A Tool In the Hand

It’s funny how language changes. Cool used to mean “of lower temperature, but not quite cold.” Now it means “okay, good, mellow,” and a number of other things. Awesome used to mean “worthy of awe, stunning, breathtaking.” Today, awesome just means “really cool.” I’ve also heard people use the word “tool” as an insult. Apparently, the word “tool” has come to refer to someone who allows themselves to be used by a person or platform in order to appear more popular, cool, or important. It got me to thinking about how, in church circles, we refer to ourselves as a tool in God’s hands and I’ve come to the conclusion that we really need to stop using that term.

I know where the idea of being a tool in God’s hand comes from. God is the Potter, we are the clay, in Romans Paul says that God will make out of the same clay instruments for noble use and some for common use, but let’s just think about the relationship between a tool and its master. A tool is simply used. It sits in a shed, a toolbox, on a bench, or maybe in a pile until the master wants to make use of it. I don’t typically check in with my hammer unless I need it. Loppers sit alone and unregarded until it’s time to prune the tree. Is this the kind of relationship we have with God? Does he just stow us and forget about us until he needs us? First of all, God does not need us. He spoke all things into being from nothing by His will alone; He doesn’t need me to accomplish anything. You and I get to be involved in his work because he wants us.

A tool only serves one purpose. A hammer drives nails. A screwdriver tightens and loosens screws. A saw cuts wood. There may be minor variations of the sole purpose, but really, tools are made to do one thing. That’s why guys need so many! 1 Corinthians 12 teaches us that the “gifts of the Spirit” are not merely abilities that we are given and enabled to do. The gift is the Holy Spirit himself, and what we often call “spiritual gifts” are manifestations of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:7). There are no markers in the text as to which direction that manifestation, or gift, goes. For example, “some are given a gift of healing,” but the text does not indicate whether that means they are given an ability to heal someone else, or if they themselves have been healed. What Paul is teaching is that the Spirit will manifest in anyone, in any way, at any time. In other words, no one person has one sole purpose or function. You may receive healing one day, be given a word of knowledge for someone else next week, and then confront the demonic a couple days later. God doesn’t stow you away until your purpose comes up. He calls you to walk with him so that you can know him more and more through many different experiences. This is called growing in your faith.

Perhaps the most compelling example to get our minds off the tool train is Jesus’ relationship with the disciples. Jesus began by calling them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” He invited them into a relationship and offered them an identity. Fishermen are not a tool, they use tools in their trade, but they themselves are not tools. They use nets, boats, buoys, line, hooks, and a number of other things … those are the tools. Later, Jesus made a more general call, “Come to me you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls.” Notice, Jesus again invites his hearers into a relationship. The yoke is the tool, and we are partners with him.

The problem with the tool mentality is that we start treating each other like tools. I know, as a pastor, I can certainly feel that way. It seems that the only time my phone rings is when someone wants something or needs to complain. Most conversations turn back to ministry issues and what needs to be done or should be done. It seems like there is always a problem to be solved, an issue to be worked through, a decision to be made … think about the relationships you have that are like that. With certain people you kind of feel like a tool:  useful, but not really loved. We are created to be loved, not managed. This is why we are admonished so often in scripture, with such strong language and imagery, to love one another, to love our neighbor, to love our enemies, to love the unlovable. We aren’t supposed to manage each other, and certainly not use and manipulate each other. People–your heart–is of far greater importance than any task, achievement, or goal. That’s why things don’t work out sometimes. We need to fail and know God’s love anyway. We need to fail and love each other anyway.

Jesus uses a lot of different words to describe us in our relationship to him. We are called servants, but even in that dynamic there is relationship and variety. He calls us friends (John 15:15); in relationship to Jesus the scriptures calls us brothers (Romans 8:29), and also heirs with Christ (Romans 8:17). We are also called God’s children (1 John 3:1). We are not tools to be used, managed, and maintained. Maybe you’ve felt that way though. Maybe you’ve treated people that way. Maybe we need to start seeing ourselves, and others, like Jesus does.

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