Obviously Gentle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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“Don’t Miss the Blessing”

(Please read Hebrews 12:14-17, NIV.)

 Amidst all the material preparations for Christmas, the most important thing is to prepare relationally by dealing with the bitterness that too often separates us from one another and with God.  The Spirit gave me this message at this time to assist in this ministry of reconciliation.

Don’t let bitterness take root – it will cause you to miss the blessing (14+15).

          God’s people are to be characterized by PEACE. This command also appears in Romans 12:18. IF IT IS POSSIBLE, AS FAR AS IT DEPENDS ON YOU, LIVE AT PEACE WITH EVERYONE.  Regarding peace, there are three attitudes people have:

  • Peace-breakers undermine the unity of the church by being hard-hearted, abrasive, selfish, insensitive, or are characterized by other ways cause offense.  They suffer bitterness and don’t care about inflicting it on others.
  • Peace-fakers focus on avoiding conflict and taking responsibility.  They may not make a situation worse, but their procrastination and/or falsehood don’t make it better. Their goal is to avoid responsibility for the bitterness they feel or inflict.
  • Peacemakers choose to obey God and follow Jesus’ example by loving one another.  They are willing to sacrifice and do the hard work of forgiveness that is necessary to make peace a reality.

In order to head off excuse-makers, Paul allows no exceptions to this command.  He wrote, MAKE EVERY EFFORT; this requires real attempts at peacemaking; nothing fake or superficial will do.  It must be genuine and sacrificial. And he added, WITH ALL MEN, which means that we are not allowed to pick and choose who is “worthy” of our efforts or just work with family and friends.  Those folks who are hard to love or otherwise “more trouble than they’re worth” deserve an honest effort.

God’s people are to be characterized by HOLINESS. Like true peace, genuine holiness is made known both inwardly (attitudes and priorities) and outwardly (our words and deeds).  Holiness is to be like God, to be set apart from worldly things to pursue Him as our path to joy.

This requires Christians to be counter-cultural in a positive, redemptive sense.  There are at least two reasons for this. One, if there’s no moral difference between churched and non-churched, we are not living a holy life. We’re not behaving like set-apart people.  Two, if we are so alike the world around us, we become invisible in the midst of our culture, and we forfeit our opportunity to witness.

Paul points out two things that disrupt peace and holiness in our life.

The first is missing the GRACE OF GOD (v. 15). God offers grace to all people. But most will exercise their free will to reject it: that’s how one can MISS the grace of God.

2 Corinthians 6:1 = AS GOD’S FELLOW WORKERS WE URGE YOU NOT TO RECEIVE GOD’S GRACE IN VAIN.

Galatians 5:4 = YOU WHO ARE TRYING TO BE JUSTIFIED BY LAW HAVE BEEN ALIENATED FROM CHRIST; YOU HAVE FALLEN AWAY FROM GRACE.

The second is allowing a BITTER ROOT to grow (v. 15). This image refers to attitudes that we allow to remain in ourselves & in our congregation that cause bitterness and division: grudges.  Paul did not invent this term; it was originally revealed to Moses who wrote in Dueteronomy 29:18 = MAKE SURE THERE IS NO MAN OR WOMAN, CLAN OR TRIBE AMONG YOU TODAY WHOSE HEART TURNS AWAY FROM THE LORD OUR GOD TO GO AND WORSHIP T GODS OF THOSE NATIONS; MAKE SURE THERE IS NO ROOT AMONG YOU THAT PRODUCES SUCH BITTER POISON.  In MTW 7:17, Jesus used a similar word picture; He said a bad tree produces bad fruit; an ungodly spirit will lead to ungodly acts.

Count the relational cost of bitterness and refuse to pay it! The cost of bitterness is too high and yet it happens too often. Individuals stricken with it must be encouraged to forgive and reconcile.

It messes up our relationship with God. This is what God meant when Paul wrote, WITHOUT HOLINESS NO ONE WILL SEE GOD. In this life, it means that God can be perceived only by faith & the power of the Holy Spirit. After this life, a person will only SEE GOD if they have God’s gracious gift of holiness in them; not by personal achievement, but by grace.  Bitterness is one of many kinds of sin. It causes estrangement between us and God that can only be cured by confession, repentance, and forgiveness.

