Christianity 201

June 21, 2013

The Woman in the Back Row

I’ve often told people that the real ministry in the church isn’t done by the people you see on the platform or the people who are members of the church board. It’s often a woman in the back row — whose name most people don’t know — who is faithfully praying and quietly meeting other women for coffee during the week that is making a huge kingdom difference. But we tend to see the people in the pool who like to make a splash every time they jump in! The woman in today’s article wasn’t literally on the back row, but in her quietness she revealed the depth of her love for God.

Just six days ago we posted an item from the blog We Are Soma. Yes we do have a six-month rule for re-blogging, but they have a variety of authors at this site, and I want to encourage you to visit. This article is by Steve Hart and appeared under the title Fierce Love: Jesus in Luke’s Gospel. Soma is a network of 18 U.S. churches, and Soma School is for existing or potential church planters. Learn more at WeAreSoma.com

As a church family, we’ve studied the Gospel of Luke this Spring. We’ve seen again and again the Fierce Love of Jesus as he goes toe to toe with the religious leaders of his day. It is easy for us to distance ourselves from those conversations by putting ourselves in the shoes of the disciples and cheering Jesus on as he goes after “those guys.” The reality, however, is that the scribes, teachers of the law, and the pharisees would fit well in our churches, small groups, and ministries. They love and study the bible. They are zealous in their devotion to God. They tithe regularly, serve faithfully, and pray beautifully. And Jesus says it is all a sham:

“And in the hearing of all the people he said to his disciples, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and love greetings in the marketplaces and the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.” (Luke 20:45-47 ESV)

In contrast, Jesus points to a poor widow putting 2 copper coins into the treasury. She is destitute, the poorest of the poor, a societal drain, a religious outsider, but she becomes the model of self-forgetful, humble, genuine gospel faith:

 ”Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box, and he saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. And he said, “Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.” (Luke 21:1-4 ESV)

Here is a woman who gets grace. She isn’t looking for the praise of men or the praise of God, for certainly no one would be impressed with her gift! She doesn’t even seem to notice herself – and that is the beauty of what she is doing. She’s self-forgetful, and she’s giving everything – the greek word is “bios”, her very life! Jesus holds up this poverty-stricken, seemingly God-forsaken woman as the example of gospel faith.

Taking these two stories together, we see that the fierce love of Jesus invites us to be utterly realistic about our twisted motivations and to be bluntly honest about how much of our obedience is little more than play-acting, trying to prove to God, others, and ourselves that we aren’t as bad as we know we really are. Jesus calls us to an honest confession that promotes a radical, self-despairing humility so that we might forget ourselves, and give all we have as a response to his gracious acceptance.

And as we receive, again and again, the gracious, one-way, unconditional, unmerited, un-earnable love of God in Jesus, we are increasingly freed from our sin and our self-righteousness. We give up on ourselves and efforts to “get better,” and we throw ourselves fully onto the finished work of Jesus in our place. Consider these words from Martin Lloyd Jones:

“We can put it this way: the man who has faith [in Jesus Christ] is the man who is no longer looking at himself and no longer looking to himself. He no longer looks at anything he once was. He does not look at what he is now. He does not even look at what he hopes to be as the result of his own efforts. He looks entirely to the Lord Jesus Christ and His finished work, and rests on that alone. He has ceased to say, “Ah yes, I used to commit terrible sins but [now] I have done this and that.” He stops saying that. If he goes on saying that, he has not got faith. Faith speaks in an entirely different manner and makes a man say, “Yes I have sinned grievously, I have lived a life of sin, yet I know that I am a child of God because I am not resting on any righteousness of my own; my righteousness is in Jesus Christ and God has put that to my account.”

The gospel free us to give up on our abilities and merits, and to look to Jesus alone for our righteousness, worth, and significance. And as we do that, all sorts of surprising fruit begin to grow up in our lives – evidences of genuine love, service, and self-sacrifice.

Our cities don’t need more churches of people working hard to be good and save themselves, either through dialing in their doctrine, being more committed to missional living, or refining their programs. Our cities need people who’ve been humbled by the fierce love of Jesus, people who’ve given up on themselves completely, found a beautiful new righteousness credited to their account, and so, like the destitute widow, give their whole lives in joyful self-forgetfulness!