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.

Faithfulness or Unfaithful Mess? Your Choice. (Part Two)

(Please read Joshua 24:14-27 in your Bible.  I have prepared these remarks with the NIV.)

Faithfulness is a Fruit of the Spirit and is the only appropriate response to all God has done for us.

A politician said, “We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of heaven; we have been preserved these many years in peace and prosperity; we have grown in numbers, wealth, and power as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us, and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us.”  The politician’s name was Abraham Lincoln and he made these comments in a speech in 1863.

<Retrieved from http://www.sermoncentral.com/illustrations/sermon-illustration-jeff-simms-quotes-wear-judgment-privilege-13886.asp on 7/8/16.>

It sounds like the more things change, the more they stay the same.  For too long we’ve been operating under the mistaken notion that the human race is evolving, progressing, and improving our world.  I would say the violence we see reported anew almost daily argues against that notion.

We have changed many things but human nature is not one of them.  We have solved many problems, but sin is not one of them.  We have met some needs, but our need for God is one that we will never meet any way other than by faith.

As individuals, we are the sum total of the choices we have made and the choices others have made for us.  As we age, the effects of our own choices take on greater prominence than the choices of others.  In other words, we become increasingly responsible for the kind of person we’ve become.

What is true on an individual scale is also true on a national one: national identity is the sum total of the choices of its citizens.  It’s true that the choices of those in leadership positions have a greater effect on a nation’s character, but all of us contribute.

I mention all of this because we’re talking today about faithfulness.  Faithfulness is repeatedly making the right choices.  It is consistently choosing to obey God.

The Bible passage that most familiarly sets forth this matter of choice is Joshua 24:15, the centerpiece of the passage we’ve studied these two weeks.  Just as Joshua called the nation of Israel to faithfully obey God, this Scripture challenges us today to choose God.

PART ONE (See previous post.)

  1. The LORD has been faithful to you (1-13).

PART TWO

  1. You must choose to be faithful to the LORD (14-27).

Joshua called them to commitment in vs. 14-15.  Faithfulness features fear and service.

Some people are uncomfortable seeing FEAR of the LORD as a virtue.  They have such a benign view of God that they can’t see anything “negative.”  The Bible is clear that “respect” or “reverence” isn’t enough; a full understanding of God includes fear.  As Donald H. Madvig put it, “If we fear God, we need not fear his judgment,” (Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 3, p. 368).

Motivated by fear and love, we are to serve God.  We must make sacrifices as necessary to do His will as soon as it becomes apparent to us.  ALL FAITHFULNESS is the objective. Being faithful requires us to keep our focus on God.

You can safeguard your faithfulness by trashing your idols.  In this situation, Joshua commanded them to dispose of the idols, the household gods that were taken from Egyptian households as plunder.

As previously stated with regard to the word FEAR, some people have trouble accepting that God is JEALOUS, but He makes it clear that He does not want to share us with false gods.  It’s for our own good to get rid of everything in our lives that will distract us from God, everything that threatens to take His place.

After all these people have been through and all the miracles they have seen, we think this ought to be a “no-brainer.”  It’s also strange that slaves would worship the gods of their oppressors, but it has happened throughout history.

Commitment is follow-through.  Human nature has not changed since that day at Shechem: true commitment still requires undivided loyalty.  Joshua called upon them to CHOOSE; did not make up their minds for them or even attempt to persuade them, other than sharing his choice.  Verse 15 is one of the most familiar Scripture and is often quoted because it is the essential commitment of faith: Choose your god.

The people committed themselves to serve God in vs. 16-18.  They realized God saved them from slavery. In gratitude they said some pretty impressive words:

– “FAR BE IT FROM US TO FORSAKE THE LORD TO SERVE OTHER GODS!”

– “IT WAS THE LORD OUR GOD HIMSELF WHO BROUGHT US AND OUR FATHERS OUT OF EGYPT.”

– “WE TOO WILL SERVE THE LORD, BECAUSE HE IS OUR GOD.”

However, these declarations of faith ring hollow in our ears because we’ve read the rest of the story and know that there were periods in their history when Israel served idols and not God.

Let’s be honest.  Are we any different?  Only if we choose to be.  We have to commit ourselves to the LORD & keep choosing Him to maintain our faith.

Joshua challenged their commitment and cautioned them about the wrath of God (vs. 19-20).  Joshua got in their faces!  He challenged them because he knew that a superficial commitment did no one any good and that he needed to move them beyond momentary emotion.

About Joshua’s theology: God is not only HOLY and JEALOUS and full of wrath against sin, but Joshua emphasized even exaggerated these parts of His character so that the people would stop to count the cost.  A spurious commitment that is superficial and ultimately results in backsliding and turning against God is as bad as an initial rejection of Him.

The people recommitted themselves in v. 21.  The people’s response is the more deliberate decision Joshua was working toward: they protested that they were serious and fully committed.

He made a covenant between God and the people (vs. 22-27).  The people served as their own witnesses. As they had agreed with this statement, their words were a vow to the LORD and would condemn them if they ever rejected God.

Joshua repeated himself in v. 23, demanding the casting away of all idols they carried out of Egypt.  This act was to be a demonstration of their sincerity.

I don’t know of any text that confirms that they did this, but they reaffirmed that they would serve the LORD only.

Joshua copied the Law that God gave them through Moses.  He made the rules clear to them.  Though v. 25 at first sounds like this COVENANT was something new with Joshua, we have no reason to think this was anything more than a reminder of what God had already revealed to Moses.

The stipulations of the agreement were recorded in a scroll called THE BOOK OF THE LAW.  That was one reminder of their oath.  Joshua set a LARGE STONE against an OAK TREE that stood near the place that was HOLY because God had met their forefathers there.  This was a second reminder of that oath.

