How Can I Trust God?

How can I trust God_final (1)

(Image by James Best, (C) 2019, https://www.behance.net/gallery/82544295/Sermon-Illustrations-2019.)

The front of a woman’s red station wagon was crushed when an elephant at a circus sat on it.  The owners of the animal apologized, explaining that the animal, for some reason, simply liked to sit on red cars.

In spite of the damage, the woman’s car could still be driven.  On the way to the garage she was stopped short by an accident involving two other cars just ahead of her. When the ambulance arrived a few minutes later the attendants took one look at her car, then ran over to assist her. “Oh, I wasn’t involved in this accident,” she explained. “An elephant sat on my car.”

The ambulance attendants quickly bundled her off to the hospital for possible shock and head injuries, despite the lady’s vehement protests.

(Bits and Pieces, October, 1991, retrieved from https://www.sermonsearch.com/sermon-illustrations/6805/elephant-sat-on-my-car/)

Sometimes you don’t know who to believe!  Or whom to trust.  Good news – our God is trustworthy!

Trust in God is founded in faith and deepened with experience.

  1. We need faith to trust God (Proverbs 3:5-6).

CONTEXT: Proverbs three is a chapter that extols the benefits and value of wisdom.  There is a pattern in 3:1-12: the odd-numbered verses express the obligations of the person seeking wisdom and the even-numbered verses promise a reward for keeping those obligations.  We will focus on verses five and six explain the role of TRUST in our search for wisdom.

COMMENTS:

The word TRUST meant to rely on someone for security.  It is a confidence based on who God is, not on who you are.  TRUST IN THE LORD requires three things of the faithful wisdom-seeker.

First, TRUST…WITH ALL YOUR HEART (5).  The key word here is ALL.  Trust is not indicated in partial commitments, withholding some for self.

Second, LEAN NOT ON YOUR OWN UNDERSTANDING (5).  There is certainly a practical side to wisdom, but that is not an aspect of the spiritual.  Truly wise people are not limited to the things they know because of training and experience, they know other things because God has revealed them.  God reveals wisdom in His word and by the Holy Spirit, working outside “common sense.”  If there is ever a conflict between worldly wisdom and divine wisdom, we must choose God’s wisdom.

Third, IN ALL YOUR WAYS ACKNOWLEDGE HIM (6).  Biblically, the word “way” can be equivalent to our word “lifestyle.”  It is the direction our choices take us.  The words WAYS and PATHS in this verse both refer to the character our decisions have created within us.  We encounter the word ALL again in v. 6.  We need to acknowledge God’s ownership of our bank accounts, home, family – everything.  If Jesus is not Lord over all, He’s not Lord at all.

The benefit of trusting God promised here in Proverbs 3:5+6 is HE WILL MAKE YOUR PATHS STRAIGHT.  As anyone who’s driven down a long straight prairie highway can tell you, it’s easier to stay on the road.  The promise of a “straight path” is a promise of a life that’s easier to live.  By way of contrast, Proverbs 2:15 + 9:18 uses the image of a crooked path as a sinful way through life.  These verses warn that crooked paths lead to death.

  1. We deepen our trust as we experience reliance on Him (Malachi 3:9-12).

CONTEXT: Malachi 3 warns that the Day of Judgment is coming and it will not go well for the Israelites because they have stolen from God by being unfaithful in their tithes and offerings.

COMMENTS:

Verse nine states the WHOLE NATION is UNDER A CURSE because they dared to rob God.  The Hebrew word used here for NATION typically referred to the pagan nations, not Israel.  This is a clue how upset God is with His people at this point.  Their failure to be obedient in the command to tithe is cast in the worst possible light: it is robbery, stealing from God! The penalty for robbing God is being CURSED by God.

Verses ten to twelve move away from the threat of curses to the promise of blessings if they would only obey God.  These verses emphasize the value of personal experience as a means of deepening our trust in God.  “TEST ME IN THIS” the LORD declared.

God called upon His people to do the right thing; to bring in THE WHOLE TITHE.  Upon the condition of their obedience  He promised to THROW OPEN THE GATES OF HEAVEN AND POUR OUT SO MUCH  BLESSING THAT YOU WILL NOT HAVE ROOM ENOUGH FOR IT.  He promised to prevent negative things like loss of crops.  He promised positive things like respect and success. The promise is that many blessings – material and personal – will be poured out from heaven to the degree that even the pagan NATIONS have to acknowledge Israel was BLESSED.

The word DELIGHTFUL makes a great promise sweeter still.  In Isaiah 62:4 God called Israel “Hepzibah,” which meant “my delight is in her.”

These verses affirm the reality that only those who take faith-based risks will ever know how trustworthy God truly is.  To put it another way, “If all you ever do is what you can do by yourself, you will never know how trustworthy God is.”

Trust in God is founded in faith and deepened with experience.

          A little boy was walking down the beach, and as he did, he spied an elderly woman sitting on the sand. He asked, “Are you a Christian?”

“Yes,” she replied.

“Do you read your Bible every day?”

“Yes.”

“Do you pray often?”

Again she answered, “Yes.”

With that the little boy asked his final question, “Will you hold my quarter while I go swimming?”

What do you need to give to God as you head back out into the waters of life? I invite you to establish your trust in Jesus.

(Author unknown, retrieved from https://www.family-times.net/illustration/Trust/202753/)

Let’s stop for a moment.  If you ask a room full of church people “Do you trust God?” 99.9% of them are going to answer in the affirmative.  If you ask them, “With what do you trust God?” be wary of the one who too quickly answers “Everything.”

The truth is likely to be something less than everything.  Trust in God is a matter of sacrifice.  To trust God means we sacrifice things most dear to us, putting them entirely under His control.  To trust God requires us to love God more than self, people, possessions, and church COMBINED!  People who trust in God may buy insurance, but they don’t rely on it to “take care of them.”  People who trust in God may set money aside as a sound financial strategy but they don’t believe that savings will prevent calamity nor will it console them when trials come.  People who trust in God will not manipulate others or wield legalisms because no one can stand in for you on Judgment Day.  People who trust in God have their eyes set on heaven: not just as a place they’ll end up “someday,” but also as a reality we are trying to recreate in our daily experience.

 

RESOURCES:

Proverbs, Tremper Longman III

Message #772

The Expositor’s Bible Commentary

#5 – Proverbs – Allen P. Ross

#7 – Malachi – Robert L. Alden

 

 

Community Appeal

220px-CharlesAChristophersonPlease read 1 Corinthians 1:10-17 in your Bible.

Today we want to pause and thank God for the blessing of ministering here in Sioux Falls and all the communities in which our members and friends reside.  It may help to hear what our one of our forebears said about our community.

Charles Christopherson was elected to the US House of Representatives from South Dakota’s first congressional district, serving from 1919 to 1933.  Prior to that, he served as a representative in the South Dakota house, where he was elected Speaker in 1915.

Born to Norwegian immigrants in Minnesota, Christopherson moved to Sioux Falls in 1889 and became a lawyer, living at 1000 S. Phillips Ave.  He died in 1951 and is buried in Woodlawn cemetery.  I want to read to you some excerpted remarks that he read into the Congressional Record for 1924.

Mr. CHRISTOPHERSON: “Mr. Chairman, last winter South Dakota passed through an economic storm that closed a number of our banks. In my home town of Sioux Falls, a splendid enterprising commercial city of 35,000 people, four banks closed their doors within a period of three weeks. Articles have been written that conveyed the idea that South Dakota is in financial distress.  I refer especially to the article that appeared in the Saturday Evening Post of April 12, 1924 entitled ‘That Pain in the Northwest.’  That article was based upon a superficial investigation and without any real information as to the true conditions.  Perhaps the writer was indulging in a little humor at our expense in order to make his article readable; nevertheless we of South Dakota resent the implications contained in that article.

“We who live in South Dakota know that it is as sound as gold coin.  Our land and South Dakota with its broad productive acres if all cultivated intensively could [produce] enough food for all the people of our country.  For this reason we who live in the State have abundant confidence in its prosperity.”

These stirring and proud words were spoken on the floor of the US House of Representatives in response to an article appearing in the Saturday Evening Post.  Rep. Christopherson may remind you of another politician who frequently takes exception to what is reported in t media.

CONTEXT = This is the beginning of Paul’s APPEAL to the believers in Corinth to resolve their differences in a Christ-like manner.  In v. 10 Paul made his APPEAL IN THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST, invoking the name under which they were to live as one.  The word APPEAL has a range of emotions, from “exhort” (a more assertive approach) to “entreat” (a passive approach) with “encourage” in the middle.

We have the very best reasons to practice community.

  1. God’s standards for community (10).

First, persons in community must be in agreement.  Experience teaches us that agreement is a product of people doing the hard work of communicating and compromising.  This Greek word literally means, “say the same thing.”

Second, persons in community must be without DIVISIONS.  This word (schismata) literally meant “tears” or “cracks.”  This word means “cliques;” exclusive but informal social groupings, not organized parties.

Third, persons in community must be PERFECTLY UNITED IN MIND AND THOUGHT.  The word PERFECTLY obviously refers to a depth of relationship impossible in human terms. Paul is writing about a unity that only God can bestow.  MIND AND THOUGHT seems redundant but it may be Paul’s way of emphasizing the divine degree of unity.  UNITED is also translated as “knit together,” a word used for healing broken bones.

