Saved and Showing It (1 of 3)

Please read Titus 3:1-15 in your preferred Bible.  I’ve used the NIV this week.

We are saved to do good works.

Salvation is by grace.  It is not earned. The devotional magazine Our Daily Bread gave this definition of grace; GRACE IS EVERYTHING FOR NOTHING TO THOSE WHO DON’T DESERVE ANYTHING.

(Our Daily Bread, Sept.-Nov. 1997, page for October 31, retrieved from http://www.sermonsearch.com/sermon-illustrations/2873/a-definition/ on 1/12/18.)
“A story is told about Fiorello LaGuardia, mayor of New York City during the worst days of the Great Depression and all of WWII.  One bitterly cold night in January of 1935, the mayor turned up at a night court that served the poorest ward of the city. LaGuardia dismissed the judge for the evening and took over the bench himself.

“A tattered old woman was brought before him, charged with stealing a loaf of bread. She told LaGuardia that her daughter’s husband had deserted her, her daughter was sick, and her two grandchildren were starving. But the shopkeeper refused to drop the charges.

“‘It’s a real bad neighborhood, your Honor.’ the man told the mayor. ‘She’s got to be punished to teach other people around here a lesson.’

“LaGuardia sighed. He turned to the woman and said ‘I’ve got to punish you. The law makes no exceptions; ten dollars or ten days in jail.’  But even as he pronounced sentence, the mayor was already reaching into his pocket. He extracted a bill and said: ‘Here is the ten dollar fine which I now remit; and furthermore I am going to fine everyone in this courtroom fifty cents for living in a town where a person has to steal bread so that her grandchildren can eat. Mr. Baliff, collect the fines and give them to the defendant.’

“The following day the New York City newspapers reported that $47.50 was turned over to a bewildered old lady who had stolen a loaf of bread to feed her starving grandchildren, fifty cents of that amount being contributed by the red-faced grocery store owner, while some seventy petty criminals, people with traffic violations, and New York City policemen, each of whom had just paid fifty cents for the privilege of doing so, gave the mayor a standing ovation.

(Brennan Manning, The Ragmuffin Gospel, Multnomah, 1990, pp. 91-2, retrieved from http://www.sermonsearch.com/sermon-illustrations/2891/mayor-laguardia/ on 1/12/18.)
1. How we get saved.

Paul reveals four reasons God had for reasons for saving us.

The first is KINDNESS (verse four).  Historically speaking, salvation started in the mind of God.  He acted first to save us.  We saw this truth previously in Titus 2:11 =THE GRACE OF GOD HAS APPEARED THAT OFFERS SALVATION TO ALL PEOPLE.

God hates sin but He loves sinners and works to bring all of us to salvation.  In Romans 5:8 it is written, But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

KINDNESS is this attitude manifest in good deeds.  It bestows forgiveness and blesses others.

The second reason is God’s great LOVE (verse four).  This is God’s prime motive and the prime aspect of His character.  All other aspects of His personality are expressions of His LOVE.  Love is an unconditional state or attitude and action that seeks the spiritual maturity of the beloved.  That is God’s character and how God has acted toward us.

This is not one of the usual three words for LOVE in the NT.  This is the Gk word philanthropia, which meant “love for humanity.”  It appears only in this verse.  This is LOVE directed at the welfare of others, especially supporting people in need.

A third reason is God’s MERCY (5).  Because we are unable – on our own – to meet God’s standard of righteousness, MERCY is an absolute necessity; otherwise we have no hope.  MERCY makes a way for people who have no way of their own.  God decided to show us MERCY; we did not deserve it.  God’s MERCY is the standard for our treatment of one another; as we pray every Sunday and Wednesday, “forgive us as we forgive others.”

The fourth reason isn’t really a reason but a clarification that merit is NOT a reason: God did NOT save us BECAUSE OF THE RIGHTEOUS THINGS WE HAVE DONE (verse five).  We are not saved BY good works; we are saved FOR good works.  In Isaiah 64:6 the prophet wrote that the most righteous things we do based on our own strength are like FILTHY RAGS; worthless.  Personal merit is simply not a factor at this stage.  We do not understand the grace of God if we believe we can earn salvation by good deeds or if we believe we can lose salvation by doing evil.

Through Paul, the Holy Spirit reveals not only why God saved us, but also how God saved us.

The first of these three salvation acts is THE WASHING OF REBIRTH (verse five).  The literal meaning of the Greek word for WASHING is “bathing.”  This implies a total cleansing; the whole person is made free from the dirty guilty mark of sin.

REBIRTH refers to Jesus’ teaching to Nicodemus in John 3; a person must be “born again” to be saved.  It is a restart to life, an opportunity to live right.  Baptism by immersion is the way we enact this WASHING, demonstrating outwardly that this inward change has happened.

The WASHING refers to the moment of salvation, the time we genuinely receive Jesus as Savior, the RENEWAL to the life-long process of sanctification, where the Spirit helps us become more like Jesus.

Another means of salvation is the RENEWAL OF THE HOLY SPIRIT (verse five).  God does not expect us to find out all this on our own.  He sends the Holy Spirit to unsaved folk to direct them to the truth and bring them to a point of decision.  I would say the term “Filling of the Spirit” is equivalent to RENEWAL.

A third thing God did to save us was that He JUSTIFIED us BY HIS GRACE (verse seven).  GRACE is undeserved favor as we learned last week.  It come from God’s LOVE and is expressed in His MERCY to us.  The word JUSTIFIED refers to our legal standing.  God graciously removes the judgment of death that we deserve.  When God justified us He declared us to be righteous because the righteousness of Jesus covers our sin.  He also makes us His children by the “legality” of adoption: HEIRS OF THE HOPE OF ETERNAL LIFE (see Romans 8:15 and Ephesians 1:5).

Our part is simply having faith: Trusting GOD (verse eight) that all His promises will be fulfilled in our experience.

Finally, Paul elaborated two things that salvation has done for us.

First, in recognition of authentic faith POURED OUT the Holy Spirit GENEROUSLY (verse six).  Notice the Holy Spirit works on us in both our “BC” (Before Christ) and “WC” (With Christ) states.  In our “BC” state the Spirit brings conviction of the guilt of sin and guides us to believers who will witness the truth to us.  In our “WC” state the Spirit provides understanding of the word of God, strength to perform the will of God and Gifts to enable us to work together to see the Fruits of the Spirit manifest in each believer.

GENEROUSLY can also be translated “richly.”  The point is that God gives us all we need to succeed in our spiritual life.  Failure can’t be blamed on Him.  Notice that all three members of the Trinity are mentioned in this passage and all three have a role to play in our salvation.

Second, as already observed, God saved us so WE MIGHT BECOME HEIRS HAVING THE HOPE OF ETERNAL LIFE (verse seven). Obviously, this looks to the future; it is a HOPE.  But our status as HEIRS is in the present moment.  So our faith looks ahead to a glorious future but also confers on us the privileges and responsibilities of being part of God’s family.

We are saved to do good works.

