Sunday, May 31, 2015

Are YOU Content in your Calling? I Corinthians 7:17-24

Are You Content in Your Calling?
I Corinthians 7:17-24
Introduction: Complacency in the Christian life is not a good thing. Contentment is a good thing. What is the difference?  Many twelve step programs like AA make use of an adaptation from a poem by Reinhold Niebuhr known as the “serenity prayer,”
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.
I think that expresses the difference between complacency and contentment. We see Paul express his longing to know Jesus better, to be closer to Him, in Philippians 3:7-14,
7 But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.  8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ  9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith-  10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,  11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.  12 Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.  13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead,  14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
Paul is not coasting, he is not “satisfied” in his Christian Life, he is “pressing ahead.” That is a healthy discontent, the opposite of complacency.  Complacency is perhaps a “laziness” about our situation in life, settling for the status quo. That is not biblical contentment. A little later in Philippians Paul expresses his genuine “contentment” in Christ,
11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.  12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.  13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:11-13).
Wanting more of Jesus, longing to be closer to Him, looking forward to Home, but at the same time content to trust Him in every circumstance, in every situation of life. That isn’t contradiction, it is the perspective of a pilgrim.
Since we have been away from I Corinthians for a week let’s refresh in our minds the context.  Paul has been talking about marriage in I Corinthians 7, answering some questions that the Corinthians had sent him in writing (see 7:1). In between answering their questions on marriage in vv.1-16, and his return to that subject in vv.25-40, Paul sets forth a general principle on the Christian life and mission in our passage today.  It applies to our marital status (some of the Corinthians were single, some were married, some were widows or widowers, some may have been divorced) but also has a much broader application to our “calling,” our situation in life, be it our life, our work, or our ministry. We are where we are and what we are by God’s design. Whatever He has for us in the future we need to be “all in” where He has placed us in the present. The fact is…
The Big Idea: We know our destination, but we don’t know the path that God will lead us on through life. The Christian Life is a walk, a step at a time, and we need to be present and engaged in His mission where we are right now!
I. The Principle: We are called to serve, so be Content and Serve God where you are (17).
“Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him. This is my rule in all the churches.” 
            First of all notice the phrase at the end of the verse, “This is my rule in all the churches.” The principle that Paul was setting forth here was not unique to the Corinthians. It was not an ad hoc policy that he was devising to deal with a difficult church.  It was a principle that Paul taught in “all the churches,” one that should guide us as believers. 
A recognition of God’s sovereignty in putting us exactly where we are: “…let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned him, and to which God has called Him…” These parallel statements reflect an acknowledgement of the sovereignty of God over all of life.  I like the ESV translation here, “The Lord has assigned him…” We are “on assignment” for God, have you thought about that?  The New American Standard Bible follows the word order of the Greek pretty closely,
“Only, as the Lord has assigned to each one, as God has called each, in this manner let him walk.”
       As the Lord has assigned to each one  You might think, well, you are from away, maybe you are “on assignment,” but I was born here! God has brought together this Motley Crew, “each one, that is, every one of us!  Every one of us is here by design.  Every one of us has a part in His mission. The next phrase reinforces the idea, “…as God has called each” This idea of “calling” has a couple of nuances to it as we’ll see going through this passage. We often think of it as referring to vocational ministry, “she was called to the mission field” or “he was called to be a pastor.” That is certainly valid. Paul uses it that way at the beginning of this book, in I Corinthians 1:1 when he says, “Paul, called to be an apostle by the will of God…” But here it is also used more broadly of God “calling” each one of us, meeting us where we are and bringing us into his family. So he urges the Ephesians in Ephesians 4:1 to “…walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called. This is similar language to what Paul says here in I Corinthians 7. As we continue through this letter we’ll see how essential it is to be a part of a local church and to be engaged, using our gifts for the edification of the body so that together we’ll be stronger and more effective in carrying out His mission.
       “…in this manner let him walk” The idea seems to be that where we are and what we are and who we are, every aspect of our life, was planned by God. We have come from our various backgrounds and histories, and God has brought us together in this church family. Paul says elsewhere that He knew you before the foundation of the earth. We need to recognize that nothing about our life has caught Him by surprise. He planned every detail, even this exact moment. When I came to faith I was a part time college student, and I tried to look at my classes from a Christian perspective that I was just learning. I worked as a heavy equipment operator, and whether at the garbage dump, or loading trucks in a pit, or working with a rail gang, I tried to be a witness where I was, and I saw examples of believers living their faith in the work place. You are “on assignment”! I like what Henry and Kitty said about their “winter” church home when they found it. They talked to the pastor about joining and he said, “Great, what are you going to do as a part of our church?” We are here by design, every one of us. If you were at our annual church meeting you know we are exploring the question of hiring another staff person as an “outreach director.” That may or may not be God’s will for us. What is certain, whether or not we hire someone, the most important aspect of our outreach ministry is already here. Listen to what Paul said in Ephesians 4:11-15,
11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers,  12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,  13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,  14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.  15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ…
We may decide to hire someone to equip us and lead us in outreach, but we need to recognize that we are not hiring someone to “do” it for us.  That is every one of us. God has placed you where you are. There are people in your family, in your neighborhood, in your workplace that need to know Him. You are “on assignment” already! We don’t know the path that God will lead us on in the future, but we need to be present and engaged in His mission where we are right now!

