Sunday, November 29, 2015
Grace and the Incarnation
Introduction: A little boy and his slightly older sister were singing their favorite Christmas carol the week before Christmas one year. When they got to the final line, the boy sang, “Sleep in heavenly beans!” His sister corrected him, “No, no, no, not beans, it’s PEAS, sleep in heavenly peas!” Sometimes, in the midst of our celebrations and shopping, we can lose track of the true reason for the season! In one of my favorite Christmas classics, I watch it almost every year, Charlie Brown asks in the middle of his celebrating friends, “What is Christmas all about?!” His friend Linus answers by citing Scripture.
I decided to start our Advent series this year with the opening verses of the New Testament, the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew. A genealogy? I remember when I came to faith in Christ, as a new believer, I would typically “skim over” the genealogies in the Bible. I couldn't pronounce most of the names anyway, and I really didn't see the point. Then I remember being blessed when I heard John MacArthur preach on this passage in Matthew, and I was amazed by the insights he shared from these verses (some of which are reflected in this study!). Every word of the Bible is important, and even the genealogies are there for a purpose. As we look briefly at this one I think we’ll see Matthew laying a foundation for the gospel of grace that is at the heart of the New Testament. God’s story of graciously guiding human history is revealed in the genealogy of Jesus here in the first Gospel. Scholars suggest that Matthew is tracing the genealogy of Joseph, which establishes Jesus’ legal right as a descendant of David to be qualified for the “throne,” whereas Luke traces Jesus’ physical descent through Mary. Matthew starts with Abraham and emphasizes David. He points out three periods of the history of God’s people that together point to the need for God’s intervention in their history. And he includes the story of four women, four outcasts, foreigners and sinners, which emphasizes God’s sovereignty and grace.
The Maine Idea: History is His Story, and the genealogy of Jesus highlights the depth of our need and the extent of God’s grace. His grace is the true message of Christmas.
I. We see God’s grace in the prominence of two men (1:1). Matthew’s gospel is the only one of the four that begins with a genealogy (Luke also includes a genealogy, but it appears in chapter 3). The opening verse of the New Testament says,
“The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.”
The book [or, the record] of the genealogy of Jesus Christ – Matthew begins by asserting what the genealogy and the Gospel that follows will prove: Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of God. He is the promised King, the One who the Scriptures had anticipated. The story will reveal the meaning of his name—Jesus—Yeshua—“salvation.” He came not to condemn the world, but that the world, through Him, might be saved.
18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 20 But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, "Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins."
We could stop right there and reflect on what that says, what it means. On this first Sunday of advent, the Sunday after Thanksgiving, Matthew begins by stating the name of the subject of his book—a name that tells us already what he came to do. Humans were lost, separated from God, walking in darkness. As Paul told the Ephesians, “...we were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest...” That is what you were, that is what I was. But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, breathed life into our dead stinking corpses and made us his children—by grace, through faith. His name, “Jesus,” means “salvation,” and there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved! I hope I am not getting “so heavenly minded that I am no earthly good,” but truly, with all the good blessings he gives us, the first and greatest gift, the purpose for which He came, needs to be first in our hearts and minds. That is the message of Christmas, “THIS is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him” (I John 4:9).
Matthew also states his title, “Christ,” i.e. “Messiah,” “Anointed One.” The Jews had long awaited the coming of a deliverer, the Son of David, the promised seed. Matthew states that it is His story that is being presented, the fullness of time had come, and God had, in fact, sent forth His Son. The genealogy of Jesus in Matthew apparently is Joseph’s, highlighting the legal standing of Jesus as a descendant of David (Luke’s genealogy makes the same connection to David, but through his biological descent through Mary).
First, Jesus is described as the “...son of David...” David’s name in fact appears five times in the genealogy, and his relationship with “...the wife of Uriah...” stands out (1:1, twice in 1:6, and twice in 1:17 is his name mentioned). He is one of the most prominent people in the Bible. David’s name appears over a thousand times (to put that into perspective, the name “Jesus” appears just over 950 times!). We know many of the stories of his life well, how God chose him, the youngest of the sons of Jesse, not because of his stature or outward appearance, but because of his heart. We remember how he stood up against Goliath with a stone and a sling, and in the name of the Lord was victorious. We remember Saul’s jealousy of him when David’s fame began to spread among the people, and the attempts the king made to kill him, and in contrast, David’s refusal to raise his hand against Saul. We remember his heartbreak, when his beloved son Absalom led a rebellion against him, and his heart wrenching tears when Absalom was killed. David. Of all the gospels, Matthew mentions him the most times. The phrase “son of David” had become one of many titles the Jews of Jesus’ day would use to speak of the coming deliverer, the Messiah. David was the greatest of Israel’s kings, but you can’t think of David without thinking of the sins he committed, grievous sins of adultery and murder. Still this man was called “a man after God’s own heart,” and to him God promised a descendent, a Son, who would have an eternal reign. David reminds us that even the best of men falls short, we all desperately need God’s grace.
In the initial sentence of the Gospel, Matthew works backward, the son of David, the son of Abraham – The early chapters of Genesis highlight four great events – Creation – the Fall – The Flood – and Babel. The consequences of sin are spelled out in the early genealogies of the Bible with the repeated refrain, “...[so and so lived X number of years] and then he died...” God had warned that sin would bring death, and Genesis 1-11 makes it clear that the effects were universal and total. Humans were sinners, lost, and could do nothing to save themselves. Then chapter 12 begins with God calling Abraham. His name appears about 250 times in the Bible, 7 of those in Matthew’s gospel, and three times in the genealogy.
Abraham is pointed to in the New Testament as an example of faith, of one who believed God, taking Him at His word. But Abraham wasn’t without his failures. Twice he lied about Sarah being his wife (calling her his sister) because he feared for his own life. Still, as the story goes on, his faith grows. And God’s promise to him was unilateral, there were no conditions, God simply said, “I will do it,” He would give him a multitude of descendants and life in the land. It was God’s sovereign commitment to carry out his plan. But Abraham and Sarah his wife had some challenges of faith, it wasn’t always easy to take God at his word. As they grew older and had no children, Sarah gave her maid Hagar to her husband so that through her she might have a son. But Ishmael was not to be the promised one. Sarah laughed at the idea of giving birth when she and Abraham were old, but the angelic messenger asked, “Is anything too difficult for the Lord?” (Gen 18:14). God was teaching them to trust. He was reminding them of His power and sovereignty. And so God’s choice of Abraham, and his prominence in the history of the nation and in the genealogy of Jesus, shows us God’s grace.