There was a beautiful summer day when a Baptist church had scheduled baptisms down by the riverside.  A drunk stumbled on to the Sunday afternoon service and proceeded to make a pest of himself.
The minister turned to the drunk and said, “Mister, Are you ready to find Jesus?”      The drunk noticed the preacher for the first time and said, “Yessir, I sure am.”
The pastor motioned him to come into the river and then the minister then dunked the fellow under the water and pulled him right back up. “Have you found Jesus?” the preacher asked.
“No, I didn’t!” gasped the drunk.
The preacher dunked him again, this time for quite a bit longer.  Bringing him up, the preacher said, “Now, brother, have you found Jesus?”
“No, I did not Preacher.”
In disgust, the preacher baptized him a third time holding the man under for a bit longer still.  When he brought him out of the water, he inquired, “Have you found Jesus this time?”

The drunk spat out a bit of river water and said, “If it’s all the same to you, preacher, I’d like to quit lookin’!”

(Adapted from  https://www.sermoncentral.com/illustrations/sermon-illustration-jeff-strite-humor-baptism-2578?+ref=TextIllustrationDetails, retrieved on 1/12/18.)

PREVIEW:

  1. How unsaved folk act.
  2. How saved folk act.
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A New Year’s Resolution: Yes AND No

Please read Titus 2:11-15 in your Bible.  Me?  I use the NIV.

A lifetime of godly change is a sign of salvation.

Many years ago an accomplished organist was giving a concert.  His music was so masterfully made, it seemed to come from heaven itself.  In spite of his usual better judgment, the organist was excited by his own performance and the audience’s enthusiastic appreciation.  Departing from his usual method, he addressed the people and spoke at some length about his giftedness, experience, and mastery of the organ.  With a triumphant smile, he said, “And now I shall play for you my final number, my magnificent opus!”

With a flourish and to applause, he seated himself on the organ bench.  He adjusted his music, then the stops, and finally struck the keys and pedals.  Nothing happened.  The organ was silent.

He repeated this process, all of it, with the same result.  His face was red with embarrassment as he called out a name angrily, “George!”

In those days pipe organs were powered by a backstage assistant who pumped large bellows.  This voice of this assistant, George, was heard from behind the organ, “Say ‘WE!’”

After the organist made this concession to teamwork, the mighty pipe organ thundered through the final number.

And so it is with each church.  All God’s people serve God’s purpose.  He has called us out of the lonely, divided world to become a cooperative people of faith.

  1. Say “Yes!” to God’s offer of salvation (11+14).

Though God’s offer of salvation is universal, acceptance of it is limited (11).  Paul’s letter reveals three parts to God’s offer.

First, the word APPEARED, which may also translated as “offered.”  This word points specifically at Jesus’ life offered up on the cross and generally to His Incarnation.  It is translated from the Greek word epiphanea, from which we get “Epiphany,” which means “to become visible or apparent.”  This word has been used as the name for the wise men/magi’s visit to the infant Jesus.  January 6th is Epiphany day.

Second, the word GRACE.  GRACE is defined as “unmerited favor” and may be remembered as an acrostic: God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense.  Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross and His victorious Resurrection are the supreme examples of God’s GRACE.

Paul wrote that this GRACE has APPEARED TO ALL PEOPLE.  That is true in a spiritual sense; when we witness to our faith in word and deed, the GRACE of God makes yet another appearance in us.

Third, the phrase TO ALL PEOPLE.  The word “for” may be a better translation of the Greek; FOR the benefit of ALL PEOPLE.  As the New Testament affirms in other places, SALVATION is offered universally (FOR ALL PEOPLE), but it is not accepted by all people.  Those who refuse it are self-condemned.

Salvation changes us from putrification and petrification to purification (14).

“Putrification” is a process of decay.  Generally, living things decay when after death.  Those who refuse God’s grace are decaying spiritually but unaware of it.

“Petrification” is a process of fossilization or turning to “stone.”  If you go to the Petrified Gardens in Kadoka, you won’t find anything growing there but the grass; everything else has turned to stone.  This is a picture of a person who resorts to legalism and works in a mistaken attempt to earn salvation.

Paul explanation of purification is two-fold.

It is redemption.  He wrote that God offers SALVATION to REDEEM US FROM ALL WICKEDNESS.  Redemption speaks to freeing slaves by buying them from their current master.  In the case of persons who have not yet accepted Jesus, they are mastered by their sin nature.  In the case of persons who have put their trust in Jesus, they have to power to gain mastery over sin (see RMS 6:14).  The word WICKEDNESS can also be translated as “lawlessness,” defying God’s commands.

It is identification: we are identified as the children of God.  Paul explained that God intends to PURIFY FOR HIMSELF A PEOPLE WHO ARE HIS VERY OWN.  To PURIFY someone is to wipe away every trace of the dirty mark of guilt which every lawless person deserves.  Biblically, this is all of us.  God is pure & His people must also be pure.  The problem is, we can’t achieve that purity by will or by law, so God graciously gives it to all who will repent and trust His salvation.  This gift entitles us to be His people: HIS VERY OWN people.  This word means “reserved for himself” and referred to the spoils of war that the king reserved for his treasury.  (Think of it!  You are a treasured possession!)

  1. Say “Yes!” to good and “No” to evil (12+13).

God’s salvation TEACHES US (12).  The word “teach” refers to training or bringing up a child.  In the Greek it describes an ongoing process.  We always have more to learn.  It is also comprehensive of all methods of teaching; instruction, encouragement, discipline, correction.  The term is further defined in 2:1, where it is written that true teaching must be IN ACCORD WITH SOUND DOCTRINE.

But this training is not just about learning doctrine and Scripture; it must result in an improved moral life and in good works.  We do not do good works in order to be saved, but we do good works because we are saved.  There are two general responsibilities that accompany salvation.  They are our new year’s resolution: to say “YES!” and “NO!”

First, we must say “NO!” to evil.

– Say “NO!” to UNGODLINESS, which begins with a lack of respect or reverence for God.

– Say “NO!” to WORLDLY PASSIONS; caring more about material things than we care about God and/or His people.

Second, we must say “YES!” to good.

– Say “YES!” to being SELF-CONTROLLED.  This is an inwardly-directed mandate.  It is to be in control of one’s passions and attitudes.

– Say “YES!” to being UPRIGHT.  This is an outwardly-directed mandate.  It is to be in control of one’s words and deeds.

– Say “YES!” to being GODLY.  This is an upwardly-directed mandate.  It is to look to God for direction and strength in our daily living.  We don’t do good on our own, we do it by the Holy Spirit and prayer.

In fact, we must be EAGER to do good (14).  The word EAGER can be translated as “zealot” or “enthusiast.”  We ought to feel grateful for God’s grace and demonstrate our gratitude by our eagerness to do good.  This means we aren’t content to sit around waiting for opportunities to come to us, we look and pray for opportunities to do good and make it happen.  Verse twelve described three aspects of good deeds; self-control, uprightness, and godliness.

Paul addressed another motive: anticipating Jesus’ Second Coming = WHILE WE WAIT FOR THE BLESSED HOPE (13).  We are to say “NO!” to evil and “YES!” to good while we are awaiting Jesus’ second and final return to earth.  Any day now Jesus will appear and call His people to His side.  Having this hope means we want to

be found doing good when He appears, that we want to please Him, and earn rewards that we can return to Him in triumphant worship on that greatest occasion.

  1. Say “Yes!” to godly leadership (15).

Leaders are to exercise authority and followers respect authority.  In verse fifteen Paul summed up the teaching of 1:1-2:14 by commanding young pastor Titus to TEACH, ENCOURAGE, and REBUKE WITH ALL AUTHORITY.  As Titus was in the right, his leadership was to direct his church to right living.  In the Church, authority is to be invested in the elders who lead t church, including the pastor.