The Bible warns us that we will be forgiven as we forgive others AND that we will be judged by the same standards we judge others.  What this tells us is that our human relationships do NOT exist apart from our relationship with God.  They are two sides of the same coin.

Bitterness also messes up our relationships with each other.  This is what God meant when Paul wrote, CAUSE TROUBLE AND DEFILE MANY.

It’s no stretch to understand what CAUSE TROUBLE means.  Each of us can recount at least one circumstance where relationships were lost for a lifetime because bitterness set people against one another, where grudges were held for years.

To DEFILE means to cause another to sin.  Bitterness is a sin that spreads like a contagious disease.  What complicates it is that the parties involved are often too self-righteous or proud to admit their own guilt & seek restoration.

Don’t be like Esau, a basket case of bitterness (16-17).

          Immorality & godlessness are linked to bitterness in the sense that every sin creates an attitude that makes a human life a more fertile field for sin. Esau is a negative example; one to be avoided.

Esau is an example of this effect immorality. Jewish traditions and legends make Esau into even more of a villain than the Bible does, but it’s enough for our part to observe that bitterness and regret over his lost birthright dogged his steps and created a place for other sins to spring up.

Esau is a biblical example of godlessness because he placed so little value on his place as Isaac’s firstborn and rightful heir that he sold his birthright to his brother for a bowl of hot stew.  (See Genesis 25:29-34).  Later, when he understood he’d lost it, no amount of regret could restore it. (See Genesis 27:1-40, especially v. 35).

The opposite of godliness is worldliness, and Esau’s actions are a fine example of worldliness.  He was chosen to be the firstborn, heir of all the promises God made to Abraham and Isaac, and he traded that away for a lunch!  Ruled by his stomach!

Paul wrote about Esau-like people in Philippians 3:19 = THEIR DESTINY IS DESTRUCTION, THEIR GOD IS THEIR STOMACH, AND THEIR GLORY IS THEIR SHAME.  THEIR MIND IS ON EARTHLY THINGS.

God did not have a neutral attitude about Esau, as you can guess from the following verse: “I HAVE LOVED YOU,” SAYS THE LORD. “BUT YOU ASK, ‘HOW HAVE YOU LOVED US?’ WAS NOT ESAU JACOB’S BROTHER?” THE LORD SAYS. “YET I HAVE LOVED JACOB, BUT ESAU HAVE I HATED, AND I HAVE TURNED HIS MOUNTAINS INTO A WASTELAND AND LEFT HIS INHERITANCE TO THE DESERT JACKALS.” (Malachi 1:2-3)

NEW and IMPROVED!

(Please read 2 Corinthians 5:16-6:2.  Quotations below are from the New International Version.)

        Tribal wisdom of the Lakota people, passed from generations immemorial, says that when you discover that you are riding a dead horse, the best strategy is to dismount. Our modern bureaucrats, however, have a set of more advanced strategies such as:

  • Buy a stronger whip.
  • Find lighter riders.
  • Harness several dead horses together to improve performance.
  • Arrange an overseas visit to study dead horses.
  • Reclassify the horse as “living impaired.”
  • Rewrite the performance requirements for dead horses.
  • Provide additional funding to improve the performance of dead horses.
  • Promote the dead horse to a supervisory position.

        Any similarity between the above and what happens in government is intentional. It is intended to serve as a great example of why there’s no use trying to fix up the Old Creation. Let it stay dead. Trying to keep the old creation is the source of a lot of frustration and disappointment in our Christian life.

THESIS = A new life in Christ includes a new attitude toward God, others, and self.

CONTEXT = 2 Corinthians is the Apostle Paul’s defense of his ministry.  One set of his critics blasted him for not being Jewish enough.  Part of his response to them was to show that the Good News he preached offered a new and improved means of relationship with God.

You are new and improved (16+17).

        Verse 17is key to what we are discussing and central to our identity:  we are new creations! Our new standing with God is possible because of Jesus Christ; that’s why Paul wrote, IN CHRIST. 

