13) Philippians Chapter 2: Living Worthy of the Lord
14) Philippians Chapter 3: Living with Eternity in Mind
15) Philippians Chapter 4: Living Consistent with Godly Character
16) Suffering and Pain: What Does it Mean and How Can God Use it?
17) Finishing Well
18) Trial of Your Faith
19) Psalm 77
20) True Spirituality
21) Why Did He Have to Leave?
22) The Power of Received Forgiveness
23) Temptation: Where the Rubber Hits the Road
24) Jonah: Putting a Lid on God's Grace
12) Philippians Chapter 1: Life in Christ
Paul was absolutely the greatest letter writer in history. Thirteen letters in the New Testament were written by the apostle Paul. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he shared his heart while sitting in a Roman prison somewhere around 62 A.D. We are going to look at the one he wrote to the church of Philippi in Northern Greece. This was a church that he had started about ten years earlier. It was the first church in Europe and it was doing well. And Paul’s young disciple Timothy is in Rome ministering to him while he is in prison.
Philippians chapter one, verse one: “Paul and Timothy, servants of Jesus Christ, to all the saints in Christ Jesus in Philippi, together with the overseers and the deacons, grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” Whenever I do get around to writing a letter, I will usually include something like “I hope you and your family are doing well at this time.” Paul also shows concern for the health of his friends. And he acknowledged his own health problems showing he cared about the physical needs of the human body. But look at where his emphasis is in verse two. “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” What a marvelous prayer Paul is offering for God’s people. And that includes us. You say, “Why? How come?” Because we have been the recipients of God’s grace. If we believe in Christ as Lord and Savior, we become sons and daughters of God, members of God’s family and members in the kingdom of God. And it is to these that He chooses to extend His grace. Accepting the grace of God offered in Jesus Christ and His finished work is not a way to earn heaven but it is to these God has promised to forgive and accept into His eternal presence. God’s mercy caused Him to refrain from condemning us for our original lostness and God’s grace caused Him to provide from Himself the means whereby we could be born into the family of God.
Without grace and mercy, we would be under the old system of laws and judgment and if that were still the case, the greeting of verse two might read something like this, “Judgment and guilt and rejection be upon you from a holy God who cannot tolerate your sin, so shape up.” Once in a while we need to pause to thank God for the marvelous gift of salvation that He has given to us. And what about peace? Jesus not only provided our peace with God by His death and resurrection, He gave us something out of His own personal possessions. He said, “I will gladly give to all of you who follow me, my peace.” John 14:27: “My peace I give you. Not as the world gives do I give unto you.” It is as though He is saying, “My peace is genuine, do not be troubled or afraid.”
Paul calls us “saints.” How do you describe a saint and what do you have to do to become a saint? Do you have to see a vision or belong to the Catholic Church and be recognized by its leader, the pope? You do not earn sainthood, nor is it granted to you by another human being. It is a gift of God. The Greek word “haggeoi” means holy in the sense of being set aside for God. It is saying that we are a special people, exclusively set aside for His purposes and glory. How come? Do not miss it. We have a new position because we are, verse one, in Christ Jesus. It is my only claim. In Christ Jesus I am acceptable to God. My position before God as a Christian is not based on any inherent goodness in me or the quantity or quality of my deeds since becoming a Christian. My position or standing before God is totally dependent upon and assured by my “in Christness.” John’s gospel says, “I am in Christ and Christ is in me.” Paul in his Ephesian letter points out, “Before the creation of the world it was determined by God that when we are in Christ, we become the chosen ones.” Our chosenness is in our “in Christness.” God the Father chooses to save those who receive His Son, those who are placed “in Christ” by the Holy Spirit of God.
Now look at verses 3-5. Paul begins to express his gratitude to these people. Every time he prays, he prays with joy in his heart because they are partners in the gospel ministry. What a great group of people. What a great church. What a tremendous challenge for us as a church to be partnered up with the likes of the apostle Paul and with Jesus Christ. Paul’s joy, verse 6, is based on his confidence that God who began the work in them when they became believers will carry on His purposes for each one of them to completeness, not just haphazardly, until the day of Jesus Christ. The good work begun by God is the action God took at the time of our conversion--the implantation of the Holy Spirit into each one of us. We need to take time to thank God for the wonder of what we have. A young Oswald Chambers had the privilege of a personal meeting with D.L. Moody. Moody asked Oswald, “Young man, are you sure you’re going to heaven?” Oswald said, “I hope so.” Moody says, “John 5:24, take a glance at that and read every word of it. ‘He that heareth my word and believeth on him that sent me HATH eternal life and shall not pass into condemnation.’ Read it again,” he said. “Do you think you’re going to heaven?” “I think so.” “Read it again.” He read it again. He got it! “Yes, I understand. I believe.” And the interesting thing to me is D.L. Moody partnered with God and the result was Oswald Chambers. Oswald Chambers partnered with God and his life and writings have blessed many. Partnering with God is the key. We can partner with God and be used for His glory. Notice that it was God who began the good work. God authored our salvation. God gave us our forgiveness. God will sustain us and God will work in and through us and He will complete His work in us.
God’s work for us began when Christ came into our hearts. His work in us began as we believed in Him and now God’s Holy Spirit living in us enables us to become more like Christ as we walk with Him in partnership and the Holy Spirit is our counselor and our guide. I love this sixth verse because it leaves us no room to doubt or fear. I hope every one of us has this memorized--“He who began a good work in you will perform it until the day of Christ.” The bottom line is not my strength, not my fortitude, it is God’s faithfulness and the confidence we can have in His faithfulness.
With chains dangling around his wrist and elite troops guarding him, what can he do? It seems hopeless. He seems destined to living a useless, inconsequential life, stuck in a Roman prison with no great activity to look forward to or great adventure to excite his senses. But Paul teaches us that it does not have to be that way. Even when there are limitations put on us we can still be useful for God. What does he do? First, he shares what he does have. He shares the grace and love of Christ with all who were near him. He did not have possessions to share so he shared himself and His Lord. He shared the gospel. At an earlier time, recorded in Acts 16, when Paul was in Philippi attempting to plant a church, he was thrown into prison. He had a lot of prison experiences. In the middle of the night he and Silas were having their own little praise and worship service and the other prisoners were listening. And suddenly a violent earthquake shook the foundations of the prison. The prison doors flew open, we read, and everyone’s chains came loose. The jailer saw this and knew he could not prevent all these guys from escaping so he decided to kill himself. In those days, if you were a head jailer and someone escaped you paid a heavy price—your life. But before the jailer could kill himself Paul assured him that no one had left. It appears from the context that Paul and those with him deliberately chose to stay in order to spare the life of this man. Having already heard Paul teach about God and His Son Jesus Christ, when he saw such unusual behavior by these prisoners, he said, “What do I have to do to get into this kingdom of God and be saved?” He gave his life to Christ right there in that jail. He became one of the foundational members of the Philippian church. Because of Paul’s sharing the gospel in a difficult situation, a key member was added to the Philippian church.
Next, we can show love and care. Look at verse 8 and notice certain words of Paul. “For God is my witness, how greatly I long for you all with the affection of Jesus Christ.” The words of a person reveal a lot about his or her character. He has strong feelings toward these people. They are in his heart. He longs to be with them with great Christian affection and he wants the best for them. In verse nine, he wants them to have the knowledge, insight, and discernment that all work together to move them to maturity in Christ Jesus. He cares about them enough to want the best for them.
The third thing is prayer. Listen to this man’s prayer. “And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment.” He prays that their love may abound. I ask myself, how does love abound? How did Jesus Christ love? He gave of Himself for the benefit of others. The cross is the ultimate example of His giving. How did Paul love? With Christ’s grace, the same way. In Romans chapter nine, verses two and three, Paul says that he has great sorrow and unceasing anguish in his heart for the welfare of his people. “I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Jesus Christ.” That is pretty heavy. That is caring love. Let me read it to you again. Can you sense the great sorrow and unceasing anguish in his heart? “I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers.” The same sacrificial love that was inherent in Christ was now active in Paul. When there is nothing else that can be done, Paul’s actions demonstrate that we can always share, care, and pray.
Paul prays (vs. 9 and 10) that his people in Philippi would be wise and discerning. Some of them had apparently become either proud or nitpicky. Later in chapter two when he asks them to stop complaining and arguing and in chapter four he even mentions the names of two contentious ladies. Whenever you have a problem in a relationship, you do well to stop complaining and go to praying for that person. If you are sincere, it is bound to change you and it will probably help the relationship. The end result, the last part of verse 11, will be to the glory of God. “Whatsoever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of Christ Jesus, giving Him the glory.” If we truly seek the glory of God with nothing else on our agenda, God will bless us and He will hear our prayer. That means focusing on what really matters--Jesus Christ and being filled with the fruit of righteousness (verse 11). What a great example this is for us, for the children of God. Paul lets us into his innermost being in this prayer.
How much care can we have? Starting with verse 12, we see Paul is still in chains, yet the only thing that he has on his mind is the advancement of the gospel of Jesus Christ. That is what he is living for. They put Paul in chains to shut him in and shut him up. And neither one of those things was accomplished. So, what happens? Paul teaches every guard that was chained to him (v. 13). They change them frequently, so all the guards got to hear the gospel. The whole palace guard, the elite troops of the emperor, as well as many others, begin to realize that Paul is in prison because of his walk with Christ. He was not a threat to anyone. Because of his imprisonment, a negative, suffering, unhappy, testing experience, what happened? All sorts of people are being reached with the gospel of Christ--people who would never otherwise hear. Is it not strange how God works, sometimes? Paul’s arrest and his imprisonment, it is believed he has been in prison about two years at this point in time, have resulted in the gospel moving out in many new directions. And look at his mindset. His current circumstances were not as important as what God was doing. When Paul got a vision of how God was working in such a unique way, he rejoiced.
When you know who you are, what you are doing, and where you are going, you can put up with anything. Let me say that again. When you know who you are, a child of God, what you are doing, serving the Lord Christ, and where you are going, heaven and Christ’s presence, you can put up with anything. And that is Paul’s attitude. What a tremendous thing. We may not be in prison right now, but we all feel times of discouragement, indecision, joblessness, whatever it might be, difficulties, family conflict, you name it. How we act in those situations reveals what we believe and where our hope really is.
The next paragraph is one that as I read it I say, “Paul, I wish you hadn’t said that.” Verse 15: “It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of good will. The latter do so in love, but the former ones out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains.” That troubles me. Verse 18: “But what does it matter? Christ, the important thing is being preached and I will rejoice and I will continue to rejoice.” I have a rough time with that. Paul has a lot more maturity than I have. Whenever I see some of these guys living hypocritical, dishonest, even immoral lives preaching the gospel and seeing people come to Christ because of their preaching, it bugs me. It really does. I think there ought to be a consistency between our doctrines and our deeds. It just does not seem right that good results can come from a divided heart. But Paul sees the importance of preaching the gospel of Christ in a land that otherwise would not hear it. And for this he rejoices. In recent years I have learned to accept the words of Paul and rejoice whenever the gospel is preached. Of course, I would prefer it be preached without misleading and contradictory behavioral baggage but I will rejoice if someone comes to Christ no matter who is preaching—for salvation is a God thing, anyway. Evangelists, pastors, and missionaries do not save anyone; God does the saving. And if He is able to use the preaching of a less than perfect, maybe even overly ambitious, preacher to prick a sinner’s heart, then so be it. I have learned that some people have come to know Christ through scallywag, rascal evangelists—not because of them but because of Him. And I had better rejoice for those people. Does this excuse immorality, deceit or malice? No! Maybe, just maybe God is trying to show me that He can use even some despised things to bring glory to His name. You want a good illustration of this? In Numbers chapter 22, verses 21-34, what does God use? A donkey! God can use simple things to confound us when we are not doing what we ought to do.
Paul begins to share his philosophy not just for tough times but for all of life. Paul has had a tough, but exciting, useful and rewarding life and he wants to finish well. The older I get, the more this needs to be my goal. Verse 20: “I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed but will have sufficient courage.” It is his desire to commit himself to have faith and trust in God’s ability to work out His will in his life “so that now as always Jesus Christ will be exalted in [him] whether [he] lives or dies.” Why? Verse 21: “For to me to live is Christ.” It is sad to see many drop off along the way. One of the most influential persons in my early Christian life, a close friend in college and seminary, turned away from God. I got together with him in California years later, just a few months before he died as an alcoholic. We had a great visit and shared some of the good times we used to have together, but as soon as I mentioned anything that was even close to being spiritual, he shut it off and walked away. That was a sad day for me.
Have you memorized this verse? “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” To those who do not believe in God, life on earth is all there is. Naturally, this reduces most people’s goals to popularity, power, position, pleasure, the almighty buck, and a myriad of other mundane and temporary things. With Paul, the essence of life was knowing and walking with Christ. And since Paul was ready to die for Christ, he was ready to live for Him. That is what it takes. If you are not ready to die for Christ, you are not ready to live for Him.
Now I have to ask each one of you to answer this important question. If you cannot say with Paul, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain,” how would you say it? “For me to live is_____, and to die is _____.” Fill in the spaces. I have asked young people this in my various ministries and many times they gave me some spiritual-sounding cliché because they knew I was a pastor. “We must be nice and tell the pastor what he wants to hear at all times otherwise we might hurt the man. Or he will think less of us.” But if you talk to them awhile they will say, with tears in their eyes, they want one of two things--fun or popularity. That is it. Fun or popularity. I say, “I know that. I knew it all along. I have been young. I have been there, done that, felt that way.” That is very natural, but we need to ask ourselves today, how will we fill in that word? “For me to live is entertainment?” Is life really just about engaging our senses? “For me to live is money?” The majority of Lotto winners end up in family battles and breakups over the money? And one of the greatest kings of Wall Street said at the end of his life, “The money I made enslaved me. The money I made made a slave out of me.” For me to live is power? Whether you are a king or queen with a whole nation at your whim and disposal, it does not matter. You cannot take it with you. Queen Elizabeth cried out on her deathbed, “All my kingdom for an inch of time.”
Some think it is about possessions. Let me tell you a true story about a wealthy billionaire who gave some specific instructions about how he wanted to be buried. He wanted to be propped up in the front seat of a beautiful Rolls Royce convertible with a cigar in his mouth, golf clubs in the back seat, bags of money to the side, case of fine whiskey on the passenger seat. As he was being lowered into the grave with all of this stuff surrounding him, one of his best friends looked at the spectacle and said, “Man, that is really living.” Ummm? You mean the purpose of life is to have enough stuff so that you can be buried with a lot of it when you die? It is not about things or possessions. Listen to Jesus Christ in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:19, 20): “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth where moth and rust destroy, where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven.” That billionaire was a fool! What good is it if we gain the whole world but lose our own souls (Matthew 16:26)?
Is Christ alive in you, today? If so, how obvious is it? Can you think of someone about whom you can say, “I know that for that person to live is Christ.” Think of anybody like that? Ollie and I were talking about this and I thought of her dad. He is a man about whom I can say for him to live was Christ. No sacrifice was too great, no gift was too costly, no care that he would not share, nothing else on his agenda. His business was only a means to an end to serve God. She told me about a missionary named T.J. Box. He was one of the early missionaries for Evangelical Alliance Mission and when Ollie was a kid he used to come to the house and have lunch on Sundays after worship service. Ollie said that when he came to the house, she thought God had come. Do you think there is someone somewhere who is looking at you today and saying, “I think for that person to live is Christ.” Is it going to be possible for that to possibly be said about you? Because that is what it is about. Can you say with Paul, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”
13) Philippians Chapter 2: Living Worthy of the Lord
There is a saying that speaks about the power of bad character or a bad character trait: “What you are speaks so loudly, I can’t hear what you say.” Have you ever thought about that? Have you ever met somebody that has made you feel that way? When Ollie and I first met our foster daughter, she was already 18 years old. We began to find out a little bit about her history. She was born in Mexico of a mixed racial marriage, which ended in divorce when she was three years old.
They broke up the family. Her brothers were all quickly grabbed up as future laborers. What could a female do, especially when she is only three years old? So she was alone. She was adopted by a couple in Los Angeles who could not have children. Previously, the mother had an abortion that wrecked her reproductive organs. That distress led her into erratic emotional outbursts and into alcoholism that had taken her life four years before we met our foster daughter. But this adoptive mother had been brought up in the church. In fact, it was one of the church leaders who had pressured her to have the abortion to avoid a scandal. To these, scandals must be avoided, even if it meant aborting an innocent life. But the consequences on the heart and life of this young lady haunted her the rest of her life.
From time to time, just before she died, this mother did have some tender, caring moments with her daughter. She would always say, “Don’t do as I do (or did). Do as I say.” She was warning her daughter to stay away from the things that damaged her own life but was not willing to give them up in her own life. She was not willing to repent. She was not willing to make that turn to Jesus that would change everything. This is not the teaching of Paul. Paul calls the Christian to be consistent in his or her behavior with who he or she is in Christ. And as we come to the end of chapter one we will see that Paul calls for this consistency in the Christian life.
Read Philippians 1:27. It says, “No matter what happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Jesus Christ.” This is a challenge for every one of us. Paul uses the same theme in Colossians 1:10 which I have as my life verse. “That I may live a life that is worthy of the Lord, pleasing Him in every way, bearing fruit in every good work and growing in the knowledge of God.” There is enough in this verse to keep us busy for years. This verse describes the standard for a life worthy of the gospel of Good News. And at the end of Philippians chapter one, verses 27-30, there are descriptions of what I call five “T” words that give us a feel for what it means to follow Christ, what it means to walk in the Spirit. The first is “reliability.” “Whether I come and see you not, I know you will stand firm,” verse 27. And as mature Christians, we ought to be reliable. We ought to be dependable. If you say you will do something, do it and do it well and do it heartily as to the Lord because it is the Lord that you serve. We ought to be dependable, reliable, especially when the one who is trusting us is not present.
The second word is “stability.” “I know that you will stand firm, not tossed back and forth.” Quoting James 1:8, “A double minded man should not expect anything from the Lord.” We are to walk firmly in the ways of the Lord. I know so many who call themselves Christians but who when you talk to them or watch their lives do not look or sound like Christ in any way. Our feet are to be firmly planted in the ways of Christ, not the ways and desires of this fallen, materialistic world.
The third word is unanimity. “Standing firm in one spirit as one man.” Satan renders a church ineffective by causing divisions among Christians. Those who cause discord are under God’s judgment. Proverbs 6:16: “There are six things the Lord hates. Yes, there are seven that are detestable to Him. A proud look, lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush to evil, a false witness and lastly, a man who stirs up dissention among brothers.” God hates this sin so much he lists it as one of the seven most destructive, detestable sins. We are to strive, but we are to strive together as one man for the faith of the gospel. Strive as one in the truth and in the spirit of graciousness always looking to Jesus for guidance.
I have been told that there is a significant difference between horses and mules, especially when they are under attack by coyotes or wolves. The horses will all form into a circle, put their heads together and kick their attackers and butt them until they leave, driving them off. On the other hand, donkeys, under the same conditions also form into a circle. But they face the enemy and guess what? They kick each other. Now, I am not saying that as church people we have to be clones of each other, but we ought to have the idea that we are going to work together, using our spiritual gifts and talents for the Lord’s work rather than our own aggrandizement.
The fourth word is tenacity. “Not being scared off by the enemy of God.” Mature Christians will stand strong in the face of adversity, when they are under attack, in one spirit, not being governed by fears but by their commitment to the Lord and His purposes. We are to be fearlessly tenacious. In the 7th and 8th chapters of Acts, read the story about Stephen and Paul. Stephen exemplifies this kind of tenacity. Stephen was stoned to death for his faith in Christ. He told the wicked leaders what they needed to hear. He gave the greatest summary of the connection between the Old Testament and Jesus Christ found in Scripture. If you want to know how it all fits together read what Stephen had to say. While speaking the truth in the power of the Holy Spirit, Stephen convicted the hypocritical Jewish leaders of their sin that in their rage they stoned him to death. As rock upon rock flew Stephen’s way, he never wavered in His faith. And because he did not waver, an agreeing spectator was later converted to Christ and became the greatest apostle of all—Paul.
The fifth and last “T” word is endurability. Verse 29: “As a child of God it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake.” We do not know what we are going to face in the future. We do not know what is coming down the road as individuals or as a church or as a nation. How are we going to handle the tough times when they come? The Apostle John, in writing to the seven churches in the book of Revelation, exhorts every one of them to endure to the end. Each one of those seven churches had unique challenges, unique temptations they had to face. And for them enduring meant fighting against whatever particular assault came their way. Can God depend on us to be reliable, stable, unanimous in our commitment to the Lord, tenacious and enduring?
Now on to chapter two. Unfortunately, there were within the Philippian church, some factions. Not all was well. This is very obvious because later in chapter four Paul mentions these two parties by name and Paul knows that a divided church will never be strong for the Lord. So he begins in chapter two with the reminder of what our potential is. And there are four “ifs.” Now these “ifs” are not ifs of doubt. I wonder “if” He will come? I wonder “if” we will win? These, rather, are conditional “ifs”. It is more of an assumption. You might use the word “since.” So here is the way it ought to read to get the complete sense of what Paul is saying. “If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, (and of course you do, or “since” you do), if there is any comfort from His love (and of course there is) and if we have realized any tenderness and compassion from Christ (and we most certainly have that) and we have any fellowship with the Holy Spirit (we are assured of that), then make my joy complete by being likeminded, having the same love, being one in spirit, not just talking about it but being one in spirit and one in purpose.” Paul is basically saying—“Since these things are true, live this way, act this way.”
He continues: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit.” Remember back in chapter one, we saw that Paul was willing to be happy that the gospel was being preached even by those with less than pure motives? A word of caution. Paul was rejoicing that the true gospel was being preached, albeit with less than pure motives. He was not calling for tolerance of false teachers who were preaching lies and untruths. However, he would prefer, as he says right here, that there is consistency between what we say and what we do. In other words, instead of saying “Don’t do as I do, do as I say,” Paul would prefer that you be able to say with him as he says in chapter four, “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, whatever you have seen in me, put that into practice.” Can I say that? Maybe not always. There is a pattern to be acquired. Point number one--strife and vain glory are not Christian motives. They will not produce Christian conduct nor will they exhibit Christian service and Christian love.
And then in the second part of verse three, Paul contrasts selfish ambition with vain deceit with humility and considering others. “Each one of you look not only to your own interests but also to the interests of others.” I think we have come across another “T.” Humility. And to teach this lesson most effectively, Paul calls our attention to the supreme example of all time, Jesus Christ Himself. Look at verse five. “Your attitude should be the same as that of Jesus Christ.” That is your role model. The big idea of what I am trying to say is that Jesus Christ is our pattern. There are two things you have to realize about Christ. First, we have to recognize He is our resource and secondly, He is our role model. Verses 6-11 demonstrate both of these ideas. These six verses tell us who Jesus Christ really is, God in the flesh, and at the same time they say He is our role model and that our attitude should be the same as His.
Interestingly, when Jesus was asked by the Pharisees about being greater than their father Abraham, His answer was significant and astonishing. Remember when Moses asked God, “Who is talking to me?” And the answer was, “Say I Am is with you.” And Jesus was asked a similar question and in response gave this answer--“Before Abraham was, I am.” He uses the word of eternalness to describe Himself. Hebrews 1:3: “The Son Jesus Christ is the radiance, the visible evidence, the exact representation of God’s being and God’s essence.” Jesus Christ puts God into focus for you and me. He always existed with God the Father. He is equal to God the Father because He is God in His essence but became unique by actually becoming man at His incarnation. In verse 8, as man, He voluntarily put aside His divine privileges in order to become obedient to His call to make atonement for your sin and mine. God Himself did what God’s laws could not do. The law was weak because of our inclination to sin. No human being ever keeps the entire Word of God. Sin had to be recognized and punished and the punishment was taken by God Himself. Second Corinthians 5:21: “God made him to be sin for us. Him who knew no sin in order that we might become the righteousness of God in him.” Through the resurrection, verse 9, God has exalted Christ to the highest place in heaven and one day in the future, verse 10, every tongue will confess, every knee will bow before Jesus Christ as king of kings and lord of lords to the glory of God the Father. In other words, everything God is, Jesus is also. Jesus was not part God and part man. He was completely God and completely man at the same time. That is the miracle we call the incarnation.
