What’s it Worth to You?

time is money

Please read Philippians 3:7-11 in your Bible before answering this question: “What’s it Worth to You?”

A pastor went to the hospital to visit a lady named Maggy, who was in the last stages of her life because of cancer.  She was heavily medicated and unresponsive, so he went to support her family, who was taking it hard.

When he got there, he was surprised to see the youngest daughter, Kimmy, putting lotion on her mother’s body, starting at her feet. The pastor recognized it as an expensive lotion and guessed it was more than she could afford.

As he walked in, Kimmy smiled and made him promise not to tell her children. Her kids gave it to her for Mother’s Day, since, in their words, “you never do anything for yourself, Mom.” As Kimmy put it on her mother, she remained unresponsive.

But this is the nature of a self-sacrificial love.  God knows and sees these acts. They are not unnoticed, but are precious and valuable in His sight. Acts like these put others first. They point us to Him.


We live and die to attain eternal life.

  1. Spiritual maturity requires self-sacrifice.

We are blessed to have a number of biblical examples of heroic sacrifice.

“Father Abraham’s” sacrifice is dramatically recounted in Genesis 22.  As we learned recently-concluded study in the Wednesday morning Bible study group, God had promised to make Abraham into a great nation.  However, at age 100, he had no children.  So when Isaac, the son of promise, was born it seemed at last God’s promises had been fulfilled.  Try to imagine how devastated Abraham must have felt when God demanded Abraham sacrifice Isaac.  Abraham is credited as a hero of faith because he acted immediately and in complete obedience.  God spared Isaac’s life and fulfilled every promise.

John the Baptist’s act of self–sacrifice is recounted in John 3:30 where he makes one of the greatest but most brief statements of faith.  When one of his disciples complained that Jesus and His disciples were getting all the baptisms and attention, John replied, “HE MUST BECOME GREATER; I MUST BECOME LESS.”  John knew his role and he knew his place.  He selflessly sacrificed the spotlight to the One he had come to proclaim.

Remembered as “the Doubter,” Thomas showed courage, when Jesus could not be persuaded to stay away from Jerusalem where danger threatened.  In John 11:16, Thomas said to the other eleven disciples, “LET US ALSO GO, THAT WE MAY DIE WITH HIM.”  I grant you that Thomas’ courage faltered in the Garden of Gethsemane.  There he abandoned Jesus at the moment of His arrest.  But here and years later, Thomas was ready to sacrifice his life for Jesus

In John 13:37 Simon Peter is recorded as saying, “LORD, WHY CAN’T I FOLLOW YOU NOW?  I WILL LAY DOWN MY LIFE FOR YOU.” I grant you that Peter’s courage deserted him a few hours later when he three times denied even knowing Jesus.  Tradition tells us that years later, Peter refused to share His Lord’s form of death and asked to be crucified upside down.

Whether our sacrifices are heroic or mundane, we move from self-centeredness to self-sacrifice as we mature spiritually. Paul demonstrated great self-sacrifice in his attitude toward worldly things (7-8).  WHATEVER WAS TO MY PROFIT I NOW CONSIDER LOSS FOR THE SAKE OF CHRIST.  I CONSIDER EVERYTHING A LOSS COMPARED TO THE SURPASSING GREATNESS OF KNOWING CHRIST JESUS MY LORD.  The words PROFIT and LOSS are key in vs. 7+8.

In vs. 4-6 Paul listed his reasons to have CONFIDENCE IN THE FLESH.  – He recites his religious history as if it were important in order to prove that it isn’t.  He’s effectively saying, “If there was ever anyone who deserved salvation by satisfying the Law, I’d be the guy.”  His religious achievements and circumstances were the things others might see as “profiting” Paul.

In contrast, the word LOSS sums up the stuff Paul gave up in order to have faith in Christ instead.  The word PROFIT is actually in the plural form in the original language: “profits.”  But the word LOSS is singular.  It’s as if Paul dumped all his achievements and advantages into a single trash can and declared them together a LOSS.  In order to achieve his goals, Paul had to dump the junk that kept him from Jesus.

