Last Supper, Last Words (4 of 5)

God Wins 2

(Retrieved from http://gods411.blogspot.com/2013/11/god-always-wins.html on 3/13/18.)

Please read John 16:17-33 in your preferred Bible.  I used the NIV (1984) to prepare this message.

Don’t be discouraged by the world’s opposition.

I read a post by Jason Cole, pastor of Fellowship Christian/

Church of Christ in Knoxville, TN.  You need to understand the folks in that denomination take Communion at every worship service.  He wrote; “Baptists don’t take Lord’s Supper every Sunday so they can have room for there [sic] big meals Sunday afternoon.”

<Retrieved from https://www.sermoncentral.com/illustrations/sermon-illustration-jason-cole-humor-lordssupper-761?+ref=TextIllustrationDetails on 3/9/18.>

This post is several years old, but I feel I need to say, “Hey Jason.  Those are fightin’ words.  Come join us here at Emmanuel any Sunday.  We’ll have the Lord’s Supper AND a big meal afterward!  Every Baptist I know can do BOTH! We’ll show you how it’s DONE, son!”

I mention this in part because it’s funny and in part to say we don’t take the Lord’s Supper any less seriously because we observe it once a month.  In these Sundays of Lent we’ve focused our attention on the Last Supper, the occasion on which everybody’s celebration of Communion is based.

We’re learning a great deal about how Jesus used this final time with His disciples to prepare them for the next few days and for life and ministry beyond them.

  1. The disciples’ confusion. (16:17-18)

To put this in context, we need to go back and read v. 16.  <Read it.>  We can assume Jesus is predicting His death (“YOU WILL SEE ME NO MORE”) and His Resurrection (“THEN AFTER A LITTLE WHILE YOU WILL SEE ME”).  However, we have the benefit of history and Scripture.  The disciples had neither and this sentence on its own is rather obscure and difficult to understand.

They didn’t understand His timing.  THEY KEPT ASKING, “WHAT DOES HE MEAN BY ‘A LITTLE WHILE?’”  Verses 17+18 show that this supper was not a lecture by Jesus, but an evening’s worth of conversation.  I think the fact that the disciples kept on discussing this implies that they were more than a little puzzled, maybe even perturbed, by these mysterious statements.

They were pondering 14:28 & 16:5+10 where Jesus said He was GOING to the FATHER.  They must’ve wonder how and why this was going to happen, as well as when it would take place.

They didn’t comprehend His mission.  Though it seems to us Jesus spoke plainly, the disciples were involved in the moment and, typical to human nature, did not grasp the scope of Jesus’ mission. Their expectations also got in the way of seeing the whole truth.  They expected Jesus to inaugurate the worldly kind of kingdom for which they’d hoped.

  1. Jesus’ explanation. (16:19-28)

He promised their GRIEF would turn to JOY.  Their grief and joy would be the opposite of the world’s (v. 20) because the source of their JOY is Jesus, not the WORLD.  Jesus illustrated their change of heart by referring to the change in the way a new mother feels when giving birth (v. 21).  It can be a dramatic change from pain to joy. Similarly, the disciples would be filled with GRIEF at Jesus’ death and then filled with a greater JOY when He was resurrected.

He promised them power in prayer.  Part of the disciple’s JOY on THAT DAY would be the exercise of greater authority and power in prayer (vs. 23-24).  From His Resurrection forward, Jesus’ followers would be marked by “Yes” answers to prayer because they would pray in His NAME.  In the Bible a person’s NAME summarizes their character, purpose, nature, and power.  This means that praying in Jesus’ name is going to involve more than the rote addition of his name to a prayer.  The outcome of a Holy Spirit-powered prayer life is COMPLETE JOY.  Another augmentation of prayer is our direct connection to God via prayer (vs. 26-27).

It means to pray for the things Jesus would ask of the Father, to pray in the Holy Spirit as He did, to express in our prayers a complete dependence on God.  Jesus devoted Himself to private times of prayer and once prayed so intently that drops of blood rolled like sweat off His brow.

Powerful prayer is not a matter of words, gesture, or posture, but depends wholly on our relationship with Jesus Christ (v. 28).  The Bible describes Jesus as our Mediator (see 1 Timothy 2:5) and as being seated on the right hand of God the Father (see Luke 22:69), making intercession for us (see Romans 8:34).  Our relationship with God is based on LOVE.  God the Father loved us first and showed it by sending Jesus to us, to obtain salvation.  Having done that, Jesus went BACK TO THE FATHER to mediate for us.  Without His mediation, living a godly life would be completely impossible.

He promised to teach them PLAINLY (v. 25).  Much of Jesus’ teaching was in the form of parables.  These were stories with meaning was hidden to those who refused to have faith but apparent to those who did.  Superficially, they were stories about common enough events, but the particulars of the stories were “figurative;” they were symbols of other things.

Often enough, Jesus’ own disciples didn’t always understand the parables.  They sometimes asked for an explanation.  On one such occasion, Jesus said, “THE KNOWLEDGE OF THE SECRETS OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD HAS BEEN GIVEN TO YOU, BUT TO OTHERS I SPEAK IN PARABLES, SO THAT, ‘THOUGH SEEING, THEY MAY NOT SEE; THOUGH HEARING THEY DO NOT UNDERSTAND.’” (Luke 8:10)

It may sound like Jesus was being evasive, but He taught in parables precisely because they had that quality of separating believers and unbelievers.  After His Resurrection, Jesus would not use figurative teaching like the parables, but He promised instead, to teach them PLAINLY ABOUT GOD THE FATHER.

  1. The disciples’ understanding. (16:29-30)

They praised His plain speaking: “NOW YOU ARE SPEAKING CLEARLY AND WITHOUT FIGURES OF SPEECH.”  We can appreciate how they might’ve gotten heartily sick of NOT understanding, of being unable to appreciate the symbolism Jesus used to present truth to them.  In any event, they seem pretty happy to hear things stated in obvious ways.  It worked, because they made a bold statement of faith.

Encouraged by Jesus’ promise, they declared a bold faith, making three statements in v. 30.  “YOU KNOW ALL THINGS” = That is something that is only true of God; this is evidence that the eleven believed Jesus to, in some sense, BE God.  “YOU DO NOT NEED TO HAVE TO ANYONE ASK YOU QUESTIONS” = They anticipated a time when Jesus’ divine nature

would be obvious to all; no one would need to ask if He was the Messiah or not.  “THIS MAKES US BELIEVE YOU CAME FROM GOD.”  That is, the He is the Messiah.

  1. Jesus’ prediction. (16:31-33)

Jesus rejoiced in their belief. There are two ways to translate v. 31, as the NIV relates in a footnote.  One is as a question; “Do you now believe?” or as a statement, “YOU BELIEVE AT LAST!”

I prefer the statement version because it applauds and affirms what the disciples have just declared by faith.  The faith they had was not highly developed but, to be fair, we all start at an elementary level and then develops as we learn about and experience God.