Do you see what the 13th verse is saying? Our lives are to be God’s thing. We are His handiwork--His hands, His feet, His lips and it is the living God who is in charge. He is the one who is doing the working and He is working in me and in you. Verse 13: “… for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.” He will help us desire His will as well as enable us to do it. What is our part? Our part is to have a right attitude, to be humble, and submissive to His direction for our lives. Verse 14: “Do all things without complaining and disputing.” That is the Jesus way! First Peter 2:23 describes the Jesus Way further. “When they hurled insults at Christ, He did not retaliate. When He suffered, He made no threats. Instead of doing that, He entrusted Himself to Him who judges justly.” What does that mean? It means we are to accept the sovereignty of God and recognize His right to our lives. And I am not talking about some special call to be a pastor or youth pastor or whatever. That call came to me when I was about 33 years old. But before that, I had a call. And that call was to do everything, in word or deed, at school, at the shop, at the office, at home, during the family vacation, you name it, whatever you do, do it all in the name of the Lord, giving glory to Him (Colossians 3:17). That is God’s general call on all of our lives.
There is a purpose to be achieved with our lives. There is a power to be applied to redeem the things that happen so that God’s grace can be seen and felt in this world. We are to live a pure life, a life that is blameless and wholesome. First Peter 3:15 and 16: “Be prepared to give an answer to people who wonder what makes you tick and do this with respect, keeping a clear conscience so that those who do not understand you or like you will not be able to shame you.” Our daughter Debra works for British Air and she gave Ollie and I a trip to England and included in that gift were tickets to a play called “An Inspector Calls.” One of the most outstanding and powerful plays I have ever seen in plot and message. It is advertised as a “wake up call for the planet.” And I think that is a good description. The setting is an elaborate dining room of a wealthy industrialist in London. The room is elegantly decorated with fine silver, beautiful china, with expensive art hanging all over the place. The family is celebrating the engagement of their daughter. The dining room is huge and set up in such a way that the floor of the dining room is about 15 feet above the stage floor. There were stairs winding down to the street where the common folk lived. And in the midst of this hilarity and celebration, a police inspector calls. Inspector Goul stands offstage right, below the dining room looking like Columbo. He interrupts their jovial time by announcing that a young, pregnant lady has just committed suicide. She jumped in a river and they just dragged her body out. The family’s unanimous reaction was a callous, “So what! What does that have to do with us? Go away.” But one by one, the inspector reveals how each one of the persons in that dining room has had some influence or impact or relationship to that girl. He implicates every one of them from the father who fired the poor girl from her measly job to the future groom who dated and mistreated her to the mother who was head of the local charity who just yesterday turned the girl down when she came in for help. And of course, you have the other son who is actually the father of the baby. With each accusation, anger and defensiveness erupted in that room. The blame game begins and they all try to excuse themselves. When the reality of the shame hits them that this is going to bring down the family name, how the news media is going to feed on this scandal, terror takes shape over their faces.
And at that point, symbolically, the entire dining room actually falls forward, down, crashing. The front props pull out and all this stuff--china, appointments, art, silverware, everything--go rolling all around the place for about 30 seconds. Ollie leaped six inches out of her chair and grabbed my arm. What is going on? Guilt, guilt, everywhere. And after a few moments, the father, who is of course an influential person in town, calls Scotland Yard and wants to find out about this Inspector Goul. And to his happy surprise, he is told, “There is no Inspector Goul that works with us.” They had never heard of such a guy. “Well, what about this girl dragged from the river?” “We never had a suicide like that in the last 13 years. Something is wrong, a figment of your imagination, a hoax.” After receiving this message, the father hangs up the phone and breaks out into hilarious laughter. He falls on the floor, he is laughing so hard. The mother starts laughing. Everyone starts laughing except the young debutante daughter who has a heart for this kind of thing. Their conscience that was stricken for a few moments is now rock hard again. How quickly and easily we recover when we find out we can cover sin ourselves. Interestingly, David wrote about this topic when he tried to cover up his sin with Bathsheba. But at the final moment of the play the phone does ring and it is Scotland Yard calling. “Yes, we did just a few moments ago pull a girl from the river. And one of our inspectors is on the way to your house and he wants to talk to all of you.” They all look at one another, fear and terror come across their faces and the curtain drops. Conscience. Be prepared to give an answer to people who wonder what makes you tick. Do this with respect, keeping a clear conscience so that those who do not understand or like you will not be able to shame you.
“Dare to demonstrate your uniqueness,” verse 15, “in the midst of a depraved and crooked generation.” Shine like stars so that those who are looking to get out of the darkness know where to go. Stars do not fight. Stars do not argue. They just shine. We are here for this moment because God wants us here right now, where we are. Do not fight it. Do not complain. Just excitedly live it. Live it out. Let it shine. Jesus said that we should make our Christian lives public, “[We are to shine] as a city on a hill that cannot be hidden. And if I make you light bearers, you do not think I am going to have you hide your lights under a bucket, do you? Now that I put you where you are, shine.” Be generous with your life, not just your money. Open up to others. If you do, God will be able to use you to prompt others to open up to God.
Do you really understand what happened when Jesus was born? What the incarnation was all about? C.S. Lewis said, “If you want to get the hang of what that must have been like for Jesus to come down and become man, imagine how you would feel if you had to become a cockroach or an ant.” So I am going to try something right now. Try to feel sorry for the ants on your sidewalk. Now that is tough, having to do that. I know they are annoying, they get in your way, and they make a mess. But I care for them. I feel sorry for them. I would like to tell them the good news how they can avoid ever getting stepped on or squirted at. How would I do that? I would have to become an ant myself. That is the only way in order to get them to listen to me, to communicate with them. And that is what Jesus did when He became man. How can Jesus communicate with your neighbors, my neighbors, the guys on the street, across town, or wherever you work, where you spend your daylight hours. He can only do that through you and through me. When Jesus Christ was here, He walked in the ways of God. He willed to do His Father’s will. He spoke the words of God, He did the works of God, and He reveled in the love of God.
My friends, you and I are the only visible evidence of Jesus Christ. As Paul says in his closing words of chapter four, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Jesus Christ is our pattern. As moms and dads, we have a lot of responsibility to be a role model for our kids. But we have an equal responsibility as Christians, to demonstrate what Jesus can do in our lives so the community can see and turn to Christ and His ways.
14) Philippians Chapter 3: Living With Eternity in Mind
Goals have a way of changing over the years, do they not? What is your goal today? I can remember as I look back at my life some of the things that I thought were so significant and important to me. At age eight, I wanted to be the best pitcher the Philadelphia Phillies ever had. I wanted to have three consecutive no-hitters and outdo Bob Feller. At age thirteen my goal was to get a job at a summer camp, which I ultimately did and enjoyed a great time every summer at that camp. At age sixteen my goal was to make the high school basketball team. From age 18-21 while serving my country during World War II on Okinawa my goal was to get out of the service, and get on with my life. During the next 4 years, ages 21-25, my goal was to graduate from college and find the right life partner. At age 32, while married to my life partner, Ollie, my goal was to have my own life insurance agency and I was about to get that when suddenly the Lord started speaking to me to do something different. I asked Ollie if it would be OK if we just “dropped everything and went to seminary” and she said, “Are you sure?” I replied, “I am certain.” And she said, “Lets go!” And that is what happened. Now, in my present years my goal and, without wanting to sound too pious about this, my goal at age 80 is to be used by God in whatever way He chooses and to finish well
Please turn to chapter three of Philippians with me and read about some of the goals the Apostle Paul had--goals that helped to define his life. Webster defines the word “goal” as “the terminal point.” That sounds a little ominous to me. But another definition would be “the end toward which effort is directed.” What had been some of the apostle Paul’s goals? Well, they included among others, the best education, prestige, position, power, influence, self-sufficiency, reputation he could achieve, to name just a few. And here in chapter three we discover he had actually realized all those goals. After making a few opening remarks about the rigidity of some of the religious legalizers of his day in verses 1-3, Paul makes it clear that no one has a more legitimate claim to religious fame than he does. In verses 4-6 he gives us his dossier, his resume of his personal qualifications. Look at verse 5--“circumcised on the eighth day.” That means he had a proper racial birth. “Of the people of Israel”– he is of the proper chosen people. “Of the tribe of Benjamin”– the proper genealogy within the proper race. “A Hebrew of the Hebrews”– he is even a cut above the rest of the proper people. “A Pharisee”– a proper education, in the best schools, of the proper social class. Verse 6: “a zealous warrior against any opposing view of proper righteousness,”as he perceived it– going around laying waste to Christians. And as far as being legalistically righteous himself, he was in compliance. He had a proper lifestyle and a proper morality.
Indeed, there was nobody better than he at following the rules. Well, why tell us that? Is Paul an unmitigated, insufferable braggart, an egomaniac? No. Then what is his point in mentioning all this? He is simply saying that if he would have died at that particular point in his life and gone to appear before God and been asked by God, “Why should I let you into my heaven?” he would not have hesitated one second before he said, “I have earned it. I deserve it. Look at everything I have done.” Notice verse 4. “If anyone thinks he has reason to put confidence in the flesh, I am way ahead of all of them.” And to honestly say what he said, was indeed a major human accomplishment. He had really done quite well as far as he was measuring things. So, with all of this going for him, what does Paul say? Verse 7: “Whatever was to my credit, I now consider loss for the sake of Christ and what is more, I consider everything a loss when compared to the greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” In fact, he continues in verse 8, “I consider it all rubbish in order to gain Christ and be found in him, not having my own righteousness (that is what comes from doing all the good things and keeping the law as best I can), but that righteousness which is in Jesus Christ.”
What is being taught, really taught in all of this? Paul is pointing out that no kind of any works righteousness is going to get you into the kingdom of God. It is not going to make it. We all admire people who do great works of charity, of helping, mercy, hospitals, helping other people, the needy, medical, scientific, research. All that stuff is just great. We admire people who go to third world countries and help people have a better life. Only a foolish person would say that is not good. But, as a qualification for salvation or entrance in heaven, it is not enough if all that represents is an attempt at do-it-yourself salvation, of a personal attempt to cover over sin and unrighteousness. Because despite all the good Paul did and the rules he followed he still had sin in his life. He was not perfect. I am sure he lied and offended people. I am sure people were hurt because of him. And as we see later, his heart was far from God and the type of relationship God wanted for him.
In verses 9-11 Paul gives three goals for all Christians. Three words you can easily remember: found, fellowship, fashioned. Three Fs. Verse 9, “to be found in Christ” is explained in this verse as “placing my faith in Jesus Christ and the death he died for my sin.” When God looks at him, Paul says he can now be found in Christ, not standing alone, but in Christ based on His finished work at Calvary. Until I acknowledge Christ as my Savior, I am in a state of spiritual lostness. This is illustrated by the millions of people who are calling up their friendly psychic every day or the desperation that was exhibited by the Hale Bop space alien chasers. I ache over their empty hearts, their lostness. But God’s love expressed in Jesus Christ places us into the His family. I do not do it myself. He places me there. To be found in Christ means that by God’s grace, I have begun to live in union with Christ. But He does not force it upon us. To be made to be like Christ and be a member of His family we have to allow Him to do His work for us and in us. That is all. The rest is up to Him.
In John 15, Jesus Christ is described as a vine and we are the branches that derive life sustenance from the vine. They are living in union with the vine. Their strength and power come from it. In Luke 15, Jesus told three stories about lost things–a lost sheep, a lost coin, and a lost son. And there was great joy when each one was found. Paul knew what it meant to be found by the love of God.
Verse 10 talks about fellowship. As a child of God I am privileged to have God’s holy word through which I can understand and comprehend His will. And under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, I have a fellowship with Christ, day by day, that is not possible otherwise. This fellowship includes the call to share in His sufferings.
In the first chapter of Philippians, verse 29, Paul wrote, “it has been granted unto us on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him but also to suffer for him.” Do you remember we were talking about Paul and his agony over his own people? How his love for them was so strong that he actually could wish himself to be accursed, cut off from fellowship with Christ if that would mean the salvation of his fellow Hebrew people. That is a lot of love. That is a lot of love and that is a lot of care, a lot of concern. Any many of us share in the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings as we labor in prayer for those that we love who may not be close to Christ. For those whether they are neighbors or friends, family, whatever it might be. Jesus agonized over those He loved who rejected Him. Jesus wept as He looked at Jerusalem, walked in the city and came to His own people and His people rejected Him. And if and when we have rough times or maybe experience rejection or scorn from people, some of our friends, people we like and care for, it ought to bring us closer to Him. Parents, you know how you suffer and agonize over the problems of your kids? You feel this way because you are bonded to them in a love that is strong–at least that is how it is supposed to be.
Ephesians 1:19-20 speaks about the incomparably great power for us who believe, the power that is available to us through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Now you might ask, “How do we fellowship with Jesus based on His resurrection power? It is a good question. I think we can experience it through prayer, through worship, through studying the life of Christ in the gospels, obeying His precepts and attitude. Philippians chapter 2 teaches us to actively pursue His will, honoring Him as our pattern in our works as well as in our words. If we truly believe in the power of the resurrection, new life, it is going to impact our entire life. I think the problem with Christianity today is that too many people resist the direction of the Holy Spirit when He convicts them and prods them and says, “Hey, wait a minute. Think about what you are doing. Just take time. Meditate on what you are doing.” We end up saying, “Nah, I have my own ambitions, my own goals. I love you God, but I think I would rather enjoy this for a while, too.” What will be the end result if we follow him? If we are found in Christ and have fellowship with Him, it will shape our lifestyle and we will become like Him. We will become fashioned like Christ, conformed to Him. Romans 12: 1-2: “I beseech you brethren by the mercies of God that you present your bodies a living offering which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed (or conformed to Christ) by the renewing of your mind.”
Next we see Paul addressing the implications of his relationship to Christ. Back in verses 4-6 he reviews his life before Christ, the things he had and his claim to fame. In verses 7-11 he has looked at his life in the present moment, the status quo, but now in verse 12 and following he begins to look at his long-range goals. And as Paul thinks about it, he realizes an exciting truth. That today is the first day of the rest of his life and he only might be granted one more day. Verse 12: “I have not yet attained everything.” “I am not perfect yet,” he is saying. It is also obvious that God is not finished with me, either. You say, “Al, you are supposed to be semi-retired.” Hey, when is it ever over? I do not know. I am not worried about it. Today is the first day of the rest of my life. Let me ask you, if you could only do one thing with your last days, what would it be? Would you teach a class? Would you go to Guatemala? Would you visit your neighbors? Would you care for the sick? Would you prepare to be a missionary or pastor or youth worker? Would you try to reach some of your neighbors with a home Bible study or something? Want to be a politician? We could use a few good ones. Would you work on your marriage or your family relationships a little bit more? Those are worthy goals. Share your faith with one new person a month? Give your life to save somebody else? If you absolutely knew the day of your death and you knew it was soon, what would you change? What would seem most important at that time? Well, it is important now, also, but you are not recognizing it with your time and energies.
Let me tell you a story out of World War II. A Navy ship had been badly damaged by a Japanese submarine and bombers, probably both. It was sinking fast. There were four chaplains aboard that ship. They were about to leap over the side of the ship to save themselves when they suddenly saw four young men with no life jackets. And these four chaplains took off their life jackets, gave them to these guys who were saved while the chaplains went down with the ship. You know, I have often wondered, what are those guys doing with their lives that were saved that day? Paul seems to realize, verse 13, that he cannot go back and revisit his past or undo his mistakes. He refused to be burdened by his past mistakes. “Oh, I had such a terrible life. God cannot do anything with me now. I am a failure.” He refused to be burdened by those things. At the same time, he is not going to bask in the glory of the things that he has done that were worthwhile. We have all done things for which we are ashamed. Paul himself struggled frequently, not doing what he knew he should do and doing the things he knew he should not do. That is the name of the game of life I think. Wow, one day, one week after another. I do not want to do that, but I do it. I do want to do this and I do not do it. Probably most of us could have a list of things that we ought to do. There may be some of us here today who may have offended someone in a business deal or social relationship. Maybe it is a family relationship and you know that God has prompted you to make that relationship right and you have just avoided that humbling confrontation. Or gone into denial and denying what your conscience and the Scriptures are telling you. As Christians, we have the Holy Spirit prodding us and reminding us what we should be doing. Let me tell you that denial will keep you from further spiritual growth. It really will. Denial is a leak in your fuel tank of spiritual power. It really is. Make it right and then move on. Do not dwell in the past. Concentrate on your relationship with Christ and live a life that is worthy of Him.
In Verse 13, Paul says, “I am going to press on,” not casually, not lackadaisically, but straining with effort. “Straining toward the goal,” verse 14, “to win the prize.” What goal? What prize? The goal for which God has called me. It is specific. I am not going to press toward Bob Porter’s goal. I am not going to press toward George Verkaik’s goal or Dave Cleaver’s goal. Pastor Dave, he has his goals. They are not mine. Maybe some of them might coincide. It is specific. I am also going after the prize for which God has called me. And like Paul, I am determined. Bible commentaries vary on what they think the prize is. Some say it was Paul’s call to be an apostle. Some people say it was Paul’s call to get his heavenly reward. Some people say it is the call to know Christ better. And these are all good ideas. I would not question them and it may not matter that much, but I am sort of inclined to think the goal would be to finish well. In 2 Timothy 4:7 Paul says this to Timothy and this is almost the last thing he ever wrote. He says, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” This is his goal. That is what he wrote to Timothy and the prize will be the welcoming words of Jesus, “well done good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25).
Now verse 15, what does it say? Paul says “every one of us who are mature should take the same view of things” that he did. And what is that? It is living with eternity’s values in view. Chapter 1: “For to me to live is Christ.” And James tells us, the half brother of Jesus, anyone who knows the good he ought to do and does not do it, there are a lot of things we know we ought to do, and does not do it, is sinning. You know, in every church there are all sorts of Christians in various stages of spiritual growth and that is good. It ought to be that way. That is healthy. It is a sign of growth. It is a sign of progress. It is a sign of discipleship taking place. If we are all in the same state of mind, look alike, think alike, cloned zombies, spiritual whatevers, we are definitely not reaching others and we are not growing. We are just a bunch of think-alikes. And believe me, there are churches like that. “Think like me, do like me, then you can join my church. If you are different in any other way, go find someplace else. We want people that are like us.” Well, Paul was a discipler. He says in verse 17, “Follow my example and live according to the pattern that we gave you.” The apostle Peter emphasized the same idea in his second letter, chapter one verses 3 and 4. Peter mentions the divine power we have through our faith in Christ. Because of God’s promises and His Holy Spirit, we can avoid being contaminated by the corruption in the world. He then speaks about the growth process. Listen to 2 Peter 1:5. “Make every effort to add to your faith goodness, add to your goodness knowledge, and to your knowledge add self-control and to your self-control add perseverance and to your perseverance add godliness and to your godliness add brotherly kindness and to your brotherly kindness add love.” You know, it seems like we have a whole lot of adding and growing to do. Does it not? And listen as it continues on. “If you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of Christ.” If the salt loses its flavor, it is no good. It is the same in our Christian lives.
Back in Illinois Ollie and I lived in apple country. We had a member of our church who owned one of the largest apple orchards in the country. So every fall we feasted on his delectable apples, most delectable ever. But these apples went through a developing process. In April the blossoms were beautiful. Did not taste very good, though. In June the apples began to appear, green, sour. But in October, delicious, succulent. You are like that? Paul encourages us to seek full maturity. It has been observed, listen to this, that mushrooms grow in damp places. That is why they look like umbrellas. God gives us Christians the opportunity to live under difficult situations in order to show what Christians look like to those who are going through hard times. It is important to grow and to keep on growing.
Look at verse 18: “For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ.” And I tell you this, here is Paul’s heart with tears. It is like riding a bicycle. If you do not keep pedaling, you tip over and fall. And I know we can compare ourselves to other people, but you do not grow by comparing yourself to other people. There is not one person here who cannot point to another person and say, “Well, at least I am better than him, or her.” Verse 18 points out there are always going to be some who, while they claim to be Christian, are discrediting the gospel of Christ. It is a shame, but it is so. And while they may claim to be Christian, they refuse to live up to Christ’s model of service, self-sacrifice and humility. Rather, they choose to satisfy their own desires before ever thinking about others and by living in that way they live contrary to the example that Jesus Christ gave us. Recall the words of Jesus, “I came not to be ministered unto but to minister and to give my life a ransom for many.” And how often we hear the remark about “church people.” “A bunch of hypocrites, they are,” some say. What we are shouts so loudly they cannot hear what we say. It should not be that way. We are not fragments. We are not split personalities. At least we are not supposed to be. We are one person. We are integrated in ourselves. That means together. That is what the word really means. One, integrated together. You cannot separate what you say from what you do and what you believe.
Now in verse 19 Paul lists four characteristics of those who by example, whether professed Christian or not, are practical enemies of the cross of Christ. What about these people? Verse 19 says “their destiny is destruction.” Does that mean to say that these people are eternally lost? I am not sure. Only God knows. It could mean that by life of total dissipation of wantonness that they die prematurely like those people Paul mentions in 1 Corinthians 11 who seem to have lost all respect for God and the will of God or the needs of others and just indulge themselves. The only alternative meaning for the Greek word there would be “total waste.” Total waste. That is a sad epitaph to write over any person’s life. I mentioned before my great friend from high school and college, war days, and how he ended up dying 15 years ago as an alcoholic. I had one chance to visit with him before he died. I look at him and I ask, “What was his life for?” When I think back about his tremendous potential to bring glory to God, I am sad because in the end so much of it seems wasted.
Another group is described in verse 19. It is people whose “god is their stomach.” This seems to be the least spiritual of all things. It is a total disregard for things spiritual. Only the here-and-now is important and since this is so they revel in excess and physical pleasure. The next one is bad--“their glory is in their shame.” Not only bad, but sad. Paul, in Romans 1, after saying how certain people have become filled with every kind of wickedness, proceeds to list about 15 of the most despicable sins, even to the point of saying almost in frustration that they worked at inventing new ways of doing evil and he concludes that first chapter with these pathetic words (verse 32 of Romans 1) – “they know God’s righteous decree, the people who do those things deserve death, they not only continue to do them, but they encourage and rejoice in getting others to do them as well.” And I think we are seeing more and more of that in our culture. They take liberty to mean license to engage in all kinds of wrong doing.
Verse 19 again: “their mind is on earthly things.” Do Ollie and I ever think about earthly things? You can bet we do. But as I once heard someone say, “I never saw a hearse pulling a U-Haul.” That is a gem. We need to ask ourselves frequently, all of us, do I have control of my things or do things have control of me? And if things have control over us, we are living absolutely counter to what Paul tells us here. And what he says in Colossians 3. “Set your mind on things above (eternal values) not on earthly things.” And in the next chapter of Philippians, he tells us things that we ought to concentrate upon. The Psalmist even said this: “May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Redeemer.” You let me into the inside of your meditation, your predominate thinking inside your mind and it is going to be easy for me to predict your destiny. Are we supposed to be different from the people and the philosophy of this world? Of course we are, as verse 20 tells us, our citizenship is in heaven. That is where we belong. Citizens of any country are supposed to represent and promote the interests of that country. Question: Are we as citizens of heaven promoting the interests of the kingdom of heaven? “If any man be in Christ he is a new creation” and God’s interest is to draw more people into that heavenly citizenship.
Is Jesus Christ living in you and is He Lord of your life? How will you finish your course? I hope it will not be like Samson who thought he could do it all by himself. Hopefully it will not be like Saul, the king who, while he knew what God’s will was for David, fought it with all his might because it did not please him. I hope you do not end up like Ananias and Sapphira who played “spiritual superstar.” “Hey, we gave all this to the church,” but in reality they held back much of what they promised to give. They could have done what they wanted with their possession but when they put themselves forward as one thing but actually behaved like another God was displeased. Honesty and integrity are important to Christian growth and testimony.
I hope you do not end up like Tim Stone. Who is Tim Stone? In the April 17th, 1999 issue of Newsweek. Tim Stone describes “the most horrible night of my life.” You remember the story of Jonestown and Jim Jones. Tim Stone was a member of that group. He joined the People’s Temple in 1967. He wrote about his feelings when he had been the lawyer for Jim Jones. He had been his business advisor. He had worked very closely with him for 10 years and now he writes an article trying to explain some of the reasons why people join a group like that, that most of us would label, I hate to say it, a bunch of crazies. But I say that with a heartbroken voice. He said he himself had a goal. Listen, he had a goal. And that goal was he wanted to promote his ideas about compassion and helping the poor, all good ideas. He wanted to build a model utopian society and he thought he could do it using Jones. He said he trusted in Jones so thoroughly that he took his 5 year-old son and went down to Guyana to set up Jonestown in 1977. He had been there about five months and he had to come home to spend a little time with his wife who was also a member of the group but lived in Los Angeles. She knew the ins and outs of everything that was going on with Jonestown and Jim Jones. Tim Stone began to realize that his goal of utopia had now deteriorated into nothing more than idolatry and rottenness under this egomaniac Jim Jones.