Paul was clearly thinking about Jesus when he wrote, FOR WHOSE SAKE I HAVE LOST ALL THINGS (8).  This statement elaborates on verse seven, explaining that Paul made this essential sacrifice for Jesus’ sake.  As he explained in 1 Corinthians 13:3, self-sacrifice not done in love is worthless.  Paul is establishing his sacrifice as worthwhile

The phrase I CONSIDER THEM RUBBISH (8) is a stronger condemnation than LOSS.  The word RUBBISH is a polite translation; the literal translation of Paul’s choice of Greek words is “dung.”  I was amused to see one commentary placed a picture of an outdoor latrine in the city of Philippi next to this verse.  A picture is worth a thousand words and conveys emotion pretty well too.

  1. Paul’s life goals evidence spiritual maturity.


Biblically, KNOWING is not just “book smarts,” but includes knowledge gained by experience.  Paul’s goal was to know Jesus by living with Him.  Daily living is supposed to be ongoing experiences of God at work in our lives, personal experiences of His presence.

Goal #2 = Receive true righteousness by FAITH (9).

True righteousness is both salvation and the godly lifestyle that goes with it.  It is not something we create ourselves or by keeping the Old Testament Law, it is something we receive from God by faith.

Paul’s desire was to be FOUND in Christ.  It is as if he is picturing Judgment Day and declares here his hope that his name will appear in the Book of Life, the list of those who are genuinely God’s people.

Goal #3 = Know the power of His RESURRECTION (10).

Jesus conquered death through the power of God the Father.  His Resurrection is the most important display of divine power.  This is not only a historic event, however, it is a power for living every day.


I don’t often see t word FELLOWSHIP combined with suffering and DEATH.  This is another way of saying that Paul desired to FOUND in Christ.  Shared experiences (good and bad) are a form of FELLOWSHIP that can bond people together.  This is also true of our relationship with Jesus Christ.

Without actually dying on a cross, how can we become like Jesus IN HIS DEATH?  In our living, we demonstrate the sacrificial purpose of Jesus’ death to help others find eternal life too.


The word SOMEHOW seems to imply Paul felt some uncertainty about whether he was saved or not.  My guess is he’s saying, “I can’t save myself, but SOMEHOW God can.”  Paul refers to the promise of eternal life as THE RESURRECTION FROM THE DEAD.  Notice that is a singular event.

We live and die to attain eternal life.

          The Church in America has, for the last sixty years, become more about self-improve-ment than self-sacrifice.  We’ve gone from being crucified with Christ and dying to self, to settling for a “spiritual makeover.”  We are content with an appearance of godliness but miss t power because we won’t pay t price.


The question this morning is not whether or not you want to go to heaven: the question is, “What’s it worth to you to get there?”  A paradox of faith is that we cannot earn or buy our way into heaven and yet, it requires the sacrifice of everything, giving even life itself over to God and His direction.

Did Paul achieve these goals?  Not in this life, of course.  These goals are aimed at heaven, not the horizon.  As Paul wrote in verse twelve, NOT THAT I HAVE ALREADY OBTAINED ALL THIS, OR HAVE ALREADY BEEN MADE PERFECT, BUT I PRESS ON TO TAKE HOLD OF THAT FOR WHICH CHRIST JESUS TOOK HOLD OF ME.  In this life, God calls us to PRESS ON, even though we know the fulfillment of these goals lie beyond the reach of our earthly years.  We are to continue to obey, continue to grow, continue to mature as the years roll on.  This life is precious and not to be wasted on self-centeredness.  Instead, we are to spend our days investing in eternity by means of the sacrifices we make in love and in the name of Jesus Christ.


Saved and Sure of It


<Image retrieved from https://whataboutjesus.com/saved-by-grace/ on 1/29/18.>

(Please read Titus 3:1-15 in your approved version of the Bible.  I’ve used the NIV.)

We are saved in order to do good works.

          I came across an article whose title caught my eye, “Three Words that Kill Careers.”  That was something I had to read; after all, who wants to kill their career by accidentally saying the wrong three words.