He warned of a scattering, but promised His presence (v. 32).  “A TIME IS COMING, AND HAS COME WHEN YOU WILL BE SCATTERED, EACH TO HIS OWN HOME.  YOU WILL LEAVE ME ALL ALONE” predicts their abandoning Jesus at His arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane.”  Interestingly, in John’s account of Jesus’ arrest there is no mention of the disciples running away.  In 21:1-2, after His Resurrection, Jesus appeared to Peter, James, and John, who had returned to their homes in Galilee.

“YET I AM NOT ALONE, MY FATHER IS WITH ME.”  One of the repeated themes of this section is Jesus’ warning the disciples, another is Jesus’ close relationship to the Father.  It is a great comfort to know Jesus is our Advocate before the Father.  We have strength to endure trials and persecution.

He warned them of TROUBLE, but promised He overcame the WORLD.  As we saw Him do in 13:19, 14:29, and 16:1-4, in v. 33 Jesus explained that His purpose was to warn His disciples, preparing them for what was coming next.  Everybody desires PEACE but too few recognize where PEACE is found: in Jesus (“IN ME YOU MAY HAVE PEACE”).  This is one of the most comforting verses in all the Gospels, isn’t it?

Jesus acknowledged while we live IN THIS WORLD we will have TROUBLE.  BUT – we don’t need to be overcome by these troubles because Jesus has OVERCOME THE WORLD!

Don’t be discouraged by the world’s opposition.

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Saved and Sure of It

SavedByGrace

<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.”

REVIEW:

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

NEW:

  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!

Are You in Championship Form?

Please read 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 in your Bible.  I have used the NIV for these remarks.

Self-control is a Fruit of the Spirit, manifest in the self-discipline of a heaven-bound disciple.

  1. Life is like an athletic contest: we’re “in it to win it.”

The PRIZE in the game of life is eternal life.  The difference between an athletic contest and the game of life is that in life, all of us can win; while in a game at the arena, ONLY ONE GETS THE PRIZE.

Paul is getting at the athlete’s motivation, his will to be the winner.  As followers of Jesus, our motive is to receive the prize of eternal life by beating our only opponent, Satan.

Thus motivated, the athlete competes by committing his/her entire self to the contest; they RUN IN SUCH A WAY AS TO GET THE PRIZE.  To win THE PRIZE, the athlete must compete within rules, demonstrating superior skill or ability.  If the athletes are equal in these areas, then two other factors decide the contest.

– One is the will to win. Who wants it more?

– The other is training. Who has trained harder?  Training is difficult and tedious.  One must keep the goal in sight to faithfully prepare.

The CROWN is a symbol of God’s reward for spiritual maturity.  Paul noted that in his day, athletes competed FOR A CROWN THAT WILL NOT LAST.  The winner of an athletic contest received a crown woven out of laurel or celery leaves. While wearing a salad on your head may not sound like much of an honor to us, the wearer of that crown was treated like “king for a day.”  Regardless of what your trophy is made out of, it will not last.  Our faith tells us that everything in this world is temporary.

Another important difference between disciples and athletes is that a we follow Jesus FOR A CROWN THAT WILL LAST FOREVER.  The only things that will last beyond this life are the things God does through us, the sacrifices we make in order to follow Him.  The believer has his/her eye on a PRIZE that will endure longer than human history!  We survive the tedium and trouble of this life to “win” eternal life.

We sacrifice it all for the sake of the cross.  We don’t do this to earn salvation, for we can’t: it is a gift from God, an act of grace.  BUT, that grace makes us part of God’s team and we from then on act and think and talk and train as a member of His team, the Church.

Self-discipline increases our confidence of salvation.  Here’s another place where the athletic metaphor doesn’t fit as easily.  In an athletic contest, athletes who violate the rules are disqualified.  They lose.  In the game of life, people reveal who they are by the way they play.

Paul wrote about being DISQUALIFIED in this sense – allow me to paraphrase – “I am in strict training and play by the rules because after I have gone through this life wearing the uniform of God’s team, I don’t want to be found to be playing for the enemy’s team.”  Paul had repeatedly taken a stand for Jesus and it cost him plenty.  How sad would it be if his actions proved that was never real?

Like an athlete, we choose to play the game of life in a way that shows we are on the right team.  When we do that, when we train and play and live by God’s rules, then we are wearing the right uniform.

  1. Winning the game of life requires self-control.

STRICT TRAINING is made necessary by a will to win.  All this athletic imagery was potent to the Corinthians, people who hosted athletic games second only to the Olympics in Athens.  This was familiar terminology to them.

Serious athletes do not merely step onto the field to compete.  Instead, they have prepared to compete by lengthy and intense training of mind and body.

Similarly, serious and maturing followers of Jesus exercise spiritual discipline, focused on God.  In our case, STRICT TRAINING includes prayer, Bible study, fasting, stewardship, etc.  We are in training for heaven!

Self-sacrifice is one exercise of self-control.  This is what Paul meant when he wrote, I DO NOT RUN LIKE A MAN RUNNING AIMLESSLY; I DO NOT FIGHT LIKE A MAN BEATING THE AIR.  Real training has purpose; it contributes to realizing the goal.  It has intelligent form and function; it is planned to be particular preparation.  This is another aspect of the Fruit of Self-control; it is keeping ourselves moving toward the realization of our purpose, winning the PRIZE.

Self-control happens as we submit to God’s control.  A dedicated athlete sacrifices himself in training and in competition.  He doesn’t allow anything to get in the way of winning.

Similarly, as Paul wrote, I BEAT MY BODY AND MAKE IT MY SLAVE.  The word BODY here can stand for “human nature,” all the things that this world says is important but aren’t, the things that can distract us from keeping “our eyes on the prize.”  Paul was not going to let a temporary and petty thing like his body get in the way.

Self-control Starts at the Top

This month is the conclusion of the Year of Jubilee.  To recap, that is an OT commandment that every 50 years, a time of rededication to the Lord and restoring the nation to respect the ancient ways.  It has been from September to September because the Israelite calendar is based on the moon, while ours is based on the sun.

Here at Emmanuel, our observance of the Year of Jubilee has been to spend these nine months studying the Fruits of the Spirit.  We conclude by looking at the Fruit of Self-control this Sunday and next.

Though it is listed last among the Fruits in Galatians 5:22-23 it ought to be first; for it is in the exercise of self-control that we know love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, faithfulness and gentleness.  These Fruits come from the Holy Spirit. They do not appear at all in human nature except by means of self-control.

Self Control Test

“THIS TESTS YOUR ABILITY TO CONTROL YOUR OWN BODY!

“While sitting at your desk make clockwise circles with your right foot.  While doing this, draw the number ‘6’ in the air with your right hand.

Your foot will change direction!”

