Servants or Friends: Chapter 13


Mount Sinai is most famous for God’s presentation of the law of Ten Commandments, along with many other rules and regulations that he knew
the people needed. After they had been thoroughly instructed, he told them it was time to move on. “You have stayed long enough at this
mountain,” God said. “Break camp and advance.”1

The Children of Israel had needed that stop at the mountain. They had needed all those added rules and regulations, even all the “dark speech”
of ritual and ceremony. They had needed the thunder and lightning, just as much as they had needed the miracles of water and “angels’
food.” And the God who took them to Sinai was the one who explained later in the upper room, “I’d rather you be my friends.”

When Israel finally entered Canaan, they took with them the tablets of the Ten Commandments. If only they had lived up to all those rules of love,
the Promised Land would have been an unbelievably safe and pleasant place to live.

But it wasn’t long before many began to ignore the Commandments. In those days, the Old Testament records, “Everyone did whatever
he pleased.”2 Some of the things they did make rather lurid reading in the book of Judges.

Many forgot the one who had rescued them from Egyptian bondage and had promised them such a golden future in the land that “flowed with milk and
honey.”3 Even some of the leaders returned to worshipping idols again.

In the middle of the Ten Commandments, God had included a regulation designed to keep Israel from forgetting him, and to help them remember the good
things he had in mind for his people. It was the law of the weekly Sabbath.

Unfortunately, servants were inclined to view that law as a particularly burdensome requirement. “Thou shalt not do anything enjoyable on the
Sabbath day,” was the way some seemed to read it.

Even today, some servants describe the restful provisions of the Sabbath as arbitrary requirements, meant just to show God’s authority and test
our willingness to obey.

But Jesus came to show there is no arbitrariness in God. As Paul explained, God’s laws were added to help us, to protect us in our ignorance
and immaturity, and to lead us back to trust. This must also be true of the weekly Sabbath.

Fortunately, God’s friends have helped explain his purpose in giving this regulation. Isaiah even says that if you don’t enjoy the Sabbath,
you’re not really observing it anyway!4

Obviously, then, Sabbath observance cannot be commanded or enforced. “Enjoy the Sabbath, or you’ll be severely punished!” Such a command
would make no sense at all. If your child is not very fond of spinach, would you order her to tell you how delicious it is, or she’ll
be severely punished?

But what could be so enjoyable about observing the weekly Sabbath? It helps to read the rest of the Bible to find very significant reasons.

Servants, who simply do what they’re told, tend to see the Sabbath as a limitation of their freedom—a restriction that faithful servants are
quite willing to accept.

Friends understand the Sabbath as a monument to friendship, a reminder of the evidence that is the basis for freedom and trust.

Some Prefer to Linger at Sinai

Servant-believers tend to linger indefinitely at Mount Sinai, finding direction and security in the great code of regulations and symbols of
forgiveness and salvation offered there.

Some servants seem to prefer the “dark speech.” It leaves them with a greater sense of mystery and awe. And it seems to give some religious
leaders special influence and power. They are venerated by less knowledgeable servants as “stewards of the mysteries” of God.5

But God’s “mysteries” are not to be enshrouded in secrecy, like the carefully concealed knowledge of the popular “mystery religions” of
Paul’s day. God’s secrets are to be fully revealed and made known.6 In fact, the New Testament describes God’s most important secret as
“Christ himself.”7 And Jesus did not come to hide the truth. On the contrary, he came to make it plain and clear.

Some even look back wistfully at the thunder and lightning of Sinai. “How good it would be,” I’ve heard some say, “if God would raise his
voice to our wicked world today!”

Friends like to remember that the cave where God spoke to Elijah in the “still, small voice” was also there at Mount Sinai.8

From Servants to Friends

I know many who have welcomed the offer of John 15:15. They enjoy the freedom of friendship so much that they often talk about how they can share
this with others. Of course, friendship cannot be pressed on anyone. As God’s friend Paul advised, “Let all be fully convinced in their
own minds.”9

All that friends can do is encourage others to look at the same evidence they have found so convincing. And that means all the evidence—including
those “more ferocious aspects of the Scriptures.” Too often pictures of God and salvation are based on a selection of Biblical passages,
rather than on the Bible as a whole. “Here a little, and there a little,” some faithful servants say. But what about the rest?

Leftover Parts

It would seem to make good sense that anyone who claims to accept the Bible as trustworthy should build his understanding, his model, his philosophy,
his picture of God and salvation on the contents of all sixty-six books. If something in the Bible doesn’t seem to fit my model, either I’m
misunderstanding the passage, or my model needs enlargement or repair.