II. The Practice: Let each of us recognize God’s hand in calling us to our “situation in life,” and serve Him faithfully (18-20). Be who you are and what you are and where you are, and be faithful.
18 Was anyone at the time of his call already circumcised? Let him not seek to remove the marks of circumcision. Was anyone at the time of his call uncircumcised? Let him not seek circumcision.  19 For neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God.  20 Each one should remain in the condition in which he was called.

       Paul uses as his first illustration the sign and symbol of the Jews, their male children were to be circumcised, and that “sign” set them apart from the nations around them.  Though there were cases of people literally undergoing the surgery in converting to Judaism, or even some undergoing a painful procedure to try to reverse it, that doesn’t seem to be Paul’s point here. He is saying be what you are. Are you Jewish? Great, don’t try to hide it, embrace it! Are you Greek? Don’t try to pretend you are a Jew! We should be who we are and what we are and where we are, recognizing that God has placed us here, it’s not by chance, we are on “assignment” for Him!

       Our “condition” or our situation is what it is, what matters is “…keeping the commandments of God…” Is this a contradiction?  Did Paul forget that the Old Testament commanded the circumcision of Jewish male children? Of course not. Paul isn’t talking about keep the ceremonial aspects of the Law here. The point is the spirit of the Law that starts with loving God (see last week’s message) and loving our neighbor.  Jesus summarized the heart of it when He told the young lawyer, “Love God… love your neighbor…”  The most loving thing we can do is to share the Gospel with those in our sphere of influence, and urge them to be reconciled to God.  It starts right where we are.

            “…Each one should remain in the condition in which he was called…”

Literally, we understand that our ethnicity or our race has nothing to do with being called. Jesus is not calling us to change who we are, but to be his disciple where we are! More generally, where we live, the work we are doing, our general situation in life is known to God.  In fact He planned it!  He is calling us in it, not necessarily from it. Sometimes, like the first disciples who left their nets and followed Him, God calls us into vocational ministry.  Normally, he calls us to be faithful right where we are, since “where we are” is not by mere chance. God is sovereign, He has guided our story, each and every one of us, and he saved us on purpose, for a purpose.  As we recognize that, we’ll be motivated to “walk with Him,” and to the disciple, and disciple maker, He wants us to be.  We don’t know the path that God will lead us on in the future, but we need to be present and engaged in His mission where we are right now!

III. The Promise:  Wherever we are and whatever our calling, we are God’s, He has a plan, and He will be with us (21-24).
21Were you a slave when called? Do not be concerned about it. But if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity.  22 For he who was called in the Lord as a slave is a freedman of the Lord. Likewise he who was free when called is a slave of Christ.  23 You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of men.  24 So, brothers, in whatever condition each was called, there let him remain with God.   
       Here Paul transitions from something that we are not to try to change (like circumcision) to situations that we can try to change if we are able. To those who were slaves and came to faith in Christ he says “…if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity…” Slavery was a moral evil, and if a believer was able to gain his freedom, probably by saving and “buying” it, he was free to do it if he had the opportunity, “avail yourself of the opportunity.”  An example of this was Onesimus, the slave of Philemon, the wealthy believer to whom Paul wrote the little letter of the same name.  Onesimus had apparently run away from his master and somehow had come in contact with Paul in Rome.  There, he got saved! And Paul, with a letter that is now part of our New Testament in hand, sent Onesimus back to Philemon. He said if he owed him anything, to charge it to Paul’s account, and two receive him back as a brother.   
       The question of our servitude or freedom pales in comparison to our new position in Christ: We were “…bought with a price…”, i.e. with the blood of Jesus, so we are free! Jesus said, “If the Son therefore should make you free, you are free indeed!” We may look like slaves to the world, but in reality, we are “children of the King!” We are his!  John’s words in his first letter come to mind, “Behold what manner of love the Father has given unto us, that we should be called the children of God, and such we are!” (I John 3:1).
       “So brothers, in whatever calling each was called, there let him remain with God…” Be content, trusting in God’s providence, acknowledging his sovereignty over the circumstances of your life, “abide,” be all in, present in the moment, recognizing His presence and seeking to be faithful in the opportunities He opens before you, right here, right now.  It’s not about “some day” when I have more time, or “I’ve done my part, let the younger people do it…” It is about each one of us asking, seeking, “Lord what are my spiritual gifts?” How can I use my gifts for the building up of the body? What is my mission field? How can I be a witness for you?

What is God saying to me in this passage? That “serenity prayer”  of Reinhold Niebuhr in an earlier form made reference to Jesus, and to the grace of God…
God, give me grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.
Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
Taking, as Jesus did,
This sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it,
Trusting that You will make all things right,
If I surrender to Your will,
So that I may be [truly]* happy in this life,
And supremely happy with You forever in the next.   Amen.
It sounds like the author is recognizing God’s sovereignty over history, and over his personal story. The truth is, we don’t know the path that God will lead us on in the future, but He does know, every detail. And so we can trust Him. We need to be present and engaged in His mission where we are right now!