<Retrieved from http://atworkandbored.com/jokes-inc/jokes.php?joke=self-control-test-7261 on 9/16/16.>

“In Galatians 5:23, ‘self-control’ (temperance, KJV) is the translation of the Greek word enkrateia, which means ‘possessing power, strong, having mastery or possession of, continent, self-controlled’ (Kenneth S. Wuest, Word Studies in the Greek New Testament, “Galatians,” p. 160). Vincent’s Word Studies of the New Testament adds that it means ‘holding in hand the passions and desires’ (vol. IV, p. 168). The word thus refers to the mastery of one’s desires and impulses, and does not in itself refer to the control of any specific desire or impulse. If a particular desire or impulse is meant, the context will indicate it.

“Another Greek word, nephalios, has the same general meaning, but it generally covers a more specific area of self-control. It is often translated as ‘temperate’ or ‘sober.’ Even though its root condemns self-indulgence in all forms, the Bible’s writers use it to refer to avoiding drunkenness.”

<By John W. Ritenbaugh, Forerunner, “Personal,” December 1998 cited at http://www.cgg.org/index.cfm/fuseaction/Library.sr/CT/PERSONAL/k/230/Fruit-Spirit-Self-Control.htm, retrieved on 9/16/18.>

Please read James 3:1-12 in your Bible.  I refer to the NIV in this post.

Gentleness is a Fruit of the Spirit and evidence of true discipleship.

  1. Teachers, for example (1-2).

Being a teacher in the Church is not for everyone.  By TEACHER James meant a person authorized to interpret and apply Scripture.  A frequent problem faced by the early Church was false teachers who authorized themselves and spread lies.  James warned them that teaching is not for everyone because teachers are judged more STRICTLY.  He singled out teachers as they are the best example of people whose words must be carefully chosen.  Their words reveal the truth about their teaching.

Control of one’s tongue is the acme of perfection.  James summed up human nature when he wrote, WE ALL STUMBLE IN MANY WAYS (aka “No one’s perfect”).  The word STUMBLE means to sin, to make mistakes.  IN MANY WAYS can also be translated, “on many occasions.”  However, if it were possible for someone to be perfect, their perfection would be revealed by their NEVER being AT FAULT in what they say.  Such a person would be a PERFECT MAN, ABLE TO KEEP HIS WHOLE BODY IN CHECK.  This is James’ way of saying that the very highest form of self-control is tongue control.

He is not saying this is the only kind of self-control or the only kind that counts.  Instead, he’s saying that control of speech is the hardest form of self-control to achieve.  As we’ll see, this also means that the sins of the tongue are the easiest to commit and the most commonly committed ones.

  1. Taming the tongue (3-8).

James offered other examples of the difficulties of tongue taming.  The point of the first three examples is that something small has a big effect.

– Big horses are turned by something so small it’s called a “bit.”

– Big ships are turned by little rudders.

– Whole forests are set ablaze by a tiny spark.

The bit, the rudder, and the spark are tiny in comparison to the thing they control or start, but that doesn’t make them meaningless.

The fourth example is that while people can tame wild animals, they can’t tame their tongues.  People in that society took pride over the way they tamed animals just as people in our society take pride over the way we invent new technology.  James was deliberately popping their bubble.

When he wrote that the tongue is a RESTLESS EVIL, we can easily imagine a wild jungle cat that is very threatening in its lethality.  Like a rattlesnake, the tongue is FULL OF DEADLY POISON.

Physically speaking, the tongue is not a large part of the body, BUT IT MAKES GREAT BOASTS; which is another way of saying it causes a lot of trouble. Psalm 73:9 describes the godless in this way – THEIR TONGUE STRUTS THROUGH ALL THE EARTH.

The meaning of all these metaphors is this: tongue-taming must be attempted because our tongue can cause a world of hurt.  We tend to underestimate the weight of our words; the effect our speech has on others. Sometimes that’s a product of genuine humility; we just don’t think we have that kind of influence over others.  Most of the time it is an excuse we offer to cover our laziness and/or lack of love.  For whatever reasons, we just don’t care what our words do to one another.

To correct this, James went to great lengths to explain that our words DO have serious effects, wide-spread consequences, and even fatal results.  Here are the consequences of wagging tongues:

– A GREAT FOREST…FIRE (5).

– A WORLD OF EVIL (6).

– CORRUPTS THE WHOLE PERSON (6).

– SETS THE WHOLE COURSE OF HIS LIFE ON FIRE (6).

Just in case all of that is not enough to motivate us to guard our words or just stop talking altogether, James identifies the ultimate source of our terrible tongue wagging; it is ITSELF SET ON FIRE BY HELL.  In John 8:44 Jesus similarly identified Satan as the father of all lies.

  1. Talking the Talk IS Walking the Walk (9-12).

James condemned the fact that our tongues are used for contrary purposes.  James set up a contrast to show how our tongues, like the rest of our bodies, have potential for the highest good (praising God) and the worst evil (cursing people).  What’s ironic is that both of these extremes can come from one mouth.  That is contrary to God’s original plan; He created our voices to be used to express love for Him and for each other.

The tongue betrays what is really in our character; that’s the point of the three mismatches in v. 12.

– A fresh water spring will not produce salt water; neither will the opposite be true.

– Fig trees do not produce a crop of olives.

– Grapevines never produce a crop of figs.

This gives us another good motive to mind our words, doesn’t it? Our words betray our secrets, our inner life.  We are constantly telling our story and it is right out there for anyone who’s learned to listen.  The way we speak (non-verbals) will either prove or disprove our sincerity.  The motivations and attitudes we attribute to others are projections of our own motives and feelings.  Be careful what you say and how you say it – you don’t know what you’re giving away about yourself!

Travis Bradberry co-wrote the bestselling book Emotional Intelligence 2.0 and co-founded TalentSmart.  On 9/17/2012 he published an article titled “The Six Secrets of Self-Control.” He wrote:

“What is it about self-control that makes it so difficult to rely on? Self-control is a skill we all possess (honest); yet we tend to give ourselves little credit for it. Self-control is so fleeting for most that when Martin Seligman and his colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania surveyed two million people and asked them to rank order their strengths in 24 different skills, self-control ended up in the very bottom slot (for the record, self-control is a key component of emotional intelligence).”

The article lists these six “secrets” that aren’t really any more secret than common sense.

Self-Control Secret #1 – Meditate

Self-Control Secret #2 – Eat

Self-Control Secret #3 – Exercise

Self-Control Secret #4 – Sleep Self-Control Secret #5 – Ride the Wave

Self-Control Secret #6 – Forgive Yourself

<Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/travisbradberry/2012/09/17/the-six-secrets-of-self-control/print/ on 9/16/16.>

If we swap out “Pray” for “Meditate,” these six things are disciplines Christians can endorse as reasonable means to self-control.

Though it may sound like willpower, self-control is a Fruit of the Spirit, which means it is a character trait that God gifts into us.  It is more accurately understood as an exercise of spiritual power to follow God’s will.  That’s good news – we don’t have to achieve this on our own.  Instead, we rely on the Holy Spirit to motivate and empower our self-control.

