Service in His Name by His Power

A sermon on Luke 10:25-11:13 by Coty Pinckney, Desiring God Community Church, Charlotte, NC, 4/2/2006

How important are you? If you are believer, do you think of yourself as playing a key role in the advance of the kingdom? Or do you see yourself as small, insignificant, unimportant?

Many verses in the Bible tell us to be careful about how we think of ourselves. Some examples:

Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought. Romans 12:3

For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. Galatians 6:3

But in last week’s text, Jesus says,

The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Luke 10:2

Jesus says this while sending out 72 followers on a mission. Jesus is saying, in effect, “I need more! I’m going to use you, but pray for more like you! Laborers are vital!”

Do you see the apparent contradiction, the paradox here? On the one hand, we are told, “Be careful not to think too highly of yourself.” But we are also told, “Laborers are few and greatly needed. You’re a laborer. You’re vital to My cause!”

So do you have a key role? Or are you insignificant and unimportant?

Last week we saw this same paradox in Luke 9 and 10. We summarized the point this way (see sermon):

Today’s text continues with this theme, underlining both our importance to the advance of the kingdom and our complete lack of resources to fulfill that role. One key to living the Christian life is understanding how we are to work to fulfill our vitally important role, while knowing we are nothing.

Luke opens this passage by referring to the two greatest commandments: Love God with all your heart and love your neighbor as yourself. We’ll take those commandments as our outline, examining the text under three headings:

The Second Greatest Commandment

The passage begins with the this well-known story of the Good Samaritan. A lawyer is testing Jesus, saying “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus asks him what the Law says; he replies with the two greatest commandments:

"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself." Luke 10:27

Elsewhere Jesus has said that all the Law and prophets depend on these two commands. So the man has answered correctly. Jesus says, “Do this, and you will live.”

Now, the purpose of the Law is to show us our sinfulness. These commands surely perform that role! For not one of us loves God with all his heart, soul, mind, and strength every minute of every day. Not one of us loves his neighbor as himself all the time. So the lawyer should have replied, “I’ll never inherit eternal life that way! I can’t keep those commands! Isn’t there another way?”

But the lawyer doesn’t think that way. Instead, he apparently redefines loving God to mean fulfilling the Pharisee’s interpretations of the requirements of Mosaic Law. So he thinks, “OK, loving God means participating in the sacrificial system, giving tithes, fasting regularly. I do all that. So I’ve fulfilled that commandment.”

On the other hand, he has qualms about the second commandment. “I help the poor regularly by giving alms – but there are so many! I can’t help them all!” So he asks, “Who is my neighbor?”

Do you see what he wants? He wants Jesus to give him a clear set of rules which he can use to justify himself. He wants Jesus to say, “Help these folks, and you get eternal life!” He is saying, “Make this manageable, Jesus. Give me a list. I’m real good at marking items off of lists!”

But you can’t break down these commandments into manageable lists. To illustrate this, Jesus tells a story: A man is traveling on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho, descending about 3300 feet over about 17 miles. The surrounding country is desolate and dangerous. He is attacked, and left half dead beside the road. A priest walking on the same road sees him, but passes by. A Levite – someone who works to maintain the temple – also sees him, but passes by. Then a Samaritan – of a nationality despised by the Jews, related to those who just rejected Jesus in Luke 9:52-55 – comes along. He sees the man and stops. After doing all he can to help the man right there, he puts him on his own animal, takes him to an inn, and gives the innkeeper $100, saying he will return and pay whatever additional costs the innkeeper incurs.

 Jesus then asks the lawyer, “Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” The lawyer answers the obvious question. Jesus then says, “You go, and do likewise.”

Do you see how this shatters the lawyer’s conception of his neighbor? He wanted a well-defined group, with limited needs. He wanted a list of his neighbors, a set of people for whom he was liable, and therefore a much longer list of those who were not his neighbors. Instead, who is this man’s neighbor, according to Jesus? Jesus says, “Your neighbor is whoever you run into, of whatever ethnicity – even those you despise. And your obligation to each person is unlimited; give whatever is needed.”

In the terms we used last week, Jesus says his disciples will inherit eternal life. And He says to His disciples, “You are my representatives. By your coming near, the kingdom of God comes near. So live like that! Be agents of God’s mercy! Love like God loves! Show what He is like! That is your calling! That’s why I need laborers! Do that – and reap a harvest!”

Do you see the difference between the lawyer’s conception and Jesus’ conception of “love your neighbor as yourself”?