Joshua knew the importance of memorials and visual reminders.  He’d made an altar on the Promised Land side of the Jordan (4:8-9).  He had already written the words of the Law on the stones of an altar erected on Mt. Ebal (8:32).

It is human nature to forget or be tempted to backtrack on the oaths we have made.  The intensity of emotions fade, so we need reminders.  The memorials were also important for future generations.  People who did not stand at that spot, who did not say those words would come along later and wonder how would they know these things were so?  Why should they fulfill oaths that others made?  These visual reminders would help.

Let’s conclude with the end of the story.  Several things happened after this pivotal event in the history of Israel.

First, Joshua sent them home – TO THEIR INHERITANCE.  It is, of course, a fantastic feeling to have these emotional, life-changing, “mountaintop” experiences.  The challenging part is taking it on into daily life.  To change the way we think, react, and interact with the little things of our world.

Second, both Joshua and Eleazar died.  These two leaders, representing the overlapping circles of civil and religious authority, were no longer available to lead Israel.  It was a rough and abrupt transition, no doubt, but new leadership was taking the people of God into a new day.

Third, the bones of the patriarch Joseph, which they had carried all the way from Egypt, were finally laid to rest in the exact spot where this meeting had been held.  This act of respect brought to a ceremonial end one era of the history of God’s people.  The past had literally been buried and the future lay ahead of them.

The last word of the book of Joshua is not the last verse.  Look at v. 31.  This verse summarizes the long term effect of the decisions made and oaths taken on that day.  What we see is that the generation who stood with Joshua at Shechem remained faithful to the LORD.  That is good news.

However, as we turn the page and get into the book of Judges, we see the following generations turning to idol-worship and sinning against the Lord.  Indeed, the history of Israel as preserved in the OT is very cyclical:

The people commit themselves to God.

=>

The people compromise & slowly turn to idols.

=>

Pagan nations take over & make them suffer.

=>

The people cry out to God & He delivers them.

=>

The people repent & commit themselves to God.

Good thing none of us are like that, right?  To me, this passage is about personal choice.  But it is also about helping others – particularly the next generation – make the same choice.  It’s not enough to keep the doors open and set the table, we must invite them to “taste and see that the LORD is good” (Psalm 34:8).  Then, having tasted of the joy that is in Christ, we must help one another to fully commit to Him as Lord.

We must break the cycle of generations lost to the enemy by choosing to serve God and leading others to do the same!  If you will commit yourself to following God, please stand.

Faithfulness or Unfaithful Mess? Your Choice (Part One)

Please read Joshua 24 in your Bible.  I have used the NIV for these remarks.

Faithfulness is a Fruit of the Spirit and is the only appropriate response to all God has done for us.

Iowa Governor Terry Branstad has been busy lately issuing proclamations.  His most recent one calls on Iowans to read the Bible in all 99 counties over the 4th of July weekend.

At the Wright County Courthouse, reading began on Tuesday. The idea is that the Bible is to be simply read; no commentary on the texts is to be offered.

Governor Branstad has come under criticism for this proclaimation, some say the state endorsing a single religion. However – to be fair – the Governor has also signed Wicca and Muslim Recognition Day proclamations.

What do you think?

As American Baptists, it has been our tradition to regard with suspicion all forays of government into the area of religion.  Historically, Baptists have been among those who lead for a separation of church and state because we were on the pointy end of religious persecution.  We were committed to this ideal because we were motivated.

Today we’re going to look at a nation that needed some motivation to do the right thing.  God’s people in the Old Testament era, the nation of Israel, had just concluded their efforts to occupy the land God had promised them.  They were about to settle in and become a nation.  Before they went about the process of prospering in their new homes, their leader Joshua gathered them together to give them his last word from the LORD.  It was more than a motivational speech, but motivating them to be faithful to God was surely one of its objects.

PROLOGUE: What has come before is the end of Moses’ life, Joshua replacing him as the leader of God’s people.  Joshua has led the people of God throughout the conquest of the Promised Land.  Joshua’s own demise is near; his death and burial are described at the end of the chapter.  Before his rest, Joshua had one last important task: to remind the new nation of Israel to how they got where they were on that day and get them to recommit themselves to serving the Lord.  Joshua has been a leader of Israel since they were in Egypt, so he knows these people and knows that they must be made accountable for their commitment to the LORD.

The nation was at a crossroads, a dangerous time when commitment was needed.  Though the fighting was over, the war continued: the war for the souls of God’s people.  You see, these people were descendant of idol-worshippers (v. 3); they had been enslaved by idolaters and brought some of their household gods with them as booty; and they had not entirely got rid of the pagans they conquered as they had been commanded to do, so they were surrounded and infiltrated by worshipers of false gods.  As the rest of the Old Testament shows, idolatry would be a problem throughout the history of Israel, their worst failing.

According to v. 1, Joshua summoned the leaders of the people at Shechem.   This is an important choice of sites, as Shechem was the place where God promised this land to their forefather Abraham.  The sense of history is essential as the people started thinking about the future and solidifying their commitment to God.

  1. The LORD has been faithful to you (JHA 24:1-13).

This half of the chapter is composed of Joshua’s reminders of the LORD’s faithfulness.  Joshua is providing an abbreviated history of their nation for the sole purpose of offering examples of times God came to their rescue.

The first is from the beginning: Abraham & sons (vs. 2-4).  Joshua began with Abraham’s father, going back to the beginning of God’s people.  They worshiped OTHER GODS at that time, so God took Abraham out of his home and his faith to bring him to Shechem.  It’s interesting to note that Abraham lead a nomadic life.  The only property he owned was a cave (Machpelah) which he bought as a place of burial (Genesis 23).

God promised Abraham the land of Canaan and innumerable descendants. Those promises were not kept in his lifetime, but in the lives of his descendants.  This day, the day that Joshua gathered the tribes together, serves as the best instance of the fulfillment of those promises.  Abraham’s immediate descendants (aka the Patriarchs) are mentioned here as part of how God kept His promises to Abraham.  This takes us to the time of slavery in Egypt.

