Paul: Mystery Man

Summertime Sermon Series: Return to Ephesus (Part 9)

The Apostle PaulPlease read Ephesians 3:1-13.

CONTEXT = FOR THIS REASON refers back to the previous section, which taught us that unity in the church is not a luxury; it is a necessity.  Unity is given to us as an act of grace through the Holy Spirit.  For our part, we are to maintain that unity by acting in accord with one another and avoiding sins of the tongue and all other sins that cause discord.

It’s a little surprising Paul used the word MYSTERY so frequently in this passage.  It was a term that was much-abused by “mystery religions” of his day, cults that prospered around the ancient world, and probably in Ephesus especially.  People involved in the mystery religions claimed to know something that nobody else knew.  To join the group, you had to be taught their secrets, their mysteries.

When we started this series last summer we learned there were a number of occult groups like this in Ephesus.  The people in Ephesus were infamous for their fascination with magic and the occult.  I believe Paul used this word deliberately, choosing to confront the false teachers by using a word they misused to deceive people.  We have already seen how Paul’s enemies reacted to his brave practice of telling the truth; they incited a riot!

Paul revealed the MYSTERY OF CHRIST to the Gentiles.

  1. Paul’s qualifications to reveal the MYSTERY.

He was a PRISONER OF CHRIST JESUS (verse one).  Politically and physically, it would be more technically correct to say Paul was a prisoner of Caesar.  He wrote this letter in AD 61 or 62, while he was imprisoned in Rome, awaiting an audience with Caesar.

Spiritually speaking, Paul was a “prisoner” of Jesus in the sense that he was dedicated to doing the will of Christ.  This expression is meant to remind the reader that Caesar could do his worst, but Paul belonged to Jesus, who ultimately decided Paul’s actions and outcome.

Paul was a PRISONER for the sake of the GENTILES (v. 1).  This phrase gives us a “big picture” view of Paul’s incarceration.  Even though his imprisonment can be traced back to his situation in Jerusalem and his decision to appeal his case to the emperor, it was for the sake of the Gentile churches that God allowed it to happen.  Paul’s unwavering commitment to serve God in the Gentile churches was part of the reason he was imprisoned.

Paul’s qualification to be the “mystery man” was based on God’s grace, not on his own merit.  Paul explained this in verses seven and eight.  Paul was an apostle and an administrator of the MYSTERY THROUGH GOD’S GRACE GIVEN ME THROUGH THE WORKING OF HIS POWER (v. 7).  We are obviously operating under GRACE when we’re doing something we are not personally qualified to do.  God gets the glory when His power is most evident.  This is the way Paul understood his ministry – God’s strength substituting for his weakness.  In 2 Corinthians 12:9, he wrote from God’s perspective, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  Think about it.  Why should we bumble along in our own strength when our Creator offers HIS?!!

This was Paul’ humbling experience; ALTHOUGH I AM LESS THAN THE LEAST OF ALL GOD’S PEOPLE, THIS GRACE WAS GIVEN ME (v. 8).  Though he had achieved so much, Paul had the faith and the good sense to give all the glory to God.  An understanding of how GRACE operates precludes all pride.  People who have received grace don’t waste time reciting their religious “pedigree.”  They thank God instead.

This is NOT Paul trying to impress anyone with false humility.  It is a recollection of his past – how he used to persecute the Church – as otherwise making him unfit for service.  Apart from GRACE, Paul would not have been so successful in making disciples and planting churches.

All of this was for the Ephesians.  For their sake, on their behalf, he received an ADMINISTRATION OF GOD’S GRACE (v. 2).  This is how ministry works: God’s grace empowers some of His people to serve Him by serving God’s church.  GRACE is always God-centered; it is given, not earned.  In fact, the most obvious examples of GRACE are gifts the recipient could not otherwise possess. The ADMINISTRATION to which Paul refers is the work of making God’s offer of salvation by GRACE known to those outside the Church and the maturing of those inside.  When you read ADMINISTRATION, think “application:” God wants us to apply His truth to our daily living.

God’s purpose in showing GRACE to Paul was to equip him to be an Apostle to the Gentiles.  Paul describes his message with two phrases: TO PREACH TO THE GENTILES THE UNSEARCHABLE RICHES OF CHRIST (v. 8).  Though a Jew himself (in fact, a “Jew’s Jew,” see Philippians 3:3-8), Paul’s ministry was to non-Jews; TO THE GENTILES.

The word UNSEARCHABLE refers to the limitless generosity of God.  He makes rain fall on the just and unjust alike (Matthew 5:45), a symbol of how salvation is offered to all people, whether we think they deserve it or not

The aim of Paul’s teaching was TO MAKE PLAIN TO EVERYONE THE ADMINISTRATION OF THIS MYSTERY (9).  When you think about it, making something UNSEARCHABLE become PLAIN TO EVERYONE is a tall order!  Attempting it without relying on God’s power would be ridiculous, illogical.

As he speaks about his preaching and his ministry in other letters, Paul consistently downplayed any strengths or gifts he brought to proclaiming the Gospel.  His ambition was to make the truth PLAIN.  Anyone who preaches while depending on technique, charisma, intelligence, or any other human power is preaching something other than Christ.

  1. What Paul revealed about the MYSTERY.

The content and true understanding of the MYSTERY had been MADE KNOWN to Paul by REVELATION, the personal witness of Jesus Christ (v. 3).  I believe Paul is referring here to his conversion experience on the road to Damascus (Acts 9) and what he learned subsequent to that.

It was a MYSTERY because had not been MADE KNOWN TO MEN IN OTHER [previous] GENERATIONS (v. 5).  Here Paul seems to divide human history into two epochs: “BC” (Before Christ) and “AD” (After His Death and Resurrection).  (Of course, these are not the abbreviations we use.)

In the BC time, God’s plan to save humanity from sin had been hinted at, revealed in part, but not fully explained.  All through that part of history, God had promised salvation and was working to bring it to pass, but had not revealed it fully to all people.

Repeating this truth in a slightly different way, Paul wrote in verse nine, IN AGES PAST WAS KEPT HIDDEN IN GOD, WHO CREATED ALL THINGS.  KEPT HIDDEN = the Bible is a “Progressive Revelation;” as time passed, God revealed more about Himself and about His plan for humanity.  As we read from Genesis through to Revelation, we progress in our understanding of what God was saying.  We understand the Old Testament as we read it in light of what God revealed in the New Testament.  Both parts of the Bible are inextricably linked.  Because the fullness of God’s revelation did not enter into human history until the person of Jesus Christ, what appeared before was partial and predictive.  It was not the whole story but the foundation for what was to come.

Paul reminds us that God CREATED ALL THINGS to reinforce this point: God is in charge.  All of history is moving in the direction He wills.  God is working all circumstances to the end He has planned.

He was given insight into THE MYSTERY OF CHRIST (v. 4).  Paul is not setting himself up as anything special, a holder of secrets.  He is not a priest in a “mystery religion.”  Instead, he set mystery religions on their head by doing the opposite; he shared the insights he’s been given with the widest possible audience, making God’s plan known to everyone.  For example, read 1:17, where Paul prayed for all people to know God better.

God’s MYSTERY had been REVEALED BY THE SPIRIT TO GOD’S HOLY APOSTLES AND PROPHETS (v. 5).  Paul lived in the “AD” time of divine history.  In Jesus, the fullness of God’s plan for salvation had been revealed and accomplished.  The major revelation came in the person of Jesus, but God also announced it through the HOLY APOSTLES AND PROPHETS, the people tasked with leading the Church.

According to God’s plan, the Church is to be His means of revealing His MANIFOLD WISDOM TO THE RULERS AND AUTHORITIES IN THE HEAVENLY REALMS (v. 10).  Often we’re guilty of thinking too small.  We fuss over details and ignore the fact that our shared ministry is part of God’s plan to save the world.  Case in point: Paul’s mention of RULERS AND AUTHORITIES IN THE HEAVENLY REALMS means that our ministries have eternal consequences.  Spiritual forces beyond our control are affected by whether we are doing our jobs or not.  Think about that: no pressure!

