The Most Important Piece of Clothing

Since God chose you to be the holy people whom he loves,

you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy,

kindness,

humility,

gentleness,

and patience.

And the most important piece of clothing you must wear is love.

Colossians 3:12, 14 (NLT)

 

 

Photo, My closet, from m01229 on flickr

The Raven’s Croak

God didn’t choose a beautiful bird or a noble bird, or even a bird good for eating – but dirty, croaking ravens to feed Elijah – birds that probably had just been eating roadkill. I wonder what Elijah thought about that.

For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out (croak, cry of a raven), “Abba! Father!” Romans 8:15 (NASB)

It makes me smile that the Greek word translated “cry out” here means to croak, like the cry of a raven. We croak like a raven, “Abba! Father!” I feel like I croak a lot.

Jesus told us to consider the ravens, alluding perhaps to Psalm 147.

Consider the ravens, for they neither sow nor reap; they have no storeroom nor barn, and yet God feeds them; how much more valuable you are than the birds! Luke 12:24 (NASB)

He gives to the beast its food, and to the young ravens which cry. Psalms 147:9 (NASB)

Why ravens? Why not something beautiful like a dove? The raven was on the list of “unclean” birds under the law of Moses (Deuteronomy 14:4, Leviticus 11:15). In Leviticus it says they are to be regarded as an abomination, as filth, detestable, disgusting. They eat dead things and maggots.[i] Yet (!) Jesus chooses this bird for his illustration of God’s care for us.

In a sermon called The Raven’s Cry, Charles Spurgeon wrote the following:

I can hardly leave this point without remarking that the mention of a raven should encourage a sinner. As an old author writes, “Among fowls He does not mention the hawk or falcon, which are highly prized and fed by princes. But He chooses that hateful and malicious bird, the croaking raven, whom no man values but as she eats up the carrion which might annoy him. Behold then, and wonder at the Providence and kindness of God, that He should provide food for the raven, a creature of so dismal a hue and of so untuneable a tone–a creature that is so odious to most men, and ominous to some.”[ii]

Encouragement for the sinner. Is this why Jesus chose the raven? To show us that no matter how disgusting, unclean – untuneable – that we think we are, or others think we are, or that we really are – God accepts us, God loves us, God takes care of us. What a picture of grace and mercy!

There is another amazing and curious mention of ravens in the Old Testament. It is in the retelling of Elijah hiding from Ahab. God told Elijah to hide at the Brook Cherith and that ravens would be sent to feed him (1 Kings 17: 3-4). Again, God didn’t choose a beautiful bird or a noble bird, or even a bird good for eating – but dirty, croaking ravens to feed Elijah – birds that probably had just been eating roadkill. I wonder what Elijah thought about that. And when the water ran out there at the brook, God sent Elijah to another sort of unclean raven, the Sidonian widow (1 Kings 17:9).

The Sidonians were idol worshippers. They worshipped “Ashtoreth the vile goddess of the Sidonians (2 Kings 23:13).” This worship included ritual prostitution (we call it human trafficking today) and child sacrifice. The notorious Jezebel was the daughter of King Ethbaal of the Sidonians (1 Kings 16:31).

So detestable were the Sidonians to the Jews, that when Jesus reminded them of this incident while speaking in a synagogue, He was almost thrown off a cliff (Luke 4:25-29). Yet(!), God sent Elijah there. And Elijah humbled himself to take food from the widow’s “unclean” hands – a widow, however, who was willing to give all she had for herself and her son to Elijah to obey the Lord God – and he ministered life and salvation to her and to her son.

Consider the ravens. Yes, we are all ravens. We are all Sidonians. For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. We all have eaten our share of the maggots of lies and idolatry, and maybe still are. Yet (!!) we are loved. And we have been called (even the ravens were called to feed Elijah at the brook!) and chosen to humble ourselves and minister His life and love to all the other fallen, unclean birds. We are not called to judge and condemn, but to love. And we can stand in the strength and grace that He gives. We can abide, we can rest in the assuredness that we are His and He will care for us. That we are His adopted sons and daughters, and that He hears, and is delighted, when we croak “Abba, Father!”

