TBU: The Bible Unpacked: Comprehensive Edition

I.  Preliminary Instructions and Insights

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Chapter 28  Part I

Preliminary Instructions and Insights

All of God’s people are necessarily his servants – and so need to be prepared to serve him. This requires devotion to God and to his work.

As well as instructing us to serve God, the Bible provides plenty of encouragement to persevere in doing so. The Bible also gives insights into being guided by God, something which is very much applicable to serving God as well as to other areas of our lives.

Be Prepared to Serve God

We are called to serve God and Jesus Christ

1Pet 2:16  Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as an excuse to do evil. Live as servants of God.  NCV™

Rom 12:11  Do not lag in zeal, be enthusiastic in spirit, serve the Lord.  NET

Be willing to do God’s work

1Pet 5:2  [Peter, to church leaders:] Give a shepherd’s care to God’s flock among you, exercising oversight not merely as a duty but willingly under God’s direction, not for shameful profit but eagerly.  NET

Be prepared and ready to do God’s work

1Pet 1:13a  So prepare your minds for service and have self-control.  NCV™

Jer 1:17a  [God:] But you, Jeremiah, get yourself ready! Go and tell these people everything I instruct you to say.  NET

Live a godly life in readiness for doing God’s work

Titus 1:7-8  [Paul, speaking of church leaders:] For the overseer must be blameless as one entrusted with God’s work, not arrogant, not prone to anger, not a drunkard, not violent, not greedy for gain. 8Instead he must be hospitable, devoted to what is good, sensible, upright, devout, and self–controlled.  NET

Consecrate yourself to serve God . . .

Ex 28:41  [God, to Moses:] And you shall put them on Aaron your brother, and on his sons with him, and shall anoint them and ordain them and consecrate them, that they may serve me as priests.  ESV

In the OT the act of consecration involved rituals signifying that the person involved was setting themselves apart from all that was not holy in order to be holy or sacred, so as to be fit and ready to serve God. As God himself is holy, it is essential that those who serve him are likewise holy. Although the rituals involved in the OT practice of consecration are not pertinent to Christians, the concept of setting oneself apart from all that is not holy in order to serve God is very much applicable.

. . . Be set apart as holy

2Tim 2:21  Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work.  ESV

One must cleanse oneself from corruptive influences in order to be holy, useful to God, ready to do his work.

 Questions for Section A

Be Devoted to God’s Work

Devote yourself to God’s work

Ezra 7:10  Now Ezra had dedicated himself to the study of the law of the Lord, to its observance, and to teaching its statutes and judgments in Israel.  NET

Titus 3:8  The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people.  ESV

Serve God only – do not serve anything or anyone else . . .

1Sam 7:3-4  Samuel said to all the people of Israel, “If you are really turning to the Lord with all your hearts, remove from among you the foreign gods and the images of Ashtoreth. Give your hearts to the Lord and serve only him. Then he will deliver you from the hand of the Philistines.” 4So the Israelites removed the Baals and images of Ashtoreth. They served only the Lord.  NET

Dan 3:17-18, 28  [Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, to Nebuchadnezzar:] Your majesty, if it be his will, our God whom we serve can deliver us from the blazing fire furnace, and he will deliver us from you. 18But if not, rest assured, your majesty, that we won’t serve your gods, and we won’t worship the golden statue that you have set up.” … 28Nebuchadnezzar spoke up and said: ‘Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego! He sent his angel to deliver his servants who trusted in him. They disobeyed the king’s command and were willing to risk their lives in order not to serve or worship any god except their own God.  ISV

. . . Seek to please God rather than people

Gal 1:10  [Paul:] I am not trying to please people. I want to please God. Do you think I am trying to please people? If I were doing that, I would not be a servant of Christ.  CEV

Put Jesus Christ before everyone else

Matt 10:37  [Jesus:] Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.  NET

Put God and his work before your own interests

Ps 132:3-5  [David:] “I will not enter my house or get into my bed, 4I will not give sleep to my eyes or slumber to my eyelids, 5until I find a place for the Lord, a dwelling place for the Mighty One of Jacob.”  ESV

These verses probably are speaking of David’s intent to build a temple for God.