If we weren’t living by GRACE, if we were instead asked to do this on our own strength, such a notion would be intimidating.  However, as we have repeatedly noted, God gives us GRACE to do these things.  This means there is no room for intimidation or distraction by petty, worldly things.

To further establish the centrality of Jesus in the revelation of the MYSTERY, Pal revealed in verse eleven that God completed His ETERNAL PURPOSE IN CHRIST JESUS OUR LORD.  The word ACCOMPLISHED means “realized, achieved.”  The passage makes it clear that God made His plan before creation, completed His plan in the death and resurrection of Jesus, and will one day bring it to a complete close when Jesus comes again.

Take a deep breath and let that sink in: you and I are partners with each other and with Jesus Christ.  All of creation is in its last days.  Everything we do has eternal significance.  The powers of heaven and hell are waiting with bated breath.  What we say and do MATTERS!

Here we come to it at last.  What we’ve all been waiting to find out.  What is the MYSTERY?  The MYSTERY is the formation of a single people of God.  Clinton E. Arnold wrote, “God’s people will now be identified by their togetherness in a multiethnic loving group endowed by the Spirit of God rather than circumcision, ritual purity, and bloody sacrifices.”  The distinction of Jew and Gentile is void.

This is what Paul meant by the phrase THROUGH THE GOSPEL THE GENTILES ARE…HEIRS, MEMBERS, and SHARERS with Israel, all in verse six.  When at one time God set apart a nation for Himself, now He has set apart a people, called out from all the nations of the Earth.

– HEIRS TOGETHER WITH ISRAEL = In 1:14 Paul stated the Gentiles were, along with the Jews, inheritors of the Holy Spirit.  He used this word picture again in 5:5.  It is a thread running through the letter.  Nationality no longer determines a person’s membership in God’s family.  Now it is faith in Christ that make one an heir.

– MEMBERS OF ONE BODY = Paul made up an entirely new Greek word (susoma) to say “with one body.”  Paul frequently described the Church as the Body of Christ in this letter (1:23; 4:4, 12, 16; 5:23, 30).  In Corinthians, he used this figure of speech to emphasize how different parts (people of different nations) form one body (the Church).

– SHARERS TOGETHER IN THE PROMISE IN CHRIST JESUS = What Paul had in mind was the Holy Spirit, whom he referred to as “the Holy Spirit of promise” in 1:17.  In John 14 Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit to His followers as the chief sign of salvation and the most important means of following Jesus’ teachings.  In Galatians 3:7, 26-29, Paul wrote how believing Gentiles are part of the fulfillment o/t promises God made to Abraham.

An important benefit of this revelation is the confidence we can have in prayer and in trials.  (This is our KEY VERSE on this Religious Liberty Sunday.)  In verse twelve the inspired apostle wrote, THROUGH FAITH IN HIM WE MAY APPROACH GOD WITH FREEDOM AND CONFIDENCE.  The greatest expression of FREEDOM is the ability to pray to God.  Prayer is the practice that brings all this GRACE to bear on our daily lives.  Without prayer, none of these Kingdom of God things get accomplished.  With prayer, the resources of heaven are put at our disposal!

The word CONFIDENCE in the Greek pictures a citizen rising at a meeting to speak his mind to an issue.  Or think of a friendly relationship you have where you can speak candidly without fear of being rejected.  Having that FREEDOM means we treasure it and would never abuse it.  We have that feeling out of gratitude, not fear that it might be taken away.

Notice this verse says twice IN HIM, making clear the source of this FREEDOM and CONFIDENCE is Jesus Christ.  In the Progressive Revelation of the Bible, this is closeness to God that previous generations did NOT enjoy.  We are very privileged God put us in this time and place!

The Ephesians did not need to be DISCOURAGED BECAUSE OF Paul’s SUFFERINGS FOR YOU, WHICH were for their GLORY (13).  Paul presented all this theology in its grand scope and concluded by making it completely personal in verse.  This is to be our practice every time we sermonize and study the Bible.  Learning factoids is fruitless if we do not take it personally. We must apply (administrate, as above) the truth.

In this case, Paul does not want his Ephesian friends to feel badly about his imprisonment.  Instead, he wants them to be consoled, knowing that his SUFFERINGS serve two important purposes in the plan of God.

First, it serves the purpose of enabling Paul to write this letter.  If he had not been imprisoned, he would not have had the time to devote to it.  In this way, God used Paul’s SUFFERINGS to benefit the believers in Ephesus.  By the way, at the time of this writing, Paul had been imprisoned 3 or 4 years!  Discouragement would have been a real possibility for those who cared for Paul and looked on.

Second, his SUFFERINGS brought about GLORY.  Remember GLORY is the presence of God somehow manifest in human experience.  Sometimes His presence was manifest in brilliant light, sometimes in dark clouds.  But in every circumstance, the GLORY of God blessed His people, drawing them into deeper fellowship with Him.

Interestingly, Jews of Paul’s day believed that the plan of God required a certain amount of suffering be experienced before God’s plan would come into consummation.  He may have been thinking of this when he wrote that his SUFFERING was “for” the Ephesians.  This belief is implied in Colossians 1:24; Romans 8:17-18; 2 Corinthians 4:17; 2 Timothy 2:10).

Paul revealed the MYSTERY OF CHRIST to the Gentiles.

          This passage gives us a perspective on Paul’s ministry as an Apostle to the Gentiles.  It is his perspective.  His imprisonment provided opportunity to reflect on all God had done during His ministry, understanding the source and measuring its impact.

Because of GRACE, the MYSTERY has been solved.  Because we have FREEDOM and the CONFIDENCE that a loving relationship bestows, we can pray with authority.  Because God is in control, we do not have to be DISCOURAGED.  Just the opposite; we should be encouraged beyond doubt and fear to have an adventurous and joyous experience of faith in our daily living.  Who needs Sherlock Holmes?  We have Mystery Man Paul explaining the will and work of God in providing us with salvation.

 

RESOURCE:

Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament – Ephesians, Clinton E. Arnold

 

 

A Full Time Heritage

Timothy Family PicturePlease read 2 Timothy 1:1-7.

CONTEXT = 2 Timothy is Paul’s final letter.  It was written during his second imprisonment in Rome, a brutal ending to Paul’s life.  His cell had only one hole in the ceiling to admit light and air.  Worse, as 1:15-16 tells us, some of Paul’s associates had deserted him.

These circumstances would be enough to discourage anyone and you could understand if Paul struggled to accept the horrible things he was facing.  In his loneliness, God turned his thoughts to Timothy, a young man – a Greek – who had been his mentor in ministry.  Paul wanted to make certain Timothy received the full measure of instruction and support, everything Paul could put in a letter to this pastor whom he’d trained.

It is our blessing that these words have been preserved in Scripture for they provide a touching example of how essential it is that our faith be grounded in a heritage of sincere service.  Normally we speak of “heritage” as something from our past.  This passage obviously confirms that understanding of the word.  However, I want to challenge your thinking to recognize that a heritage starts as something we receive from previous generations; it is part of our past.  It is also something we are working on in each present moment.  It is of immediate importance because it guides how we live each day.  Finally, a heritage is something we’re creating for those who follow behind us.  A faithful heritage is something found in all three time periods; past, present, and future. We see all three of these eras of heritage in Paul’s greeting at the beginning of this letter.

Be mindful of the heritage you have received, the one in which you live, and the one you are creating.

  1. The Apostle Paul’s heritage.

Paul held the status and ministry of an apostle (1).  He was AN APOSTLE OF CHRIST JESUS.  The word “apostle” means “one with a message.”  It is similar to “angel.”  A modern equivalent might be “missionary.”

It gets a little confusing because the first Apostles were the thirteen men whom Jesus chose to be His closest disciples.  Later, the title would be used for preachers going into new areas of the world and leaders of the Church.  I keep it straight by reserving capital “A” Apostles as designating the thirteen men whom Jesus chose directly.  Everyone else – persons with this gift – gets a small letter “a.”