What would God have me to do in response to this passage? Have you ever thought about your situation in life as a divine appointment? It may have caught you by surprise, but God was not surprised by any of it! Sometimes we can get so focused on the future, on what we will do then,  that we lose sight of the opportunities right in front of us. God has called every one of us who know Him. You are on assignment for the Lord. As one of our missionaries said, “You are God’s undercover missionaries.” Will you be bold in reaching out to those in your sphere of influence, praying specifically and persistently, perhaps leaving a tract, or giving a Bible to a neighbor? Maybe even sharing a testimony, letting them know that God is real, and that He has changed your life?  Our mission is “to know God and to make Him known.” Is that your personal mission as well?   Think about that,    AMEN.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Families Dedicated to God: “As for me and my house…” Deuteronomy 6:4-9

Families Dedicated to God: “As for me and my house…
Deuteronomy 6:4-9
Introduction: Today is “Pentecost” on the church calendar, 50 days after the resurrection of Jesus, the Lord poured out the Spirit on the waiting disciples.  It is the “birthday” of the New Testament church, so it is an appropriate day for “dedication Sunday.”  I decided to go back to a key Old Testament passage in the book of Deuteronomy.  1400 years before the birth of Jesus, a new generation of Israelites had come through the desert and arrived on the plains of Moab on the east of the Jordan.  It is an ancient text, with a message for today. As Moses was calling these to dedicate themselves and their families to God, to trust Him to give them victory over the uncertainties that lay ahead, God is calling us to dedicate ourselves and our families to Him.
        Some people from other faith traditions have smiled and called the “dedication” of children, as we do it in Baptist churches, “dry baptism.” That is an oxymoron!  Baptism is wet, for Baptists, very wet!  This is not baptism. We only baptize those who are old enough to understand and believe the gospel. Yet we do want to publically recognize that our children are a gift from God, and we want to affirm together our decision to raise them up in the way of the Lord, and to do our best to point them to Him. That is what dedication is about.  Later in the service we’ll talk more about Memorial Day which is coming tomorrow, as we remember those who paid the ultimate price to preserve our freedoms.  What a great blessing it is to have the liberty to worship God openly, and to devote ourselves to passing our faith on to the next generation. 
       There is only one true God, He has revealed himself in history and in the Bible, and He is worthy of our worship and our whole-hearted love. As we seek to know Him we are called to lead our families to Him as well.
The Big Idea: The more we know God, personally and intimately, the more we will love Him, and the more we’ll desire to point our family to Him.
I. The Foundation of our Families: Personal faith in the God who is (6:4,5).
The passage I chose to focus on this morning is a key text in the Old Testament. It’s in a passage that pious Jews memorize in Hebrew and recite daily as a part of the prayers. It is called the “Shema,” which is the first word in Deuteronomy 6:4, “Shema Yisrael, Adonai [Yahweh] elohenu, Adonai [Yahweh] ehad!” There is only one true God, He alone is worthy of our worship and obedience:  The ESV translates, "Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.”  That faith is the unshakable, immovable, firm foundation that God wants for our families. Before we can dedicate our children to God, we have to know who He is.  I am going out on a limb a bit with this verse and suggesting that most of our modern English translations get it slightly wrong. As it reads in most versions it seems to be affirming the “unity” of God, He is “one.” That is true, but that doesn’t seem to be the point the writer is making. Another translation (see the margin of the NIV) seems to get the point that Moses was making better:
Hear O Israel, Yahweh is our God, Yahweh alone!
What the verse is saying is a declaration faith in the one true God, the God of the Bible, the God who revealed himself to the patriarchs, who spoke to Moses from the burning bush and who brought the Jews through the Red Sea. He alone is our God, there is no other. It is a pledge of allegiance, a vow of faithfulness, a resolution against idolatry. They left idol worshippers in Egypt, and they would confront pagan idols in the land, but there was one true God, the Lord, who brought them out and who would bring them in. Well – that is no problem for us right?  I mean we don’t see idols or false gods that we might be tempted to worship, in America, in the 21st century, do we?  D.L. Moody said over a century ago, “You don’t have to go to heathen lands to find idols, America is full of them.  Whatever you love more than God is your idol.” Remember, the context is the foundation of the faith that we are to pass on to the next generation. Are we making it clear that the one true God, our creator and savior, is the one and only thing that we worship? Is it clear that He alone sits on the throne of our lives?
True dedication is loving Yahweh, the one true God, whole heartedly (v.5).
You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might…”
The language is very emphatic, notice the repetition of the word “all,” “…all your heart, all your soul, all your might…” That is whole hearted dedication! When Jesus was asked by a young lawyer about the greatest commandment he pointed to this verse…
34 But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together.  35 And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him.  36 "Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?"  37 And he said to him, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  38 This is the great and first commandment.  39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets" (Matthew 22:34-40).
The greatest commandment is to love God wholeheartedly (and the second, is to love our neighbor as ourselves). It’s pretty simple to say: love God, love people.  Easy to say, but, once we have decided to follow Jesus, we spend the rest of our lives growing and learning about what that really means. Before we can dedicate our children to God, we should dedicate ourselves to Him. Jesus called this the greatest commandment!  That is the foundation, personal faith in the God who is.  The more we know God, personally and intimately, the more we will love Him, and the more we’ll desire to point our family to Him.

