postmodern culture, one might reject this question altogether, which is to answer it without acknowledging that one is answering it. It’s to say, “I am whatever I want to be.”

In an evolutionary culture, we might answer it this way: “I am the most highly evolved species on our planet, perhaps in the universe.” It’s be defined biologically and by how that biological “story” has unfolded.

None of these exactly “gee-haw” with the Bible.

In Psalm 8, David’s prayer and song reveals that human beings find their significance in submission to a Creator God.

Let’s begin with verses 3-4.

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?

David recognized something that we, even with our vast technological advances with regard to space travel, are still recognizing: the universe is unbelievable! For example, our galaxy, the Milky Way, is one of BILLIONS in the universe. It takes the sun 100,000 light years to travel around our galaxy once (about 200 million earth years). To spend any time exploring the profundity and complexity of the universe as a Christian is to arrive at the same conclusion as David: “What is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” How small we are in the grand scheme of things! Why in the world would the God who made and orders the universe think about and care for human beings? Why would God have a purposeful, active compassion for humanity? Why would we have any special significance to Him?

But not only does He do just that, but He has given us significance and honor above everything else in creation. Look at

Yet you hav­e made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. You have­ given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet, all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas.

Notice how David uses the word “glory” in this Psalm. He uses it in verse 1 to talk about God’s glory, but he uses it here to speak of you and I. This is an effective way of identifying man with God and of saying that we have been made in God’s image.

Notice how David emphasizes our special significance by speaking of our role as “ruler” over the world and its creatures. Rule is something normally ascribed to God in the Bible, but Psalm 8 says that God shared this rule with us.

Notice how David emphasizes our significance by the way he describes us as being “a little lower than the heavenly beings” rather than “a little higher than the beasts.” It could have been written the other way around. But by doing it this way, David forces us to “look up” and strive for the God who created us, rather than “look down” and find our identity in what we rule over.

But there is a problem, and it is a very obvious one to all of us. We humans do not rule over God’s creation the way we were made to. God made us a little lower than heavenly beings, but we have rebelled against such an identity. We do things to each other that animals would never even dream of doing to their own kind or us. Some of us would never treat our dog the way we have sometimes treated our spouse, and our dog would not treat us as poorly as others have treated us.

Graciously … Lovingly … God has acted on our behalf. God sent his own Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, to save us from our failures and to fulfill Psalm 8 as we have not.

That is why the author of Hebrews uses Psalm 8. He applies it to Jesus, saying that He (JESUS) was made a little lower than the angels and that, as a result, the Father has “crowned him with glory and honor and put everything under his feet,” adding, “In putting everything under him, God left nothing that is not subject to him” (Hebrews 2:7–8).

So where is our significance found?

It’s found in our submission to the God, whose Son submitted Himself to God so that we could be with God forever.

And when this is our identity … our significance … we sing along with David in verse 1 and verse 8: “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!”

What Does God Require of Us? What Do We Require of God?

What does God require of humanity?

It’s a common question asked by people who either believe in the existence of God or are comfortable accepting the premise of His existence in order to talk about other things.

For example, a group of Pharisees asked Jesus, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife on any grounds?” (Matthew 19:3). Put another way, “What does God require of us with regard to marriage and divorce?”

Next, Matthew records another person asking the same type thing. “What good must I do to have eternal life?” (Matthew 19:16). Put another way, “What does God require of me with regard to getting to heaven?”

So when Jesus tells the parable of the vineyard workers after these two conversations, we expect a parable that tells us exactly what God requires of us.

But instead, we get something completely different.

We get a parable that describes what humanity requires of God.

Read the parable below, noting verse 15.

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the workers on one denarius for the day, he sent them into his vineyard. When he went out about nine in the morning, he saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. To those men he said, ‘You also go to my vineyard, and I’ll give you whatever is right.’ So off they went. About noon and at three, he went out again and did the same thing. Then about five he went and found others standing around, and said to them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day doing nothing?’

“‘Because no one hired us,’ they said to him.

“‘You also go to my vineyard,’ he told them. When evening came, the owner of the vineyard told his foreman, ‘Call the workers and give them their pay, starting with the last and ending with the first.’

“When those who were hired about five came, they each received one denarius. 10 So when the first ones came, they assumed they would get more, but they also received a denarius each. 11 When they received it, they began to complain to the landowner: 12 ‘These last men put in one hour, and you made them equal to us who bore the burden of the day and the burning heat!’