        It is a way of describing our new relationship with God.  According to Romans 5, our old relationship with God needed improving.  Verse eight reads;

BUT GOD DEMONSTRATES HIS OWN LOVE FOR US IN THIS: WHILE WE WERE STILL SINNERS, CHRIST DIED FOR US.  Verse ten makes it worse;

FOR IF, WHEN WE WERE GOD’S ENEMIES, WE WERE RECONCILED TO HIM THROUGH THE DEATH OF HIS SON, HOW MUCH MORE, HAVING BEEN RECONCILED, SHALL WE BE SAVED THROUGH HIS LIFE. Paul elaborates; THE OLD IS GONE, THE NEW HAS COME!

        Thank God!  Being a NEW CREATION means we cease being sinners and enemies of God.  Another thing to note about this term is that the scope of our new life includes all aspects of our personhood. Jesus similarly taught Nicodemus: “NO ONE CAN SEE THE KINGDOM OF GOD UNLESS HE IS BORN AGAIN” (JHN 3:3). This is a “total makeover!” Accordingly, we must think and act in NEW CREATION modes.

        Now we backtrack to verse sixteen to find the application of verse seventeen (and verses eleven through fifteen): our new attitude toward one another (i.e., toward Christ).

        One aspect of being new creations is that we reject a WORLDLY POINT OF VIEW. FROM NOW ON we look at people from God’s point of view.  When we do we see…

  • Victims of the Enemy, not the enemy.
  • People in need.
  • Brothers & sisters; in fact or in potential.

Where worldly eyes see barriers, godly eyes see bridges God has built.

        Paul offers Jesus as an example.  He and others once viewed Jesus from a worldly point of view and saw only a Galilean troublemaker.  Later, with acute vision bestowed by faith, Paul saw Him truthfully, as the Great Reconciler.

 

God did this for you (18-21).

        The old creation did not come about by human will, nor has the NEW CREATION.  Instead, as verse eighteen asserts, ALL THIS IS FROM GOD.

That fact rules out our intellect, willpower, & imagination: we don’t make it up.

        God did it by reconciling US TO HIMSELF THROUGH CHRIST (18).  “Reconciling” means restoring our relationship with God which had been

broken by our sin.

        THROUGH CHRIST means that Jesus is the universal solution to the universal problem of sin.  But God doesn’t force His solution on anyone; only those who receive it willingly will be restored.

         Verses 19-21 reveal that God reconciled us in three steps.

    • 19 = GOD WAS RECONCILING THE WORLD TO HIMSELF IN CHRIST. God joined us & identified with us in the human life of Jesus Christ.  His blood paid our penalty.
    • 21 = GOD MADE HIM WHO HAD NO SIN TO BE SIN FOR US… Jesus suffered our guilt and shame. Because He was innocent He was the perfect sacrifice for sin.
  • Imputation is found in v. 19 NOT COUNTING MEN’S SINS AGAINST THEM. The solution is to impute (assign) righteous status to all who accept Him
  • Delegation .
    • 19 = AND HE HAS COMMITTED TO US THE MESSAGE OF RECONCILIATION. God has delegated to us the responsibility of making Him known to people we encounter.
    • 20 = WE ARE THEREFORE CHRIST’S AMBASSADORS… We represent our homeland & act w/t authority of our Leader.

 

Get busy and receive His grace today (1-2).

        Paul was concerned that the church live according to this message of reconciliation. He demonstrated his concern by using emphatic language: AS GOD’S FELLOW WORKERS WE URGE YOU.  His expression, FELLOW WORKERS, shows Paul’s identification with the church in Corinth and reminds us today that we are responsible with and for one another. Use of the first person pronoun (WE) connects God & Paul.  (See 1 Corinthians 3:9 where Paul describes himself as “God’s fellow-worker.”) So in a sense, Paul is also pulling rank, telling them to get in line!

        Chapter six, verse one presents some difficulty to the interpreter.  The call to RECEIVE GOD’S GRACE is not the hard part.  In fact, RECONCILIATION is the subject of the passage.