  1. The Corinthians fell short of the standard (11-16).

Their division was ostensibly over which teacher each group followed (11-13).  However, the fact that divisions existed at all was a denial that they were organized around any of the four names listed.  QUARRELS are an indicator of worldly thinking, the influence of evil.

Though there was never a quarrel between any of the names given in verse twelve, people attempted to justify their divisions by identifying with one of the four.  They might have rationalized their choice as follows:

Paul was the founder of the church and deserved loyalty.

Apollos represented the next generation and was a brilliant preacher.

Cephas (Peter) walked with Christ and commanded great respect.

Some were ultimate name-droppers and claimed to follow none but Christ.  Perhaps this covered over a rejection of the authority of the other three men.

None of these four would approve a party mentality that put the people of the church at cross-purposes.  This is what Paul meant in his rhetorical question, IS CHRIST DIVIDED?  The obvious answer is “No.”  Quite the opposite; He is one with God the Father and the Holy Spirit.

Two other rhetorical questions follow.  WAS PAUL CRUCIFIED FOR YOU?  “No;” such a thing was not historically true, nor could Paul provide salvation if he were crucified for them.

WERE YOU BAPTIZED INTO THE NAME OF PAUL?  “No;” according to Acts, they were baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.  This question denies that Paul was seeking to make converts for himself.  False teachers were trying to build their own “kingdoms” but Paul was trying to build the kingdom of God.  These three questions could have easily named Apollos or Cephas and the answers would have been the same.

The divisions involved baptism (13-16).  Elaborating on v. 13, Paul went into a lengthy recollection of his own practice of baptism.  He showed that he performed very few baptisms and therefore no one could accuse him of baptizing anyone into his name.

The three names given here are also mentioned in Acts, Romans, and 1 Corinthians as being among the first converts in Corinth.  As Paul appointed leaders in the local churches, he turned over pastoral functions (like baptizing) to them.  This is the way missions should be done.

  1. What’s at stake: why living in community is essential (17).

Paul was commissioned to PREACH THE GOSPEL, not to baptize, except as baptizing served his preaching.  In his preaching, he chose to not employ WORDS OF HUMAN WISDOM.  He did not cultivate a turn of phrase at the expense of the truth.

Great orators of the time would attempt to mesmerize their audience by clever turns of phrase or twists of logic to earn the applause of people.  Paul saw this as something akin to trickery and avoided it.  He wanted conversions to be genuine; created by the Holy Spirit, not persuasive speech-making.

Reliance on HUMAN WISDOM will result in THE CROSS OF CHRIST being EMPTIED OF ITS POWER.  The word of God has its own power to persuade people to follow Jesus.  The process is corrupted if we rely on psychology, sales techniques, technology, or any other aspect of HUMAN WISDOM.  There is a place for knowledge of human nature and these other things, but it is not first place.  First and foremost, we rely on the Holy Spirit to provide the words for preaching and to reach the heart of our listeners.  There is room for all kinds of “styles” of preaching, but in all cases a preacher’s aim should be to present Christ.

We have the very best reasons to practice community.

          In the Church, we are given all we need to live together in love.  What’s required of us is to get self out of the way so the Holy Spirit can lead us in words and deeds that build community rather than tear it down.

And – we can export what we have in church to build the communities in which we live.  Good citizenry is part of godly living.  When God commanded each of us to love our neighbor, He meant that to be taken literally as well as figuratively.

“Community” is the word we use for healthy, life-giving relationships.  Generally speaking, the things that contribute to community require putting others ahead of self.  Building community is hard work.  It is achieved by joining with others, especially those with whom we disagree.

I leave you with the challenging words of Jesus;

“If you love those who love you, what reward will you get?  And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others?  Do not even pagans do that?  Be perfect, therefore, even as your heavenly father is perfect.” (MTW 5:46-48)

 

(The Lakota name for Sioux Falls is Íŋyaŋ Okábleča Otȟúŋwahe; “Stone Shatter City.”)

 

RESOURCES:

Zondervan Bible Commentary, Paul T. Marsh

The Expositor’s Bible Commentary Vol. 10, W. Harold Mare

The Daily Study Bible Series, William Barclay

The Congressional Record of 1924  (Obtained at https://books.google.com/books?id=d2m-4x-OTDYC&pg=PA10533&lpg=PA10533&dq=bible+verses+cited+in+sioux+falls+city+documents&source=bl&ots=F4WRBMFWCH&sig=ACfU3U3B2K4dNVO2ORoJe2UMux2-4slJBg&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjRza7PmLDlAhVJPK0KHYJaADsQ6AEwBnoECAcQAQ#v=onepage&q=bible%20verses%20cited%20in%20sioux%20falls%20city%20documents&f=false).

Hardhearted and Tightfisted

generosity

Please read Deuteronomy 15:1-11 in your Bible.

A highly successful businessman was once asked to make a substantial donation toward an urgent charity appeal. The businessman listened to the case presented then said, “I can understand why you approached me. Yes I do have a lot of money, and yours is an important cause. But are you aware that I have a lot of calls upon my money? Did you know my mother needs 24 hour nursing care?”

“No we didn’t” came the reply.

“Did you know my sister is struggling to raise a family of eight on her own?”

“No we didn’t” came the reply.

“Did you know I have one son in a drug rehab clinic and another doing voluntary work overseas?”

“No we didn’t”

“Well, if I don’t give them a cent, what makes you think I’ll give it to you?!”

CONTEXT = The book of Deuteronomy is Moses reviewing the law with the Israelites prior to their campaign to occupy the Promised Land.  It is a collection of teachings in no obvious order, so context is not as important as it is for other parts of the Bible.  However, this section joins with 14:27-29, which identifies the needy persons requiring support: the Levites (assistants to the priests), aliens, fatherless, and widows.

Prosperity is given to empower & reward generosity.

  1. God attached a promise of prosperity to the 7 year cycle of debt forgiveness.

This command is one aspect of God’s commands to observe a “Sabbath Year” every seventh year.  Other aspects of a Sabbath Year include the release of slaves and allowing the land to rest (planting crops was forbidden; only what grew “volunteer” was to be gleaned for food).

Here in Deuteronomy 15, God commanded debt forgiveness of loans made to fellow Israelites (1-3).  Throughout the Old Testament law, God’s people were to give one another special treatment.  The language is a little ambiguous whether this was a permanent forgiveness of debt or a temporary one, just for the duration of the year.  Either way, it was to be a demonstration of faith in God and generous love to needy countrymen.

God’s gracious gift of prosperity was given to empower their gracious generosity.  Verse four states God gave them the LAND AS AN INHERITANCE.  Combine this with the promise of prosperity in v. 6 and we see their prosperity as a gift from God to be shared, not a personal achievement to be hoarded.

On the surface it appears verse 4 contradict verses seven and eleven. Verse four states, THERE SHOULD BE NO POOR AMONG YOU while in verse seven we read, IF THERE IS A POOR MAN AMONG YOUR BROTHERS and verse eleven says THERE WILL ALWAYS BE POOR AMONG YOU.

The way I see it, verse four is a promise: if this statute is observed, poverty would be eliminated.  It is a conditional statement: this effect would be achieved by a combination of the people’s obedience and generosity and by the Lord’s blessing.

On the other hand, verses seven and eleven are a prediction that the Israelites would NOT observe the statute and so poverty would continue.   Verse four reflects optimism, verses seven and eleven show pessimism or realism.  We see both these perspectives in other statements Moses made, so it is not at all out of character to see both of them here.  It is worth noting that in the Gospels Jesus agreed with the realistic tone of verses seven and eleven when He said, “THE POOR YOU WILL ALWAYS HAVE WITH YOU.”  The situation had changed so much that an observance of Sabbath years was impossible and the cure for poverty unavailable.

Had this system been followed, it would have limited the centralization of wealth in the hands of the few.  The cancellation or suspension of debts would have put money back into the economy and eased the oppressive burdens of indebtedness.  As God promised it would work, I have no doubt it would have eventually eliminated poverty from Israel.  To observe the Sabbath Year as it was commanded would have been an act of trust in God and a huge faith-building experience.

Verses five and six develop God’s promise of future prosperity.  This is Moses assuring the people that if they follow these rules even though they appear to have no business sense, they do not need to fear poverty.  They can count on God to reward their faithfulness with fruitfulness.

Verse five conveys in two phrases the condition that predicated the fulfillment.  Firstly, IF ONLY YOU FULLY OBEY. In the Hebrew language, this is an “infinitive absolute construction indicating intensity” which is a fancy way of saying the original language stresses the condition of obedience more than we can in English.  Secondly, IF ONLY YOU…ARE CAREFUL TO FOLLOW ALL THESE COMMANDS, especially the Sabbath year laws of this section.  The Old Testament  law teaches us that God blesses complete obedience, not grudging obedience or faked obedience or partial obedience.  In order to do right by God we must obey completely, which includes body and soul.

Verse six is a promise of prosperity and security = THE LORD WILL BLESS YOU AS HE PROMISED.  Prosperity is promised in this phrase: YOU WILL LEND TO MANY NATIONS BUT WILL BORROW FROM NONE.  National prosperity would be one of the means God would use to end poverty in Israel.  Security is promised in the words, YOU WILL RULE OVER MANY NATIONS BUT NONE WILL RULE OVER YOU.  Economic prosperity would certainly be part of how this promise would be realized, but that does not exclude military or political means.