BY THE WILL OF GOD: Paul’s apostleship was unique; in Acts 9:15 the Lord told Ananias about Paul: “HE IS MY CHOSEN INSTRUMENT TO CARRY MY NAME BEFORE THE GENTILES AND THEIR KINGS AND BEFORE THE PEOPLE OF ISRAEL.”

Or, to put it another way, Paul’s apostleship came about ACCORDING TO THE PROMISE OF LIFE THAT IS IN CHRIST JESUS.  THE PROMISE OF LIFE is the Good News Paul would carry into the Gentile world.  It is an exclusive message: the PROMISE OF LIFE is only kept IN CHRIST JESUS.

Paul exemplified the blessing of Christ-like character (2).  This kind of character is not natural; it comes FROM GOD THE FATHER AND CHRIST JESUS OUR LORD.  He offered three aspects of that kind of character.

GRACE = supernatural help to cover sins and other shortcomings (2 Corinthians 12:7-9).

MERCY = kindness above and beyond what might be considered “deserved.”

PEACE = inward tranquility that comes from trusting God will take care of you.

Paul referred to his family’s intergenerational service to God (3).  I THANK GOD, WHOM I SERVE, AS MY FOREFATHERS DID.  The word FOREFATHERS is quite general; it could refer to immediate generations or Paul’s ancestors all the way back to Abraham.  In Romans 11:1 Paul proudly referred to himself as an ISRAELITE, A DESCENDANT OF ABRAHAM, FROM THE TRIBE OF BENJAMIN.  (He wrote more details in Philippians 3:4-6, where the Apostle established himself as a faithful Jew: a “Jew’s Jew.”)

He executed his service WITH A CLEAR CONSCIENCE: CLEAR meaning “pure;” not compromised with sin.  This was important to Paul; he mentioned it two other times in 1 Timothy (1:5; 3:9) and once in a sermon in Acts (23:1).  On the other hand, he went into some detail to show he was the WORST of SINNERS in 1 Timothy 1:12-16.  This may sound contradictory, but Paul in these passages, the Apostle Paul contrasted his sin with his salvation.  He wanted Timothy to understand how God had done so much to save him.

Service through prayer is indicated in the phrases I THANK GOD and I CONSTANTLY REMEMBER YOU IN MY PRAYERS.  Prayer is the means of service by which things happen.

  1. Pastor Timothy’s heritage.

An important part of Timothy’s heritage was his heart-felt relationship with Paul.  Verse two identifies Timothy as Paul’s SON in the faith.  MY DEAR SON (agape teknon) is obviously an affectionate way to speak about Timothy.  Relationships between believers are supposed to be characterized by love, but Timothy clearly had a special place in the Apostle Paul’s heart.  Paul may have first met Timothy in the city of Lystra, in Asia Minor, on his First Missionary Journey (Acts 14:8-21).  Paul took Timothy along on his Second Missionary Journey (Acts 16:2-3).

Verse four speaks to a close relationship in two different phrases.  RECALLING YOUR TEARS probably refers to the time they parted company last.  Acts 20:37-38 reports the tears as Paul left the city of Ephesus (where Timothy pastored) for the last time.  I LONG TO SEE YOU SO I MAY BE FILLED WITH JOY.  How many relationships do you have where seeing that person fills you with JOY?  I pray you have many.  Indeed, the number of such relationships may be a mirror to your own character and the depth of Christ’s love in you.

Like Paul Timothy benefited from an inter-generational faith in God.  In his prayers, Paul had been reminded of Timothy’s SINCERE FAITH.  Timothy’s faith was received (his faith FIRST LIVED IN YOUR GRANDMOTHER LOIS AND IN [his] MOTHER EUNICE), but was also personal (I AM PERSUADED NOW LIVES IN YOU ALSO).  Postmodern culture assumes that reality is however you define it and faith is something you need to make up for yourself.  These are utterly false and harmful assumptions.

Instead, faith begins with a foundation on the past, on the teachings and traditions of the Church that have – ideally – been passed on by our own family members.  Like Timothy, faith starts familial and becomes personal as we grow in maturity and understanding.

Paul was a caretaker of Timothy’s faith (6).  The phrase FOR THIS REASON refers to Paul’s knowledge of Timothy’s faith as sincere and Paul’s encouraging Timothy to live in it fully.  I REMIND YOU TO FAN INTO FLAME (“continue rekindling”) THE GIFT OF GOD.  Paul does not explain this figure of speech, so we are allowed to speculate.  We might relate it to the word TIMIDITY in verse seven.  In which case, Paul is urging Timothy to use his gifts and exercise his office courageously.  Based on the fact Paul thought this admonition necessary we might guess that Timothy had not been developing his gifts or not using them for leadership.

WHICH IS IN YOU BY THE LAYING ON OF MY HANDS = Paul may be accused of being a “proud spiritual papa” here, but I believe the emphasis is on Paul’s knowing for certain Timothy’s faith was SINCERE because Paul saw it for himself.  Paul laid his own hands on Timothy in acknowledgement of his faith.  The New Testament posits a number of different uses/meanings of the practice of laying on hands.

– In Acts 6:6, the Apostles laid hands on the first deacons, to commission them for service.

– In Acts 8:17, Peter and John placed their hands on believers in Samaria and they received the Holy Spirit.  (cf 19:6)

– In Acts 9:12-17, Ananias put his hands on Paul and his blindness was healed.

– In Acts 13:3 Paul and Barnabas were commissioned to be missionaries to the Gentiles by the laying on of hands.

– In Acts 28:8, Paul placed his hands on a man to heal his illness.

Whether Paul is referring to Timothy being healed, ordained, or receiving the Holy Spirit, it was a personal connection.

The phrase SINCERE FAITH is almost redundant.  Anything called “faith” that isn’t sincere isn’t faith at all.  This phrasing indicates Paul recognizing Timothy’s faith as real.

  1. Every believer’s heritage.

In the final verse, Paul developed two aspects of the spiritual heritage every believer enjoys.  First, expressed negatively, GOD DID NOT GIVE US A SPIRIT OF TIMIDITY (7).  TIMIDITY = “fearfulness.”  “Timothy” and “timidity” have similar sounds.  There is evidence that confidence may have been something Timothy lacked.  In 1 Corinthians 16:10 Paul urged the Corinthians to do nothing to make Timothy fearful.  In 1 Timothy 4:12 Paul urged Timothy to not allow anyone to look down on him on account of his youth.  The  choice of “timidity” as a translation is unfortunate, because the Greek word has stronger emotion than that.  “Cowardice” would be a better choice.  In Revelation 21:8, the COWARDLY are named among the kinds of persons excluded from the New Jerusalem.

Of more immediate consequence, TIMIDITY saps our strength.  It urges us to give up on God and each other, cutting off the source of true strength.  The result is that we quit thinking about our heritage and focus on our shortage.  This is a deception of the devil that isolates us and makes us easy pickings.

Expressed positively, we all have a heritage of power.  God has given us A SPIRIT OF POWER, OF LOVE, AND OF SELF-DISCIPLINE.  One might say these three qualities are essential for leadership in the church.

POWER = energy, the capacity for getting things DONE!  The Greek word is dunamis; the basis for our English words “dynamite, dynamo, and dynamic,” three powerful words!  Having POWER inspires confidence; timidity often occurs in the absence of POWER.

LOVE = agape; the kind of love that is supernatural in origin.  Of the six words for love in the Greek language, agape is the most unselfish one.  In 1 John 4:18 we are promised that agape love casts out all fear.

SELF-DISCIPLINE is the God-given ability to control our passions instead of being controlled by them. Four times in his three letters to young pastors Timothy and Titus, Paul urges them to possess SELF-DISCIPLINE.  Especially in leadership positions, rash words and thoughtless actions can cause big problems.  Self-discipline is a virtue that helps one avoid these problems.

Be mindful of the heritage you have received, the one in which you live, and the one you are creating.

Four times in verses three through six, Paul used words related to memory; REMEMBER, RECALLING, REMINDING, and REMIND.  We can picture him alone in his cell in a frame of mind and with nothing better to do than to relive memories of his past.  We can understand Paul being nostalgic, even grieving the fact that he will add nothing more to those memories.