(Abba! Another good one-word prayer? See A Thousand Defects )

 

[i] Wikipedia, The Common Raven

[ii] Charles Spurgeon, The Raven’s Cry, A sermon delivered on Sunday evening, January 14, 1866 at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington. Reprinted in, The Power in Prayer. Whitaker House, 1996.

Image, Raven by Jim Bahn (background color changed) https://www.flickr.com/photos/gcwest/186088713/in/album-72157594158104053/ 

 

Hurling My Worries

Like a discus thrower, hurling the discus, we are flinging our burdens to a defined target – God’s unfailing love and care.

All of you, clothe yourselves with humility towards one another, because, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. 1 Peter 5:5b-7 (NIV)

Did you ever wonder why Peter combined the ideas of humility and anxiety in these verses? God opposes the proud – humble yourselves and cast your anxiety on him. I wondered, what do those two ideas have to do with each other? I have actually thought in the past that worrying and being anxious showed I was lowly and humble, that I knew I couldn’t do it. I mean, if I was confident about something wouldn’t that mean I was proud? But recently I have been reading a very good book on humility by C.J. Mahaney, and I read this:

“Where there’s worry, where there’s anxiousness, pride is at the root of it. When I am experiencing anxiety, the root issue is that I’m trying to be self-sufficient. I’m acting independent of God.”[i]

Ah, pride is so slimy and cunning and can disguise itself even as humility! Even though I picture myself as humble, really, I’m still thinking I can do it, or I have to do it. That somehow my worry will change things. I am still trying to be the Wonderful One. Oh, sure I am asking God to help me do it, but in my mind it’s still up to me.

The Greek word translated “anxiety” or “care” is merimna (μέριμνα) and comes from a word that means divided or disunited “through the idea of distraction.” Worry distracts us, divides us from God and his promises. It reminds me of James 1:6-8:

But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded (or divided) man, unstable in all his ways. (NASB)

I like how the Message says that last verse: “People who “worry their prayers” are like wind-whipped waves. Don’t think you’re going to get anything from the Master that way, adrift at sea, keeping all your options open.” Ouch! Just in case God can’t do it, I’m keeping my options open, I’m still available to worry about it.

But Peter says to cast all our anxiety on God, trusting that he cares for us. The word translated “cast” means “to throw or place upon”. You have to let go of the worry to throw it, and in doing so you are putting all your trust in God. You are humbling yourself. Daniel Wallace put it this way: [Casting your anxiety] “is not offering a new command, but is defining how believers are to humble themselves … Humbling oneself is not a negative act of self-denial per se, but a positive one of active dependence on God for help.”[ii]

Psalm 55:22 (NIV) says to “Cast your cares (or burdens, the lot you have been given) on the LORD and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall.” Hebrew is a passionate language and the word for “cast” is quite a bit more zealous than the Greek. The word is shalak (שָׁלַךְ) and means to “throw, cast, hurl, fling.” I love that! Hurl your burdens on the Lord. Yes, that is definitely “active dependence on God for help.” There is a sense of total abandon there – like a little child trustingly throwing herself off a high place into the arms of her father. But, it’s not just a vague, cosmic “letting go.” Like a discus thrower, hurling the discus, we are flinging our burdens to a defined target – God’s unfailing love and care.

“This is an important spiritual truth as is also the admonition in Psalm 55:22 to cast our burdens on the Lord. That is, our cares and burdens, are to be thrown away, abandoned into his care, so that we have nothing more to do with them.”[iii]

“Nothing more to do with them.” Wow, that’s scary stuff to the self-sufficient, proud person who secretly doesn’t trust God to get it right without her help. Lord, forgive me for my ridiculous pride and double-mindedness, for not trusting in you. Give me the grace today to humble myself under your mighty hand, to declare my total dependence on you, and to hurl my worries and my very self into your loving arms.

Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens. Selah.              Psalm 68:19 (NIV)

 

Image by Ron Gilfillan, 2017 Canada Summer Games. CC BY 2.0 https://www.flickr.com/photos/2017canadagames/36281659232/

[i] Mahaney, C.J. Humility: True Greatness. Multnomah, 2005.

