Every Man Is Responsible For His Face

Abraham Lincoln, who was President of the United States during the most critical time in the history of that country, the American Civil War, is arguably among the greatest presidents in the history of the United States. A story is told of a meeting he had with his advisors to discuss possible cabinet appointments. In this meeting Lincoln was advised to include a certain man in his cabinet. When he refused he was asked why he would not accept the man. ‘I don’t like his face,’ the President replied. ‘But the poor man isn’t responsible for his face,’ responded his advocate. ‘Every man over forty is responsible for his face’ countered Lincoln.

I believe that Abraham Lincoln was touching on, in very natural and external ways, a very spiritual truth. And it is the same truth that is being presented to us for consideration in today’s message. Certainly Lincoln’s observation is a generalisation and its validity is questioned given today’s advanced knowledge of DNA and heredity. But the truth is that we are responsible for who we become. As any of us can attest, who we are really has little to do with what we look like physically but has more to do with what our minds are like. So in looking at today’s lessons let us look at them from the light of a modified quote from Abraham Lincoln; ‘every man over forty is responsible for his mind.’ Now I would not elevate Lincoln so high as to suggest that he was speaking in correspondences but it is interesting to note that when the ‘face’ is spoken of in the Word it is referring to a person’s interiors (AC 2434).

The first half of our lesson for today speaks of the role our mixed motives play in our spiritual development.  It does this while first acknowledging our fallen condition, our susceptibility to the traps and snares that temptation is constantly laying before us. These are the ‘offenses’ spoken of in our lessons. We are to be guarded against these offenses because of the consequences of offending ‘one of these little ones.’ Obviously we do not want to offend little ones (children) but on a much deeper level this passage is speaking of ‘these littles ones’ not as children but as a person’s most innocent and interior nature (AC 5604). ‘These little ones’ are a person’s willingness to be led by the Lord. Being trapped or snared by an offence or failing to resist a spiritual temptation, even a natural temptation, harms our desire to be led by the Lord. Each time we do it, makes it harder for us to resist the next time and therefore harms ‘one of these little ones.’

The lesson’s exhortation to forgive ‘your brother’ repeatedly is also, like the phrase ‘one of these little ones,’ not referring to one’s biological brother but to a person’s desire to do good. This desire to do good will act out its desires but will often stumble and will often do good that really is not good at all. Remember the Lord’s question; ‘why do you call Me good, no one is good but the Father.’ And while our ‘brother’ may fail to do actual good, if he repents or remains present to his sincere desire to do good we must continue to forgive him. In other words, resisting temptation, not harming our deeply ingrained innocent desire to be led by the Lord and doing actual good is going to be a hard thing to do and yet we must try, try and try again if we are to experience truly heavenly joy.

Hearing this lesson the disciples ask the Lord; ‘Lord, increase out faith.’ At one level it seems as if when faced with this teaching of forgiveness the inquiring disciples were very present to just how far from the embodiment of the Lord’s teaching they really were. This stands in contrast to there frequent portrayal as disciples who just don’t ‘get it,’ arguing over which one of them will be greatest in heaven (Luke 9:46, Matthew 18:1).

In response to this question, from humility, the Lord gives us this very important lesson on service and the role our mixed motives play in our spiritual lives.

In our jobs we may at once feel satisfaction for having been helpful to those we work with or work for and at the same time we are working hard for the money we earn or the prestige we gain from working for a particular firm in a particular position. We know that the Lord wants us to act selflessly but none of us are truly capable of actually doing so 100% of the time. None of us are capable, on our own, to become the unselfish people the Lord promises we will become.

The power to change our habits wrests with us, the power to change our actions wrests with us but how can we change our motives? Well this is one of the miracles spoken of so often in the Word. None of us can change our motives. Our motive, for most of us, lie hidden. It is why we pray to the Lord; ‘Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me’ (Psalm 51:10).

For most of us the common mixed motive is merit. We want to be seen as a good person. We want to be seen as doing good, whether it is being known as a kind person, as a hard working person or as a charitable person. Can any of us say that we have ever done something nice for another person and not felt a little good about it? Who wouldn’t feel good about having done something nice for another person. Well, we are told of spirits from hell that the Lord occasionally brings into the world of spirits because they can serve some use. These spirits become angry when the learn that they have been useful. But for most of us we get a little personal satisfaction knowing that we have done something good. We may even find ourselves, at times, hoping that the Lord ‘saw that one’ and ‘didn’t see that one’ as if He is keeping a tally of our deeds. We may even find ourselves bartering with our goodness, exchanging kindness for a reward we’re hoping for, and withholding it if we don’t get it. Can any of us admit, at least to ourselves, that we have done this?