These promises came to their greatest fulfillment during the reign of King Solomon.  Israel enjoyed fantastic wealth and held the preeminent place among the nations of the world. However, as they did not keep this command and observe the Sabbath years, the wealth stayed in the hands of the minority and poverty remained.  We know from history that God clearly kept His part of the covenant but Israel did not keep her part.  As a consequence, Solomon’s sons divided the kingdom and the fortunes of both nations fell over several generations, ending in both nations being conquered by foreigners.

  1. God commanded generosity to the poor.

God condemned having a bad attitude toward the poor.  Verse seven forbade being HARDHEARTED and TIGHTFISTED.  Note this is a condemnation of both attitude and action that results in a person who could help refusing to help.

Verse nine goes a bit further, condemning WICKED THOUGHTS about abusing the Law and the poor.  After all, a businessman might, in year six, decide that he does not want to wait twelve months or more for repayment to start, and refuse to make a loan.  God appealed to the spiritual side of His people and condemned this selfish attitude as a sin.  There is a word of deterrent here in verse nine; help the poor lest they appeal in prayer and God declares the miser guilty of sin.  This is the only place a warning of this type is found in the Bible.  In the Old Testament, a miser is depicted as a sad and lonely figure while a generous person is shown as happy and social.

God commended generosity.  Verses eight and eleven command being OPENHANDED in order to meet needs.  Righteous and happy people are generous people.  While they exercise caution and give in an orderly fashion, they are nonetheless gracious in their giving.  Be aware of God’s grace and generosity to you and then follow His example.

In verse ten, Moses commanded the people to GIVE GENEROUSLY…AND WITHOUT A GRUDGING HEART.  Thoughtful and careful use of one’s resources is a part of wisdom, but that is not an endorsement of miserliness.  Hoarding and withholding from the needy is condemned as a sin.  A generous heart is indicated by the habit of thinking of the needs of others ahead of your own.

Prosperity is given to empower & reward generosity.

          I suppose economists would look on this regulation with horror.  So much of our economy is based on credit and loans earning interest, debt forgiveness would seem to them like rewarding slackers and creating poverty.

It’s possible the ancient Israelites shared this perspective on the Sabbath year laws.  We have no evidence these laws were ever observed.  Sadly, people with money and power are unwilling to release it and apparently their will triumphed.  Which is too bad for a host of reasons not least among them is that it would have been wonderful to see this economic system demonstrated and an actual end to poverty achieved.

In his 1964 State of the Union address, President Lyndon Johnson declared “war” on poverty.  His methods of war predictably involved expanding the federal bureaucracy.  The four pillars of this effort included an expansion of Social Security, food stamps, job agencies, and educational programs. We’ve been at this war for just over 55 years.  Are any closer to winning?  What’s really needed is what God’s law decreed in Deuteronomy 15; a heart of generosity and grace toward persons less fortunate than one’s self.

RESOURCES:

The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (#3), Earl S. Kalland.

The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Deuteronomy), Peter C. Craigie.

https://storiesforpreaching.com/category/sermonillustrations/generosity/

 

Defined by Faith and Fear

phobia

Phobias are fears that deeply affect the sufferer.  They are not entirely rational, and in fact, can be so strong that rational thinking is hijacked by the fear.  As we’re on the subject of fear this morning, I thought we’d begin with a look at some of the strangest fears people have.

“Nomophobia” is fear that your cell phone, for whatever reason, is going to stop working.  It’s estimated that over half of all cell phone users are affected by this fear.  Based on my experience, I’d say it’s worse than that!

“Ancraophobia” and “anemophobia” are two words for the fear of wind.  People with this phobia are anxious next to an open window or under a hair dryer.

You might guess “spectrophobia” is a fear of ghosts, but you’d be wrong.  It is a fear of mirrors and a dread of seeing one’s image in a mirror.

“Linonophobia” is a fear of string.  There is an online test you can take to assess the severity of your fear, but I’d think just waving a string around would be easier.

“Ablutophobia” sounds like a fear of Popeye’s adversary Bluto, but it’s a fear or bathing or cleansing.  Interestingly, this rare fear is more common in women and children than it is in men.

“Allodoxophobia” is, believe it or not, a fear of opinions.  Don’t you wish politicians and media types would get a dose of this?  The 24 hr. news channels would go out of business!

These are some unusual, new, and weird examples of things that people fear and they sound amusing.  However, in real life, phobias can be severe to the point of crippling a person’s life.  In those cases, serious steps need to be taken to relieve these fears.  God did not create us to live in fear, but in freedom.  While we may not be bound up by a phobia, fear still affects our thinking, attitudes, and decisions.  In our passage today, Jesus sets forth two kinds of fear.  One is good and necessary; the other is bad and unnecessary.  We’ll analyze this passage to understand which is which and how we are to deal with fear.

CONTEXT (v. 1) = Acc. to 11:38, this set of teachings was delivered in or near the home of a Pharisee, following some very strong rebukes Jesus delivered to the Pharisees.  It’s hard for us to picture a crowd this size gathering to listen to the goings-on in or near a person’s home, but it happens in the Gospels. There were so many people, Luke wrote that they numbered in MANY THOUSANDS and THEY WERE TRAMPLING ON ONE ANOTHER.  This is Luke’s version of the Sermon on the Mount found in Matthew’s Gospel.

What provoked Jesus’ rebuke was His host’s fussing about Jesus not going through the ritual of washing His hands before the meal.

Followers are defined by faith, not anxiety.

  1. Three things we must not fear.

In verse four Jesus taught, “DO NOT BE AFRAID OF THOSE WHO KILL THE BODY AND AFTER THAT CAN DO NO MORE.”  Followers of Jesus know there is more to life than what this world holds. Everything in this world, including pain, is temporary.  In a sense, even death is temporary as we are raised to life to face judgment.  No matter the persecutions and trials we face in this life, we can be encouraged to know they’re nothing to be afraid of because they are temporary. Don’t waste a moment being anxious about worldly things, no matter how scary they may seem; God is more powerful than all of them and He will deliver you.

In verse seven Jesus urged, “DON’T BE AFRAID.”  His reason?  God has not forgotten you.  He cares for the most common kind of bird: you can be sure that He cares for you.  Put anxiety away; trust in his knowledge of you (HAIRS) and His high evaluation of you (MANY SPARROWS). Anxiety gains power when we doubt God loves us or that He exists at all.

Similarly, in verse seven, Jesus said, “DO NOT WORRY” referring to anxiety over people who oppose our faith.  Jesus warned His disciples that the leaders of their own people would drag them into court and persecute them.  He promised that they needn’t worry about such experiences, even about what they might say in their own defense.  His promise was the Holy Spirit would supply a defense; He would inspire them with the best possible words that would result in the best possible testimony to their persecutors.

  1. Three things we must fear.

Jesus commanded, “BE ON YOUR GUARD AGAINST THE YEAST OF THE PHARISEES, WHICH IS HYPOCRISY” (v. 1).  This section is an example of how the context aids interpretation.  We observed the context section above that a huge crowd had gathered.  Notice the detail in v. 1; JESUS BEGAN TO SPEAK FIRST TO HIS DISCIPLES.  This is a sidebar Jesus held with the Twelve.  He used this occasion to give them a warning about the YEAST that is HYPOCRISY.  In other words, don’t be a hypocrite.  Put these facts together and here’s what Luke is depicting: the vast crowd felt like a victory.  The temptation in this kind of situation will be to please the people so they will stay and come back for more teaching later.  This is human nature.  How many times have we seen people with a distinctly Christian witness in music or preaching become popular and immediately their witness changes, it gets watered down in order to maintain that popularity.

Jesus used the image of YEAST because it is something that works silently but effectively permeates the whole loaf.  That’s why He warned them about hidden and secret things coming to light.  Sneaky compromises with the world made just to be popular will always backfire.  Our God who sees all will also tell all, so avoid hypocrisy.  Be afraid of being exposed as a hypocrite and be sincere from the beginning.

Jesus delivered the most serious warning in verse five, “FEAR HIM WHO…HAS THE POWER TO THROW YOU INTO HELL.”  While it may not sound good, this is the good kind of FEAR, the kind that motivates us to be wise to know what God commands and obedient to Him.  To be sure we get it, Jesus said “FEAR HIM” twice in this verse.

Don’t bother worrying over human violence that can only kill your body: instead, be concerned about God who has THE POWER TO THROW YOU INTO HELL.  The worst any person can do is hurt and maybe kill you TEMPORARILY.  They are not worthy of fear.  What God does is eternal and HELL is eternal separation from God, which is literally THE “fate worse than death!”

Having delivered that warning in verse five, Jesus gave two promises in verses six and seven that are positive motivations to FEAR God.  First, God is mindful of SPARROWS and you are much more important than them.  Relax in the knowledge God has not FORGOTTEN you. Second, Jesus said God has taken the time to number the hairs on your head.  That kind of knowledge indicates intimacy and constant watch care over us.

Wise people fear God above all others and don’t have any fear left for hypocrites or violent punks or any other kind of threat the world can mount.  Fearing God means we don’t abuse grace by accepting His gifts and avoiding our responsibilities.

Verses eight to ten direct us to fear the consequences of disowning God.  Before that, Jesus made a promise to His followers.  Verse eight might be paraphrased as follows: “You be faithful to me and I promise I will be faithful to you, especially when it matters most; at the gates of heaven.”  Loyalty in this life is rewarded in eternity.  We don’t EARN eternal life by being loyal, but our loyalty to Christ is one aspect of a true, saving faith.  It’s interesting how Jesus referred to Himself directly in the present time and to Himself as the SON OF MAN at that future time.  If you understand the meaning of that term as it originated in Daniel 7, then you understand its significance.