Paul gave command DO NOT LET ANYONE DESPISE YOU because despising godly leaders and refusing to follow direction, are signs of a heart not committed to Christ.  As we conclude, allow me to offer some advice on the care and feeding of church leaders.

Be a friend.  Influence without intimacy is merely intimidation.  Get to know the leaders of our church by spending time with them on a person-to-person level.

Be a cheerleader, not a “jeer-leader.”  There’s no place for negativity in this relationship.  Use constructive criticism if criticism must be used at all.  It takes 10 compliments to offset a single critique; earn the right to criticize by doing ten positive/uplifting things first.

Be the right kind of volunteer.  Don’t volunteer unsolicited advice, pass on criticisms, or insistence on following the “good ol’ days.”  Instead, volunteer your time and other practical means of support.

Be a brother/sister in Christ.  Pray daily for our leaders.  Encourage them in their service.  Share Scripture with them.  If it is hard to respect the person, at least respect the office.

Feed them.  We all appreciate being appreciated.  Small tokens and treats that express our thanks mean a lot to a leader.

Protect them.  Show some discernment.  Not all complaints or concerns need to be passed on.  In fact, if it’s something you can fix on your own, do it yourself.  As Jesus said, “Your Father sees what you do in secret and He will reward you accordingly.  Protect the leader’s reputation by not sharing in gossip or slander.

Let us be resolved to say “YES!” to God and “NO!” to Satan.

A Forever Kind of Love

God’s love is eternally expressed in Jesus Christ.

Please read Psalm 89 in your Bible.  I used the NIV to research my remarks.

Picture the usual Christmas scene and focus on the husband and wife opening their gifts to each other.  This is one of those moments in life when something funny is bound to happen.

The husband pointed to an ill-wrapped package and said, “Open that one next.”

The wife picked up gift and unwrapped it, opening it to find one of those obnoxious singing-and-dancing robot Christmas trees. She is a bit shocked, remembering how just days ago she had pointed out how much she hated those things when she and her husband were shopping together.

Holding it at arm’s length she said, “Weren’t you listening when I said I thought these were the most annoying things ever?”

“Open that other gift,” the husband said, pointing to a long package that is even more poorly wrapped and is very heavy.

His wife set down the robotic Christmas tree as if it were radioactive.  She opened the second package to reveal a sledgehammer.

“Is this for what I think it’s for?”

The husband replied, “And you thought I wasn’t paying attention!”

<Adapted from https://www.rd.com/funny-stuff/funny-christmas-jokes/ on 12/21/17.>

We pin a lot of hopes and waste a lot of time trying to both please and surprise one another with Christmas gifts, don’t we?

One person wrote about how her dad got her mom a DVD of her favorite movie.  That would’ve been a thoughtful gift, except the DVD was a rental and they didn’t own a DVD player!

When calamities come, one question that springs to mind is “Why?  Why did God allow this to happen to me?”  The worst calamity to ever befall the OT people of God (Judah) was to be taken over and taken captive by the Babylonians.  This psalm is one of many examples of songs lamenting this terrible circumstance.

The psalm writers were not shy about expressing these questions, even accusing God of neglecting them.  They pleaded for an end to their suffering and leaned on His promises to encourage their hope.  This morning’s Psalm is an example of this way of attempting to renew the hopes of the captive Jews.

  1. The forever love of God is found in the dynasty of David (Psalm 89:1-4).

In verses one and two the LORD is worshiped because of His LOVE and FAITHFULNESS.  These words occur seven times in the 52 verses of this psalm.

Eternity is bound up in this song; it is meant to be “The Song that Never Ends.”  We see this in the use of FOREVER and THROUGH ALL GENERATIONS; this worship is as eternal as HEAVEN ITSELF.  In Hebrew, the word translated as FOREVER is an indefinite length of time.  It is not exactly the same as the New Testament idea of eternity.  For example, in Romans 11:29, Paul wrote GOD’S GIFTS AND HIS CALL ARE IRREVOCABLE.  This assures us that God is not going to suddenly change His mind.  Our salvation is secure.  Here we see the idea that eternal means “unchanging.”

The LORD’s GREAT LOVE, a constant (faithful) LOVE.  So faithfulness is another aspect of things eternal.

These divine virtues they have been ESTABLISHED…IN HEAVEN ITSELF. The idea implied in the Hebrew is that the psalmist is creating a record of God’s faithfulness that will be preserved for future generations.

The appropriate human response is to praise God for His perfect love.  The words SING and DECLARE cover the two main ways we humans use our mouths to praise God.  The phrase WITH MY MOUTH meant “aloud” or “loudly.”  The joy of being in God is not supposed to be something we contain.  It ought to be too wonderful for us to conceal or hold inside; it ought to flow out of us, revealing God’s LOVE and FAITHFULNESS to our family and community.

The rest of this song gives us examples of other reasons the LORD is worthy of worship.

Vs. 5-13 = God’s power over creation.

Vs. 14-18 = God’s moral power.

Vs. 19-29 = God’s Son will be imbued with power.

Vs. 30-45 = God’s wrath against sin is mitigated by his covenant LOVE and FAITHFULNESS to keep His part of the covenant.

Vs. 46-52 = Worship includes pleading to God for mercy and relief from His discipline.

Verses three and four explain one aspect of His LOVE and FAITHFULNESS: His eternal covenant with David in which God established the dynasty of David forever.  (See also vs. 26-29.)  King David is referred to as the LORD’s CHOSEN ONE and His SERVANT, emphasizing the special relationship they enjoyed.

The title CHOSEN ONE refers to the way God always works.  He chooses us first.  He makes His plans and attempts to work them with our cooperation.  The emphasis is never on our qualifications, but on God’s choosing and empowering.

The title SERVANT refers to David doing his part of the covenant-relationship; doing God’s will.

The COVENANT God swore with David was to establish an eternal dynasty, having one of David’s descendants reign over God’s people for all eternity.  The fulfillment of this promise was realized in Jesus, who was a member of David’s royal family and because of His victory over death, Jesus Christ will reign as King for all eternity.

We are to feel secure in this promise.  The psalmist expressed that feeling of security in a couple different ways: he used the words STANDS FIRM (2) and ESTABLISH (4) to assure us of this trustworthy foundation to our faith.

  1. The forever love of God is found in the Son of David, Jesus Christ.

The genealogy of Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel (1:1-17) is there to prove that Joseph, Jesus’ stepfather, was of the line of David and went back only as far as Abraham.  The purpose behind that family tree was to show that Jesus is related to all Jews.

The genealogy of Jesus in Luke’s Gospel (1:1-17) is also there to prove that Joseph, Jesus’ stepfather, was of the line of David.  But Luke’s version goes all the way back to Adam, with the purpose of showing that Jesus is related to all people.  Some people also think that even though Mary’s name is not used by Luke, these ancestors Mary shared in common with Joseph.

The love of God the Father for Jesus, God the Son, was expressed three times in the New Testament.

The first was at Jesus’ baptism by John (Matthew 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22), where the voice from heaven said, “THIS IS MY SON, WHOM I LOVE; WITH HIM I AM WELL PLEASED.”

These words were repeated by the voice of our Heavenly Father at Jesus’ Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-8; Mark 9:2-13; Luke 9:28-36), with an addition, “LISTEN TO HIM.”