13 “He replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I’m doing you no wrong. Didn’t you agree with me on a denarius? 14 Take what’s yours and go. I want to give this last man the same as I gave you. 15 Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my business? Are you jealous because I’m generous?’

16 “So the last will be first, and the first last.”

Of course, the primary purpose of the parable is to show the character of God: that He is sovereign (“Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my business?”) and gracious (“I’m generous.”).

But also revealed in this parable are the characteristics that human beings typically require of God. In this parable, the workers are indignant at God’s sovereignty and His generosity.

Truth be told, we prefer a God who is submissive to our will and responsive to our own sense of justice.

But what we have is a God who is sovereign over our wills and is gracious in His justice.

“I’m Just Getting Water” and Other Trump Cards to Disobedience

“I’m just getting water.”

This is the trump card excuse one of our children frequently gives us when he wants to delay obedience to a given request. He’s learned, thanks in part to our inconsistency as parents, that we are generally sympathetic to this excuse. It is, after all, water.

Not a donut.

Not a Wii game.

Water. What most of his body is made of, and the one thing that a lack of could cause significant health problems and eventual death.

Yet while it may be an attractive excuse, it’s still an excuse. The kind of obedience we frequently demand in our home is instant obedience.

Slow obedience is no obedience.

Delayed obedience is disobedience.

But still, it’s hard to lead our kids when they play the trump cards they know we’re soft too.

In Luke 9:59-62, Jesus commanded two men to follow Him, and they offered up two “trump card excuses,” neither of which Jesus was soft on.

59 Then He said to another, “Follow Me.”

“Lord,” he said, “first let me go bury my father.”

60 But He told him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and spread the news of the kingdom of God.”

61 Another also said, “I will follow You, Lord, but first let me go and say good-bye to those at my house.”

62 But Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

A long-term relationship with one’s father.

A quick explanation to one’s family about his plans.

All great trump cards to delayed obedience.

All flatly rejected by Jesus Himself.

Apparently, slow obedience is no obedience.

Delayed obedience is disobedience.

Apparently, nothing … not even your own father’s funeral or good communication with my wife and kids … can trump the call of Jesus to follow him.

Why Not Pray Like This?

If Matthew 6:9-13 is our model, what about praying this?

  1. Pray like God loves you.
  2. Pray like God is sovereign.
  3. Pray like God is the most important thing to God.
  4. Pray for God’s will.
  5. Pray like God is in charge of your needs.
  6. Pray like God has dealt with your sin problem.
  7. Pray like God has dealt with the sin problems of others.
  8. Pray like God knows what He’s doing with your life.

“Therefore, you should pray like this: Our Father in heaven, Your name be honored as holy. 10 Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. 11 Give us today our daily bread. 12 And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 13 And do not bring us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.

Like a Good Neighbor …

We all have habits, routines or preferences that, when forced or asked to change, really drive us nuts. For example:

  • When someone puts the toilet paper roll so that it comes off over the top instead of from the bottom.
  • When someone leaves the dishes to dry in the sink instead of using a towel and putting them away.
  • When some maniac drives faster than you, or some moron drives slower than you.

Nothing shows our character (or lack thereof) when something or someone unsettles our petty preferences.

The more I study the parables of Jesus, the more I see that one of the purposes of the parables is to unsettle my personal theological preferences.

Take the lawyer’s question to Jesus in Luke 10:29. “If I’m to love my neighbor as myself to inherit eternal life, then who is my neighbor?”

On the surface, this is a decent question, and because we’d expect Jesus to rattle our cage a bit, we’d expect him to tell a story about a Samaritan left half-dead on the side of the road that received an inordinate amount of help from a kind Jew. In this scenario, the Jewish lawyer could feel good about himself while at the same time receive a challenge from Jesus to be a neighbor to his enemy.

But Jesus takes it a step further.

Instead, we get a story about a man with no ethnic identity who is ignored by holy Jews and receives an inordinate amount of assistance from a Samaritan.

The first version actually answers the question, “Who is my neighbor?” Answer: “Even your enemy is your neighbor.”

The second version … the actual text … answers a different question: “Are you a neighbor?” Sure, “Who is my neighbor?” is also answered, but Jesus makes it personal.

He rattles my theological cage.

He moves my theological cheese.

And in so doing, He reveals what’s in my heart.

Am I a good neighbor, much less to my enemies?

Am I willing to take risks and face my fears to be that good neighbor?

Are you?