Have you thought about it this Christmas? The same God who chose Abraham and David, who was so patient with them, despite their sin and failures, chastening, but always loving and guiding and drawing them back, that same God knows you and loves you? He sent His Son so that you could live! Grace! That is reason to celebrate! History is His Story, and the genealogy of Jesus highlights the depth of our need and the extent of God’s grace. His grace is the true message of Christmas.
II. We see God’s grace in the highlighting of three eras (1:17). Genealogies in the ancient world were not necessarily complete family trees, but rather they were intended to show a line of descent, establishing a connection between the past and the present. Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus is interesting in that it is structured to highlight three specific blocks of history...
“So all the generations from Abraham to David were fourteen generations, and from David to the deportation to Babylon fourteen generations, and from the deportation to Babylon to the Christ fourteen generations.”
Why such a breakdown? What was Matthew trying to emphasize? Why not point to other events, like the Exodus, which seemed so foundational to Israel’s history?
The first period of history highlighted extends from Abraham to David – We see the birth of a people, and the transition from a “theocracy,” one nation under God, to a monarchy. It is a period marked by election, by promise, and by initial fulfillments. The stories of the patriarchs and of Egypt, of Moses and the Exodus, of the failures in the wilderness, and of God’s preserving grace. The conquest under Joshua showed that God was faithful to his promises. Yet the people struggled to follow God, and without a king “every man did that which right in his own eyes.” Remember the story of the little girl who was frightened by a thunderstorm in the night and came to her parents bedroom. Her mother assured her,
“Don’t be afraid dear, God is with you!”
The little girl said, “Why don’t you go to my room and sleep with God and I’ll stay here with Daddy, I need someone with skin on!” Having God as their king was a nice idea in theory, but they wanted a king “with skin on,” a king like the nations around them. Someone they could see and rally around. Someone that could bring comfort and courage when they faced their enemies. They chose Saul, a man who stood “head and shoulders” over others. But God had another idea, he didn’t look on the outward appearance, but rather upon the heart. And David, the youngest son of Jesse was chosen. He was even called “a man after God’s own heart.” He was the best of the kings, the one to whom God promised would be born a “son” who would have an eternal kingdom. The Davidic covenant was the apex of hope, but the affair with Bathsheba and the murder of Uriah exposed the depravity of humans. There is none righteous, no not one. Humans could never save themselves by their own “goodness,” they desperately needed mercy, their only hope was grace.
The second time period goes from David to the Exile—This is the period when the nation had human kings, and it points out the failure of the monarchy. Repeatedly through the Old Testament we see the kings “doing evil in the sight of the Lord” and “going the way of their fathers,” falling into sin and apostasy. Ultimately the division of the kingdom after Solomon’s death was only a step in a downward spiral over the next 400 years, until the northern capital Samaria fell in 722 followed by the southern capital, Jerusalem, in 586 B.C. Even though they were carried into exile, the Bible makes it clear that God did not forget Israel, he did not fail them, he preserved a remnant, but they were chastened for their sin.
The third period highlighted in the genealogy goes from the exile to Christ. If the first period, from Abraham to David revealed hope, along with the grace of God, and if the period from David to the exile showed human failure and our need for the Lordship of God and His mercy and grace, the third period points to God’s faithfulness to his promises, and to the extent of His grace. God did not forget his people, his promises would not fail. He preserved a remnant and at the right time brought them back to the land. He allowed the walls of the city to be rebuilt and the temple to be slowly restored. If He did all that, what of the promises of a deliverer? After 400 years of silence, in the fullness of time, He sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. Redemption implies the payment of a price. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent His one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.
These three eras really point to the gospel: first promise, as from the fall and throughout the Old Testament there were allusions and reference to the Coming deliverer. Failure, as even when He came, he was despised and rejected by men, they would not have this man to be their king! He came to his own, and they did not receive Him. And finally grace, as God’s plan reaches a climax in the cross and resurrection. History is His Story, and the genealogy of Jesus highlights the depth of our need and the extent of God’s grace. His grace is the true message of Christmas.
III. We see God’s grace in the mention of four women (1:3-6). Four woman, all foreigners. Three of the four were suspected of immorality. Matthew is intentional in drawing attention to them as they are the only women he mentions in the the line of the Messiah.
Tamar (v.3; cf. Gen 38) – the Canaanite daughter-in-law of Judah, who disguised herself as a prostitute, and conceived a child by Judah. When Judah realized what had happened, he said, “She is more righteous than I...” The entire story points to human depravity and the total inability of people to do good and merit God’s favor. It shows the need we have for His grace.
Rahab (v.5; cf. Joshua 2, 6) – The name of Rahab brings us back to the story of the conquest, and her interaction with and protection of the spies before God gave the Hebrews the victory by bringing down the walls of Jericho. She is described in chapter 2 and chapter 6 as “Rahab, the prostitute...” Yet she was saved when the city was razed because she feared the God of Israel and protected the spies. By grace she was included in the messianic line.
Ruth (v.5) – Ruth’s story is different, there are no signs or hints that she was suspected of immorality. But she wasn’t a Jew, she was a foreigner, a Moabitess. And God when she was widowed she clung to her mother-in-law Naomi and with her returned to the land. She gleaned the leftover scraps of the barely harvest from the fields and provided for her mother-in-law, and she met Boaz, and was redeemed from her position of hopelessness and became the mother of Obed, the grandmother of Jesse, the great-grandmother of David the king. Grace!
And finally in 1:6b, “And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah...” i.e. Bathsheba. There is no cover up here. Remember all the mystery about a certain president’s lineage, where he was born etc.? Here, in the biblical record, there is complete transparency. In fact Matthew draws attention to it by mentioning the mother of Solomon, and draws attention to the sin of David by calling her “...the wife of Uriah...” Why draw attention to the fact? It was a sad chapter in Israel’s history, why not just say “David became the father of Solomon,” and then go on? Matthew is highlighting human failure. He is showing us that despite our sin, God is sovereign, and He as the Lord of history will even overrule the sinful acts of humans to accomplish his good purpose. He wants us to grasp how desperately needy we are, and how his love, and his grace, is greater than all our sin.