The second instance is Moses and the Exodus (vs. 5-7).  Notice the frequent use of the word “I” in this passage; the emphasis is on God and what He has done for His people.  God directed His people to Egypt and then delivered them from that land, particularly by destroying Pharaoh’s army in the Red Sea.

Joshua said that they had seen with their own eyes these things because the ELDERS of the people were there.  They were the generation after those God lead out of Egypt.  Though they were probably children or youths at the time, they were still eyewitnesses of those foundational moments.   As Moses had done in Deuteronomy 5:3, Joshua made the fulfillment of covenant promises personal to these people.  This is the same thing we do when we approach the Bible; we’re looking to personalize it and apply these truths to our lives.

The third example is the conquest of the Promised Land  in vs. 8-12.  Against the Amorites (v. 8) refers to what  happened the first time Israel approached the Promised Land.  Israel asked the Amorites for permission to travel through their land in peace.  The Amorites not only denied them permission to cross their borders, but attacked them. God gave His people victory in that battle.

Another part of the story of the conquest is how God assisted them against Balak and Balaam (vs. 9-10).  Balak was the king of Moab.  He hired Balaam, a prophet, to pronounce a curse on Israel.  In 2 Peter 2:15 and Revelation  2:14, Balaam is characterized as the epitome of evil, so he was a threat they took very seriously.  God delivered them from the threat of this holy man’s curse by – of all things – a talking donkey!  (See Numbers 22-24 for the full story.)

And finally, God gave them victory against Jericho and the rest of the Canaanite nations (v. 11).  Jericho is the city God delivered into the hands of the Israelite army by causing its walls to fall down (see Joshua 5-6).  It’s interesting to me that Jericho was the only city that God delivered to the Israelites in that miraculous way.  The other campaigns mentioned here were resolved by much more conventional warfare.

Fourth, Joshua offers these summaries of the LORD’s work on Israel’s behalf.

The LORD won their battles for them.

– Vs. 8+11 = I GAVE THEM INTO YOUR HANDS.

– V. 8 = I DESTROYED THEM BEFORE YOU.

– V. 10 = I DELIVERED YOU OUT OF HIS HAND.

– V. 12 = I SENT THE HORNET AHEAD OF YOU…YOU DID NOT DO IT WITH YOUR OWN SWORD AND BOW.   The word HORNET can refer to Pharaoh, king of Egypt, whose raiding parties into Canaan significantly weakened the Canaanite nations before the Israelites came, or a supernatural terror the LORD sent to confound their enemies (see 2:9-11, 24 & 5:1).  Take either or both; the point is that God’s supernatural action made t conquest happen.

The reference to YOUR OWN SWORD AND BOW does not mean that the Israelites did no fighting (even in Jericho there was some violence) but it does mean that the conquest of the Promised Land was a gift from God, not a product of overwhelming military success.

The LORD gave them these things; they did not earn them.  That’s GRACE, folks (v. 13).   In Deuteronomy 6:10-12, God promised them everything – word for word – that is listed in v. 13:

– I GAVE YOU A LAND ON WHICH YOU DID NOT TOIL.

– I GAVE YOU…CITIES YOU DID NOT BUILD AND YOU LIVE IN THEM.

– YOU…EAT FROM VINEYARDS AND OLIVE GROVES THAT YOU DID NOT PLANT.

The point is that God was faithful; He kept His part of their covenant, their agreement.  Now it was up to the people to do the same.

This gives us insight into how life works: it is the interrelation of God’s will and human will.  God miraculously delivered Jericho into their hands, but they still had to march around the city seven times.  Their obedience yielded the result.

All the prosperity they enjoyed was the result of their being faithful to do what God instructed.  This is not a guarantee that material prosperity will always accompany spiritual maturity, but is a guarantee that God blesses every time we act according to His will.

The Bible is a record of God’s faithfulness to His people.

Deuteronomy 7:9 = Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commandments.

1 Corinthians 1:8-9 = He will also keep you firm to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.  God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

1 Peter 4:19 = So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.

Vance Havner started preaching at age 14 and conducted a preaching and writing ministry that spanned over 70 years, until his death in 1986.  A colleague once said of Havner: “Old Vance was half Charles Spurgeon and half Billy Sunday with the voice of Will Rogers.”

<Retrieved from http://christian-quotes.ochristian.com/Vance-Havner-Quotes/ on 7/1/16.>

Vance Havner said, “God is faithful, and He expects His people to be faithful. God’s Word speaks of faithful servants, faithful in a few things, faithful in the least, faithful in the Lord, faithful ministers. And all points up that day when He will say, ‘Well done, thou good and faithful servant.’             “What terrible times we have in our churches trying to keep people faithful in attendance and loyalty! How we reward and picnic and coax and tantalize church members into doing things they don’t want to do but which they would do if they loved God! The only service that counts is faithful service.             “True faith shows up in faithfulness. Not everyone can sing or preach, but all can be faithful.”

<Retrieved from http://www.sermoncentral.com/illustrations/sermon-illustration-greg-yount-quotes-faith-secondcoming-4360.asp on 7/1/16.>

We’re talking about the Spiritual Fruit of FAITHFULNESS.  We’ve seen the first half of this equation – that God is faithful to us – in the example of all He did to establish the nation of Israel as His people on the earth.  As we shall see next Sunday, the only appropriate response is to likewise be faithful to Him.

Let me close with one more example, one that is a little more current.

“There is in the State House at Albany a letter written by Abraham Lincoln granting pardon to a deserter. This is the way that letter reads:

‘Executive Mansion, Washington, D. C., Oct. 4, 1864.  Upon condition that Roswell McIntyre of Co. E, Sixth Regiment of New York Cavalry, returns to his regiment and faithfully serves out his time, or until lawfully discharged, he is fully pardoned for any supposed desertion heretofore committed; this paper is his pass to his regiment.