II. Receive the Word, and Teach it diligently by word and example (6:6-9).
Verse 6 call us to embrace the Word He has given…
6 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart…”
We know God and His will for our lives and for our families through His Word. Someone has well said “You cannot impart what you do not possess.” We receive God’s Word, and believe Him, we take Him at His word, so we take his word to heart. It’s not difficult to understand, if we really believe that God has spoken, wouldn’t we want to read His word to discover more about who he is and what he demands of us?  We need to read it. Someone has said, “This book will keep you from sin, or sin will keep you from this book.” Having God’s word on our heart is a lifetime project.  It’s not a book you simply read once. You constantly are going back to it, re-reading, reflecting, asking questions.  Because it is God’s word, learning is a lifelong process.  
But teaching the Word is not simply imparting facts about God. We need to live the Word and teach it, every day and every way: 
7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.  8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.  9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates
Teaching, talking, living the Word.  Most English translations render the first verb in v.7, “teach… diligently.” The NIV is one exception, they put it, “impress them upon your children…” It’s not a common word in the Old Testament, only a dozen times or so, usually used of sharpening a sword or an arrow. That made me think of the description of God’s word in Hebrews 4:12,
“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”
The parents are to bring that living, sharp, discerning Word to their children, and God will use it in their lives.  We are not only to teach the Word, but we are to live it. Our example speaks as loudly as our words. We read in 7b-9,
“…and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.  8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.  9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates…”
It’s almost poetical language saying that the Word of God should shape and guide every aspect of our lives. James said it simply: “Be doers of the word, and not hearers only who deceive themselves…” Our kids know this isn’t just a “religion” that we tack onto our lives, we really believe that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, the only way to the Father. Our example will show them what faith looks like, and they’ll know that it is possible, as we’ve seen the last couple of weeks, to “live as pilgrims in a fallen world.”
The more we know God, personally and intimately, the more we will love Him, and the more we’ll desire to point our family to Him.

Moses spoke the words we have in Deuteronomy to the people on the east of the Jordan as he was preparing the new generation to enter the promised land. Moses himself did not enter.  Joshua, not Moses, would be the one to lead the new generation across the river and into the land.  As he was calling them to dedicate themselves to the Lord, he said, 
Choose this day who you will serve …as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.”  

I would encourage all of our parents to consider that call, to choose God’s Way for your family today.

Transition: We looked ahead today at what our graduates have accomplished and will accomplish, we looked at the children that were dedicated and can see the people they are becoming and will become as they are brought up in the way of the Lord. Today is Pentecost Sunday which reminds us of the gift of the Spirit, who seals us for God and empowers us for pilgrim living in a fallen world.  Tomorrow is also a special day on our national calender, Memorial Day, a day that we pause to remember those who paid the ultimate price and laid down their lives so that we could be free. It is because of their sacrifices that we have the liberty to raise our children in the faith, to worship publically without fear, and to acknowledge our faith. Let’s pause for a moment to remember those who paid the ultimate price… 

Sunday, May 17, 2015

A Bond so Intimate, Love so Precious... I Corinthians 7:1-16

A Bond so Intimate, Love so Precious…
I Corinthians 7:1-16
Introduction: Going verse by verse through a book of the Bible will remind us that the Lord cares about every aspect of our lives, and that the Bible speaks to God’s plan for us.  First Corinthians 7 brings us to God’s plan for marriage.  Poet Ogden Nash (no relation!) has a rather sarcastic humor in many of his poems. I recall one verse regarding marriage:

“To keep you marriage brimming, with love in the loving cup,
when you are wrong, admit it. When you are right, shut up!”

He is not the first to find humor in marriage, none other than Socrates said in the subject of marriage, “By all means, marry! If you get a good wife you will be very happy. If you get a bad one, you will become a philosopher, and that too is good for any man.”  With such “fool proof” advice, how is it the 50% of our marriages, even among believers, end in divorce?  Why is it that many do not highly value marriage today? I think it is because the enemy has blinded us to God’s design for marriage.

       It may be, in hearing the scripture reading, that you wonder how this passage relates to you. We have young married couples, others that have been married for many decades. We have singles, we have widows and widowers. We have seniors and we have teens. I think whatever our situation in life, whatever our age, we want to know what the Bible says about marriage so that we can encourage others and so that we can be strengthened in whatever state we are individually, knowing that God has chosen the marriage relationship to illustrate his love and commitment to the church.

       Because of sin many marriages are a source of struggle, and even pain and heart break.  And so some consider marriage as something better avoided. Why take the risk?  For one thing, when God created humans, he created them male and female. We read in Genesis 1:26-28,
Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth."  27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.  28 And God blessed them. And God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth."
        Our sexuality is part of God’s design for us.  God created Adam, and even in the pre-fall “good” creation He said, “It is not good for the man to be alone…” He gave Adam a wife that was his perfect complement, the “help-mate” that completed him.  With the rest of creation, before the fall, God pronounced the marriage relationship “good.” To the degree our marriages reflect God’s design we can experience the blessing that God intended for us. Fittingly, one of the most beautiful and intimate pictures of the union of Christ and the Church is the marriage relationship (Rev. 19:7-9; cf. Eph. 5:25-28a). 
7 Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready;  8 it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure"- for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.  9 And the angel said to me, "Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb." And he said to me, "These are the true words of God…" (Revelation 19:7-9).
Why is this relationship so precious? The Lamb is this bridegroom, Jesus, and the bride is the church.  Paul also used the relationship between Christ and the church to illustrate the bond of marriage in Ephesians 5:25-28a,
25Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her,  26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word,  27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.  28 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies…
I entitled the message today, “A Bond so intimate, a love so precious…” A bond that can illustrate the eternal bond between the Lord and His church, a love so precious that it can reflect the love that sent Jesus to the cross to save us. That is…

The Big Idea: God has designed the intimacy of the marriage union to be a lifetime bond between husband and wife, a picture of the union between Christ and His church.