I believe God used that understandable frame of mind to motivate Paul to record these final thoughts.  The entire letter demonstrates what we have noted in these first seven verses: the need to be mindful of our heritage.

We need to review and memorialize the heritage we have received.  The past is the time period over which we have no control – what is done cannot be done over.  Yet it is still important because it is the foundational part of our heritage.  It is the things we have received and created that define us in the present.

We need to be guided by our heritage, not by the fits of passion that enflame us in the present.  When we’re too much in the moment, we are prey to peer pressure, passion, and fashion, making poor decisions.  Choices create consequences and that is the stuff of life.

We need to be mindful of the future we’re creating; the heritage that is in the works; the life we will pass on to generations that follow us. We can’t just model it and hope they “catch on,” it must be taught to be caught.

 

RESOURCES:

Journey to a Faithful Finish, Tommy C. Higle

NIV Study Bible

Word Bible Commentary, William D. Mounce

Message #256

The Studious Type

Please read John 5:36-40 & 2 Timothy 2:14-19 in your Bible.  I used the NIV (1984) to prepare this article.

In a Dec. 16, 2018 article in The Jerusalem Post, Yafit Ovadia reported that a digitized time capsule will be on board an unmanned spacecraft when it is launched to the Moon this spring.  The time capsule will contain Israel’s Declaration of Independence, a traveler’s prayer “Tefilat Haderech,” the Bible, the Israeli flag, maps of the State of Israel, the national anthem, a photograph of Ilan Ramon (Israel’s pioneer astronaut who died on the Space Shuttle Columbia), and pictures drawn by Israeli children. The spacecraft will be carried by into space by a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, making Israel the fourth country after the US, the USSR and China to attempt a lunar landing mission.

Israel will spend $95 million to put the unmanned lander on the moon, which is a bargain compared to NASA’s Apollo 11, which cost the US close to $9.9 billion in 1969.  80% of the funding was raised from private donors.

<https://www.jpost.com/Jpost-Tech/Business-and-Innovation/Space-IL-to-launch-first-spacecraft-to-the-moon-574579?utm_source=bg&utm_campaign=weeklybrief&gt;

I hope and pray the project is successful so afterwards I can say, “They can put a Bible on the moon; you can open one and read it!” There’s a great potential for sermons and exhortations to get people into t word of God!

Before we get started, let me clarify one thing.  We refer to Jesus as the Word of God (capital “W”) because He is the personal revelation of God to us.  In Jesus’ words & deeds we learn all we need to know to b saved.

We refer to the Bible as the word of God (small case “w”) to distinguish the specific revelation of God, the words on the page.   It may be a little confusing otherwise.  So I hope you can follow this: we must have the Word of God in our heart before we can truly understand and use the word of God.  A life-changing study of the Bible begins with a life that has already been changed by Jesus.

BIBLE or “BALONEY?”

(Which of the statements below are actually found in the Bible and which originate elsewhere?)

  1. “The Lord helps those who help themselves.”
  2. “To the woman he said, ‘Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.”
  3. “I also gave them over to statutes that were not good and laws they could not live by.”
  4. “The arrogant cannot stand in your presence; you hate all who do wrong.”
  5. “Do not do to others what you do not want others to do to you.”
  6. “If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left.”
  7. “You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.”
  8. “If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take him into your house or welcome him.”
  9. “A wise king winnows out the wicked; he drives the threshing wheel over them.”

Jesus Christ is the Word of God we must know first.

  1. We don’t study the Bible to earn salvation (John 5:36-40).

CONTEXT: These verses are part of Jesus’ rebuke of JEWS who faulted Him for working a miracle on the Sabbath, as is spelled out in verse sixteen; SO, BECAUSE JESUS WAS DOING THESE THINGS ON THE SABBATH, THE JEWS PERSECUTED HIM.  In this portion of His reply Jesus revealed who He really was, attempting to persuade them that He had the authority to act in ways their version of the Law prohibited.  (Maybe you could say He pulled rank on them!)  He attempted to show them that He was their Messiah, the one whose coming had been foretold in the Scriptures they studied.  Toward the end he concluded, “YOU DON’T BELIEVE T ONE HE SENT” (v. 38).

COMMENT: Studying the Scriptures will not, by itself, make anyone right with God.

In verses 36-40 Jesus appealed to the witness of Scripture because they held the Scripture in high regard.  However, the problem was they had misused the Scriptures to justify their prejudice and excuse their sin.  They were good students in the sense that they DILIGENTLY studied God’s word.  Jesus gave them that compliment.           Unfortunately, they approached the Scriptures with a closed mind and a bad motive: “YOU THINK THAT BY THEM YOU POSSESS ETERNAL LIFE.”  In other words, they sought to master the word of God intellectually and morally and thereby earn or deserve eternal life.  They sought to provide for themselves a place in heaven.

This thinking is identified in one of their own authoritative writings, “The Sayings of the Fathers.”  Here are two examples:

“He who has acquired the words of the Law has acquired for himself life in the world to come.” (2:8)

“Great is the law for it gives to those who practice it life in this world and in the world to come.” (6:7)

The end result was self-condemnation.  Jesus said, “THESE ARE THE SCRIPTURES THAT TESTIFY ABOUT ME, YET YOU REFUSE TO COME TO ME TO HAVE LIFE” (vs. 39-40).  We’d like to think this sort of thing never happens in the Church, but it does.  People can study the Book without ever knowing the Author.  Of course, they will never get it right and will not enter heaven, but they may gain enough proficiency to fool themselves and/or fool others.  People search the bible for evidence supporting their theology, when the process is supposed to work the opposite way.

William Barclay warned, “[The Jewish religious leaders] did not humbly learn a theology from scripture; they used scripture to defend a theology which they themselves had produced.  There is still a danger we should use the Bible to prove our beliefs and not to test them.”

  1. We study the Bible to show we’ve received salvation (2 Timothy 2:14-19).

CONTEXT: Because he was a pastor, Paul challenged Timothy to hold himself to a higher standard, including biblical literacy.  Timothy’s best defense against false teachers, busybodies and other trouble-makers in the church is to know God’s word and hold fast to it.

COMMENT: Every follower of Jesus needs to increase their understanding and use of the Bible.  There is no other way except to study it.

Paul wrote that Timothy was to PRESENT himself to the church as a leader who met three important qualifications.

APPROVED.  The word literally meant “has passed the test.” It was used to refer to building materials that were inspected and worthy: it was a metal object refined by fire, a stone cut to the mason’s specifications.

WHO DOES NOT NEED TO BE ASHAMED.  Like the materials he uses, the builder’s craftsmanship is also evaluated and deemed worthy.

WHO CORRECTLY HANDLES THE WORD OF TRUTH.  The phrase CORRECTLY HANDLES pictures a farmer handling a plow, making a straight furrow or a builder whose wall is plumb or road straight.  This is a WORKMAN who faithfully studies the word of God in order to understand it truthfully, apply it rightly, and teach it in a way that makes genuine disciples of Jesus.

What is the difference between Jesus’ teaching and Paul’s?  Only a difference of focus; both talk about diligent study of the word.  Jesus approved only one use of the Bible; to receive salvation, not to create it.  He condemned self-righteousness.  Paul called Pastor Timothy to handle Scripture with extra care.  Timothy would not earn salvation by taking this care, but he would show others how to be saved by teaching Scripture in this way.  Taken together, these teachings commend the diligent study of God’s word, but only if you first know who Jesus Christ are and have accepted His gracious salvation by faith.

Jesus Christ is the Word of God we must know first.

          Though many of the Jewish religious leaders were excellent students of the Bible (most of them had memorized the Old Testament in its entirety!), Jesus condemned their failure to see the truth.  In order to know the truth, we must become more familiar with what God has revealed through daily study and practice.  To illustrate that fact, I now offer you the answers to the “Bible vs. Baloney” quiz.  Number one is a quote from Benjamin Franklin and number five is a quote attributed to Buddha.  If anyone says they can be found in the Bible, they’re feeding you baloney.  How did you do?