Obviously Gentle

(Please read Philippians 4:2-9 in your Bible.  I have based my research on the NIV.  Also, a brief explanation.  This post is twice the usual length because it represents two weeks’ of messages.  Rather than reproduce it in two parts, I’ve put it all in one post.)

Gentleness is a Fruit of the Spirit and evidence of true discipleship.

  1. The principle stated: Evident Gentleness (5).

The biblical standard for gentleness is expressed here in terms of both quality and quantity.

First, “quality.”  What are the qualities that define “gentleness?” GENTLENESS is a virtue that places others before self and emphasizes process over product.  For a gentle person, the ends never justify the means.

I was surprised to read that the Greek word very nearly cannot be translated into English.  It refers to a “sweet reasonableness” or magnaminity.  Greek philosophers said that it was the opposite of “strict justice.”  So, legalism and nitpicking are the enemy of GENTLENESS.

The word is defined as being generous and allowing exceptions to the rules where circumstances merit it.  Gentle people uphold the SPIRIT of the law, by occasionally violating the LETTER; as paradoxical as that sounds.

Harshness, stubbornness, and abrasiveness are the vices that stand in opposition to GENTLENESS.  These vices betray a heart that is not yet touched by the Savior.

Another way GENTLENESS manifests itself is in a person who is not always insisting on their “rights,” who is not exclusively concerned with doing things “right” (as they define it), but in treating people in a loving way.

Unity in the church is not achieved by uniformity.  Persons who insist on doing things exactly the same for all persons and at all times are betraying a spirit of harshness.  Instead, true unity is achieved by being of the same mind – the mind of Christ.  True unity is a grace God gives us, not something we achieve by force or will.

Second, in “quantity;” GENTLENESS is a virtue that is to be universal in scope.  It should be EVIDENT TO ALL, not just one’s family or little circle of friends.  God-given GENTLENESS is offered to all persons all the time because that’s how God has treated every single one of us.

The motive Paul offers here in verse five is preparedness; for THE LORD IS NEAR.     THE LORD is the Gentle Shepherd of Psalm 23.

He is NEAR in terms of proximity; He is nearby, present with His followers at all times.  When we remember He is always watching, we should not assume anything in our homes or even our heads is secret from Him.  So – you can’t fool Jesus; if you are ungentle, He knows it.  And – chances are – everyone else in your life does too.  If you haven’t been confronted about it, that does not mean you’re not guilty of it.

The LORD is also NEAR in terms of time.  His Second Coming can happen at any time. There are at least two consequences in this situation.

One, this means that every moment might be our last opportunity to do to good, to grow in godliness, to show love.  It also means that in the end God wins and we don’t have to go about pushing and punishing; God will take care of it.  His justice is perfect.

Two, even if this were not true, we all have a limited amount of time in this world: life is short.  Wise people will therefore cram life full of good things, godly actions, and avoid the negativity.

  1. The principle applied: Feuding Church Ladies (2-3).

Notice that 2000 years later, no one remembers what they were feuding about.  There are at least two reasons for this.

First, because the true causes of feuds are rarely about the presenting issue.  People complain about things to act out their emotions but mask them by transferring their feelings to another issue.

Second, because feuds are, by nature, exercises of pettiness, the presenting issue is almost always something trivial blown out of proportion.  So when you have a “ten dollar” reaction to a “fifty cent” problem, start asking probing questions to get behind the façade to the real issue.

The real danger with feuds is not the presenting issue, but the divisive effect on the church; the ruination of relationships and progress deterred.  Relational carnage happens because these squabbles never occur in a vacuum; collateral damage is created as the combatants naturally seek allies and draw others into the disagreement.  Others will join in even if they’re not invited; sometimes with good motives.

They were good church ladies.  His reference to their feud is not a slur on their character, but a situation that is impeding the progress of the church and needs to be acted upon by the church to move them to resolution.  There are two clues that tell us how Paul felt about them.

First, because Paul identified them as colleagues in ministry.  He made this point in two phrases.  He wrote that they CONTENDED AT MY SIDE. “Contended” is a word picture of a team of athletes engaged in competition or teams of gladiators fighting in the arena.  Brotherhood is born in battle.  He also referenced  THE REST OF MY FELLOW WORKERS, thus including Euodia and Syntyche.  Paul named Clement specifically, who may have been one of the elders in Ephesus as an example for those persons he saw as collaborators.

Second, he reminded of what’s really important: WHOSE NAMES ARE IN THE BOOK OF LIFE. The BOOK OF LIFE is one of the ways the Bible depicts God’s knowledge of His own people (see Exodus 32:32; Psalms 69:28; 139:16; Revelation 3:5; 15:21+27).  It is a symbol that is meant to give us confidence that God knows us by name, that He has not forgotten us, and assure us that we have a future in heaven.

We’ve already looked at how the presenting issue may not be THE issue. Therefore, one way of resolving conflicts is to drain away the emotions that make molehills look like mountains.  To regain a truthful perspective, we need to look at the big picture.  Here’s the best example; we’re all going to be in heaven; the rest is temporary and trivial, so dial down the “emo.”

Paul hinted there were problems of this sort in the Philippian church in 2:14, where he commanded them to DO EVERYTHING WITHOUT COMPLAINING OR ARGUING.  That is one of God’s standards for church life.

In very emotional language, Paul begs Euodia and Syntyche to reconcile.  He plead with them to simply AGREE.  That should not be as difficult as it may seem in deep feuds.  The biblical standard for church relationships is to be so close and so frequently in agreement that it could be said that we share one mind: the mind of Christ!  (See 1 Corinthians 2:16; Acts 4:32; Romans 15:5-6; 1 Corinthians 1:10; 2 Corinthians 13:11.)

We know nothing about these ladies or their feud and I believe that’s what God wanted.  Though Paul specifically named them, we are not to focus on their situation, but instead see it as a universal example of how God’s standard is to be enacted in our church.  The bad actors and miserable situations that we experience should be resolved to achieve God’s standards.

Paul wisely sought the help of a third party to help end the bickering and reconcile the two church ladies.  An alternate reading may be footnoted in your Bible names this mediator as Syzygus, which means “the Unifier.”  As is frequently the case in the Bible, we can’t say with certainty that word is a title or a name.

  1. The principle extended: Virtues and Practices Joined to Gentleness (4, 6-9).

Because August is the month of the Spiritual Fruit of Gentleness, we are emphasizing it as we interpret this passage.  In truth, all virtues overlap one another and share one another’s attitudes and actions.

Verse four develops the virtue of JOY.  I WILL SAY IT AGAIN: REJOICE! Paul wrote.  Philippians is the “Book of Joy.”  It uses that word more frequently than any other book in the Bible except Psalms, Proverbs, and Isaiah, which are all much longer books.  Joy is a virtue and it fits with gentleness because gentle people are not engaged in a 24/7 mission to find faults in others, a mission that results in making one’s self miserable and others too.