ABRAHAM LINCOLN.’

“Down at the left this note is scribbled: ‘Taken from the body of R. McIntyre at the battle of Five Forks, Va., 1865.’

“And so the quitter came back and died like a man, with his pardon on his person. And just so may all who have forsaken Christ and His cause return, be forgiven and recommissioned.”—Gospel Herald.

<Retrieved from http://www.moreillustrations.com/Illustrations/faithfulness%201.html on 7/1/16.>

Faithfulness is not distinguished by having a perfect record.  If that were true, none of us could be considered faithful.  Instead, faithfulness is turning back to God following every instance of having turned away.  It’s not about seeking perfection, but imitating the One who is perfect.

Next Week: 2. You must choose to be faithful to the LORD (JHA 24:14-27).

You’ve Got to Try a Little Kindness

(Please read  Ephesians 4:29-5:2 in your preferred version of the Bible.  I have used the NIV to prepare these remarks.)

Imitating God requires getting rid of vice, replacing it with virtue.

“Try a Little Kindness” is a song written by Curt Sapaugh and Bobby Austin, first recorded by American country music singer Glen Campbell. It was the title track on Campbell’s 16th album, released in 1970.  The song was hit on three different music charts: it peaked at number two for one week on the country charts.  “Try a Little Kindness” went to number one for one week on the Hot Adult Contemporary chart as well as peaking at number twenty-three on the Billboard Hot 100.

Try A Little Kindness                    By Glen Campbell

If you see your brother standing by the road With a heavy load from the seeds he’s sowed And if you see your sister falling by the way Just stop and say, you’re going the wrong way

You got to try a little kindness Yes show a little kindness Just shine your light for everyone to see And if you try a little kindness Then you’ll overlook the blindness Of narrow-minded people on the narrow-minded streets

Don’t walk around the down and out Lend a helping hand instead of doubt And the kindness that you show every day Will help someone along their way

You got to try a little kindness Yes show a little kindness Just shine your light for everyone to see And if you try a little kindness Then you’ll overlook the blindness Of narrow-minded people on the narrow-minded streets

– – – –

You got to try a little kindness Yes show a little kindness Just shine your light for everyone to see And if you try a little kindness Then you’ll overlook the blindness Of narrow-minded people on the narrow-minded streets

Songwriters: BOBBY AUSTIN, CURT SAPAUGH

© EMI Music Publishing                 For non-commercial use only.            Data from: LyricFind

Kindness is our Fruit of the Spirit for the month of May.  It is a very difficult subject on which to find a Bible text as it is a virtue that is never discussed on its own.  In the New Testament especially, kindness is always listed with other virtues.

That fact got me to thinking.  It never appears alone.  Perhaps one reason that explains this is that you can’t really demonstrate kindness alone.  It is a virtue that requires at least one other person in order to operate.  Yes, you can be kind to yourself – and you should – but it doesn’t carry quite the same weight, does it?  Kindness is a relational virtue.

Here’s your homework assignment this week: forget about “random acts of kindness.”  Do “intentional acts of kindness!”  Do at least one act of kindness for every day this week.  Do one good deed for a family member, neighbor, stranger, old person, child, church member, and at work or where you shop.  Be sensitive to their situation, aim to meet a need, and do it in the name of Jesus!

  1. Imitating God is our chief goal in life (5:1-2).

We must imitate God because we are His children.  We imitate God in holiness and in living a life of LOVE.  Holiness and love is the core of our life together.  In 1 Corinthians 11:1; 1 Thessalonians 1:6; and 1 Peter 2:21, Paul wrote about following his example as he followed the example of Jesus Christ.  We don’t follow a program, we imitate a person.

Imitating Christ requires we make sacrifices as He did.  Jesus GAVE HIMSELF UP FOR US.  Here’s the thing: nobody took Jesus’ life.  He could have been saved, but He gave His life for us.  He is our example in extreme sacrifice.  This is the same language Paul uses later in chapter five (v. 25) when he urged, HUSBANDS, LOVE YOUR WIVES, JUST AS CHRIST LOVED THE CHURCH AND GAVE HIMSELF UP FOR HER.

In 5:1-2, Jesus’ death on the cross is described as A FRAGRANT OFFERING AND SACRIFICE.  A FRAGRANT OFFERING is used frequently in the Old Testament to describe burnt offerings that were sacrificed on the altar as an act of obedience to God.  The rising smoke was seen as rising to heaven, a symbol of the sacrifice’s being acceptable and pleasing to God.  The word SACRIFICE speaks to the effect of Jesus’ death; it provided for our salvation.  We are forgiven because He suffered the penalty for our sins.

Paul elaborates throughout Ephesians the two movements necessary to live a life pleasing to God: to step away from sin and to step toward God.  We’ll briefly examine the examples given in our text.  These are not exhaustive lists, but representative of vices and virtues that are particularly expressed in relationships.

  1. Step one: get rid of vice (4:29-31).

UNWHOLESOME TALK in v. 29 could also be translated as “filthy language.”  The word UNWHOLESOME was used in ancient Greek literature to refer to rotten wood, diseased lungs, spoiled fish, withered flowers, and overripe fruit.  Jesus used the word to refer to the kind of fruit a BAD TREE bears in Matthew 7:17-18; Luke 6:43 and for fish that should be thrown away in Matthew 13:48.  This is speech so rotten it should make a godly person gag.  (Not just obscenity, but all speech that hurts people.)

Especially in the Gospels, grieving the Holy Spirit (v. 30) is a serious offense.  This is because God is jealous for His people and disappointed when we choose evil.  The consistent practice of vice betrays the character of someone not really devoted to Christ.  All of these vices are sins; acts of disobedience that separate us from God.  After all He’s done for us, we should be motivated to do things that please God (virtues) and avoid the things that grieve Him (vices).  The idea of grieving the Holy Spirit also appears in Isaiah 63:9-10 (see also Psalm 78:40).

