November 30, 2008
The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.
Does God Need You?
We had our sportsfest in the seminary last week. Our second year batch played basketball against the freshmen. It was a good game although we lost by two points. The sad thing is, I didn’t play. I was sick that day. I did not play because I know my wife will be mad at me. I want to help my team win the game. I think they need me. I thought, “If I was there playing, we might possibly win.” We had another game last Thursday. I played. We lost. They need me on the team. I did all that I can do. We still lost the game. My effort was not enough. It was not sufficient.
We like the feeling of being needed. We want to be important. We like to hear someone say that they would be happier if we attended the party. We like the feeling if someone missed our presence or expressed their desire for us to help them because only we can help them. We cannot be this way in our relationship with God. We must not think that God needs us. He does not need us. We cannot contribute something to him. He is sufficient. This is clear in the message of Paul to the Athenians:
The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything (Acts 17:24-25 ESV).
A Sufficient God
Our God is a sufficient God. He does not need anything from us. He already have everything. If we don’t get what Paul is communicating here to the pagans, how can we say that we really know the God whom we worship?
There is a great need in the church to know God for who he really is. Paul was in Athens. He was distressed to see that the city was full of idols (v. 16). This moved him to talk with them about the true God. He discussed with Epicurean and Stoic philosophers (v. 18). The Epicureans believed that man live for pleasure and happiness. If gods existed, they are above human events. The Stoics, on the other hand, believed that they must align themselves with the “Purpose” directing history. There are some good results with that belief but it also leads to pride and self-sufficiency. Paul’s message will appeal to the line of thinking of these men. They were religious people (v. 22). But that is not enough. To know God is the goal of life not to be religious. Paul found an altar with the inscription: “to the unknown God” (v. 23). The Athenians feared that they might overlook some “god” that they need to worship but they know nothing about. Obviously, they were trying to serve all gods. They think they need something that can be fulfilled by their worship and sacrifices. They were wrong. Then he said beginning verse 24:
The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything (Acts 17:24-25).
We also need to hear this. It is distressing if we are not really worshipping the true God. It is distressing if there were banners in our churches that read like “to the unknown God” because of the way we relate to him, the way we pray, sing, give, and serve in the ministry. This text teaches the sufficiency of God. He lacks nothing that his creation can satisfy, nothing that our worship or service to him can satisfy. Nothing! In our relationship with him, we need to remember two things in light of the absolute sufficiency of God.
1. We do not serve God’s needs because he doesn’t have any (25a).
We do not serve God. God is not “served by human hands…” This would go straight in the face of those who believe that they can do something for God. What does it mean that God is not “served” by human hands? There is nothing that our hands can do for him. We cannot help God do his work. We cannot give advice to God. “Who has measured the Spirit of the LORD, or what man shows him his counsel? Whom did he consult, and who made him understand? Who taught him the path of justice, and taught him knowledge, and showed him the way of understanding” (Isaiah 40:13-14)? He is not lonely that we can entertain him by our songs. He is not sad that he created us to make him happy. He does not lack worshipers that he redeemed us to be his people. We do not serve God! Brothers and sisters, the message is this: Do not serve God! I know there are now some questions in your mind but hold it first and we’ll get there and answer some of your questions.
Why can’t we serve God? Because he does not need anything from us. God is not “served by human hands as though he needed anything…” We do not serve God because he does not need our service. He already has everything. All the world is his. Verse 24, “The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man.” He doesn’t need a house to live in. He doesn’t need anything!
Sometimes people think that God is lonely that is why he needs to create man and the universe to make him happy. But don’t we realize that he is not really lonely. He is completely happy with the fellowship within the three persons of the Trinity. The Father is with the Son and with the Holy Spirit even before the beginning of time. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God” (John 1:1-2). So, he does not need us. “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor? Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid? For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen” (Romans 11:34-36).