Stone tried to get his young six year old son back home. But Jones refused to send him. Instead he took the boy for his own. And I do not know if any of you remember seeing the videos that were taken just before that final moment when 914 people were murdered/suicide, the young boy with Jim Jones was Tim Stone’s son. The boy died down there. The tragedy of Tim Stone’s life to me is what started out so idealistically had such a tragic and meaningless end, especially for his own son. And the thing that makes me wonder is, here you have an intelligent man, a lawyer, a graduate of one of the finest Christian colleges in the nation, in his early 20s making such a foolish decision. How much better to come to the end of our days and be able to say like Paul did in his last letter, “I have finished the race, I have kept the faith, I have reached the goal, I have finished well and ahead for me is a crown of righteousness which the Lord is going to give me.” That was going to be Paul’s prize for eternity.
Listen to the writer of the book of Hebrews, chapter 12, verses 1 and 2. “Let us throw off everything that hinders us, the sin that easily entangles us. Let us run with perseverance the race that God has marked out for us and let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.” Christlikeness is our goal. Has your spiritual goal been sidetracked by concentrating on goals that blur your vision of what Christ wants you to be and do? I invite you to recommit to Jesus Christ, the one who endured the cross, scorned the shame, and is now glorified with God the Father. And that same Jesus says to you and me today as He said to his early disciples, “Follow me. Make me your goal.”
15) Philippians Chapter 4: Live Consistent With Godly Character
Billy Graham has preached to more people than almost anybody you can imagine. During the past 50 years he has held mass evangelism meetings all over the world. Thousands of people have made profession of faith in Christ. One thing I like about Billy, among other things, is that he is a humble man. He does not take credit for himself. In fact, he goes so far as to admit that without the scores of people who have been praying for him all through the years and the people who invite their friends to attend, these meetings would never be a success. Ninety percent of those people who receive Christ at those services are brought there by a close Christian friend. What does that tell us? Several years ago there was a marketing term that was invented, I do not hear much about it anymore, but it went like this: “The medium is the message.” It described the means by which most people are impressed and influenced. And it really means "the messenger is the message” as well. In other words, whatever the package was that the message came in, that was the message. A beautiful young girl is portrayed on the screen smoking Virginia Slims cigarettes. She is at the tennis match and she has a gorgeous hunk of man sitting with her. Message–smoke Virginia Slims cigarettes and you will be beautiful and you will get that gorgeous hunk of man. That is the message.
Actually, that idea is not new. Would you believe it is at least 3,000 years old? In the Old Testament during the time of the kings David and Saul, it was risky business being a messenger because the messenger was the message. Bring good news to the king, and you will most likely be rewarded with gifts and a high position like Pharaoh gave to Joseph. Bring bad news about a tragedy or a loss in war or death, look out because you the messenger may get yourself whatever the message was that you brought. Whether it is seen as a good message or a bad message is determined by the one who receives the message.
Second Samuel chapter one tells us about a messenger that came to David with news of Saul’s death. And he also told David about his part in that death. The messenger knew how Saul had tried so many times to kill David and so he figured, “Hey, this is good news.” And so he jogged all the way back from the war front. There was no e-mail or fax. So he ran back to get the message to King David and he gave him the message. And he expected to get a great reward from his new king. Can you imagine his brief, but very fatal surprise when he discovered that he himself was killed. He failed to understand the respect that David had for God’s formerly anointed Saul. David mourned over that loss. He mourned over the loss of Saul’s son, Jonathan, who died at the same time. And the messenger got the message that he brought.
I do not know what this has to do with Billy Graham, you say. Simply this, were it not for the faithful exemplary day-by-day faithful-living Christians who portrayed their faith in an active way before those people, the probability of those Christians going to the meetings, let alone receive Christ, was practically nil. In other words, by being alive in Christ themselves, by patterning their lives after Christ, they had earned the right to invite their friends in the name of Christ. And I would label those Christians as exemplary medium messengers and furthermore, that is what everyone of us ought to be. Our lives need to match our message. That is our calling. Paul said in Philippians chapter one, verse 21, “For to me to live is Christ.” Jesus Christ is our message. And I am one of His messengers.
Chapter four of Philippians is a wrap-up summary of Paul’s thoughts on living out Christ in our lives. Chapter four, verse one: “Therefore my brothers, you whom I love and long for, my joy and my crown, this is how you should stand firm in the Lord.” This is how you should live. Remember chapter one of Philippians--Jesus Christ is our life. “The Lord is my life and my salvation.” Jesus Christ is our life. Chapter two, Jesus Christ is our pattern. “Have this same attitude that Jesus Christ had.” Chapter three, Jesus Christ is our goal. “Forgetting those things which are behind I press toward the mark of the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” In chapter four, Jesus Christ is our message.
As a pastor, it is the ultimate personal fulfillment to look back at the churches you have served and the people upon whose lives you had some impact. It is a very fulfilling joy. And that is what Paul is doing here when he refers to the people at Philippi as his joy and his crown. However, he has a problem in this city. His concern is for the continued spiritual prosperity of the church in Philippi. But there was a problem. Two old friends, two ladies, who had been very good helpers of Paul are now fighting with each other. He is worried because he wants the differences between these women to be moderated and settled soon because he knows if that does not happen there is going to be one of those good old church splits. We do not have any idea what the problem was with these two ladies. Someone has tongue-and-cheek named them You Owe Me and Soon Touchy. This refers to pride and being easily offended, which is a national Christian disease. Christian contrary views are to be expected. We are not clones. But contrariness is not to be expected or tolerated because we are Christians.
In verse four Paul returns to his enthusiastic, positive discipling. “Rejoice in the Lord always. Let me say it again, rejoice.” You know, it is hard to keep a grudge when you are happy, when you are in a rejoicing state of mind. And notice the rejoicing is to be in the Lord and is to be always. That covers a lot of circumstances, does it not? The source of our joy is the Lord Himself and our inner attitude should not be dependent on our outward circumstance. I read this quote and it states what I am saying. It talks about out attitudes and how important they are. “The longer I live the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude is more important than the past, more important than education, more important than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes. It is more important than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than giftedness or skill. It will make or break a company, a church, or a home. We have a choice every day regarding the attitude we are going to embrace for that day. We cannot change our past. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play,” I like this, “on the one string we have and that is our attitude.” Life is ten percent what happens to me and ninety percent how I react to it. And we are in charge of those attitudes.
Ok, then. As a Christian, if the medium is the message, then the Christian messenger’s message is--“rejoice in the Lord and let it be seen.” Jesus said in Matthew 5, “Let your light shine.” Paul said in Philippians chapter two, “shine like stars.” In situations that I find to be unpleasant or even tragic, the fact that God is with me and the assurance that He will uphold me is the ultimate source of joy. How is our message sent to others? What messages should Christians be sending and how do we send them? We send them more by the way we live than by what we say. And as a Christian, the messenger’s message is this: “Be a person having a consistent gentle spirit.” As a Christian, you cannot and you dare not try to separate what you say from the way you live. You cannot separate them.
In 2 Corinthians 3:2, I love this, Paul says, “You are a letter.” What is he saying? Your life is a letter. It is a billboard. It is a big sign and what does it say? You are known and read by everybody. Wow! Maybe that realization makes you want to crawl off in a corner someplace and hide. You are a letter written, known and read by everybody? The messenger is the message. And if that is true, Paul says in verse five, “Let your gentleness be evident to all.” “To all” means Christians and non-Christians alike should see this. Sad to say, I have known some Christians who have no friends outside of the church. What a shame. But they like it that way. Some surveys have been taken indicating within three years after a person becomes a Christian, he has no non-Christian friends. Jesus Christ crossed every barrier, especially those outside the faith. Sure, He gave them a rough time sometimes, but He communicated with them. And He crossed the barrier of race as well. And as He taught His disciples on the shore or along the road, He was always followed by an entourage of Sadducees, Pharisees, Herodians, Scribes, Priests, everyone of them trying to trap Him into an idea or a teaching that was inconsistent with the will of God and the Holy Scriptures so they could condemn Him. But He taught with authority, with conviction, and He gently, but firmly disarmed His antagonists. “We never heard a man speak like that,” they said. First Peter 3:15: “Be prepared to give the reason for the hope you have but do it with gentleness and respect.” Do not burn your bridges of communication when you are trying to win an argument. Have a gentle spirit about you. Be gracious, be balanced, be moderate, not weak. We think of gentleness as weakness, but it is not. It is strength, inner strength.
As a message-messenger your exemplary message is to live like you trust God completely. Verse six: “Do not be anxious, worried, or stressed about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving present your requests to God.” Chuck Swindoll said, “God does not speak to the hurried, worried mind.” It is an awesome privilege to have the opportunity of having an audience with the Lord of the universe. Prayer is communication through which we open ourselves up to God. We get to know Him better and we acknowledge our own reality. What do I mean when I say “acknowledge our own reality.” Just this, when I really pray to God I get gut-honest. I do not always pray that way. But when I really pray, that is where I am. Gut honest. Presenting our needs and our desires is not a guarantee that God is going to give us exactly what we want the way we ask for it. When we communicate with God, really, we do not demand what we want. We discuss with Him what He has for us. God’s teaching agenda very often is different than what we think it is as we approach speaking to Him. I can tell you things in my life that I wanted done a certain way but God had done them differently. Does the pot say to the potter, “Why have you made me like this?” No way!
The Christian messenger’s message is this--God assures us of personal peace. Personal peace. Have you ever had occasion to claim this for your own? It has been a bedrock stabilizer for me. “And the peace of God,” verse 7, “which transcends all understanding will guard your minds and your hearts in Christ Jesus.” Fifty-two years ago I was laying prostrate on my stomach in a mudhole trying to avoid Japanese snipers and I was reminded of a song–you wouldn’t believe the crazy things you do when you are in the middle of war. I learned this song just before I went overseas. I sang it hundreds of times.
God will keep him in perfect peace Whose mind is stayed on Him When the darkness falls and shadows come He giveth in word His peace.
He is the only perfect resting place He giveth perfect peace God will keep him in perfect peace Whose mind is stayed on Him.
Let me tell you something. That promise did guard my heart. It did guard my mind in spite of all the hell that was around me. It passed all human understanding. There are times when I wish that everybody had a war experience. I think it wakes you up.
Have you noticed how easy it is to get lax. Where does sophistication end and sin begin? Modern bohemian lifestyle essentially says, “If it feels good, do it. If it feels good it cannot be bad.” Morality? “If two people agree to something no matter how vile and against God’s commands it is, then it is ok.” And of course, the old faithful, “Well, everybody is doing it.” In verse eight Paul gives us something else to think about. A person’s thoughts determine who and what that person is and is becoming. “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.” And just as lust precedes all sin, so does devotion to God and prayer precede Christian behavior. A person’s thoughts determine who and what he is becoming. My thoughts determine my attitude. My thoughts determine my words and my actions toward others. Someone has wisely said: “We are not what we think we are, but what we think, we are.”
Look at Philippians 4:8. “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy–mediate on these things.” Ok, here are some items. Item number one, verse eight, truth. Jesus Christ was and is truth (John 14:6). These things are vitally important to the Christian life. The first, truth, involves facts. Jesus came, He lived, He died, He rose again, ascended into heaven. That is history. Do not try to rewrite it for me. Your life today is a result of your thinking yesterday. Your life tomorrow is a result of your thinking today. That is why it is necessary to think on the truth instead of lies and falsehoods. Psalm 51 says: “The Lord desires truth in the inner parts.” God desires that we think and live according to His ways since His ways are truth. The Word of God both describes and directs us in His ways. Not only is it right to live according to God’s ways it is good for us. Listen to the instruction of Proverbs 3:5-6. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding: In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and depart from evil. It will be health to your flesh, and strength to your bones.” Paul lists truth first because without it the other qualities cannot be developed.
The second vital thing we need to think on, and act on, are noble things. The word noble means honorable or worthy of respect. I am concerned that many of the precepts and mores that have long been revered in our country as well as the image of those leaders that we long held in honor are gradually but purposely being torn apart. It matters what we pay attention to. It matters what you look at and listen to. Paul tells us to raise our vision in order to raise our character. When a judge is threatened with a lawsuit for having the Ten Commandments hanging on his wall or when our President vetoes a bill that prohibits the sucking out of a kid’s brains two seconds before he is born, we have lost respect for things that are noble. When pornography is being accepted and promoted in our universities as normal and it dominates internet traffic we as a country have lost sight of noble things. But as Christians God calls us to raise our attention higher. Hebrews 12:1-2: “Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” We can look no higher than Jesus Christ. To think high is to live high. To think low is to live low. Look unto Him!
The third vital thing necessary for a good Christian life is seeking what is right. That means just things, fair things, equitable things. Before taking action on any matter, ask yourself this question, “Is this right?” Does it meet God’s higher standard of rightness? Paul writes elsewhere, “Some things may be lawful but they are not expedient nor do they edify.” The law may allow some things, but is it helpful? Is it useful? Or does it tear down or whittle away at what is right?
The fourth thing listed in Philippians 4:8 is purity. Is your thought life free from contamination? Are your thoughts wholesome? Do you know what one of the latest addictions is? Pornography. It is running rampant and has taken over fifty percent of the internet. It is so easily accessible nowadays. I am sure Paul had reference here to moral purity of heart and sexual innocence apart from marriage. He wrote of this in his letter to the Thessalonians saying, “This is the will of God for you, your sanctification, your holiness, your purity.” How you handle your sexual self matters. That area of our lives is so powerful that it can ruin us. It can destroy marriages, reputations or even end our lives prematurely. But above all it comes between God and us. Our commitments to keeping our sexual selves under godly control is an important part in developing a good relationship with God. We teach pre-marital abstinence not only because it is socially, economically, and physically healthier but because it is morally and spiritually right. The ultimate motivator for sexual purity is pleasing God by doing what He knows is best. Just think of all the destruction sexual impurity has wrought on this world–the disease, the broken relationships, the broken spirits, the ruined souls.
The next thing we are to focus on are things that are lovely. This is really not a masculine word. Most men rarely speak of anything as being lovely. What it really means is the opposite of evil, something that is pleasing to God. Colossians 1:10: “... that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.” Focusing on good, wholesome, lovely things is good for us. Focusing on dark, negative, immoral, and spirutally ugly things is bad for us. Data in, data out, as they say. It matters what you focus your attention on!
Sixthly, we are to think admirable thoughts. These are thoughts that are lofty, thoughts that edify, thoughts that lead you closer to God. The thoughts we share with others should be worthwhile and honorable. When we talk with others what we say should be admirable and uplifting.
The last two words--excellent and praiseworthy--have to do with moral excellence, virtue. It is anything that is worthy of being contemplated. For example, take concepts like forgiveness, mercy, love, grace, and redemption. Do you know what they mean? Are they influencing your life? Think seriously on them. Spend some time mulling them over. Take God’s grace, for instance. What does this really mean for you? Where did it come from? Who originated this? How did it get here? Why did it come? In what form did it come? What did it cost God to give us that grace? Do I deserve it? Where would I be without it? How can I thank God for it? God’s tells us to meditate on and contemplate these issues because as we live what we learn we become more like Him.
“Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in God’s sight.” Ask yourself every day, are my thoughts true, noble, right, pure, pleasing and commendable? Now look at verse nine and here is proof about what we have been trying to say all along. In Paul’s case the messenger is the message, especially when it comes to discipleship. However you want to state it, Paul was a role model’s role model. He not only talked the talk, he walked the walk. And he says in verse nine, “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me or seen in me, put it into practice.” Remember something here. The teachings we have in the Bible were not yet put together in the time that Paul lived. All we had was the Old Testament. Jesus referred to the Old Testament–talked about it, referred to it, quoted it. He honored it. But for these people in Philippi, listening to Paul, these words are significant because this is the beginning of the gospel that is going to be recorded for us. Luke and Mark and John and Matthew, they are formulating the New Testament in these days. "So those things you learned from me when I was with you ten years ago," writes Paul, "those things you received or heard from me in this letter or any other talks I have had with you, you saw the way I lived, put that into practice." The way the messenger lives is a message, perhaps the most important message.
If we live according to Philippians 4:8, verse nine promises us a result. “The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you.” If we are responsible for what God gives us, it will make us happy. When he says, “I can do everything God wants me to do,” verse 13, “through him who gives me strength.” And he concludes, verse 21, “my God will meet all your needs.” Paul did not choose poverty. He did not choose riches. He learned to accept either one as they came, when they came. He trusted God’s sovereign wisdom and through it all the God of peace was with him.
Summing up our study of Philippians, the thing that stands out to me is the centrality of Jesus Christ. Chapter one, Jesus Christ is our life. Chapter two, Jesus Christ is our pattern. I hope you remember this. Chapter three, Jesus Christ is our goal. Chapter four, and the whole theme of the book, basically, Jesus Christ is our message. And remember this, we are His messengers. What are we doing about it? Is Jesus Christ central in every one of our lives? Is He your life, your pattern, your goal, your message? If not, I think we ought to make Him that today. Think seriously about that, meditate on it. Live consistent with godly, Christlike character. It should be the Christian way!
16) Suffering and Pain: What Does It Mean and How Can God Use It?
By Reverend Al Bishop (chapter taken from book, Human Nature in the Kingdom of God)
"For to you has been given the privilege not only of trusting Him, but also of suffering for Him." (Philippians 1:29 TLNT)
The question of pain and suffering has been around for a long, long time. . .and it will last until the very end of time itself. To be honest, there’s probably more philosophical frustration over this one issue than any other known to mankind. Offering explanations, rationalization, and excuses will persist, but offer little satisfaction. The following thoughts are no attempt on my own part to explain the mind of God, but rather to consider the perennial subject itself.
Many have pointed out that without the possibility of pain as a guard against further extreme harm (the hot stove, the undiscovered fracture, etc.) further damage or even tragedy might go undetected. That benefit of pain, however, does not eliminate the unhappiness which it brings. I am a firm believer in the sovereign will of God in all of life and that His ways and thoughts are higher than ours. Trying to explain or rationalize God’s thinking in every event in life could drive on mad. Still, the issue is there, and we all ponder it.
Therefore, I invite you to examine with me some of the reasons suffering and/or pain are experienced universally by all people. Adding painful irony to my thoughts as I try to write today was a call I just received regarding a dear friend who had a head-on auto accident yesterday and passed away just moments ago. “You do not know, nor does any mortal, what a day may bring forth” (Proverbs 27:1).
To begin, we must recognize two all encompassing truths about the existence of pain and suffering.
1. The original cause is rebellion against God’s ordained will. Satan said to Eve and Adam, “You will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5). In no way am I called to sit in judgment of God. “Where was I when God laid the foundations of the earth?” (Job 38:4). 2. The ultimate cure is the return of God’s redemptive Son. “God will be with His people. . .and will wipe away every tear. . .no more death, or mourning or crying or pain” (Rev. 21: 3, 4).
Within the larger scope of pain and suffering, I believe there are three areas of possible pain, comparable to the very nature of created man. They are the body (physical), the mind (mental), and the spirit (emotional). A few illustrations should clarify.
1. The Body: I have suffered many illnesses, from childhood through old age, and measles and mumps to arthritis and pneumonia, from a broken wrist sliding into third base at age sixteen to my total hip replacement seven years ago, and quadruple heart bypass six months ago and severe canal stenosis three years ago when I couldn’t stand or walk five feet without grabbing for support. That was pain! Paralysis, wheelchairs, canes, and cataracts. . .they all bring real pain. 2. The Mind: What parent has not experienced anxiety and sleeplessness over a child? What human has not had depression over a relationship or mental anguish observing dementia in a loved one? Many will agree that bodily pain and suffering often seem less painful at such times. 3. The Spirit: Discouragement and disillusionment rank high among the elderly. The broken-hearted are most difficult to inspire, reassure, or buoy up. Loneliness can become bitterness after parting with a spouse and the “should haves” and “if onlys” and the “could have beens” can add to the pain of guilt, if allowed, to taint the memories unchallenged.
Now, having summarize briefly and incompletely some of the many elements of pain and suffering, we come to perhaps the greater and deeper question to be asked by everyone of us sooner or later—“Why Me?”
We compare ourselves to the more fortunate and indulge ourselves with pity. Have you ever noticed how much easier it is to “weep with those who weep,” than it is conversely to “rejoice with those who rejoice?” There is a definite “me” factor in the problem of suffering with each of us. Let’s look at four or five of the possible reasons why we may experience pain and/or suffering.
1) Some suffering is self-induced, i.e., brought on by our own sin. That is not to say in any way that all suffering is brought on by sin. I am so glad Jesus addressed that question directly in answer to his disciples’ inquiry in John 9. Upon noticing a man born blind, his disciples asked the question of Jesus: “Who was it that sinned, the man or his parents, that he was born this way?” Please notice the inference there. Their thinking was it had to be one or the other because they believed that all pain or suffering is caused by sin and nothing else. Jesus wanted to make sure they rejected that simplistic and erroneous idea! Jesus answered that neither “this man nor his parents sinned.”
At the same time, recognize that when we choose to be disobedient to the specific commands of God’s Word, there is a consequence. Whether it be a violation of one of the ten commandments or simply a subtle errant lustful thought, pride in our lives, or jealous coveting, our same Lord called for repentance as the only remedy.
It is also true that sin will bring suffering to others. White-collar criminals, liars, and embezzlers all bring pain on others. They themselves should suffer the penalty for their actions. Those who run red lights and cause a traffic death or irrecoverable damage owe a debt for the suffering they caused which their own pain cannot adequately compensate. The concept of the sanctity of life is founded on our innate belief that the penalty for crimes committed should be commensurate with the crime itself.
The Apostle Peter gives a stern warning to every human being. “Let no one suffer as an evildoer” (2 Peter 4:15).
2) Some pain and suffering must be viewed as suffering brought on as a direct result of the Fall of Man. Certain tragedies brought on by the laws of nature, such as floods, earthquakes, tsunamis, etc., are often mislabeled by insurance companies as “acts of God.” (There’s that same thinking that triggered the disciple’s question in the texts noted above.” While in our hearts we want to deny the reality, the sin problem emerges as liable.
Stated briefly, in Genesis 3:17-19 we see the initiation of toil, sweat, and irksomeness to the issue of “work,” not previously experienced in that Edenic period. Paul corroborates that, saying in Romans 8:22, “The whole creation [nature, animals, plants, etc.] groans and travails in pain, awaiting the complete redemption” of the universe in Christ’s coming Kingdom (author’s emphasis).
The word for pain is the suffering of nothing less than the mother’s birth pangs. Thus we see that all suffering is indeed traceable to the fall into sin. I find much irony in all the “why does God allow” questions posed by philosophers who dismiss the actual existence of God, thereby attempting to have it both ways.
3) While denying that all suffering is a direct result of God’s punishment, there is the reality of godly discipline leading to sanctification (Hebrews 12:5-11). Here the inspired writer makes the point that, as a father disciplines a son he loves, so our Father dealt with us (verses 7-8) through pain (verses 10-11) to “give birth” to righteousness (verse 11): “Being punished isn’t enjoyable while it’s happening; it hurts! But afterwards we see the result—a growth in grace and character!”
Our son was about eleven years old when, by his actions, he convinced me he needed some severe discipline. The brief “lecture” about this hurting me more than him completed and discipline having been administered, I paused, I’ll admit, in fear and trepidation, awaiting his reaction, resentment, or possible retaliation. He looked me straight in the eye and said, “Thanks Dad. I needed that!” We hugged, and I wept with him. Obviously, that was a precious moment indelible in my memory.
Be it jungle camp training for a missionary candidate such as my sister Ruth had with the snakes and rodents and bugs or boot camp for the wartime recruit, both bring pain. However, both are designed to pay a dividend under tough conditions to come. I can personally testify to that with my combat experience on Okinawa in WWII. I zigzagged across an open field after the officer selected three Marines and me to “get out there and see if you can draw some fire” in an attempt to locate the enemy’s exact position. Yes, I did want to go home, but the boot camp testing pulled me through.
4) Sometimes suffering is specifically designed by God to equip us for a particular ministry. Two outstanding contemporary examples of this are Joni Erickson Tada and Chuck Colson. Joni, who became a quadriplegic in a diving accident as a young girl, is an author, painter, radio, and conference speaker ministering to thousands. Her gift of encouragement and hope to the heavy-hearted and suffering has come through her pain.
Chuck, a confidant of President Nixon, was caught up in the Watergate scandal and sentenced to prison. Following his release and conversion, he founded a ministry to the two million prisoners in our nation. He would most likely never have conceived of this without his own incarceration over thirty years ago. Each of them gives God the glory through their pain and suffering.