In John 12:20-50, Jesus taught some Greeks about eternal life and prayed, “FATHER, GLORIFY YOUR NAME.”  The heavenly voice responded, “I HAVE GLORIFIED IT, AND WILL GLORIFY IT AGAIN.” Jesus explained that the voice spoke so that the people there would realize that His immanent death would provide salvation for all people.

God’s love is eternally expressed in Jesus Christ.

In an article entitled “Keep Close to the Heart of Christmas,” Bible Teacher and Pastor John Piper put Christmas in perspective.

“Now, I think this is as close as we get to the actual description of the event of the incarnation — of the divine nature, in some way, uniting with the human nature in the womb of Mary. We know from numerous texts in the New Testament that Jesus was God, very God, who had a divine nature. He had a real divine nature. Colossians 2:9 says that in his body there was ‘fullness of deity.’

“And we know that Jesus Christ also had a human nature. Paul says, ‘There is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus’ (1 Timothy 2:5). So he was a mediator between God and man because he was a man. So we know that Jesus was a God-man. There were two natures, the divine nature and the human nature, in this one person — Jesus Christ.”

<Retrieved from https://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/keep-close-to-the-heart-of-christmas on 12/21/17.>

On this last Sunday in Advent, with Christmas Eve just hours away, we reach the climax of our struggle to keep Christmas centered on Christ.  Too soon, the day will be over and we’ll wonder why we got into such a fuss again this year.  We’ll vow to do better next year and probably fall back into old habits instead.

We’ve learned that Jesus Christ is the focus of both Old and New Testaments.  He gives all that is needed for salvation to all who will, by faith, receive it.  Be one of those people at Christmas and all year long.

Planting Tears, Harvesting Joy

advent three(From http://www.lifeway.com/Article/devotions-christmas-advent-week-three-joy.)

Please read Psalm 126 in your Bible.  I’ve used the NIV to prepare this article.

Jesus is our joy.  Our joy is our strength.

          From an anonymous author and for your Advent enjoyment, I present a “Theology of Christmas Toys.”   This humorous article answers the question, “If adults were as concerned about toys as kids are, how would different faiths think about toys?”

  • Atheism: There is no toymaker.
  • Polytheism: There are many toymakers.
  • Darwinism: The toys made themselves.
  • Capitalism: Sell your toys.
  • Communism: Everyone gets the same number of toys.
  • Islam: You can only play with my toy. Get rid of yours or else.
  • Buddhism: The world would be a better place if we all stopped asking for toys.
  • Presbyterian: These toys were chosen for you to play with and these toys were chosen for me.
  • Methodist: Consult the “Book of Discipline” for the right method of playing with toys.
  • Episcopalian: We don’t care where the toys come from, we just play with them.
  • Baptist: We have played with this toy this way for years and we’re not about to change.
  • Unitarian: There are no bad toys or bad players.
  • Pentecostal: Real toys can speak in tongues.
  • Assembly of God: Name the toy and claim it.
  • Seventh Day Adventist: Eat your vegetables and play with your toys on Saturday only.
  • Christian Scientist: Broken toys are a figment of your imagination.
  • Amish: No toys with batteries.
  • Orthodox: There is only one toy and it is in our church. It was our toy first.
  • Catholic: No, it’s our toy.
  • Televangelist: Send me $100 and I’ll tell you how to get more toys.

(Adapted from the Joyful Noiseletter, Dec. 2010.)

It turns out that the real joy of this season was wrapped in “swaddling clothes,” not in wrapping paper.  Do you want to have a joyous Christmas?  Focus on Christ.                2

  1. The LORD’s restoration is the peoples’ joy.

Restoration brings joy.  The word “restoration” is one of two key words in this passage.   It is described as A SONG OF ASCENTS; a hymn sung as people walked up the hill to the temple.

The historical occasion is the return of God’s people from their exile in Babylon. RESTORE OUR FORTUNES…LIKE STREAMS IN THE NEGEV (4).  Traditionally, this psalm is believed to have been written by Ezra, the priest who helped lead God’s people back to Jerusalem and rebuild the city and the temple.  The joy of returning home was no doubt tempered when they saw the ruins of the city and fully realized the work that lay before them.  That’s why verse four feels a bit out of place – a downbeat among all the excitement.  In the Hebrew, the word RESTORE is in the imperative voice, so it’s pleading with God (use an “!”).

In the region of the NEGEV, the STREAMS have dry up over the summer.   When winter rains fall, even just an inch results in rushing waters & flash floods.  Ultimately the water revives the land: there are blossoms in the desert.  To the first readers of the song this would have been a dramatic illustration as they would have experienced this personally.

Spiritually, this image means we are restored from slavery to sin with its deadly effects.  We are restored to fellowship with God and one another.

“Joy” is the other key word.  Their joy upon returning home was so deep, it was beyond understanding: WE WERE LIKE THOSE WHO DREAMED (1).  Have you ever said to someone, “Pinch me; I must be dreaming” and regretted it later?  Deep joy is one of those rare moments when life feels too good to be true and we are overwhelmed by joy.  It’s a more common experience to anticipate something but still be overwhelmed when it actually happens.  This passage reads like the eyewitness account of someone who’s experienced this kind of joy personally.

In verse two their joy found expression.   OUR MOUTHS WERE FILLED WITH LAUGHTER, OUR TONGUES WITH SOUNDS OF JOY.  The repetition of MOUTHS and TONGUES is for emphasis.  The point: joy is sometimes so powerful we can’t hold it in.

LAUGHTER and SOUNDS OF JOY may be the same thing, but they certainly come from the same thing: profound joy.  Whether we celebrate with laughter or song, God wants us to worship Him with joyous hearts.

This is a fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy: LEAVE BABYLON, FLEE FROM THE BABYLONIANS!  ANNOUNCE THIS WITH SHOUTS OF JOY AND PROCLAIM IT.  SEND IT OUT TO THE ENDS OF THE EARTH; SAY “THE LORD HAS REDEEMED HIS SERVANT JACOB.” (Isaiah 48:20)

The phrase IT WAS SAID AMONG THE NATIONS means the message of God’s restoring His people was spoken so widely and with such intensity of joy even pagan nations knew God had acted on their behalf.

The deepest joy flows from remembering all the GREAT THINGS God has done for us (v. 3).  God so worked on the heart of Cyrus, the Babylonian king, that he allowed the people of Judah to return to their homeland without paying any ransom.  He allowed them to take back temple treasures and even aided their return and reconstruction with generous gifts.  When enemies tried to undermine the Jew’s efforts, Cyrus took their side.

The rebuilding of the city, its walls, and the temple within was no small feat.  The Old Testament books of Ezra and Nehemiah detail the obstacles overcome to achieve this.

Tears are “joy seeds,” as affirmed in verses five and six.  THOSE WHO SOW WITH TEARS WILL REAP WITH SONGS OF JOY (5). Obviously we don’t weep seeds, so this is a poetic, symbolic statement.  It is a promise that our sorrows are not wasted.  The tears we cry are like seeds in the sense that they will bring better days ahead.

THOSE WHO GO OUT WEEPING, CARRYING SEED TO SOW, WILL RETURN WITH SONGS OF JOY, CARRYING SHEAVES WITH THEM (6).

The Jews struggled to emerge from their captivity.  The promise is overcoming.  It will make a difference.  Tears of grief and frustration will become tears and songs of joy as God rewards faithfulness with fruitfulness.