When I was 16, I enrolled in an auto mechanics class offered by the high-school I was attending in California. Members of the class became very
fond of our highly-respected teacher, Mr. Grubb. He divided us into pairs, and each pair was assigned to a venerable automobile. Our job was to
dismantle the moving parts of our car, and especially, of course, the engine. We were to scrape the bearings, grind the valves, and perform
certain other services in the way they used to be done 55 years ago.

After that, we were to reassemble all the parts. Then came the acid test. If the car could be started, we would receive a grade. Otherwise . . .
Actually I can’t remember what the alternative was, for our car started with a bang and a roar. Several students climbed aboard, and we drove it
triumphantly around the block.

There was only one problem. We seemed to have several parts left over. Mercifully Mr. Grubb was very kind, and we received our grade anyway.
But I certainly wouldn’t want to drive that car for any distance. Not without those leftover parts!

Some time ago, I received a printed guide to the study of the Gospel of John. One of the stated purposes of the publication was to encourage
people to read the Bible as a whole. I looked with special interest to see what the guide would say about John 16:26. You recall that’s the
verse where Jesus told his disciples “plainly and clearly” that there would be no need for him to pray the Father for us, for the Father
loves us himself.

But there was no comment on that John 16 passage. No comment on its omission, either. When respectful inquiry was made, the author explained
that he couldn’t find a way to fit that verse into the traditional model. It made me think of my high-school car and all those leftover parts.

The Picture of God in All Sixty-six Books

During the years I have had the privilege of leading groups through all sixty-six books of the Bible, our only concern has been the picture of God.
We haven’t spent time wondering how he got the dinosaurs into the ark! But we have asked what kind of a God would drown all those people.

I remember the day when an 84 year old saint rose to her feet in front of 300 people. “I just want to tell you,” she said in a
remarkably firm voice, “that I have loved the Lord all of my life. But now that we’ve gone through all sixty-six books, I not only love
him—I like him!”

It has been especially enjoyable to go through the Bible with children. They are so candid in their questions and observations.

One afternoon we had just come to the Old Testament teaching about “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.”10 Questions arose about
Jesus having said that we shouldn’t do that anymore. Instead, we should turn the other cheek.

I asked the children what they would do if someone knocked out one of their teeth. After several suggestions, eight year old Casey, who sat
right beside me, his feet not yet reaching the floor, rendered his carefully thought-out decision.

“First I’d knock out his tooth. Then I’d turn the other cheek!”

On another occasion, we were talking about the many references in the Bible to God’s destruction of the wicked. I asked the children if
their mothers ever said, “You do what I say, or I’ll kill you”?

“Yes!” the whole group gleefully responded.

“Do you think they really mean it?” I inquired.

“No, of course not,” replied young Tina. “We know it’s just a figure of speech.”

“Do you think God is just using a figure of speech?” I continued the question. They indicated that they didn’t think so.

“Then does that mean your mothers love you more than God does?”

Finally Casey was the only one to break the silence. After he had considered the serious implications, all he could say was, “Wow!”

I could have told the children that the best solution to such problems is to stop asking questions and just have faith in God. Of course,
that would have been the end of their trip through the Bible. Intelligent children soon tire of simply being told by knowledgeable adults
what they ought to believe.

But I’m sure God must love listening to children talk about him the way our group of youngsters did. And it was the freedom—and safety—to
talk candidly about God that kept them reading on book by book through the sixty-six.

“Thank You for All Sixty-six”

On a recent trip to Britain, I heard about a little girl named Leilani, who had written some letters to God. I also learned that, young as she was,
she had read through all the books of the Bible. She had decided that the God of all sixty-six books must be a very special Person.

We drove up to Scotland to see her. As we stood together in the back garden of her home in Edinburgh, Leilani read some of her letters.

This one, she said, was her favorite.

Dear God,

Thank you for making me,

and for sixty-six books—

39 in the Old Testament,

27 in the New—

so we can find out about you.

Your friend,


“I see there’s a P. S. at the end,” I observed.

“Oh, just a little one. It says, ‘We all know it’s true.’ ”

“That means,” she explained, “that we know that what the Bible says is true.”

I know you would love Leilani. And Leilani is one of God’s friends.

Crown with a rose

1. Deuteronomy 1:6,7, NIV.

2. Judges 21:25, GNB; see also Judges 17:6.

3. See Exodus 3:8.

4. See Isaiah 58:13.

5. See 1 Corinthians 4:1.

6. See Colossians 1:25,26.

7. See Colossians 2:2,3.

8. See 1 Kings 19:8-13.

9. Romans 14:5, NRSV.

10. Exodus 21:24; Leviticus 24:20; Deuteronomy 19:21; Matthew 5:38-42.

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