5) Lastly, and this, too, is a toughie for any who have experienced the call to serve. Sometimes, suffering can be for the benefit of another. That’s right! The benefit of another! You say, “That’s not fair, God!” And the natural mind agrees.
I have been around long enough to see how often a mature, kind, patient, and committed Christian has been hurt by a jealous, bitter, or immature fellow believer. In such an instance, you wouldn’t blame the first for wanting to strike back with a vengeance. However, to apply the fruit of the spirit to that issue, I would say: “You don’t know what self-control really is until you’ve had a legitimate reason to blow your stack.” A personal experience will explain what I mean and how it was used.
About thirty years ago a man who had been on the board of a church that had asked me to resign came to my office in Chicago. He had been one of the four who, though in the minority, led the resolution to remove me. He had come because I was now, five years later, in a position to award a large contract for the type of services his business could provide to the school. He assumed I was probably holding a grudge and would not receive him. He had concluded that I would never forgive him for his action against me.
I will never forget how he came and stood outside my open office door, sheepishly and sadly looking at me, and spoke. The first words I heard him say in over five years were these, “I knew that some day I would have to pay dearly for the way I treated you.”
What a burden he had carried all that time. I had forgiven him and forgotten the matter years before. Apparently, he had not wanted my forgiveness, preferring to hang on to his misery and bitterness. He could not believe I was willing to consider his bid. Hopefully, after recognizing the reality that a person he had harshly maltreated could forgive and accept and offer reconciliation, he himself would come to understand how the fruit of the Spirit could produce spiritual growth and maturity in his own soul. That is what could make my suffering worthwhile.
Love and forgiveness are gifts to another person. Neither is an investment guaranteed to yield interest back to you. Ask yourself if you are willing to forgive and love without insisting on some reciprocal benefit or recognition. Rather, recognize that you really don’t know what love is until you’ve poured your life into another person and gotten nothing back in return. That is our calling. “If you only love those who love you, what reward have you?” (Matthew 5:46).
Oswald Chambers writes, “Thoughts about myself hinder my usefulness to God. I am called to live in perfect relation to God so that my life produces a longing after God in other lives, not admiration for myself” (December 2).
“By looking at the good change in your hearts, everyone can see that we have done a good work among you. They can see that you are a letter from Christ, written by us, not a letter with pen and ink, but by the Spirit of the living God, not one carved on stone, but in human hearts” (2 Corinthians 3:2,3, TNLT).
By Reverend Al Bishop (chapter taken from book, Human Nature in the Kingdom of God)
Hebrews 9:27: "It is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment."
My dear mother had been a widow for twenty-seven years. During that time, she made many visits to our family. While in her late seventies and early eighties, she would usually stay with us for a month at a time. She read to our young ones, and they enjoyed her caring ways. But as the visit went on, our general “busyness” with ministry, teaching, school, activities, entertainment, and hospitality, as well as the everyday household hustle, was a bit more than she wanted to handle.
On the morning of her departure for home, we always got a large chuckle as she descended the stairs to our living room, coat neatly folded across her arm, suitcase packed and waiting at the front door. She would sit down, gloves on, ticket in hand, purse and hat ready, with a smile on her face as always. Her departure to the airport or bus station was still some time off. When any of us would ask her why she was ready and waiting so early, she would respond, “At least you’ll know where I am.” I’ve often thought what an appropriate epitaph that would have been to put on her grave marker.
Mom died just a few weeks before her eighty-ninth birthday. She weighed barely seventy pounds and while not complaining, remarked to me in a hushed breath, “I don’t know how any person can go through this without hope in the Lord.” I had just reminded her of Christ’s promise to prepare a place for her with Him where He is (John 14:2). With that, her weary eyes suddenly brightened, her voice grew stronger as she spoke these words, “Isn’t that going to be fantastic!” Those were her last words to me. With that, she was ready to fly! Not everyone finishes as well as my mom.
Scripture reveals some great victories as well as very sad endings. King Saul, the very first king of the Israelites, was blessed by God early in life. But in 1 Samuel 8-31, we read his biographical ascendancy to greatness, and then his tragic admission of complete failure. Of all people, his potential for fame and dignity were obvious.
He was physically superior (9:2), humble in heart (9:21), and spiritually empowered (10:6). But tragically, before Saul had time to figure out what was happening, he chose that “slippery slope” of self-centeredness that Satan always provides for all willing participants. Saul’s utter disregard for the will of God (15:10-11), then hatred for David and attempts to kill him (18:8-11) eventually led him to the point at which, looking back regretfully on his own life, he had to confess, “I have played the fool (26:21).
Contrast that with the words of another Saul, the one turned Paul through the power of his encounter with the risen Christ (Acts 9:2ff). Near the end of his days from a cold dungeon in one of Nero’s Roman prisons, Paul wrote to his young convert Timothy that the time had come for his departure. “I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. In heaven a crown is waiting for me which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on that great day of His appearing” (2 Timothy 4:7-8). The lives of Moses, David, and Paul are examples of men who, early in life, showed every evidence of wickedness. However, when touched by God’s grace each one became an instrument of righteousness and enduring faith.
I am struck by the regularity of the counsel given to all seven of the first century churches in Revelation chapters 2 and 3, calling them to prevail over the obstacles of testings, false teaching, and spiritual coldness. In Hebrews we are called to “fix our eyes upon the author and finisher of our faith.” Peter reminds us that our faith is continually on trial before the world.
Why is it that with all of Solomon’s wisdom, his gift of the grandest temple ever in Jerusalem, and his incomparable counsel to others, in his final years he seems to have become downright silly?
One of my best and most influential Christian friends during my high school days died an alcoholic in his mid-fifties. We lived in opposite parts of the country. On one of my business trips, I was able to arrange a lunch with “Jim.” We both had a genuinely joyous time together as we talked about many of the good old times, but there was one subject he would not discuss—his faith. Each time anything touching the subject came close, he would purposely switch it off.
I’m eighty-four years old and trying to “wrap up” this concept of finishing well. My mind keeps being drawn back to the aged author of Psalm 71. Even he seemed to wander back and forth as he reviewed his life. Like Solomon, what happened? Like Hezekiah, who prayed for fifteen more years of life. His request was granted, but during that time his personal pride brought disaster on his family.
Solomon was so much wiser than his behavior when he said, “Happy is the man who finds wisdom and who acquires understanding.” Never underestimate that combination! Some time ago I wrote an article for a magazine entitled “The Irrevocable Call?” In it, I dealt with some questions about why so much pressure is felt by pastors when they consider change—especially when they consider a change in career.
As indicated in the introduction to this book, I had to consider that issue when I chose to do development work for the divinity school and college. I heard from several missionaries and fellow pastors, some very concerned about my slippage from God’s will. On the other hand, as I wrote in the article, I mentioned how one former missionary, after years of evangelizing, was so disturbed by the poverty that surrounded him that he helped hundreds of them develop small farms and businesses for their survival. These, in turn, all proved a blessing to people and even helped their local churches to prosper. How dare we presume to judge another person’s heart or deep motivational choices?
One of my main points dealt with how many well-meaning Christians with pious-sounding phrases and clichés, pressure and prod people toward the pastorate. One letter back to me from a senior pastor used those very words to describe how, in his earlier immaturity, he took such advice to be “the will of God.” Then, after a dozen years in pasturing, he became frustrated to the point that, like King Saul, he believed God might have taken His hand off his life!
He wrote, “The key statement for which I have deep gratitude to you is, ‘It is not the call to pastoral ministry that is irrevocable, but the call to follow Christ Himself! Never let that priority get juxtaposed.” I replied to his letter with encouragement to pursue God’s call to one of many possibilities available for one with his giftedness.
One reason I share that experience with you is to reaffirm that ministry effectiveness is in the hands of God. We are the “planters and waterers,” not the saviors!
As I peruse the 71st Psalm, I believe there are at least four prime statements that the old man prayed and claimed for himself, based on his past experiences and future trust.
1. Lord, You are my foundation. Don’t let me ever be ashamed (v. 1-4). 2. Lord, I may be weak. You are my hope and my confidence. Help me be strong in this last phase of my life and I will praise You (v. 5-16). 3. Lord, You are great. Forgive me when I feel forsaken. As long as you are with me, I’ll continue to be strong (v. 17-19). 4. Lord, You have allowed troubles to come in my life. May your consolation revive and comfort me all my days and I will praise You with all that I have. And bring me into Your eternal life (v. 20-24).
This brings me back once more to my mother. It became obvious to all that she was near the end of her days. Her last letter to me mentioned that I would “see a great change in her bodily condition” when next we were together. I responded with a greeting card, but it just didn’t say enough. I reminisced in my thoughts for a while, and then composed this poem and enclosed it with the card. I titled it, “Her Legacy.”
“You’ll really see a change in me,” Mom’s words came weaker on that call.
And deep within myself I knew, she’s right; for years do change us all.
The thought first saddened me, but then, I paused as though God seemed to say, “The outside shell’s not all there is, REAL life lasts on in other ways.”
Her FAITH and HOPE, they taught us much her LOVE, an inspiration!
What changes not she gave so that another generation
Might recognize that this counts most a mind, awake to God and keen,
We’ll cherish Mom’s great legacy, those UNSEEN, CHANGELESS, things we’ve SEEN!
“I consider that the sufferings of this present world are not worth comparing with the glory that is going to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18).
Turn to 1 Peter chapter one. Out of these horrible times under Nero comes a message of challenge to the Christians throughout Asia Minor and also to us today. The words of Peter, 1 Peter 1:3-9, “Praise be to God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. In His great mercy He has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade, kept in heaven for you. Who through faith are shielded by God’s power unto the coming of salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last times. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have to suffer grief in all kinds of trails. These have come so that the trial of your faith, of greater worth than gold, which perishes, even though refined by power may be proved genuine or may endure trial. And result in praise, glory, and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.”
My friend, by the very act of being regenerated, born into the family of God, each one of us becomes a witness for the love and faithfulness of God. The Bible calls it the “trial of your faith.” It is a proving or a demonstration of what Jesus Christ and the Christian life mean to us personally, despite hard and difficult times. Our faith in Christ is on trial before the world. On the outcome of this trial rests an accurate portrayal of God and His love for sinners—a clear presentation of the gospel.
Every trial has a recorder, someone who records every word. I do not know how they do it. They even get the sneezes and the coughs in there. Let us suppose that you and I are reporters at the trial of someone’s faith. We have to ask some questions--the what, the why, the when, the where, and the who that is involved in this trial. The first one is, What is it that is on trial here? What is the issue? In this trial it is someone’s faith in Jesus Christ that is on trial. One of the most difficult things to explain to an unbeliever is faith. By faith we obtain salvation, but how do you prove something like faith to another person? If you turn to the book of Hebrews, faith, according to the writer, is the “assurance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Evidence? Things not seen? Hope? Being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. What kind of logic is that? How do you have evidence of things not seen?
It is hard to prove our faith to another person simply by words. The proof of our faith lies in a life that can be seen. We can easily say we believe so and so, but until what we say we believe is tested, in the market place of life, the observer can not be sure. The cause of Jesus Christ has frequently been dealt a low blow by televangelists who rant and rave about their faith over the airwaves and then they prove what a sham it was by their actions. There is a proverb that says, “as a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.” But man is unable to look upon the heart. You cannot look into my heart. I cannot look into your heart. In order to understand our hearts, you have to turn the proverb around to read something like this, “The way a man behaves will tell you the thinking in his heart.”
Maybe you have heard the illustration about the wirewalker that walked from one side of Niagara Falls to the other side without falling. He went across and came back and said, “How many of you people believe I can do that again?” Everybody cheered, “right, right, sure, no question about it.” Then he asked, “Who would like to hop on my shoulders and go with me?” Complete silence. Finally, a young man said, “I’ll go,” and hopped on his shoulders. That person put their faith on the line. In other words, the only way a person can know what I believe and what is in my heart is by observing how I behave, how I live my life.
God has called us to be living epistles, living letters to the people of this world of God’s love and care for them. How terrible is it that the only gospel that some people are going to see is what you and I do and the way we behave. And I wonder today, how many of us can point to someone and say, “There is someone who is part of my spiritual fruit.” You know, when we walk out of church, that is when we become the church in the community. Hebrews 10:23 says, “Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering.” It is our faith that is on trial. And we should never forget this.
Every human being has some kind of faith. The atheist has faith that there is no God. The agnostic has faith that someday he will find out whether or not there is a God. The liberal has faith that he can somehow change the world by propping it up with giveaway programs. The Muslim has faith, the New Age believer, you name it, they all have faith. Do not be ashamed to back up your faith with your testimony. We have to remember that faith is only as good as the legitimacy of the object in which we place our faith. If the object of your faith is not reliable, your faith is misplaced.
The second question, why must our faith be on trial? It is God’s method. It is through the means of our faith being on trial before the world that the gospel has spread throughout the world. Take a look at history. Hebrews 11 speaks about some of these people. Hebrews 11:7 speaks of Noah. By faith, in holy respect for God he built an ark to save his family. “By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.” Noah built the ark on dry ground, far from any water source. To the unbeliever this was foolishness. But Noah believed God and did it anyway. Hebrews 11:8, “By faith Abraham, when he was called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went even though he did not know where he was going.” Something exciting about faith, isn’t there? When you do not know what is going to happen, you may not know where you are going, but you know you are trusting God. Sarah, eleventh verse, “By faith Sarah, when she was past her age, conceived Isaac because she trusted the faithfulness of God.” Moses, verse 25, by faith chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season because he believed in and wanted the future God promised. Daniel, not mentioned by name, but implied, verse 33, stopped the mouth of lions.
Stephen, in the New Testament, Acts 6 and 7, many centuries after Moses, preached one of the greatest sermons recorded in the Bible. And for that he was stoned to death. Before he spoke to those who were obviously hostile to Christ let us assume for a moment that Stephen thought to himself, “It might be better to compromise my faith today. I will live for another opportunity under better conditions with a better crowd.” But he did not do that. He lost his life that day. His faith was on trial and because of his faithfulness Israel’s entire rebellious history was brilliantly summarized. But more importantly, a young man called Saul of Tarsus who was persecuting the church stood nearby and witnessed the whole ordeal. Stephen made such an impression upon Saul that when Jesus appeared to him later he accepted Jesus Christ as his savior and repeatedly referred to the witness of Stephen as instrumental to his awakening to Jesus Christ. Saul’s name was changed to Paul. He became perhaps the greatest and most important of all the apostles. Stephen’s life was short but, oh, so powerful! Stephen’s task that day was to be faithful. The results were left up to God.
It is not every life that comes to a great climatic moment like Stephen’s. Usually it is a constant day-by-day struggle. These climatic events only serve to show us what we have been becoming all along. During the time I was interim pastor in Miami, a major scandal arose involving a key politician in the suburbs and a policeman’s wife. It was quite the story. It reminded me of a story I heard sometime ago about a woman who was propositioned by a man in a hotel. And he asked her if she would spend the night with him for $2,000 and she agreed that she would. He said, “Well now, just a moment. Would you spend the night with me for $1,000?” And she said yes. “How about $500?” “All right. I will do it just for one night, tonight.” And he said, “Well, how about $25?” She hustled up her strength and her inner character and said, “Well, what kind of a woman do you think I am?” He said, “Ma’am, we have already established what kind of a woman you are. We are just haggling over the price.”
An important question in our lives is, What kind of person are we becoming? We call it “process.” Oswald Chambers wrote, “God’s training is for now, not later.” We are always dreaming about what is going to happen but God wants us to focus on obedience now. Of course we are to consider the future, otherwise we would never go to school, work, save, plan, etc. But we are never to compromise obedience now out of fear for the future. Stephen showed us that. And so did Jim Elliot and Ed McCully
We must never make the mistake of confusing our dreams of success with God’s purpose for us. His purpose may be exactly the opposite. We have an idea that God is leading us to a particular end, a desired goal but He may have something else in mind. Listen, what we call the process, God calls the end. Our end is obedience now. The results are God’s. This can be beautifully illustrated by the lives of Jim Elliot and Ed McCully. They were fellow students with me at Wheaton College. Some time after graduation, I was in the midst of a successful career selling insurance when I heard about what happened to my friends. Jim and Ed were martyred as they tried to witness to the Auca Indians in Ecuador. Both were killed with spears. While a student at Wheaton Jim wrote, “God makes us ministers of flame, of fire, am I ignitable?” And shortly afterward, he proved that he was. I picked up the paper and saw that these fellows had been killed. He and his friend Ed were killed as they attempted to witness of God’s love and saving power to the Auca Indians. They were faithful that day. Other missionaries followed them and built on the testimony they left behind and thousands of Auca Indians believed, including a man involved in their killing. The full story of what happened can be read here:
Before their martyrdom I had been considering giving up my career and entering the ministry but I thought maybe I am too old to go back to school. But they were dead and I was very much alive and their testimony was part of God’s convincing me it is never too late to do God’s will no matter what He asks. In Philippians 1:20 Paul writes, “Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life or by death.” How much longer does God give us time to serve and honor Him? Fifty years more? Not me. Fifty months? Maybe. Fifty days? We know not what a day or even an hour will bring forth. Young person, let me remind you there comes a time for everyone of us to choose our priorities, to determine what we will be and what we will do. We are going to be either part of a mass of people that are going nowhere for God, seeking only to satisfy ourselves and our own desires for fame, fortune, pleasure, position, or popularity. We have the choice to become part of the few who will honor and serve the Lord Jesus Christ with our lives. And one day if we do that, we will hear Jesus Christ say to us, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.”
Who is it whose faith is on trial? And the answer of course is your faith and my faith. We are the ones who are on trial. “For unto you,” Paul writes in Philippians, that is, each one of us, “it is given on behalf of Christ not only to believe on Him but also to suffer for His sake.” Peter writes in the second chapter of Philippians, “For this end were you called if when you do well and suffer for it and take it patiently, you do well.” Jesus Christ suffered for us leaving us an example that we should follow. Be obedient now and leave the results to God. This does not mean we are to behave rashly or foolishly for even Jesus said we are not to throw our pearls before swine, but in His wisdom we are to be faithful in the moment and trusting that God will work out His good pleasure in the future.
What would an outsider expect to see in persons who believe the things that we say we believe? For instance, we say that we believe that the entire Bible is the divinely inspired word and revelation of God, the only authority for faith and practice. And in the light of that statement, each one of us should ask ourselves, how much time do we really spend digging into this word? We also believe that the Holy Spirit indwells believers and convicts the world of sin. Certainly you would not expect such a person to live in such a way that he would grieve such a one as the Holy Spirit, would you? But we see it every day. We also say we believe in the second personal and eminent return of our Lord Jesus Christ. Is this apparent from our everyday actions and the attitudes that we display as we deal with others? Where are we storing up our treasures? What percent of our income do we offer back to God? Do we live as if this world is all we are concerned with? Do we view God as our personal genie for worldly success? Unfortunately, we see it every day. No wonder the world of unbelieving men and women are confused. Too many of us say one thing and do another. And which do you think speaks the loudest? Ask the Auca Indians about Jim Elliot. Ask Paul about Stephen.
What is the whole point of what I am saying? The world is looking on in judgment of us and making its appraisal of who we are and what we stand for. Someone once asked this question, “If you were put on trial to determine whether or not you were a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?” Of you would they say, “We cannot find this guy guilty of being a Christian. We do not see anything that indicates he is.” As I close, I want to ask you to ask yourself some things. Am I demonstrating my faith in my daily walk? Am I a genuine Christian? Am I serious about my faith in Christ and am I serious about sharing that faith with other people? The way we live when we leave church is the way we truly worship God. It is my prayer that God make us genuine before Him and thereafter before the world for His glory in order that we can truly be accurate witnesses of His love to the world.
19) Psalm 77
1 I cried out to God for help; I cried out to God to hear me. 2 When I was in distress, I sought the Lord; at night I stretched out untiring hands, and I would not be comforted. 3 I remembered you, God, and I groaned; I meditated, and my spirit grew faint. Selah 4 You kept my eyes from closing; I was too troubled to speak. 5 I thought about the former days, the years of long ago; 6 I remembered my songs in the night. My heart meditated and my spirit asked: 7 “Will the Lord reject forever? Will he never show his favor again? 8 Has his unfailing love vanished forever? Has his promise failed for all time? 9 Has God forgotten to be merciful? Has he in anger withheld his compassion?” Selah 10 Then I thought, “To this I will appeal: the years when the Most High stretched out his right hand. 11 I will remember the deeds of the LORD; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago. 12 I will consider all your works and meditate on all your mighty deeds.” 13 Your ways, God, are holy. What god is as great as our God? 14 You are the God who performs miracles; you display your power among the peoples. 15 With your mighty arm you redeemed your people, the descendants of Jacob and Joseph. Selah 16 The waters saw you, God, the waters saw you and writhed; the very depths were convulsed. 17 The clouds poured down water, the heavens resounded with thunder; your arrows flashed back and forth. 18 Your thunder was heard in the whirlwind, your lightning lit up the world; the earth trembled and quaked. 19 Your path led through the sea, your way through the mighty waters, though your footprints were not seen. 20 You led your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron
Notice, there is an inscription at the heading of the Psalm for the director of music. You see there the name Asaph and if you were to look at Psalms 73-83, you would see the same name. He was a multi-gifted man. A musician, a poet, probably the author of 12 or 13 of the Psalms. Keep your finger there and look back at 1 Chronicles 16:2-3: “After the ark of God was placed in the tent that King David had made for it, the people made offerings to God. They would then bless the people in the name of the Lord and gave to each man and woman a loaf of bread, a cake of dates, and a cake for raisins.” Thousands of people enjoyed those special gifts. After distributing all that food, David appointed some of the priests to praise the Lord in music. That day he composed Psalm 105 and gave it to Asaph, probably for him to write the music (verses 8-22 of the 16th chapter of 1 Chronicles).
It is interesting to compare the two Psalms and read them side by side, word for word. I do not think we realize how much Israel enjoyed music. They were a singing people. This man, Asaph, headed up all the sacred choral and instrumental groups, they had harps and lyres, tambourines, flutes, double pipes (like an oboe), trumpets, cymbals, and a lot of other instruments. They performed on special occasions, national and religious holidays and we are told in 1 Chronicles chapter 23 that the whole temple chorus and orchestra numbered 4,000 people. And all of these were trained by this man, Asaph.
Psalm 77 clearly divides itself in half. In verses 1-9, the writer seems pessimistic. He is frightened. He is discouraged. He is downtrodden. He is lacking faith. Listen to these words: in verse 4, troubled; verse 7, rejected; verse 8, betrayed; and maybe worst of all, verse 9, he is forgotten. Gene Peterson’s version of this Psalm, in the Message, is really interesting to read. The Message is his version of the New Testament, Psalms, and Proverbs. And this is the way he puts that particular verse. “Just my luck. The high God goes out of business just the moment I need him.” He is discouraged. But then in verse 10, he begins to come to his senses. He seems to be saying, “It is my infirmity, my own sadness, my grief, my problem, my lack of faith, my bad attitude and my ingratitude that is keeping me down.” And from that point on, he thinks positive. He thinks of God and what God can do for him. This is true in all of life. The beginning of any healing process is the recognition of the problem. He can etch that down in stone. The beginning of any healing process about any problem is the recognition of the problem itself.
So let us look a little closer at the first nine verses. Notice in verse two the writer seems determined to be unhappy and uncomforted. And notice how strongly he states it. “I would not be comforted.” Even when he was supposed to be comforted by something, he refused. A negative mindset is probably the most difficult thing in the world to deal with in the counseling situation. I have seen a lot of cases where you spend several hours trying to help somebody understand. You explain how to deal with the situation. You and the one who is seeking help and counsel seem to agree on the facts of the case, what the solution should be. There seems to be total agreement, intellectually. But at the end of it all, what do they do? They restate the original problem all over again as though nothing had been stated, nothing had been learned, nothing had been decided or even heard at all. And the tragedy of that is, any past good memories are overlooked or forgotten in the stress and strain of the moment.
Look also at verses 3-6. He is utterly wiped out. Then just for a fleeting moment he thinks back about God’s goodness and provision in the past. He even thinks of the songs he used to sing, songs in the night. But then again, it is like he thinks, “well, maybe God did do something once but He is not ever going to do anything again. It is all over.” In verse 7 his faith wavers, it collapses altogether into total doubt and pessimism. A negative mindset will wipe you out, sap your strength.