[ii] Wallace, Daniel B. Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996.

[iii] M. Cogan, “A Technical Term for Exposure” (Journal of Near Eastern Studies 27:133-135 [1968J)

Put on Jesus, Part two

When we “put on” or clothe ourselves with Jesus, we also are putting on the slave garment of humility. We are emptying ourselves to let God do whatever He wants with us. This is a hard thing to swallow for those of us who have wanted to do something wonderful for God.

All of you, clothe yourselves with humility towards one another, because, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (1 Peter 5:5 NIV)

” … whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave–just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:26-27)

Put on Jesus Part one, explored the Greek word enduo which means to sink into, clothe, or put on, as in “putting on” Christ Jesus. There is another Greek word that means to clothe and that is egkomboomai (ἐγκομβόομαι). It is used only once in 1 Peter 5:5b, but it has helped me to understand better what it means to “put on” Jesus.

Egkomboomai has a very particular meaning. It means to engirdle oneself for labor, to put on “the apron as being a badge of servitude.” This apron “was the white scarf or apron of slaves, which was fastened to the belt of the vest and distinguished slaves from freemen, hence in 1Peter 5:5, ‘gird yourselves with humility as your servile garb’ means by putting on humility, show your subjection one to another. Also, this refers to the overalls which slaves wore to keep clean while working, an exceedingly humble garment.”[i] The root of egkomboomai is the Greek word komboo (κόμβος) which means to gird or to tie fast with a knot or band. Egkomboomai “seems to teach that humility is a garment which must be firmly fastened on and bound closely round us.”[ii] Perhaps this is because humility slips off us so easily, not being our natural state.

Jesus showed us how to do this, how to put on this slave garment of humility when he washed the disciples’ feet.

Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him. (John 13:3-5 NIV)

The Greek word translated “towel” in this verse is lention (λέντιον), and it is “the linen towel or apron with which servants put on when about to work.” So that is what Jesus did, he put on the badge of servitude, the thing that “distinguished slaves from freemen.” It was probably this, as much as the washing of the feet, that shocked Peter so much. The Lord, the Messiah, the King who was supposed to come and set his people free from Roman domination and give Israel a reason to be proud again, dressing up as the lowest of the low – a slave. That was not how it was supposed to be!

But notice what is says in John 13:3 – “Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God.” Jesus knew who and whose he was. He knew victory was a done deal. He also knew that the victory the Father had in mind was not going to be accomplished by insurrection and violence and forcing his Kingship. It would be by emptying himself, becoming a slave, totally giving it all up. Victory would be accomplished by sacrificial love.

Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant (or slave), and being made in the likeness of men. (Philippians 2:5-7 NASB)

When we “put on” or clothe ourselves with Jesus, we also are putting on the slave garment of humility. We are emptying ourselves to let God do whatever He wants with us. This is a hard thing to swallow for those of us who have wanted to do something wonderful for God – to be a great intercessor, healer, pastor, evangelist, missionary – blogger – something. To earn the approval of God and others, to be looked up to, maybe even (secretly or unconsciously) want to be admired, recognized. Instead, maybe to be forgotten, unknown, unrecognized, maybe even looked down upon. Possibly, to never know, in this life, if what you have done has made any difference at all. No wonder we need to tie the knot so tightly.

“God is not looking for impressive witnesses who will tell people about God but for humble witnesses who will “bear” God’s presence to others—be they powerful Pharaohs or poor beggars.”  J.C. Walt

“Bear God’s presence”! What an amazing, humbling thing! Could it be that putting on Christ Jesus, clothing myself with the garment of the humble Servant-King, is a way to bear His presence into a hurting, broken world? Lord Jesus, show me how to do that. Help me to tie the knot fast to you.

 

Image: Ford Maddox Brown, Jesus Washing Peter’s Feet [1852-6], Tate Archive, image  released under Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND (3.0 Unported)

[i] Thayer’s New Testament Greek-English Lexicon

[ii] The Pulpit Commentary, edited by H. D. M. Spence, Joseph S. Exell