Many years ago, I heard John Piper compare ministry to living in a hall of mirrors. You look into one mirror, he said, and you appear short and fat. You look into another mirror, and you are tall and thin. And you look into yet another mirror, and you appear totally upside down.
It is easy, Piper concluded, to lose our focus in ministry. If we are not careful, we can begin responding to the various feedback and criticisms that we receive. When someone tells us that we are short and fat, we can so easily respond by going on a diet. When someone says that we are tall and thin, we can respond by trying to gain weight. And when we hear that we are upside down, we can respond by standing on our heads. Before we know it, we are trying to please everyone by striving to be what each person thinks we should be.
No one can last very long in ministry in this kind of setting. Either frustration and bitterness will consume us, or we will burn ourselves out in our trying to be everything to everyone. How can we maintain our focus in ministry and preserve our longevity and fruitfulness?
I have found that I need to be reminded regularly of the “deep, deep love of Jesus,” to borrow the words of the well-known hymn. I need to be reminded that God really does love me and gave His Son for me. And if I don’t get this reminder regularly, I find that I am far more susceptible to allowing the feedback and criticisms of others to set my course and my tempo for ministry. To that end, let us consider how Luke 15 encourages us to remember God’s love for us.
Luke 15 contains three familiar parables—the parable of the lost sheep, the parable of the lost coin, and the parable of the prodigal son. All three are given in response to the Pharisees and religious leaders who were grumbling and complaining about Jesus’ receiving sinners and even eating with them (v. 2). All three parables teach them, and us, about the love of God. According to Jesus, the love of God is not reserved for those who think they are good people any more than the care of the physician is reserved for those who think they are well. God’s love does not wait until we clean ourselves up; it seeks out lost sinners and is given to those who do not deserve it.
Love That Spares No Expense
In the first parable, Jesus tells the story of a shepherd who has one hundred sheep. After one of them becomes lost, the shepherd leaves the remaining ninety-nine “in the open country” and goes after the one that is missing. Jesus’ point is clear: the love of God is such that it spares no expense. It is willing to sacrifice everything for the sake of one lost sheep.
Utilitarianism tells us that the ninety-nine are worth far more than the one that is lost. After all, that one lost sheep is to blame for wandering away from the safety of the flock anyway. The right thing to do is to sacrifice the one for the sake of the greater good of the ninety-nine. But Jesus says that is not the way the love of God works. God is willing to sacrifice everything for the sake of the one. His love spares no expense.
We sometimes marvel that God would go to such great lengths to save us, that He would send His own Son into the world to be born of a woman, born under the law, and that He would voluntarily take the guilt for all our sins upon Himself. We marvel at that. Can it really be possible? Why would God do this? Luke 15 gives us one answer to these questions: our God is a God whose love spares no expense. He leaves the ninety-nine for the sake of the one.
Love That Attends to Details
The second parable is similar to the first. But instead of emphasizing the sacrificial nature of the love of God, it focuses on the thorough and deliberate manner in which God’s love pursues that which is lost. Having misplaced one of ten silver coins (probably 10 percent of her net worth), the woman in the second parable searches “diligently” or “carefully” or “thoroughly” to find it (v. 8). And Jesus’ point is that the love of God acts just that way. It leaves no stone unturned, no detail unattended to. As we might say, it dots every i and crosses every t.