I. Marriage is God’s Plan for most of us (7:1-9). Here is the ESV translation…
Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: "It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman."  2 But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband.  3 The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband.  4 For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does.  5 Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.  6 Now as a concession, not a command, I say this.  7 I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another.  8 To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single as I am.  9 But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion.
       A couple of things to note at the outset. Notice the opening line of I Corinthinans 7, “Now concerning the things about which you wrote…” Paul is now transitioning from the reports that he had received concerning what was going on in Corinth, to the subjects that they had written to him about in a letter. The problem for us is that we don’t have the letter the Corinthians sent to Paul, only his answers. Therefore we have to read between the lines a bit to try and understand what they had asked, and we need to recognize that Paul is not giving a complete dissertation on the subject of Christian marriage, he is answering the questions of the Corinthians.  As we read this it seems as though perhaps some were advocating “celibacy” as a preferable lifestyle for Christians.  Since, as of last count, we are planning to have three couples “dedicate” eight of their children to the Lord next week, our church has focused more on the idea, “be fruitful and multiply!”  How does Paul answer their questions?
        Singleness [and with that Paul assumes celibacy!] is God’s plan for some, but it is not His plan for most of us (1,2). First of all, notice that the ESV once again is telling us that they believe Paul is initially quoting the Corinthians, “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with [lit, “not to touch”] a woman.” It seems likely this is either something that the Corinthians wrote in their letter to Paul, or something they were quoting from a teacher within their church (hence it is in quotation marks in the ESV).  From the context we’ll see that some had interpreted that to mean they shouldn’t marry, and others had even suggested that the married should be “celibate” even in their marriage relationship!  “Nevertheless, on account of [the temptation to] sexual immorality, let each man have his own wife, and each woman her own husband…”  God has designed us for marriage, and unless, like Paul, he has given you the gift of singleness, you are stronger in that relationship than you can be alone, for one thing, because in a healthy marriage, you are less vulnerable to sexual temptation.

        Intimacy in marriage is important and must not be neglected (3-6). For the married Paul acknowledge that we are created to have a deep level of intimacy with our spouse, and the marriage bed is a part of that. There is a closeness, a bond, a transparency that we share that is unique. When God created Eve and she came to Adam, he recognized her as his perfect complement, the “helpmate suitable for him.”  The moment he saw her he said, essentially, “This is it! This is what I’ve been waiting for!” What is Paul saying here in our text? Look again at 7:3-6,
3 The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband.  4 For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does.  5 Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.  6 Now as a concession, not a command, I say this.
Notice that there is mutuality here, it is not that the “husband has the right” and the “wife has the duty.” Together, they commit to the kind of sharing and intimacy for which they were created.  If we neglect the marriage bed we are opening ourselves up to the possibility of temptation, and exposing our spouse to temptation. That is never an excuse, sin is never justifiable, but our enemy has been around a long time, and he is an expert in human vulnerabilities.  The “concession” Paul mentions in v.6 refers to the immediately preceding verse, to the exceptional situation of a couple abstaining, by mutual consent, for a short period that they might devote themselves to prayer.  Sex is never a weapon to use against our spouse, it is not to be withheld to control our spouse, it is a gift from God, designed to lead us into deepened intimacy, transparency, and “oneness.”

       Each of us should recognize and seek God’s plan and will (7).  Some of you may be single, not by choice. You may be thinking, “All this is great, I’d love to be married if God sent the right person along, but here I am!” Well later in this chapter Paul will address that situation. Whatever state we are in God can and will use us if we are available to him. He is our strength and His grace is sufficient. While you are single devote yourself to deepening your relationship with the Lord, and be open and submissive to His will as you look ahead.

       Singleness has advantages, and Marriage is not for everyone, but it is preferable for most (8, 9).
8 To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single as I am.  9 But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion.
That is strong language. Paul will later talk of his own singleness which he viewed as a gift that has allowed him greater availability for ministry, but that is not for everyone, it is not for most of us.  Later he’ll talk about some of the advantages of singleness, but for many, it can be more of a distraction than an advantage. Each has his own gift from God.  Marriage is not something to be entered into lightly. As we have been developing our church policy it is increasingly clear that pre-marital counselling is a great opportunity that we want to encourage to help prepare couples for the challenges they will surely face.  God has designed the intimacy of the marriage union to be a lifetime bond between husband and wife, a picture of the union between Christ and His church.

II. Marriage is a lifetime commitment between a man and a woman (10-11).
10 To the married I give this charge (not I, but the Lord): the wife should not separate from her husband 11 (but if she does, she should remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and the husband should not divorce his wife.
            Paul is reiterating what Jesus had taught: God has designed marriage to be a lifetime commitment between a man and a woman.  Any provision or situation where divorce results is a concession to human frailty and a reminder of our need for grace.  If God designed marriage to be a lifetime commitment, what do you think Satan wants? Even from the start, in so many cases today, people enter marriage with the idea, “Well, if it doesn’t work out…” My counsel to couples would be to talk through your expectations and your commitment to the marriage, and to decide before hand, whatever you confront , whatever the challenges or obstacles you face, divorce is not an option, we will not go there, we will determine, with God’s help, to work through the situation together.  “The easy in, easy out” approach to marriage so prevalent today is not from God.