Our attitude must be the same as that of David in his prayer, “But who am I, and what is my people, that we should be able thus to offer willingly? For all things come from you, and of your own have we given you” (1 Chronicles 29:14). The doctrine of God’s sufficiency is bad news for those who do not share the attitude in David’s prayer. If you feel strong and so important, this is bad news. The truth is, you are weak and God does not need you and your service. That is why you cannot bargain or negotiate with God.We cannot say, “Lord, I will give 20% of my income if you will give me this job.” You know what God will say, “I don’t need your money. I own the universe.” You cannot bribe God.
God wants to teach us a lesson on his sufficiency. Sometimes he will take away riches, strength, or wisdom so that we will learn that we cannot give something to God that is not already his or do something without the strength that he provides.
I was in Candelaria, Quezon last November 16 to preach in a small church pastored by our missionary friend Pastor Rudy. I had a flu the day before. Although that day I felt better, I still feel dizzy. I had colds and cough. I don’t think I had the strength enough to preach. I said to God something like this, “I will preach today. There is no one who prepared to preach in my place. Why don’t you restore my strength? You have done that before so why don’t you do it now? And besides, I am doing this for you.” I preached and was still sick the whole day. But what did I learn? I learned that I really can’t do something for God. He taught me that I really do not have something to contribute to him. I cannot bargain with him or bribe him of anything. Everything I had still came from him – the strength, the wisdom, and the voice to preach. It is all his. God taught me not to serve him as if he needed me in that church.
Why did the Bible then ask us to “serve the Lord” if he does not need our service? “Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling” (Psalm 2:11). “Serve the LORD with gladness! Come into his presence with singing” (Psalm 100:2)! “Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord” (Romans 12:11). We cannot serve God because he does not have any need. But we must serve him because he wants us to. So in our service we must not think that we are needed. But in our service, we can truly bring joy and glory and honor to God.
That’s the answer to the question, How can our existence and everything we do have any significance if God does not need anything from us? Although he does not need anything, he chose to create us for his own glory. “I will say to the north, Give up, and to the south, Do not withhold; bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth, everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made” (Isaiah 43:6-7). He redeemed us for his own glory. “In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory (Ephesians 1:11-12). That is our significance. That we can bring true joy and glory to God although he does not need it because he chose it to be that way.
So do not serve him because he does not need anything from you. But serve him because he wants us to so that he might be glorified and honored and be delighted. And if you don’t want to worship or pray or serve, remember that God will still be God. He has nothing to lose. But you have everything to lose. And why is that? That brings us to the second point.
2. God serves our needs because he alone can satisfy us (25b).
If we must not serve God because he does not need anything, therefore it is God who serves us. God serves us. “…since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.” The strength we use for service comes from him. The wisdom we use in planning comes from him. The money we give comes from him. From him are all things. It is God who gives not us. It is God who serves us. God does not have any need. We have. He serves our needs.
God is our servant. What? Does that sound blasphemous? We are so used in thinking that we are God’s servants and we truly are. But we also need to know that he comes down to us and promised that he will serve all our needs. He knows we need him that is why he chose to become a servant for us. “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). Jesus Christ proved that God is sufficient in providing for our greatest need – reconciliation to him. He wants to bring us near to him because that is what we need.
Why is that? Because he alone can satisfy us. If we have him and trust him, we will not lack anything we need, absolutely anything! “The young lions suffer want and hunger; but those who seek the LORD lack no good thing” (Psalm 34:10). “For the LORD God is a sun and shield; the LORD bestows favor and honor. No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly” (84:11). “The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want” (23:1).
This biblical doctrine of the absolute self-sufficiency of God is truly good news to those who feel the great need that nothing or no one can satisfy but God. This is good news to those who feel weak and helpless. This is good news because God promises to be with you and give you everything you need. He has given you his Son already, who more proof do you want?
