Last week, we discovered or reminded ourselves of two things. First, that God is working all things together for His glory. We sometimes make the mistake of thinking that God is working for our glory. So, when things don’t work out for our glory, we, as slaves to depravity, point our fingers at God and call Him evil. Second, God has placed snares and thorns in this world for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. That they might turn from seeking their own glory and abide in the glory of God. If all of creation is by God, then God has glory as His right. If I am part of that creation, the only true good I can experience is wrapped up in God’s glory, not mine.
When I think of seeking glory for self, I think back to when I had dated this girl for about three years. Yeah, I knew what was best for me! This is one of those relationships in which I was definitely seeking glory for me. I wanted this relationship status. I found my worth in having a girlfriend. I found out that she was cheating on me and then, she was the one that ended the relationship. I didn’t have enough sense to think, “Hey, this girl that I’m not even married to is cheating on me. I need to end this.” I remember sobbing in my mom’s office. God bless my mom. She stopped everything she was doing, looked at me, and said something to the effect of, “Son, what you think you want is probably not what’s best for you.” She did not say, “Son, I just want you to be happy and you need to follow your heart.” It’s like my mom knew that relationship was not working out for my good! She was willing to see me suffer at this time for my good.
When we seek our own glory, we sin. This is what Adam and Eve did. It is what the Israelites were doing. God, being the covenant keeper, subjected the Israelites to suffering so that they would turn back to Him for His glory and their good. When Israel turned back to Him, He would deliver them. In this beautifully broken world, what does it mean that God is our deliverer?
The Israelites again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord after Ehud had died. So the Lord sold them into the hand of Jabin king of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor. The commander of his forces was Sisera who lived in Harosheth of the Nations. Then the Israelites cried out to the Lord, because Jabin had 900 iron chariots, and he harshly oppressed them 20 years.
Deborah, a woman who was a prophetess and the wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel at that time. It was her custom to sit under the palm tree of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the Israelites went up to her for judgment.
She summoned Barak son of Abinoam from Kedesh in Naphtali and said to him, “Hasn’t the Lord, the God of Israel, commanded you: ‘Go, deploy the troops on Mount Tabor, and take with you 10,000 men from the Naphtalites and Zebulunites? Then I will lure Sisera commander of Jabin’s forces, his chariots, and his army at the Wadi Kishon to fight against you, and I will hand him over to you.’”
Barak said to her, “If you will go with me, I will go. But if you will not go with me, I will not go.”
“I will go with you,” she said, “but you will receive no honor on the road you are about to take, because the Lord will sell Sisera into a woman’s hand.” So Deborah got up and went with Barak to Kedesh.
Israel sinned against God. Big surprise, right? In fact, they did what was evil in God’s eyes. So, God sold them into subjection under a foreign king who had a mighty army. Last week, we learned about God’s reasoning, remember? God has introduced suffering into the world so that we would be reminded that we cannot find any meaningful satisfaction in seeking our own glory. God has created us, and all creation for that matter, for His glory. Therefore, the only true and lasting satisfaction, peace, joy, contentment, meaning, and worth we can find is found as we abide in the glory of God, not in the seeking of our own glory. Sin, as we discovered, runs much deeper than outward action. We have a tendency to look at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart (1 Samuel 16:7). In 1 Samuel 16, God has rejected Saul as king. He sends the prophet, Samuel, to anoint His chosen king. When Samuel arrives in Bethlehem, he requests the presence of Jesse’s family. When he sees the first, oldest son, he says, “Surely this is the one God will anoint!” At that time he is reminded that God looks at the heart while people look at the outward appearance. The first son was not God’s anointed, neither was the second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, or seventh. God would have David anointed. By people’s standards, David would not have been considered. In fact, he had not even been brought before Samuel for consideration. He was left to do the family’s work. Just like Samuel, we will assume that someone is godly because of the way he or she looks and acts. We will assume that someone is lost in sin because they have done something outwardly that we don’t agree with. God, though, looks at the heart. Sin, remember, is when we seek our own glory rather than abide in the glory of God.
The Israelites would seek their own glory in this promised land that God had given them for His glory and to accomplish His purpose (to establish His creation and to build His kingdom). So, God took action to humble His people. He sold them into subjugation under a foreign, ungodly king. God did not stop at this. Barak was Israel’s military leader at this time. He was told that he would not even be the one to deliver Israel. In fact, it wouldn’t be a man at all. Deborah was serving as judge. She was a prophetess. God was speaking accurate things through her. Her exact words to Barak were, “…you will receive no honor on the road you are about to take, because the Lord will sell Sisera (the military leader under king Jabin) into a woman’s hand.” God is doing more to humble His people for His glory and their good. Later in the story, we are going to discover that God will not even use Deborah, the judge at this time, to deliver Israel. It will be a woman, but it will be a woman who has never been heard of or even regarded as important at the time.