Verses nine and ten are a warning to unbelievers.  Jesus is NOT trying to make His disciples anxious about their salvation; that is a bad kind of FEAR.  Instead, He is attempting to motivate unbelievers to come to faith & be saved.  To DISOWN Jesus is to be guilty of disbelief.  Disbelief is refusal to accept the truth and be changed by it reveals a person who has no faith at all.

Back to Jesus’ warning about HYPOCRISY (v. 1): these verses are a warning to unbelievers who have only a pretense of faith.  A superficial faith is more likely to turn from Jesus because of temptations or trials.  The consequence is dire: the worst possible circumstance imaginable.  DISOWN Jesus and He will DISOWN at the worst possible time, on Judgment Day.  Such a person will be lost for all eternity, cast out of God’s presence.

Verse ten has confused a lot of people.  Rather than list all the ways this warning has been interpreted, I want to tell you what I believe Jesus meant, based on the context.  Jesus’ warning there is an “unforgivable sin.”  As it is unforgiveable, the guilty party can’t be saved.  It is a blasphemy against the Holy Spirit because it is a rejection of the Holy Spirit’s witness to an unbeliever convicting them of sin and calling them to repent, putting their trust in Jesus.  It is unforgivable because, as the previous verse indicates, the person has denied Jesus all the way to death.  When he/she stands before the throne of judgment, it is too late; they are self-condemned.  Logically, God cannot forgive those who refused His offer of forgiveness.  Our just God gives them what they wanted in this life; separation from God.

Followers are defined by faith, not anxiety.

Commenting on this passage, Darrell S. Bock wrote, “This passage asks fundamental questions about our identity.  Will we fear God or the masses?  Does our affirmation come from above or from our neighbors?”  People-pleasers are fearful folk.  We’re seeing the results of the Church in America trying to “fit in” with the culture.

On the liberal side, there is an evil spirit of accommodation.  In that case the Church has followed the dictates of political correctness, adopting it as “gospel.”

On the conservative side, there is an evil spirit of adaptation.  We have attempted to use worldly weapons of politics and money to fight ungodliness.  In fact, Charles Colson wrote in The Body, “Ironically, political flirtations and dalliances have threatened the church’s independence in the West even more than the direct opposition of Communists in the East.”

The most biblical and godly way is once again in the middle of these extremes.  We need to stay true to Scripture and away from worldly philosophies and methodologies.  We need to be sensible consumers and critics of culture, employing prayer, scripture, and positive responses as often as possible.

This battle is not for our culture, but for the people mired in it.  We direct our efforts at individuals to save them.  Culture and government are not our tools.  We rely on the Holy Spirit and the word of God.  We do not have to win in this world because we know this world is doomed to destruction and are assured that God is going to win.  Only what is of Him survives.  That is our only concern.

 

RESOURCES:

The Body, Charles Colson

The NIV Application Commentary, Darrell L. Bock

Ten Completely Bizarre And Completely Weird Phobias

 

What’s Your Function?

(Fair warning: this post will be lengthier than usual

because it’s two Sundays messages combined into one.)

We are all gifted & we need all the Gifts.

          One of the positive aspects of aging is the whole gift giving and receiving thing becomes less and less important.  Whether we’re talking about Christmas or birthday, it just feels like too much trouble to go out and buy a gift for somebody else and after years of receiving crummy gifts, you give up on ever getting something you want.  So – eventually – you say, “Ah, who cares?”

A way to breathe some life into stale gifting is to give “joke” gifts.  That’s always fun, right?  I found a website that offered 42 “hilarious gag gifts” and after weeding out the stuff that’s not church-appropriate, here are my top ten.

#10 = Bacon Bandages.  Band-aids that look like strips of bacon.  If you combine this with bacon hand soap, you will become irresistible to dogs and hygienic too!

#9 = An Emergency Clown Nose.  Because no one wants to be caught without a clown nose when you really need one.

#8 = Inflatable Unicorn Horn for Cats.  Only for cats who deserve to be ridiculed.

#7 = The Bathe & Brew Coffee Maker.  The box appears to contain a coffee maker with an attached shower head, to allow you to make coffee as you clean up.  However, the whole thing is a prank as the note inside informs the recipient.

#6 = Screaming Goat Figure.  For what-ever set of reasons, screaming goats are an internet thing.  This little goat figure will scream every time you push the button.  Fun at home or at the office!

#5 = Edible Insects Bag of Edible Bugs.  Trust me; no one will care if the expiration date is passed!

#4 = Yodeling Pickle.  You will likely be the first on your block to be the proud owner of a battery-powered plastic pickle that yodels.  It’s all the rage is Switzerland!

#3 = A Chia Pet Donald Trump.  Here’s a nostalgic return to the 80s that will appeal to friends in either party.

#2 = Dynamite Fire Starter Sticks.  Enliven a boring old camp fire when you take out a box labeled “dynamite” and light it up!

#1 = Spam Can Diversion Safe.  As the average thief spends less than 6 minutes in a place he’s burgling, it seems unlikely he will waste a second look at this authentic-looking SPAM can.  But will it keep your valuables safe from a hungry thief. (See https://dodoburd.com/gag-gifts.)

OK, let’s get serious about gifts.  In Matthew 7:11, Jesus promised that our heavenly father knows how to give good gifts to His children.  His most important gift is salvation through Jesus Christ.  After that gift is accepted, the Father gives Spiritual Gifts to His children to enable each and every one of us to serve Him through the Church and in the world.  It is this set of Gifts we will examine in this message.

  1. We all have different Gifts. (Romans 12:4-6a)

In verse four Paul used the human body to illustrate how God intends the Church to function.  Science tells us that a human body is made up of cells, organs, and systems.  These “members” work together to give life to a person.

Similarly, the Body of Christ (the Church) has many members with different functions (5).

Each local church needs all its members on hand to maintain the life of the church and cause it to grow.  This teaching is intended to counter the ego, pride, and individualism that is typical to human nature.  The Bible emphasizes the gathered and united people of God.

Here and in 1 Corinthians 12, Paul used this symbolism to teach 3 things about Church.

– Its diversity = a diverse set of Gifts and personalities are required.

– Its unity = all the people working toward the same goal – making disciples – while using their diverse Gifts.

– Its mutuality = EACH MEMBER BELONGS TO ALL THE OTHERS.

The church is not meant to be a loose association of those who hold similar views, who merely put up with one another.  Instead, a church is a set of people who are bound together in a deep and spiritual way; we’ve got to be devoted to each other and devoted to Jesus.

God’s GRACE determines which Gifts each individual member is given (v. 6a).  Let us first observe that Paul launched into this section with the words BY THE GRACE GIVEN ME I SAY TO YOU: this is a reference to Paul’s apostleship.  He means to say, “By God’s grace I have the authority to tell you the following things about Spiritual Gifts.”

The other understanding of GRACE is that it is the means by which we receive these Gifts.  Every time he wrote about Spiritual Gifts Paul wanted to make that clear.  The Gifts are not to be confused with “talents.” or “skills.”  On the contrary, all the Gifts are “Spiritual” in the sense that they are given by means of the Holy Spirit, not by our choice.  While some of the Gifts are more clearly supernatural and some feel more ordinary or natural, all of them are not something the Gifted person could do on their own.

This list in Romans 12 is not meant to mention every Spiritual Gift.  We need to compare Paul’s lists, note the similarity of some Gifts, and list the unique ones separately.  I have done that and come up with 14 Gifts.

  1. Here are some of the Gifts. (Romans 12:6b-8)

Prophesying (6b).

The definition of this Gift is also based on 1 Corinthians 14 and Ephesians 4 where it is listed.  Prophecy may take either of 2 forms:

– “Foretelling” (supernatural accurate prediction of the future).

– “Forth-telling” (relating God’s word to His people in ways similar to preaching and teaching).  This is the most common form of prophesying in the Bible.

Here in Romans 12, Paul explained that the Gift of Prophesying is to be exercised IN PROPORTION TO the FAITH of the Gifted.  This means that true prophecy springs from FAITH, not from emotion (1 Corinthians 14:32) and presents itself in an orderly fashion (1 Corinthians 14:30).  Persons using this Gift speak for God and obviously always tell the truth.  Since they are not speaking to please themselves or their hearers, prophets don’t pull punches.

PROPORTION was a mathematical term, so this phrase could also mean that the prophet needs to speak only the messages that come by faith; it would violate the trust of the people if he/she were to speak out of self-interest, wishful thinking or outright falsehood.

Examples of ways this Gift might be put to use in a local church include Supply Preacher, Worship Leadership, giving Testimony, and Deacon.

Serving (7).

This Gift is not well-defined; to distinguish it from the other Gifts, we might say it is sensitivity to need and insight on how to support others.  It is based on the Greek word diakonia, which was used in Acts 6 to refer to the newly-created officers called “deacons” who waited on tables.  They were both administrators and workers in the program of feeding widows.  Examples of ways this Gift may be used in a local church include church and community service programs and social action agencies.

Teaching (7).

Identified as a Message of Knowledge in 1 Corinthians 12 and with the office of Teacher in Ephesians 4, this Gift enables knowledge of the Bible and an ability to communicate it effectively.  A difference between Prophesy and Teaching is that prophets relate truths that come to them personally from God.  Teachers use the already-existing word of God; the Scriptures.  In a typical church, this Gift is needed in all programs of Christian Education.