Note it is REJOICE IN THE LORD.  The prevalence of joy is one indicator of genuine faith.  True followers of Jesus are marked by cheerfulness because they have received God’s grace and in turn, extend it to others.  REJOICE clearly refers to an emotional experience that is grounded in God, not the empty-headed or mean-spirited or obscene kind of merriment that the world can provide.

In verse six we are instructed to annihilate anxiety by the practice of prayer.  Anxiety robs us of JOY and works against GENTLENESS because it makes self the object of our attention again.  Even if we think we’re anxious for others, anxiety is not manifest in legitimate concerns.

Anxiety is carrying unreasonable burdens of care for self or others.  It can be an excuse to justify our being bossy, a busybody, a gossip, or any kind of sin. Oddly, it can also provide an opportunity for someone else to be bossy, a busybody, to gossip to you.  Don’t give them that opportunity!

Look at the scope of Paul’s command – there are no exceptions – DO NOT BE ANXIOUS ABOUT ANYTHING.  Stop making excuses for your anxiety, that only puts worry on “life-support” and keeps it working on you.

The antidote to anxiety is not an exercise of will or positive thinking, for those things keep the emphasis on self.  We’ve got to get our minds off ourselves and on the LORD instead.  One way to do that is by prayer.  Turning to God in prayer is NOT a means of avoiding responsibility or making light of things that really are serious.  Instead, it is a faithful and reasonable act when we remember that God is greater than all our troubles: see Psalm 54:22; 1 Peter 5:7; 1 Corinthians 7:32.

God can handle all the things that cause you to be anxious; dump them all on Him, trust Him, and move on to something more pleasant or to a place where your sense of responsibility will do someone some good.  Turn off anxiety by being assured that God hears and answers your prayers.  Always.

Stop trying to be God or manage God, for that is the way of anxiety. Instead, accept His will and His timing with the absolute assurance that He is acting in your own best interests.  It will turn out better than you can think or imagine (Ephesians 3:20-21).  As Hebrews 11:6 says, God rewards those who earnestly seek Him.  Prayer relieves anxiety to the degree that we release our problems (real and imagined) into God’s care.

I think Paul uses three different words for prayer not because we’re to see them as three different forms of prayer, but so that we will see that all prayers are to be done WITH THANKSGIVING.  You can define PRAYER, PETITION, and REQUESTS in such a way as to emphasize their differences, but that serves this point, too: all prayer is to include THANKSGIVING.  This principle is true of all experiences of life, but especially prayer.

If we go to complain, list grievances, expand divisions, emphasize things that seem large because of our anxiety, we are not doing God’s work.  Whether we’re talking about business meetings or prayer meetings, THANKSGIVING and other acts of positivity are a necessity, not an add-on (see Romans 1:21).  To thank God is to give Him glory and to give Him glory is to make Him known, to bring our focus to His presence among us.  All good begins here.

In verse seven, Paul sets forth the virtue of peace.  A result of prayer is the elimination of worry.  Into that emotional/spiritual vacuum rushes God’s PEACE.

PEACE is tranquility, calmness, serenity that is not based on circumstances or emotions – which swiftly change – but on the unchanging character and purpose of God.  This isn’t worldly peace, but THE PEACE OF GOD.  It is not peace with God, for that is assumed; that is a prerequisite of discipleship.  It is PEACE from GOD, an act of grace that is positive and positively other-worldly.

Godly peace is so wonderful it TRANSCENDS ALL UNDERSTANDING.  It is not reasonable or explainable in any typical worldly sense.  It exists in spite of experience, circumstances, and the ill will of Satan and his human accomplices.

It has a stabilizing effect; God’s peace will GUARD YOUR HEARTS AND MINDS IN CHRIST JESUS.   As they lived in a imperial colony city, the Philippians would’ve understood and appreciated this word GUARD, as they were a protected city; a garrison of Roman legionnaires were tasked with keeping them safe.  This is the picture this word is meant to give a feeling of being projected.

But it’s fair to ask; GUARD YOUR HEARTS from what?

– From what has happened. Your past does not have to determine your present or future.  You do not need to feel anxiety that what has happened before will happen again.

– From what is happening. We’ve all experience the shock of unexpected and unwanted things intruding on us suddenly.  God’s peace will proof us against the present if we will make it a matter of thanksgiving and prayer.

– From what will happen; say nothing of what we fear may happen. Prayer puts God in charge of the future and trusts He knows how to make it good.

By HEART, Paul refers to the place from which our thoughts, emotions, and moral decisions come.  Modern science tells us all that happens in the brain.  The battle for your soul is fought between your ears, so naturally that is the very place that should be characterized by PEACE.

MINDS might have been understood by Paul’s readers as describing our character, the ways that we typically behave.  Character is the accumulation of all the decisions we’ve made.  We need a GUARD there so we will make good decisions and continually improve our character.

Verse eight develops the benefits of the practice of positive thinking.  Given Paul’s reference to HEARTS AND MINDS in v. 7, he naturally turns to our thinking in v. 8.  Positive thinking means to focus our attention on God and the good things that surround Him.  Paul lists a few representative examples of God’s good things, the things that should dominate our conscious thoughts.

Truth = everything of God is true; everything untrue is of Satan; sincerity doesn’t enter into the picture.

Nobility is another Greek term that cannot be adequately translated with a single English word.  It takes in “honest, honorable, venerable, worthy of respect or reverence, esteemed, majestic.”

Righteousness is also justice.  To be just, each of us must give God and other people what they are due.  It is fulfilling our obligations, satisfying our duty, keeping responsibilities.

Purity is a comprehensive term that takes in moral and religious dimensions, being free from sin in motive, word and deed.

Loveliness includes everything that prompts a loving reaction; things that are “amiable, attractive, winsome.”

Admirability refers to one’s reputation; especially anything that is “gracious, kindly, auspicious, winning, attractive.”  Living an admirable life means giving people more reasons to like you (positivity) than reasons to be offended by you (negativity).

Excellence includes all virtue.  It is a word that is comprehensive in all things good and moral.

Praiseworthiness: Paul elsewhere uses this word in reference to praising God (see Romans 2:29; 1 Corinthians 4:5), but here it is a conduct of life that makes everybody happy, having universal approval.

We’re to do two things with this information: First, THINK on these things.  The word THINK means to “reckon, calculate, evaluate, take into account, ponder, dwell on, reflect upon.”  We are to consider these virtues fully.

Second, this is not to be just an exercise of brains, as Paul ends with the words PUT IT INTO PRACTICE.  These virtues are not just to be admired at a distance and put on a shelf as trophies, they are to be increasingly part of our character, increasingly manifest in the decisions we make.

In verse nine we learn that we can receive peace by following our leaders. This is a case of Paul taking the theoretical ethical discussion and putting in into concrete, personal terms: “Inasmuch as you have seen these things in me, practice them.”  In 1 Corinthians 11:1 & Philippians 3:17 Paul urged his readers to follow his example as he followed the example set by Jesus.

