Our American culture uses victory in a competition as an extremely important measure of success. It seems everything is a matter of competition. It seems the goal of competition always is to be # 1. Which of your children is the most significant achiever? Does your child "out achieve" other children? Which of your parents is the most aggressive? Is your aggressive parent more aggressive than other aggressive parents? What kind of grades does your child make? Who is the top student in your class? Who is on track to be the valedictorian? Is your sports team in the top ten ranking in the state? Does your sports team have a national ranking in the top ten? Has it ever won a national championship? Is your company in the Fortune 500? Where do you personally rank in your company?

In what neighborhood do you live? Do you have the biggest house in that neighborhood? Is your house furnished better than other houses? What do you drive? How many cars do you have? How much do you earn? How much money do you have? What are you worth?

Our society constantly bombards us with the suggestion that we can measure our significance by our possessions or our achievements. We are so accustomed to this type of evaluation that we naturally think in these terms without realizing it.

This attitude of being "the best" seeps into the pores of our souls. Because "being the best" is such an important measurement of success in our society, it easily is carried over into the church. Who is the best preacher you ever heard? Who is the best elder you ever knew? Who is the best Bible teacher you ever encountered? Who is the best song leader you ever followed? What was the best congregation you were ever in?

If we are not quite aware and extremely careful, even Christians as the church measure success in terms of competition. It is an ancient problem. Jesus often caught his twelve disciples arguing about who among them was the most important.

This morning I want to take a devotional thought Martha Walker shared in a WINGS devotional last year and expand on it a little.

  1. We are either told or have implied to us that the key to success is being indispensable.
    1. It is a relatively simple concept.
      1. "Do what you do better than anyone else does it."
      2. "Do it so well that no one can do it better."
      3. "If you do what you do better than anyone else, others always will be forced to depend on you--getting rid of you is never an option!"
      4. "Be indispensable! That is the key to security and success!"
    2. If you have not yet learned this lesson, you likely will learn it before you die.
      1. No one is indispensable.
      2. Take any one of us out of the picture, and the world keeps on going.
      3. Jesus said the key to being spiritual, the key to eternal success is being a servant, not being indispensable.

  2. May I direct your attention to two examples.
    1. Early in the book of Acts we read about a Christian whose name was Stephen.
      1. He was a very prominent Christian in the first congregation.
      2. The church in Jerusalem began with about 3000 converts.
        1. From that congregation's beginning, we are told they had daily conversions (Acts 2:47).
        2. By Acts 4:4 we are told that the men converts numbered about 5000.
        3. Acts 5:14 says that multitudes of men and women were constantly added to their number.
      3. By Acts 6 this Jerusalem church numbered in the thousands, and they encountered their first major problem.
        1. In essence the twelve apostles said that it was not in Jesus Christ best interest to put them in charge of ending the problem.
        2. Instead these thousands of believers were to select seven men of good reputation who were full of the Spirit and wisdom.
        3. These seven men were to see the situation properly addressed.
        4. One of these seven men selected by these thousands of men and women who believed Jesus is the Christ was Stephen.
      4. But Stephen was not content just to help solve the first major problem confronting Jerusalem believers.
        1. He was useful in other ways also.
        2. Acts 6:8 says he was full of grace and power, he was a miracle worker among the people, and he did astounding things.
        3. Acts 6:9 says some specific people did not like what Stephen was doing and saying, so they started a public argument with him.
        4. But these people were not able to cope with Stephen's wisdom and God's Spirit in him.
        5. So these enemies secretly convinced some others to be false witnesses and tell lies about Stephen.
        6. The end result was that Stephen was executed.
        7. That began an open persecution of Jewish Christians in Jerusalem, and that resulted in many Christians leaving that city.
    2. I want you to notice the reaction by Christians to Stephen's death.
      1. This was the reaction: (Acts 8:2)
        1. There was an enormous outpouring of grief at the burial of Stephen.
        2. The very public, emotional execution did not make them ashamed to express their enormous loss.
      2. This was not the reaction:
        1. "This church will never be the same!"
        2. "Stephen was indispensable!"
        3. "The church in Jerusalem will surely go into great decline now!"
        4. "What will we ever do?"
      3. In Acts 15 the Jerusalem church continued to be quite strong and was regarded as being the center of Christianity.
      4. Acts 21:20 says those living in Jerusalem who believed in Jesus Christ then numbered in the tens of thousands.
      5. Was Stephen extremely useful to Christianity in Jerusalem? Without question!
      6. Was Stephen indispensable? Absolutely not! Useful? Yes! Indispensable? No!
    3. I also want to call your attention to Paul's death (he anticipates his death in 2 Timothy).
      1. It would be difficult to exaggerate the impact of Paul's travels and teachings on the spread of Christianity.
      2. Was Paul the only person to evangelize for Jesus Christ in areas that knew nothing about Christ? No! Today we know there were others.
        1. There was the scattering of Jerusalem Christians in Acts 8.
        2. There was the evangelism of the apostles.
        3. There was also the work of men like Apollos, Barnabas, and Mark.
      3. We know more about Paul's work as an evangelist because he wrote so much of the New Testament, and we know his work was extensive.
      4. When Paul told Timothy about the nearness of his execution, how much of the letter did he devote to discussing how indispensable he was? None!
        1. He concentrated his attention on encouraging and challenging Timothy.
        2. He did not say, "When I am dead, everything will collapse!"
        3. He said, "Timothy, you do the same thing for others I did for you--pass the message on, and do not let trying times stop you."
        4. Was Paul useful? Extremely!
        5. Was Paul indispensable? No!
    4. God Himself sustains and continues His kingdom!
      1. Everyone of us can be useful to God's purposes.
      2. None of us are indispensable to God's purposes.

  3. We are dependent on God, but God is not dependent on us.
    1. There are many, many motivations for working in God's kingdom.
      1. Some are God-centered motivations, and God-centered motivations are good.
      2. Some are me-centered motivations, and me-centered motivations commonly completely miss the point of service.
      3. For all of us (me included), serving in God's kingdom is about God, not about us.
      4. The objective is to be God's servant, not to attempt to make God my servant.
    2. Jesus made a statement in Matthew 6:1 that often rings in my ears as I reflect on my motives.
      Matthew 6:1 "Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven."
      1. Jesus used much of what we know as Matthew 6 to illustrate a simple truth: to God, motives are as important as deeds.
      2. When people do correct religious things for the wrong motives, God is offended.
      3. To me that understanding is very sobering
        1. If my motive for doing something that is right is a desire to receive people's admiration, when people give me that admiration, I got what I wanted.
        2. Since I got what I wanted, God owes me nothing.
        3. I have been paid in full because I did not do it for God; I did it for me.

  4. Years ago I was privileged to be part of a unique friendship shared by three men.
    1. One day one of this trio of friends died at a relatively young age, and quite unexpectedly.
      1. The two of us left were in shock; it was difficult to believe it had happened.
      2. The first morning after the unexpected death, the remaining friend called me.
      3. On his way to work he drove by our dead friend's house and on through town to his office.
      4. Very soberly he said, "I drove through town, and nothing has changed; everything is going on like nothing happened."

None of us are indispensable. Enduring success is not found in being number one. All of us can be useful. Success is surrendering your life to God. Be useful to His purposes.

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 2 November 2003

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