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(Part 41)


September 14, 2013

Today’s readings:
Numbers 21:4-9
Psalm 78:1-38
Philippians 2:6-11
John 3:13-17

The people of God are called the people of God, but many times they do not behave accordingly. God raised Israel, entered into covenant with them, gave them the promised land, built them into a great kingdom, but very often they were unfaithful, disobedient, rebellious and even idolatrous. Now you have Christians, who are the new Israel, who are now the people of God. But they have not changed. People now are very much like people then.

One, they get impatient with their earthly pilgrimage, considering the troubles they have to endure. For Israel, “the people’s patience was worn out by the journey.” (Nm 21:4b). So what did they do? They “complained against God and Moses.” (Nm 21:5a). Notice that when God’s people complain and grumble against the leaders set over them (not because of the wrong these leaders do), they are not just complaining against their human leaders, but they are grumbling against God.

Two, they are ungrateful, forgetting, when faced with difficulties, all the good things God has done for them. The Israelites asked for food in the desert and God gave them manna. Now they say, “We are disgusted with this wretched food!” (Nm 21:5c). God provided them food in abundance, and never were they hungry. But now they say, “Why have you brought us up from Egypt to die in the wilderness, where there is no food or water?” (Nm 21:5b). People do not appreciate all the blessings, big and small, coming from God, but are quick to complain when things are not going the way they want them to.

Three, when they rebel against their leader and then reap the consequences of their sin, they would then turn back to the leader and demand that he do something about their sorry situation. “Then the people came to Moses and said, ‘We have sinned in complaining against the Lord and you. Pray to the Lord to take the serpents from us.’” (Nm 21:7a). And when you resolve their problem for them, do you think they would now be properly chastised and chastened? No. Just wait for the next outburst.

Four, they continually test God. “They spoke against God, and said, ‘Can God spread a table in the wilderness?’” (Ps 78:19). Then when God did so, they then said, “But can he also give bread, or provide meat to his people?” (Ps 78:20b). Imagine what God’s people today would say against their leaders. They are never satisfied with how they are being served. They are often speaking against those who serve them.

Five, despite all God’s goodness and generosity, “they went on sinning” (Ps 78:32a). It is the weak flesh prone to sin. These sins include attacking, lying about, maligning, speaking against, opposing, oppressing, persecuting their leaders.

If God’s people can do these things to God, then do you wonder that they do these things to you, a mere human being? But Moses was God’s servant leader. Now you are Jesus’ servant leaders. Wear the maligning and ingratitude as badges of honor.

But how can you survive and even thrive despite the rebellious nature of those you serve?

First, know that you serve God even as you serve His people. If His people do not respond in gratitude or obedience, you still go on serving God. If you have to make unpopular decisions and these are rejected by the people, go ahead anyway, because your aim is to please God, not His rebellious people. Of course, be ready for the consequences.

Second, we try to have the same attitude as that of Jesus himself, “Who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave” (Phil 2:6-7a). We are leaders but we are servants. We are slaves of Christ, who can only truly serve others, especially rebellious ones, when we deny ourselves.

Third, we look to reap the fruit and blessing of humility. Jesus “humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.” (Phil 2:8). We know that God cuts down the proud but raises the lowly. Thus we can meekly submit to insults and persecution, knowing these make us stronger in our service to the Master.

Fourth, we never lose sight of why we have been called to be servant leaders, and that is, to serve our brethren by leading them on the right path, all the way to heaven. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” (Jn 3:16). We precisely serve sinners (knowing we too are sinners). We precisely can expect them to be ungrateful, impatient, recalcitrant, even rebellious. That is why we are there, to help transform them. “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.” (Jn 3:17).

Our suffering is salvific, for ourselves, and for those we serve if we offer our pain for their sakes. The Israelites were healed when “Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert” (Jn 3:14a) and they looked upon it. In like manner, for humankind to be healed, “so must the Son of Man be lifted up” (Jn 3:14b). Jesus went to the cross, “so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.” (Jn 3:15). As those tasked to continue God’s work, as those stepping into Jesus’ sandals, as those entrusted with the spiritual care of God’s people so that they make it to heaven, we too “are lifted up.” We too suffer in our service and thus share in the cross of Jesus.

But if we share in Jesus’ work and in his suffering, then we also share in his glory. “Because of this, God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name” (Phil 2:9). The name of “Jesus Christ is Lord” (Phil 2:11b). And your name? It is “servant leader.”

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