The Psalmist goes on. There is an awful lot of self-pity in these nine verses. Actually, no less than eighteen times the writer refers to himself--“I groan. “ “I cry.” “I was in distress.” “I was troubled.” “My spirit grew weak.” His panic is building. Will the Lord reject him forever? Will He never be good again? The Psalmist has reverted back to his old miserableness. The apostle Paul had these times. King David had these times. Moses said, “I’ve had it with these people.” And I have had times like that myself. I wonder if we could even suggest that Jesus had such a time in the Garden, perspiring drops of blood, as it were. Or later on the cross when He cried out, “Why have you forsaken me?” We have all felt alone. But Jesus, even though He was tempted in everything as we are, even more so, did so without sin.
The Psalmist continues, verses 8 and 9, “Has [God’s] unfailing love vanished forever? Has His promise failed for all time? Has God forgotten to be merciful? Has He in anger withheld His compassion?” Wow, the Psalmist is assailing the very attributes of God--God’s love, God’s faithfulness, God’s justice, God’s mercy, His goodness, His truth, His grace. Has God closed shop? Given up? Is He dead? So once again he comes to the end of himself. What a state of mind for a child of God to be in!
By the time we read verse 10 we start to see a difference. This time he sees his misery not as God’s failure, but as his own lack of faith. He stops, he pauses, he thinks. Verse 10: “Then I thought, ‘To this I will appeal: the years when the Most High stretched out his right hand. I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago. I will consider all your works and mediate on all your mighty deeds.’” You see that little word off to the right there, selah. That little Hebrew word inserted there means “to stop, pause, wait, take a break, think about who God is.” Think about what God has done in the past. God is great. God is good. He did it before and He can do it again. The writer asks his memory to chip in and help him recall the greatness of his Lord. And you know, it is no sin to honestly state your doubts. It is no sin at all to honestly state your fears. It is no sin at all to express your hurt. The Psalmist, the Patriarchs, Moses, David, the Prophets, they all had hurts and doubts. God welcomes the communication of your true feelings, your true doubts. The sin is in letting your doubts and fears dictate your attitude and overcome your faith.
Verses 11-12: “I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago. I will consider all your works and mediate on all your mighty deeds.” Whatever Asaph may have been feeling by way of depression, loneliness, discouragement, defeat or even hopelessness he is breaking out of it. He begins to get new courage as he begins to remember the deeds of the Lord.
Verses 10-12 record a turning point for the Psalmist. He goes from self-focused sufferer to one who focuses on God instead. Verses 13-20 are all God-focused. Verses 10-12 record the Psalmist’s willful decision to turn from himself to God. The first thing he considers is the character of God. Verse 13: “Your ways, God, are holy. What god is as great as our God?” The greatness of God here concerns His being. He, Himself, is incomparable to all other ‘gods’. As we read in other Psalms, He alone is the Creator and Designer of the entire universe and He alone can redeem fallen sinners. All other ‘gods’ are either fictional or created beings who have stepped out of their created purpose. Not only is God different in His being but in His deeds, as well. Look at verse 14. “You are the God who performs miracles; you display your power among the peoples.” The ‘peoples’ here are all the peoples of the world. I am reminded of Romans 1:20. “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.” The Psalmist first considers God’s character then His mighty universal power extended to all peoples.
In Verses 13 and following, he meditates on what God has done. Let me ask you, how often do you stop and meditate? It takes time. We are all very rushed. Every one of us needs to meditate more, not only to think about God but also to think and ask what am I allowing God to do with my life? Is He using me or is it all just busyness and meaningless? How do you feel about your walk with the Lord? I mean, right now, today. Are you growing in the Lord? Compare yourself to where you were a year ago. Are you stretching in your relationship with Him? Are you allowing Him to put your feet down into new waters and trust Him for something beyond what you are used to? Or do you look back at the “good old days” and regretfully say, “no,” to God’s leading you to new things?” What would the apostle Paul’s advice be to us right now? Philippians chapter 3, verses 13 and 14, “Friends in the Lord even though I am an apostle of Jesus Christ, I do not consider myself to have arrived, but one thing I do, I press on toward the goal for which God has called me in Christ Jesus.” What would our Lord Jesus Christ say to us? From Luke 17:1 we learn He would say, “Well, there are going to be times of difficulty when your faith is going to have to be stretched. That is going to come to you.” So the apostles asked Him right after that, “Lord, increase our faith.” And you know, it is interesting to me that Jesus did not say, “You guys need more faith” which I would have thought He would say. What does He say? “You need to put the faith you have into action.” I like that. Put it on the line. Borrowing again from Peterson’s version of the Bible, here is what he would say, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this tree ‘go jump in the lake,’ and it will do it.”
In verses 15ff he turns his attention to what God has done for Israel. It gets more personal. God, Jehovah, chose the descendents of Jacob and Joseph for special blessing. In these verses he focuses on God’s miraculous deliverance from Pharoah’s army as the people pass through the Red Sea unharmed. Asaph remembers the history of the exodus under Moses and Aaron. Listen as I read from verse 16. “The waters saw you, O God.” Interesting, isn’t it? God’s creation knows God and serves Him. Try to imagine yourself as being part of the actual Red Sea. You and I are drops in the vast Sea. We together are the Red Sea and suddenly we look up and uh, oh, here comes God! We don’t see Him, but He is coming. Whoosh! “What happened?” We are in turmoil. The waters are dividing. The earth is quaking and look at all those people. They are coming right down the middle of us. We are split in two and they are walking on dry land! And like a throng of sheep they are safely guided to the other side. “Wow, you know, that had to be God leading them.” We didn’t see Him, we didn’t see His footprints, verse 19, but it had to be. Uh, oh, here we go again. Whoosh! We come together but there goes the Egyptian army and Pharaoh and all the horses and the chariots drown. “What a display of power!” Sometimes God is dramatic--signs, wonders, miracles--but most times He deals with us in quietness in a still, small voice--the Holy Spirit’s prodding, a portion of Scripture, maybe a preacher’s message, a friend’s counsel. Sometimes God uses the miraculous and powerful to get our attention. But the still small voice to build relationship.
Nearly 28 years ago, in one of my pastorates, after two major building projects and quadrupling in church attendance and growth and giving, I was surprised one evening to get a phone call saying, “Come on down, we are having a board meeting and we want you to leave, resign.” A small minority had taken over. Ollie was devastated. I was shell shocked. She was faithful, supportive. I could not believe it. Everything they had asked us to do, I thought we were doing. We were very disappointed. But during that time we had been spending time with a young, 15-year old boy. We would go over to his house play ping pong, take him out for a Coke, or just talk. He would share out of his heart the pain he felt as a very lonely child. He expressed it this way, “Everyone with a job like my father has is supposed to be married, have a nice house, have a new car and have two kids. It’s all image. You know what I am? I am part of my father’s portfolio.” Those were his actual words. “I am nothing more than one of his assets.” He felt unloved, unneeded, unwanted. Ollie and I did not realize it, but we were building a memory by spending time with this kid and when we were gone, he asked his dad where and why did Pastor Al go? His father refused to answer, would not say a thing. Disillusioned, the kid left the church. Not long after he married his high school sweetheart, they moved to Colorado, he got into law enforcement and was a great detective. He was so good that his life was threatened when he turned in three of his partners for drugs, narcotics, and burglary offenses. He could handle it when they threatened his life, but when they threatened the life of his wife, he moved up to the deep woods of northern Wisconsin. He basically became a hermit, lifted weights, carried a gun, looking for a fight, had a 150 pound rottweiler, hair and beard so heavy you could not see anything but his blue eyes. He wanted nothing to do with people. Those who wanted the services he offered would take their products to a central location and drop them off. He would pick them up, take them home, fix them, and take them back. They would then pick them up. He never saw his customers.
He had not been to church since he was married. One day one of the men in our church went over to him, happened to be his closest neighbor, probably half a mile away and said, “Hey, why don’t you pop by our church? We have a new guy to fill in over there and I like him.” “What is his name?” “His name is Pastor Bishop.” “You mean Al Bishop?” “That’s right, but how did you know him?” He said, “That’s my pastor.” He went to church the next Sunday. Ollie met him. He was the first guy there. He stood in front of her, clean shaven, well-dressed, handsome, with his wife, and said, “Do you know who I am?” Ollie said, “No, I don’t. I’m sorry.” And he gave her his name. Well, unfortunately, we know four people who have that very name. “Ok, where are you from?” And when he told her she said, “It’s so good to see you. You know, Jim, back there Al and I really loved you.” He said, “I knew it. I knew it then and I never forgot it.” They hugged and rejoiced together. He and his wife have been in that church every Sunday since then. He is taking Bible correspondence courses. He calls me nearly every week to discuss some issues. He and his wife are now teaching middle schoolers. He is challenging other men about their Christian walk. He is beginning to develop into a strong Christian leader. He is one of the most sensible, warm-hearted guys you could possibly imagine. He cannot get enough of people. He loves them. Never knew what he was missing for 28 years. I spoke with him recently. He is so excited about the Lord, the church, a new pastor and how God is using him after all these years. One of the joys of growing older is that once in a while you get to see some of the mustard seeds grow into fruitful trees.
So, what is the application to us? Remember Asaph. Don’t stop there but also consider Moses’ 40 years tending sheep. With my buddy Jim it was 28 years. Who knows what it is for some of us, but as we see God is patient and is not finished with us yet. He continues to work with us. So, what do we do for others? Plant those seeds. Lovingly plant those seeds. Share your testimony. Share what you have with the Lord for his or her benefit. Put everything you can into the work of God. We are uncertain of what the next step is for each one of us but we are certain that God is with us. God has done great things and He will do them again. There is great joy in knowing He is at work in our lives, accomplishing His will, for His glory. Let us remember this as well--all praise belongs to Him. As long as we are breathing, we are in operation for him, during good times and bad. And as He led young Israel by the hand of Moses and Aaron (v. 20), He will lead you and me as we trust Him enough to follow.
20) True Spirituality
Listening to Peter in his later days compared to the gospel accounts of his early days complete with the compulsiveness and unpredictable behavior he is known for is a study in contrast. The maturity level recorded in his epistles compared with when he was actually walking this earth with Jesus Christ is as different as night is from day. He has boasted his last and he now recalls his life with Jesus. He begins the first chapter of 2 Peter by saying this: “Simon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ ….” And the fifth chapter of 1 Peter: “To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder and a witness of Christ’s sufferings who also will share in the glory to be revealed.” What made Peter tick? How did he see himself? He describes himself as “a witness of Christ’s sufferings” and therefore a servant-apostle charged with telling others what he knows. The focus is no longer himself as it was when he wielded a sword in the garden but Christ and Him alone. First and Second Peter were written by a mature follower of Christ. He has much to tell us about true spirituality
Peter may be especially unique not because he is ‘so great’ but because he saw the suffering of Jesus more than any other person. He was one of the twelve who spent the most time with Jesus. And of the twelve he was one of three (Peter, James, and John) who spent the most time with Jesus. Like James and John he saw the daily agonies Jesus experienced over the hard heartedness of Israel. And with them he saw the horrible physical and emotional suffering He experienced at the hands of both Jew and Gentile at His trial, beating, and crucifixion. But he was unique because he saw the hurt in Jesus’ eyes when he denied Him three times. When confronted by a young servant girl he denied even knowing Jesus. We are told in Luke 22 that as Jesus was led away that evening after Peter’s denial, he turned and looked at Peter. Peter looked back at Christ, turned his face in shame then “went outside and wept bitterly.” Oh, my! “The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter.” Can you imagine the sadness of betrayal in that holy gaze of Jesus piercing Peter’s heart? No other person on earth saw that. It is one thing to be physically ravished by metal and bone tipped whips or beaten by the hands of creatures you have lovingly created but to be betrayed by a friend is a devastation of the heart. We break God’s heart when we deny Him. Peter saw that like no one else because he was the cause of that heartache.
Central, I believe, to Christian vitality is the realization that God was in Christ suffering for us. That is what makes Good Friday and Easter. That is what they are all about. Peter also describes himself as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed. And is that not what makes the good news of the gospel good news? That ought to inspire and excite every one of us. For with all of his stumbling and his faults and his humanity, Peter knew that he had been a recipient of the mercy of Jesus Christ. Because He lives, we can live also.
Peter also speaks of himself as an elder and I think this has to do not only with age but also with the fact that he had earned the right to be heard as a shepherd of the flock. You know, too many of us frequently think of Peter in terms of his hasty judgment, his failure, his lack of faith, and it is true that he did begin to sink in the water as he walked to Jesus. That is true. But Peter still holds the world’s record for water walking and in the recent Olympics I did not hear anyone challenge that record. It still stands. Peter walked on the water further than any other man in history, apart from Christ. And in his lifetime, Peter went from the depth of brash presumption mixed with fearful disbelief all the way over to becoming an enthusiastic, mature, enduring church patriarch. And I relate to Peter. The longer he lived, the more he learned that God was not finished with him yet. And he asked questions. So much can be learned from looking at this man.
And as a revered shepherd of the flock, he speaks to the younger Christians in 1 Peter 5:5, “You younger men, likewise, be subject to your elders and all of you clothe yourselves with humility toward one another for God is opposed to the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Be subject to your elders, he says to the young ones. Now, it is true. We older folks do tend to get a little set in our ways, don’t we? Give us time because sooner or later we will catch on. But at the same time, we also have the benefit of a whole lifetime of observation to what works and what does not work. We can learn from one another. I like what Pastor Mark said after he spent the morning with folks at Missionary Village. We met for lunch and I asked, “How do you like our folks in the Missionary Village?” And he said to me, and I will never forget it, “That’s a goldmine of potential blessing for us all.” Unlike a youth driven culture, the Bible teaches respect for faithful elders, elders with a strong faith backed up with years of experience concerning the “things of the Lord.” That does not mean you should listen to or follow every old man or woman because there is nothing worse than an old fool—a person who has not learned despite years of experience showing him otherwise. But elders in the Lord have much to teach the young. The Bible commands us to respect and listen. Everyone one of us should be striving for the same goal, living for Jesus Christ and lifting Him up.
In my California pastorate, I will never forget, we introduced the idea of having home Bible study and prayer groups. Everyone who participated went to a group based on what night of the week they were free and how they geographically fit into the area. We had about nine or ten of these groups. One time I discovered that there was a young Christian girl, 19 years old, I think, and she could only meet in a home that was hosted by an older missionary couple (he was 78 at the time). And I thought, “Oh no, this is just not going to work.” That was the only night she could meet so that is where she went. I saw her a couple of weeks after that and I said to her, “How is it going over there with that study group?” She said, “Oh, Pastor, you know that old missionary, Mr. Rodeen? He is really cool. He is so smart. He is so helpful and so loving.” I thought, what a tremendous testimony of the fact that age is not a barrier to being useful for the glory of God.
Peter as a revered shepherd of the flock, tells young Christians that the starting point of Christian growth is humility. First Peter 5:5-6: “In the same way, you who are younger, submit yourselves to your elders. All of you clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, ‘God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.’ Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.” God’s kingdom has no place for the proud. And in mentioning this attitude of humility, Peter is really paraphrasing the words of our Lord Jesus Christ where he said, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, put aside his own preference or his own will, take up his cross daily and follow me.” This is what discipleship is all about. Self-denial is an unpleasant sounding word but it need not be so. Self-denial does not mean ascetism where denying self ‘worldly’ comforts is the end and path to God’s acceptance and righteousness. True self-denial is the path to Christlikeness. It is replacing self with Christ—true spirituality. And to even start that process requires humility.
Some people think God is just hanging around looking for people who are having a good time so He can tell them to “stop.” I happen to think that God wants us to be happy, holy happy. God has given me life to live, to use, to enjoy and let me tell you what my idea of self-denial is. Self-denial consists of the voluntary renunciation of anything, even good things, whenever they are inconsistent with or stand in the way or hamper the glory of God in our lives. I will go a step further. Self-denial is taking whatever there is in me that is worthy and good and offering it over to God for His usefulness and His glory. We are talking about spirituality and spirituality has been defined in as many ways as there are subculture Christian groups in this world. From Maine to California, Canada to Florida, it varies, set of rules, whatever. To some people it means being completely heavenly minded so they are no earthly good. I will never forget the story my mom told me when she came home from church one Sunday evening. There were a couple of cars in front of the house and as she walked up the steps, her sister, my aunt Grace, was standing in the doorway where she met my mother with these three statements, very brief, right to the point. “Don’t worry. Everything is fine. Mother’s dead.” Totally detached from life. Some people use it as a word to win arguments. “You know, if you were as spiritual as I am, you would agree with me. Do you agree with me or don’t you believe the Bible?” As a tactic we identify ourselves with something and that way we win all the arguments. Other people think that anything that you cannot understand is spiritually deep. “Isn’t so and so a great teacher? He gets so much out of the Bible that I do not see there.” Well, maybe it isn’t there. I noted the other day that another prophet bit the dust on the rapture date. He had two dates. Both have come and gone. One radio preacher that would be recognized by everyone of you if I told you his name, sent out thousands of tracts years ago entitled, “How I Know God Will Never Let Man Step on the Moon.” Collector’s item, probably. How foolish we look when we try to go beyond what the Scripture teaches us about what it really means to be a spiritual, committed person.
Paul, as well as Peter, seems to have no doubt that some Christians are mature and spiritual and others are carnal, or world-like. Paul wrote to the Corinthian church, “I cannot speak to you as spiritual Christians because you are carnal. You are still babies. You have not grown up.” Paul was saying Christians fall into two groups. Those who have their minds set on the Spirit—to mind the things of the Spirit as opposed to those who have their minds set on the things of the world and who thereby mind the things of the flesh. First Corinthians chapter two he says, “The spiritual man has an insight into the meaning of everything, while on the other hand those with their minds set on themselves do not, but we have the mind of Christ.” Now, what was the mind of Christ? Philippians 2:5, “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus” and the next words describing that mind are a description of His humility. You cannot learn a thing in this life unless you are humble. You cannot learn anything intellectually or spiritually unless you are willing to receive it and have a willingness to allow God to use you as He wishes.
And what does humility look like? First Peter 2:23: “And while Jesus was being reviled, He did not revile in return. While suffering, He uttered no threats but kept entrusting Himself to him who judges righteously.” He left his case in the hands of God. Most of us are short-sighted. We live in time, we live by time; we make our judgments according to time. Pleasure or comfort now is more important than principle or regret tomorrow. And even as Christians, I think, sometimes, we expect God to fit His answers to our prayers into our time schedule. I discovered in my life that the attempt to manipulate God to do what we want Him to do is selfish and it does not honor Him. What does humility look like? Look at Jesus, that’s how! Philippians 2:3-8: “Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.”
Esther (Esther 4:1-17) did not like the prospect of things before her. She did not know if she was going to end up being a live heroine or a dead ‘martyress’. I remember while serving in World War II that my self-preservation was a powerful force. I learned a lot of things from my experience on the battlefield on how to preserve my own life. I was very much interested in that and until you have come face to face with something like this for yourself, you do not really know how you are going to react. During a time of crisis Esther was reminded by Mordecai that she was in this situation, with a wicked king, for such a time as this, and she believed that whatever God’s plan was, it was more important than her life. So she got with God’s plan (Esther 4:15-16). You know, there is a very special excitement in being tuned in with God’s plan for your life. You may not always feel secure in this world’s way of thinking, but isn’t it far better to be secure with God? Joseph, sold into slavery, deserted by all those he knew, must have cried out, “Hey God. Where have you gone? Why me? You raise my hopes and you dash them. You raise them again and you dash them down again.” But Genesis tells us that Joseph discovered that while men intended to do evil to him, God was able to turn it into something good. And because of this, what they intended for evil, God allowed it for good.
The truly spiritual man also desires to see the honor of God done through his life even if he has to suffer loss of recognition and personal humiliation. First Peter 5:6, “Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God that He may exalt you at the proper time.” Show me a person who has to be recognized, praised, or acknowledged and I will show you an unspiritual person. One of the marks of the Pharisees was this very thing. Even in prayer they seemed to be saying to God as well as to man, “Notice me, I am praying. I am not like this other man over here, this wicked man, this tax collector.” And it is interesting that in that prayer, you can read it carefully, he was praying to himself. God was not even listening to that prayer. Regarding works Jesus said we ought to do them. He assumed we would do them. He said, “Don’t sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the streets and the church so they may have the praise of men.” This implies the doing of good works as an expression of who you are, not for what you can get out of it. If your thing is to be noticed, you will be noticed and that is the end of the reward. You will never get anything beyond that.
The church where Ollie and I went right after we were married had 32 charter members. We bought some property and wanted to build our first unit and one of the gentlemen in the church was an architect so we asked him to draw up a sketch of something we could consider. So he was gone a couple weeks and then he came back. He called a meeting and we all met to view his design. He had the plans all rolled up, you know, like architect plans are rolled up and he held them behind his back and he said, “Now, as soon as you people approve the plans that I have here, I will show them to you.” We were stunned. At first we were not sure if we heard him correctly. We laughed. “Oh, come on now. You have had your fun. Now let’s see the plans.” “I told you, as soon as you approve the plans here, I will show them to you.” This went on for about 25 minutes. We tried to find all sort of ways to let him slip out and keep his face. He finally got so angry he threw the plans on the floor and went home. He wanted to make sure that he was recognized for what he had done.
You know, one of the most surprising events that remains on the schedule for the future is the gathering of all people before the Lord Jesus Christ to stand before His omniscient evaluation. We are told in Matthew 25 there is going to be those who have made great noise about all their works, who will assume that they have a high place in the kingdom of God and they are going to be turned away. Their works will go into the fire and be consumed. But other humble, spiritual people who quietly and unassumingly let the life of Christ be lived out through them are going to be rewarded. And the martyrs of the first century bear this out. The spiritual man desires God’s name to be exalted and could not care less who gets the credit. He does not need to have his name on a big plaque to validate his spiritual life.
This suggests another mark of a spiritual man. He wants to carry his cross. First Peter 4:12-13: “Don’t be bewildered or surprised when you go through the fiery trials ahead, for this is no strange thing that is going to happen to you. Instead, be really glad because these trials will make you partners with Christ in his suffering. And afterwards you will have the wonderful joy of sharing his glory in that coming day when it is going to be displayed.” These verses state directly what Christ meant when He said, “Take up your cross daily and follow me.” The truly spiritual man prefers, listen, the truly spiritual man prefers to be used by God to serve men rather than be served by men as though he was something special. And I could bore you all day with stories about instances I have seen of men who wanted to be served by men as if they were Christian royalty. “The Son of Man Himself came not to be ministered unto but to minister and to give His life a ransom for many.”
How much power we have over the lives of other people is not important. The kingdom of God is quite different. John Stott wrote a book on being a responsible Christian in a non-Christian society. And he relates the story about a homeless woman who came to a country preacher and asked for help but because the pastor was so busy, he left her saying he could not help her at the moment but he would pray for her in the days ahead. That lady wrote this poem:
“I was hungry and you formed a humanity’s group to discuss my hunger. I was imprisoned and you crept off quietly to your chapel and prayed for my release. I was naked and in your mind you debated the morality of my appearance. I was sick and you knelt and thanked God for your own good health. I was homeless and you preached to me of the spiritual shelter of the love of God. I was lonely and you left me alone to pray for me. You seem so holy, so close to God but I am still very hungry and lonely and cold.”
I can look back at my own ministry and see the times of effectual use have primarily been times of what I call divine interruptions--beautiful things that happen, totally unplanned. And whatever may be your gift or gifts for building the Body of Christ we are to remember it is the Lord we serve. The true Christian man will want to be obedient. The man with mature Christian perspective desires to obey God. First Peter 1:14, “As obedient children, do not be fashioned or conformed to the former lust which were yours in your ignorance but by the holy one who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior.” Some people live and learn. Others learn and live. To live and learn is to live, make the mistake and discover that it was a mistake. To learn and live is to abide by the principles that we have in the Word of God and then apply them to our daily living. One lives by the seat of his pants confident in his own abilities, making corrections along the way, the other values God’s ways and attempts to align his life with them. True, we all make mistakes and need to learn from them but true Christian living views Christ and His word as central not the abilities of the self.
The truly spiritual man would also rather be holy than happy. Now I did not say he would not want to be happy at all, but a baby or an immature person is more interested in being happy than in being good. Verse 15 of the 1 Peter 1, “Be holy yourselves in all your behavior.” Some Christians complain about the fact that although the Bible says we will get the desires of our heart (Psalm 37:4), they are not getting their desires fulfilled. They say, “It says in the Bible God will give me the desires of my heart and I am not getting the desires of my heart. What is wrong?” What the Psalmist is really saying is, “Bring yourself around to the point where you want what God wants and can give you without spoiling you and you will receive the desires of your heart because they will coincide with God’s best for you.” Let me give that to you one more time. “Bring yourself around to the point where you want what God wants and can give you without spoiling you and you will receive the desires of your heart because they will coincide with God’s best for you.”