Encouraging (8).

Identified as a Message of Wisdom in 1 Corinthians 12 or Pastors Ephesians 4, this Gift enables the Gifted to help other believers grow in spiritual maturity.  The Greed word for “encourage” can also be translated as “comfort” or “exhort”.  This opens up a range of emotional approaches, all of them valid in the scope of this one word.

– On one end of the spectrum, the word “exhort” has an assertive feeling

– On the other end, the word “comfort” has a passive feeling to it.

– “Encourage” is somewhere in the middle, demanding change or affirming as the situation demands.

Examples of use in a typical church includes Christian Education, Mentoring, Discipleship, Small Groups, and Visitation.

Contributing (8).

Sometimes called “Giving,” this Gift  provides the means and motive to use God-given resources to meet human needs and do ministry in a way that is timely, generous, and strategic; all to God’s glory.  In Romans 12, Paul qualified the Gift as being directed at THE NEEDS OF OTHERS.  His qualification of the Gift is that it should be exercised GENEROUSLY.  This refers to giving that is done without mixed motives.  In Acts 5, Ananias and Sapphira made a generous gift to the church, but they did so with the motives of pride and greed.  They paid the ultimate price for their deception.  There are many ways in which the Gift of Contributing might be useful in a church: Tithing, Stewardship Ministries, Financial Officers, Trustee.

Leadership (8).

Also known as Apostles (Ephesians 4), this Gift enables management of God-given resources to achieve His will.  The Greek word for “leadership” literally means “to stand before others.” Paul called on Gifted leaders to work DILIGENTLY.  They are to serve with purity of motive, not abusing the benefits of office and/or neglecting the responsibilities.  They are to govern with integrity.  Any Church Office or Ministry Team or Committee would provide opportunity to use the Gift of Leadership.

Mercy (8).

The command associated with this gift is cheerfulness; it may be a “contagious kindness” that lifts up the virtue of patience and the practice of forgiveness. This word is associated with helping the sick and needy.  Help should be offered CHEERFULLY so it does not impart a sense of obligation or insult upon the people being helped.  In a local church, this Gift would be useful in small groups, auxiliary organizations, and in all kinds of Visitation.

  1. Here are the rest of the Gifts.

There are five Gifts that are unique to 1 Corinthians 12:1-11.  All five of them are the most supernatural of the fourteen Spiritual Gifts we will identify.

Faith (9).

Everyone needs faith to believe in Jesus Christ as Savior to be saved.  This cannot be that kind of faith.  Instead, this Gift is a boldness and confidence to express one’s faith and live by faith.  The Gift of Faith provides an ability to perceive God and His will (“vision”) and trust Him even “common sense” may disagree.  This is a degree of faith that accomplishes more supernatural things.  In 1 Corinthians 13:2, Paul referred to a FAITH THAT CAN MOVE MOUNTAINS.  This echoes the teaching of Jesus in Matthew 17:20 where He promised that a faith no bigger than a mustard seed could move a mountain.

In 1 Corinthians 12:7, the Apostle Paul noted the manifestations of the Spirit are GIVEN FOR THE COMMON GOOD.  This reminds us that all the Gifts are designed to benefit everyone when they are used.  In this case, it is the exercise of the Gift of Faith that calls God’s people to a vision of God and what He is doing among us.  In a local church, the Gift of Faith might be exercised in groups setting forth a vision and/or writing a Mission Statement, in prayer meetings and groups, and in all leadership positions.

Healing (9).

This Gift provides miraculous deliverance from illness, injury, even death.  This Gift cures all aspects of illness; physical, mental, and spiritual.  Paul listed this as GIFTS (plural) OF HEALING.  It seems likely he chose the plural form to indicate the multifaceted aspects of healing we have just mentioned.  In other words, Healing is not just for the body, but for the mind and spirit as well.

We see numerous examples of healings in the book of Acts; chapters 19+20 highlight Paul’s healings.  Examples of the uses for a Gift of Healing include Hospital, Hospice, and Homebound Visitation.

Miraculous Powers (10).

Miracles are acts accomplished outside normal human power or the laws of nature.  In the Greek, this expression is literally translated as “acts of power.”  I see it as a general term that covers supernatural phenomena not expressly covered under the other Gifts.  Biblically, miracles are a means of validating the testimony of a person or church, that they truly represent God.  This was true of Jesus’ ministry as well (see John 14:11).  Given the broad definition of this Gift, examples of use are a little difficult to nail down, but I would love to have someone with this Gift leading service ministries and prayer ministries.

Distinguishing Between Spirits (10).

Also called “discernment,” this Gift allows a person to sense the true nature of persons and things, identifying their source and purpose as spiritual good or spiritual evil.  The Gifted is given insight into the true moral and spiritual nature of people and things.  All believers are commanded to exercise good judgment and not accept claims of being in Christ at face value (1 Thessalonians 5:20-21; 1 John 4:1).

This Gift would be useful in examining expression of the other Gifts, making certain they genuinely come from God and are not counterfeits.  Other uses of this Gift could include advocacy on social Issues and spiritual leadership in a church, such as Deacon or Elder.

Tongues (see also 1 Corinthians 14:1-25).

Another word for TONGUES is “languages.”  As he did with Healing (GIFTS OF HEALING), Paul listed this Gift in plural form too; DIFFERENT KINDS OF TONGUES.  I believe he was thinking of two KINDS of this Gift: the public kind, appearing in worship and the private kind, appearing in prayer.

Paul observed two sides to this Gift.  First, “Speaking in Tongues” is the supernatural use of a language the Gifted does not know, done in a public or private context.  The first instance of Speaking in Tongues was in Acts 2, on the Day of Pentecost, the very first time the Holy Spirit was given to all God’s people.  On that occasion, the worshipers spoke in known human languages that were recognized as such by bystanders.  Other instances are recorded in Acts 10:46 and 19:6, where we are not told what specific language was used.  In 13:1 he referred to THE TONGUES OF MEN AND ANGELS; these two kinds of languages may be the KINDS to which Paul referred in verse ten.

Second, “Interpretation of Tongues” is a supernatural ability to translate a language not known by the speaker and the interpreter.  In 1 Corinthians 14:27-28, Paul set a limit on speakers (2 or 3 at a time) and required an immediate interpretation.  When an interpretation was lacking, Paul required the speaker to be silent.

The Gifts of Tongues (Speaking and Interpreting) became a fixation and source of division in the Corinthian church and that’s why Paul devoted more of his writing to these Gifts than to all the others combined.  Paul attempted to curtail their use in worship in two ways (1 Corinthians 14:27-28); he set a limit on the number of speaker (no more than 2 or 3 at one time) and required an immediate interpretation or the speaker should be silenced.

Combining all the teaching in 1 Corinthians 12 and 14, we emerge with an understanding that Tongues is a Gift to be used in worship but in a controlled way, so as not to bring disorder or disunity (see 14:33+40).  Paul preferred the Gift of Prophecy to the Gift of Tongues (14: 1, 5)because intelligible speech has an obviously greater value in communicating truth.  Whether the Speaker speaks in a human language or an angelic one, an Interpreter must understand what was said and translate it for the benefit of the worshipers.  Speaking in Tongues is also manifest in private prayer (14:4) and in that context requires no interpretation.

The Give of Evangelist is found in Ephesians 4:11-13.

All believers are called to be witnesses to their faith.  Our Christianity is not something to be kept “private,” but it is to be on display in everyday actions and conversations.  Persons gifted to be Evangelists are better equipped and enjoy more success in making new disciples.  In Ephesians 4 passage Paul developed a teaching about the unity of the Church by listing some of the officers of the Church. The diversity of Spiritual Gifts demonstrated unity because they had all the officers were appropriately Gifted and they had received their equipping from Christ.  It is their shared job was to build up the Church into maturity.  Echoing the language of Romans 12 which linked grace and the Gifts, verse seven says that GRACE has been APPORTIONED to each of us by Christ.  The Gift of Evangelist would be useful in positions of ministry in outreach and service-oriented witness.

The fourteenth Gift is Workmanship, found in Exodus 31:1-6.

This Gift empowers the use of one’s mind and hands for the creation and maintenance of physical items and the house of worship.  This is for the glory of God and the benefit of God’s people.  Take note of God’s words in verse three: “I HAVE FILLED HIM WITH THE SPIRIT OF GOD, WITH SKILL, ABILITY AND KNOWLEDGE IN ALL KINDS OF CRAFTS.”  The crafting ability that Bezalel demonstrated in creating the tabernacle and all its furnishings was based on the filling of the Spirit.  By means of the Filling of the Spirit, God endowed this man with the knowledge and ability to create items with ALL KINDS OF CRAFTS.  This kind of language is unique in the Old Testament but fits with what we’ve studied about the Gifts of the Spirit in the New Testament. For this reason I have chosen to list Workmanship among the Gifts even though it is the only Gift not included in Paul’s lists.  This Gift may also be the most practical; it is useful in maintenance and improvement of a church’s facilities; a Gifted person could also perform acts of service outside the church building, doing good work for the needy.

We are all gifted & we need all the Gifts.

(The following story is from an article entitled “Living Our Spiritual Gifts: The Challenge of Carl” by Dan R. Dick, director of connectional ministries for the Wisconsin Annual Conference, UMC.  What appears below is an abridged version.  The unabridged version may be found at  http://www.umc.org/what-we-believe/living-our-spiritual-gifts-the-challenge-of-carl.)