BITTERNESS (v. 31) is differentiated from RAGE and ANGER as a prolonged ungodly anger.  It is a refusal to forgive and forget.  It is a negativity that overtakes a person’s spirit over time, having mushroomed from a single event.

The RAGE mentioned in v. 31 is a more instantaneous ungodly anger.  A tantrum is an example of RAGE.  It is temporary anger, flashing into existence, then burning out.  RAGE causes us to say and do things that we would not even consider doing in more temperate moments.

ANGER (v. 31) is more of an umbrella term, taking in both BITTERNESS and RAGE.  It refers to a flaw in character, the tendency to negativity and to overreact to perceived slights.  Such a person is said to go around with a “chip on their shoulder.”

BRAWLING (v. 31) would certain encompass all physical acts of anger.  More broadly, it might be someone who is insensitive to the feelings of others and to the relational cost of their angry words and deeds.  It the kind of person who would – to borrow an old cigarette slogan – “rather fight than switch.”

SLANDER (v. 31) takes in every word employed to hurt someone else’s reputation or feeling (or both).  The truth or falsehood of one’s words are not the primary determinant of their virtue or vice; the motive of the speaker is.

Finally EVERY FORM OF MALICE is also condemned as vice in verse 31.  MALICE identifies every behavior that flows from a mean spirit.  Notice that EVERY FORM a malicious motive takes is condemned.  This phrase alone ought to undercut the majority of misbehaviors we see, even among churched folk.

  1. Step two: get more virtue (4:29, 30, 32 + 5:2).

The edifying talk set forth in v. 29 could be translated as “uplifting conversation.”  These are good words, the kind that help others see God in us.  Our speech gives away what’s really in our hearts.  Choosing words that prompt spiritual maturity obviously requires care, knowledge and sensitivity to our hearers.  Timely, well-spoken words that flow from our knowledge of Scripture and the Holy Spirit are what we need for building each other up.

The phrase SEALED FOR THE DAY OF REDEMPTION (30) references a way ownership was indicated in the ancient world; by the placing of a wax seal indented with the mark of the owner, usually a signet ring.  The phrase FOR THE DAY OF REDEMPTION means that God will keep His people safe from the devil until the day that He redeems them, delivering them to their eternal home in heaven.

Notice that even though we are guilty of sin, we are not threatened with loss of salvation or loss of the Holy Spirit.  Because of His grace, our place is secure.  We should behave as grateful folk.

Kindness (v. 32) is our virtue of note.  Its meaning is so obvious it needs little definition from us.  Kindness is positivity, acceptance, optimism.  These behaviors are interpersonal and are the opposite of politics as usual!  Read Colossians 3:12-13 and you will see that Paul has virtually duplicated the teaching in both these passages.

Compassion (v. 32) is to tenderhearted, sensitive to others.  It literally means “healthy bowels,” but became figurative of deeply-held feelings.  To care enough about the feelings of others to be aware of them and considerate of them is a vital way to place emphasis on the other person.

FORGIVING…AS CHRIST FORGAVE YOU (32) is supposed to be standard behavior in the Church.  We have been forgiven by our Father and we owe forgiveness to one another; to His other children especially.  We are to model our forgiving nature after God’s.  In Jesus’ model prayer, we ask God to forgive us to the degree and in the same way we’ve forgiven others.

LOVE (5:2) is, of course, essential.  This is one of 15 references to LOVE in this letter.  It is one of the central virtues that makes all the others possible and is the fullest expression of God.  Love and holiness are the virtues that motivate us to follow God and join Him in doing good to one another.

“It was a bitterly cold evening in Northern Virginia many years ago. The old man’s beard was glazed by winter’s frost as he waited for a ride across the river. He heard a brigade of men on horses coming around the bend. He let the first one pass him without any effort to get his attention.             “Then another passed by, and another. Finally, the last rider neared and the old man caught the rider’s eye and said, ‘Sir, would you mind giving an old man a ride to the other side?’ The rider said, ‘Sure, thing. Hop aboard.’ Seeing the old man unable to lift his half frozen body onto the horse, the horseman dismounted and helped the old man onto the horse.             “The horseman not only took the old man across the river but to his destination which was just a few miles away. As they neared the man’s home the horseman was curious and he asked, ‘Sir, I noticed that you let several other riders pass by without making any effort to get a ride. Then I came up and you immediately asked me for a ride. I’m curious why on such a bitterly cold night that you would wait and ask the last rider. What if I had refused and left you there?’             “The old man replied, ‘I’ve been around these parts for some time. I reckon I know people pretty good. I looked into the eyes of the other riders and immediately saw there was no concern for my situation. It would have been useless even to ask them for a ride. But when I looked into your eyes, kindness and compassion were there. I knew that your gentle spirit would welcome the opportunity to help me in my time of need.’

“Those heart-warming comments touched the horseman. ‘I’m most grateful for what you have said,’ he told the old man. ‘May I never get too busy in my own affairs that I fail to respond to the needs of others with kindness and compassion.’ With that, Thomas Jefferson turned his horse around and made his way back to the White House.” (From a sermon by Jerry Cosper, Loving One Another, 5/23/2012. Retrieved from http://www.sermoncentral.com/illustrations/sermon-illustration-sermon-central-staff-stories-compassion-81983.asp on 5/21/16.)

In his commentary on this passage in Ephesians, Clinton E. Arnold summarized an important aspect of kindness in general and this passage in particular: the words we use.  The most immediate and frequent way we can show kindness to each other is by the words we choose.

Arnold wrote, “Paul places an overt emphasis on speech ethics in this passage.  This is consistent with his emphasis on living in unity with which he began the chapter: ‘making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace’ (4:3).  Consequently, he urges believers to dispense with such harmful practices as lying, inappropriate anger, filthy talk, yelling, and saying anything at all that could be hurtful to another person.”