In this article, James Michael Lafferty drew on his experience in the “human resource” side of business to identify the three words that bosses hate to hear.  There’s nothing wrong with the words, per se, just the attitude they betray.

The words are “I know that.”  Those three words reveal two issues that impede success.  The first is “coachability.”  People who think they know it all don’t take direction and worse, have quit learning, growing, and adapting.

The second issue is that in spite of the appearance of braggadocio, people who say “I know that” frequently are trying to cover up impaired self-esteem.  Taken together, the words “I know that” can indicate a person who doesn’t know and doesn’t want to know.

Managers want people who are teachable and adaptable.  I’d say Jesus does too.  “Know-it-alls” are the opposite of children, who are often the epitome of teachability and adaptability.  In Luke 18:17, Jesus said, “TRULY I TELL YOU, ANYONE WHO WILL NOT RECEIVE THE KINGDOM OF GOD LIKE A LITTLE CHILD WILL NEVER ENTER IT.”


  1. How we get saved.
  2. How unsaved folk act.


  1. How saved folk act.

We have a positive social presence. This presence is defined by nine virtues that are counter-points to the nine vices we detailed previously in section two.

The first virtue is to be SUBJECT/RULERS & AUTHORITIES (1).

Titus pastored a church on the island of Crete.  People there were notorious for being rebellious, so they needed this reminder to respect their leaders (see Romans 13:1-7 and 1 Peter 2:13-17).

In the Greek, the word SUBJECT indicates a voluntary submission.  Good behavior is a choice believers make, one will reinforce their witness.  Contrarily, bad behavior will ruin or at least make suspect an otherwise good witness.

The second virtue is to be OBEDIENT (1).  This is an obvious virtue if a person is truly subject to leaders.

The third virtue is so important, Paul was lead to record it three times; believers are READY TO DO GOOD (1, 8+14).  The full measure of good citizenship is not just obedience.  The best citizens are those who look for opportunities to do good.  Doing good is one-half the definition of moral behavior.  The other half (the more common one) is avoiding evil (as per the next virtue).

Fourth, avoiding SLANDER (2) is an example of the “negative” half of moral living.  Good people avoid doing bad things; actions and attitudes God has prohibited, identifying them as sins.  As we learned in part two, SLANDER is a sin whether the truth is being spoken or not.  What makes it sinful is more the motive than the content.  It is a sinfully-motivated act to intentionally steal respect from another person’s reputation.

The command to BE PEACEABLE (2) is the fifth virtue.  In a conflict, a PEACEABLE person is more concerned about the relationship than about getting their way.  God’s people seek ways to keep lines of communication open and are slow to give up on people or demonstrate prejudice.  This Greek word literally means “refusing to fight.”  This fits Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 5:39 = “But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.”

Sixth, BE CONSIDERATE (2).  Here again we come to the matter of priorities; the correct order is God first, others second, self last.  In order to be CONSIDERATE, we must learn empathy; to imagine yourself in the place of the other person and ask, “How would I want to be treated?”

The seventh virtue is ALWAYS GENTLE TO EVERYONE (2).  Gentleness is the opposite of aggressiveness and tempers assertiveness.  It is being reasonable and is flows from the consideration also mentioned in this verse.

This word is translated in other versions as “true humility.”  Either way, we’re describing the kind of personality that makes self-sacrifices in order to make friends.

An eighth virtue is AVOID divisions.  This is the lengthiest of the virtue descriptions.  The Greek word for AVOID literally means “to turn around.”  God’s people are to avoid divided situations and perpetrators guilty of creating division.  Paul named two things as examples of what to avoid; FOOLISH CONTROVERSIES and divisive persons (“heretics”).

FOOLISH CONTROVERSIES (9) are FOOLISH because of the subject matter and/or the persons involved: there are ungodly and unwise.  Paul offered three examples

The first example is GENEALOGIES.  Even today, people sometimes try to make themselves seem more important by claiming they are related to someone who is famous.  Such persons naturally try to outdo one another and arguments ensue.  In Jesus’ time, some Jews wanted to trace their ancestry back to Abraham to justify themselves (see Matthew 3:9 and John 8:33-40).