I want to just sum up by saying the spiritual man desires to grow up and to demonstrate all of the fruit of the Spirit. In verse 10 of chapter five Peter begins to summarize how the sovereign will of God has worked out in our lives. “After you have suffered for a little, the God of all grace who called you into his eternal glory in Christ, He will himself perfect you.” That is, he will make up whatever is missing in your character. He will make you a solidly convinced person. He will strengthen you and establish you. In other words, He wants us to grow up with the fruit of the Spirit active in our lives. Galatians 5 tells us what they are: love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
I suggest that you really do not understand the fruit of the Spirit unless certain things apply. 1) I suggest that you do not know what love is if you have never been rejected. That is, pouring your heart out into the life of another person and gotten nothing back in return. 2) That you do not know what joy is if you have never experienced anxiety or discontent. Does God control your spirit or do circumstances? 3) That you do not know what peace is if you have never been harassed or come out on the short end of an important settlement. What do you do with that kind of a situation? Do you carry a grudge or do you discover the peace of God that passes all understanding? 4) You do not understand what longsuffering or patience is if you have never suffered abuse unjustly. You did what was right and you suffered for it. 5) You do not know what kindness is if you have not given something good to an enemy. 6) You do not know what goodness is if you have never sacrificed something you really prized as precious for the joy of another person. When Ollie was six or seven years old some missionaries were visiting in her home and her grandmother was a real spoiler. Ollie had just been given a nice new watch for Christmas and they were sitting in the living room there talking about Christmas and looking at gifts and things like that and the missionary couple’s daughter was about the same age as Ollie. And my father-in-law, Ollie’s dad said, “You know, I imagine that this [other little girl over here] would certainly like to have a watch like that, wouldn’t she?” Ollie had that watch just a few hours, looking at it, admiring it, but she took it off and handed it to her. That is my wife even to this day. I have to say it. She is a real winner. 7) You do not know what faithfulness is if you have never been severely tempted by something you really wanted when you were all alone.
Now here you are going to find out something about me. Has anyone here been in the life insurance business? I do not know how it is today, but back in the days when I was in life insurance, it was a crime to take a policy that was already in existence and tell the guy, “Hey, give that up. Get the cash and do something with me.” Because at a later point, you just cannot equal what the guy had when he took it out originally. I was in the home of this doctor and I had worked out a plan for him. He was going to be insured, he and his wife, and his four kids for college education. If he died, they were not going to have to worry about a thing until all the kids were married and had their own children. Now this was a big bundle of a policy and I was going to make a pile of money on this. But he already had a policy worth about $50,000 and he said, “You know, Al. I really like this plan of yours. Why don’t I get rid of this old policy and I will put everything I have with you.” And I discovered that evening that though I was a Sunday School superintendent, a Christian for 20 years, I began to play with that idea. There were only two of us in the room. He does not know the rules. No one would know. That would have been a nice pile of money. And the thing I could not get over that evening was the fact that I spent, I do not know if it was 30 seconds or what it was, seems like a year when I think about it, I actually played with the idea of doing it. I discovered in those few moments that I am no different than so many others, that I am a carnal guy who too highly values the things of this world. Fortunately I said “no.” But the thing that I could not get over when I went home was the fact that I actually played with this idea that was known sin to me. Faithfulness is doing things God’s way when you are alone.
Continuing: 8) You do not know what gentleness is if your heart has never been broken over another person’s need. And finally, 9) You do not know what self-control is if you have never had a legitimate reason to blow your stack.
What is spirituality? Who is spiritually mature? It cannot be answered in a word or an experience. It is only answered in a lifetime. Let us review. The spiritually mature man: 1) is humble, 2) desires to see God honored above all, 3) wants to carry his cross, 4) wants to be obedient, 5) would rather be holy than happy, and 6) desires to show the fruit of the Spirit in his life. The apostle Peter who walked with Jesus Christ spent his entire lifetime gaining an understanding of how to become a spiritually mature child of God and here he is, he knows his death is imminent, writing to us about these ways, these characteristics. Do not allow yourself to be satisfied with anything else.
21) Why Did He Have to Leave?
John 16:5-11: “But now I am going away to the One who sent me, and not one of you is asking where I am going. Instead, you grieve because of what I’ve told you. But in fact, it is best for you that I go away, because if I don’t, the Advocate won’t come. If I do go away, then I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world of its sin, and of God’s righteousness, and of the coming judgment. The world’s sin is that it refuses to believe in me. Righteousness is available because I go to the Father, and you will see me no more. Judgment will come because the ruler of this world has already been judged.”
It seems that the last days of a man’s ministry in any situation rather than easing off, he tends to pick up and accelerate in activity, with visits and discussions and consideration lest some important things are left undone. And this is very much true in the last days of Jesus as He prepares His disciples for the days ahead without Him. It was going to be a tremendously significant change for them. Can you imagine any situation more ideal than as a human being to be one of a select few who get to walk with the Son of God on this earth? Would it not be the greatest thing imaginable in the world for you and for me to walk side-by-side with God in the flesh, especially after the resurrection? Could anything be more ideal than that? If you had any problems, you could jump on the jet and go over to Jerusalem and say, “Hey, Jesus. How should we handle this problem?” And that is exactly what we all would think, according to our natural way of thinking. That is what many in Jerusalem in that day thought. And I am certain God is very much aware of how we think. Nevertheless, God is different. “His thoughts are not our thoughts and His ways are not our ways.” It must have been shocking to hear Jesus say (John 16:7), “I tell you the truth. It is expedient for you that I go away. For if I do not go away, the Advocate [or Counselor or Encourager or Comforter] will not come to you but if I do depart, I will send him to you.” We would like to have God in the flesh, someone we can see and touch. But God says it is better for us now if we have the Holy Spirit, instead. Whether we agree with God’s chosen modus operandi, or His divine procedure, is entirely beside the point. I am not being particularly intelligent if I am envious of God’s authority or doubtful of His wisdom. So let us not get bogged down in the debate over why it would have been better if Jesus had stayed. Let us rather find out why He left and why His leaving was God’s best for us.
It is not that the Spirit was not already in the world. He is omnipresent; the Spirit of God is everywhere. But Jesus says He will be coming with something new to say. Verse 8 says He will convict the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment. Is this a new ministry or function for the Holy Spirit, for God? Have not men and women always needed to be convicted of sin, righteousness, and judgment? Are only the people of today “dead in trespasses and sin,” or has that been true since the fall of Adam? The movement upon the hearts of men and women has always been needed. What He has to work with may change but His mission has always been the same. But, now, based on the work of Jesus Christ, the complete gospel message has been revealed. Where before God “overlooked people’s ignorance” (Acts 17:30), now “he commands everyone everywhere to repent of their sins and turn to him.” Now at the hearing of the gospel salvation and rebellion are revealed. Jesus gives us the bottom line issues involved. It is not just being good enough to merit heaven or bad enough to merit hell. It is about allegiance and fellowship. It is about choosing sides. It is about being reconciled to God through the Lord Jesus Christ.
Sin, righteousness, and judgment have a relationship to one another; they have a relationship to God and to the work of the Holy Spirit. Let us define them. Sin concerns failure. It is commonly said that sin is falling short of the glory of God. While that is true, Jesus says the point of judgment is the rejection of Himself. Sin is ultimately the rejection of both the way and person of Christ, the Son of God. Which then is the rejection of God in one’s life. Men and women focus on behavior. They strive to be good enough to pass muster with God. God convicts them that unless they are perfect in righteousness they stand condemned before Him. People question this and see it as unfair and beyond belief. But ultimately it is not about just being imperfect; it is about rebellion against God. Sin, the falling short, not just incorrect behavior based on ignorance, is choosing to go one’s own way. It is falling short of what God intended for us. And every man deep in his heart acknowledges this fact. The work of Christ on the cross makes salvation possible to all. Before Calvary, God forgave based on what will be—the atoning work of God’s promised One to come (Gen. 15:4-6; Rom. 4:2-3). After Calvary, God forgives based on what has been done—God’s promised One fulfilling all righteousness (LK. 3:15) by His sacrificial death (Heb. 2:17) and resurrection (Jn. 11:25-26) from the dead. This falling short of the righteousness of God will not bar you from heaven. But rejecting the offer of fellowship with God through the redemptive work of Christ (Rom. 5:11) will.
While the Holy Spirit is interested in every sin of any man, He is primarily interested in dealing with the problem of sin at its origin or source. Your talk may be crude, your ethics may be abominable, your manners may be offensive and your behavior may be of reproach, but as bad as that sounds, the chief problem is not those things. They are only symptoms. The question is, why are we like that? Whether it is a searching adolescent or a sophisticated adult, all the outward evidences of what are labeled “sins” are merely the symptoms of one central malady—man’s refusal to go along with God’s way. Sin is not a physical defect to be patched up, pitied or excused. It is a rebellion against the government of God in your life.
If a man lies sick of a dreaded disease and there is one known cure and I bring that remedy to him and offer it to him and plead with him to accept it, but he refuses to take it and dies, did he die of the disease? Not really. He did have the disease, but why did he die? He died because he rejected the remedy. God wants to save all men but some choose to condemn themselves by refusing to accept the remedy for their spiritual sickness. The Holy Spirit comes to bring sin and Christ into focus and empower us to choose which way we will go.
Secondly, the Holy Spirit’s work is to convict the world of righteousness. Normally men and women think that righteousness involves obeying a set of rules or laws such as the Ten Commandments or adherence to the precepts of Confucius, Buddha, or Muhammad. It is basically self-discipline and self-control. But what does Jesus say? The Spirit convicts the world of righteousness because Jesus goes to the Father. In what sense can the world be convicted of righteousness because Jesus goes to the Father? The absolute holiness and righteousness of Jesus Christ enables Him to exist in the presence of the Father, who demands absolute holiness for unfettered fellowship. Jesus Christ is God’s standard. And the fact that He lived His earthly life, suffered and died with the unqualified approval of the Father means that we are not approved because we fall short of the righteousness of Christ. His righteousness stands out as an eternal mark of conviction upon every man. There is not much doubt in my mind that every non-Christian can point to some Christians and say, “I am better than they are.” And judged by all external standards, I have to agree as I often do when I am talking to people about this subject. But that is not the issue and to pursue this as a road to a righteousness that would give me a right to stand before a holy God is sheer folly because as Paul has declared in Romans 3, “By the deeds of the law shall no flesh be justified or declared righteous.”
I met a gentleman I had in my church in California, who after six weeks came up to me and said, “I am getting the impression from you that you think Jesus Christ is somebody special.” I said, “You are right.” And his feeling was if Christ was any better than what he could become himself, he did not want to have anything to do with a religion like that. There is as much difference between the righteousness of Jesus Christ and the boastful morality of man as there is between heaven and hell. And that is exactly the way it is going to turn out in the end.
We then, as men and women, stand convicted of failing to attain adequate righteousness before God. One individual, Jesus Christ the righteous one, THE righteous one, has gone before us and not only shown us the way, He has fulfilled all righteousness. He has been accepted by the Father. And that is the point. It is not about being good enough to earn heaven. It is about being invited by God to have fellowship with Himself and rebellion cannot exist in His presence. Satan rebelled and was cast out of heaven. Adam rebelled and was cast out of the Garden. Jesus remains in the presence of the Father because He is holy, as the Father is holy.
May I say to you in all honesty, if all I know about Jesus Christ is His righteousness, I would be without hope. For by His righteousness I see my failure. The sinlessness of Christ brings no comfort to the one who wishes to be judged righteous, because the righteousness of Christ only emphasizes our sin. The light of Christ’s righteousness shining on my life exposes me. Who else from all eternity could stand up and say on his own behalf, “I will go to God?” Nobody. Jesus Christ alone can say, “There is nothing to keep me out of heaven.” I cannot say that. Does anybody dare to even think to say such a thing? In the words of the Roman centurion, “Truly this was a righteous man.” When Thomas asked, “How can we know the way?” Jesus said, “I am the way. No one is accepted by the Father except through me.”
Thirdly, the work of the Holy Spirit is to convict the world of judgment. How is He going to convict the world of judgment? The answer is surprising--because the prince of this world has been judged. Now it is important to this message and for any hope of Christianity to understand what the Scriptures teach here. Do not let what you already think you might know about this judgment idea keep you from learning some new truth about it. We all know what judgment is, do we not? We all know that we are someday going to face judgment. This is an appointment we all have. Hebrews 9:27 says, “It is appointed unto men once to die, but after that the judgment.” Judgment will be a time of evaluation and appraisal of all things done in the flesh. This is what we know about judgment. But may I point out here three things and emphasize who is judged, the tense of the verb, and the time and place in history when the judgment took place. Who is judged? It is the prince of this world, not the people of the world, not the prince of peace, but the prince of this world. That title is found in other scriptures but it is most clear in Ephesians 2:2. It talks about when you and I were dead in trespasses and sins we walked according to the course of this world according to the way of the prince of this world. This is obviously a statement referring to Satan, the evil one. As we were identified with Adam when he fell, we were identified with Satan because we walked in his ways. But repentance and faith in Christ moves us away from Adam and Satan toward fellowship with God.
What is the tense of the verb here? It is past tense. He has been judged. Satan is through, caput, rendered powerless. You know what this means, don’t you? You and I can no longer say “Satan made me do it.” But the Bible says sin shall not have dominion or control over you. Does Satan want you to sin? Of course he does. He is the accuser of the brethren, we are told. Remember when God and Satan were talking about Job and he said, “Job is in this for the goodies.” But does Satan MAKE you sin? No, he does not. It is we who choose to sin. We give Satan the opportunity to have power over us. Most significantly, the judgment of Satan is about much more than his powerlessness to control Christians. He is lost; we do not have to be. He is held up as an example of what happens to unrepentant rebellion. Through the redemptive work of Christ, men and women everywhere can turn from Satan and their rebellion to fellowship with God.
Chapter 8 of Romans has much to say about a spirit-filled life. Paul says, “I want to be free. I want to live. I want a purpose other and higher than that for which I have formerly struggled trying to satisfy myself without the help of God.” And Jesus says, “Hey, you can live this way because the prince of this world has been judged. Sin does not have to control your life.” When was this victory gained? Through the resurrection. Am I perfect? Not yet. Am I sinless? No way. But possible victory over temptation day by day? Yes. Romans 6.4: “Therefore we have been buried with Christ through baptism into death in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we also might walk in newness of life.” Verse 5: “For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of his death, certainly we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection.” Verse 8: “Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall live with him.” Verse 11: “Consider yourselves therefore to be dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore, do not let sin reign in your mortal body that you should obey its lust.”
Paul tells the Christian believers at Ephesus something very interesting. He tells them to not be drunk with wine. When you are drunk, you are under the control of the ‘spirits’ of the vine. When you are saved and trusting the Lord and are spirit-filled, you are under the influence of the Spirit. Get the difference? Under either condition, whether drunk or filled with the spirit of God, men walk differently than they normally do. They talk differently. They think differently. They live differently. Because Satan has been judged the opportunity to live free of him is possible. Satan’s shackles on our lives have been loosened, all we have to do is shake them off and cling to our Lord to live as He wants us too.
22) The Power of Received Forgiveness
Luke 7:36-50: “One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to have dinner with him, so Jesus went to his home and sat down to eat. When a certain immoral woman from that city heard he was eating there, she brought a beautiful alabaster jar filled with expensive perfume. Then she knelt behind him at his feet, weeping. Her tears fell on his feet, and she wiped them off with her hair. Then she kept kissing his feet and putting perfume on them. When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, ‘If this man were a prophet, he would know what kind of woman is touching him. She’s a sinner!’ Then Jesus answered his thoughts. ‘Simon,’ he said to the Pharisee, ‘I have something to say to you.’ ‘Go ahead, Teacher,’ Simon replied. Then Jesus told him this story: ‘A man loaned money to two people—500 pieces of silver to one and 50 pieces to the other. But neither of them could repay him, so he kindly forgave them both, canceling their debts. Who do you suppose loved him more after that?’ Simon answered, ‘I suppose the one for whom he canceled the larger debt.’ ‘That’s right,’ Jesus said. Then he turned to the woman and said to Simon, ‘Look at this woman kneeling here. When I entered your home, you didn’t offer me water to wash the dust from my feet, but she has washed them with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You didn’t greet me with a kiss, but from the time I first came in, she has not stopped kissing my feet. You neglected the courtesy of olive oil to anoint my head, but she has anointed my feet with rare perfume. I tell you, her sins—and they are many—have been forgiven, so she has shown me much love. But a person who is forgiven little shows only little love.’ Then Jesus said to the woman, ‘Your sins are forgiven.’ The men at the table said among themselves, ‘Who is this man, that he goes around forgiving sins?’ And Jesus said to the woman, ‘Your faith has saved you; go in peace.’”
What do we know about these first century Pharisees? Well, for one thing, intellectually, they had a tremendously strong commitment to the Scriptures of their day, particularly the Law, the Psalms and the Prophets. They read them constantly. They had them memorized. They could recite every jot and tittle. But unfortunately, they could not leave well-enough-alone. They invented many rules and regulations and added them to what God actually said. And these became the standard by which they judged themselves and others. For example, in John’s gospel chapter nine, Jesus heals a man who had been born blind. How does He do this? First, He did it on the Sabbath day, and to them that was bad enough, but then He made a clay mixture out of His saliva and the dust of the ground and placed it on the man’s eyes and told him to go down to a pool to wash it off. He did so and came back seeing. That is exciting, but how did the Pharisees respond? They were upset. Jesus was making mini-bricks. He was taking the saliva of His mouth and the dust of the ground and like a mason making bricks and placing them on the man’s eyes. And for that He was condemned. Never mind that a blind man was given sight, they chided Him for working on the Sabbath. They essentially accused Jesus of sin. There are scores of illustrations like this. The Pharisees became bitter enemies of Jesus and sought to put an end to Him as soon as possible. Jesus, on the other hand, labeled them for what they were—hypocrites. They so focused on their own rules and regulations, the Pharisee distinctives, that they missed the truly righteous and merciful acts of God.
Jesus was invited to dinner by a Pharisee named Simon. Simon was a financially well-off man, living in a house that befitted a man of his prestige. The houses of the poor were usually very small, maybe one-room, while the homes of the wealthy were spacious and well-built. They had an open courtyard between the many rooms of the house and maybe even a pool for swimming and bathing. They would often eat in the courtyard, weather permitting. The table was low and you reclined on your elbow with your legs extended behind you. The Rabbis also led a public life. So much so that when they were eating their dinners in these courtyards people would come and listen to the conversations, hoping to hear some wise words.
Jesus had been invited to this dinner and He was one of those people came to hear. The woman described in verse 37 was one of those who took the liberty to drop in. Jesus had already picked up quite a following by this time. He had performed several miracles. He had healed Peter’s mother-in-law in Luke 4. He had cleansed the leper in Luke 5. He had healed a man whose four friends opened up the roof and dropped him down to where Jesus was teaching. The crowds were getting so large that on one occasion He asked Peter to let Him use his boat so all the people on the shore could see and hear Him. And when He finished speaking (Luke 5), He told Peter where to drop his nets for fish and Peter caught so many he had to ask for another boat.
We have not been told what Simon’s motive was in inviting Jesus and we do not know who the other guests were, probably other Pharisees. Why did he invite Jesus there? Perhaps to discuss some item of the law. They used to do this out of sheer delight, just argue back and forth about these nit-picking rules. For them it was intellectual stimulation. Maybe he really thought that Jesus might have something to say that would be new and meaningful or maybe he was given the job by other Pharisees to set a trap for Jesus to see if they could catch him in some offbeat theological position so they could condemn and disgrace Him before the people. Or maybe Simon was just a big-time name dropper. You know, you have seen these guys. Me and Billy Graham did this and Chuck Colson and I did that. These people are always name dropping like they are really in on something big. Maybe that was what he wanted to do. Regardless, Jesus accepted the invitation.
The thing I notice about this is that Jesus has always been available for everyone. Whosoever will may call on the name of the Lord and it is still that way today. As for this woman, the New English Bible says she was, verse 39, an immoral woman. During the time I was an interim pastor in Miami, one of our church members who owned a couple of apartments discovered one time that three women living in one of those apartments were prostitutes and he encouraged them to leave. One of them had a young boy about six years old and she begged the man to allow her to stay in that apartment if she would behave herself. He told her she could stay on two conditions. 1) She give up her trade and find a legitimate job. 2) She go to church. So there she was one Sunday morning. I was preaching from John 4, about the woman at the well who has had six husbands and the one she was living with at the time was not her husband. I do not know how the Holy Spirit works sometimes but I know that He does. She gave her heart to the Lord and became a new, forgiven person that day. What a joy it was to see this lady grow in Christ.
While the actual word for “prostitute” is not used here, the phrasing of the language is constructed in such a way to strongly imply she is that sort of woman. While Simon and Jesus and the other guests were eating, in comes this notoriously ill-famed woman into the courtyard and takes her position at Jesus’ feet. And before Simon knows it, he is witnessing something that is totally incomprehensible to a self-righteous Pharisee. Apparently she had come in for the purpose of anointing Jesus, but before she could get to it, she is overcome by emotion and there at the feet of Jesus she weeps violently. The tears flowed down her cheeks, dropping on Jesus’ feet so profusely that she used them to clean His feet from the dust of the day. Then taking the crowning glory of a prostitute’s vocation, her beautiful hair, usually piled high up with jewels in it, she loosened it, let it down to serve as a cloth to wipe His feet. She then kissed his feet and I imagine that some there got nervous at that point. What is going on? She then anointed his feet with her precious ointment, probably myrrh which was one of the gifts that the Magi brought to Jesus at His birth. Myrrh is rather pricy, probably worth a couple month’s pay. But more important is the significance of her gift. There is some symbolism here. This ointment had been an accessory to her business. One of the tools of her unholy trade and here she is giving it up for Jesus. This was an act of contrite repentance. This oil was joyously poured out as a love offering for Jesus. She is showing that she is now a new creation. She has been born-again.
Simon witnessed all of this and what did he see? He did not see a person. He did not see a human being. He did not see a changed woman. He saw wickedness. He saw sin. He saw broken laws. He saw judgment. He saw failure. He saw condemnation. He saw uncleanness. That is what he saw. What did Simon feel inside? He felt righteous. He felt superior. He felt self-confident and assured. He felt proud. This tells me why Jesus was so harsh on the Pharisees. They reveled in the law, not because they loved God or His law, but in knowing and keeping the invented rules and regulations they felt superior and holier than other people. But worst of all, they felt no need for forgiveness.
Simon thought to himself about Jesus, verse 39. “Ummm, this man that I have invited, if he were a prophet, he would certainly know what kind of woman he is dealing with here.” Simon thinks further. “What sort of a man is this who would permit this kind of a woman to even touch his feet?” The Pharisees believed that if you even touched an immoral woman you were unclean, completely. You would have to go through a process that took about seven days before you could be ‘clean’ again. God in the Old Testament often told His people to separate themselves from the community when they came in contact with a potential disease-spreading situation. He did this to hinder the spread of infectious disease. The Pharisees in their self-righteous frame of mind transfered this thinking to certain kinds of people, including prostitutes. To touch a prostitute was to make oneself spiritually unclean. Therefore, they stayed away from those ‘dirty people’. How many Christians come across like this? We pigeonhole, we categorize, we classify, we condemn, we write off certain people. There are certain people that I ask myself, how could they become Christians? They are so far gone. And I think of my friend in Miami that could have thought that about this young lady. So far gone. Man looks on the outward appearance, but God looks on the heart.
Jesus was alert to both what the thoughts of Simon were and the thoughts of the woman. So he calls to Simon and says, “I have something to tell you,” verse 40, and Simon responds, “Speak on, Master.” No doubt he is thinking that he is a very righteous man compared to this woman so he is anxious to hear how Jesus is going to confirm who he is, how he is so much better than her. But Jesus begins to tell a brief story about two debtors. Putting it in today’s finances, the first one owes about $40,000 and the other one owes about $4,000. Neither of these debtors could make a payment and according to the law, they and possibly their families could have been cast into prison until they worked off the debt. But what happens? They are both forgiven. Jesus then asks Simon, “Which of these two debtors do you think would most likely love the President of the finance company the most?” Simon answers, “Of course the one who was forgiven the most.” That is the logical answer. Jesus says, “Yes, you are right.” And then turning to the woman, while speaking to Simon, Jesus says, “Do you see this woman?” Simon had not really seen this woman. Simon saw a harlot. Simon saw a sinner, a social outcast, a street spectacle, a law-breaker. He never saw her as a person in need of God’s transforming grace. Jesus continues, “Simon, I want you to reconsider this woman in the light of what I am going to tell you about her. Put aside your prejudice conclusions based on her past. Let us compare her heart right now with your heart, Simon.” And then beginning in verse 44, Jesus talks about what this woman did in her newfound devotion to God as compared to what Simon should have done merely out of common courtesy to an invited guest.