(Arnold, Clinton E., Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, Vol. 10, p. 314.)

What’re You Waiting For?

(Please read James 5:7-11 in your Bible.  I cite the NIV below.)

Patience makes all relationships better.

  1. We must be patient with God (5:7+8).

It may sound odd to say it this way, but there are a couple circumstances that require all followers of Jesus to be patient with God.

One is prayer.  We wait on the Lord for a “yes” answer to prayer.  Luke 18 instructs us that we do not stop praying, but continue to call on the Lord.

Another is Jesus’ Second Coming.  The Bible concludes on a promise that Jesus is coming again.  This time, His coming will signal a series of events that will bring this reality to an end, replacing it with a perfected and glorified reality, creation restored to the way it was before sin corrupted it.

This is what James meant when he wrote BE PATIENT…UNTIL THE LORD’S COMING (v. 7).  Our hope, whether we are currently enduring suffering or not, is that at the LORD’S COMING, our faith will be vindicated, all wrongs made right, and all losses replaced with rewards.

Patience with God is defined in the expression STAND FIRM (v. 8).  To STAND FIRM means to keep the faith.  It is to trust in God, confident that His promises will be kept.

James offers the illustration of a FARMER demonstrating patience as he waits for nature to follow its customary process.  SPRING RAINS were important for germination.  AUTUMN RAINS were important for maturation of the crop.  (Both of these rains were specifically promised in Deuteronomy 11:14.)  The FARMER can do nothing to hurry the process or change weather conditions.  He must be patient and so must every believer.

Whether we’re maturing crops or disciples, the periods of waiting are not wasted time.  Instead they are periods of development & growth.

Why should we STAND FIRM until the Second Coming? BECAUSE THE LORD’S COMING IS NEAR.  Paul expected the Second Coming in his lifetime.  It didn’t happen.  Does that mean he was wrong to have that expectation?  No, we’re all supposed to think that way and allow it to affect our decisions.  Is it right for us to think about the Second Coming as NEAR?  Of course it’s right.  One of the things that motivate our patience is the expectation that Jesus’ return is right around the corner.

In the Bible, true faith is distinguished retrospectively.  When we see that person remained true – stood firm in the faith – all the way to their end, we know they possessed true faith.

  1. We must be patient with each other (5:9-11).

One of the events connected with the Second Coming is Judgment Day.  Logically, it also is near; THE JUDGE IS STANDING AT THE DOOR (v. 9).

One of the aspects of judgment will be the way we have treated one another.  So James commands DON’T GRUMBLE (v. 9).  Though the word patience is not in this verse, we can easily see that choosing not to grumble is one way patience manifests itself in our relationships.  This echoes Jesus’ teaching about judgmentalism – if we are judgmental about each other, we can expect to face that same standard exercised against us on Judgment Day.

Another aspect of Judgment Day will be how we handled SUFFERING.  Was it with PATIENCE or not?  Being patient in SUFFERING means we don’t abandon our faith.  We stick with what we believe.

This kind of patience can be called perseverance and we have biblical examples of perseverance we can follow.  The PROPHETS (v. 10) spoke God’s messages in Old Testament times.  Their devotion to the truth put them at odds with their countrymen and made them the target of hideous acts of persecution.

Hebrews 11:35-37 summarizes their sufferings.

Job (v. 11) is, of course, the oft-used example of patience.  When you read the account of Job in the Bible, you note that he struggled with what he suffered and maintained his faith with a great deal of difficulty.  We are human, after all.  James mentioned JOB’S PERSEVERANCE.  This is attested to in Job 1:22 where we read, IN ALL THIS JOB DID NOT SIN BY CHARGING GOD WITH WRONGDOING.  James also mentioned JOB’S OUTCOME.  In Job 42:12 we read about God’s approval of Job in these words: THE LORD BLESSED THE LATTER PART OF JOB’S LIFE MORE THAN THE FIRST.

Our patience in suffering will inevitably result in our being blessed by God: WE CONSIDER BLESSED THOSE WHO HAVE PERSEVERED.  BLESSED means “happy.”  Life is a happier, better experience for those who wait on the Lord.

If we are patient, our patience in suffering will inevitably reveal that THE LORD IS FULL OF COMPASSION AND MERCY (V. 11).  At the end of our suffering we should be more convinced than ever of the loving character of God.

  1. How we can be patient with each other (1:19-21).

Patience is our first defense against ungodly anger as it allows us to slow down our reaction to offenses.  James writes to the BROTHERS, but EVERYONE should exercise the virtue of patience by setting a guard at their lips.

Verse nineteen is the thesis statement of the book of James.  His letter is organized around this proverb.  Here he outlined a 3-fold strategy for godly communication.

One, BE QUICK TO LISTEN to each other, but also to the Holy Spirit, who helps us understand the word of God.  Read the Gospels and you will be impressed by Jesus’ ability to LISTEN: He heard everything!  You will enjoy other people more if you spend more time listening to them and less time talking.

Two, be SLOW TO SPEAK: that means to guard our speech.  Maturing believers do not “let off steam” or use any other excuse for unguarded speech.  Instead, we take time to consider our words before we say them and keep from sins of the tongue.  In 3:2, James says that the follower who controls their tongue is PERFECT!  This gives us some sense of the import of sins of the tongue.

Third, SLOW TO BECOME ANGRY refers to misdirected wrath or selfish vengefulness.  Modern science has shown that anger is one of the emotions that takes the shortest pathway from brain to mouth.  In order to have a more considered response, we must involve more of our brain and that takes time.  Counting to 20 is as good a step to take as any.  When we are angry without a godly reason, we do more harm than good.