Doubt is not the great enemy of faith; self-sufficiency or self-righteousness is.  People who have doubts are testing their faith.  They possess at least the humility to confess they don’t have all the answers and are working to try to better understand.

People who think they have it figured out are self-deceived.  They know the words and actions that give an appearance of godliness, but because they have sought to achieve it on their own, they do not have life in Christ.

Because salvation is by grace, no self-reliant person will ever have it.  Being proud of one’s big brain or big heart prohibits a person from putting their trust in Christ.  William Barclay commented on this passage, “The function of the Bible is not to give life, but to point us to the One who can.”

Our attitude needs to be the same as the Apostle Peter.  On an occasion when many of His followers left Him, Jesus asked the twelve if they’d be leaving too.  Peter’s reply is instructive; he said, “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life?”

Peter’s reply shows us two things we need to practice:

One; refuse to compromise on the word of God.  One of the core doctrines of our faith is that the Bible is the revelation of God.  We don’t have to argue with people who think they know better, but we must stubbornly insist on the Bible as the authoritative rule of faith and practice.

Two; refuse to quit on the Word of God capital “W,” Jesus Christ.  He is the single source of eternal life.  That is an unpopular notion among people who have self-made religion but not Christianity.  Again, we don’t have to argue with anybody but we must not surrender this truth.

I realize not everyone is “bookish,” but there is no substitute for studying and applying God’s word to realize spiritual maturity.

 

RESOURCES:

Sermon #1302

The Daily Study Bible Series, William Barclay

The Zondervan Bible Commentary

Eating Salad at the Steak Buffet

buffetPlease read Acts 19:1-7 in your Bible.  For myself, I used the NIV (1984) to research these remarks.

Don’t settle for a lesser portion; sweat your comfort zone and allow God to do immeasurably more.

Here we find the beginning of Paul’s ministry in Ephesus.  He left his home town of Antioch, crossed Asia Minor, encouraging the churches along the way.  This was what we call “Paul’s Third Missionary Journey.”  Some time previous to this, Paul had briefly visited the city and left two of his associates, Aquila and Priscilla there, to continue the work he started (18:19).  In 18:21 he vowed to return if that was God’s will.  While Paul was away from Ephesus, Aquila and Priscilla had an encounter with Apollos, a man who KNEW ONLY THE BAPTISM OF JOHN (18:26).  This was a similar encounter, but we have no evidence Apollos was connected with this group.

Paul operated on the Jeremiah 29:7 principle; seek the welfare of the city and your own welfare will follow.  Ephesus was a city that knew a lot of material prosperity, so the “welfare” sought here was of a spiritual nature.  We’ve already noted it was a gateway city, merging land and sea trade routes.  It was also the city where the local Roman governor of Asia held court.  One example of the wealth of Ephesus is the 25,000 seat theater that also hosted the Pan-Ionian Games, a version of the Olympics.

The people of Ephesus were notorious for their superstition, idolatry, and worldly philosophy.  The use of magic items and oaths was particularly widespread.

The route Paul took from Antioch to Ephesus (v. 1) was not the standard trade route along the coast, but went through the middle of the region.  Though the text does not state this, but the choice of route implies that Paul was in a hurry to get back to Ephesus.

Upon arriving, Paul was introduced to twelve DISCIPLES.  Unfortunately, their discipleship only got as far as the baptism of John.  They had no knowledge of Jesus Christ, as demonstrated in the fact that they knew nothing about the Holy Spirit.

God put them in the path of the Apostle Paul.  He knew something was amiss and he knew just the right questions to ask to identify the problem of their incomplete faith.

  1. The problem: an incomplete faith.

Luke identifies the people Paul encountered as DISCIPLES (1).  Luke normally used the word DISCIPLES to refer to Christians unless some qualifier is added (i.e., “disciples of John” in LKE 5:33; 7:18.)  He also informs us at the end of the passage that there was ABOUT TWELVE MEN IN ALL.  Some take the number twelve to be symbolic of the 12 tribes of Israel, a hint that these men were Jewish.  That may be, but Luke never seems to be shy about identifying Jews as such, especially when they are being antagonistic to the Church.

You can have a pretty active discussion of whether these men were Christians or not.  The good news is, the narrative doesn’t depend on a definitive answer.  The point is that their faith – however far it went – was not complete; Paul helped them to find complete faith.  They are ready symbols of all of us who haven’t quite understood or haven’t yet really committed ourselves to Jesus

We’re not told how they met or why Paul asked if they’d received the Holy Spirit when they believed (2).  Happily, the “how” of this event is not what’s important; otherwise we’d have been given more information.  What is important is upon meeting these DISCIPLES, Paul knew immediately there was something wrong.

He needed more information, so he asked, “DID YOU RECEIVE THE HOLY SPIRIT WHEN YOU BELIEVED?”  The fact that Paul had to ask implies that these twelve men “talked the talk,” but didn’t “walk the walk.”  There was something lacking in their spirit/character/testimony.

That “something” was the Gifts of the Spirit and the Fruits of the Spirit, which God gives to His followers as proof of their faith (Ephesians 1:13-14).  When these supernatural abilities and character qualities are found in a person, they prove to ourselves and to others that we are in Christ.  It was the absence of these things to which Paul was reacting.

The twelve answered Paul in innocent ignorance: “NO, WE HAVE NOT EVEN HEARD THAT THERE IS A HOLY SPIRIT,” (2).  In verse three we find out they had been baptized by John, but he hadn’t taught them everything.  John the Baptist did speak about the Holy Spirit (see LKE 3:16), but only in relation to the Messiah.

To be fair, that was not his role: JTB’s job was to announce the Messiah’s coming.  His ministry was prepatory.  When the Messiah came, his work was over.  John said himself in relation to the messiah, “I must decrease, He must increase,” (John 3:30).  That is what happened; shortly after Jesus began His ministry John was imprisoned and then beheaded for his opposition to the king’s having married his brother’s wife.  While the Gospels portray John the Baptist as living a rather solitary life in the Judean wilderness (Matthew 3:1-6), he also had disciples of his own (Matthew 9:14; 14:12; Luke 5:33; 10:41; John 3:25).

Paul taught them the whole truth (3-4).  To do this, Paul needed to ask a second question, going back a bit further; “THEN WHAT BAPTISM DID YOU RECEIVE?”  (He clearly assumes they had some baptism?)

They replied that they had been baptized by John the Baptist.  We can presume that after their baptism, these men left the region of Judea and were not at hand to see Jesus’ baptism by John or any other part of the ministry, death & resurrection of Jesus Christ.

As Paul explained to them, John the Baptist’s baptism was good for its situation, but his ministry was supplanted by Jesus’ ministry.  John’s baptism was for REPENTANCE from sins (Matthew 3:6).  It was not, as we are used to it, for conversion to a new faith or membership in a church/synagogue/group.  The Bible does not tell us the words John the Baptist used when he baptized someone, but we can safely assume he did not baptize INTO THE NAME OF JESUS when these 12 guys were there, as this was something Paul’s group did for them.

  1. The solution: be obedient and go all the way with God.

These DISCIPLES responded in obedience and received a new baptism (5). Their new baptism was better because it was IN THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS. This is not a matter of using the right words; it’s deeper than that.  To do anything IN THE NAME of JESUS is to do it in His spirit, following His teaching, honoring His name, exercising His power, under His authority, and at His direction.

In the history of the Church, people have got wound up about which words you say when you baptize people.  To me, they missed the point.  The point is about genuinely being in Jesus Christ in all the ways I just mentioned.  Anything else is just not real.

These 12 DISCIPLES can represent people who are sincere and yet are not fully in Christ.  They made a good response to the truth they’ve known, but they don’t know the whole truth.  This fact would cause insecurity if not for the Gifts and Fruits of the Spirit being objective evidence.  The presence of the Holy Spirit gives us assurance that we are truly saved or brings accusation if the Spirit is absent.

Their baptism was needed and was important.  However, it was not by their baptism, but by Paul LAYING his HANDS on them that the twelve received the Holy Spirit, as indicated by the Spiritual Gifts of Speaking in Tongues and Prophesy.  In Acts, these are the first and second most frequent Gifts that accompany salvation.