Think about it- Foreigners, without hope and with God. Women, in their societies, without rights. Sinners, with no righteousness of their own. They had no hope in themselves, their only hope was God’s amazing grace. Do you ever feel like you are beyond being forgiven, that your sin is too much, that your past is too dark? If you have put your trust in Jesus, be assured of this: whatever you have done, whatever nags you and fills you with regret, was nailed to the cross. Remember the song: “My sin, O the bliss of this glorious thought, my sin, not in part, but the whole, was nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more, Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord, O my soul!”
What is God saying to me in this passage? All of history was pointing to coming of the King of all Grace. And in the fullness of time, God sent forth His Son. Yet we know the story. Their Scriptures pointed to his coming, and though “He came unto his own, ...His own received him not...” Know this: that did not surprise God. He gave his only begotten Son, knowing exactly what would happen. History is His Story, and the genealogy of Jesus highlights the depth of our need and the extent of God’s grace. His grace is the true message of Christmas.
What would God have me to do in response to this passage? We get so busy this time of the year, don’t we? Travel, visits, family get togethers, shopping, decorations. All of that is fine, none of it is bad, that is unless in all of our busyness we forget the One who is the reason for the season, Jesus. Reflect on Him, remember who he is, and why he came. We deserved only judgment, but He loved us, and lavished his grace upon us.
One practical step we can take is for families, or couples, or individuals, is to do daily “advent readings” during December. Memorize some Bible verses that point to His coming. Thank him every day, during this month, for the gift of His grace. Might our desire this advent season be, above all, to know Him better, and to love Him more. And as we rejoice in what He has done for us in Jesus, look for opportunities to share a word, or a gospel tract, or to invite to a Christmas service. May it be true this Christmas that “the people who walk in darkness would see a great Light”—the Light of the World, JESUS. Think about that. Amen.
Sunday, November 22, 2015
Hey Pilgrim, Give Thanks!
(or, “Being Thankful in a Fallen World”)
Introduction: This week we had another opportunity to be down in NJ for a family birthday, our granddaughter Arden’s third. We tried our best to spoil the kids in a week, but our daughter and son-in-law are doing a great job, we couldn’t do much damage! One cute thing we noticed was when the family is about to share a meal together. The one year old is strapped into his high chair, arms flailing around, happy and excited, and then Ian announces, “OK, let’s thank God!” Immediately, Hunter, one year old, clasps his hands and bows his head, looking up at everyone. I don’t think he knows what they are doing, but he’s figured out this has to happen before they eat! I remember the story of a family that was gathered around the table for Thanksgiving dinner, when the dad asked his young son if he would give thanks for the meal. The boy eyed ever dish on the table and then bowed his head and prayed, “Lord, I don’t like the looks of it, but I thank you for it, and I’ll eat it anyway!” Do you ever feel that way? You are not sure what to make of circumstances in your life, you may not “like the looks of it,” but you choose to be thankful because you know the One who has set the table? God is good, and he does good, and He gives good things to his own. Somehow, he even causes the hard things and the difficult things to “work together for good” to those who love God, to those who are the called, according to His purpose.
At Thanksgiving we often think back to the Pilgrim fathers at Plymouth giving thanks for their first harvest in 1621. “Pilgrim” can refer to a foreigner, someone traveling in a land that is not his own. That is true of us, since we are called citizens of heaven (see Philippians 3:20). It can also refer to someone traveling to a cherished destination out of religious devotion. I often use the story at burials of a little girl who was seen skipping through a cemetery at dusk. Someone asked her, “Aren’t you afraid of this place?” She answered, “Oh no, my house is just over there, on the other side of the trees. I just pass through here on my way home!” We are pilgrims! We are just passing through, looking homeward.
The Maine Idea: Give thanks! Until we are home in His presence we can know that He is with us and will give us strength for the journey.
I. Give thanks for the Presence of the Lord (1-4)!
To the Chief Musician. On an instrument of Gath. A Psalm of the sons of Korah. How lovely is Your tabernacle, O LORD of hosts! 2 My soul longs, yes, even faints For the courts of the LORD; My heart and my flesh cry out for the living God. 3 Even the sparrow has found a home, And the swallow a nest for herself, Where she may lay her young -- Even Your altars, O LORD of hosts, My King and my God. 4 Blessed are those who dwell in Your house; They will still be praising You. Selah.
We long for home, because that is where our Father is present (1,2)!
The psalmist talks about the tabernacle, and the house of God, his longing for the courts of the Lord (1,2). Do you feel that way about coming together with God’s people? Do you come expecting to meet with God and to be blessed as we join together in worship? Maybe if we aren’t part of the reason is that we can start to take things for granted instead of being grateful for the privilege we have to meet together, in the name of Jesus, without fear. It is not so everywhere and it may not always be so here. It wasn’t for a generation for the underground churches in China that met in homes, under threats from the authorities. But they gathered with joy, and thanksgiving, because they understood the God of all creation was in their midst.
Before the Fall, God was present with the first humans in Eden. He walked with them in the garden, He spoke to them face to face. No sin, no separation, no shame or guilt. Love. Joy. Peace. It is for that, that we were created! And then sin entered the picture, and a dark cloud separated humankind from God. By grace, God didn’t forget us, He reached down, and continued to speak, to give hope, and to promise that a day would come when humans could again walk with God. Because of Jesus we have the promise of His presence here and now.
Hints about the future are revealed in the “House of God” motif that runs through the Bible. Jacob was running for his life from his own brother when he laid his head on a rock in Genesis 28, and had a vision of a ladder going to heaven, with God’s angels ascending and descending, and the Lord himself stood above the ladder and spoke, reiterating the promises made to Abraham. There was hope in that vision, the gap between fallen humans and God was not insurmountable. Jacob called that place Bethel when he awoke, literally, “House of God.”
God’s promises were reiterated by Jacob to his sons, and finally one descendant, Moses, would lead the people out of Egypt, back toward the land. The Tabernacle in the wilderness was the place of God’s presence in the midst of the camp. It was called the “dwelling place,” where God was present, “the tent of meeting,” a place where the priests would offer sacrifices for the people, and it was the “holy place” because of the One who sanctified it by His presence.