Give up your life to live for God and Jesus Christ . . .

Rom 12:1  [Paul, to believers:] So then, my brothers and sisters, because of God’s great mercy to us I appeal to you: offer yourselves as a living sacrifice to God, dedicated to his service and pleasing to him.  GNT

Luke 9:23  Then he [Jesus] said to them all, “If anyone wants to become my follower, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me.  NET

We must deny ourselves – give up living for ourselves and what we want – and live for Christ instead, daily shouldering the accompanying difficulties.

. . . Be willing even to endanger your life

Acts 20:22-24  [Paul:] And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem without knowing what will happen to me there, 23except that the Holy Spirit warns me in town after town that imprisonment and persecutions are waiting for me. 24But I do not consider my life worth anything to myself, so that I may finish my task and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the good news of God’s grace.  NET

Be willing to give up everything for God and Jesus Christ

Luke 14:33  In the same way,” concluded Jesus, “none of you can be my disciple unless you give up everything you have.  GNT

Matt 13:44-46  The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure, hidden in a field, that a person found and hid. Then because of joy he went and sold all that he had and bought that field. 45“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant searching for fine pearls. 46When he found a pearl of great value, he went out and sold everything he had and bought it.  NET

Although some commentators have a somewhat different understanding, both these parables seem to be essentially illustrating the absolute cost of the kingdom of God; one must be prepared to forgo everything for it. Note the joy in doing so that is apparent in v. 44.

 Questions for Section B

Reasons to Serve God

He is our God, who has done great things for us

Deut 10:20-21  [Moses, to the Israelites:] Revere the Lord your God, serve him, be loyal to him and take oaths only in his name. 21He is the one you should praise; he is your God, the one who has done these great and awesome things for you that you have seen.  NET

We are God’s servants

James 1:1a  From James, a servant of God and of our Lord Jesus Christ.  CEV

Lev 25:55  [God:] This is because the people of Israel are servants to me. They are my servants, whom I brought out of Egypt. I am the Lord your God.  NCV™

God cares for his servants

Isa 41:9b-10  [God, to Israel:] I told you, “You are my servant.” I have chosen you and not rejected you. 10Don’t be afraid, for I am with you! Don’t be frightened, for I am your God! I strengthen you – yes, I help you – yes, I uphold you with my saving right hand!  NET

God’s care of his servants gives good reason to serve God.

Your work for God will be productive

Luke 8:15  [Jesus, explaining a parable:] But the ones on the good soil are the people who hear the word but also hold on to it with good and honest hearts, producing a crop through endurance.  ISV

The “crop” produced may well be referring to – or at least may be applied to – the productivity of one’s work for the kingdom (as per the theme of this subsection). Alternatively the spiritual growth of the individual believer may be in view.

You will be rewarded for your work

2Chr 15:7  But as for you, be strong and don’t get discouraged, for your work will be rewarded.  NET

Mark 10:29-30  Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, there is no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for my sake and for the sake of the gospel 30who will not receive in this age a hundred times as much – homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, fields, all with persecutions – and in the age to come, eternal life.  NET

In v. 29 Jesus mentions some things that his followers may be required to forego in following and serving him. In v. 30 Jesus speaks of corresponding blessings of this present “age”. These blessings are primarily fulfilled through the new relationships in the family of God’s people, to which Jesus’ followers belong.

Whoever does not produce good “fruit” will be cut off from God and Jesus Christ

Matt 3:10  Even now the ax is laid at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.  NET

John 15:2a  [Jesus, speaking of God:] He cuts off every branch of mine that does not produce fruit.  NCV™

Note that when used metaphorically in the NT, “fruit” can refer to spiritual characteristics (cf. Gal 5:22-23) or spiritual outcomes of quality work for the kingdom. In verses in this chapter, “fruit” has been interpreted to be referring to the latter, or at least to be inclusive of it.

Further warnings and consequences regarding not doing God’s work

Luke 12:47  That servant who knew his master’s will but did not get ready or do what his master asked will receive a severe beating.  NET

Hag 1:9  [God, to the people of Judah:] You looked for much, and behold, it came to little. And when you brought it home, I blew it away. Why? declares the Lord of hosts. Because of my house that lies in ruins, while each of you busies himself with his own house.  ESV

In working on their own interests rather than doing God’s work, rebuilding his temple, the results of the people’s efforts were very disappointing.