Do you consider the commands of God a means of justification? Are you trying to show God how good you are by checking items off of a list? My friends, that can never be our rationale for obedience. When we love our neighbor as we love ourselves, we are acting as God’s agents. Indeed, the Apostle John goes so far as to say, “As He is, so also are we in this world” (1 John 4:17).

So fulfilling the second greatest commandment is important, vital, necessary, and ordained. You are important instrument in God’s hands when you fulfill that commandment.

But the second greatest commandment doesn’t stand alone. We see that clearly in the next story.

The Greatest Commandment

Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. 39 And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to his teaching. 40 But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, "Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me." Luke 10:38-40

Jesus and His entourage enter the village. Remember, at this time there are no cell phones, not even any landlines. People always drop in without notice. Quite likely Mary and Martha didn’t even know they were coming. It’s quite a surprise to have these people arrive. Martha welcomes them, she wants to serve them – but probably she had no opportunity to plan.

Do note that Jesus is not acting rudely. To us Americans, it seems rude to arrive unannounced and expect a meal. This was not the case in first century Judea. Indeed, even today in many cultures the opposite holds: it is rude to visit someone and not to stay for a meal. I’ve visited African homes where I was left alone for an hour or more while the host caught, killed, plucked, and cooked a chicken in my honor. Hospitality is of central importance in such a culture.

Martha believes that also. She sees hospitality as vitally important. She feels, “It is my responsibility to make my guests feel welcome, to serve them, to meet their needs.” So she does. The group is unexpected, but she wants to serve them, and wants to serve them well.

Meanwhile, her sister Mary is doing nothing! She’s not playing her proper role as a hostess! All she does is sit at Jesus’ feet and listen!

So Martha thinks, “Mary should be loving her neighbor as she loves herself. She is just being selfish, sitting there listening. She should be serving with me, helping me care for all these guests.” So what does Martha do? Undoubtedly she tried to get Mary’s attention, making hand signals, mouthing words – but Mary either doesn’t notice or ignores her sister. She just sits there, listening to Jesus.

Finally Martha has had enough. She goes up to Jesus, and more or less accuses Him: “Don’t you care about me and the task I’m trying to accomplish? Hospitality is important! Look at what Mary’s doing – or rather, not doing. Tell her to help!”

Don’t dismiss Martha here. She is trying her best to obey a vitally important biblical command. There is a sense in which she is doing exactly what the Good Samaritan did. Like the Good Samaritan, she is confronted with an unexpected need. Like the Good Samaritan, she is giving up her time and resources to help meet this need.

So what’s wrong? Luke says she was “distracted with much serving.” Distracted from what? Jesus tells her:

41 But the Lord answered her, "Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, 42 but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her." Luke 10:41-42

She is distracted from “the one necessary thing.” What does Jesus mean? I think He means this: “Martha, you’re thinking about lots of things. And I’m not saying they are unimportant. But you’ve forgotten what is most important. You’re trying to serve a meal of food. Mary has chosen to eat a meal of the Word of God. That’s the best portion of food she could ever eat. And I’m not going to take that from her!”

As one commentator says, “This is Luke’s message to [all] disciples: sit at Jesus’ feet and devour his teaching, since there is no more important meal.”

So what is the “one necessary thing”? Coming to know and love God with all your heart.

Jesus says Mary has chosen “the good portion.” The picture here is of God Himself as our portion of food, or our portion of the family’s inheritance. This is a frequent image in the Old Testament. Here are a couple of examples:

Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. Psalm 73:25-26

The LORD is my portion; I promise to keep your words. Psalm 119:57

The psalmist is saying, “I will be satisfied with You; I will long for nothing else. I will feed on you.” God is His portion. He is satisfied in Him.

Martha thought she was loving her neighbor as herself. But in her attempt to serve, she did not make God her portion. Her portion instead was what? Her service. That’s what became most important to her. So in the midst of trying to serve, she failed to keep the greatest commandment. She failed to love the Lord her God with all her heart, soul, mind, and strength. She failed to desire God above all.

My friends, you cannot trade off the second greatest commandment with the first. You must fulfill them both.

So think of these two stories:

I hope you’re now asking yourselves, “Huh? Aren’t these two conclusions contradictory?” Indeed, if Martha had heard the story of the Good Samaritan, I think she would have felt like screaming at this point! “Jesus, I’m trying to do what You say! But You’re impossible! You tell me to love all these people who cross my path. But then when I try to do that, You tell me I must sit and listen at your feet! How can I possibly do both?”