It would be over 400 years before the Temple would be built by Solomon in Jerusalem. It was the place where God chose for His name to dwell, a place for offering and for worship. But all of those sacrifices, and the building itself, only were shadows of what God would do in the fullness of time. [By the way, over the next month, a period we call Advent, we will focus on some of the promises that were made of a deliverer, a messiah].
In the fullness of time he came: Jesus, Emmanuel. John makes the connection with the “house of God” and the coming of the messiah when he said in his first chapter, “The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us...” (Jn 1:14). The word translated “dwelt,” is used only by John in the New Testament, this is the only place in his gospel (it also appears four times in Revelation). It is the verbal form of the root that describes the “Tabernacle” in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament that was in common use in John’s day). The final use of the word in Revelation points ahead to a culmination of the theme:
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God... (Rev 21:3).
Until that day, the Church is described as God’s “temple.” Remember I Corinthians 3:16, “Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” The church, the people, not the building, God’s temple? Yes, according to Paul!
What makes home, home? As missionaries and in pastoral ministry, we have learned that it is where we are, as a family. Here the psalmist doesn’t merely long for God’s courts as a place he’d like to visit, he longs for God’s presence. We long for heaven and home because that is where our Father is present!
The nesting birds (v.3) – God cares even for the sparrows... God’s common grace underscores the greatness of His saving grace... If God cares for even birds, how much more does the Master love us who were created in His image! Remember the words of the song, “Why should I be discouraged? Why should the sorrows come? Why should my heart be lonely, and long for heaven and home... [and the chorus] ...His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me!” Jesus is my portion, my constant friend. He is with us and in us if we know Him. That is a promise.
N.B. vv.4,5, God’s blessing comes to those who dwell in His presence, to those who praise Him with their whole hearts! Give thanks! If His eye is even on the sparrows, we can know that until we are home in His presence He is with us and will give us strength for the journey!
II. Be thankful for strength on the journey (5-8)!
Blessed is the man whose strength is in You, Whose heart is set on pilgrimage. 6 As they pass through the Valley of Baca, They make it a spring; The rain also covers it with pools. 7 They go from strength to strength; Each one appears before God in Zion. 8 O LORD God of hosts, hear my prayer; Give ear, O God of Jacob! Selah.
God gives us the strength to live with joy on the journey. My personal “mission” is “To know God intimately, to love Him passionately, and to serve Him joyfully as a part of His church, and to use my S.H.A.P.E. [spiritual gifts, heart’s desire, abilities, personality, and experiences; i.e. the person God has made me to be] to help others grow as his disciples.” Joyful service is a key part of that. With Jesus, there is joy on the journey. “Pilgrimage” here is not simply living as a foreigner in a strange land – it implies a journey, movement toward “home.” If our heart is set on home, we can be happy, even in the midst of hardship. Remember the words of John in 1 John 2:15-17,
15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world -- the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life -- is not of the Father but is of the world. 17 And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.
The more we are in love with God, the more we long for His presence above all else and trust in His Word, the more we’ll avoid the entrapments and idols of this present age. None of it will last.
Even in the hard times we can find refreshment and life in His presence (6). The Valley of Baca was a place of tears and weeping. You’ve heard the expression that describes our life in the world as a “vale of tears.” I was surprised to learn that that expression probably comes from the Latin translation of this verse, “The Valley of Tears.” Some sources believe it refers to an arid valley the pilgrims would pass through on their way to the Feasts in Jerusalem. We live in a fallen world, and all the consequences of the fall – “thorns and thistles,” evil, sin, sickness, and death – surround us every day and every way. We are truly passing through the Valley of Baca. My heart breaks when I think of the sickness and suffering, the violence and the evil that so many experience and struggle with. We are passing through this “Vale of tears,” but we can make a well, we can uncover a spring of living water, even in the midst of suffering. Jesus said in John 16:20,
20 “Most assuredly, I say to you that you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; and you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will be turned into joy.”
He was speaking in the context of His impending passion, and the pain that would bring to His disciples, and the resurrection, which would bring unspeakable joy. But it seems to me, as He was preparing them to live in this fallen world without His physical presence, He was also speaking about the tribulation through which His disciples would pass, and the assurance that one day they would overcome (see John 16:33). The idea is not unique to the New Testament. The Psalmist said in Psalm 30:5,
“Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning!”
That promise gives hope, and it gives us reason to be thankful, even if we are passing through a valley. Remember the Sunday School series we had on the question of suffering, by Max Lucado? There are still some bookmarks with the “Maine Idea” on the book table (I have one in my Bible),
“You will get through this. It won’t be painless. It won’t be quick. But God will use this mess for good. In the meantime, don’t be foolish or naïve. But don’t despair either. With God’s help, you will get through this.”
Though we pass through valleys, God strengthens and matures us on the way (7)! That is part of the “good” that God will do during our times of trial. That is no guarantee that we will always experience healing or justice or prosperity in this life. We may when it serves God’s purpose and brings Him the greatest glory. But the future He has in store for us is a sure thing, and it is better than we could possibly imagine. As Paul said, “The suffering of this present age is not worthy to be compared to the glory that will be revealed in us...” (Rom 8:18).
We have the privilege of praying to the Lord of all creation (8). The psalmist looks up, in the midst of his crisis he cries out to Yahweh, the Divine Warrior, the King of Creation who knows us and defends us and promises to keep us. God is our strength. We can do all things through Him who strengthens us. So give thanks! Until we are home in His presence He is with us and will give us strength for the journey.
III. Be grateful for our security in Christ (9-12)!
9 O God, behold our shield, And look upon the face of Your anointed. 10 For a day in Your courts is better than a thousand. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness. 11 For the LORD God is a sun and shield; The LORD will give grace and glory; No good thing will He withhold From those who walk uprightly. 12 O LORD of hosts, Blessed is the man who trusts in You!
We stand before God not naked and afraid, with our sin and guilt exposed, but clothed in the righteousness of Jesus. Clean. Forgiven! He is our mediator, He is our shield, our righteousness. “Oh God, behold our shield! Look on the face of your anointed!” (Ps 84:9). We come boldly into his presence because of His amazing grace. We are His. The world loses its attractiveness the more we look at Jesus. It’s all passing away. Home is where we are going, it is what we have been longing for all of our lives, even though we didn’t know it. Just standing at the door of God’s house is better than living in mansions for the few years of our pilgrimage.