The Bible is clear on this point: our TEARS are important to God; He sees them.  As a psalmist wrote: Record my misery; list my tears on your scroll— are they not in your record? (Psalm 56:8)  Other versions translate this verse as saying God collects our tears in a bottle.

From Egyptian times to the American Civil War and even to today, people have used small bottles to collect their tears as a sign of grief at death or parting.  These bottles are called “lachrymatories.”  (You can order them online, spending from $7 to $70.)

The agricultural metaphor implies that restoration is a gift that demands effort on our part.  As we’ve learned recently, our part is to be faithful and trust that God will make us fruitful.  For them, this involved risk; seed was buried in the ground and if it didn’t produce a crop, there would NOT be any for next year’s planting.  Faithfulness requires risk.

  1. Jesus’ birth was a joyous occasion.

The MAGI/wise men rejoiced (Matthew 2:9-10).  AFTER THEY HAD HEARD THE KING, THEY WENT ON THEIR WAY, AND THE STAR THEY HAD SEEN WHEN IT ROSE WENT AHEAD OF THEM UNTIL IT STOPPED OVER THE PLACE WHERE THE CHILD WAS.  WHEN THEY SAW THE STAR, THEY WERE OVERJOYED.

Elizabeth and unborn John the Baptist rejoiced (LKE 1:44).  “AS SOON AS THE SOUND OF YOUR GREETING REACHED MY EARS, THE BABY IN MY WOMB LEAPED FOR JOY.”

Mary rejoiced (LKE 1:46).  “MY SOUL GLORIFIES THE LORD AND REJOICES IN GOD MY SAVIOR.”

In Luke 2, the shepherds, Simeon and Anna gave glory to God when they saw the baby Jesus, which is exactly the right thing to do when we experience godly joy.

It has been suggested that we proclaim 2018 to be a Year of Joy here at Emmanuel.  Sounds good.  But proclaiming requires doing or we’ve only succeeded in exchanging words.  We’d all like a 52 week break from negativity and worldly concerns.

Theologian Huston Smith is quoted, “At the center of the religious life is a peculiar kind of joy, the prospect of a happy ending that blossoms from necessarily painful ordeals, the promise of human difficulties embraced and overcome.”
(Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/huston_smith_613775)

 

All Good Things

Please read Psalm 85 in your Bible.  I used the NIV to prepare these remarks.

Jesus is Keeper of all God’s promises, the Giver of all good things.

One part of the process of maturing is setting aside the myths and mistaken thinking that comfort and guide us when we are young and/or immature.  For example, the inevitable moment in growing up when we set aside the Santa Claus myth.

In his book Searching for God Knows What, Donald Miller tells the story of when he first realized that Santa was not real.  He was eight years old at the time and at the mall.  Needing to use the restroom, he went inside and was awestruck to see Santa himself, standing there using the facilities.  He thought it an honor to see jolly ol’ St. Nick, even though he was outside of his usual environment.

Santa finished what he came for, turned around and caught young Donnie staring at him.  He said, “Ho, ho, ho, kid.”

There were no words in young Donald’s mind and nothing came out of his mouth.   Santa shrugged & walked out of the bathroom.

After being starstruck wore off, Donald realized that Santa had left the men’s room without washing his hands.  Yuck!  He could not believe that someone with Santa’s reputation for fussiness about keeping naughty and nice lists could be so lacking in simple hygiene.  It was then and there that Donald decided there was no such person as Santa Claus and the guy with germy hands was just someone trying to earn some extra money during the holidays.

He left the restroom to join his family who were already in line to see Santa Claus.  He asked his mother to be excused.  He sat down in the lingerie department and consider the ramifications of this important decision.

(Searching for God Knows What, Donald Miller, 2004, pp. 22-25.)

This process is not just for children, however.  All our lives we are supposed to continue maturing, continuing to put away the myths, superstitions, and half-truths that have made us comfortable but are wrong.

Jesus came, in part, to keep God’s promises.  He became one of us to give us the whole truth about God and set us free from the untrue things that hold us back from real life with God.  Psalm 85 is packed with “adult words” and encouraging promises.

  1. The key words in these promises.

FAVOR (v. 1).  The object of God’s FAVOR is the LAND.  The Promised Land was one of the chief points of Jewish theology, it was a sign of God’s love for His people.

Restoration (v. 1+4).   The historical object of restoration was to be returned to their LAND, to end their 70 years of captivity.

Forgiveness is named and described in four different ways.

God forgave and COVERED ALL THEIR SINS (v. 2).  True forgiveness requires some forgetting, putting away the offense.  When God forgives, He forgets completely.  We must do the same.

The psalmist pleaded with God to forgive and SET ASIDE ALL YOUR WRATH AND TURN FROM YOUR FIERCE ANGER (v. 3).  Forgiveness requires giving up one’s right to seek revenge or punish.  To truly forgive, both the forgiver and the forgiven need to humble themselves and make some sacrifices

He also pleaded with him to PUT AWAY YOUR DISPLEASURE (v. 4).  Forgiveness does not allow grudge-holding.  Love does not keep a record of wrongs.  This truth is expressed twice in verse five, in slightly different ways.  (Do not BE ANGRY WITH US FOREVER, and do not PROLONG YOUR ANGER THROUGH ALL GENERATIONS.)  They show a concern for the future and a desire to move forward.

Revival (v. 6).  To “revive” something is to restore or renew life; to spark vitality where life is ebbing.  This is a gift from God, another act of grace.  Asking for and receiving God’s forgiveness is the first step toward revival.  Every revival has begun with intense times of conviction of sin and repentance.

LOVE (v. 7).  LOVE is an Old Testament virtue.  It may not be as obvious as it is in the NT, but it is true that throughout the Bible, LOVE is the greatest virtue.  This verse is as accurate and abridged statement of the Gospel as you’d hope to find in the NT.  LOVE has always been God’s thing.

RIGHTEOUSNESS (vs. 11+13).  We think of RIGHTEOUSNESS in moral terms and that’s true, but not the whole truth.  The origin of RIGHTEOUSNESS is not in our moral willpower.  It comes with the Holy Spirit.  It is another grace God gives us.  The Bible says that any righteousness we can achieve is inadequate to save us.  As v. 13 makes clear, the human form of RIGHTEOUSNESS was expressed in the living and teaching of Jesus.  We follow His example.

  1. The results of the promises kept.

REJOICE IN YOU (v. 6).  Joy is supposed to be our “default setting.”  If life is characterized by anger or gloom, something must change.

SALVATION (vs. 7+9).  It is likely the original readers/singers of this psalm saw restoration, revival, and SALVATION as returning home from Babylon.  For us, SALVATION takes on a more eternal perspective.  We think of SALVATION as our going from earth to heaven.

PEACE (v. 8).  This is REAL peace, the kind that passes human understanding (see Philippians 4:7).  More than the absence of conflict, this is an emotional stability that exists in the face of conflict, a contagious positivity and ease.

HIS GLORY will DWELL IN OUR LAND (v. 9).  God’s presence is His glory and is manifest in light.  God is among His people and in the LAND.