He also reminds them to stay faithful to the faith as they LEARNED it from him.  False teachers would inevitably come in behind him, sowing seeds of doubt and division.  The easiest way to resist them was to stick with what they already knew to be true. (See Acts 20:20-21.)

They were also to stick with what they had RECEIVED from him – the ways of ordering church life and the specific practices that Paul instituted from the founding of the church until that time.

PEACE is the result of following our leaders.  THE GOD OF PEACE WILL BE WITH YOU means that God wants His people to be at PEACE.  Knowing our nature, He knows that PEACE is only possibly in submission to godly leaders.

People who place self-interest ahead of the good of the church often manifest this sin in rebellion against established leaders.  We all know that in any situation where the “leaders” outnumber the followers, confusion and division are rife.

This reference to the presence of God and His peace forms the benediction to six of Paul’s letters.

E.Q.

(Note to the reader: This is the first time in my almost-three decades of preaching that I’ve had a convergence of what I’ve preached on and a secular source.  In the morning paper the very next day I read an op-ed piece by G. Jeffrey MacDonald, writing for USA Today, that said essentially the same thing I was saying in the sermon below.  Of course this validates neither my message nor MacDonald’s article, but is, at least, a happy agreement between myself and Mr. MacDonald that forgetting one’s emotions is perilous, even ludicrous advice.  We are far better served to be sensitive to our feelings and make decisions based on this information as part of our set of data.  Unfortunately the Stoics and Evangelicals have insisted on the opposite.)

Please read Proverbs 4:20-27.

Message: Emotions are part of the Image of God, an aspect of our inner life that we ignore at our own peril.

It is believed that the most secure place in the world is said to be the United States Reserve at Fort Knox.  Fort Knox is located close to Louisville, Ky. and is home to much of the nation’s gold reserve. Let me share with you how this reserve is protected.

Our nations gold reserve is housed in a two story building constructed of granite, steel, and concrete. It is 105 ft by 121 ft, and is 42 ft above ground level. Within this building is a two level steel and concrete vault that is divided into compartments. The vault door weighs more than 20 tons. No one person is entrusted with the combination. Various members of the staff must dial separate combinations known only to them. The vault casing is constructed of steel plates, steel I-beams and steel cylinders laced with hoop bands, and encased in concrete. The outer wall of the depository is constructed of granite lined with concrete. Construction materials used on the bldg included 16,500 cubic feet of granite, 4,200 cubic yards of concrete, 750 tons of reinforcing steel and 670 tons of structural steel.

At each corner of the structure on the outside, but connected with it, are four guard boxes. Sentry boxes. Sentry boxes, similar to the guard boxes at the corners of the Depository, are located at the entrance gate. A driveway encircles the building and a steel fence marks the boundaries of the site.             The building is equipped with the most modern security devices. The nearby Army Post provides additional protection. The Depository is equipped with its own emergency power plant, water system and other facilities.

There is another place which needs to be well guarded. We need to make certain of its security because it is the most important place in the world. That place is our heart ! Why is the heart so important? Why does it need to be guarded with such diligence?  That’s what we’ll find out today.

(Quoted from a sermon entitled “Guarding Our Hearts” by Mike Turner, retrieved from http://www.sermoncentral.com/sermons/guarding-our-hearts-mike-turner-sermon-on-lordship-of-christ-66178.asp  on 5/15/15.)

Context: Near the end of a lengthy teaching on the supreme worth of wisdom, the writer identifies one particularly important aspect of wisdom: guarding the source of our inner life.

Comment:

  1. What is the “heart?”

The HEART is the center of one’s inner life.

As a pre-scientific culture, the writers of Proverbs and did not share our understanding of the internal organs.  For example, the word “brain” is not used at all in the Bible.  I don’t know what they thought it was for.  The word heart is found 963 times in the Bible.  Just as the organs are typically unseen – lying beneath the surface just as thoughts and feelings do – it was believed that the inner life was conducted in the organs.  Also, Bible writers had a holistic view of personhood, so the thoughts and feelings together found their origin in the organs.  The differentiation between head (reason) and heart (emotion) came centuries later.  So the word HEART is the way modern translations render the biblical word for the focus of a person’s inner life.

The HEART can be either soft or hard.  Hard-heartedness is condemned as a vice.  It is stubbornness, resistance to God, and an unloving attitude toward one’s neighbor.  Soft-heartedness is commended as a virtue.  It is characterized as graciousness, being receptive to God, and compassionate to one’s neighbor.

God alone knows every person’s heart.  Oftentimes, we don’t know our own hearts, living in a willful ignorance that is manifest in our disobedience of God.  God works to change our hearts.

  1. How is the heart the WELLSPRING OF LIFE?

It is our point of connection to God, the life-giver.  It is the overlap of physical and spiritual.  The spiritual side of life is the MOST real side.  It is the WELLSPRING OF LIFE because it is our point of connection with God.

We mistakenly place a greater value on the physical and pragmatic aspects of life.  Physical things are only temporary; spiritual things are eternal.  They are also limited in space.  God is a spirit and He is the most real thing that can be known.  The outer life is generally superficial; the inner life is generally more profound and permanent.

The HEART is the means by which we perceive and participate in spiritual life.  It is partly understood by our physical senses and developed by our knowledge.  However, it is also sensed by intuition, measured by emotion, and defined by imagination.  We need both material and non-material information to truly appreciate our inner life.

The heart is the WELLSPRING OF LIFE because it helps us appreciate things that are not necessary for survival, but make life better, more joyous.  Sometimes we take a simplistic approach and devalue things that are abstract, emotional, subjective, or otherwise difficult to “get a handle on.”  But when Jesus said, “Man does not live on bread alone,” He affirmed that life is more than surviving and that attention needs to be paid to the spiritual side of life too.

The heart is the WELLSPRING OF LIFE because it is the motivator of our attitudes and actions.  It’s hard to argue for love, joy, and grace when duty, order, and obligation are so much easier and offer greater control over others.  However, the Bible makes clear that love is the highest and best and most godly motive.  It’s easier and quicker to motivate others with physical treats and threats, but more lasting and profound motivations are the ones that appeal to the emotional and spiritual parts of who we are.

Therefore it’s worth the extra work to achieve a change of heart than it is to change someone’s actions instead.   It’s like the old proverb of teaching a man to fish: “If you change a person’s actions, you’ve changed him for today.  If God changes a person’s heart, he’s changed for life.

  1. How are we to GUARD our heart?

Guard your heart by keeping your heart simple.  “Simple” is not simplistic or ignorant.  It means “undivided,” or “honest,” or “WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get).”  A person’s heart becomes complicated by dishonesty, discontentment, unresolved emotional situations and by being manipulated by others.  A person’s heart becomes simplified by honesty, contentment, standing firm in the truth and testing the spirits to avoid manipulation, and by resolving emotion-laden situations.