This message is not to make us feel bad about having done good for mixed motives, this message is to tell you that mixed motives are a natural part of our lives, that mixed motives are accepted by the Lord as a means to move us towards heaven and ultimately towards Him. We read in Secrets of Heaven (4145) that in the earliest stages of our spiritual lives none of us would do any good deeds without the desire for merit or the hoped for reward of heaven. Certainly the Lord wants everyone in every church across the land this morning to be here for the purest of reasons but He knows that some of us are simply here today because we are hoping that going to church will hold us in good stead with my community or count in my favour when it is time for that last judgement.

This is the spiritual reality that the Lord was speaking to when he told the disciples of the servant who had been working in the field. That was his job, as was the duty to serve food to his master. Does the master feel so indebted to the servant for doing his job that he reverses their roles, and serves him? Hardly. So, said the Lord. When you have done all the things I’ve told you to do, say, “We are unprofitable servants: we have done what was our duty to do.”

The message of the story is obvious. A servant is paid to do a job. When he does it that doesn’t make him marvellous. That is the contract, and his reward is the pay he receives. Any praise is extra. Our job on this earth is to do what the Lord has told us to do. When we do this, we’re not marvellous. We’ve done only what was our duty to do.

We’re not “profitable” servants until we do what is right, not for reward, but from joy, and when we do that, we do more than is required. Doing good because it will get us to heaven, or because the Lord will make us happy is a motivation, but not a very strong one. It makes us want to do just what is required-no more. Doing good because someone needs us, or because we love someone is a gift from the Lord, the love that leads us to heaven.

Consider this from the reward of work; simply doing ones job for the money it provides rarely leads to a rewarding and satisfying career. But go the extra mile, do more than is expected of you and before long we experience a joy, a fulfilment of purpose in our job that is far more than that which can be attributed to simple financial reward. Or in the words of the motivational speaker, Zig Ziglar, ‘you can have everything in life you want, if you will just help other people get what they want.’

Having taught the disciples of the need to go beyond simply what is required he then presents them with a story of ten lepers. Lepers are a common subject in the Word and for good reason, both natural and spiritual. Lepers present to those wishing to be helpful and useful to his fellow man a real dilemma; ‘I want to help people but at what cost? If I help a leper I may get leprosy myself. I want to be useful, but not that useful.’ Leprosy, in biblical times was so feared that lepers were required to live outside of town. Not only were they required to live outside of town but they were required to announce themselves when anyone came near. This, from Leviticus; “now the leper on whom the sore is, his clothes shall be torn and his head bare; and he shall cover his moustache, and cry, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ He shall be unclean. All the days he has the sore he shall be unclean. He is unclean, and he shall dwell alone; his dwelling shall be outside the camp” (Leviticus 13:45,46).

Now, in the spiritual sense the leper represents profanation or the mixing of what is Holy with what is unholy. And by profanation I am not speaking of the ‘mixing’ suggested by our conflicting motives. By profanation I am speaking of the twisting of what is taught by the Lord to serve purely selfish and evil ends. In tangible terms a priest who incites his congregation to massacre members of a different faith as their religious duty is likely guilty of profanation. There can be no more dire evil for the church than true profanation. Like the natural leprosy, profanation is something to be avoided as all costs, something to be kept out of the city with warning placed around it so that no one approaches.

And so the Lord teaches His disciples that even this evil can be healed by the Lord. And if this evil can be healed by the Lord than all evils can be healed by the Lord. In another example of the Lord healing a leper the Lord touches the leper and the leper is healed. In today’s lesson the Lord does not touch the lepers, only tells them; ‘go, show yourselves to the priests. And so it was that as they went, they were cleansed.’ It wasn’t the priests who healed the lepers it was the going to the priests. ‘The priests’ were in Jerusalem, to go to the priests would have required a journey. Any time we read of a journey or walking in the Word we are reading of how a person is to live their life.  It is through the living of our life that we are healed. It is through living our lives consistent with the 10 commandments, for varying motives at first, that we open our spiritual minds. And when our spiritual minds have been opened and formed, then the Lord forms out natural mind. In other words, we open our spiritual selves by living that which we know from the Word and the Lord forms this into a truly spiritual self that manifests itself in our external, natural self.

The one leper returns because the one way that we are truly able to be healed and experience true, heavenly joy is to stop taking credit for the good that we have done and stop seeking merit in our own spiritual progress. Then, and only then, do we stop being servants. Then we begin to understand the Lord’s words No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends (John 15:15). To replace the wish for reward with heavenly love is the Lord’s great work of mercy.


Lessons: Luke 17:1-19, Leviticus 13,  AE 790

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