The combined virtues of LOVE and FAITHFULNESS, RIGHTEOUSNESS and PEACE become possible (v. 10).  We know it is difficult to be loving AND faithful at the same time.  God will sometimes require us to do the faithful thing and someone will feel like we’ve been unloving.  Doing the right thing will put us at odds with people doing the wrong thing, or doing nothing.  When your choice is between doing God’s will OR anything else, pick God’s way.  Be obedient to God first and let the people sort themselves out.  We have to answer to God.

THE LORD WILL GIVE WHAT IS GOOD, the LAND WILL YIELD A HARVEST (v. 12).  Whether or not we recognize it at the time, the LORD will do what is GOOD for us.  What we HARVEST depends on what we have planted (see Galatians 6:7-8).

  1. Our part in receiving these promises.

We must LISTEN TO WHAT THE LORD GOD SAYS (v. 8).  On a practical level, this means two things.  First, listen to the LORD, not the world and CERTAINLY not the devil.  Second, as James 1:22-23 states, don’t just listen to God’s word and then go out and do whatever you please.  Apply the word.

Be FAITHFUL SERVANTS (v. 8).  Pride can get in the way of being a SERVANT, but you must serve others if you want to serve the LORD.  God’s will is that we should serve each other, not be individuals unconcerned about each other, or worse, in competition with each other, or worst of all, in conflict.

TURN NOT TO FOLLY (v. 8).  FOLLY here refers to claiming to be a child of God but behaving like a worldly person, not following the way of God.  It is the worst kind of FOLLY to see the life that God offers and then reject Him.

FEAR HIM (v. 9).   FEAR of God means at least three things.  One, feeling awe for God; being overwhelmed by His glory and goodness.  Two, having respect for God; complying with His will because you recognize His authority.  Three, it is legitimate to have a healthy FEAR of God.  A healthy fear is based on knowledge that God has all power and that one day we will have to stand before Him in judgment.

Verse 11 lists two virtues and describes their different points of origin.  FAITHFULNESS is something we practice: that’s why it SPRINGS FORTH FROM THE EARTH.   To be faithful, we must make our daily decisions based on the guidance we receive from God’s word; it involves our will.

RIGHTEOUSNESS is a virtue we receive from heaven: that’s why it’s said to look DOWN FROM HEAVEN.  To be righteous, we must allow the Holy Spirit within us to guide us into the right things to say and do.

  1. Jesus was born to keep these promises.

This truth is affirmed in the Gospels.  In Matthew 1:21, an angel declared to Joseph one reason for the birth of Jesus; “[Mary] WILL GIVE BIRTH TO A SON, AND YOU ARE TO GIVE HIM THE NAME JESUS, BECAUSE HE WILL SAVE HIS PEOPLE FROM THEIR SINS.”

To Mary, the angel Gabriel declared a different purpose, “YOU WILL CONCEIVE AND GIVE BIRTH TO A SON, AND YOU ARE TO CALL HIM JESUS.  HE WILL BE GREAT AND WILL BE CALLED THE SON OF THE MOST HIGH.  THE LORD GOD WILL GIVE HIM THE THRONE OF HIS FATHER DAVID, AND HE WILL REIGN OVER JACOB’S DESCENDANTS FOREVER; HIS KINGDOM WILL NEVER END.” (Luke 1:30-33).

Paul affirmed Jesus was the keeper of God the Father’s promises (see 1 Corinthians 1:30-31).  He is our RIGHTEOUSNESS, HOLINESS, and REDEMPTION

Jesus is Keeper of all God’s promises, the Giver of all good things.

Don’t be content to just hear the words; be ambitious to do them.  The world needs godly people ambitious to do God’s will.

The Shining Face of Jesus

Please read Psalm 80 in your favorite Bible.  I used the NIV to research these remarks.

Jesus is our light and our salvation.

The Appalachian Trail is the longest hiking trail in the US.  It winds up and down the rugged Appalachian mountains and is 2,200 miles long.  Imagine!  It runs from Georgia to Maine.

Most people only tackle part of the trail, but if you’re really ambitious, the whole thing takes an average of 165 days to complete.  It is just putting one foot in front of the other, right?  Do that about 5 million times and suddenly you’re all done!

I mention this because it takes 365 days to hike through the average year.  As the average American takes just 5,900 steps a day, the year is a journey of just over 2 million steps.  That’s not half the distance down the Appalachian Trail.

This data helped me put into perspective what a “hike” a year of living can be.  I am grateful that Christmas comes at the end of the year.  Imagine how tedious life would be if we trudged through another year without anything more to celebrate than another one starting up?  Depressing.

Nobody really thinks Jesus was born on Dec. 25, but I say, who cares?  We need Christmas most at the end of the year and God bless it!

Similarly, the birth of Jesus Christ was the culmination of God’s plan for world salvation.  We celebrate His birth because in that one baby God kept the promises He had made to His people.  This Advent season we are going to uncover and explain some of the delightful promises of God in an unlikely place; the Psalms.  In these worship songs we see the footprints that led to the Messiah whom God had promised to His people.  It’s amazing to consider that the first part of this journey to salvation was literally taken in baby steps!

  1. Jesus is our Shepherd.

In Psalm 80:1-2 God promised He would send a Shepherd for His people.  Although shepherding was a major occupation at the time, in their culture, being a shepherd wasn’t a glamorous/desirable vocation.  In that respect I wonder why did God choose to represent Himself as a shepherd (PSS 23:1; ISH 40:11; JMH 23:1-3; 31:9; EKL 34)?  He had at least two reasons.

One, because we are all like sheep.  In Isaiah 53:6 it is written; We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; & t Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.  Sheep need a shepherd to survive.  If the flock is to be successful, the shepherd must guide, protect, and care for them.  Like sheep, we tend to wander off to do our own thing and get ourselves in calamity.

Two, because God is our leader.  Shepherds need a protective and sacrificial attitude; God has demonstrated that spirit time after time.  A shepherd leads from among the flock, not from a distance.

In this Psalm the nearness of God is implied in the phrase, ENTHRONED BETWEEN THE CHERUBIM.  This refers to the statuary atop the Ark of the Covenant in the temple.  These heavenly creatures faced away from one another with their wingtips pointing backward.  They did not quite touch and the space between was considered to be the dwelling-place of God.  All of this is meant to reassure us that He is in the midst of His people; He is intimately related to us.

JOSEPH is chosen to represent the people of God because, according to 1 Chronicles 5:1-2, the rights of the firstborn were taken from Reuben and awarded to Joseph instead.  Also, Joseph is one of the holiest men in the Bible.

The psalmist calls on the SHEPHERD OF ISRAEL to AWAKEN to their plight and to SAVE them.

Anticipating the chorus (vs. 3, 7 & 19) in v. 1, the FLOCK asks the SHEPHERD to SHINE FORTH.  When God appeared to His people, He appeared in His glory, in actual light.

We find the fulfillment of this problem in John 10:11-15, where Jesus called Himself THE GOOD SHEPHERD and told us what that meant.  The Greek word translated as GOOD is kalos, which includes perfect competence and moral purity.  Jesus is the Ultimate Shepherd.

Most importantly, it meant the GOOD SHEPHERD sacrificed Himself to save his sheep (11).  Jesus gave His life on the cross to save us.  For, unlike a hired hand, the GOOD SHEPHERD cares about the sheep (12-13).  This “hired hand” was intended by Jesus to be a symbol of the Jewish religious leaders and an indictment of their leadership of the people of God.

The GOOD SHEPHERD knows His sheep and He knows God the Father (14-15).  The Greek word for KNOW is ginosko, which implies a knowledge based on something more substantial than facts; it is also knowledge based on personal experience.