God is delighted when we will come to him and say, “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psalm 73:25-26). If you need something, go to God. Don’t look for any other help but God. Of course we ask for the help of somebody but we must recognize that ultimately the help will come from God. When you go to God tell him that he is enough for you. Don’t look for God and for somebody else. When you need to do something, what do you do? You try helping yourself first. If you cannot do that, you ask somebody for help. And if there is no one who can help you, where do you turn? You turn to God! But why is it that many times God becomes our last resort? Isn’t he the first one we should turn to?
Last month, we visited a lady who has underwent surgery to remove the cyst in her kidney. She was working outside the country when she noticed that her tummy is getting larger. Frantic, she called her sister and ask that her case be brought to a faith healer to perform tawas. The albularyo found out that she has something like an elephant and a woman inside her stomach (Don’t laugh.) She then went home here in the Philippines and went to various faith healers instead of going to the doctor first. None of the faith healers were able to help her. Then she finally brought her case to the doctors and found out what’s the matter and performed surgery. Now she is recovering. She said that during this ordeal, she was praying and praying and praying very hard.
We do pray and ask God for help for what we need but do we really believe that he has the solution? Or we still want to have our own way and may be try other’s solutions? God wants us to approach him with confidence that he has everything we need.
God is everything we need. But why does it seem that there are things we need today that God is not giving? We sometimes feel that God is depriving us of what we need. When we need strength, it seems that it is not coming. We think we need a romantic relationship but we do not see it coming.
Corrie ten Boom was a hero during World War II because she hid and protected Jews from being killed by Hitler. She recounted in her autobiographical book The Hiding Place that when she was growing up, she feared that she might lose her father and her family because they sheltered a Jewish baby into their home. One night when she was already in bed and can’t sleep her father arrived to check on her. Upon entrance through her room’s door, she cried, “I need you! You can’t die! You can’t!” Her father sat down on the edge of the bed and asked her, “When you and I go to Amsterdam, when do I give you your ticket?” “Just before we get on the train,” Corrie answered. “Exactly. And our father in heaven knows when we’re going to need things, too. Don’t run out ahead of Him, Corrie. When the time comes that some of us will have to die, you will look into your heart and find the strength you need – just in time.” She indeed lose her father several years after. But she found the strength she needs.
Just in time. What do you need? Go to God and ask him to give it to you. If you need it now, he will give it to you. He is not yet giving it because you still don’t need it. Tomorrow you might need it he will give it to you tomorrow. Don’t doubt his sufficiency. Don’t doubt that he has everything that will satisfy you. Ask him also to give you patience.
Will You Build God a House?
Our God is a sufficient God. We don’t serve God because he does not need anything. God serves our needs because he alone can satisfy us. This truth is all over the Bible. When you read try to ask, Where can I find God’s sufficiency here? What is the people’s response to God’s sufficiency. David experienced it in 2 Samuel 7. The kingdom now was at peace. David wants to build a house for the Lord. He has good intentions. But God wants to teach him his sufficiency. “Would you build me a house? I don’t need it. You don’t build me a house. I will build a house for you.” God promises to build David’s kingdom. David acknowledged God’s greatness. He acknowledged that God does not need him. He needs God. He prayed, “Bless the house of your servant” (v. 29).
Most of us are trying to build a house for God. We want to do God a favor. But God wants it the other way around. He wants to build a house for us. God called me to pastor this church. I thought, I will set this house in order. I somehow thought that God needs my service here to lead his people. I was wrong. He does not need me. And now I am realizing my utter insufficiency for the pastoral task like Paul who said, “Who is sufficient for these things?” (2 Corinthians 2:16). Will I quit then and disobey God’s call? No! I will also say with Paul, “Our sufficiency is with God” (3:5). I hear Jesus saying to me, “My grace is sufficient for you” (12:9). God is sufficient. God is sufficient for us. It is a privilege to serve God knowing that he does not need us but wants us to honor him by our service. It is a great joy to be served and be satisfied by a great and awesome God.