He is our shield (v.9,11). The metaphor is obvious, he protects us when we are under attack. He fends off the fiery darts of the Evil One. The psalmist could reflect on those moments when he experienced the protection of God. Think about the image of Satan, as a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. He is a powerful creature. He is an expert on our weaknesses and vulnerabilities. But greater is He that is in us, than he that is in the world!
He is a sun (11). Light exposes what is hidden in darkness, in the context it would seem to be for our benefit, so that we can see what is sin, what we need to repent of. He is also a lamp to our feet, a light to our path. He shows the way. The Israelites were led by the pillar of fire in the wilderness. He still leads his people.
Look upon the face of your anointed (messiah)! When God looks at us, what does He see? In terms of our righteousness, if we have trusted in Christ, He sees Jesus. Not that we are righteous practically. Rather, the righteousness of Christ has been reckoned to our account. He took our sin, we received His righteousness. Because that is true we can find joy on the journey!
What is God saying to me in this passage? Sometimes, we might look around at all the dishes on the table and feel like, “I don’t like the looks of this!” But think of the love of the One who set the table. We have reason to be grateful: He is present with us, He gives us strength for the journey, and He will keep us, we are secure in His arms if we know Him. Give thanks! Until we are home in His presence He is with us and will give us what we need to live as pilgrims in a fallen world.
What would God have me to do in response to this passage? Holidays can be a time of celebration, but they can also be a time when people struggle with loneliness, regrets, and even depression. You might look at this psalm and think, “I am in the valley, that is for sure!” Notice that the psalmist is not a slave of his circumstances. He doesn’t just look for an oasis, but rather even in the Valley of Baca, he makes a well. He starts digging, in faith, knowing that he’ll find water.
Remember Jesus and the Samaritan woman in John 4? She came out to a well in the heat of the day, probably because of her reputation and in order to avoid confrontations. It was a divine appointment. Jesus turned the discussion about water into a discussion about quenching the deepest longing of her soul. The point is He knows us, He knows our circumstances, He knows our need, and we can trust Him to meet us at the point of our need. Whatever you are facing, if you know Him, you are not alone. Will you trust Him? “Blessed are all who put their trust in Him...” We can be thankful regardless of our circumstances because we are His. Thankfulness should be our heart attitude, not something we express once a year on a third Thursday in November. If you know Him, if you have experienced His grace and mercy, you have reason to be thankful! Think about that, AMEN.
Sunday, November 8, 2015
Spiritual Gifts, Part 8: BUILDING THE CHURCH!
I Corinthians 14:26-40
Introduction: We have a lot of guys in the building trades in our church, so let me ask a question: Can you imagine turning a group of builders loose on a piece of property with a pile of building materials in the middle, and then tell them to go ahead and build something, but with no plan or design? Unless they got together, and came up with a plan, chaos would reign! We might have all the skills necessary to build a mansion, we might have every tool known to the building trades, but if we don’t get together and submit to the architect’s design, we’ll be working hard, doing our own thing, and for all our effort, we’d be out of the Master’s will. Way back in I Corinthians 1:7 Paul told the Corinthians that "...you lack no spiritual gift..." He then reflected on the “building” he did in Corinth back in chapter 3:10-13 when he said,
10 According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. 11 For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw- 13 each one's work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done.
Remember what the writer to the Hebrews said of Abraham as he went out in obedience to God: “For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer [architect!] and builder is God...” (Heb 11:10). If you have gotten something out of these last few weeks in I Corinthians 12-14, I hope it is that Jesus is the head of the church, and each of us who know Him are a member, gifted and called to serve Him by serving others. He is the master builder and the architect, and he uses us if we allow Him as he builds his church. For this study, I took two phrases related to the call to discipleship from the gospels to guide us through this final section of I Corinthians 14. One from the beginning of the public ministry of Jesus made by John the Baptist. The other from Jesus’ own prayer to the Father in Gethsemane, as the crushing burden of what was about to come down on his shoulders was beginning to weigh on Him. Together these statements capture the heart of this passage and expose what was missing in the heart of the Corinthians...
I. John the Baptist, when told about the expanding ministry of Jesus and His disciples said, “He must increase, I must decrease...”
II. Jesus, praying to the Father in the Garden, sweating great drops of blood as He prayed, said, “Nevertheless, not my will, but Your will be done...”
I believe these two statements can lead us through this final section of I Corinthians 14.
The Maine Idea: God has designed the church and has gifted its members to serve Him, in an orderly way, as we serve each other and build each other up and carry out His mission in the world.
I. He must increase, [we] must decrease! That is the attitude of a disciple. Hudson Taylor, a pioneer missionary and founder of China Inland Mission, was once introduced in very glowing terms by a pastor when he was to get up and speak. Several times the minister used the word “great” as he was talking about the missionary and his work. Finally when he got to the pulpit and said, “My friends, I am the little servant of an illustrious Master.” John the Baptist understood that, “He must increase, I must decrease.” Spiritual gifts equip us for service, to build others up and to point them to Jesus. Think about it, spiritual gifts are never about putting the spotlight on me. They are about helping others to walk in the light, in order that they might grow as His disciples. As we mature we bear fruit that brings him glory, so ultimately, they turn the light on Jesus. To God be the glory!
26 What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up. 27 If any speak in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn, and let someone interpret. 28 But if there is no one to interpret, let each of them keep silent in church and speak to himself and to God. 29 Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. 30 If a revelation is made to another sitting there, let the first be silent. 31 For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged, 32 and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets. 33 For God is not a God of confusion but of peace.
It takes order to build each other up (26-28)! Remember the poem I cited a few weeks back, “All I ever needed to know I learned in kindergarten”? Here we go again! One at a time, take turns! Let others use their gifts, when it’s your turn, use yours! If our attitude is to serve, and not to be in the limelight, that gets easier!
“...What then, brothers?” Paul is drawing his corrective teaching about gifts to a conclusion and asks, “What is the point I am trying to make?” “What does all this mean?” He’s talked about the body, unity in diversity, Christ as the head and the church as the body, every member important to the whole. He established love as the guiding principle for “body life.” How does it work out in our experience? As has been the emphasis in these chapters, he points to the coming together of the church, our corporate times of worship.