Guard your heart by keeping your motives pure.  “Integrity” is the cultural buzzword for the biblical word “purity.” Integrity is an honesty of character that is found in a person whose claims and actions match.  But purity aims higher still; it is found in a person whose actions match God’s standard.  We don’t dumb down or reduce God’s standards in order to make it easier to comply.  The Church has been guilty of that far too often in recent generations.  Instead, we study the Bible to learn God’s standards.  We have the Holy Spirit to empower us to keep those standards.  We have forgiveness when we fail.  It’s a system designed for our success.  Failure is on us.

We maintain God’s gracious purity by resisting temptation.  Temptation is unavoidable;  giving into it is inexcusable, but fortunately, God’s grace restores us perfectly.  Temptation is resistible; God has promised we will never be tempted beyond our power to say no and walk away from it.

We resist temptation by doing t following:

– Replace worldly priorities with godly ones (see Matthew 6:3).

– Seek the “door of escape” promised in 1 Corinthains 10:13.

Keep your focus on Jesus.  Make it your ambition to do what Jesus would do: reproduce His character in you.  Read a portion of the Gospels every day.  Look t/t clouds; be mindful of Jesus’ 2nd Coming.

Claim the promise of God’s word: in Philippians 4:7 it is written, AND THE PEACE OF GOD, WHICH TRANSCENDS ALL UNDERSTANDING, WILL GUARD YOUR HEARTS AND MINDS IN CHRIST JESUS.

Perhaps you’ve been wondering about the term “E.Q.” in the title of this message.  If so, it would be fair to ask where you’ve been for the last 20 years.  In 1994 Daniel Goleman published a book that popularized the notion of “E.Q.” or “Emotional Quotient,” as a measure of a person’s knowledge and capability to understand and make use of one’s emotional states.  His best-selling book was Emotional Intelligence, and while it did not present new research into understand human emotional nature, it presented the subject in a way that made it useful to the broader spectrum of people in our culture.  In the two decades since its publication, the concepts Goleman presented in Emotional Intelligence have become part of our language.

Here’s how Goleman defined the titular term as “self-control, zeal and persistence, and the ability to motivate oneself.”  (Goleman, p. xxii.)  This is a field of study that proposes to do what the writer of Proverbs urged the wise person to do.  (This is yet another example of the keen insight into human nature we can glean from a study of the Bible.  God’s Word is as relevant today as it was thousands of years ago!)

John Chrysostom, the “golden-throated” preacher and archbishop of Constantinople (349-407 A.D.) wrote, “Find the door of your heart, you will discover it is the door of the kingdom of God.”  (Quoted from Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, Peter Scazzero, p. 80.)  Chrysostom wrote truthfully, for God has been revealed in the Bible as an emotional being.  Scazzero provides us with some examples of God’s emotional states on pages 70-71.

– Delight or at least satisfaction in Genesis 1:25, 31.

– Grief in Genesis 6:6.

– Jealousy in Exodus 20:5.

– Pain in Isaiah 42:14.

– Anger in Jeremiah 30:24.

– His love is explained everywhere in the Bible, but look at Jeremiah 31:3 as an example.

– Compassion in Hosea 11:8.

– Sorrow in Matthew 36:37-38.

– Distress in Mark 3:5.

– Joy in Luke 10:21.

These divine emotions are NOT found in Scripture because the authors are trying to anthropomorphize God.  They are writing under God’s inspiration to explain to us that part of God’s nature – and, by way of the Image of God (see Genesis 1:26) – our nature too.  Therefore, an important but neglected aspect of discipleship is learning how to live within our emotions.  We can receive divine guidance through our feelings.  In these and many ways, we ignore our hearts in violation of God’s revealed will and at our own peril.

Friend, why continue to suffer from your own heart?  Why be merely reactive, blown back and forth by the winds of emotional change?  Why not begin today to learn and master your emotions?  It is God’s will for your life as a disciple.

Goleman, Daniel, Emotional Intelligence: Why it can Matter more than IQ, Bantam Dell, New York, NY, 2006.

Scazzero, Peter, Emotionally Mature Spirituality, Integrity, Franklin, TN, 2006.

Hugh Otter B. Fruitful

(Read Acts 2:42-47.)

        A woman in Alabama was to bake a cake for her Baptist Church ladies’ bake sale, but entirely forgot about it until she awoke on the morning of the sale.  Rifling through her cupboards, she found an old angel food cake mix and threw it together.  While it baked, she dressed for work.

        When she took the cake from the oven, the center had dropped flat and the cake was horribly disfigured.  There was no time nor resource to bake another.  Not wanting to lose face among the church ladies, she hurriedly looked around for something she could use to build up the center of the cake.

        She settled on a roll of toilet paper which she put in the droopy center of the cake and then covered the whole thing over with icing.  Standing back to admire her handiwork, she pronounced it “Beautiful!”

        Before leaving the house to drop the cake off at the church on the way to work, she woke her teenage daughter and told her to be at the bake sale precisely when it opened at 9 am, buy t cake & bring it home.

        You may be surprised to find that the drowsy daughter didn’t make it to the church exactly at 9 am.  When she did arrive, she found that her mother’s cake had already been sold!  She called her mother to deliver the horrifying news.  The woman spent the entire day and a sleepless night worrying about who had purchased the faux cake.

        The next day an elegant bridal shower was being held at the home of a fellow church member.  While she wasn’t particularly friendly toward the hostess – she considered her a snob – the woman felt obligated to go.

        She was horrified when her cake was presented as dessert!

        She was about to take the hostess aside and confess when one of the other guest exclaimed, “What a beautiful cake!”

        The snobbish hostess grinned with pride and said, “Thank you, I baked it myself!”

        The woman thought to herself, “God is good.”  She sat back and watched as her hostess grabbed the cake knife…

        We naturally think god is good when the other person gets their “just desserts,” but are less likely to think that way when it’s us.  Getting what we deserve is what Jesus called the “fruit” of our character.  Decisions made repeatedly become character and the outcome of all that reveals the character within each of us.

        What’s true on an individual level is also true on a church level.  What we look like on the outside does not determine what fruits we bear, it’s what really exists under the icing. We must choose Christ to bear Christian fruit.

(George Goldtrap, as quoted in The Joyful Noiseletter, Vol. 27, No. 4, July-August 2012.)

THESIS = The First Church enjoyed fruitful ministry because they were faithful followers.

Vs. 46-47 (NIV) = Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts.  They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people.  And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

WHERE they met reveals a lot about the First Church.

        They met publicly in the TEMPLE.  Because the temple courtyards provided a large open space where their mega-church could gather.  The courtyards were accessible to Gentiles and frequented by Jews.

        Originally they saw themselves as practicing the Jewish faith completed by Jesus.  Therefore the temple was still God’s house; it was still sacred in their lives, their faith and practice.  They shared the pride godly Jews felt about the Temple and all it represented.