Have you felt like that? I have. Lots of times. Perhaps you sit down to read your Bible early in the morning. You’re convicted about your lack of time in the Word, and you’ve managed to get up early, before anyone else in the house is awake. You pray to God, asking for alertness and insight, and read the first sentence – then your baby wakes up crying. You never get back to the Word.

Then you try to sit down in the evening once your kids are asleep. You read the second sentence – and the phone rings. A friend has problems, and needs your help. You talk for half an hour – and then go to bed.

The next day you decide to get away for a time of prayer. You arrange for someone to watch you kids, then walk to a lovely, isolated spot. You are about to begin to pray when your cell phone rings. You answer. Another friend has a need. You talk – and by the time you finish, you need to return home to get back to your kids.

Does that sound familiar?

Jesus calls us to serve. Jesus calls us to seek God’s face. And He doesn’t seem to give any guidelines for balance.

How do you fulfill both the greatest and the second greatest commandment?

These next verses, 10:1-13, help us move in the right direction

Fulfilling the Commandments

Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, "Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples." 2 And he said to them, "When you pray, say: "Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. 3 Give us each day our daily bread, 4 and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation." Luke 11:1-4

Consider this version of the “Lord’s prayer” in the context of the two commandments: Jesus addresses God as “Father.” He is thereby saying, “We are Your children. We love You. We depend on You. We need You. As children need their fathers, so we need You.”

His first two requests are, “Hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come.” That is: “Your name must be honored. Your kingdom must come. You have ordained it. So bring it about! Use me in any way possible to bring it about! Bring it about first in our hearts! May Your Name be honored in us, in me. And then use us to bring Your kingdom to those around us.”

That is exactly what Martha did not do. Do you see that? She was serving. But God’s Name wasn’t hallowed in her heart. She was obeying the cultural expectation of hospitality. But she wasn’t advancing God’s kingdom. She was just following a rule.

Through the order of requests in this prayer, Jesus is teaching us that our love for God must be first. Our desire to see His Name magnified, to see His kingdom come, to play our role in bringing that about, must be first.

Now consider the requests in verses three and four. What are the first two words in verse 3? “Give us.” Not “give me.” Jesus has been praying alone prior to this teaching. There is no problem in praying alone. But here Jesus highlights our corporate responsibility. We together are God’s people; together we fulfill God’s commands. We need each other many ways. And first and foremost we need each other’s prayers. If we are to fulfill the two great commandments, if we are to advance the kingdom, we must pray for each other.

Jesus then says, “Give us this day our daily bread.” “Lord, give us whatever we need to fulfill your purposes for us. Food. Shelter. Your word.”

“Forgive us our sins.” “We know we are forgiven sinners, and so we forgive others. We are weak. We are not supermen. We know we fail. So don’t lead us into temptation. Guard us. Watch over us. Keep us from Satan’s ploys. Help us to help each other to avoid Satan’s deceits.”

We can summarize the entire prayer: “Glorify Yourself. Use us to glorify Your Name. Give us what we need to do that. Help us to love You with all our hearts and to love our neighbors. We won’t do either without Your help.”

Are you beginning to see the answer to Martha’s question of how to fulfill both commandments? The next verses help to clarify the answer even more:

And he said to them, "Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, 'Friend, lend me three loaves, for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him.' Luke 11:5

Again, remember the importance of hospitality. It is vitally important that this man be able to feed his guests. For us, knocking on a neighbor’s door at midnight just to ask for a loaf of bread for our unexpected guests is almost unthinkable. But that’s because, first, we don’t value hospitality as highly and, second, because we and our guests have other options. We can go out to a 24 hour grocery store. We can stop at the gas station at midnight before we arrive. The man in the parable had no such options. Either he wakes his friends, or he doesn’t feed his guests. And his guests probably have traveled a long distance without food.

Note that he’s not asking for a handout. He says, “Lend me three loaves.” He plans to buy fresh bread in the morning when the bakeries open. He will pay his friend back.

So the host is saying, “I want to serve my friend and I can’t do it.” He is admitting his need and seeking help. How does his friend respond?

And he will answer from within, 'Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything'? 8 I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his impudence he will rise and give him whatever he needs. Luke 11:7-8

The awakened friend is understandably reluctant to help. To open the door will wake his children. Who knows when they will get back to sleep? His friendship is not enough to get him out of bed.

But the host is bold, even impudent. So the neighbor eventually gets up, waking his children. He gives the host three loaves, and spends the next hour trying to get his kids back to sleep.