The second example is ARGUMENTS.  Personally, I think this term covers disputes about trivial matters.  Sometimes we try to make things sound important by casting them as a matter of principle, but in actual fact, they don’t amount to much.

In my experience, ARGUMENTS are ultimately over the question of who is in charge.  When we have opposing notions, who gets to decide what we do?  The answer is obvious if we truly are SUBJECT TO RULERS & AUTHORITIES and are OBEDIENT.

The third example is QUARRELS ABOUT THE LAW.  Jewish teachers had filled books with interpretations and applications of the Law.  As a former Pharisee, Paul would have plenty of personal experience of such QUARRELS.  Similar to ARGUMENTS, I believe QUARRELS are usually over secondary or trivial issues; they rarely involve core doctrine.

The other way to avoid division is to warn and discipline DIVISIVE persons (10); try to save them from themselves.  The word DIVISIVE is translated from the Gk word hairetikos; the word from which we get our English word, “heretic.”  This word literally means “able to choose” and is found only here in the entire New Testament.

“Able to choose” sounds like our usual definition of freedom, but choosing the way of sin is a loss of the true freedom in Christ. This is someone who rejects authority and lives to please themselves.

Another way to translate this word might be “opinionated.” We’re familiar with a “know-it-all,” the person whose motto is “I’ve made up my mind, don’t try to confuse me with the truth.”  Such persons can easily have a divisive effect on a church.  In churches, such people twist Scripture to excuse their attitudes and actions but are never transformed by it.

Two warnings ought to be enough for even the worst know-it-all.  The purpose of the warnings is to reclaim the DIVISIVE PERSON from sin.  Love does not let people continue in sin.  It finds a way to gently but firmly confront sin with the hope of reconciling the DIVISIVE PERSON to the church. (See Galatians 6:1.)

HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH THEM is both a means of discipline and a way to protect the public image and spiritual vitality of the church.  (See Matthew 18:15-17; 1 Corinthians 5; and 1 Timothy 1:18-20 for more information about church discipline.)  Exclusion is the last resort.  Valid attempts at reconciliation must been made first.  If the DIVISIVE PERSON refuses correction, the church must end all ARGUMENT by refusing any further discussion.  The public image and the unity of the church are more important than one person whose behavior is divisive.

The ninth and final virtue is the most important; LOVE.  God’s people are to LOVE each other (15).  Love, after all, COVERS A MULTITUDE OF SINS, according to 1 Peter 4:8.

In addition to a positive social presence, God’s people are to have a redemptive witness. That means we aren’t to just mill about until someone notices us.  Instead, we live in a way that actively reaches out to the unsaved world around us.  Paul described this witness in three ways.

The first description is found in verse eight: STRESS THESE THINGS.  Right belief and right behavior are two sides of the same coin; you can’t have one without the other.  This is a TRUSTWORTHY SAYING because Paul stresses both.  Titus is to be confident in his leadership because his teaching and his living are grounded in the truth of God’s word.  He needs to STRESS these truths rather than allow himself to be stressed about things of lesser value.

The second description revisits the third virtue; DEVOTE THEMSELVES TO DOING WHAT IS GOOD (1, 8+14).  DEVOTE implies a commitment that trumps self-centeredness.  In verse fourteen Paul offered two examples of what is GOOD.

The first example is his call TO PROVIDE FOR URGENT NEEDS.   Based on verse thirteen, we understand that Paul’s immediate concern was that Zenas and Apollos were supported materially and spiritually; that Titus’ congregation provide them EVERYTHING THEY NEED.  But the word URGENT implies that believers distinguish themselves by service to the most needy people.

The second example is to NOT LIVE UNPRODUCTIVE LIVES (14). The Bible talks about “fruit” as produced by godly living (see Matthew 7:15-20 and Galatians 5:22-23).  This is becoming more like Jesus Christ.  That is one kind of FRUIT.

In Matthew 28:19-20 we are commanded to MAKE DISCIPLES as we go about daily life.  Discipling is another kind of FRUIT.  These two kinds of productivity are not optional; God expects His people to produce good works in themselves and others.