        It was a familiar place and a physical focus of their faith. When in Jerusalem, a godly Jew went to the Temple three times a day to pray.  Living elsewhere, a godly Jew faced the direction of the Temple to pray.

        The courtyards of the Temple were the customary place to meet for teaching.  Later, as the Church was dispersed from Jerusalem, they took this practice with them and met in the local synagogues.

        They also met privately in their HOMES.  They held services in courtyards  of private homes (see Philemon 2; Colossians 4:15; 1 Corinthians 16:19).  This was a practical solution and good stewardship.  Buildings require resources.  the practice kept the local churches smaller & more personal, like our “cell groups” today.  It was customary for Jewish feasts (i.e., the Passover) to be observed in homes.

        This “multi-site plan” is a comprehensive approach to ministry we can find useful and worth copying.  The temple gatherings were primarily evangelistic in nature, but also met worship and service goals.  The “living room” gatherings in private homes had a primary purpose of discipleship, but also met worship and fellowship goals.  Of course, the extraordinary stewardship exhibited in the First Church empowered both.

WHAT they did AS they met reveals more.

        The text informs us they BROKE BREAD and ATE TOGETHER.  BROKE BREAD refers to both a meal and the Lord’s Supper: the eucharisto.  This Love Feast was THE means of worship and service, & feeding the underclass.

        They were PRAISING GOD daily.  Every activity of the church should be a service of worship, celebrating God before all people.  If not for God we wouldn’t be here!

        They enjoyed THE FAVOR OF ALL PEOPLE.  I wonder what that feels like.  It might mean that people know where we’re located, at least!  This was a church full of joy: because they spread it about, they enjoyed wide favor.

HOW they did it sets an example for us to follow.

        They met EVERY DAY.  Any mention I make of daily worship falls on blank stares and deaf ears.  “Not realistic,” people inform me gravely.  Both clergy and lay people alike think the notion of daily worship is as quaint as togas.

        Let me provoke your thinking on this subject with two questions.  Is it possible that we are over-invested in our personal, private lives?  If we restore balance by investing more in God will it result in a better blessing?  If the answer to either of those questions is “Yes,” we’ve got to re-prioritize.

        They had GLAD and SINCERE HEARTS.  Every Christian ought to have a GLAD heart.  When done right, the Christian faith is fun.  Joy is an inevitable result of true discipleship.  If church is boring, uneventful, or unfulfilling, the fault is not with God.  In the original language, the word  SINCERE means “without stones to trip on.”  With nothing false in their character, they gave no excuse to trip others up.

WHY did God do this?  Simple: to build His Church.

        The phrase THE LORD ADDED TO THEIR NUMBER is a needed reminder that it is God who saves.  Our part is to create a space where God is made known.  If we are faithful, God will make us fruitful.

        This is also a way God shows His approval of a church.  If a church is worthy of His trust, He will place new believers in their care.

        It also reinforces the necessity of true faith being the qualification for membership. This phrase summarizes New Testament teaching that makes a distinction between those who are converts in appearance only & those who are a new creation.  Human eyes can’t always telling the difference, but God knows.

        I hope I’ve clearly placed an emphasis on the sovereignty of God.  That doctrine is no excuse of inactivity or even passivity, however.  God calls us to be more than consumers.  We are to be producers as well.  One part of discipleship is producing fruit.  The outcomes of a faithful life are two-fold:

  • See Matthew 28:19, where Jesus identifies disciple-making as our mission. That includes producing new converts and maturing existing ones.
  • See John 15, where Jesus teaches that LOVE is both a means and an end to discipleship. Real disciples love more often and more deeply. 

        OK, I admit to being guilty of making this word my soap box.  Don’t miss the word DAILY in the text. Does anyone really think it is a coincidence that they met daily and the Lord added to their number daily?  I’d suggest we are seeing a spiritual principle at work: “Whatever you sow, you shall reap.  If you sow sparingly, you shall reap sparingly.”  The greater sacrifice opens the door to greater blessing.  That’s biblical.

        Who was the Lord adding to the First Church?  THOSE WHO WERE BEING SAVED.  “Being saved” is a curious phrase.  What’s that imply?  A Greek word for “church” means “the called-out ones.”  Who is doing the calling?  God.  We don’t  call ourselves.  So again we are reminded that salvation is 99.9% an act of God.  It is not by any work that we are saved, but only by a faithful acceptance of the work of God.

        I believe that phrase is also meant to throw us back upon our dependence on the Holy Spirit.  It is God’s Spirit who empowers everything we do that is godly.  For a wonderful and unique description of this, see Judges 6:34, where it is written, THE SPIRIT OF THE LORD CLOTHED HIMSELF WITH GIDEON.  The Bible also says that the Spirit is within us, but I prefer this reading because it places the emphasis squarely on the Holy Spirit.

        While we may be assuming too much from a single portion of a sentence, I believe this oddly passive-voiced verb without a clear temporal reference is also meant to remind us that salvation is a life-long process.  BEING SAVED is like saying, “Under Construction.”  Kind of like the streets and highways of our land during the summer months…

        “A wealthy lawyer walked along a crowded sidewalk in London when he felt a hand slip into his pocket.  He whirled around and seized the thief by the wrist.  ‘Why did you try to rob me?’ James Henderson demanded sternly.

        “‘Because, sir,’ the would-be pickpocket said, ‘I am out of work and hungry.’

        “‘Come along with me,’ Henderson said.  He took the penniless man to a restaurant and ordered two meals.

        “When they had finished eating, the man told how he had been in prison and found it difficult to obtain a job because of his bad name.  ‘I have no name,’ he said.  There is nothing left to return but to return to the old life of crime.  What can a man do without a name?’

        “The man’s story and question greatly impressed the lawyer.  After some thought, he said, ‘For forty years I have borne the name of James Henderson unsullied.  You say you have no name?  I’ll give you my name.  Take your new name out into the world and keep it clean and honorable.’

        “‘Do you really mean it?’ cried the thief brokenly.

        “‘Of course I mean it,’ said the lawyer.  ‘And to prove it, I’ll recommend you, in the name of James Henderson, to a manufacturing firm with whom I have some influence.’

        “The lawyer found a job for the former thief and kept in touch with him for many months.  However, through travel and a change of residence, he lost contact with his namesake.

        “Fifteen years later he was told a visitor awaited him in the reception room of his office.  He was startled to read the name ‘James Henderson’ on the man’s business card.  Entering the reception room, he met a tall, strikingly handsome man dressed like a gentleman. 

        “As they shook hands, the visitor said, ‘Sir, I have called to tell you today I have been made partner in the firm to which you recommended me fifteen years ago.  All that you see me to be, I owe to your noble generosity; and above all, to the gift of your name.  The name of James Henderson is still unsullied.  God bless you, sir, and reward you!’

        “The thief was offered a new name and made a new start in life.  We, too, have been offered a new name – Christian.  And it is the plan of the One who has given us this new name that we make a new start in life.”

(Desmond Hills, Signs of the Times, June, 2004.)