“Once in a great while God grants us the opportunity not only to hear the gospel, but also to meet it incarnate. For me, one such experience materialized in the form of a huge, lovable, mountain of a man named Carl.  Carl stood fully seven-foot tall, wide as a doorway, with a bushy beard — reminiscent of Bluto from the old Popeye comic strip.

“Over time, this small congregation embraced Carl in spite of itself. He was so friendly, kind, generous, and lovable that he was met, first with tolerance, but soon with real affection.

“Through our time together, we determined that Carl’s gifts were evangelism, exhortation, and shepherding. He once said, ‘God gave me a car with four seats in it, so it would be poor stewardship to show up at church with one of the seats empty.’

“Longtime members were often distressed about the people Carl invited. They saw disruptions to their comfort where Carl saw children of God.

“[It came to a head one Sunday when Carl entered the sanctuary] followed by seventeen inmates and four armed guards from a nearby correctional facility. The prisoners were in prison uniforms and leg irons.

“Carl’s ‘prison ministry’ brought everything to a head. I fielded dozens of phone calls and visits in the first twenty-four hours after the service. Carl himself came by on Wednesday and said, with tears in his eyes, saying that might be a good idea for him to look for another church. Twisting a baseball cap in both his mammoth hands, Carl looked me in the eye and asked, ‘What did I do wrong?’ I received word a few years ago that Carl had passed away. Rarely a week goes by that there wasn’t a place for Carl in a church I pastored.”

 

RESOURCES:

Expositor’s Bible Commentary #10, Everett F. Harrison

The Communicator’s Commentary #6NT, D. Stuart Briscoe

Thru the Bible #4, J. Vernon McGee

Zondervan Bible Commentary, F.F. Bruce, Gen. Editor

https://dodoburd.com/gag-gifts

Messages #338 & 761

Zondervan Bible Commentary, Paul W. Marsh

http://www.umc.org/what-we-believe/living-our-spiritual-gifts-the-challenge-of-carl

A Fond Farewell

Please read Acts 20:17-38 in your Bible.

A Tearful Farewell_vFinal(Image by James Best, (C) 2019, https://www.behance.net/gallery/82544295/Sermon-Illustrations-2019.)

We must love one another deeply.

          The CONTEXT of this passage is provided by verses sixteen and seventeen.  Paul was making his way back to Jerusalem sailing along the coast of Asia Minor.  His haste was so great he chose not to put into the harbor at Ephesus, but sent a message to the elders of the church at Ephesus to meet him at a place called Miletus.  There were other factors in this decision, but the text reports only Paul’s desire to reach Jerusalem in time for the Feast of Pentecost (29 May 57).

Based on the reaction of the ELDERS, I wonder if Paul anticipated that the church would want to keep him and he wanted to avoid a long goodbye.  In any case, Paul called the official leaders of the church to him and gave them a message to take back to the members.

  1. Paul’s departure provoked deep emotions. (vs. 36-38)

Their time together ended with prayer.  As a demonstration of reverence for God, all of them KNELT DOWN.  What Luke may be describing here in very few words, is a service of ordination.  Kneeling and prayer have been part of ordinations from the beginning, along with the laying on hands.  A group ordination fits with Paul’s purpose in meeting with the ELDERS, to prepare them for his absence.

In their culture embracing and kissing were typical greetings, so this doesn’t necessarily convey deep love.  However, weeping and grieving do imply a deep love between Paul and the ELDERS.  Verse 38 tells us they accompanied Paul to his ship.  I assume this detail means they were reluctant to be parted from Paul and wanted to keep an eye on him as long as they could.

  1. The deepest love is founded on shared service to Christ. (18-35)

Paul’s focus was on Jesus Christ.  Paul was a “WYSIWYG” (What You See Is What You Get) follower of Christ; there was no pretense in his exercise of faith and ministry.  When he said “YOU KNOW HOW I LIVED…” (18) that was a completely accurate statement.  Modern politicians like to talk about transparency, but Paul practiced it.

His statement in verse nineteen would sound self-contradictory if it were spoken by anyone else: I SERVED THE  LORD WITH GREAT HUMILITY.  Note the object of the sentence is THE LORD.  Paul’s focus on Jesus did not allow room for selfish ambition, a vice he condemned four times in his letters (2 Corinthians 12:20; Galatians 5:20; Philippians 1:16; 2:3).

If you take time to look at it, Paul’s selflessness is indicated twice in this phrase alone.  The word SERVED is used to indicate slavery.  Paul identified himself as a slave of Jesus Christ more than a dozen times.

GREAT HUMILITY summarizes the details that will follow; all the aspects of selfless devotion and self-sacrifice Paul demonstrated over the years.

Verse 24 passionately states Paul’s devotion to Jesus and his determination to do what Christ commanded.  He said, “I CONSIDER MY OWN LIFE WORTH NOTHING TO ME, IF ONLY I MAY FINISH THE RACE AND COMPLETE THE TASK THE LORD JESUS HAS GIVEN ME.”  It is pretty easy to claim GREAT HUMILITY; here Paul gives evidence of it in his attitude.  He does not consider his own life as valuable on its own, only as it gives him opportunity to work for Jesus.

The TASK Jesus assigned to him was to testify to the GOSPEL OF GOD’S GRACE.  Paul had ambition, but it was grounded in faith.  It was to FINISH THE RACE and COMPLETE THE TASK; Paul wanted no part of his calling left undone, no matter the cost.

What never motivated Paul was financial gain.  He goes into some detail in verses 33-35 to prove this point.

First, he pointed out his attitude: I HAVE NOT COVETED (33).  In contrast to false teachers whose major motive for church work was greed, Paul had no desire for material compensation of any kind.

Second, he pointed out his ambition: THESE HANDS OF MINE HAVE SUPPLIED MY OWN NEEDS AND THE NEEDS OF MY COMPANIONS (34).

Paul avoided all charges of greed by refusing all kinds of support.  He supported himself and his associates by working his trade as a tentmaker.  We know from 2 Corinthians 11:8-9 and Philippians 4:15-16 that Paul accepted gifts from churches after he’d left them, but observed a strict separation of finances.  This was a decision Paul made for his own ministry; we have no evidence he was commanded to operate this way, nor did he command other pastors to work outside the church.  Instead, he argued for a fair wage for full-time church workers (1 Corinthians 9:9; 1 Timothy 5:18).

Third, he pointed out his altruism: I SHOWED YOU THAT BY…HARD WORK WE MUST HELP THE WEAK (35).  This was based on the teaching of Jesus whom Paul quoted as saying, “IT IS MORE BLESSED TO GIVE THAN TO RECEIVE.”  In addition to teaching this truth, Paul set an example in his own service and in his leadership of the church’s service. Interestingly, these words of Jesus are not found in any of the Gospels.  This may have been something Jesus said to Paul alone or just not reported in the Gospels.

The Apostle Paul clearly had a tender heart for the Ephesian church.  He made two references to TEARS: “I SERVED THE LORD…WITH TEARS (19+31)”.  He gave THE PLOTS OF THE JEWS as one of the reason for his tears.  Their plotting did not prevent Paul from preaching to His native people as he made clear in v. 21.  A simple fact of ministry to people is that TEARS are an occupational hazard.  It is a sign of genuine love.

His tenderheartedness compelled Paul to tell the Ephesians the whole truth in his preaching and teaching. This is expressed in three statements.

“I WOULD NOT HAVE HESITATED TO PREACH ANYTHING THAT WOULD HAVE BEEN HELPFUL TO YOU (20).”  This verse speaks to boldness in preaching; Paul did not avoid subjects because they would invite opposition.   The content of his preaching was not limited to what was popular or easy.  He preached everything that was HELPFUL to the church’s health and growth.

“I…TAUGHT PUBLICLY AND FROM HOUSE TO HOUSE (20).”  Paul carried out both avenues of pastoral ministry; public and private.  In our study of Acts we saw that Paul preached in the Jewish synagogues, in a lecture hall owned by Tyrannus, and in the marketplace; all public venues.  The early church also met in homes, but these meetings were not limited to a single family, they were simply smaller venues into which the church gathered.

“I HAVE DECLARED TO BOTH JEWS AND GREEKS (21).”  Paul presented the Gospel to all the people of Ephesus, not excluding or favoring either of these groups.  His message to all of them was the same: THEY MUST TURN TO GOD IN REPENTANCE AND HAVE FAITH IN OUR LORD JESUS.

“FOR THREE YEARS I NEVER STOPPED WARNING YOU DAY AND NIGHT (v. 31).” Paul did not seek popularity in his messages, sticking to the truth even to the degree that his messages consisted of warnings.

The purpose of this meeting was for Paul to transfer his authority in leading the church to the ELDERS (25-32).  They would lead the church from now on.

“NONE OF YOU…WILL EVER SEE ME AGAIN (25).”  In v. 22 Paul declared his uncertainty about what would happen to him in Jerusalem but he was certain he would never return to Ephesus.  That’s why he went to all this trouble to prepare the ELDERS to take over for him.

On the basis of the integrity of his service (27), Paul announced the church was no longer his responsibility: “I AM INNOCENT OF THE BLOOD OF ALL MEN (26).” This comment reflects Ezekiel 3:17-21 where the prophet was told his responsibility by the figure of the watchman on the wall is responsible to give a warning of danger.  He is then not responsible for anyone who refuses to heed the warning and act appropriately.  Because Paul DID NOT HESITATE to give this warning, his responsibility is ended.  He can leave Ephesus and never return with a clear conscience.