        The challenging bit is when he urges them not to receive GOD’S GRACE IN VAIN.  How is that possible? Apart from the egotistical use of the word, VAIN means fruitless, ineffective, unsuccessful, or frustrated. How could that happen?

Paul urged them to avoid a superficial commitment to Christ.  A sign of inauthentic discipleship: a lack of godly fruit. He quoted Scripture (Isaiah 49:8) to reinforce his point, emphasizing it is God’s will to act, decide, choose Him.

Borrowing TIME and DAY OF SALVATION from the Isaiah quote, Paul urged a timely, even immediate response = NOW IS THE TIME OF GOD’S FAVOR, NOW IS THE DAY OF SALVATION.

        If that alone doesn’t motivate you, consider a couple other things. One, the Second Coming of Jesus Christ is imminent.  Until He comes again, we’re in a season of grace, where reconciliation can happen.  After He appears, there’ll be no more opportunity.

        Second, our own death is also immanent.  As today could be our last, we must bear fruit. Thus, in addition to the command of God, we have two additional excellent reasons to act NOW, not wait.  Whether we’re talking about accepting Christ as Savior or obeying Him as Lord, now is the moment; the door of opportunity has been swung open.

 

        God made us new creations so that we will choose to be agents of change.  We are entrusted with a ministry of reconciliation, helping the world to turn back to God. 

        I came across a negative example of reconciliation in Today in the Word, July 5, 1993.

        “One New Year’s Eve at London’s Garrick Club, British dramatist Frederick Lonsdale was asked by Seymour Hicks to reconcile with a fellow member. The two had quarreled in the past and never restored their friendship. ‘You must,’ Hicks said to Lonsdale. ‘It is very unkind to be unfriendly at such a time. Go over now and wish him a happy New Year.’

        “So Lonsdale crossed the room and spoke to his enemy. ‘I wish you a happy New Year,’ he said, ‘but only one’.”

        That’s not going to get it done, will it?

        God gives us an entirely new life to live in Christ.  We are made new creations to serve as ambassadors from the Kingdom of God to this poor, sin-sick world.  We have a lot of work to be done in an uncertain but ever-shrinking amount of time.  Let’s get started!

The Lord is My Host

 

Please read Psalm 23:5-6 in the King James Version.

Preacher James Botts has observed human nature and wrote about it in a sermon entitled “Refreshing My Empty Times.”

“As Labor Day arrives, many of us are officially getting out of summer mode. Remember when it was springtime? We wanted it to be summer: swimming at the beach and enjoying the great outdoors? Then when summer came, we wanted it to be fall: cool dry breezes, colorful leaves and football. Then when fall arrives we begin to look toward winter, snow days and spending the holiday season with family. But when winter comes, we want it to be spring again, sunny days, nature blossoming back to life and baseball.

“One man put it this way. When I was a child I wanted to be an adult with freedom and respect. When I was 20 I wanted to be 30, more mature and sophisticated. When I was middle aged, I wanted to be 20, full of youth and energy. When I was retired, I wanted to be middle aged, seasoned by experience and without physical limitations. Then my life was over, and I realized…I never got what I wanted.

“So many of our lives are characterized by dissatisfaction, always wanting something else, yet feeling empty and wanting more after we get it. Children want more toys, teenagers want more freedom, adults want more money and seniors want more time.”

(James Botts, retrieved from http://www.sermoncentral.com/sermons/refreshing-my-empty-times-james-botts-sermon-on-fulfillment-49947.asp?Page=1, on 7/24/13.)

It appears that one key to contentment is to transcend our natural tendency to view distant grasses as greener and concentrate on the clump before us. In practical terms, this involves finding meaning and sufficiency in what is, instead of concentrating on what is not. We should favor the present moment, not making it hostage to the past or future.

This is the equivalent of going to a dinner party and eating what’s set before you. (How many children and former children have heard that?) In the case of life, God, the LORD, is throwing the party. We’ve been thinking about how the Lord is my Shepherd. To conclude our look at Psalm 23, we’ll switch the metaphor and think about how the Lord is my Host…

And God populated the earth with broccoli and cauliflower and spinach, green and yellow vegetable of all kinds, so Man and Woman would live long and healthy lives.