The Laying on of Hands is a frequently mentioned ritual act with different uses; in every case, it was to be taken seriously (1 Timothy 5:22; Hebrews 6:2).  Biblical uses of this ritualistic gesture include:

– Consecrating offerings (Leviticus 1:4; 3:2; 4:15; 16:21) or items (Numbers 8:10 27:18; Deuteronomy 34:9).

– Miraculous healing (Mark 6:5; 7:31-36; 16:18; Luke 4:40; 13:13; 28:8).

– Granting blessings (Genesis 48:14; Matthew 19:15; Mark 10:16).

– Granting authority, power, or installing officers (i.e., ordination; Acts 6:6; 1 Timothy 4:14; 2 Timothy 1:6).

Prayer is sometimes given in conjunction with laying on of hands, but is not considered a single activity.

The Gift of Speaking in Tongues is the miraculous use of a language the speaker does not normally possess (ex., Acts 2, 10, + 19).  The NT recognizes two ways in which this Gift is exercised: publicly & privately.

– Publicly: when it occurs in worship, a second Spiritual Gift, Interpretation of Tongues, must be exercised to translate the utterance or the speaker is required to stop speaking.

– Privately, it can be used without a translator because it is an offering to God in prayer.  In this case, it expresses the heart of the worshiper without using any familiar language.

Especially in worship and other public contexts, Paul vastly preferred readily known speech to unknown speech (see 1 Corinthians 14:19).

The Gift of Prophesy likewise comes in two forms; foretelling and forth-telling (ex., Acts 19 and possibly ch. 8).

– Foretelling is miraculous communication of new things that are going to happen, given in advance of their occurring; communicating what God WILL do. The test here is whether they come true or not.

– Forth-telling builds on what God has already revealed but applies it with authority to a specific situation; communicating what God wants people to do.

A mistake some people make in applying this passage (and similar ones) is to say this one unique situation is supposed to be everyone’s experience: they apply it too broadly and too specifically.  By “too broadly” I mean that they don’t recognize the difference between descriptive and prescriptive. Without complicating matters, there are two types of Bible passages and they need to be interpreted differently.

– Descriptive passages narrate historical events.  In addition to the information they contain, narratives can be used to set examples to be followed or avoided.  Just because something happened once or twice in the Bible, it doesn’t by itself mean it should always happen that way.  The narratives do not fit a consistent pattern, except to say that the exceptions are the rule.

– Prescriptive passages that teach truths and give instructions.  God is communicating truth that prescribes righteous behavior and true hearts.  They can be used by literal application of the words expression truth propositionally.

By “too specifically” I mean that Tongues and Prophecy are only two of about 20 Spiritual Gifts.  (As an alternative example, in Galatians 3:5 Paul wrote that working MIRACLES accompanied the Spirit’s coming to that church, not Prophecy or Tongues.)  All Spiritual Gifts are signs of real faith.  Along with the Fruits of the Spirit, they are ways that a real faith works out through our skin into words and deeds we can observe in daily living.

Let me explain the title of this message.  One strategy for getting a reduced cost lunch is to invite your vegetarian friends to the steak house.  “Eating Salad at the Steak Buffet” means you split the ticket evenly.  In that case, the steak-eater literally eats the lunch of the salad-eaters!

I’m teasing my vegan and vegetarian friend a bit.  But seriously, it makes no sense to settle for a little portion of what God offers us.  As we learned last week from Ephesians 1, God’s GRACE is RICH and He lavishes it on us generously.  Why settle for less?

One reason people settle for less of God or even nothing at all is that we somehow know that life will not be the same after we say “yes” to God.  We are not willing to puncture our comfort zone and thereby say “no” to God.  Even if it’s a polite “No thank you,” saying “no” to God is wrong.

However we explain a decision to settle for less, we must take courage and receive all God offers.  We must not settle for a faith tamed by science, secular culture, or selfishness.  To enjoy the view we must brave the heights.  Let’s have an adventure of faith by releasing the weights that hold us down: THEREFORE, SINCE WE ARE SURROUNDED BY SUCH A GREAT CLOUD OF WITNESSES, LET US THROW OFF EVRYTHING THAT HINDERS AND THE SIN THAT SO EASILY ENTANGLES, AND LET US RUN WITH PERSEVERANCE THE RACE MARKED OUT FOR US (Hebrews 12:1).

Don’t settle for a lesser portion; sweat your comfort zone and allow God to do immeasurably more.

 

RESOURCES:

O         Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary on Acts, J. Bradley Chance.

O         More Hard Sayings of the New Testament, Peter H. Davids.

O         Illustrated Davis Dictionary of the Bible.

O         The Communicator’s Commentary, Lloyd J. Ogilive.

Seven Modern Maladies and their Divine Solutions (2 of 7)

Envy is a sin because it makes an idol of things.  The virtue of Contentment is based on trust in God.

Anyone OVER 50 years old needs no introduction to

Mary Ann

“Mary Ann,” a character on the TV series “Gilligan’s Island.”  Actress Dawn Wells played this character in all 98 episodes of the series.  She and Tina Louise are the only surviving members of the cast.

The character of Mary Ann is chosen as a symbol of ENVY because it was clear that she envied the beauty and glamor of the movie star character named “Ginger.”  In fact, in episode 92, “The Second Ginger Grant,” Mary Ann suffered a blow to the head and took on the persona of Ginger, wearing her clothes and acting like her.

Mary Ann’s envy of Ginger was purely a plot device and exactly at odds with reality.  Of the two, Dawn Wells was the beauty queen (Miss Nevada, 1950), she was “Gilligan’s” personal favorite, and received more than twice as much fan mail as cast mate Tina Louise.  In 2005, Wells consigned her costume for sale and it sold for $20,700!  In forty years of polls on the subject, men have expressed a preference for Mary Ann over Ginger that is 3-1 or even 4-1.  If art had imitated life, Ginger would have been envious of Mary Ann!

ENVY is one of the Seven Deadly Sins, a list formulated by the Church in medieval times.  We are examining this list and each week offering a virtue to take the place of the vice.  Today we’ll see how and why believers must replace ENVY with CONTENTMENT.

  1. The vicious vice of ENVY (Genesis 4:1-16).

What is envy?  ENVY is wanting what you don’t have, often paired with an unwillingness to wait for it or earn it.  It is a form of materialism that reflects on what others possess.

In his book, 7 Deadly Sins, the late Billy Graham wrote, “The envious man somehow feels that other people’s fortune is his misfortune, that their success is his failure and hat their blessing is his curse.” (p. 42)

Why is envy so deadly?  It puts a priority on things over God and others. An envious person values material things over persons.

It drains happiness and prevents satisfaction.  When your attention is fixed on worldly things you can never be satisfied, because the things of this world – even the good things – always end in an appetite for more.  The other thing we must learn and relearn is that the things of this world – even the good things – are temporary.  Even if they last generations, all worldly things are temporary.

Cain is a biblical example of envy’s deadliness.  When we read the account of Cain and Abel, God’s choice of Abel’s sacrifice and his rejection of Cain’s is obvious.  As the text states, GOD LOOKED WITH FAVOR ON ABEL AND HIS OFFERING (vs. 4+5).

What’s not spelled out is why. We infer the reason for God’s choice by a close reading of the text, particularly Cain’s reaction.  He became envious and angry.  So angry, in fact, he murdered his brother.  Verse six says Cain was ANGRY AND DOWNCAST.

Cain’s anger motivated him to be disrespectful and evasive when God asked him about Abel; “Am I my brother’s keeper? (v. 9)”  The best answer is “YES.”

Cain gave into envy.  He looked upon Abel’s success and wanted it too.  Abel’s sacrifice was motive by gratitude and/or love; some other God-honored motive, as seen in God’s acceptance of Abel’s sacrifice.

This was a murder that God tried to avoid.  In v. 7, God gave Cain an unusual warning: SIN IS CROUCHING AT YOUR DOOR.  He should have heeded God’s warning and dispensed with ENVY.

