Have you ever wondered why the Bible remains a bestseller? After all, Scripture is filled with teachings that are downright unappealing and even offensive. This is never more the case than in the words and deeds of Jesus. The Gospels, for example, make it clear that each human being, regardless of upbringing, accomplishments, or fine intentions, is spiritually bankrupt and in need of salvation. Furthermore, despite our rebirth in Christ, the Bible teaches that becoming holy is arduous work and requires developing spiritual disciplines that are demanding. Throughout our lives, Scripture calls us to some very unpleasant work in our relationships like turning the other cheek (Matt. 5:39); forgiving the offenses of others (Col. 3:13); going an extra mile (Matt. 5:41); loving our neighbor as ourselves—whether or not they are lovable (Matt. 5:42-44); giving our cloaks away (Matt. 5:40); and more! Now I ask you, why is this book a bestseller?
One reason I believe we love the Bible is because of the great paradox in its seemingly impossible commands. For example, we find that in casting our bread upon the water (Eccl. 11:1), when we give of ourselves and our resources, even though small, they actually return to us in some unexpected and manifold way. Every time we give to others, we find that something deep within us is refreshed and restored. As we store our riches in heaven rather than on earth, as Scripture asks of us (Matt. 6:20), we discover that the more we give away, strangely, the more we seem to have to give away again. And, in watering others, we find that, incredibly, we too are watered. This is the paradox of faith that runs so entirely counter to any culture in history. Christian faith consistently challenges us where humans are so consistently misguided—that the center of the universe is not self, but God working through a community of believers to live radically different lives.
In trusting the teachings of the Bible we experience the expansive joy that comes not from saving our lives, but paradoxically, from giving them away. As the creator and ruler of heaven and earth came not to be served but to serve, we too learn that leadership is not control, power, domination, or entitlement, as humans so often pursue. Rather, as Jesus said in Matthew 20:25, to be great is to be last, and to be first is to become the servant of all—as he was. As we join Christ in serving others we, ironically, encounter a release from the toxic and self-minimizing need to control others; to be first and to be served.
The paradox of faith deals a death blow to our craving for power and control. The teachings of Scripture and the example of Christ make clear that leadership is service, and that every believer is called to serve. That is why the Scriptures speak of the spiritual gifts (in Romans, Corinthians, and Ephesians) as first and foremost a responsibility to serve. The spiritual gifts are not given along ethnic or gender lines because they are an equipping for service, and all believers are called to serve. Thus, Paul reminds Christians in Rome not to think more highly of themselves than they ought, but, with sober judgment, to count others as better than themselves, remembering that each person may have a spiritual gift, but the gifts are for serving (Rom. 12:3-8). Likewise, Paul tells the Christians at Corinth that they are mutually dependent upon one another. For, “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!’ And the head cannot say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you!’” (1 Cor. 12:21). The parts of the body are not divided from one another, but function best when they have equal regard for, and are mutually submitted to, one another. While it runs counter to every culture, throughout all of history, this indeed is the freeing, joyous, and glorious paradox of our faith.