The third example is in verse eight: THESE THINGS ARE EXCELLENT AND PROFITABLE FOR EVERYONE.  Even the most jaded and pessimistic person must admit that LOVE is better than hate and GRACE than law.  They also have a value because they are part of His character; we are to follow His example.  Virtuous living benefits all folk & is more likely to be respected & appreciated.

We are saved in order to do good works.

Being devoted to doing good and seeking the things that are excellent and profitable for all will not happen by accident.  It also will not happen on our own strength.  It happens as we live in faith with God’s Spirit in charge of our will, words, and works.  Pray your way to a better day!

Unsaved and Showing It

Please read Titus 3:1-15 in your Bible.   This is the second of three messages on this chapter.

We are saved in order to do good works.

Being a father and being gifted with an exceptional sense of humor, I was naturally interested when I saw an internet article on funniest Dad Jokes.  Before we get to today’s message, I’d like to share a small part of this feast of funny.

Dad complained of tooth pain. When asked if he’d made an appointment to see the dentist, he replied, “Yes, at tooth-thirty!”

“You hear about the guy who invented Lifesavers? They say he made a mint.”

When the cashier at the grocery store asked if he would like the milk in a bag dad replied, “No, just leave it in the carton!”

While watching commercials, dad said aloud, “Why did the Clydesdale give the pony a glass of water?”  The family knew better than to answer, so dad continued, “Because he was a little horse!”

During a serious conversation of family history one dad said, “I used to have a job at a calendar factory but they fired me because I took a couple of days off.”

My kids can tell you I enjoy comparing dreams.  On a similar occasion one dad said, “I had a dream that I was a muffler last night. I woke up exhausted!”

Dad was trying to help Junior with his math homework and said, “You know, 5/4 of people admit that they’re bad with fractions.”

And finally, dads like to joke by conjuring up their own fake news.  For example, “Did you hear the news? FedEx and UPS are merging. They’re going to go by the name Fed-Up from now on.’”

I admit there were a few groaners there.  My plan is to offer a light-hearted example of how we can make life difficult for one another.  I wanted to start this way because the subject matter of today’s message is deadly serious.

Someone said at a recent Bible study, “You don’t hear preachers talk about sin much anymore.”  Today sin is going to be our exclusive subject.  As we begin, all I ask is that each of use this biblical truth first as a mirror to our own souls, and only after truthful introspection, turn our gaze to the lives of others.


  1. How we get saved.


  1. How unsaved folk act.

We’ve been saved from these behaviors.  AT ONE TIME WE TOO WERE…Paul contrasted the believer’s “BC” (“Before Christ”) personality with his “WC” (“With Christ”) personality after being saved.  Sometimes we need to restore our perspective by taking a look backward to see how far we’ve come.

The vice of foolishness (3).  In the Bible, a fool is someone who displays their ungodliness in antisocial, unwise, and self-destructive behavior.  Rejecting God, such people lack the Holy Spirit who gives wisdom we need to discern good and evil and the motive to choose the good.  In Ephesians 4:18 we see the cause of foolishness: They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them to the hardening of their hearts.

Disobedience (3) is a vice.  Being under the influence of their sin nature, such a person disobeys God’s will for them.  Disobedience is sin.  Sin is open rebellion against God; the penalty is death.

While the other eight vices listed here might be concealed for a time, disobedience is impossible to hide very long.  People can be overtly – even defiantly – disobedient, proud of themselves or covertly disobedient, covering it up by making excuses for their misbehavior.

Being thoroughly DECEIVED (3) about the truth of God is a vice.  Only believers have the Holy Spirit and the wisdom he provides. Without the Spirit, a person cannot truly understand the word of God or do His will.  This is the IGNORANCE of which we read in Ephesians  4:18.

It is a vice to be ENSLAVED BY ALL KINDS OF PASSIONS AND PLEASURES (3).  Without the Spirit to reform their thoughts and affections, a person is bound to be attracted to things that stimulate them, but are bad for them.  For example, worldly things are never satisfying; they merely increase our appetite for something new.  (See Romans 1.)  This is ironic, because we naturally think being able to do whatever you want is freedom.  The truth is, it is slavery to one’s own PASSIONS and PLEASURES and to those who sell them.  It’s like an addict enslaved to his addiction.