In a recent sermon, one of the most popular preachers in the world, based in Oklahoma, talked about what it means to be selfless. I love this brother in Christ. I think he is sincere in his faith. He makes the same mistake most religious people do (that’s people of religion in every denomination and even who are self-professing irreligious people). He recently preached a sermon about selflessness. In this sermon, he encouraged people to be servants so that they could be recognized as God’s children and so that others would see their outward actions and praise them for those actions: good, religious acts of service to other people. He indicated that denying self was primarily about outwardly serving others. He even quoted Jesus saying that whatever we do for the least of these, we do for Him.
I just want to point something out, here. This preacher stated that denying self, becoming selfless, is about what we do to show the world that we are great. He asked rhetorically how we become great, then answered by saying that it’s not by self-promotion, but by doing stuff for others. Isn’t the very act of doing something to become great self-promotion? Is this not looking at outward appearances? Is this not the prosperity gospel clothed outwardly with Scripture that makes it sound good? Does this not make Christianity out to be like every other works-based system on the planet through history? After all, that is what the prosperity Gospel is, works-based righteousness with an emphasis on what people get out of it, on becoming great. In Matthew 20:20-28, Jesus even states that those who wish to become great must become servants, and those who wish to be first must become a slave. Our sinful desire is to be great and to be first. Because of our sinful desires, we must be humbled. Even Christ came not to be served but to serve. We don’t serve in order to become great. We realize that there is actually nothing that great about us. The real story we read in Scripture is this: God breaks us of our own pursuit of self-glory because glory is His right alone. I can’t use perceived humility as a platform for my own agenda or recognition or my own pursuit of glory. Humility is the opposite of that! It’s not something that I can achieve on my own. If sin is my pursuit of self-glory, then I am in sin if I try to look like a religious person by serving others or teach that I can be selfless or humble or good because of my outward actions. Even to say that our service is merely a response to God’s saving grace is to say that I have something to offer the God of the universe in my service.
When Jesus said, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of Mine, you did for Me” (Matthew 25:40), it is in the context of this section of parables Jesus tells warning about the end times when everyone will stand before His judgment seat and He will separate His people from people who have sought glory for themselves. Before Jesus begins telling this series of parables about being prepared, he sets the stage:
“Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the peoples of the earth will mourn; and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. He will send out His angels with a loud trumpet, and they will gather His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other…Who then is a faithful and sensible slave, whom his master has put in charge of his household, to give them food at the proper time? That slave whose master finds him working when he comes will be rewarded. I assure you: He will put him in charge of all his possessions. But if that wicked slave says in his heart, ‘My master is delayed,’ and starts to beat his fellow slaves, and eats and drinks with drunkards, that slave’s master will come on a day he does not expect and at an hour he does not know. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth… When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, just as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.” (Matthew 24:30-31, 45-51, 24:31-32).
Jesus begins not with outward works, but with the inward state of faithfulness, which works for His glory through those who are elect, according to Matthew in this amazing passage of Scripture. He begins with the heart. Who is faithful to Christ? Who is sensible? Who is abiding in the glory of Christ? Who has rejected, by grace and God’s enabling or God’s work of election, the pursuit of self-glory? Then, the outward works, what people have done for Christ as they served the least of these, also works for God’s glory as the Son of Man comes in glory and separates the sheep from the goats. Those who were not abiding in Christ’s glory, who were not faithful, are stuck with their self-righteousness. “Whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for Me either” (Matthew 25:45).
I find that if I am merely trying to respond to what Christ has done, then I am stuck trying to do something outwardly to repay Christ. We can’t. There is no way I can do anything that would be a proper response to God’s saving grace. I am unable. Everything I could try would be insufficient. I am humbled. I am broken. It causes me to realize that in my insufficiency, in my mortality, in my humble existence, the grace of God is apparent even more in His preparing good works ahead of time for me to walk in, in preparing an area of service for me (Ephesians 2:10). God receives all glory. The only proper response is not that I try to repay Him, but that I simply abide in His glory, which He alone enables me to do, as He blesses me with opportunities to serve even though I don’t even deserve that.
Even going back to Genesis 3, we witness that one of the results of the Fall is an exponential increase in the pursuit of self-glory. In breaking the command, Adam and Eve were seeking their own glory. We talked about this last week. One of the consequences of this first sin was that woman’s desire would be for her husband, and man would rule over his wife (Genesis 3:16). There is much to be said about misogyny and misandry, but I will simply say this. Women’s desire to usurp the dominance of men is a natural consequence of sinfulness. Similarly, men’s domineering over women is a natural consequence of sinfulness. This is not the God-honoring and God created order of things. It is evidence that people are only interested in seeking their own glory rather than abiding in the glory of God and honoring the created order in which all people are created as equals in their worth. This, again, is why we need to be broken. It is for our good.