Why is anger a problem as regards the virtue of patience?  Anger is typically the opposite of patience; it is reacting quickly and overreacting.  It is reacting for the wrong reasons.  As a result, anger almost always impairs our spiritual maturity: MAN’S ANGER DOES NOT BRING ABOUT THE RIGHTEOUS LIFE THAT GOD DESIRES (v. 20).  When anger compels us to say or do the wrong thing, unrighteous results follow.  Harm comes to relationships, causing strains that can last a lifetime.  It is no good to God or man.

Ungodly anger is a sin; it is one aspect of the MORAL FILTH and EVIL that is PREVALENT in the world around us (v. 21).  It is PREVALENT because most people try to get through life without God.  Remember, Jesus said that it is “out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34).

What makes a true follower of Jesus different from merely worldly folk is their decision to HUMBLY ACCEPT THE WORD PLANTED in them, to the effect that they are saved.  The word HUMBLY is of key importance because it is pride and self-centeredness that causes us to behave in ways opposite God’s will.  The sacrifice of self in order to love God and others will build relationships and increase happiness.  That seems backwards from a worldly point of view, but it is God’s honest truth.

One scale by which we can assess our spiritual maturity is the degree to which virtues are evident and sins are absent.  Another scale is the degree to which our words are helpful or hurtful.  On a personal scale, this means we must be more concerned about what comes out of us.  Our words and deeds are public revelations of our character; what are people finding out about us?  On a church-wide scale, it means that we value the unity God gives us above self-interests and work hard to guard it against deliberate attempts to create division.

How to Keep James 1:19 = A Serving of “P’s”

  1. Agree on the situation.

P = Paraphrase. “This is what I hear you saying.” (Relate your version of their words.)  “Is that what you want me to hear?”

P = Personalize. “When I hear you say that, this is how I feel.  Is that what you want me to feel?”

  1. Agree on the solution.

P = Partner. “What do you think we should do to resolve this situation?”  (Share ideas.  Negotiate a compromise.)

P = Perform. Work together to enact the solution you’ve agreed upon.

How to Recognize Sins of the Tongue

  1. If you are talking about a situation to anyone outside the group of those who are directly involved, that is gossip.
  2. If your desire is to make another person look bad or yourself look good in comparison, that is slander.
  3. If you are deliberately withholding any portion of the truth or including any portion of an untruth, that is a lie.
  4. If you are listing reasons someone is guilty of something you have not observed them doing, that is false accusation.
  5. If you find yourself talking more about things that are less important or trying to be funny without considering others, that is idle patter.
  6. If you are using words that you would not say in the presence of God, that is obscenity or swearing.
  7. If you are quietly muttering words that you would be embarrassed to speak aloud, those are evil whispers.
  8. If you are speaking out of anger or trying to “win” an argument, that is quarreling.
  9. If you are finding fault without working out a solution, you are complaining.

Notice that honesty does not figure in this list.  We can’t use honesty as an excuse for sins of the tongue.  We cannot justify any sin by claiming a virtue.

Notice that being “right” does not figure in this list.  No matter how accurate our words may seem, God is the final Judge of our words.  Being right does not give us the right to speak them.  So decide for yourself whether it is easier to be careful what you say or to just talk less.

Wait Gain

(This is a topical message on patience.  I will be citing the NLT in the article below, but please read your favorite version of the Bible.)

Continuing our celebration of a Year of Jubilee, we turn in April to the Spiritual Fruit of Patience.  I suppose I could give you an opportunity to demonstrate patience by giving 40 minute sermons…  Instead, let’s examine what the Bible teaches about this virtue and assume that life will hand you opportunities to exercise patience.

            (Newser) – “At New Zealand’s National Aquarium, workers thought Inky the octopus had settled in nicely after he was brought in by a fisherman who found him in a lobster pot in 2014. Turns out he was just biding his time. Staff at the Napier aquarium believe that after the lid of Inky’s tank was left slightly ajar one night, he climbed out, slid across the wet floor, and escaped through a drainpipe that led to the sea, reports Stuff.co.nz. The football-sized, freedom-loving cephalopod would have had to squeeze through a pipe six inches diameter for more than 150 feet to make his escape.

“’Octopuses are famous escape artists,’ aquarium manager Rob Yarrell tells the Guardian. ‘But Inky really tested the waters here.’ He says Inky—who had games, toys, and three hand-fed meals of fish a week at the aquarium—is an ‘unusually intelligent’ octopus who was ‘very friendly, very inquisitive, and a popular attraction here,’ with more personality than Blotchy, the other resident octopus. After the amazing escape, ‘the staff and I have been pretty sad,’ Yarrell says. ‘But then, this is Inky, and he’s always been a bit of a surprise octopus.’”

(Retrieved from http://www.newser.com/story/223515/octopus-breaks-out-of-national-aquarium.html on 4/14/16.)

Inky was such a smart octopus, in fact, that he learned to unlock a box to get at the shrimp treat hidden inside.  If an octopus can be patient, why can’t beings with a backbone – like you and I – be patient too?

            Patience is a virtue commanded and commended throughout the Bible.  As is the case with all virtues, you will find that the practice of patience will make your life more enjoyable! This is the case because impatience creates crankiness and ruptures relationships.

Today we’ll see that patience is a virtue that God has shown to us in abundance.  He commands His people everywhere to follow His example and be patient.  Next Sunday we’ll examine how patience works in our relationships with one another.

  1. Wait upon the Lord to deliver you from trials (Psalm 27:14).

CONTEXT: Psalm 27 is arguably one of the most hopeful, upbeat psalms attributed to King David.  V. 14 ends this psalm with a realistic note that some time may pass between promise and fulfillment; we must be prepared to wait patiently for the Lord to act.

COMMENT: Two phrases stand out.

The first is WAIT PATIENTLY FOR THE LORD.  To WAIT for the LORD to act is to exercise faith; it is to demonstrate trust in God.  It is easier to WAIT PATIENTLY if you are certain the Lord’s promise will be fulfilled.  Patience and certainty are two sides of the same coin.

