Many Christians think that the current state of Christianity is in bad shape. The idea is that most believers are too casual in their faith, and, when God can get some of them to actually obey him, he is pleased because it doesn’t happen that often. It’s as if God has a bunch of children that he’s given rules to, but we are too obstinate to obey him. So God gets frustrated with us because his work isn’t getting done. If believers simply did what God wanted them to do, then the church would be much better off. It’s like God is a grandfatherly type, who wants us to trust in his sagacity. We think we know best and God sadly and patiently waits until we see things otherwise. All the while, his work is hindered. Missions suffer, churches dwindle, souls are lost, and the nation sinks into moral decay. Sound familiar?
The only problem is none of this is true! The truth is God doesn’t need us to do anything for him. Let me say that again, just a bit louder. God does not need us to do anything for him! His work does not depend on us, and his arm is not shortened by our weaknesses, laziness, disobedience, faithlessness, etc.
From here, I want to make two points. First, I want to show from Scripture that God does not need us. This will be easy because there are many passages of Scripture that demonstrate this. Second, I want to explain why God commands us to do his work.
As I said, there are many passages of Scripture both in the Old and New Testaments that could enforce the first point. I want to cull out a theme that is easy to miss, though, since it isn’t found in a particular passage.
II Samuel 7 captures the renewing of the covenant between God and his chosen people. The text explains that David wanted to build God a house of worship. David didn’t think that it was right for him to have such a nice dwelling place, while God’s house was still in a tent. So David consults with Nathan the prophet and gets the green light on plans to build a temple for the Lord. Now up until this point, if this story were unfolding in one of our local churches, we would be ecstatic. We would be excited because someone wanted to do something for the Lord. But God was not excited about David’s plans.
The next day Nathan approaches David and tells him that God does not want him to build a temple for him. In fact, David is put back in his proper place. God basically asks David: Who do you think you are? What makes you think that you could do anything that would bring glory to my name? Have I ever asked anyone else in the whole history of the nation of Israel to build me a house? God presses the point a bit further by declaring to David that it isn’t David who builds a house for God—it is God who builds the house for David. Just as God had redeemed Israel and established them, he also had chosen David, a humble and insignificant shepherd, to be king over Israel. Who was David to think that he could do anything great for God? God was the one who exalted David!
This might sound a bit harsh. But read the chapter carefully. We must firmly fix in our minds the correct order of things. God exalts us—not the other way around. In fact, all throughout the Old Testament God mocks those who serve idols for the very mistake that David made concerning God. That is, idols have to be built and constructed. Idols have to be set up and carried around. Idols have to be empowered by the strength of those who serve them! With God, it is the other way around. God empowers us with his strength.
This distinction between God and idols is stretched to the limits in Scripture. With idols, people end up sacrificing their children to them. With God, he ends up sacrificing his child for us.
Keeping this lesson in mind, I want to turn to King Cyrus at the beginning of the book of Ezra. We read there that:
In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom and also put it in writing:
Thus says Cyrus king of Persia: The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever is among you of all his people, may his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and rebuild the house of the Lord, the God of Israel—he is the God who is in Jerusalem. And let each survivor, in whatever place he sojourns, be assisted by the men of his place with silver and gold, with goods and with beasts, besides freewill offerings for the house of God that is in Jerusalem.
Here, we see that God used Cyrus in the same way that he used Solomon. God uses the Persian kings to build his temple and to supply the materials and support needed for its construction. Do you see the point? God does not need an Israelite king to fulfill his purposes and to build his temple. He can just as easily use a Persian king instead. If fact, the book of Isaiah prophesies about Cyrus, telling us that Cyrus would be used by God to perform his will.
God does not need us!
So why does God command us to do his work? If God doesn’t need us, why does he tell us to disciple others, to serve in the church and to labor as ministers of his word? It’s because God is a benevolent God. He is so amazing, powerful, exalted, and splendid that he wants his children to share in the work that he is doing. It’s not because he depends on them. It’s because he works through them to accomplish his purposes, and, in so doing, he allows us to see the unfolding of his glorious work in the earth. (One example of this can be found in 2 Cor. 8-9).
This is what we were created for. God is so amazing that he made creatures that could behold him and see him for who he is. That’s what makes life worth living. No labor or toil done under the sun, apart from our gracious Father will be of any benefit. Solomon tells us that the work we do apart from God is hopelessly warped and without purpose. It is vapor (Ecc. 2). In contrast, the work that God does is eternal; nothing can be added to it or taken away. This, my friends, is the glorious kind of work that God allows us to participate in. What a great God we serve! One who exalts us and saves us from the inefficacy or our own works, graciously lavishing on us his work! Didn’t Jesus say, “I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor” (John 4:38)?