“...When you come together...” And notice there is no “if” in that phrase. For all of their problems, the Corinthians knew there was value in coming together as the church. They had their problems (this letter is full of them!) but they got this part right. Just a phrase, but a reminder to us of the gist of this whole section of I Corinthians, it’s the expectation, the presupposition, the norm, for believers in Christ. That is, we gather together regularly for worship, mutual edification, and being equipped. How else could we have opportunity to use our gifts for the benefit of “one another...”? Not me as an island, not me as a one man show, not even me locked in my prayer closet alone exclusively (though that had better be an aspect of my personal devotion!). We were made for community and we were gifted for the good of others. If we don’t avail ourselves of opportunities to come together we are robbing others of our encouragement, and we are being robbed of theirs. Remember the words of the writer to the Hebrews,
“24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near...” (Hebrews 10:24,25).
“...Let all things be done for building up...” Notice that Paul doesn’t say, “Let pastors take seriously the responsibility to edify...” He is talking about spiritual gifts, and he says “let all things be done for edification.” The late D. James Kennedy, the founder of the Evangelism Explosion ministry, used to say that Satan’s greatest victory was convincing the church that “ministry” and the “mission” of the church was the work of the few, the professionals. The New Testament pictures the church mobilized, encouraging and building each other up, and going out into the world as His witnesses. This is the idea Paul expressed in Ephesian 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...
The pastors and teachers equip the saints for ministry. The saints are equipped for ministry that results in the building up of the body. The goal is that we grow up, we mature into what Christ wants us to be.
For that to happen as God has planned it, we need to follow His plan. We can’t just “do our own thing.” We need to let order reign for the sake of the brethren! Instruction and encouragement require order (29-33a).
“...so that all may learn...” The verb here is related to the noun “disciple.” A disciple is a learner, one who receives the master’s teaching and takes it to heart. The great commission was an order to make disciples, baptizing them, and teaching them. God has spoken, He has revealed His truth. His word is an infallible guidebook, and authoritative word on how we should live. Order is necessary in the church so that we can learn, so that we can receive the truth.
“...and be encouraged...” Ultimately the Holy Spirit is called our “comforter,” our parkletos, our encourager. Remember in Acts, the disciples gave Barnabas his name, “son of encouragement.” It was what characterized him to such a degree that that is what they called him! Are you a Barnabas? The “tongue” can be used a lot of ways, it can build up and it can tear down. Be an encourager! God uses his Word, shared by His people, to give encouragement and comfort in times of need.
“...for God is not a God of confusion, but of peace...” God is not a God of confusion, but of peace! Remember the creation story, the earth was formless and void, and darkness prevailed. God called order out of chaos. He spoke creation into existence. And it was good. God has a plan. He has designed the church and has gifted its members to serve Him, in an orderly way, as we serve each other and build each other up and carry out His mission in the world.
II. Not my will, but Your will be done! Our will must be in submission to His Word. As Jesus prayed, knowing that His passion was about to begin, mocking, scourging, and the cross, He asked if the cup of suffering might be avoided, He knew what was coming. Yet He prayed, “...not my will, but your will be done.” Remember, God in his sovereignty gives gifts as He wills. And Jesus is building His church.
As in all the churches of the saints, 34 the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. 35 If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church. 36 Or was it from you that the word of God came? Or are you the only ones it has reached? 37 If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord. 38 If anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized. 39 So, my brothers, earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. 40 But all things should be done decently and in order.
Families Need God’s Order (33b-35). Remember, this is a letter, addressing a particular situation! The Corinthians had written to Paul and asked some questions (see 7:1; 12:1) and Paul has been addressing the issue of spiritual gifts for three chapters. We don’t know exactly what the question was. Paul is tying together something related to the complementary roles of men and women in the body which he touched on back in I Corinthians 11, along with the issue of the use of our spiritual gifts in the assembly.
o What Paul isn’t saying... He surely wouldn’t be contradicting what he just said in I Corinthians 11:5,13, where it is assumed that women could speak in the proper context, respecting the authorities that God has established. I don’t believe that we are violating the spirit of these Scriptures when women pray or read Scripture or share a testimony in the church service. It seems to me that Paul is responding to a specific historical situation in which he knew the details of some abuse of speaking out in the church service by some women in Corinth. They knew exactly what and who he was referring to! In the light of Paul’s broader teaching it seems to me he is a “complementary egalitarian.” He recognizes the spiritual equality of every believer in Jesus (“...there is neither male nor female...”) in terms of our gifting and our standing before God (Gal 3:28), yet he also affirms that God has restricted the role of elder/pastor to men (I Cor 11; I Tim 2:12-14, etc.). So it is expected that women will use their gifts in the context of the church, but not in the sense of “teaching or having authority over men.”
o What he is saying... I believe he must be addressing a specific situation (like the issue of the gift of tongues being abused in Corinth) in which some of the Corinthian women were speaking out in a disruptive or disrespectful way in the worship services. Maybe, in the context, speaking out in the evaluation of the prophetic message? It seems this was disrupting the worship and dishonoring God. It may be they were not respecting God’s plan in delegating the role of pastor/elder to men. I don’t think we want to push this any further given our limited understanding of the context. Whether or not we understand the “why” we need to recognize the gist of the words, and recognize that God’s plan is best. Our attitude should be to echo the prayer of Jesus to the Father, “nevertheless, not my will, but you’re your will be done.” That is the point in the final verses...
Submission to God’s Word brings order (36-40). Whatever your gift, let’s agree that the Word is our final authority. Focus for a moment on verse 37, “If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord.” Paul is writing as an apostle, one sent with the authority to speak the word of Christ. It is not just his ideas or suggestions, it is God’s word that he is bringing. The Corinthians were divided over the marks or the signs of spirituality. Paul says, listen, you think you are spiritual? Hear and obey the Word of Christ.
What is God saying to me in this passage? He must increase, we must decrease. Not my will, but His will be done. Those two phrases can bring order and direction to the church! God has designed the church and has gifted its members to serve Him, in an orderly way, as we serve each other and build each other up and carry out His mission in the world.