Paul made the ELDERS responsible for the church in Ephesus (28). He called them OVERSEERS and SHEPHERDS, in charge and in care of the membership.  He stated that the HOLY SPIRIT had put them in these positions.  The value of the church (and thereby the seriousness of their responsibility) is not overstated when Paul reminded them that Christ bought the Church WITH HIS BLOOD.  He warned them that their service would be fraught with trials (29-31); they would have occasion for tears of their own.

In light of these truths, Paul commanded them twice to be wary.  In contrast to the SAVAGE WOLVES – the false teachers – the ELDERS are to carefully maintain their integrity.

The first warning is in verse 28: “KEEP WATCH OVER YOURSELVES.”  This command is not limited to keeping their integrity but includes practicing what we might call “adequate self-care,” maintaining physical health and spiritual growth.

The second warning is in verse 30: “BE ON YOUR GUARD!” Compromising one’s integrity can be a slow process, one small step at a time.  Only vigilance will keep any of these ELDERS from becoming one of the WOLVES that will arise from within the church (FROM YOUR OWN NUMBER).

He commissioned them in v. 32; urging them to rely on God’s GRACE.  It is God alone who can build us up and secure for us AN INHERITANCE AMONG ALL THOSE WHO ARE SANCTIFIED.  Faithful service is our part; fruitful labor is God’s blessing.  God intends His Church to succeed in making disciples and extending His Kingdom in this world.

Paul endured opposition to his service.  In verse nineteen Paul noted he was SEVERELY TESTED BY THE JEWS in Ephesus.  He did not allow their opposition to silence his proclaiming the message.  He continued to use their synagogues and other public places to preach about salvation in Christ.  In fact, there was nothing that would make him hesitate (v. 19) from fulfilling that TASK Jesus had given him to do (v. 24).

The other thing Paul did not hesitate to do was go to Jerusalem (vs. 22-23).  Paul was COMPELLED BY THE SPIRIT to go there and he was determined to be obedient to God, though he had been warned he would face PRISON and HARDSHIPS.  Paul was not deterred by PRISON or HARDSHIPS in part because he considered his own life as being worth something only as it allowed him to FINISH and COMPLETE the TASK OF TESTIFYING that Jesus had given him.

We must love one another deeply.

          The Apostle Peter shared this perspective.  Under the Spirit’s direction he recorded these words in 1 Peter 4:8, ABOVE ALL, LOVE EACH OTHER DEEPLY, BECAUSE LOVE COVERS OVER A MULTITUDE OF SINS.  This verse establishes both the priority of deep love (ABOVE ALL) and the effect of deep love (COVERS OVER A MULTITUDE OF SINS), that is, forgives offenses.  This is the kind of love evidenced in our passage in Acts, the kind of love Paul demonstrated.

Love is not optional; it is a command and is a necessity.  The church cannot be the church without the deep love that COVERS OVER offenses, allowing people to go forward in faith.

Love also feels better; it’s more fun to forgive and move forward than to nurse grudges.  We all make mistakes and we’re all guilty of giving offense; we can’t avoid it all the time, so it’s necessary that we exercise deep love and overcome the offenses with forgiveness.

 

RESOURCE:

Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, Eckhard J. Schnabel.

Put On Your Work Clothes (Part Two)

Armor of God_final (2)(Image by James Best, (C) 2019, https://www.behance.net/gallery/82544295/Sermon-Illustrations-2019.)

Please read Ephesians 6:10-20 in your Bible.

CONTEXT = The Apostle Paul used the word FINALLY (v. 10) in the same way some preachers do; not really meaning they are coming to an end.  They give you hope it’s about to end, but when all is said and done, the word “finally” fell in the middle of their time.  To satisfy my own curiosity, I looked it up and found that Paul used the word FINALLY seven times.  In Philippians he used it twice!  Three times, it appears in the middle of the letter, four times in the last chapter, but never in the last paragraph.

Here in Ephesians, the word FINALLY indicates Paul is getting to the last important subject.  The actual end of the letter is personal greetings and a blessing.

Our struggle is spiritual, not worldly.

  1. True strength and power is a gift from God. (10-13)

In verse ten it is written, BE STRONG IN THE LORD AND IN HIS MIGHTY POWER. In the original language, the verb translated as BE STRONG is in what’s called “passive voice.”  This means the word itself indicates the source of this strength is not from within us; it is received, not generated.  Our part is to seek God and trust in His strength rather than rely on our own personal strength.

As Paul made clear in the next phrase – IN THE LORD – God gives us strength.  In fact, Paul is so eager to reinforce this point he added IN HIS MIGHTY POWER.  Aware of human nature to trust in ourselves, Paul tripled down on this emphasis.  POWER and STRENGTH are the same words Paul used in Ephesians 1:19-20 to explain how God the Father raised Jesus Christ from the dead.

The word FULL (complete) used in reference to the ARMOR OF GOD in verses eleven and thirteen is important.  The intent is to reassure us that when God promises to strengthen us for battle, we are FULLY prepared, not partially.  His strength is all we need.  It is a call to spiritual maturity using language akin to the FILLING of the Spirit.

Our STRUGGLE is properly understood as resistance against spiritual evil (verse twelve).  The word STRUGGLE is borrowed from sports and pictures two wrestlers grappling with one another.  Though people do evil and oppose God, mere FLESH AND BLOOD do not provide their own spiritual power.

Instead, people who do evil are powered by spiritual evil. RULERS and AUTHORITIES are two words Paul commonly used for beings of spiritual evil.  He has already done so twice in this letter (see 1:21; 3:10). Paul referred to the POWERS OF THIS DARK WORLD.  The expression “world powers” was widely used in all cultures of Paul’s day to refer to spirits or demons.  Paul added the word DARK to signify these are evil beings who influence people to do sinful things.

Bible writers saw two spiritual kingdoms at work in the world, unseen except for their interactions with people.  There was the Kingdom of God on the one hand and the kingdom of Satan on the other.  While these kingdoms are in conflict, they are not equal in power and the kingdom of Satan is doomed to destruction.

Paul also described them as SPIRITUAL FORCES OF EVIL IN THE HEAVENLY REALMS.  The phrase SPIRITUAL FORCES OF EVIL refers to all demonic and evil spirits of all types.  It may surprise us to read they exist IN THE HEAVENLY REALMS, where we expect to find peace and tranquility.

There are two ways of looking at this seeming contradiction.  One, HEAVENLY REALMS refers to the “spirit world,” the reality that exists alongside our physical reality.  It is a more general term while “heaven” specifically refers to the place where God is enthroned.  Two, in accord with John’s Revelation, we see the current version of heaven is not a place of idyllic peace and quiet, but is a place of conflict between spiritual beings of good and evil.  The conflicted condition of earth reflects the conflicted condition of heaven.  That version of heaven will be replaced by the NEW HEAVEN and NEW EARTH described in Revelation 21-22.

According to verses thirteen and fourteen, the goal of our STRUGGLE is simply to STAND.  The word appears four times in this passage, according to our English Bibles.

Paul warned a DAY OF EVIL was coming.  Though he refers to it as a single day, Paul doesn’t necessarily mean one DAY OF EVIL for all people, but whenever a time of STRUGGLE arises in a person’s life.  We needn’t be too literal here.

In the face of what would otherwise be an overwhelming spiritual force, God makes us able to STAND our ground, resist temptations and enduring trials.  AFTER YOU HAVE DONE EVERYTHING refers to the alertness commanded in verse eighteen.  Prayer is the means by which we PUT ON THE FULL ARMOR OF GOD.  This underscores our need to prepare for a DAY OF EVIL by maturing in our spiritual life.

Paul said it again: we are to STAND FIRM.  God doesn’t expect us to win the war for Him, just to survive it with our faith intact.  The word means “stand against” or “resist.”

  1. Symbols of the implements of spiritual warfare. (14-17)

#1 = THE BELT OF TRUTH BUCKLED AROUND YOUR WAIST.

This image appears first in Isaiah 11:5: “He shall be girded with righteousness around the waist and bound with truth along the sides.”  The TRUTH includes but is not limited to biblical teaching, as all truth comes from God.

Being prepared to resist evil requires us to learn, accept, and use the truth about ourselves as well.  Spiritually maturing people are humble and humility is an accurate self-understanding.  Humble people are not self-centered; they do not think too highly or too lowly about themselves.  More importantly, they know their giftedness, their role, and all the strengths God has provided them.

It’s possible that Paul listed the TRUTH first because that’s the first thing the Enemy will try to corrupt.  As did the serpent in the garden, the devil will try to cloud our understanding of what God said and what His will is.

#2 = THE BREASTPLATE OF RIGHTEOUSNESS.

Isaiah 59:17 depicts God as the Divine Warrior with this detail of His appearance: “He put on righteousness as his breastplate.”  RIGHTEOUSNESS is moral integrity; conformity to the will of God.

The lack of righteousness puts sinners at a distance from God (see Isaiah 59:14) but nothing is closer to your heart than a BREASTPLATE.  This is a symbol of close fellowship with God.  To PUT ON this BREASTPLATE requires us to seek to live in moral purity and wholeheartedly commune with God.

#3 = FEET FITTED WITH THE READINESS THAT COMES FROM THE GOSPEL OF PEACE.