Note: Do not work for things that do not satisfy or do not last

Isa 55:2a  [God:] Why pay money for something that will not nourish you? Why spend your hard–earned money on something that will not satisfy?  NET

John 6:27a  Do not work for food that goes bad; instead, work for the food that lasts for eternal life.  GNT

Rather than working simply for what spoils or does not last, work for that which leads to eternal life.

 Questions for Section C

Being Guided by God

See also:

The topic of being guided by God is very pertinent to serving God, such as in ascertaining his will in regard to how we should serve him. It is also of course important in other aspects of our lives. For it is vital in living righteously generally and in navigating through troubled times, as reflected in some of the following verses. God’s guidance also becomes an issue when we need to make a significant choice or decision.

God’s guidance may come through such sources as: the Holy Spirit’s promptings; inner conviction or assurance (itself largely of the Holy Spirit); Scripture; circumstances; or advice from others. But God does not always guide his people by making them aware of his will. They may not even be aware of being guided by God, only recognizing his guidance in retrospect. The Bible actually says little about how one should find out God’s guidance (apart from his directions evident in his laws). But the Bible does speak of how living a godly life and prayer are critical for being open to it – as is indicated in the following subsections.

To be guided by God, live a godly life

Isa 58:9b-11a  [Directives to Israel:] You must remove the burdensome yoke from among you and stop pointing fingers and speaking sinfully. 10You must actively help the hungry and feed the oppressed. Then your light will dispel the darkness, and your darkness will be transformed into noonday. 11The Lord will continually lead you; he will feed you even in parched regions.  NET

Prov 3:5-6  Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own understanding. 6Acknowledge him in all your ways, and he will make your paths straight.  NET

A straight path (v. 6) suggests a way that is righteous and/or secure. The expression “make your paths straight” seems to be speaking either of: directing our ways so that we will take a straight path (cf. GNT, NLT, NKJV); or straightening the path before us (cf. CEV). Possibly aspects of both interpretations are involved.

Ask God to guide you (as in troubled times)

Ps 31:3  [David, to God:] For you are my rock and my fortress; for the sake of your name guide me and lead me.  ISV

God’s will is understood through godliness and prayer

Rom 12:2  [Paul, to believers:] Do not be conformed to this world, but continually be transformed by the renewing of your minds so that you may be able to determine what God’s will is—what is proper, pleasing, and perfect.  ISV

Col 1:9-10  [Paul, to the Colossian believers:] For this reason, since the day we heard about this, we have not stopped praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the full knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10so that you might live in a manner worthy of the Lord and be fully pleasing to him as you bear fruit in every good work and grow in the full knowledge of God.  ISV

This is of course a prayer that God’s will for others be revealed to them, but it is still indicative of the need to pray ourselves in understanding God’s will in our own lives. Note that v. 10 indicates that in asking God to enable the Colossians to know his will (v. 9), Paul had their service to God in view (the subject of this chapter) along with related aspects of the Christian life.

Other sources of godly and wise guidance

Prov 1:1-5  The Proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel: 2To learn wisdom and moral instruction, and to discern wise counsel. 3To receive moral instruction in skillful living, in righteousness, justice, and equity. 4To impart shrewdness to the morally naive, and a discerning plan to the young person. 5(Let the wise also hear and gain instruction, and let the discerning acquire guidance!)  NET

This shows that God’s word – here Proverbs in particular – provides guidance, as v. 5 explicitly indicates.

Prov 11:14  When there is no guidance a nation falls, but there is success in the abundance of counselors.  NET

This illustrates the importance of advice from others in obtaining guidance, with wise advisors presumably being in view.

Col 3:15  [Paul, to the Colossian believers:] And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.  ESV

In its context the reference is to relationships with other believers, in which Christ’s “peace” in the church body – and so also in the “hearts” of its members – should be sought and maintained amidst working through differences. The first part of the verse is often applied to obtaining personal guidance, being used to point to the principle of being at peace with a particular choice.

 Questions for Section D

Pray for persecuted Christians