– Certainty comes from experience – try God and you will find Him faithful.

– Certainty comes from knowledge of the Bible. The more you know God’s word, the more certain you are.

– Certainty comes from a personal relationship with God. The more you pray, the easier it is to trust Him.

The second is BE BRAVE AND COURAGEOUS.  Circumstances and emotions will sometimes conspire to test our patience.  Fear can set in and make us impatient.  This is why bravery and courage are so important.  The world and the Enemy will try to distract, discourage, and destroy your faith – don’t allow it!  Waiting on the Lord requires resisting temptation and fighting discouragement. The Lord’s promises are worth the wait!

  1. Wait upon the Lord for strength to endure trials (Isaiah 40:28-31).

CONTEXT: Isaiah 40 emphasizes the divine power of God at work on behalf of His people.  It was a comfort in the trying time of their captivity in Babylon.

COMMENT: We’ve already talked about fear, but during the time between promise and fulfillment, when faithful waiting is required, weariness can also set in. All four of these verses mention the weariness of life in one way or another.

These verses encourage us to depend on strength from God to empower our patience. After all, the LORD never GROWS FAINT OR WEARY (28); He is perfectly dependable.  He gives POWER and STRENGTH to people who find their circumstances exhausting (29).  In this life, even young & vital people experience weariness in body and soul (30), so depending on your own strength is not a good idea.  Promises of restoration are made to those who WAIT on the LORD (31).

– NEW STRENGTH

– We find three encouragements to keep moving forward:

— FLY HIGH ON THE WINGS OF EAGLES

— RUN AND NOT GROW WEARY.

— WALK AND NOT GROW FAINT.

As this encouragement was first given to the Jews who’d been held captive in Babylon, it seems likely that the movement motif is to lift up the hopes of the returnees.  God is saying, “The journey is long and a lot of work awaits those who return.  But don’t quit; I will strengthen you for every step of the journey back and for every stone lifted to rebuild the wall around Jerusalem and the temple within.”

These promises remind us that patience is not merely a version of endurance; there is more to waiting than passively standing by until something happens.  Patience is the virtue in which we surrender the illusion of control.  We learn by experience to depend on God for the strength we need to wait upon Him.  If we fail to be patient, it is a failure to be faithful.

  1. Wait upon the Lord as He waited upon you (1 Peter 3:9).

CONTEXT: Peter’s second letter attempts to provide some perspective.  He’s trying to show us WHY these things are important.  What we believe and what we do based on those beliefs have eternal consequences, which is as important as things get.

COMMENT: In v. 8, Peter tells us something important about God – He is eternal.  That means He is not stuck in any one moment in time like we are. Because that is so, He is not SLOW about keeping His promises just because we perceive a long time between promise and fulfillment.

Peter wrote that SOME PEOPLE (v. 9) use this as an excuse to be antitheists.  He had earlier (v. 3) identified them as SCOFFERS.  People will find lots of excuses to reject and mock the truth, and to persecute the faithful: the seeming slowness of God is one of them.

God is not SLOW.  Instead, He is being PATIENT with the human race.  He is giving everyone MORE TIME to REPENT.

Why?  Because, at this moment, the love of God moderates the holiness of God: HE DOES NOT WANT ANYONE TO PERISH.  It is never God’s will for anyone to go to hell.  That outcome is the product of their will, not His.  It is God’s will that everyone should REPENT and live eternally (see Ezekiel 18:23 and 1 Timothy 2:4). Rather than being evidence of God’s non-existence, impotence, or indifference, it is yet another sign of His mercy.  The point is, God is PATIENT (see Exodus 34:6; Numbers 14:18; Psalms 86:15; Jeremiah 15:15; Romans 2:4; 9:22) and His children are identified by patience.

At a time of His choosing, the Father’s holiness will take precedence over His love and judgment will be served (10).  Because we don’t know when that time will be, TODAY is the appropriate time to be saved.

Vernon McGee tells of a southern pastor who preached a powerful sermon on Isaiah 40 and concluded it in this way; “Brethren, this church, it needs to walk.” This comment was met with a chorus of “amens” from the deacons’ bench.

Encouraged, the preacher continued, “Brethren, this church, it needs to run!”  This comment was met with an even larger number of affirmative “amens.”

His voice reaching a crescendo, the preacher said, “Brethren, this church, it needs to fly!!”  Several people said, “amen and hallelujah.”

Then the preacher said, “Well, it’s going to cost money to make this church fly.”  One of trustees said loudly, “Let her walk, brother, let her walk!”  (Through The Bible, Vol. III, p. 287.)

Let me introduce you to what may be a new word:            ENNUI.  It is defined as a” lack of spirit, enthusiasm, or interest:  a feeling of weariness and dissatisfaction.

“The French loanword ennui comes from the very same Late Latin word that gave us ‘annoy’ – ‘inodiare’ (‘to make loathsome’). We borrowed ‘ennui’ several centuries after absorbing “annoy” into the language. ‘Ennui’ deals more with boredom than irritation – and a somewhat specific sort of boredom at that. It generally refers to the feeling of jadedness that can result from living a life of too much ease.”

(Retrieved from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/ennui on 4/14/16.)

I believe the word “ennui” sizes up one of our problems in the American Church.  We’ve been complacent, bored, and asleep at the wheel.  We’ve allowed secularists to define our culture and push us to the margins of political and public consciousness.         Then, ironically, our complacency turns to impatience with one another and petty differences cause deep divisions.  This does not honor God and is properly understood as SIN.  God has been patient with you and I, so we should exercise the same patience toward one another.

Patience is a virtue commanded and commended throughout the Bible.  Hasty words are as destructive as hasty actions; they both make life unpleasant. To sum it up, we’ll be happier and more holy if we remember to slow down and be patient.