Moms, here on Mother’s Day, the most important thing I can say to you from this passage of Scripture is this: You are not your children’s deliverer. You have been given an amazing opportunity to parent, an opportunity no one deserves. This opportunity expresses the sole glory and grace of the amazing God. You have been given a son or daughter (or sons and daughters) as a steward and as yourself the image of God. According to the Scriptures, you will never be able to do enough for the children that God, by grace, has given you. That is okay. It is God’s plan. God is their deliverer. That is His job. You are a steward and servant to God as a parent. There is a reason the Scriptures explicitly state that women are saved through child-bearing (1 Timothy 2:15). In Genesis 3:16, pain in labor was increased for the woman because of sin. Last week, we discovered that God’s purpose for this discipline, for His introducing suffering into the human condition, was to remind people of their lowly estate and to remind them that they will never be satisfied in seeking their own glory. Through childbearing, and I imagine this includes raising children as well, women are constantly reminded that they are insufficient. This is no accident. It is a good thing because they are drawn to place their faith in God instead of trying desperately to earn their place. Men are not exempt. Toil was given to them in work. There is a reason men never feel like they accomplish enough in life and are always striving to accomplish something greater. We are never satisfied with the work we’ve done. We can only be satisfied by dwelling in the glory of God. This is the whole point of the book of Judges. Do you feel like you are not good enough? Yes? That is a good thing God is working together to teach us that He is our only deliverer in our depravity and from our sin.
God works for our humility because our humility works out for our good.
Here in Judges 4, God has humbled the nation of Israel for their good. He is humbling Barak for his good. He is also exalting Deborah and women in the cultural context of the time so that He alone is glorified. It is stated explicitly, God will not use Barak, a man, to deliver Israel because God does not want him, a military leader and a man, to receive honor. He will use someone who is considered to be the weakest, perhaps someone who is not culturally accepted as important, and someone who is humble in both context and in spirit.
What does it mean that God would exalt those who are humble in spirit and why would he do this? In Luke 14:7-14, Jesus explains exactly what He desires:
“He told a parable to those who were invited, when He noticed how they would choose the best places for themselves: ‘When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, don’t recline at the best place, because a more distinguished person than you may have been invited by your host. The one who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this man,’ and then in humiliation, you will proceed to take the lowest place.
But when you are invited, go and recline in the lowest place, so that when the one who invited you comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ You will then be honored in the presence of all the other guests. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.’
He also said to the one who had invited Him, ‘When you give a lunch or a dinner, don’t invite your friends, your brothers, your relatives, or your rich neighbors, because they might invite you back, and you would be repaid. On the contrary, when you host a banquet, invite those who are poor, maimed, lame, or blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you; for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.’”
Is this not a beautiful picture of what Christ has done for us? He tells us to consider ourselves to be the lowest of all people, to willingly live in humble circumstance and to be humble in spirit. Then he tells us to invite people to our banquets who do not have the ability to repay us. Wait. Didn’t Christ save us and invite us into His banquet, into fellowship with Him, even though there is no way that we can repay Him or respond outwardly to what He has done? That’s the whole point! Christ receives all glory! Then, He says that He will reward us in the resurrection, even though we cannot even repay Him for what He has already done! What kind of good God is this! How amazing is the actual instruction of our Lord! I don’t need the recognition of people. I don’t need to earn my own glory. Why? God, by His grace alone, is not only delivering me in my depravity from sin (which I don’t deserve), but He is also giving me a share in His glory that I could never earn for myself through any sort of self-righteousness or pretend humility. My brokenness, which God is working in His sovereignty, is working out for my good in ways that I can’t even imagine on this earth. I still only see through a glass darkly.
Considering this, we have to ask what holy ambition is? What does it look like in a world that is broken by design? Because we are created in God’s image, which is necessary if God wanted a creature to be able to understand Him and worship Him, and creation glorifies God and God has all glory as His right, then we also desire glory. We discovered this last week. Thus, we have natural ambition. To have a holy ambition, as moms, dads, workers, career makers, sons, daughters, servants, and ministers, is to have as our motivation God’s glory and His amazing goodness. It is not to seek anything for ourselves. Everything we get to do in all of life, motherhood included, is a testimony to the depth of God’s goodness and grace. This truth is even more profound in the context of a broken world. Often what we think we want will not work out for our good. So, God humbles us and will exalt those whom He has humbled.
God is our only deliverer, for His glory and our good.
God works for our humility because our humility works out for our good.
God is our only deliverer, for His glory and our good.