I once recall having a conversation with some young people about the sovereignty of God. They had begun to ask me questions about this important topic, and they would not be satisfied without looking at the issues of election, free will, predestination, and all the rest. And, to be honest, I had no desire to have that conversation, because I knew the difficulties that are often associated with our reactions to God’s sovereignty.
The reason that this particular conversation stands out in my mind is the ugly response from one of them. A person let us all know, in no uncertain terms, if they were not individually responsible for helping God on his mission, if they were not specifically needed by God in their efforts, they would not serve him. They would not go on any sort of mission or share their faith if they were not personally the difference in a person’s salvation or lack thereof.
You know, regardless of how you understand the sovereignty of God in salvation, I would hope that you can grasp that such a response to the commands of God is problematic. Calvinists and Arminians alike should know that, regardless of how God uses us or not, it is our responsibility to obey. We do what God commands, regardless of whether or not we can understand how he uses us. We obey out of devotion to the Lord, regardless of the way that the Lord chooses to use that obedience.
One terrible mistake that we can mentally make as we live our Christian lives is to allow ourselves to believe that we are helping God along in his cause. Dare we think that the Lord needs us to accomplish his task? Dare we assume that, without our bit, the plans of God will fail?
7 “Hear, O my people, and I will speak;
O Israel, I will testify against you.
I am God, your God.
8 Not for your sacrifices do I rebuke you;
your burnt offerings are continually before me.
9 I will not accept a bull from your house
or goats from your folds.
10 For every beast of the forest is mine,
the cattle on a thousand hills.
11 I know all the birds of the hills,
and all that moves in the field is mine.
12 “If I were hungry, I would not tell you,
for the world and its fullness are mine.
13 Do I eat the flesh of bulls
or drink the blood of goats?
14 Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving,
and perform your vows to the Most High,
15 and call upon me in the day of trouble;
I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.”
Perhaps you are familiar with the saying that the lord owns the cattle on a thousand hills. Often that is cited as a way for believers to rest in God’s provision, knowing that we have a rich, heavenly Father. But that is not the intent of the psalmist.
No, the cattle on a thousand hills saying comes from the mouth of God as a rebuke to a people who have decided that they are supporting God. Some people might have mistakenly begun to believe, as the idol worshipers of Canaan believed, that their sacrifices and offerings to the Lord sustained him. They may have decided that their burnt offerings fed the Lord. But such is not ever the case.
God let’s Israel know that he does not want their offerings because of any need. He is not fed by them. He does not need their cattle. God owns the cattle on a thousand hills. The Israelites are not helping him by their participation in the sacrificial system.
The Lord tells the people to continue giving to him, but not to think they are aiding him. He wants them to worship out of a desire to worship him. He wants them to sacrifice out of thanksgiving. But he will most certainly not tolerate the concept of a person thinking they are providing for his needs. The Lord has no needs.
I would argue that the same thing is true of Christian service today. Whether we are talking about our giving in church, our singing songs of praise, or our participation in missions, we should not think that we are the linchpin in the plans of the Lord. We must not assume that God’s kingdom rises or falls based on our helping it along. The Lord is sovereign. He is King. He has no needs. And so we serve him for a different reason.
Now, this is not me saying that evangelism is unimportant. This is not me saying that giving or going is not important. God has commanded us to obey him. Obedience is important. However, the growth of the kingdom of God depends on God. He will have 100% of the glory for its establishment.
What the Lord wants of us is for us to understand that he is sovereign, and we may follow him out of obedience an joy. We share the gospel out of our desire to honor the Lord and have the joy of his glory. We give in church out of a desire to obey the Lord and demonstrate our trust in him. We sing God’s praises in order to declare truth about the Lord and his ways and our dependence on him.
I once illustrated this all with the idea of painting a wall in a house. Imagine a dad whose 5-year-old son wants to join him in painting. The dad can do the job better and faster without the little boy. But, out of love for the child, for the purpose of teaching him about work, for the kindness of letting the little one spend time with his father, the dad paints a line on the wall and asks the little boy to paint everything below the line. It is not that the boy’s participation is irrelevant. But, the dad lets the boy “help” because the dad loves his son.
When it comes to building the kingdom of God, we are like little ones painting the garage. Sure, we get some paint on the walls. But we also make a lot of messes on ourselves. However, out of love, our Heavenly Father has allowed us to join him in his work. But may we never think that we are indispensable to him in the completion of the task. He does not need us. He just loves us, which is far, far better.