And Satan created McDonald’s. And McDonald’s brought forth the 99-cent double-cheeseburger. And Satan said to Man, “You want fries with that?”

And Man said, “Super size them.” And Man gained pounds.

And God created the healthful yogurt, that woman might keep her figure that man found so fair.

And Satan brought forth chocolate. And woman gained pounds.

And God said, “Try my crispy fresh salad.”

And Satan brought forth ice cream. And woman gained pounds.

And God said, “I have sent your heart healthy vegetables and olive oil with which to cook them.”

And Satan brought forth chicken-fried steak so big it needed its own platter.

And Man gained pounds and his bad cholesterol went through the roof.

And God brought forth running shoes and Man resolved to lose those extra pounds.

And Satan brought forth cable TV with remote control so Man would not have to toil to change channels between ESPN and ESPN2.

And Man gained pounds.

And God said, “You’re running up the score, Devil.”

And God brought forth the potato, a vegetable naturally low in fat and brimming with nutrition.

And Satan peeled off the healthful skin and sliced the starchy center into chips and deep-fat fried them. And he created sour cream dip also.

And Man clutched his remote control and ate the potato chips swaddled in cholesterol.

And Satan saw and said, “It is good.”

And Man went into cardiac arrest.

And God sighed and created quadruple bypass surgery.

And Satan created HMOs.

(Retrieved from http://www.basicjokes.com/djoke.php?id=46 on 7/25/13.)

You aren’t gonna let the devil have the last word, are you?

 

The Shepherd becomes the Host.

We’ve learned about how shepherds treat sheep. While every shepherd saw to it that his sheep were fed, none of them fed the sheep at the table! So we clearly have a change in symbols between vs. 4+5.

In a few hundred years after David wrote Psalm 23, the Prophet Isaiah would add definition to this image of God as our Host:

And in this mountain shall the LORD of hosts make unto all people a feast of fat things, a feast of wine on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of wines on the lees well refined. And he will destroy in this mountain the face of the covering cast over all people, and the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death in victory; and the LORD GOD will wipe away tears from off all faces; and the rebuke of his people shall he take away from off the earth: for the LORD hath spoken it.”

In a culture where ordinary travelers had no access to the limited number of inns and when family visited, they stayed for days, even weeks, hospitality is a big deal. It’s becoming a vanishing art in our culture, so we find it more difficult to relate to this imagery. To David and his readers, the depiction of God as Host would have had a great depth of meaning.

The duties of the host included two of the three things mentioned here.

It was customary in biblical times to put oil on a guest’s head. This was a custom set in Scripture (Psalms 45:7; 92:10; 133:2; Amos 6:6; Luke 7:46). The oil in use was usually olive oil with perfume or spices added. It was intended to be soothing and fragrant; something pleasant to ease the rigors of travel. It was also intended as an honorific. In Luke 7:46 Jesus mildly rebuked Simon the Pharisee for his lack of hospitality because he failed to anoint Jesus’ head. “The oil of gladness” is also a biblical symbol of joy (see Isaiah 61:3).

The cup was, in that culture, a symbol of hospitality. It was the host’s job to keep his guest’s cup filled. The host in verse five is generous beyond what was expected, however; he fills each cup to overflowing. This image is a word picture very similar to what we saw for the Shepherd earlier and is similarly meant to convey the same truth; God will take care of you. What’s added here is the element of impractical generosity.

PSS 116:13 uses the cup in a slightly different way: “I will take the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the LORD.” Here’ it’s the ultimate act of hospitality; God welcoming His people to heaven. In JHN 10, Jesus called Himself the Good Shepherd. In verse ten, He describes His mission in this way, “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” Sounds like an overflowing cup to me.

The table prepared “in the presence of mine enemies” is even more over the top. I can see two possible explanations here.

The first is is a promise of vindication. God takes such good care of His own that He will give them triumph over those who have decided to be their enemies. The “enemies” could also be understood to be the circumstances of this life that cause us difficulty.