  1. Jesus is our Light.

A plea is made three times in this Psalm (vs. 3, 7, 19), a plea that becomes a promise of light to shine on God’s people.  Three times the psalmist plead with God, RESTORE US, O GOD; MAKE YOUR FACE SHINE UPON US, THAT WE MAY BE SAVED.  (See Numbers 6:24-26; Psalms 31:16; 67:1 for similar language.)  If it helps, think of these verses as the chorus or refrain of the song.

To have God’s FACE SHINE UPON you meant to have God’s attention, experience His presence, and receive His blessing.  When we endure trials it’s easy to feel lonely and wonder where God is.   The purpose of His attention – as far as the psalmist was concerned – was to RESTORE and SAVE them.  This is a plea for deliverance from their enemies and further, to bring them back to a place of favor.

According to v. 17, the FACE is that of God’s appointed representative; THE MAN AT YOUR RIGHT HAND, THE SON OF MAN YOU HAVE RAISED UP FOR YOURSELF (also in v. 15).  At the time this prophecy was made, the readers would’ve understood that the MAN referred to here was the king and/or the whole nation of Israel.  However, with the benefit of the New Testament, we have perspective to see that Jesus is this MAN.  That is the prophecy God intended to convey.  We see this cycle of prediction and fulfillment in the following details:

First, AT YOUR RIGHT HAND: the right hand being the position of power and influence in their culture as well as ours.  Matthew 26:64; Mark 16:19; Acts 2:33; 5:31; 7:55-56; Romans 8:34; Ephesians 1:20; Colossians 3:1; and Hebrews 1:3 testify that in heaven, Jesus sits at the right hand of God the Father.

Second, THE SON OF MAN is the title Jesus preferred to use for Himself, as we see often in the Gospels.

Third, God the Father RAISED UP Jesus in two senses; from birth to maturity He raised Jesus in a human body and also He raised Jesus from the dead.

We look to a couple of places in the Gospels as examples of the fulfillment of God’s promise in the chorus of Psalm 80.

In Matthew 17:1-2 it is written, After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves.  There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light.  (See 2 Peter 1:16-18 for Peter’s account of this event.)  This is the literal fulfillment of Psalm 80.  The face of Jesus literally shone brightly on three of His disciples.

This supernatural event was accompanied by a voice from heaven identifying Jesus as God’s Son, the Father was pleased with Him, and they were to LISTEN TO HIM.  This is called the “Transfiguration” because of the supernatural change in Jesus’ appearance.  Its purpose was to fulfill prophecy and confirm Jesus’ claims He was God’s Son.

In John 8:12 we read, When Jesus spoke to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”  Here Jesus used LIGHT more as a figure of speech than a literal luminescence.  The LIGHT is a symbol of the goodness, truth, and glory of God.  In Jesus, God the Father was present and the truth was revealed in His teachings.

DARKNESS symbolizes the evil and falsehood of this world where it is ruined by sin.  It is the opposite of the character of God and the righteous standards to which He calls us.

Jesus is our light and our salvation.

Not everyone embraces the rapidly-changing world of social media.  I, for one, will not surrender my 90’s vintage flip phone for a smart phone and only accepted the flip phone under duress.  But even I can see a couple positives in social media.

First, of all the technologies that could have experienced this unprecedented change rate of change, I’m encouraged that the one people chose the kind of technology that empowers our communication.  We could’ve been crazy about solar-powered vehicles or sunk a lot of research into robots or space travel, but the market chose phones.  This is proof to me that people want companionship.  We need and want to be heard and to listen.

Second, it has enlarged our definition of “neighbor.”  The Internet and all forms of social media have given us access to one another that defies geography.  “Neighbor” no longer means just the people who live near us or our co-workers or family.  We can access one another around the world literally at the speed of light.  Deeds of darkness can be exposed to the entire planet in minutes.

Obviously, as a human invention, social media is capable of grave sins and presents serious dangers.  It needs to be handled carefully and we’re still learning and feeling out the ethics of this kind of instantaneous and virtually unlimited access to each other.

The challenge social media presents to believers is to set an example in using it in the most God-honoring way possible.  Though the media has changed, the message remains the same.  We must let the world know that Baby Jesus became the Good Shepherd and the Light of the World so the world may be saved.  During Advent, make full use of your Contacts list.  Pray for them daily and contact them to proclaim Jesus as Savior.

Love Never Fails

Take up your preferred Bible and read 1 Corinthians 12:31-14:1.  Myself, I used the NIV to prepare these remarks.

Love is the virtue at the center of our identity.

Now that the turkey is reduced to leftovers, we put Thanksgiving behind us and think more about Christmas.  I know we have Christmas overachievers in our church family; you already have your gifts bought, probably wrapped, and either hidden or placed carefully under your tree.  The underachievers who will wait until Dec. 24 OR LATER to shop and all the rest of us are going to be out and about the next three weeks.

One of the things we experience while out and about, especially this time of year, are strangers doing “random acts of kindness” to other strangers.  This week, Richard Hanson had a great idea to improve the custom.  His idea was to have a card prepared explaining that your act of kindness was not random at all, but was the product of a love-relationship with Jesus Christ.  Do the act, leave the card and have a “silent witness” of Jesus.

We have printed several of these cards for your use.  Let me recommend you take a few of these and when you buy lunch for the people in line behind you or pay for the purchases of the person in line ahead of you, give them one of these cards and put the face of Jesus on your kindness.

J.B. McPhail wrote, “Love is the fabric of a life well lived.” Acts of kindness are seasonally appropriate and give evidence of good character.  If you use these cards, you will add witness to service and improve both, with eternal consequences.

  1. Context: THE GREATER GIFTS, THE MOST EXCELLENT WAY,

THE WAY OF LOVE (12:31 + 14:1).

There are three expressions Paul used that provide context for this teaching, so it’s important to interpret these first.

The first is, EAGERLY DESIRE THE GREATER GIFTS.  Paul wrote about Spiritual Gifts because his original teaching had been corrupted by false teachers for their purposes.  The Gift of Tongues had been exalted as being above all the others, so Paul countered by saying there are greater Gifts than Tongues. Paul didn’t identify which Gifts are GREATER, but in chapter fourteen, he made it clear that the Gift of Prophecy is a more useful Gift than Tongues.

The second phrase is THE MOST EXCELLENT WAY.  This is Paul’s transitional statement, the way he introduces this chapter about love.  1 Corinthians 13 is a passage lifted out of its context possibly more often than any other in the Bible.

Paul wrote about Spiritual Gifts in the chapter before and after.  Ch. 13 is NOT a parenthesis, but part a chain of reasoning covering chapters 12-14.   In chapter 12 he introduced the reader to the Spiritual Gifts, listing and defining them as God’s way of growing churches.  In chapter 13 he puts them in proper perspective vis-à-vis LOVE; the Gifts are ways to express and enact love.  In chapter 14 he showed how misuse of the Gift of Tongues messed up worship in the Corinthian church.

Paul made it clear that LOVE is superior to t Gifts; it is THE MOST EXCELLENT WAY.  The Greek word for LOVE here is agape.  The word was used only once in all the secular Greek texts which survive into modern times.  This word was taken up by New Testament authors and the Church to convey the ultimate love given by God to humanity.  It is the deepest, most spiritual version of the three Greekk words for LOVE.  It is the ultimate kind of LOVE.  It is not superficial, sensual, or sentimental.