In our shepherding group we looked at the story of the Good Samaritan and the word “compassion” came up and we discovered that the word carries with it a sense of action. Compassion is not just, “Oh, isn’t that too bad, sorry about that.” Compassion is doing something, doing compassion, doing mercy. Jesus, who knew no sin, became sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God in Him--action. Doing something. And Jesus says, “I came to your house Simon, but you offered me no water for my feet”--which was a common civil courtesy in that culture. Simon actually had been rude to Jesus because the host is supposed to provide water and wipe the feet of the people as they come to visit. “You Simon gave me no warm greeting. Now this woman bathed my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair and she has not ceased to kiss my feet. You Simon have not washed my feet with water but she has anointed my feet with this ointment.” Something has happened in this woman’s life. She is a changed woman. She has recognized and acknowledged her own sin. She has come face to face with her inability to rescue herself from the penalty of sin and death. And in that she represents every one of us. She has decided that since she cannot save herself, she will cast her eternal destiny upon the only one who can help. Then Jesus said to the woman, “Your sins are forgiven. Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.”
Now somebody is going to say, it ain’t fair. It is not fair at all. It seems the lesson here is the more you sin and the worse you sin, the better off you will be, the more love you will receive from God. Not. No way. Do not believe that lie. That is Satan’s voice trying to put down your faith and mock God’s grace. And if young people were thinking. “I do not have a great testimony to share like some really bad sinner because I came to church, went to Sunday School, I learned the lessons, I gave my heart to Christ and I lived consistently. I do not have an exciting testimony.” When I was eighteen years old I had the same thought come to my mind. I met a guy in Los Angeles and I said, “This is my problem.” He said, “I had the same problem myself.” I said, “What did you do about it?” He said, “I went out and I bought a bottle of vodka and went over to a hotel room and drank it until I got drunk so I could, you know, say that I had been out in the world and done a few rough, lousy things so I would have a testimony.” He said, “You know what I found out?” I said, “What did you find out?” He said, “I found out I can get as sick as anybody else in the world.” I discovered something else when I thought about it. It takes more of the grace and the love of God to keep you from losing it all and to stay consistent and follow the Lord and His teachings day by day. It takes more of the grace of God to live the Christian life than it does for somebody lying in the gutter to look up and say, “God, I need help.” I do not think we should ever forget that. The Lord’s grace is sufficient for every one of us. And the lesson is, no matter who we are, only when we become consciously aware of how much in Christ we are forgiven, then, and only then, can we truly understand the love of God and be able to respond in praise to Him.
I had a fellow in one of our study groups when I was at Trinity Seminary, when we were talking about grace say, “That sounds too simple, sort of cheap.” I responded, “How else can everyone in the world be eligible unless it is a free gift of God?” But it was not cheap. God sent His Son Jesus Christ who gave His all, who gave His blood in order that we might become His children. You know, there are two kinds of sin—those evil things that you do and those good things you should do that you do not do. The woman in Luke 7 had contributed more than her share of indecency to the community; that was for sure. And she knew it. Her heart was now tender to the need for forgiveness and change. But Simon’s heart was cold as ice. Sin is not always what you do, but very often it keeps you from doing something you should do--respond to the Spirit’s direction in your life. Jesus asked Simon to take a look at himself so he can look at others differently.
The woman was moved to worship and praise, adoration and devotion. She wept and then praised God. Simon? He just sat there, immovable, inactive, only judging. While it is true that he had not done any of the terrible sins this woman had, he also had no heart, no warmth, no spontaneous joy. Have you ever met these people? Totally orthodox, totally sterile, but spiritually dead. The woman knew her need and she was aware of how far she had fallen. Her actions revealed how grateful she was for the mercy she had received. Simon was blinded by his own cool intellect. She was enlightened in her received forgiveness. His greatest poverty was he did not think he needed forgiveness, that he was spiritually self-sufficient. When we become conscious of how great the love of God is, in Christ, our response should be great love for God--to become just like that woman. Someone has written these words, “When the thought of God does not remind you of your sin but that it is forgiven, when the past is no longer the memory of how much you have done wrong but of how much you have been forgiven, then you can rest in the peace of received forgiveness.”
The other guests, verse 49, were concerned about Jesus’ claim to be able to forgive sins. Because only God can forgive sins. On the other hand, the woman believed that Jesus had forgiven her sin and went away with joy. Jesus has the power to forgive. The change that takes place by received forgiveness is tremendous, life-changing. The ointment, what she once used to provoke men, she now used to praise God. She had sold herself to evil but now she gives herself to God as an instrument of righteousness. The gospel is good news of deliverance and change. My prayer is that every one of us would know that we are forgiven in Christ. What a marvelous, gracious God we have!
I am quite sure that most of us have not lived lives as sinful, sad or miserable as had that lady that came to Jesus that day. Relatively, we are better than she. But I am equally sure that not many of us have lived lives as precisely proper as had Simon. Every moment of every day he thought about how he could keep the law. Relatively, we are worse than Simon. Listen to Matthew 5:20. Jesus says, “I tell you that unless your righteousness exceeds [surpasses] that of the Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” Then how can we claim acceptance with God? Only through faith in Jesus Christ and His sacrifice for us. God thinks of us as righteous because we are in Christ. Jesus Christ is God’s standard, and one day those who have received Him as their Lord and Savior will be transformed to be like Him. We will be remade because we have given God permission to remake us. The woman rejoices in what she will be in Christ. Simon rejoices in what he has made himself to be. The woman will sing the praises of the Lamb as recorded in Revelation 5; Simon, unless he repents and believes in Jesus, will weep and gnash his teeth as he hears Jesus say, “Depart from me for I never knew you.”
23) Temptation: Where the Rubber Hits the Road
1 Corinthians 10:1-13: “I don’t want you to forget, dear brothers and sisters, about our ancestors in the wilderness long ago. All of them were guided by a cloud that moved ahead of them, and all of them walked through the sea on dry ground. In the cloud and in the sea, all of them were baptized as followers of Moses. All of them ate the same spiritual food, and all of them drank the same spiritual water. For they drank from the spiritual rock that traveled with them, and that rock was Christ. Yet God was not pleased with most of them, and their bodies were scattered in the wilderness. These things happened as a warning to us, so that we would not crave evil things as they did, or worship idols as some of them did. As the Scriptures say, ‘The people celebrated with feasting and drinking, and they indulged in pagan revelry.’ And we must not engage in sexual immorality as some of them did, causing 23,000 of them to die in one day. Nor should we put Christ to the test, as some of them did and then died from snakebites. And don’t grumble as some of them did, and then were destroyed by the angel of death. These things happened to them as examples for us. They were written down to warn us who live at the end of the age. If you think you are standing strong, be careful not to fall. The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure.”
Temptation is with every one of us. And the way we handle temptation, the way we react, is where the rubber hits the road. And God has given us His guarantee regarding temptation. I think all too often the problem of temptation is not honestly acknowledged or faced. In fact, in our zeal to sell someone on the Christian faith, if you will, to convince them that they want to become a Christian, the impression is given that once you become a Christian, once you have brought Christ into your life, temptation to sin is something that will never, never touch you again. It will be a thing of the past. That Satan is going to lose total interest in you and never bother you again. In fact, the opposite is true. First Peter 5:8 tells us how Satan goes about like a roaring lion seeking whom he can devour. And then you have the words of Paul in Romans 7, verses 15 and 16 where he says, “I do not understand myself at all, for I really want to do what is right but I cannot. I do what I do not want to, I do what I hate and I know perfectly well what I am doing is wrong and my bad conscience proves that I agree with the laws that I am breaking. When I try not to do wrong, I do it anyway.” And to dispel the erroneous idea that anyone is ever totally free from sin or temptation, consider the first comment of 1 Cor. 10:13. “There has no temptation come into your experience that is not common to all men.”
Each one of us thinks we are unique, that no one else has ever had trouble like I have had. “No one else has ever been tempted in the way I have. If you knew how difficult it is for me, you would be sympathetic with me because I have troubles like no one else in the world. I have temptations like no one else in the world.” Not so. As human beings we share in the common lot of mankind and ever since sin entered the world, temptation has also been a very, very real fact of life. The big question is, What shall I do about temptation? How will I respond?
Galatians 5:19 says this about the results of yielding to temptation, “When you follow your own wrong inclinations, your lives will produce these evil results: impure thoughts, eagerness for lustful pleasure, idolatry, divisions, hatred, fighting, jealousy, anger, constant effort to get the best for yourself, complaining, criticisms.” As we examine a list like this, we see that just as Adam and Eve were tempted and just as Jesus Christ Himself was tempted, so we too find that temptation comes to us in one of three forms. First of all, the lust of the flesh. “I like that.” An appeal to our personal pleasure. Then there is the lust of the eye. “I want it.” An appeal for personal possessions. Superficial lifestyle, materialism. And then there is the pride of life. “I deserve it.” The vanity of self-elevation.
Perhaps this is where we ought to take a moment to consider the nature and the effect of temptation to do evil. Temptation is effective when we react to it according to our self instincts and our natural drives rather than according to God’s thoughts and His precepts. J.B. Phillips writes this, “Every sin that ever was,” that is pretty broad, “springs from our love turned in upon itself.” I am amazed at how common and ordinary and similar every one of the sins we are tempted to do is. Look back at the illustrations in the previous verses, verses 5-12 in 1 Corinthians 10 to see how it is that Israel repeatedly fell into sin. They were guarded day by day, verse 1, by fire at night and cloud by day but they were ungrateful. Verses 3-4, they were fed and watered sufficiently day after day but they were ungrateful. And when they prospered, they frivolously ate, drank, played, acted immorally, and grumbled regularly, verse 7. And even miracles did not keep them on the straight and narrow path with God. In verse 11, Paul tells us that their rebellion and their misbehavior are given as examples for us to learn from since we will face similar temptations.
Is there any way we can guard against falling victim to the same temptations over and over? Do these lessons apply to us? And in this experience of being subject to the common problem of temptation, are there some common errors in thinking which lead us to sin, which we can and should try to avoid? I say there are. There are common causes of falling into sin. In verse 12 we are given the primary cause of falling -- an overconfidence in self (1). It is inordinate self-esteem. Self-esteem is okay up to a point. Paul tells us that in Romans 12:3. “Do not think more highly of yourself than you oughtto, but think sensibly.” In other words, there is a proper level of self-esteem. But inordinate self-esteem is the over-valuing of self. And when we over-value self, we under-value God. As many Christians have had to learn the hard way, we are most vulnerable to temptation when we are feeling emotionally high. Look at verse 12, you are likely to be off guard (“Let him who thinks he stands, take heed lest he fall.”). Look at Luke 22:31-34. Jesus is talking to Simon Peter and he says, “Simon, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat.” In other words, to get a hold of you. “I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And you, once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, with you I am ready to go both to prison and to death.” And Jesus said, “I tell you something Peter, that particular rooster is not going to crow today until you have denied three times that you even know me.”
I heard the testimony of Gordon McDonald. He was a very fine, outstanding Bible teacher on the radio, and he was asked by a close friend what it would take for him to lose his effectiveness as a man of God and a preacher of the gospel. He said, “I cannot imagine what in the world it would be but I can tell you one thing it would never be. It will never be infidelity to my wife.” Guess what? It happened soon after that and he had to confess it. That is what took him down. This is a concern that George Duffield, the author of the hymn “Stand up for Jesus.” It shows he understood this truth well. “Stand up, stand in his strength alone. The arm of flesh will fail you; you dare not trust your own.” The mighty Samson began to think his strength was his own, that it was part of him, and so he was not aware of his weakness until he was brought down.
Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 4:7-11, really interesting to read this, he is writing to his disciples, his friends, those in his congregation, “For who regards you as superior? What do you have that you did not receive? But if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it? You are already filled. You have already become rich. You have become kings without us and I would indeed that you had become kings so that we might reign with you.” A little bit of sanctified sarcasm there. “I think God has exhibited us apostles last of all as men condemned to death because we have become a spectacle to the world both to angels and to men. We are fools for Christ’s sake. You are prudent in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are distinguished but we are without honor.” And then he writes down in verse 13, “When we were slandered, we tried to conciliate, we had become as the scum of the world and the dregs of all things.” Paul recognized their exalted self-image and sought to balance it out by contrasting it with his own humility for the sake of the gospel, for the sake of Christ.
Another cause of falling into sin is bitterness (2). This is a bad one. Bitterness over circumstance, complaints, murmurs, grumblings, these filled much of the account of God’s deliverance of the people under Moses. You look at the book of Numbers and you see them griping and complaining, fussing and fuming all the time. All because they were bitter concerning their circumstances. They did not have the promised-land in view. They missed Egypt.
There is another cause of falling into sin in verse 9--presuming on the grace of God (3). “Nor let us try the Lord as some of those early people of Moses did and were destroyed by the serpent.” They fell. They were defeated. You know, it is more than just a coincidence I think that Satan came to Jesus soon after His baptism. When the Father was announcing, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased,” what could be a more glorious moment than that? So what happened immediately after? Out in the wilderness he goes and Jesus is tempted. The idea of presuming had a little different meaning in the context of history than it has to us now, although I think both are pertinent to the problem of temptation and dealing with it. To tempt Christ or to presume on the grace of God in the account referred to here was the same as pride. God had given Israel a great military victory, Numbers 21, but in spite of that miraculous act of grace on their behalf, they became too proud to accept the provision God had made for their daily sustenance. “We are getting tired of this stuff, God. You keep feeding us the same thing every day. We are getting tired of it. We wish you would do it some other way. Find something better.” Getting tired of McDonalds. We would like to go to Prime and Pub or White Stag. Cannot stand that stuff at Hardees. They rebelled against God and I am forever amazed at the vast number of Christian people who will accept God’s grace as their, if you will, passport out of condemnation and hell, yet they persist in trying to maintain the Christian life without any help from God at all. Like Cain who killed his brother rather than obey God, we reject the direction that God gives to us and we try to work things out for ourselves.
Presumption today has even a stronger connotation of sin. The word suggests a calculated, willful rebellion against God that results in unrepentant sin. I had a gentleman in my church in California who really presumed upon God. We had a healing service for his brother and the cancer that he had was allayed for a while. But then finally, several years after I left the church, I found out that his brother died and this gentleman got up at the funeral service and said, “There is not going to be a burial today. My brother is going to be resurrected.” After about two and one-half to three hours of everybody waiting around to see what was going to happen, the brother stood up and said, “Because nobody else here has the faith that I have, we will have to go bury my brother.” This man was presuming upon the grace of God and then blaming others for the failure of what he ‘prophesied’. Talking about this kind of presumption, Paul says, “What shall we say? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Shall we continue on our ego trip? May it never be.” How sad to see supposedly Christian people who presume upon the grace of God rather than accepting the Lord’s will.
Verse 7 pointed to another weakness--self-indulgence (4). This is not so much different from presuming. I trust you have heard the statement, “If you have it, flaunt it.” Well, self-indulgence seems to say, “If you have forgiveness, flaunt it.” Go out and live like the devil. “And the people sat down to eat and drink and they got up to play.” I do not know how many of you heard the testimony of Gert Bahana who became an outstanding Bible teacher. She talked with regret about her life before she became a Christian, which was pretty much full of debauchery and drinking until early morning hours and then going to bed and getting up around 2:00 pm., and then the next day doing it all over again. She said, “You know, it makes for a very short day. Constantly living that way.” You can feel the meaninglessness of such a life.
Exodus 32 records when the people of Israel got tired of trusting God and His servant Moses. Moses set out, do you remember, from Mt. Horeb by way of the Red Sea and the people became impatient. They spoke against God, “Why have you brought us out of Egypt so that we are going to die in this wilderness, no food, no water and we loathe this food that God is providing for us.” Later, they prevailed upon Aaron, their religious leader while Moses was up on the mountain, to make an idol, a calf forged from their own gold jewelry and other precious items. And when Moses returned and discovered what they had done, he is given the most fantastic attempt at a snow job in defense of sin that I have ever heard in my life. Let us just take a moment and read it. Exodus 32:21, Moses comes down and he says to Aaron, “What did this people do to you that you have brought such great sin upon them?” And Aaron says, “Don’t let the anger of my lord burn. You know how these people are yourself. That they are prone to evil and they said to me, ‘Make a god for us who will go before us. This guy, Moses, the man who brought us up from the land Egypt, we don’t know what has become of him.’ And I said to them, ‘Whoever has any gold, let them tear it off.’ So they gave it to me. I threw it into the fire and out came this calf.” Don’t you love it? “I took all this gold junk that I had. I threw it into the fire and then suddenly out comes this calf.” I would find that hilarious if it were not so sad. Eat, drink, and be merry became the new goal. The concept of God’s call to holiness and service was gone. The idea that man’s chief end is to glorify God or that man is God’s ordained instrument for accomplishing the will of God in this world was gone. They lost all sense of divine destiny. Whatever comes between you and God is sin. You may not like it said that way but it is true. Whatever comes between you and God is sin and becomes your idol.
There is a fifth cause of sin--a lack of faith (5). With all of these indications of God’s material blessing and abundance on their behalf, they were guilty of ingratitude and I suggest that ingratitude is a lack of faith. If I believe God and if I trust God, I will demonstrate my faith through a life of grateful commitment to Him. Romans 12:1, “I beseech you brethren by the mercies of God that you present your bodies a living offering, so that you might discover what God’s will is for your life.” To be ungrateful is to take your eyes off of God and what He has done for you. It is to move through life without a God-consciousness and acknowledgement of blessings received—a total lack of faith, a secularization of life.
Temptation comes to us in a couple of different ways. Sometimes it is sought and sometimes it is not sought. Sometimes we are living our lives in our normal way, minding our own business, when suddenly there is opportunity to sin. Temptation appears unexpectedly. You are walking past a professor’s office in college or high school, the door is open, no one is there and on the top of his desk is the test paper for tomorrow’s exam. “Oh, how having a copy of that tonight to study would be so good. It would add to my grade point average.” And Satan says, “You know, couldn’t you be a greater honor to God if your grades were better?” Or you heard a joke that gets a laugh and although it is a little on the raunchy side, you repeat it because you are starving for attention and popularity. Or that business deal where a hint is dropped about a small deviation from the ethics of Christian faith, of good business practices but you could enhance your income greatly, what shall you do? Your favorite boy or girl suggests, "what harm would it do just this once? After all, is God so mean He does not want us to know what is going on in this world? To have some fun?" Your pals say to you, “Come on, how will you know what life is all about if you don’t trip out at least once?” It is these everyday points of testing where we may be taken by surprise that our real Christian character shows up, where it is put to a test. And it is at these points where I believe God’s guarantee regarding temptation can be experienced. It is common to all men, but God is faithful. He will provide a way to victory if we choose to take God’s provision.
Now the second way temptation comes is when we actively seek it. I am not going to ask for raised hands but I wonder if there is anybody reading this who has not at least once actively sought something that was not good? Let me illustrate this fact from a couple of Old Testament events. You know them both so I do not have to go into detail. David and Joseph. Both had the same temptation. David fell into tragic sin with Bathsheba. He himself was very much to blame. Compare him with Joseph. Given the same opportunity to do something that was wrong and he said, “No, I will not sin against God by doing this thing.” The kind of temptation that Joseph had was the same as David’s except that David looked for it and Joseph did not. We are more likely to sin when we go messing around looking for things and the proof is that David fell and Joseph did not.
We learn a couple of things from Joseph. First of all, we cannot avoid all temptation. Secondly, temptation in itself is not sin. The real issue then is, what do we do with the temptation? To be tempted does not mean we are weird, weak, stupid, out of God’s will, non-Christian, backslidden or whatever else. To be tempted merely indicates that I am a human living in a cause and effect world with the power to choose alternative behaviors. I am able to know right from wrong. But the guarantee of God is that He knows our situation and will be with us. His guarantee includes this promise, “No temptation will be beyond your power to cope with it through the help of God.” You say, “Al, if it is not beyond my strength, why do I fall? Has God teased me with a promise and then abandoned me when I need him?” That seems like a reasonable question on the surface. Yet the simple comment of one person about where God is, is quite true. If you have discovered that God is not with you sometime, ask yourself this question, “Who moved?” If God is not with you, who moved? God has not abandoned us. Again, His word is, “I will never leave you nor forsake you. I will be with you until the end of the age.” We fall when we abandon God and His promises. That may sound oversimplified but we either trust God or we don’t. It is that simple.
Sin is a monster waiting to take us down. We need to be aggressively opposed to it. But all too often we become familiar with it. First we endure, then pity it and then finally we embrace it. God knows what we can bear. God knows how we can overcome or escape it. God knows that His spirit can and will remind us of the way. He gave Peter a warning rooster before the second signaled his failure. We get reminders before we sin. The voice of our conscience and the voice of the Holy Spirit of God comes to us and says, “Look out. You are messing around here. Stay away!” So this brings us to the glorious part of the guarantee. There is a way of victory. We may not always take it. We may have to learn through bitter experience by falling a few times, but His promise is always there. The promise does not go away. There is a way of escape. God did not promise us we would not be tempted. He said He would provide a way of escape.
There is going to be temptation all the days of our lives and the biggest question is, what do we do about it? I want to give you a few responses to help you escape temptation. We will not go into too great a detail but first of all, prayer (1). “What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear. Oh, what peace we often forfeit when we do not take them to Him. Take your burden to the Lord in prayer.” Then you have the Scriptures (2). In the 4th chapter of Matthew this was a tool that Jesus used to resist temptation. He was not simply firing verses off. He was claiming the power of God that came from knowing the God of the Scriptures. I do not care if you have 4,000 verses memorized. If God is not in your heart and in charge of your spirit, you are going to fall. The third admonition is to stand fast (3). I think we have enough evidence from Scripture that the Christian is not to run away from every problem as soon as he becomes aware of it. In Ephesians chapter 6 Paul says several times, “Stand fast. Hang in there. Do not cop out even though it may be tough. Having done all to stand.” The Word of God tells us that we can be more than conquerors so let us stand. James says, “Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” And a promise to the seven churches of Revelation is that they will be rewarded if they endure.
I heard a story of a bank robber who was caught and was supposed to serve a twenty-year prison term. He served about eight years of that sentence. Upon release one provision was that he would go turn himself in to a halfway house. He did so and there was a good church nearby where he had become a Christian. He started attending that church and before he knew it, he was an usher and before too much time had gone past, one Sunday morning they took the offering and he was the one who was going to bring it forward at the very end. He walked down the aisle, looked up at the pastor, held the basket in front of him, winked at the pastor and said, “It is all here.” He had learned how to endure the problem of his own personal temptation.
On the other hand, the next suggestion is to flee (4). This does not seem to make sense. Is this a contradiction? First we are told to stand fast and then we are told to run. Which is it? Depending upon the temptation and your experience with it in the past and your present situation, you have to decide. What has been your experience with this temptation in the past? If you have failed every time before, hey, get out of there. Run as fast as you can. There is nothing shameful about doing that. Maybe you met up with what some people call your besetting sin. It is going to bother you for the rest of your days. What do you do about it? Get a good set of legs and run.
I think another area is to make no provision for the flesh (5). If your problem is cigarettes, throw away your lighter. Get rid of the matches. If your problem is drinking, do not go past the bars. I told you about my old friend Ray Whitford who was the town drunk. Go find another way to go home. Don’t walk past that tavern. If your problem is sexual thoughts, you especially should not rent those porno tapes. If your problem is a bad temper, walk away from the argument. Back off. Learn your weak point and give it over to the Lord.
Submission to Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit and His control is the chief answer to all of this (6). Romans 6:12, 13, “Do not let sin, do not allow it, do not permit it to reign in your body.” Someone is going to be in charge of your life. Someone is going to be your coach, your helper, your counselor, your advisor, your supervisor. I like to call the Holy Spirit, the Holy Supervisor. There is nothing sacrilegious about that at all. You can try to hack it on your own or you can submit to the overall rule of God in every phase of your life.
Then I think we need to take some aggressive Christian action (7). What do I mean by aggressive Christian action? Paul in more than one place, Ephesians and Colossians, says Christians are to put on a new way of life. Shed your former ways. Pour something new into that vacuum and get rid of these problems. Substitute some new action. Get involved in church service. Get involved in teaching a Sunday School class. Get involved in doing something in the area of the Lord’s service. Spend some time in the Scriptures. Learn and grow as a Christian. We have to do more than just breakaway from evil. We have to be generators for good. That is how the new life in us grows.