Cain’s consequences were isolation and failure.  Cain was sent away, separated from his parents and condemned to be a wanderer on the earth (vs. 12+14).  We don’t know what the MARK of Cain was, but it was a two-sided thing: it separated him from every other human being who had no such marking, but it also warned off anyone who might want to take revenge.  It was God saying; “This one is mine.  Leave him alone.”

We see Cain cursed to failure.  In 3:17-19, Cain’s father Adam received God’s discipline for his sin; the GROUND was CURSED because of Adam and it was only by hard work that it would yield any fruit.  Cain’s discipline is worse, in that the GROUND will never YIELD CROPS for him.

Cain later enjoyed some worldly success as an urban developer (v. 17); in fact, the Bible credits him as inventing cities. But envy destroyed his brother, his family relationships, and worst of all, estranged him from God.  ENVY is deadly; it demands to high a price and delivers only unhappiness.

2. The vital virtue of CONTENTMENT (Philippians 4:10-13).

What is contentment?  Contentment is a sense of satisfaction that exists apart from your circumstances.  It is an abiding trust in God that He will provide what is needed, when it is needed.

A contented person trusts in God’s provision, not their own.  As the song says, “Put your hope in things eternal.”  Unlike worldly things, heavenly things truly satisfy and their effects are everlasting.

Why is contentment a vital virtue? There are many reasons; here are a few.

It is God-honoring and faith-based.

It is part of a maturing faith.

It removes the distraction of materialism.

It prioritizes our relationship with God, the Source of true satisfaction.

It allows us to use things without being used by them.

Let’s look at Paul as an example of contentment.  Paul’s philosophy of financing ministry was simple: while he deserved each church’s support, he preferred not to need it.

The occasion for this letter to the church in Philippi was Paul acknowledging their gift to him, recently sent by Epaphroditus (v. 18).  Keep in mind Paul was in prison when he wrote this.  He said their gift gave him “immense joy” (v. 10).  I’m sure Paul was happy that they’d remembered him, especially in his chains.  But Paul wrote that his joy was IN THE LORD.

What’s important for our purposes was that Paul the prisoner had been content when he’d been with them and still practiced contentment while in prison!  This was because Paul had learned the SECRET of contentment in EVERY SITUATION; keeping his priorities in order.

WHETHER WELL FED OR HUNGRY was not a rhetorical comment: prisons of that day did not feed their prisoners.  Food had to be supplied by outsiders.

WHETHER LIVING IN PLENTY OR IN WANT is one way of summarizing Paul’s life.  The Apostle Paul had been born into a wealthy family, but since accepting God’s call on his life, there had been lots of occasions for being in need, not the least of which was being shipwrecked!  The SECRET is this; contentment is found in GOD in not self.

There is good evidence that Paul was well-educated and steeped in the Greek-influenced culture of his time.  It’s likely he’d read what the Greek philosopher Plato wrote about the contented man; “that man should be sufficient unto himself for all things, and able, by the power of his own will, to resist the force of circumstances.”  What Plato misunderstood as an achievement of will, Paul rightly understood as an act of God’s grace.  He wrote, I CAN DO EVERYTHING THROUGH HIM WHO GIVES ME STRENGTH.

God’s strength and His love never fail.  The love and strength of people will ultimately always fail, despite our best intentions.  God never does.  Philippians 4:13 is often taken as a promise of empowerment and it is that, but it is also the basis for our contentment, regardless of whatever we’re experiencing in the moment.  To be content, we must seek to be

DEPENDENT on God,

INTERDEPENT on each other, and

INDEPENDENT of the support of others so we can avoid idleness and support others.

Envy is a sin because it makes an idol of things.  The virtue of Contentment is based on trust in God.

Anyone UNDER 50 needs no introduction to

FB

        Facebook is an online social media and networking company. It was launched on February 4, 2004, by Mark Zuckerberg, along with some fellow Harvard College students, with membership initially limited to Harvard students.

As of January 2018, Facebook has more than 2.2 billion monthly active users. Facebook has become so commonly used that most of the people you know use it.  In fact, some Millennials have abandoned Facebook because it’s gotten so full of “old people!”

We chose Facebook as a symbol of ENVY because, like the cartoon character in this illustration, Facebook becomes a way of looking into the lives of others, a view that can easily degenerate into envy.  However, here’s a disclaimer: just because someone put something on Facebook doesn’t make it true.  No, I’m serious!

In an article on the Independent’s website, Peter Walker cited an experiment by the University of Copenhagen involving 1,095 people, half of whom were asked to continue their Facebook habits and half ordered to abstain from logging on.

The data suggests Facebook causes people to suffer what they called “Facebook envy” and become particularly depressed.  Users taking a week-long break from Facebook were found to be more satisfied with life and gave higher scores to their own well-being.  So “Facebook envy” is not something made up to benefit this message, there is a reasonable connection between Facebook and the vice of ENVY and users suffering the consequences of ENVY.

God’s people are to practice CONTENTMENT instead of being guilty of ENVY.  This leads to our final question:

How do I practice contentment?

One, simplify your life.  Adopt the motto “Less is more.”  Imagine what the object you want to buy sitting neglected and dusty on a shelf or in a closet, as that’s how it will probably end up.  Hum or sing the song “The Bare Necessities” as you shop. Understand the “Inverse Rule of Possessions” – “The more things you own, the more things own you.”

Two, keep your ambition within your means.  This is a financial philosophy: “debt is dumb” as financial guru Dave Ramsey says.  It stresses relationships and creates financial chaos that will take more effort to undo than it did to do.  This is also a philosophy for all of life.  We all have our strengths and weaknesses.  Envy happens when we mistakenly think we ought to have things that are not actually in our power to possess.

Three, put your priorities in order.  Do we need to be reminded that God is to come first, others second, and self last? We may not need a reminder to believe it, but we probably need a reminder to ACT on that principle.  We affirm this truth in the way we act & speak.

It’s a fairly easy thing to say that the Bible is true and that we ought to follow God’s commands as revealed in the Bible.  However, so much more than a nod of one’s head is required.  We must act as if it is true by having our attitudes and actions be determined by what the Lord says.

Take ENVY for example.  Envy is a poison we take hoping the other person will drop dead.  Don’t do it. Replace ENVY and worry and all other forms of materialism with CONTENTMENT and trust in God.

Jesus Christ: The Exalted Servant

Driving through Texas, a New Yorker collided with a truck carrying a horse. A few months later he tried to collect damages for his injuries. “How can you now claim to have all these injuries?” asked the insurance company’s lawyer. “According to the police report, at the time you said you were not hurt.” “Look,” replied the New Yorker. “I was lying on the road in a lot of pain, and I heard someone say the horse had a broken leg. The net thing I know this Texas Ranger pulls out his gun and shoots the horse. Then he turns to me and asks, ‘Are you okay?'”

(Reader’s Digest, July, 1994, p. 64.)

Sometimes we have a good reason for being in denial about our suffering.  Most of the time, however, we need to learn to follow the example of the Suffering Servant who embraced what He had to suffer, fouynd victory over it, and passed that victory on to us.

  1. The Servant’s suffering would lead to victory (Isaiah 53:9-12).

The first prophecy (v. 9) is physical in nature & involves His burial.

– HE WAS ASSIGNED A GRAVE WITH THE WICKED. This means that those who would kill the Suffering Servant would not be content with His death but conspired to discredit and dishonor Him as well. The practice in Jesus’ day was to throw the bodies of crucified criminals into the garbage pit outside the city of Jerusalem.  That place was called Gehenna and served Jesus as an illustration of what hell is like.  A fire always burned and bodies were abandoned to burn, decay, and/or chewed up by scavengers.  It was a GRAVE only in the sense of a place where a body was left.  To have one’s remains deposited there was a great dishonor among the Jews.  Worse, had Jesus’ body been left there, we would have lost our major piece of evidence to prove His resurrection; the empty tomb.