Paul may have thought about Isaiah 52:7, which says, “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’” One’s footwear takes on obvious importance when the objective is to STAND.  Paul does not specify any particular kind of footgear, so that’s not the point.  The point is preparedness, as indicated in the word READINESS.  In this case, it is READINESS to be a witness to the Good News of salvation in Christ, which is THE GOSPEL OF PEACE.

It’s ironic that Paul uses the word PEACE in this teaching about spiritual warfare.  However, speaking the word of God, telling people the Good News of Jesus Christ, these things bring about peace.  Peace is the heart of the Good News.

The best way a believer can oppose a lie is to tell the truth.  Also, if people know the truth, they will be better equipped to resist a lie.  In John 8:44, Jesus described Satan as “the Father of all lies.”  When the truth is told, Satan is directly opposed.

Followers of Jesus PUT ON this piece of armor by learning the word of God.  Concentrate more on the word itself, less on what people have said about it.  By studying and memorizing the word of God, you will be prepared to speak the word of God at every opportunity.

#4 = THE SHIELD OF FAITH, WITH WHICH YOU CAN EXTINGUISH ALL THE FLAMING ARROWS OF THE EVIL ONE.

FAITH is trust in God, being convinced and assured that He keeps all His promises: we are in His hands.  A physical shield is defensive equipment, held in one’s hands.  A Roman shield was four feet high, two and a half feet wide and several inches thick.  It provided complete protection from arrows if the soldier set the base on the ground and knelt behind it.  If he stayed behind the shield he would be safe from slings and arrows.  This image explains Paul’s comment about the devil’s arrows.  Notice Paul’s assurance that the SHIELD will defend against ALL the devil’s arrows.

In the Bible, God is described as our shield (Genesis 15:1; Psalm 5:12), but there is no Old Testament passage that shows God employing a shield in His role as “divine warrior.”  The image of FLAMING ARROWS is biblical: in Psalms 7:13 and 144:6, God is the one who shoots them.  Among weapons of the time, a flaming arrow was the most feared because it delivered a fiery material that could not easily be put out; it was a devastating weapon against wood structures.

In our experience, trials and temptations involve human beings and/or material things, but Paul identifies the archer as THE EVIL ONE.  This is a reminder of v. 12.  This is essentially a spiritual war.  Our chief opponent is a spiritual being whom we can resist, if we fight with God’s weapons and His strength.

A SHIELD is an apt symbol of FAITH because it is our knowledge of the truth and our trust in God that empowers us to withstand our enemy’s trials and temptations.  Faith is trust in God as our protector; we are safe as we stand behind Him.

#5 = THE HELMET OF SALVATION.

While the SHIELD OF FAITH image was original to Paul, the HELMET OF SALVATION is part of the description of God as the Divine Warrior in Isaiah 59:17: “He will put…the helmet of salvation on his head.”  God not only fights on behalf of His people but he also makes His divine armaments available to his people.

1 Thessalonians 5:8 was Paul’s first use of THE HELMET OF SALVATION.  There it was a more forward-looking view of salvation as the congregation in Thessalonica was concerned about salvation connected with Jesus’ Second Coming.  Here’s Paul’s pastoral concern is centered in the immediate moment, in how our SALVATION enables us to STAND amidst our present STRUGGLE.

A helmet offers much-needed protection of the head, but a trade-off is it often restricts the wearer’s peripheral vision.  To PUT ON this piece of armor, the believer needs to focus his attention on Christ, ignoring distractions and non-essentials (see Hebrews 12:2).

#6 = THE SWORD OF THE SPIRIT, WHICH IS THE WORD OF GOD.

A SWORD is the only offensive or attacking part of this spiritual armory.  The fact that is a symbol of the Scriptures means that believers are to use God’s word to resist every experience of spiritual evil.  (Evangelism is an example of this use of the SWORD.  It takes the fight to the devil because we are using the word to convert enemies into friends.)

On the other hand, a SWORD was also a defensive weapon, used to parry or block attacks by an enemy.  The symbol is just as flexible, so we understand that the word of God can also be used to answer all attacks on our faith, in both the physical and spiritual worlds.  (The study of how to rationally defend our faith is called “apologetics.”  This is an example of a defensive use of the word.)

This symbolic SWORD is said to be OF THE SPIRIT because all Scripture has been revealed by the power and action of the Holy Spirit (2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:21).

The use of the WORD OF GOD in Isaiah 11:4 employs a ROD instead of a SWORD, but it shows how the WORD is to be used in attack mode; “He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.”

Jesus’ followers take up the SWORD OF THE SPIRIT as they apply God’s word to their lives.  Biblical literacy is an essential part of discipleship.

  1. Prayer is where spiritual warfare is won or lost. (18-20)

(NOTE: Paul does not list prayer as a separate implement of war.  Instead, prayer is the means by which the implements listed are PUT ON.)

Verse eighteen is a general call to prayer.  In chapters one and three, Paul has modeled prayer for them.  Here he develops the quality and quantity aspects of prayer.  The command to PRAY IN THE SPIRIT calls us to a quality of prayer which is made possible only in connection with the Holy Spirit.                 Prayer is not a performance or a ritual.  It is more than conversation, it is communion with God (see Romans 8:26-27).  The phrase WITH ALL KINDS OF PRAYERS AND REQUESTS indicates that the form of prayer is not at all at issue.  There is no room for legalism or judging other people’s prayers. This is also an important point for the Ephesians who needed to know the distinction between incantations and prayers.  God knows every heart, what is actually in a person when they pray.  so what we can see and hear is only the surface.

Paul also addresses quantity of prayer in the following phrases, each of which is quantified by the word ALL.

– ON ALL OCCASIONS means “at every opportunity.”  One of the most appropriate questions we can ask is “May I pray for you?”  It reflects 5:26, MAKING THE MOST OF EVERY OPPORTUNITY, BECAUSE THE DAYS ARE EVIL.

– ALWAYS KEEP PRAYING FOR ALL THE SAINTS includes a couple versions of the word “all.”  When prayer is not bound by legalities, one is free to pray at any moment, in silent communion with God, even in the midst of a crowd.

– The object of our prayers is for one another: ALL THE SAINTS.  Our prayers to PUT ON the armor are not just for ourselves, but for each other to be similarly clad and ready for battle.

WITH THIS IN MIND refers to Paul’s teaching on spiritual warfare as a motive to pray, being alert to the signs of the conflict all around us.  In Mark 14:38 Jesus called His disciples to “watch and pray” to avoid falling into temptation.

To be ALERT or watch requires we believe something is going to happen.  The more immanent the event seems, the more motivated we are to watch out for it.

Verses nineteen to twenty are Paul’s call to prayer for himself, to not be intimidated into silence by his imprisonment. Paul requested prayer specifically for his speaking: WHENEVER I OPEN MY MOUTH.  In the phrase, WORDS MAY BE GIVEN ME Paul brings to mind Jesus’ promise to His followers that when they are persecuted and drug before the rulers of the land, He will give them powerful words (see Luke 21:14-15).

SO I WILL FEARLESSLY MAKE KNOWN THE MYSTERY OF THE GOSPEL. PRAY THAT I MAY DECLARE IT FEARLESSLY AS I SHOULD anticipates Paul’s opportunity to appear before the Roman Emperor.  Imagine the intimidation factor of standing before the man who ruled the empire that spanned the known world!

Remember Paul has used the word MYSTERY to refer to the Good News of salvation in Jesus Christ.  (This is the seventh time in Ephesians he’s used the word!)  It is synonymous with “Gospel” and refers to the revealing of God’s plan of salvation.

Paul’s prayer concern was that he would fulfill His mission as an AMBASSADOR of the Gospel in spite of the limitations of his CHAINS.  Paul endured imprisonment in Rome for two years and for a similar length of time prior to being brought to Rome.

As he indicated in Romans 1:16-17 and 2 Timothy 1:8, Paul was never ashamed of his imprisonments, because he knew he was God’s AMBASSADOR; the highest status available to a human being and more importantly, because his message was eternal life from God.

Our struggle is spiritual, not worldly.

Reflecting on the state of the Church in America and our church, I see two problems with this topic of spiritual warfare.

One, we act as if there were no war going on at all.  The Church has been “unequally yoked” (see 2 Corinthians 6:4) with our culture.  That worked OK in earlier generations when the influence was primarily in favor of the Church.  However, in the last two generations, American culture has come to exert greater influence over the Church.  The Church and the culture are virtually indistinguishable and are headed in the same self-destructive direction.  As the Church takes very little pains to be counter-cultural, we are being drug down with them.

Thus, one step in this war with spiritual evil is to stop allying ourselves with worldly evil.  The Church must throw off its yoke, end its association with a “post-Christian” culture that increasingly hates and blames us.

Two, we act as if we have no idea who the enemy is.  Inside the walls of local churches, we too often treat one another as the enemy.  In petty disputes over worldly things like letters and numbers, we divide and deride and attempt to dominate one another.

There are, no doubt, persons in every congregation, who have no good business being there.  This is indicated when we treat one another as competitors or enemies, forgetting our struggle is against evil spiritual powers.  Our brothers and sisters are supposed to be our allies.

In short, we are the Israelites all over again.  We befriend the pagans and take on their ways instead of loving one another.  We accept idols and reject the living God.

For all these reasons we must heed Paul’s call to preparedness for war.  In part, living is struggling.  We need to heed God’s word and know with whom we are to struggle and with whom we are to be allied.  Whenever the Israelites followed God into battle, they were victorious.  May the same be said of us.

 

RESOURCE:

Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, Clinton E. Arnold