Beware of the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and love to be greeted in the marketplaces and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. They devour widows' houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. Such men will be punished most severely. (Luke 20:46-47)
The Pharisees and the teachers of the law loved the respect and the honor, the popularity and the reputation that came with their position. At some point, I'm sure, there was a deep love for God and a genuine desire to serve him that was the main motivation for their lives of service. But somewhere along the line that once pure desire had become tainted. In fact, as Jesus comes on the scene in Luke 20, it seems that they were much more in love with the perks of their position than they were with the God who put them in it. Somewhere along the line they had begun to use God rather than serve God. It was a subtle shift that I'm sure they were hardly able to notice, but an enormous one. And now they mostly used their role in the life of Israel to serve themselves, not their God.
There is a great temptation in the life of faith, particularly in the life of ministry, to use Jesus rather than serve Jesus. The problem is that the difference can be incredibly subtle. And, more often than not, we do both at the very same time. The biggest problem with the Pharisees and the teachers of the law was that they were a little more obvious in their using of God for their own purposes. And because of that, Jesus had some pretty harsh words for them. But if we think that we are above doing the same, we are deceiving ourselves. We're just a little better at hiding it.
There is a very thin line between using Jesus and serving Jesus. And oftentimes it is in the serving of Jesus that we get lost in the using of Jesus. It's like we were en route to a really good destination and somehow lost our way. As we served Jesus, we began to realize that we could actually use Jesus to meet our own needs for security and significance. By "serving" Jesus we found out that we could actually gain notoriety or popularity or reputation for ourselves. In fact, many of us might have ventured into ministry in the first place because of what it could do for us, rather than what we could do for Him. We tasted a little of what the Pharisees and the teachers of the law tasted, and liked the way it felt. We liked what it did for us to be significant in the lives of people. It fed something deep within us. We liked that serving Jesus could become an avenue to a career, a vocation, or a decent income. Or maybe we started out on a really good and pure path and discovered these other things along the way. And now we are unwilling or unable to give up the reputation or the position or the paycheck that ministry provides. We started out as followers, but quickly realized that by being a follower we could gain followers, and we liked that.
There is no better example of this than the world of social media. It brings this truth right out in the open. In the world of likes and followers, we all have learned the secret that giving likes and becoming followers is the best way to receive likes and gain followers. And having a lot of likes and a ton of followers feels really good. It makes us feel valuable and necessary.
I guess the reason I bring this up is because I truly believe that most of us deeply desire to serve Jesus rather than use Jesus. We desire to serve Jesus for Jesus' sake and not our own. Somewhere in us there is a pure desire to return to the purest form of life and ministry: loving and serving Jesus simply for Jesus' sake. But in order to do this a few things must happen. First, we must recognize and admit the ugly truth that lives deep in our hearts. Then we must bring that ugly truth to God. Finally, after we have recognized and admitted the truth, we must turn away from all the patterns and the ways and the means by which we have tried to use Jesus for our own benefit, and turn back to him in simple love, desire, and adoration. It is a continual process, but one in which, by the grace and strength of God, we will make progress as we continue to walk in the way of Jesus and become more and more like him, rather than continuing to walk in the way of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who use Jesus for their own benefit. And by God's mercy we will.