What would God have me to do in response to this passage? As we conclude these chapters on spiritual gifts I hope you are encouraged to find your place in God’s church, and determined to love the Giver, and to use all that he has made you and given you for His glory. Remember, that includes loving one another, because we can’t say that we love God who we have not seen if we don’t love our brothers and sisters who we do see! I see the love and concern many of you have for one another. I love the way you stay after the service, fellowshipping and talking together. How the sick have meals brought to them, and receive calls, and cards of encouragement. I love the passionate prayer on Wednesday nights and Tuesday mornings when we come together to lift each other up. I love the time people put in to the ministries in the church, like Sunday School, and WOL Olympians, and the teen ministry, small group meetings and community involvement. Let’s commit together to seek opportunities in our close “sphere of influence,” each of us considering our ministry to our 8/15, those 8 to 15 people around us, in our sphere of influence. Praying for them, and sharing the Good News with those who are willing to hear. Think about that. Amen.
Sunday, November 1, 2015
“Spiritual Gifts, Part 7: Body Building”
I Corinthians 14:1-25
Introduction: Hunting season is just started, and I am reminded of the story of a couple of guys from the city who decided they would take up hunting. Before the opening day of pheasant season they went out and bought a bird dog since they were told it would make for more enjoyable and profitable hunting. Opening day they woke up bright and early. They hunted all day, but as dusk began to settle they hadn’t fired a single shot. The hunters were exhausted and frustrated over the performance of their bird dog. Finally one said, “OK Joe, throw him up one more time, if doesn’t fly this time, I’m going to shoot him!” They must have been from NJ right?!
In most activities tools and techniques have to be used properly if we are going to benefit from them. Proper technique is important to avoid injury and to get maximum benefit from physical training. What is true of bodily exercise is also true in the exercise of our spiritual gifts. God has gifted us for the good of others, for the building up of the body. At certain points in history some manifestations of the Spirit had the effect of validating the authority of the apostles to speak the Word of Christ (see Acts 2:1-4,16-21; 3:12; 14:3). The apostles were saying “This is that... Jesus is the promised One, the Messiah we have been waiting for!” In the more general terms, Paul and Peter both teach that gifts were given for edifying the church and equipping believers to carry out our mission in the world. We should make sure that our motives are right and our gifts are focused on benefiting others!
Context: This week, in our seventh week of looking at Paul’s teaching on “Spiritual gifts,” we will be taking a relatively large section, but only looking in detail at a few key words and verses in the section. Remember in 12:1 Paul began, “Now concerning spiritual gifts, I do not want you to be ignorant brethren...” He is addressing an issue that the Corinthians had asked about, and he is teaching them, giving them fuller and more correct knowledge than they had before. We really need to take chapters 12-14 together, as Paul’s answer to their question and need.
The “Maine” Idea: Love should motivate us to use the gifts God has given us to build each other up and to engage our neighbors with the Gospel!
I. Gifts are intended for building the body (1-5).
Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy. 2 For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit. 3 On the other hand, the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation. 4 The one who speaks in a tongue builds up himself, but the one who prophesies builds up the church. 5 Now I want you all to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be built up.
Pursue love... Paul is recapping with this phrase his point in the preceding chapter. The Corinthians were enamored with “gifts,” especially those that they deemed “greater.” Paul told them and is telling them again that they were missing the foundation they needed in order to use the gifts God had given in accordance with His will. The word “pursue” here is the same word that Jesus used of Paul’s persecution of the church (Acts 9) and which Paul uses in his own testimony to describe his zealous pursuit of the Christ followers (Acts 22,26). The word implies intentionality, persistence, and effort. Don’t wait for love to just “happen,” go after it! Paul is saying here, that the first “pursuit” of the Corinthians should not be the gifts of the Giver, but the Giver himself. Jesus said the first and greatest commandment was to love God with you whole heart, and the second was like it, to love your neighbor as yourself. The Corinthians had neglected that indispensable foundation. Let me ask a question: Why do we teach the Bible in our church? Not just so we can learn “truth” and “sound doctrine” in some abstract sense. Our desire is that we would be growing in our knowledge of God. And to know Him is to love Him.
Notice in vv.3 -5 that Paul values the edifying effect of spiritual gifts...
3 ...the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation... the one who prophesies builds up the church... The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be built up.
The measure that seems most important to him is not how flashy or impressive a gift is, but rather what is the effect that it has on others? Love causes us to get our eyes off of ourselves, and to set our focus on others. It’s not about me, it’s about God, and His glory. When it comes to “body life” we need to embrace the J.O.Y. principle: Jesus first, Others second, Yourself last! Our focus should be on using our gifts for the benefit of others. That is the model we see in Ephesians 4:7-16,
7 But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ's gift. 8 Therefore it says, "When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men." 9 (In saying, "He ascended," what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth? 10 He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.) 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, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.
Do you see the “one another” aspect of spiritual gifts? It is not to exalt myself or anyone else for the gifts they have, but rather to build each other up, so that we can be mature and equipped to better carry out our mission. Notice the last phrase in the Ephesians passage, when each one is doing his part, in love, the body matures and is built up. That is God’s plan! It brings glory to God. Love should motivate us to use the gifts God has given us to build each other up and to engage our neighbors with the Gospel!
II. Improper Exercise of spiritual gifts can’t build the body (6-12).
6 Now, brothers, if I come to you speaking in tongues, how will I benefit you unless I bring you some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or teaching? 7 If even lifeless instruments, such as the flute or the harp, do not give distinct notes, how will anyone know what is played? 8 And if the bugle gives an indistinct sound, who will get ready for battle? 9 So with yourselves, if with your tongue you utter speech that is not intelligible, how will anyone know what is said? For you will be speaking into the air. 10 There are doubtless many different languages in the world, and none is without meaning, 11 but if I do not know the meaning of the language, I will be a foreigner to the speaker and the speaker a foreigner to me. 12 So with yourselves, since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church.
Like muffled notes from a musical instrument, so unintelligible utterance cannot edify (6-9). We’ve got a great number of musicians in our church family. I am not one of them! If I were to start banging on the piano, or trying to make a sound come out of a trombone, it would not be pleasing to the ear! The Corinthians were so enamored with the gift of tongues, they had forgotten that without interpretation the gift had no value in public worship. It’s like using a tool, if it is the right tool for the right job, and if it used correctly, it helps advance the project.
I remember hearing the story of an old farmer who returned his new chain saw to the hardware store. He complained, “You told me I could cut five cords a day with this thing! I worked hard all day and only managed half a cord!” The shop keeper said, “Let me sharpen it and let’s take it out back and give it a try.” After sharpening the teeth he took it out back. The salesman pulled the rope and the engine roared to life. The old farmer jumped, and shouted, “What’s that noise!?” You want to use tools correctly for the job to be done well! He gave gifts to men... for the building up of the body of Christ.