            Young singles, teens, listen, marriage is a beautiful thing, there is a level of sharing and intimacy that is a great blessing from God. But don’t rush. Be sure to include God as you seek the kind of spouse he wants for you. Determine in your heart to save yourself for that person. The world might say "casual sex" is just fine, God calls it "immorality," porneia. There may be some older singles or some widows of widowers here, and maybe you are asking what this has to do with you. Part of our responsibility as older men and women in the church is to encourage and teach those who are younger. We need to pray for the younger generation, we need to encourage them to walk with God and to not let the world force them into its mold.  Remember, our enemy is going about like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour. God created sex, and He called it good. And he ordained a context in which it is to be enjoyed. One man, one woman, committed to each other in marriage for life.

       We sometimes include the statement in our wedding vows, “Until death do us part.” That should be our attitude as we enter into marriage, a lifetime commitment, until death part us.  God has designed the intimacy of the marriage union to be a lifetime bond between husband and wife, a bond so intimate, a love so precious, that is becomes a picture of the union between Christ and His church.

III. A Faithful Spouse “Sanctifies” the Family (12-16).
12 To the rest I say (I, not the Lord) that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her.  13 If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him.  14 For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.  15 But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you to peace.  16 Wife, how do you know whether you will save your husband? Husband, how do you know whether you will save your wife?
       You might ask, “What about if my spouse doesn’t believe?” Paul says here, if they will stay with you, you had better be willing to stay with them!  The situation here is probably a case where one spouse came to faith and the other was not ready to make that decision. Paul says you are still “one flesh,” you are married, and God would have you to be faithful to that commitment.

       Notice, the spouse is “set apart,” as are the children – Next week we are going to have a crowd up hear, several couples will be dedicating their children to the Lord. That attitude is what Paul is speaking to in this passage. They are acknowledging their children as a gift from God, and affirming their desire to raise them in the way of the Lord. They are saying their children have been set apart by God and for God. There is also a sense in which a spouse who has not yet believed is “set apart” by a believing spouse, and their children are “set apart” as well. How? They live and grow up exposed to the gospel, hearing Scripture, being prayed for, seeing the difference Jesus makes in a person’s life. That makes a tremendous impact on children coming at an early age to faith in Christ.  We saw last week, in I Peter, the power of a faithful witness in the family. “Dedication” is a statement that we will do our best as parents to be good examples, to be “faithful witnesses,” and to raise our children in the “way of the Lord.”

        If the unbelieving spouse leaves... the believer is “not enslaved,” This seems to imply that in the case of desertion by an unbelieving spouse if the “brother or sister,” the believing spouse, the one who is who is left behind, desires to remarry he (or she) is free to do so, “he is not in bondage.” Reconciliation should be sought, staying celibate is an option, but if there is no other way, the believer is allowed to marry, “in the Lord.”   Why persevere in the marriage? Paul says, “How do you know if you will save [your husband/wife]?”  We know that we don’t save anyone, but Paul is speaking a kind of “shorthand” here: “Save” in the sense, “used by God that our witness might win them to Christ.” We saw similar language last week in the passage for Mother’s Day, I Peter 3:1-2,
Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives-  2 when they see your respectful and pure conduct.
That is how deeply God values the marriage relationship, that is how important it is to Him.

What is God saying to me in this passage? God has designed the intimacy of the marriage union to be a lifetime bond between husband and wife, a picture of the union between Christ and His church.

What would God have me to do in response to this passage?  In the following context Paul will talk about contentment. And it surely is true, that marriage is such a significant, once in a lifetime commitment that one should enter it very, very carefully, seeking wise counsel, honestly asking God for His will and leading.  If your gift is singleness be faithful, seek intimacy with God and be available for him to use and he will.  If that is not your gift, seek a believing spouse, prayerfully, knowing that you will be making a commitment to another human, before God, for the rest of your life.  Socrates was “philosophical” about it, for the believer we have God’s word in Proverbs 18:22, He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the LORD.” A bond so intimate, a love so precious, that the Lord used it to illustrate His commitment to and His love for the church.  Think about that!  AMEN.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Pilgrim Mothers: The Beautiful Example of Biblical Submission - I Peter 3:1-6