The third phrase is FOLLOW THE WAY OF LOVE is in 14:1; LOVE is a WAY of life.  We are to pursue this virtue in our daily living and ultimately, in our character.

  1. Without love, even the Spiritual Gifts are powerless (13:1-3, 8-10)

Without love, TONGUES fail to communicate (1) and will ultimately be STILLED (8).  LOVE is the difference between merely making noise and communicating in a godly way.  Without a translation, public use of the Gift of Tongues only succeeds in making noise and worse, may irritate the Body of Christ, like the clang and bang of a GONG and CYMBALS, say.  The GONG and CYMBALS were used in Old Testament worship (see 2 Samuel 6:5; 1 Chronicles 13:8; Psalms 150:5) and also idol worship; not referred to in a derogatory way. Instead, there’s just not a lot you can communicate with a GONG or CYMBALS.  We need to make words, not just noise.  One aspect of love’s superiority over Tongues is that LOVE will continue to exist after the Second Coming, while the Gift of Tongues will cease (8).

Without love, the knowledge and faith bestowed by PROPHECY amounts to NOTHING (2) and will ultimately CEASE (8).  The Gift of Prophecy can involve FORE-telling the future but it is mostly FORTH-telling; interjecting the truth where people are misunderstanding or misbehaving.

MYSTERIES and KNOWLEDGE are variations of the same Gk word.  They refer to deep knowledge of hidden and significant things.  In Paul’s time as in ours, “moving mountains” is an expression for overcoming great challenges (see Mark 11:22-23).  BUT – done without love, even great achievements are NOTHING.  After Jesus’ Second Coming, there won’t be any need for the Gift of Prophecy because all survivors will know God’s will (see JMH 31:33-34).

Without love, GIVING has no benefit (3).  The kind of sacrifice Paul describes in verse three is total, even to the point of giving up one’s life.  In modern terms we might paraphrase Paul to say, “Even if I become such a workaholic that I suffer burnout”.  This may be a reference to the fiery trials of Shadrach, Mesach, and Abenego in Daniel 3.  Notice that Paul did NOT say in verse eight that giving will cease.  Heaven will be a place of ultimate and true giving (never false or for evil, only good).

Our knowledge is, at best, partial and immature (8-12).  It requires love to make it valuable.

Our knowledge is always partial.  People who ignore this fact fall into a vice that makes people hard to live with: the arrogant assumption they know it all.  Paul identified this vice in 1 Corinthians 8:1, Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that “We all possess knowledge.” But knowledge puffs up while love builds up.  KNOWLEDGE PUFFS UP means that knowledge can lead to pride.  The Bible teaches that only God is all-knowing, so put your pride in park and get real!

Our knowledge is always immature.  Growing old and maturing are not the same thing.  Growing old happens automatically; the longer we survive, the more birthdays we accrue.  Maturing takes time, so it looks similar, but maturing is a process that happens by intention and application of hard work.  Spiritual maturing, the greatest of all kinds of maturity, happens only with hard work and the help of the Holy Spirit.

The more we learn, the more we have to admit there is more we CAN learn.  It takes a maturing person to admit there is still room for self-improvement and then to take up that challenge.  There is no reason to be “puffed up.”

In heaven (WHEN COMPLETENESS COMES, v. 10), our knowledge will be full and mature.  Now we see God only as He is reflected in human beings – sometimes a very poor likeness – but then we shall see Him FACE TO FACE.

(Corinthian mirrors of polished metal were famous in the ancient world – Paul refers to them here.)  In heaven we will KNOW FULLY, even as God now has perfect knowledge of each of us.

  1. The qualities of true love (13:4-8, 13).

Paul expressed the qualities of LOVE positively: LOVE IS…

– PATIENT (4) = it overlooks small offenses; resists becoming resentful; is active, not passive.

– KIND (4) = it thinks of ways to help others.

– Joyful in the TRUTH (6) = lovers are happy with honesty.

– Unfailing (8) = as God is love, love will always be needed, appropriate, and powerful.

– Maturing (11) = childish ways of thinking and speaking giving way to adult means are Paul’s way of symbolizing spiritual maturity.

– Protective (7) = it helps, doesn’t hurt unless pain is necessary for healing.

– Trusting (7) = by being trustworthy.  Loving people have discernment but start with positivity.

– Hopeful (7) = Negativity always hinders and hurts.  Hopeful people give others the benefit of the doubt.

– Persevering (7) = will not give up on people and is willing to endure adversity in order to love.

– The greatest of all virtues (13) = HOPE and FAITH are important, even essential virtues.  They will all remain for eternity, but LOVE is t GREATEST.

– You could summarize all ten of these virtues as being having a focus on someone other than self.  Those who truly love are focused on God first, others second, self last.

Paul also expressed the qualities of LOVE negatively: LOVE IS NOT…

– Envious (4) = it is not materialistic; it does not want what others have.

– Boastful (4) = it does not seek superiority over others, nor is it characterized by “one-upmanship” and an insistence on “winning” arguments.

– Proud (4) = it is not arrogantly centered on one’s achievements and qualifications to the point of feeling entitled.

– Dishonoring (5) = it is not so self-absorbed as to disregard the well-being of others, even to the violation of God’s standards.  It doesn’t withhold respect.

– Self-seeking (5) = this vice sums up this entire section.  The other eight vices explain how to recognize self-centered people.

– EASILY ANGERED (5) = it’s focus is not on one’s self manifest in a short temper and/or perceiving insults or injuries where none were intended.

– A recorder of WRONGS (5) = it does not withhold forgiveness.  When we pray, “forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us,” we may be asking for a world of hurt.  Selfish people hold grudges.

-Delighted with evil (6) = it does not derive a wicked happiness when seeing someone else “get what they deserve” or get away with wrong-doing.

Horror is not a genre I enjoy, so I rarely read or watch it.  One of the most horrifying movies I’ve ever seen has no monsters or killers or violence of any kind.  It is a film shown to us in elementary school, called “Cipher in the Snow.”  It is the short story of an ordinary school kid who walked off the school bus one morning and fell over dead.  His teacher undertook to understand what killed Cliff.

The film was based on a story by Jean Mizer, a lady who worked as a teacher and guidance counselor, published in the NEA Journal in 1964.  It was produced by Bringham Young University and has been used extensively for anti-bullying education and moral training.

Although the film does not come out and say so explicitly, it is clearly implied that Cliff died from a lack of love.  The teacher finds that Cliff’s parents divorced and he had no friends at school.  There was no one there to love him.

It scared the willies out of me, but I took the lesson to heart.  The film illustrates the disaster that is a loveless life.

Love is the virtue at the center of our identity.

Love is one of the easiest things to talk about and sing about.  Everyone wants to celebrate love and everyone wants to receive love.  It’s not so easy

to do.  It’s not always part of our nature or personality to be loving, especially not at the high standard God sets for love.

It’s much easier and more natural for us to love self first, or substitute legalism for love and then make excuses to conceal our lack of love.  Love is not optional for a follower of Jesus, it is essential, indeed, the defining aspect of our character.

Seek ways to love.  Act on opportunities that present themselves.  Love is too important to be kept waiting, so get to it.  And, there’s no better time than Christmas to go about proclaiming and enacting the love of Jesus Christ.