– AND WITH THE RICH IN HIS DEATH. In spite of their grave assignment, God would not allow His Servant to be dishonored, so He provided for a more suitable resting place.  A rich man’s tomb was more like a columbarium than a grave like we’re used to.  Either a cave or hand-hewn hole in a rock wall was made.  The body was kept and allowed to decay.  Finally, the bones were bleached and placed in a box which was then kept in a niche in the wall of the tomb.  In this way, a single tomb held several remains.

– THOUGH HE HAD DONE NO VIOLENCE, NOR WAS ANY DECEIT IN HIS MOUTH.  This is the reason He deserved an honorable burial.  Though He was treated as a criminal, He was an innocent man in both deed and word and deserved an honorable burial.

The second prophecy (vs. 10-11) is spiritual in nature & involves His provision of salvation.

– To reinforce the point about the Servant’s innocence, Isaiah makes it clear that the Servant’s suffering was THE LORD’S WILL, not a punishment for sin.  The LORD willed it because His suffering became the means by which salvation was made possible.

– To CRUSH someone and cause them to SUFFER is not normally considered to be a good thing, but good came from it; the forgiveness of our sins.  BY HIS KNOWLEDGE MY RIGHTEOUS SERVANT WILL JUSTIFY MANY: in Hebrew, this is a play on words; “my righteous servant will make many righteous.”

– Note, MANY, but not all.  We are not Universalists.  The offer of salvation is made to all people but only those who accept it by faith will be made righteous/justified.

– HE WILL BEAR THEIR INIQUITIES.   The terrible irony is that the only perfect man would be counted as the worst sinner because He accepted the guilt for our sins. BEAR means to carry a heavy burden.  It is in the future tense to show that it will be effective for all time.

– BECAUSE HE POURED OUT HIS LIFE UNTO DEATH was fulfilled in Jesus’ death on the cross.

– He WAS NUMBERED WITH THE TRANSGRESSORS.  Remember Jesus was crucified between two criminals.

– HE BORE THE SIN OF MANY.  Jesus took our guilt and shame on the cross.  It was crucified there and no longer holds any power over us.

– HE MADE INTERCESSION FOR THE TRANSGRESSORS.  The outcome of the cross is to intercede for sinners, to enable us to be forgiven

The third prophecy (vs. 10-12) is spiritual in nature & involves His exaltation.

– Ecclesiastes 6:3 lists four signs of God’s blessing = A MAN MAY HAVE A HUNDRED CHILDREN AND LIVE MANY YEARS; YET NO MATTER HOW LONG HE LIVES, IF HE CANNOT ENJOY HIS PROSPERITY  AND DOES NOT RECEIVE A PROPER BURIAL, I SAY THAT A STILLBORN CHILD IS BETTER OFF THAN HE.  Did you hear all four?  All of these are promised the Servant.

– Many children.

– Long life.

– Prosperity.

– A proper burial.

Notice how worldly these things are.  The Jews were fixed on the here and now.  In fact, the Hebrew language has no formal future tense for its verbs!

– In answer to v. 8’s question, WHO CAN SPEAK OF HIS DESCENDANTS?, v. 10 tells us HE WILL SEE HIS OFFSPRING AND PROLONG HIS DAYS.  Of course, in Jesus’ case, His descendants were spiritual, not physical.  (In Mark 3:34-35, Jesus identified the person who does God’s will as His family.)  What’s interesting is that from this point on, Isaiah no longer wrote about the SERVANT of the Lord (singular); he wrote about SERVANTS of the Lord (plural). This shows how the Servant had JUSTIFIED MANY and thereby produced many representatives of Himself.  Having a long life and yet dying as a sacrifice wounds elf-contradictory.  So clearly what’s intended here is not a long life in this world, but one in heaven.

– THE WILL OF THE LORD WILL PROSPER IN HIS HAND.  Our faith gives us a simple and practical view on life; things work out to fulfill God’s plan.  Faithless folk see things working out randomly; life is meaninglessness because when death comes, it is over.  God’s plans will be accomplished.

– HE WILL SEE THE LIGHT OF LIFE AND BE SATISFIED.

– I WILL GIVE HIM A PORTION AMONG THE GREAT.

– HE WILL DIVIDE THE SPOILS WITH THE STRONG.  SPOILS being what the conquering army takes from the conquered.  Jesus defeated sin, Satan, and death, and took human lives from them as His SPOILS.

  1. Fulfillment: The Servant was buried in a rich man’s tomb (Matthew 27:57-61).

The fulfillment of some of Isaiah’s prophecies came about as a result of the choices Jesus made (i.e., He read from the scroll of Isaiah in the synagogue in Nazareth – see 3/2/15).  But most of the fulfillments – including this one – were entirely beyond Jesus’ choice or control.

CONTEXT – Matthew provides us with more information about the burial of Jesus than any of the other four Gospels.  As we noted earlier, Jesus’ burial in a tomb is the single most important piece of evidence to prove the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Also, only Matthew mentions that Joseph of Arimathea was rich.  However, the fact that the tomb is new and the amount of spices used (John) would’ve been dead give-aways of wealth to Matthew’s first century readers.  Matthew is intent on showing that Jesus’ burial completely fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah 53.

COMMENT.

The Jewish leaders had brought Jesus to the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate under several charges, one of which was treason.  It is important that Pilate did not find Jesus guilty of treason, because no one was ever allowed to claim the body of a traitor for burial.  Their bodies were disposed of in the garbage dump as a final act of disgrace.

The site of the tomb was a former stone quarry.  Picture the quartzite quarry on the west side of town.  The path cut into the rock leading down into the quarry gave access to the stone walls into which the tombs were cut.

Mourning was not allowed for persons executed as enemies of the Roman Empire.  Also, the lateness of the hour – the Sabbath would begin at sundown – kept Jesus’ followers and family (including the women mentioned in v. 61) from observing the burial with any kind of ceremony.  Still, they gave far more respect to Jesus’ body than the Romans would have.

  1. Fulfillment: The Servant was exalted (Romans 8:34).

CONTEXT: Offering one of the most encouraging words in all of Scripture, Paul goes to great lengths to reassure the faithful that nothing can deter the will of God from being enacted and nothing can separate us from the love of God.  Vs. 33-35 pose a set of three rhetorical questions and answers, all a variation of “Who cares who opposes us?  God supports us!”

WHO IS HE THAT CONDEMNS? CHRIST JESUS, WHO DIED – MORE THAN THAT, WHO WAS RAISED TO LIFE – IS AT THE RIGHT HAND OF GOD AND IS ALSO INTERCEDING FOR US.

COMMENT: Contrast this four-part hope with the four-part hope we read in Ecclesiastes 6:3.  You’ll notice Paul’s list is bereft of worldly things and exclusively centered on God.

– Jesus gave up His life as a sacrifice and thereby secured the forgiveness of our sins.

– He was raised to life and is able to give eternal life to all who trust Him.

– He went from the lowest place and apparently the most cursed to the highest place of all.

– The purpose behind His exaltation is to intercede on our behalf.  This makes salvation continue to be operative in us even in this present moment.

We’ve seen in detail how the Lord’s Servant suffered.  But we’ve also seen how His suffering lifted us from slavery to sin to being children of God.  Suffering is not something we like to experience, but it is the most successful way in which we learn and grow and mature, especially spiritually.  For your edification, I’ve assembled some quotations that give us reason to pause and consider the value of suffering for our spirituality.

Once when Bob Hope received a major award he responded, “I don’t deserve this, but then I have arthritis and I don’t deserve that either.”

Someone asked C.S. Lewis, “Why do the righteous suffer?” “Why not?” he replied. “They’re the only ones who can take it.”

“Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it.”

Helen Keller quoted in: Barbara Rowes, The book of Quotes, Dutton.

“A clay pot sitting in the sun will always be a clay pot. It has  to go through the white heat of the furnace to become porcelain.”  Mildred Witte Struven, in Bits and Pieces, September 19, 1991, p. 6.

Those who know the path to God, can find it in the dark. Maclaren.

Suffering teaches us patience. These words were found penned on the wall of a prison cell in Europe: “I believe in love even when I don’t feel it. I believe in God even when He is silent.” Billy Graham, Till Armageddon.