Pilgrim Mothers: The Beautiful Example of Biblical Submission
I Peter 3:1-6
Introduction:   Perhaps the greatest gift a Christian mother can give her children is the example of living out God’s design for the family.  I Peter 2:9-12 talks about our lives as “pilgrims” and our calling to be a witness to the world. Submission to delegated authorities is an aspect of “pilgrim living in a fallen world.” We have a society that is obsessed with “appearances.” Where is true beauty found? “Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised” (Prov. 31:30).  Fathers’ day isn’t too far away and we’ll talk about the responsibility that God has given men to lead their families. Today is mothers’ day. And it is simply a fact that mothers, by virtue of the time and the unique relationship they have with their children have the greatest influence and impact of them. A few quotes from history…
-         George Washington: “The greatest teacher I ever had was my mother.”
-         Abraham Lincoln: “All that I am, and all that I ever hope to be I owe to my mother… no man is poor when he has a godly mother.”
-         Emerson: “Men are what their mothers make them.”
-         Churchill: “If we want to change our nation, begin by enlisting the mothers.”
            With all the uncertainties of living in a Fallen World, we can influence our children toward coming toward the truth, and no one has greater influence than mothers.  Proverbs 22:6 says “Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it.”  Someone said, “The lessons of the cradle go all the way to the grave.” Teaching biblical truth to our children must be the foundation laid by a Christian mother.  Paul expressed the influence Timothy’s mother, and grandmother, had on him…
2 Timothy 1:5   5 I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well.
Later in the same letter he wrote…
2 Timothy 3:14-15   14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it  15 and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.
That teaching is grounded in the Word, and it is fleshed out in the example lived before our children. One aspect of a “pilgrim mother,” is that she realizes that our Maker created the family, and that His design for the family is best, no matter what culture is saying at the moment. This is a critical application of Paul’s words to the Romans 12:1,2, “…do not be conformed to the world…”, or as one paraphrase puts it, “don’t let the world force you into it’s mold…”! The idea of anything other than a strictly “egalitarian” view of the marriage relationship is viewed by many today as an antiquated idea, out of touch with reality.  But God has designed the marriage relationship so that the man and the woman compliment one another, they complete each other.  They recognize God’s plan and long to walk in it.
The Big Idea: Godly mothers lead by example, as they show their sons and daughters the beauty of God’s design for the family.
I. The Power of Inner beauty exemplified through submission (3:1-2).
Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives-  2 when they see your respectful and pure conduct. 
Since we are jumping into I Peter this week, we need to be careful not to miss the first word in our passage: “Likewise…” This reminds us that we need to read and understand Peter’s exhortation here in its context.  Back in 1 Peter 2:11-13 we read,
11 Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles [pilgrims!] to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.  12 Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.  13 Be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution…
That is the context. He says we need to recognize and respect the authorities that God has allowed and ordained. Then in 1 Peter 2:15-18 he begins to get more specific,   
15 For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.  16 Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God17 Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.  18 Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust.
We are to live as God’s servants, so we respect government, we follow our boss’s orders at work, even when we don’t always agree.  Then in 3:1 he says, “…[likewise] wives, be subject to your own husbands…”  This entire context is talking about a servant attitude, guided by love, respecting the authorities that God has established, but about all, “living as servants of God” (2:16). We won’t get to 3:7 today, but maybe we’ll save that for Fathers’ Day, “Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.” So Peter is talking about our mutual responsibilities in the family and in the church. That is God’s design, not my idea or culture’s plan or what is politically correct, it is truth, the blueprint of the Creator.  Look at the power of that example…
“…so that even if some do not obey the word they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives…”  We need to be careful about what we read into this. The situation seems to recognize that there were some women who had come to faith, and either their husbands had not yet been saved, or if they had, they were not walking with the Lord. The husbands had heard the gospel. How do I know that? “…they do not obey the word…” That means they heard the word, they knew the truth, but they were not walking in obedience to the truth. Even in such a case Peter says, the wife respects the position of leadership in the family that God has established. So he says…
Be subject to your own husband – Notice the language here – first of all it is not talking about men in general, this passage is specifically referring to “your own husband.” That makes it clear that that it is the husband/wife relationship, the family, that Peter is referring to. It doesn’t mean that couples don’t talk through their decisions together.  I heard one message this week that said, “Women are not called to leave their brain at the marriage altar.” It means that she recognizes that God has established an order in the family, and given the husband the responsibility to lead. She respects and encourages that.
What about the husband that “does not obey the word”? This isn’t saying the wife follows the husband into sin.  But neither does the wife spoken of here incessantly beat her husband over the head with the gospel. She loves him, she respects him as the head of the family, and her “respectful and pure conduct” can be used by God to “win him without a word.”  The point I want to make is that “respectful and pure conduct” is not only seen day in and day out by her husband, but it is also teaching the children, by example, God’s design for the family.  So young men grow up appreciating their mother’s character, so young women have an example that they can follow, and see the beauty of their mother’s heart. That is powerful. Charles Haddon Spurgeon’s mother was clearly as “pilgrim mother” who lived out her faith before her children. I read this quote this week from his autobiography,
How can I ever forget her tearful eye when she warned me to escape from the wrath to come? I thought her lips right eloquent; others might not think so, but they certainly were eloquent to me. How can I ever forget when she bowed her knee, and with her arms about my neck, prayed, “Oh, that my son might live before Thee!” Nor can her frown be effaced from my memory,—that solemn, loving frown, when she rebuked my budding iniquities; and her smiles have never faded from my recollection,—the beaming of her countenance when she rejoiced to see some good things in me towards the Lord God of Israel
Godly mothers have a powerful impact on their families, as they lead by example, showing their sons and daughters the beauty of God’s design for the family.