MALICE (3) is one of the more obvious vices.  This word centers on the emotions that motivate people to do evil.  It reveals a soul that has no empathy or sympathy; no consideration of the effect of their actions on others.

ENVY (3) can also be translated as “jealousy.”  It is the vice of valuing things more highly than people.

WARPED (11) can also translated as “perverted.”  This vice is being exercised when a person is a twister of words and misuses their influence to bend others to their will to do evil. Thus, the word WARPED is a condemnation of their character and thinking.

The word SINFUL (11) sounds like a combination of all vices wrapped together.  It describes the orientation of a disobedient and disrespectful life wasted SINFUL decisions, defying God.

Not content to be evil alone, SINFUL people seek to influence others to join them.  Evil naturally seeks to replicate itself (“misery loves company), but is more intentional in the DIVISIVE PERSON mentioned in verse ten.

Such purveyors of vice are SELF-CONDEMNED (11).  Attitudes are manifest in actions and eventually even the most carefully-crafted façade will fall.  Evil actions betray an evil heart.  However, a DIVISIVE PERSON may be so convincing they’ve fooled themselves.  Sincerity is a virtue until a person is sincerely wrong.  This is another reason for the occasional rebuke; the person may not see the error and danger of their ways.

This passage condemns stubbornness and close-mindedness that is unwilling to even consider that they may be wrong or need to change.  The ninth vice is important to our understanding of the justice of God.  In His judgment, God condemns people who are already SELF-CONDEMNED.  Given freedom to choose, they are responsible for their own condemnation by the choices they made.

The passage describes two effects of evil behaviors.  There are surely others, but these are given to aid our discernment.

The first is BEING HATED AND HATING ONE ANOTHER (3).  The phrase BEING HATED is translated from the Greek word stugetoi, which sounds a lot like our English word “stooge,” but there’s no known connection between the two.  This word refers to a person so degraded by evil that others can’t bear to be around them.

The phrase HATING ONE ANOTHER indicates an aspect of sin nature; while people still enslaved to it may congregate and even cooperate, that only happens when their self-interests happen to coincide.  Even then, they distrust and dislike one another.  True relationships are impossible for such people.

The second is more damning: THESE ARE UNPROFITABLE AND USELESS (9).   Contrary to the benefits of virtues described in verse eight, these vices are worthless and harmful.  It helps to remember that righteous behavior and true belief is good for us, body and soul.  God calls us to Him because He is the ultimate good.  It’s also good to recognize that biblically, enlightened self-interest (i.e., a desire to earn heavenly rewards) is a legitimate motive if other reasons to do good temporarily fail to move us.

We are saved in order to do good works.

In summing up the list of vices, the Zondervan Bible Commentary wrote, “But man’s depravity proves no obstacle to God.”  (P. 1524.)  That is the good news this morning.  While it is painful and bewildering that people WANT to act this way, we can be encouraged to know that the worst evil people can do is no challenge at all to God’s will to make good arise and triumph.  We must trust God and join Him in bringing about the most loving outcome in every situation.

St. Francis of Assisi is quoted as saying, “Above all the grace and the gifts that Christ gives to his beloved is that of overcoming self.”

Whenever we read lists of sins in the Bible, it may be our natural inclination to think of “Old So-and-so” instead of self.  That is definitely not our first step.

Remember the example of Jesus’ disciples at the last supper.  When Jesus announced there was a betrayer among them, all of them asked, “Lord, is it I?”  Eleven of them knew they had no plans to betray Jesus and yet they asked the question.

That’s humility, folks.  It’s resisting our natural urge to resort to defensiveness and allowing God to shine the light of the word into the parts of our lives that we prefer to keep shrouded in darkness.

Let us ask, “Is it I, Lord?”


  1. How saved folk act.

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.)


  1. How unsaved folk act.
  2. How saved folk act.

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.


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.


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.


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.”


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)