Languages are useful only if they can communicate (10-11). When we first arrived in Brazil, our understanding was pretty limited. Sometimes, when people realized we were foreigners, they would speak more slowly and loudly, but if we didn’t understand the words it didn’t help!
Gifts of the Spirit are only helpful if they edify the church (12). We are not pursuing “manifestations of the Spirit” as the Corinthians did. We come together for worship, I hope you expect that God is here. He is present. As we read and study the Word we can hear His voice, if we will listen. As we each use the gifts He has given us, we will build each other up. We will become more mature followers of Jesus. Love should motivate us to use the gifts God has given us to build each other up and to engage our neighbors with the Gospel!
III. Profitable Exercise of gifts engages the spirit and the mind (13-19).
13 Therefore, one who speaks in a tongue should pray for the power to interpret. 14 For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful. 15 What am I to do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also; I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also. 16 Otherwise, if you give thanks with your spirit, how can anyone in the position of an outsider say "Amen" to your thanksgiving when he does not know what you are saying? 17 For you may be giving thanks well enough, but the other person is not being built up. 18 I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. 19 Nevertheless, in church I would rather speak five words with my mind in order to instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue.
The idea of engaging our “spirit” and our “mind” comes through here. I remember the story of a Polish actress who was traveling and asked at a dinner to give a brief recitation from one of her plays. She agreed, but said she would do the recitation in her native Polish, which none of the guests at the party spoke. She spoke powerfully and emotionally, to the point that some of the guests were moved to tears, hanging on her every word. When she finished there was fervent applause, a standing ovation. One person finally asked what the riveting scene was from, and she smiled and said, “I just counted to 100 in Polish!” Sometimes how we say what we say gets a lot of attention!
Another example along those lines could be music. Some music can be powerful and emotional. It can capture our heart and excite us and draw us in. Some of our worship in Brazil was like that, at least initially. We listened, we even sang, but we didn’t understand much. Paul is saying there is nothing wrong with engaging the emotions, the heart and the spirit, but we want to listen to the lyrics. We want to consider the message that we are hearing. God reveals himself through propositional truth, through the Word. Do the lyrics reflect sound doctrine? Does the song express biblical truth? Our music teams give careful thought and prayer to the message of the songs they lead us in. It is not just our emotion, but our minds that they want to engage. Paul is saying that truth matters. If faith is taking God at His word we have to hear and understand what He is saying to us! Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ. Jesus said “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” Love should motivate us to use the gifts God has given us to build each other up and to engage our neighbors with the Gospel!
IV. Body building is not for babies (20-25)! My daughter has a yoga mat and a couple of dumbbells she uses for exercise in their rec room. I mentioned last week that her son Hunter is at an age where he gets into everything. He is just a year and a little wobbly with his walking still, buy he shocked me when he reached into the basket where her stuff was, and with one hand pulled out her 2.5 pound dumbbell seemingly effortlessly! Probably not a good idea – weight lifting, or body building, isn’t for babies!
20 Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature. 21 In the Law it is written, "By people of strange tongues and by the lips of foreigners will I speak to this people, and even then they will not listen to me, says the Lord." 22 Thus tongues are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers, while prophecy is a sign not for unbelievers but for believers. 23 If, therefore, the whole church comes together and all speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are out of your minds? 24 But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, 25 the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you.
“Brothers...” In some cases we see the apostles address their readers as spiritual children. John does that in his letters, he calls his readers teknia mou, “my little children.” Paul chooses more frequently to come in alongside of his readers and address them as “brethren,” i.e., as “brothers and sisters” in Christ. We see his humility and his heart, and also his brotherly love for the Corinthians as he writes to them.
“...do not be children in your thinking...” The Corinthians had a lot going for them. They were believers, Paul calls them “saints,” recognizing that they belonged to Jesus. By calling them “brothers” he affirms they have the same Father. He says they didn’t lack any spiritual gift. But we saw way back in chapter 3 they were still immature, “babes in Christ.” Paul is urging them to grow up.
“...be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature...” I think that idea here is to be “innocent” with respect to the evil in the world around us, in the sense that we are separate from it, in the world but not of the world. We don’t need to immerse ourselves in the garbage to know that it stinks!
“...he will worship God and declare that God is really among you...” (v.25). Notice the goal, the result toward which we are striving, the worship of God. It is not about us. This is His church and our goal should be to see Him lifted up. To God be the glory!
What is God saying to me in this passage? Love should motivate us to use the gifts God has given us to build each other up and to engage our neighbors with the Gospel, to the glory of God!
What would God have me to do in response to this passage? The abuse of the gift of tongues was a problem in the Corinthian church. They thought that was the “end all and be all” of spiritual gifts. But as it was being practiced it was unintelligible, and could neither build up the saints or evangelize the lost. We don’t have an issue with that gift in Boothbay. In our Tuesday morning prayer group we’ve been slowly reading through Psalm 119 over the last three months of so. The theme that carries through the psalm is “the Word,” “God’s Law,” “His truth...” Last week we read, Psalm 119:105,
“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”
The point is we need to share the Word of Life, the Gospel, God’s truth, verbally. A quote attributed to St. Francis of Assisi is, “Preach the gospel. If necessary use words.” If that is really what he said (and I couldn’t find it in context) it must be a hyperbole intended to emphasize the importance of showing God’s love by our actions. That is a good thing. But listen well: it is always necessary, at some point, to use words if we are going to share the Gospel. Faith comes by hearing, hearing by the word of Christ. No one is going to get saved by our acts of kindness alone. Salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone. Yesterday we gave out hundreds of tracts and gospels. Bibles were given to many families. The event itself showed our love for the community—who wouldn’t like free food and fun? We were glad to have CEF here to share the Gospel with children. The Word that was shared can be used by God to bring some to faith and repentance. Bottom line, as we seek to know and love the Giver of gifts, His love will fill our hearts more and more. That love will flow out in our relationships. Love God, love one another, love the world. Pray for your 8/15, those 8 to 15 people in your close sphere of influence. Seek opportunities to build relationships, and look for openings to allow them to hear the message that gives life. Think about that. AMEN.