II. The Value of Inner beauty which endures and does not fade (3-4).
3 Do not let your adorning be external- the braiding of hair, the wearing of gold, or the putting on of clothing-  4 but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God's sight is very precious. 
Peter goes on to give more teaching about what this beautiful example really looks like, first of all, the negative: “Do not let your adorning be external…”
What this doesn’t mean – This is not saying that women shouldn’t do their hair, or wear jewelry. How do I know that? Look at the next phrase, “or the putting on of clothing…” If it meant that they shouldn’t braid their hair or wear jewelry, then it must also mean they shouldn’t put on clothing, it can’t mean that!  The word “adorning” here is odd in the context, it is the word, “kosmos” or “world.” The world certainly has it’s own ideas of “beauty” and we can get caught up in that. Even Christian young people sometimes struggle with eating disorders and a poor self-image because of what culture is telling them is “beautiful.”  Listen, you are created in God’s image, you are already beautiful, and the more you let that image shine through the more your true beauty will be seen by those around you.
What it must mean - What it is saying is that her “adorning” must not be based on the superficial and external, that must not be what she is relying on as the source of her beauty. These things fade, and pass away. “Beauty” as the world defines it is fleeting, it is temporary. I like what George Washington said,
“My mother was the most beautiful woman I ever saw. All I am I owe to my mother. I attribute my success in life to the moral, intellectual and physical education I received from her.”
“Beauty” that is merely external doesn’t earn a tribute like that. External “beauty” is truly only skin deep.  Rather than the merely external, Peter urges, “…but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart…” Instead of the external, the superficial, and transient definition of the world, Peter is saying that true, lasting beauty, begins in the heart.
“…with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit…” The context here is clear, this gentle and quiet spirit, respectful submission to her husband in the role that God has given him to lead the family, is a kind of beauty that will never diminish, it never grows old, it doesn’t fade. In fact, it is a beauty…  
“…which in God’s sight is very precious…” That kind of heart, that attitude, is “precious” to God. The word “precious” here is not very common in the Bible. It appears only two other times in the New Testament. In the Greek translation of the Old Testament called the Septuagint it appears another dozen times or so. One of those is in Proverbs 31:10, “An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels.” She is more precious than any treasure, her example is priceless. Godly mothers lead by example, as they show their sons and daughters the beauty of God’s design for the family.
III. The example of Inner beauty revealed throughout history (5-6).
5 For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their husbands,  6 as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening.
Examples in Scripture… We’ve been studying I Corinthians this year and we are still some months away from chapter 10:11 where we read, Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.” We are to look to Scripture and learn from the examples, positive and negative, that are recorded there.
1. First, notice that Peter refers to “…holy women who hoped in God…” They are described as “holy,” i.e. “set apart.”  Based on the context this was a holiness that could be seen, it was evident in their conduct.
2. They were “…holy women who hoped in God…”  “Hope” does not imply pie in the sky wishful thinking that everything is going to work out, this is biblical hope, a confidence about the future that is rooted in faith in God.
3. “…submitting to their husbands as Sarah obeyed Abraham and called him lord…”  Sarah was a beautiful and strong woman, and she recognized God’s design for the family. She followed Abraham and affirmed his leadership in the family. He surely was not infallible and he made some pretty big mistakes along the way. But she recognized God’s design for the family, and she submitted to his leadership. God made men and women to be different, we are different not because of culture or tradition, we are different by design.  And as husbands are called to be loving, sacrificial leaders in their family, women are designed to complement men, to fill in where we are weak, and to affirm God’s design for the family.
4. “…if you do good, and do not fear…” As daughters of Sarah have their hope in God, He is their security and strength above all, so they “fear less.” They know God’s way is best, so they are not afraid of what people might think. So we read in Proverbs 31:30, Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.”  Think about it, she knows God, even though the world is such a mess and there is so much danger and uncertainty that we face, if God is for us, who can stand against us? Is it true or not that “He causes all things to work together for good to those who love him, to those who are called according to His purpose”? Because her trust is in Him, she does not fear, her hope is sure.
       The example of our mothers varies greatly.  Many of you have the example of mothers who not only loved you, but exemplified the heart of a “pilgrim mother,” one who recognized that only for a little while do we have the opportunity to teach our children, not only by word, but by example. Praise God! Some of our mothers are in heaven, and days like this bring fond memories, but also some of the tugging at our hearts, at those times when we miss her presence, and her loving counsel.  Others may not have had godly examples at home, but still, because of God’s common grace, He used our mothers to bring us into the world and to sow into our lives, and here we are!  And we, the church, are a family as well.  What a blessing to have the array of godly, committed women that we have in our church! We have women who are committed to their family, and committed to our church family, committed to God. Some who perhaps did not give birth to children, and feel awkward about mothers’ day, but as you model a gentle and submissive spirit, teaching the younger women and the children in our church family not only by word, but especially by example, you are lifting up God’s design for the family.  Because we are a family we share in that responsibility.
What is God saying to me in this passage? Godly mothers lead by example, as they show their sons and daughters the beauty of God’s design for the family.
      1. The power of their beauty is exemplified in their submission to the leadership of their husband, according to God’s design. That is a powerful testimony.
     2. The internal beauty of their heart is something that God cherishes and their family sees clearly. Isn’t that the kind of beauty that matters most?
     3. Throughout history their godly submission to God’s plan and God’s design for the family has been an example through the ages, so we have faith, and fear-less.

What would God have me to do in response to this passage? For the children, and the adults who still have their mothers, this is a great day to celebrate the love and the sacrifice, and the example and wisdom of your mother.  For husbands thank your wife for the beauty of her heart, and the example that she is (and yes, a compliment on her outward beauty in your eyes wouldn’t hurt either!). For all of the women in our church family we are thankful, because your love, your godliness, and your example is influencing the next generation for Christ.    God bless the Pilgrim mothers.   Think about that.   AMEN.