Jesus Christ was tempted in all points like us but without sin. I have heard people say, “Hey, he was God. He can handle it. I am not God.” I like to point out to those people that He was tempted more severely than you or I could ever possibly think of being tempted. And I can illustrate this by asking you to take five elastic bands and stretch them. One will break at point three, the other one you stretch out a little further and will break at point five, the other one go to point eight and break. There will be a tension that is too great for all of them. They will all break at some point. Jesus never snapped. This world never broke Him. He had more temptation, more tension, more opportunity to sin than any other person in history. Isn’t it great to know He is the one who is our Savior? That He is the one who gives us a promise that He will never leave us or forsake us, no matter what our temptation is? This is a thrilling promise to me because it says we do not have to sin because we can have the strength of a Savior who Himself never sins.
24) Jonah: Putting a Lid on God's Grace
Prayer: “We pray that as our Lord and Savior you direct our lives and give us the guidance that we need for every confrontation or difficulty that might enter our lives. And so we call upon you to speak to our hearts through your Word and we ask that your name would be lifted up and that we will see you for who you are and change our hearts so that we want to glorify you in all that we do. We come with so many different feelings and difficulties and problems and joys, whatever it might be but we pray that our needs might be met in you as we know they can be because you are directing our lives and you are the sovereign Lord of the universe and you can work all things together for our good and so we look to you for that. In the name of Christ with thanksgiving, amen.”
The book we are going to look at is considered one of the Minor prophets. What does that mean? There are twelve of them. The reason they are called minor is because the volume of material they wrote in each case is much less than the ordinary, other prophets. For instance, in all twelve minor prophets there are only 66 chapters. Now, if you know enough about Isaiah, you know there are 66 chapters in Isaiah alone. In Old Testament times they were put together in one scroll and that is why they refer to them in that way. It was the scroll of Minor Prophets. They were bundled together and were all written within a span of about 400 years between 840 and 430 BC. Unlike the book of Daniel which contains quite a bit of forthtelling and futuristic material, Jonah is pretty much down to earth. It is a narrative, a story, a biography of a certain portion of the life of the prophet Jonah. He lived a few years after Elijah and Elisha, around 790 B.C. We read of him speaking the word of the Lord to Israel in 2 Kings. Second Kings 14:25-26: “Jeroboam II recovered the territories of Israel between Lebo-hamath and the Dead Sea, just as the LORD, the God of Israel, had promised through Jonah son of Amittai, the prophet from Gath-hepher.” He was probably a beloved individual because he prophesied positively for an Israel victory over a hated enemy. He was most likely comfortable in his role of prophet of God. He valued speaking God’s truth to His people. He held nothing back. There is no indication in the Bible that Jonah was anything but a faithful and honest prophet of God. And that is why what we read in the book of Jonah is so stunning.
The book of Jonah has only four chapters, 48 verses, but the central lesson we can learn from it is profound and much needed by Christians everywhere. Read Jonah chapter one with me.
“The LORD gave this message to Jonah son of Amittai: ‘Get up and go to the great city of Nineveh. Announce my judgment against it because I have seen how wicked its people are.’ But Jonah got up and went in the opposite direction to get away from the LORD. He went down to the port of Joppa, where he found a ship leaving for Tarshish. He bought a ticket and went on board, hoping to escape from the LORD by sailing to Tarshish. But the LORD hurled a powerful wind over the sea, causing a violent storm that threatened to break the ship apart. Fearing for their lives, the desperate sailors shouted to their gods for help and threw the cargo overboard to lighten the ship. But all this time Jonah was sound asleep down in the hold. So the captain went down after him. ‘How can you sleep at a time like this?’ he shouted. ‘Get up and pray to your god! Maybe he will pay attention to us and spare our lives.’ Then the crew cast lots to see which of them had offended the gods and caused the terrible storm. When they did this, the lots identified Jonah as the culprit. ‘Why has this awful storm come down on us?’ they demanded. ‘Who are you? What is your line of work? What country are you from? What is your nationality?’ Jonah answered, ‘I am a Hebrew, and I worship the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the land.’ The sailors were terrified when they heard this, for he had already told them he was running away from the LORD. ‘Oh, why did you do it?’ they groaned. And since the storm was getting worse all the time, they asked him, ‘What should we do to you to stop this storm?’ ‘Throw me into the sea,’ Jonah said, ‘and it will become calm again. I know that this terrible storm is all my fault.’ Instead, the sailors rowed even harder to get the ship to the land. But the stormy sea was too violent for them, and they couldn’t make it. Then they cried out to the LORD, Jonah’s God. ‘O LORD,’ they pleaded, ‘don’t make us die for this man’s sin. And don’t hold us responsible for his death. O LORD, you have sent this storm upon him for your own good reasons.’ Then the sailors picked Jonah up and threw him into the raging sea, and the storm stopped at once! The sailors were awestruck by the LORD’s great power, and they offered him a sacrifice and vowed to serve him. Now the LORD had arranged for a great fish to swallow Jonah. And Jonah was inside the fish for three days and three nights.”
People believed for a long time that there was no such place as Ninevah but later archeological discoveries and excavations unearthed a megalopolis, much like New York City with all of its surrounding suburbs or Minneapolis or any big city you want to mention. There have been great stone structures unearthed there. One was a stone bull worshipped by the Ninevites. It was taken from a grand palace that is located only 15 miles from Ninevah and it is three times taller than a man and weighs 40 tons. I guess they were pretty good architects.
No sooner does Jonah introduce himself to us than he tells us about his divine call from God to go to the great city of Ninevah, located in present day Iraq. It is common knowledge that the people of Ninehah were not too nice. In fact, you might say they were nasty. They had one passion and that one passion was to conquer, to annihilate, fully destroy other peoples, and that included Israel. They were the wicked people. They were big-time bullies and when they massacred you, you really knew you were massacred. Cut you up and filleted you to feed to the people or animals or whatever. There were terrible stories about them. They were to be feared. In fact it was they who sent the Northern Kingdom of Israel into exile 70, or so, years after the time of Jonah. But in spite of the command of God to take God’s message to those people, what does Jonah do? He deliberately and willfully runs away from God. He was supposed to go northeast but instead he goes west. He intends to sail across the Mediterranean Sea to Tarshish, which is in Spain. So, you can see what he was doing. He deliberately and willfully ran the opposite way from where the Lord wanted him to go. And Spain to a Hebrew was about as far away from Ninevah you could get.
So here is Jonah. He is actually at that point in time enjoying a popular reputation for great preaching because he was a godly preacher who has correctly predicted a military victory for Israel over her enemies. But what does he do? It is like living in Lake County, Fl. for instance. You are highly respected and then you get a message, a call from God to go help those people in Iraq, those Islamic terrorists who have killed and brutalized so many. They are terrible. They are atrocious. They will cut you up in pieces. Even cut your head off and hold it up like it is some kind of trophy. All in the name of their god, Allah. They are miserable and they can’t be reasoned with. Okay, what do you do? You get this message from God that says go to Iraq. Hey, you hire a limo, you go down to Orlando International Airport and buy a ticket for Hawaii. Complete disobedience to the command of God. You know it in your heart. But your hatred for the terrorists is so strong you go anyway.
I received a call years ago to consider pastoring a church in a good sized city in the Midwest. And after my morning candidating sermon, I guess I did well enough that the church chairman and a couple of other people, not a board, got together and said, “Let us take him out and show him the town.” They were getting ready to build a new building. I saw a couple of nice spots where they could buy a good piece of property and put up a church. I said, “Well, what about this spot? What about that spot?” As we went around, I could sense what was going on. They were saying, “Well, we do not want that kind of people in our church. We do not want them. We would not have anything to say to them and they would not want to be with us and we do not want to be with them.” I decided right then that I did not want to pastor this group of people. If that was their deep seated mindset, there would always be a barrier to following God’s command to love your neighbor as yourself. A barrier of animosity and rejection. It would have taken some sort of crusader to go in there and upset that and I did not feel like crusading at the time. It would have taken someone specially called of God at a specific point in time to take on that project. I did not feel so called. And for me to try to do something that God did not call me to do would have been a mistake, both for me and for them. I could have made things worse. Jonah was called to such a task. But Jonah ignored the word of God because it did not please him. And by doing so, he put a lid on the grace of God. He put a lid, a cap, over it so it could not express itself to the people he hated.
He then made a major spiritual mistake. He thought he could outrun and manipulate God. And so from verse four to the end of chapter one, Jonah has to deal with the sovereignty of God. What does God do? He hurls a great wind and furious storm threatening the lives of everybody aboard the ship. It gets so bad that they start throwing all the cargo overboard. That is pretty bad. Every sailor, verse five, cries out to his own god. In spite of what they may tell you, there really are not too many thoroughgoing, 100% atheists in this world. Meanwhile, after they start throwing this stuff overboard, in the midst of this hurricane where is Jonah? He has gone down below deck. He is sleeping, soundly. So soundly that the captain of the ship comes down and rouses him. “What’s wrong with you? How can you sleep? Get up and pray. Maybe your god will help us.” I want you to notice something. There is no indication that Jonah even attempted to pray, at all. Did not even think about it. It is very possible for Christians to quench the spirit of God and have no desire and no urge to pray. And this usually comes at crucial times when you need God’s help very much or when you are on top of a mountain and you do not care. Everything is going your way. You are doing it all by yourself. You might say that at this point in the story, the only practicing atheist on board that ship is Jonah himself. Everybody else was crying out to some god.
Finally in verses 8 and 9, Jonah’s honesty shows up. Jonah is given a unique opportunity to witness about his faith as they question him. “Hey Jonah, who is responsible for bringing this terrible thing on us? What did you do? Where are you from? What are your people? What is your country?” And so Jonah shares his faith as weak and confused as it was at the time. Verse nine, he says, “I am a Hebrew. I worship the Lord God of heaven who made the sea and the land. That is my God.” Somehow the way he does this, the captain and the sailors recognize he really does know God. He really does. And his God is the real God. “And so, why in the world are you running away from Him? From the living God? That makes no sense.” And so all the while they are questioning him the great sea is getting rougher and rougher to navigate. “What should we do to you, Jonah,” verse 11, “to calm down this furious sea?” And here in his answer we find the greatest possible tragedy any Christian can contemplate. Jonah would rather die than speak to someone he hates, even though it was the will of God. Can you imagine anything more wretched than that? Have you ever felt that miserable? Have you ever been so mad at someone or something but then God pricks your conscience and you refuse to repent? “Hey, I would rather be dead than do that.” It is opposite of the spirit Paul showed when in Romans 9:2-3 we read: “ My heart is filled with bitter sorrow and unending grief for my people, my Jewish brothers and sisters. I would be willing to be forever cursed—cut off from Christ!—if that would save them.” Or the heart of Christ who became a curse for us while we were yet sinners (Romans 5:6-11). “When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation. For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son. So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God.” Jonah hated the Ninevites so much he wanted them to suffer eternal retribution. He did not want God’s mercy extended to them. He wanted judgment.
And Jonah suggests to them a solution, “Pick me up and throw me into the sea. Then the sea will become calm for you because this is my personal problem.” What a crazy mixture we have here of faith and rebellion. How do these two things go together? Faith and rebellion. They are self-contradictory. In faith, he says, “I believe God will give you His miracle of a calm sea because He is Lord.” Hey, that is faith. Real faith. But with it, we have rebellion at the same time. “I will win my war with God and those horrible people living in Ninevah, they will die also.” What a combination. Faith and rebellion. This all seems so ironic at this point because, as a preacher, Jonah knew theology. He did. He was a smart man. He knew that whosoever calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved. In fact, in chapter four, Jonah admits that he knew from the very beginning that God’s graciousness and loving kindness would lead Him to decide not to destroy Ninevah.
At this point I want you to notice something. Do you think Jonah’s attitude was unique to him? No, it was not! All of Israel hated the Ninevites. All of Israel wished eternal destruction upon their rotting corpses, and eternal souls. Think with me here. What happened 70 years later, after this time of Jonah? The Assyrians, Ninevah was their capital city, destroyed the northern section of the Israelite kingdom and sent the survivors into captivity and slavery. This happened in 722 B.C. Only the southern kingdom of Judah remained (they were conquered themselves and sent into captivity by the Babylonians in 586 B.C.). Look back at Romans 5:11. What was the result of Christ’s graciousness toward us? We became friends of God! God was not only looking out for the Ninevites when He called Jonah to preach repentance and mercy to them, He was looking out for Israel, as well. As we read in Jonah 3, Ninevah repented. Her heart was changed. And I speculate ripe for peace with Israel. One can see a scenario where Jonah witnesses the conversion of Ninevah, the Assyrians, and races home to tell everyone about it. God tells them to send emissaries and ambassadors to capitalize on this precious moment to make friends with Ninevah and the Assyrian people and to teach them the word of God. But Jonah 4 does not read like that. Instead we see sadness and regret from Jonah, as representative of his people. It took only two generations for these people to revert back to their wicked and aggressive selves. What deterioration have we seen in our country over the last two generations as we have moved away from recognition of God as Creator and pursued a materialistic existence? Jonah stayed and mourned pagan repentance. He knew such news would not be received well at home. His people would not receive these Ninevites as budding friends. In fact, he would now be an accursed prophet who would not be respected or listened to for the rest of his days. The book of Jonah is as much about Israel as it is about Jonah. Never forget, Ninevah repents in about 790 B.C. Israel rejects them in 790 B.C. Ninevah conquers and decimates Israel in 722 B.C. We can only speculate at what could have been.
Now I want you to notice four things about these sailors because they are a good bunch of guys. Number one, verse 13, before they throw Jonah over, they try their hardest to avoid tossing him. What do they do? They double their efforts to save him. They desperately tried to save his life. This tells me something that I do not like, but it is here. Sometimes unbelievers have more care for people than believers. As believers, sometimes, we feel we are right and we want justice so they have to pay for what they did. Justice without mercy is not a good thing, especially not for a Christian who as Christ’s representative is supposed to be extending God’s grace to sinners. Number two, Jonah’s honest testimony about his faith impressed and impacted the captain and the crew. Something about Jonah’s testimony impacted them to the point they were convinced that the God of Jonah was the true God. It says that three times they addressed their prayers no longer to their own gods but to the Lord God about whom Jonah has just told them. That is terrific. That is a convinced people. The next thing I want you to notice, the ship’s crew prayed. They asked forgiveness for having to carry out the only remedy for this life-threatening situation. “God, we do not want to do this but we do not see how else we can solve the problem because this seems to be the solution.” Verse 14, “Lord, do not hold us accountable for what we must do in order to save the situation.” So they toss him over and to their amazement the sea calms and the ordeal is over. As a sign of their true faith and appreciation, they offer a sacrifice to the Lord and make vows of commitment. And to me that looks like a genuine conversion to the true God. It is my inclination to say that someday you and I will have opportunity to talk to these men about how God worked in their lives from this time forward and what He was able to do for His testimony and glory.
On the other hand, you have Jonah’s attitude. And I can almost see him as he plummets down toward the raging waters. He lifts his fist up to God and shouts out, “Hey, okay God. How about this? Look where I am going. You lose. I win. I am the captain of my fate, the master of my soul. You do not have a chance to pardon those stinking, filthy Ninivites because here I am going and that is the end.” I just love to imagine God with a big smile on His face like when Moses was born. Remember, who is going to take care of this baby? Have to get someone to take care of it and nurse it. Well, I wonder who we can find? Oh, there is a woman over there. Just happens to be Moses’ mother and I think God says, “Hey, gotcha.” Well, anyway, God says, “I am still Lord of the universe and that includes you, Jonah. So look what I have coming after you.” Big fish. Right down the gullet he goes. It is a great fish appointed by God to rescue Jonah. That fish was there not to judge Jonah but to rescue him. Give him opportunity for repentance.
You know, there were really two solutions for the predicament these men were in. One we read about in Jonah—Jonah overboard. And that eventually resulted in Jonah heading back the other way and fulfilling his mission. The second thing that would have quelled the storm was if Jonah accepted his guilt and told the captain to turn around and take him home so he could fulfill his mission. Jonah’s hard heart required him to learn the hard way. Jonah overboard. So God says to him, “Jonah, I am going to give you a three-day period for you to do some deep thinking, some deep meditation about the real meaning of life and what lordship is all about. You misjudged me again, Jonah. So think about it. You have three days to do it.” And I think it is especially tragic when any Christian tries to frustrate God’s will and hold back the kingdom of God for personal pride or any other reason. We want our church. We want it our way. We want it with our people. We want our fellowship. We want our friends and so we are going to be totally inbred. And we wonder why we are ineffective for God.
After much soul searching and near death Jonah pours forth one of the greatest songs of praise toward God you will ever read. It is quite long but I want you to read it with me (Jonah 2).
“Then Jonah prayed to the LORD his God from inside the fish. He said, ‘I cried out to the LORD in my great trouble, and he answered me. I called to you from the land of the dead, and LORD, you heard me! You threw me into the ocean depths, and I sank down to the heart of the sea. The mighty waters engulfed me; I was buried beneath your wild and stormy waves. Then I said, O LORD, you have driven me from your presence. Yet I will look once more toward your holy Temple. I sank beneath the waves, and the waters closed over me. Seaweed wrapped itself around my head. I sank down to the very roots of the mountains. I was imprisoned in the earth, whose gates lock shut forever. But you, O LORD my God, snatched me from the jaws of death! As my life was slipping away, I remembered the LORD. And my earnest prayer went out to you in your holy Temple. Those who worship false gods turn their backs on all God’s mercies. But I will offer sacrifices to you with songs of praise, and I will fulfill all my vows. For my salvation comes from the LORD alone.’ Then the LORD ordered the fish to spit Jonah out onto the beach.”
Given a second chance, Jonah goes to Ninevah to fulfill his mission. Lets read what happens (Jonah 3).
“Then the LORD spoke to Jonah a second time: ‘Get up and go to the great city of Nineveh, and deliver the message I have given you.’ This time Jonah obeyed the LORD’s command and went to Nineveh, a city so large that it took three days to see it all. On the day Jonah entered the city, he shouted to the crowds: ‘Forty days from now Nineveh will be destroyed!’ The people of Nineveh believed God’s message, and from the greatest to the least, they declared a fast and put on burlap to show their sorrow. When the king of Nineveh heard what Jonah was saying, he stepped down from his throne and took off his royal robes. He dressed himself in burlap and sat on a heap of ashes. Then the king and his nobles sent this decree throughout the city: ‘No one, not even the animals from your herds and flocks, may eat or drink anything at all. People and animals alike must wear garments of mourning, and everyone must pray earnestly to God. They must turn from their evil ways and stop all their violence. Who can tell? Perhaps even yet God will change his mind and hold back his fierce anger from destroying us.’ When God saw what they had done and how they had put a stop to their evil ways, he changed his mind and did not carry out the destruction he had threatened.”
If you have a heart for the well-being of a people it will come through in your preaching. Paul often stated this in his letters to individual churches. “You know me, how my heart longs for you, turn to God and do works showing your repentance. Glorify God in all you do.” The converse is also true. If you have contempt for the people you preach to it will show. Yes, God’s message can change hearts even if it comes from someone who is not 100% for God will. I recognize that. But what do you think they saw when they set their eyes upon Jonah? They saw a man who was in the belly of a fish for refusing to show God’s mercy to them. And I mean they literally saw such a man. What do you think happened to Jonah’s skin after three days of stomach acid exposure? I am guessing but I think it looked bleached, wrinkled and worn. “Hey, preacher how did your skin get that way, what happened to you?” Jonah gives them his testimony and tells them God’s judgment is hanging over them and to repent. They have 40 days until D day. With this being the case what do they hear; what message do they really get from this? That God cares for them so much that He refused to let an angry, prejudice prophet stop His attempt to spare them, show mercy toward them. God cared, even if Jonah didn’t. It was all over Jonah’s face, how much He cared. And the Spirit reaped a mighty harvest that day.
In chapter 4 we read about Jonah’s response to Ninevah’s repentance. Normally when a preacher preaches God’s message to a people and sees a mighty response he is pleased, overjoyed. His and the peoples’ hearts are one. Surely, this must have been true of Jonah. Let’s read chapter 4 together and see.
“This change of plans greatly upset Jonah, and he became very angry. So he complained to the LORD about it: ‘Didn’t I say before I left home that you would do this,LORD? That is why I ran away to Tarshish! I knew that you are a merciful and compassionate God, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. You are eager to turn back from destroying people. Just kill me now, LORD! I’d rather be dead than alive if what I predicted will not happen.’ The LORD replied, ‘Is it right for you to be angry about this? Then Jonah went out to the east side of the city and made a shelter to sit under as he waited to see what would happen to the city. And the LORD God arranged for a leafy plant to grow there, and soon it spread its broad leaves over Jonah’s head, shading him from the sun. This eased his discomfort, and Jonah was very grateful for the plant. But God also arranged for a worm! The next morning at dawn the worm ate through the stem of the plant so that it withered away. And as the sun grew hot, God arranged for a scorching east wind to blow on Jonah. The sun beat down on his head until he grew faint and wished to die. ‘Death is certainly better than living like this!’ he exclaimed. Then God said to Jonah, ‘Is it right for you to be angry because the plant died?’ ‘Yes,’ Jonah retorted, ‘even angry enough to die!’ Then the LORD said, ‘You feel sorry about the plant, though you did nothing to put it there. It came quickly and died quickly. But Nineveh has more than 120,000 people living in spiritual darkness, not to mention all the animals. Shouldn’t I feel sorry for such a great city?’”
As I said before, Jonah’s response represents the attitude of the Israelite people. As he sat looking down upon the repentant city he mourned their salvation. He confesses that he knew all along that God would do this if they repented. And that is why he ran. He didn’t run out of fear toward the Assyrians; he ran because he didn’t want them spared, saved! What was God’s response toward his sulking prophet? The prophet who now was to return to Israel and tell all what happened at Ninevah? He tries to change his mind and heart about the matter. While Jonah sits outside the city, sulking, the heat is so intense that he cannot handle it so he builds a little shack. That does not work so God gives him a plant for shade. But then God sends a worm to eat the plant. The plant dies. Jonah then cries, again, about the heat. God starts to reason with him. If the loss of that plant for which he did not labor but was only giving him some shade from the sun was so important to him that he wants to die, does not God have a right to care more than he does about that plant? And if so, does He not have the right to care for the more than 120,000 people who are living in spiritual darkness, who can benefit from His mercy? This is the message God wanted Jonah to take back to Israel.
There is no doubt that Jonah wrote the book of Jonah as a testimony of what happened to him. How soon he wrote it when he returned to Israel, we do not know. But scripture gives no revelation that anything good ever came out of it in Israel herself. She did not repent of her self-righteous and hateful attitude. She still counted Ninevah as the enemy. No ambassadors or emissaries were sent to make peace with their new found spiritual brothers. Tragically, it was the grandchildren of this repenting generation that waged war against Israel. Interestingly, what destroyed Israel was her own hard heartedness and contempt she had for other people.
Instead of the attitude of Jonah and the Israelite people, we should listen to and emulate Oswald Chambers. He viewed himself as a spiritual creditor to Jesus Christ. He said: “Ever since I gave my heart to Christ, all my life has been just a thank you to God. That is my only reason for being. Oh, I love my family. I love my wife, kids, all of you people even. But my reason for everything I do is expression of thanks to God for what he has done for me. So I am, like Paul, a spiritual creditor to Jesus Christ.” He felt a sense of indebtedness to Christ in regard to everyone who is not a Christian and he spent his days trying to touch others with the love of God as seen in the person and work of Jesus Christ. I hope that as we look at the life of Jonah, a man with an attitude problem, a gifted man, a man who knew the scriptures but who just could not get himself to understand the mercy and grace of God, it shocks us to repentance for our own hard heartedness and prejudice.
Prayer: “Father in Heaven we thank you for your word. It is quick. It is powerful. It gets right into our hearts. We want to know you. Father we want to know you more and we want to see you for who you are. And so we pray that as we have this experience of just looking at a man who had all the necessary elements of being a dynamic warrior for the truth of the gospel and who just did not know how to do it because of his attitude, that we would respond to your call to us with an outgoing, living, giving love for you and that will be expressed in our relationship to other people. Thank you Father for your mercy. I pray your blessing upon each one of us that we will honor you with our words and our deeds and that we will see the results of you living and dwelling within our lives because we are new creatures in Christ Jesus. And if there are any who read this who do not have the knowledge of what it means to be a child of God, I pray that they will make that commitment or inquiry to speak to someone who can lead them into redemption in Christ Jesus. Father, I pray that your blessing would go with us, that you would find us able to be useful for you and to the praise of your glory. We ask it in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord and for His sake, amen.”