What’s the point? Listen now: You are just like the host. You are just like Martha. Needy people cross your path, and you have nothing to give.  Jesus says: “What would you do in that case? You’d bother a neighbor, even though that is impudent.” Guess what, Martha. Guess what all you Martha-like folks in Desiring God Community Church. Guess what, Coty. All the resources you need are available. But you must ask! Do you encounter needy people, and don’t know what to do? Pray. Don’t be distracted from praying! That’s first! Ask. Pray. And then give. Love God with all your heart. And love your neighbor as yourself by the power of prayer. Not only is there no conflict between the two commands. You cannot fulfill the second command if you don’t fulfill the first.

Jesus underlines this point in verses 9 and 10:

And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Luke 11:9-10

Jesus says, “God is not a reluctant neighbor! If even your reluctant neighbor will give you when you impudently ask him, be confident in asking God! You are His laborers! You are His representatives! He wants to help you. So ask! Seek! Knock!”

What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; 12 or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!" Luke 11:11-13

Jesus says, “God’s not going to give dangerous gifts. He’s going to give good gifts. Earthly fathers know how to do this – how much more Your heavenly Father?”

That much is clear. But the last line is puzzling. We expect Jesus to say, “How much more will the heavenly Father give good gifts” or perhaps “the best gift” to those who ask. Indeed, this is what Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 7:11). But that’s not what Jesus says on this occasion. Instead, He says the Father will give the Holy Spirit. Why does He say this?

Jesus here is making clear: “I am not talking about what you might consider good gifts. I’m not talking about baubles and trinkets. I’m not talking about a Mercedes Benz or an Ipod. I’m talking about fulfilling the two greatest commandments. You don’t have the ability to love God with all your heart; you don’t have the resources to love your neighbor as yourself. You need the Holy Spirit to fulfill these commands. So ask! He will give! You will have my power to accomplish my purposes! You will have all the power you need!”

All of us Martha’s need the Holy Spirit. For to be Jesus’ disciples, we must fulfill both commands. We must love God with all our hearts. And we must love our neighbors as we love ourselves. So seek His face! He will give the Holy Spirit to empower you to fulfill your tasks.


Let’s return to our opening question: How important are you? God’s name must be hallowed. His Kingdom must come.If you are His disciple, it is absolutely vital that His name be hallowed in your heart. It is absolutely vital that your heart be conquered by His kingdom.

Has that happened?

But is Jesus your treasure, your portion, your King? Do you love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength?

If not: Confess your sins. Fall on your face. Admit you have tried to make yourself acceptable to God. Say, “Lord God, I can’t live up to Your standards. I am lost without You. I do not honor You in my heart. Please forgive me by Your grace, by the blood of Jesus. Center me on You.”

And He will welcome you as His own, and use you for His glory.

If you are His, if you are a genuine believer: Do you acknowledge that apart from Him you are nothing and can accomplish nothing? Do you acknowledge that without God’s help, you are no more effective than Martha striving on her own, getting angry at Mary and Jesus?

You too need Him. You need the Holy Spirit. So Ask. Seek. Knock.

Jesus is not saying that the Holy Spirit will always make our decisions easy. There is no formula here.

Rewind the tape to the story about going out for a focused time of prayer. You walk to your spot and are about to begin. The cell phone rings. You glance at the caller ID. You know this is a needy person, and is likely to be a long call. What do you do?

Jesus does not give a formula. But He gives us Himself. And He says, “Keep me first. Seek my face. And God will grant you His presence, His Holy Spirit, to give you wisdom and power to live as my agents in the world.”

When we act this way, we are not living like Martha. We are glorifying God – whether we answer the phone or not.

So do you serve your neighbor? Yes! Do you love God with all your heart? Yes! You fulfill both – by the power and guidance of the Holy Spirit, who assists you through prayer.

You are important. You have an important task. You can’t fulfill that task on your own. So pray – and live to the glory of God.

This sermon was preached on 4/2/06 at Desiring God Community Church in Charlotte, NC. Darrell Bock’s Luke 9:51-24:53 (Baker, 1994) was helpful, particularly in his discussion of Mary and Martha. The quote from a “commentator” is from this volume, page 1043.

Copyright © 2006, Thomas C. Pinckney. This data file is the sole property of Thomas C. Pinckney. Please feel free to copy it in written form, but only in its entirety for circulation freely without charge. All copies of this data file must contain the above copyright notice.

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