Isaiah 50:4-7 (ESV)
The Lord GOD has given me
the tongue of those who are taught,
that I may know how to sustain with a word
him who is weary.
Morning by morning he awakens;
he awakens my ear
to hear as those who are taught.
The Lord GOD has opened my ear,
and I was not rebellious;
I turned not backward.
I gave my back to those who strike,
and my cheeks to those who pull out the beard;
I hid not my face
from disgrace and spitting.
But the Lord GOD helps me;
therefore I have not been disgraced;
therefore I have set my face like a flint,
and I know that I shall not be put to shame.
This passage expresses four truths that are easy to agree to and hard to live. The first is that God gifts me so that I can serve others. “The Lord God has given me the tongue of those who are taught that I may know how to sustain with a word him who is weary” (Is 50:4). God’s gifts, provisions, strength, and help are never for us. They are always so that we may serve others. That is the beauty of the Body of Christ. When each part recognizes that they exist for the sake of all the other parts then the body works right. When any part acts as though the body is about self, the body becomes dysfunctional. God gifts me so that I can serve others.
Second, service often results in opposition and oppression. We are frequently willing to serve if there is just a little acknowledgement. A thank you goes a long way. But God calls us to serve when there is not only no acknowledgement, but when there is outright rejection and opposition. “The Lord GOD has opened my ear” (Is 50:5). In response to God’s work in his life Isaiah writes, “I gave my back to those who strike, and my cheeks to those who pull out the beard” (Is 50:6). Jesus said, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you” (Jn 15:18). Even though the world hated Jesus, he died for it. He calls us, as his followers, to do no less. We cannot serve with the expectation of appreciation and gratitude. We must serve in response to God’s grace no matter how people respond. After all, it’s not about us.
That leads us to the third lesson. There is no shame in being mistreated for the sake of Christ. Isaiah writes, “I hid not my face from disgrace and spitting. But the Lord GOD helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced” (Is 50:6-7). We think that being spit on is disgraceful and disgusting. Isaiah says that he didn’t hide from being spit on, yet he was not disgraced. There is no shame in suffering for Christ. If someone spits in my face because I am a jerk, that would be disgraceful and I should feel shamed. If someone spits in my face because of Jesus I should be honored. The Apostle Paul, who knew something about suffering for Christ, wrote, “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake” (Php 1:29). Paul considers suffering for Christ an honor. Again, it’s not about us. It is about Him.
God gifts me so that I can serve others. Service often results in opposition and oppression. It is an honor to suffer for Christ. Those are easy statements to write. Living them is another thing. How can I possibly do that? That question brings us to our fourth lesson: “My help comes from the Lord” (Ps 121:2). God hasn’t called us to do this alone. God, who is always faithful, has promised to be our help. God, who never leaves us or forsakes us, encourages and empowers us. The God who gifts us for service is the God who indwells us, enabling us to serve no matter what the consequences. The God who loves us deeply, consistently, and immeasurably, is the God who walks through the rejection with us, equipping us to “rejoice in our sufferings” (Rom 5:3). Why do we rejoice? “Because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Rom 5:5).
Sometimes God calls us to hard things, but God never calls us to anything he does not equip us for. In the darkest shadows and deepest valleys, he is there. In the rejection and opposition, he is there. It is time we recognize that the gifts God has given are not for our own benefit. They are for the good of others. It doesn’t matter how those we serve respond. He is there with us, and he says, “apart from me you can do nothing” (Jn 15:5). “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Php 4:13). Let’s serve without consideration for self, for he is able.