The second is a promise of reconciliation. The sharing of food in David’s culture was a very special act of hospitality. It meant far more than in our own culture. It is a way of making an agreement of peace.

As the Biblical History website explained biblical customs, sharing a meal was an equivalent of the “peace pipe;” a shared experience that bonded even adversaries together.

“When Abimelech wanted a permanent covenant with Isaac, the confirmation of that covenant came when Isaac ‘made them a feast, and they did eat and drink’” (Genesis 26:30). The expression, “bread and salt” is sacred in Eastern cultures to this day. “When it is said, ‘There is bread and salt between us’ it is the same as saying, ‘We are bound together by a solemn covenant.’ Dr. Thomson, a Syrian missionary, was once guest in a Bedouin sheik’s tent. The host dipped a bit of bread in some grape molasses and gave it to the missionary for him to eat. Then he said to him, ‘We are now brethren. There is bread and salt between us. We are brothers and allies.’
(Retrieved from http://www.biblehistory.com/links.php.cat=39&sub=407&cat_name=Manners+&subcat_name=Hospitality on 7/25/13.)

In all of this we are to be assured, as we were in v. 4, that there is no reason for us to be afraid. God will take care of us. Rest in that promise.

 

Our Host assures of blessings in this life and in the next.

In this life, the blessings of goodness and mercy are promised. These promises, like the God who made them, abide constantly with His people.

“Goodness” refers to God’s abundant care and His promises to abide with us.

“Mercy” can also be translated as “love.” Here David expresses his confidence in the loyalty of God to His people. He does not change; His positive regard for His people and constant work on their spiritual maturing continues every day we live. We can’t count on people; they come and go in our lives and don’t always keep their promises. We can’t count on things; they rust or rot or decay or are stolen; worldly things are prone to let us down. The one person we can count on is the LORD; He will always love us.

In the life to come, an eternal place in the presence of the Lord is promised. “I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever” is obviously not a reference to the temple or any other earthly dwelling. All man-made structures are slated for destruction on Judgment Day or before. David is writing here about the REAL “house of the LORD,” the one that will exist in the New Heaven and the New Earth. That is a place we cannot inhabit in this life.

Here’s how this promise is expressed in Revelation 7:15-17 and notice how similar this promise sounds to the one we read earlier from Isaiah.

Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple: and he that sitteth on the throne shall dwell among them. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat. For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters; and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.”

Being a follower of Jesus could be summarized as knowing where we are headed and working toward that destination every day. More immediately, David is writing about God’s presence with us, assuring us that our relationship with God is not limited to the four walls of any building, but that He abides with us everywhere.

As always, God is the hero of Psalm 23. We pay attention to the sheep and the guest, but it’s not about them is it? It’s about the Shepherd and the Host. David wrote to direct our attention to God, not ourselves. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, David did such a good job of directing our attention that this Psalm has become the preeminent chapter in the Bible. He has written to allay our fears and express our greatest hope.

A newly-married young blonde called her mother in tears. She sobs, “Robert doesn’t appreciate what I do for him!”

“Now, now,” her mother comforted, “I am sure it was all just a misunderstanding.”

“No, mother,” the young woman laments. “I bought a frozen turkey and he yelled at me about the price.”

“Well, that is being miserly,” the mother agreed, “Turkeys are only a few dollars.”

“No, mother it wasn’t the price of the turkey, it was the airplane ticket he objected to.”

“Airplane ticket…. What did you need an airplane ticket for?”

“Well mother, when I went to fix it, I looked at the directions and it said, ‘PREPARE FROM A FROZEN STATE,’ so I flew to Alaska.”

(Retrieved from http://www.basicjokes.com/djoke.php?id=3266 on 7/25/13.)

I probably should have apologized in advance for that joke! I offer it as a contrast to the feast that is promised us here in Psalm 23 and in Revelation 19. When the time comes, we will be seated with Jesus at a heavenly banquet. It won’t be in a “frozen state,” but in the new heaven and earth. It will celebrate the culmination of God’s plan to redeem his creation. It will be the most joyous event possible because it will be the fulfillment of all God’s promises, the realization of our hopes and dreams.