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Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Delight and Duty

There’s a saying that tells us “with great privilege comes great responsibility.”  It’s actually based on a longstanding philosophy called “noblesse oblige.”  It’s a French phrase which simply means “nobility obligates.”  The French dictionary defined it with these two ideas:

            1. Whoever claims to be noble must conduct himself nobly.
            2. (Figuratively) One must act in a fashion that conforms with one's position, and with the reputation that one has earned.

More recently the idea was made popular by Stan Lee’s comic book hero Spiderman who is told by his Uncle Ben that “with great power comes great responsibility.”  Of course, the VeggieTale superhero Larry Boy adapts the phrase when he tells a young carrot: “with great chocolate comes great responsibility;” but I don’t think that really has anything to do with what I’m talking about here. .

Living up to the expectations and standards that you have been called to.  It may have been popularized by French philosophers and comic book creators, but the idea is much older than both. 

In Ephesian 4:1 the apostle Paul says, “I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.  Again in Philippians 1:27 we read, “Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.” And to the church at Colossae he writes: “And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God” (1:10).  Living up to the privilege you’ve been given.  Understanding that with this great privilege, the great delight we have been given in Christ, comes a great sense of duty as well.

So which is it, duty or delight?  The truth is, it’s both.  Too often in the church we have a tendency to emphasize one or the other.  All delight, leads to feel good emotionalism; while all duty leads to dead formalism.  The truth is in the middle.  We have great joy and delight in Christ, but with that delight comes certain responsibilities.

Reading Hebrews chapter 10 today reminded me of a great example of the balance.  In verses 19 and following there is both the delight we have because of Christ’s work on our behalf and some of the duties that go with it.

On the one hand we see our delight: 
-Confidence to enter the most holy place, which represents nearness to God.  When Christ died on the cross, remember the Temple veil was torn in two, from the top to the bottom, signifying that God was the one doing the tearing.  That dividing wall between God and His people has been destroyed. You and I can now approach God directly.  We don’t need a temple.  We don’t need the sacrifice of animals.  We don’t need the intercessions of priests or popes.  We can approach God directly and confidently.  What a joy and delight.

-We delight in our cleansing.  Jesus became sin for our sake; He took on Himself the full cup of God’s wrath on the cross.  It wasn’t just the physical suffering, as great as that was.  God’s wrath was poured out on Christ in our place, and we are allowed to stand before Christ as if we were clean of that very sin.  His blood cleanses us, washes us, makes us whole and new. What an amazing privilege.  What a great delight. 

-And most of all, our delight is in Christ Himself.  Jesus has given us the greatest gift He could possibly give: Himself.  It’s not just the act of sacrifice; the past.  It’s about His ongoing service; the present.  He is a daily presence in our lives.  No matter the circumstances, no matter the difficulties, no matter our own faithlessness sometimes, He is there.  What a delight.  What a great joy to know that we have Christ.  To know that through His blood His cleanses us.  To know that through His priesthood we have confidence. 

But remember, with great privilege comes great responsibility, and so Hebrews 10 also reminds us of our duty.   I’m sure we could all list more, but just in that text alone we are reminded of our need to…

-Worship.  Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith. Having been freed from the need to worship through the intermediaries of priests and temples, God’s people are expected to come before Him directly, with sincere hearts, to worship and adore His Holy name. 

-Persevere.  Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.  We are commanded to hold fast; to hold firm; to hold down this great faith we have; to hold unswervingly to this hope Christ has given us.
And what is the motivation for holding fast?  Is it our ability to hold on?  No, he says hold firm because “he who promised is faithful.”  God is faithful.  Our hope is in Him, our trust is in His unfailing word.  Our confidence is in His work on the cross, and because of that we can hold firm.

-Encourage. Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.  God’s people are to be an encouragement to one another in our service to the Lord.
Someone once paraphrased Scripture by saying, “Man doesn't live by bread alone. He also needs buttering up.”  Now, I know that idea has a negative connotation for some, but the point is good.  We all need a bit of encouragement now and then, don’t we?  And God has told us that it is our responsibility to provide that spur-ing on to one another.

-Fellowship.  Let us not give up meeting together as some are in the habit of doing.  I can’t count how many times I’ve had a conversation with someone about the things of God and they make some comment like this: “Well, me and God have our own little thing worked out; we have an understanding.”  Meaning, they don’t need the church, they don’t need the fellowship of other Christians; they don’t need to submit to the teachings of Scripture delivered by God’s called men; and they don’t need the accountability and encouragement that comes from the body of Christ.  I regularly tell folks that they may have an understanding, but it’s a wrong one and it’s not with the God of the Bible.

We need one another.  I need you.  Like it or not, you need me.  We need the church.  God has brought us together, in spite of our different backgrounds and experiences, to use our different gifts and abilities to be an encouragement and a compliment to one another.  And we need to come together regularly.

Indeed there is great joy, great delight in Christ.  More than anything else in life has to offer.  But with that delight comes a great deal of duty.  I pray that we would each find that balance between the two, and truly live lives worthy of our King.

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