Having a mission ambition

On March 11, 1965, Gary Duschl of Virginia Beach, Virginia began making a chain of gum wrappers. Today, over 53 years later, it contains over 2.4 million gum wrappers and is 101,440 feet long as of April 11, 2018 and growing. This length is 19.14 miles and would require the average human being about seven hours to walk! It is the equivalent to 337 football fields or 69 Empire State Buildings. Guinness’s World Records declared Gary’s chain of gum wrappers to be the longest in the world. The chain took over 38,000 hours to create. Regardless of what you think about this endeavor, it is quite an astounding accomplishment! I am impressed with Gary Duschl. Can you fathom the time, energy, and skill he put into this endeavor? What astounding ambition! http://www.gumwrapper.com/

What is your ambition? What do you hope to achieve with the rest of your life? Many people are consumed with work, family, money, and pleasure (not necessarily in that order). How much of what you do could be seen as a chain of gum wrappers? As a believer in Jesus Christ, you ought to be driven by an even greater ambition—one that can change world history and extend beyond the grave.

Paul gives you a holy ambition to shoot for in Romans 15:14-33. In this passage he prepares to conclude his letter. When biblical writers begin to wrap up their letters, people tend to tune out. However, these twenty verses answer the question: “How do I develop a mission ambition?” He says: God calls you to mission possible.

Perhaps you are thinking of “Mission Impossible” and are looking for Tom Cruise to appear. But this is not a movie, this is your life—your personal mission. Paul is going to ask you to do some impossible things in this text, but the underlying implication is that with God all things are possible if you humble yourself and depend upon Him to live His supernatural life in and through you. Paul imparts three characteristics of mission ambition.

1. Ambitious servants proclaim Christ (15:14-21)
If you are saved, you are called to proclaim Christ with your lips and your life! In 15:14 Paul writes, “And concerning you, my brethren, I myself also am convinced that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able also to admonish one another.” According to Paul, the Roman Christians excelled in three spiritual attitudes and aptitudes:

(1) They were “full of goodness.” These believers were good spouses, parents, employees, neighbors, and Christians. They were rightly motivated and were characterized by moral excellence in their lifestyles. Do you exude this kind of “goodness?”

(2) The Roman Christians were “filled with all knowledge.” Paul uses a word that often signifies knowledge gained by learning, effort, or experience. Doctrinally, these believers were well taught with no grave deficiencies in their biblical and theological knowledge. They also applied what they learned. Does your biblical IQ far surpass your AQ (application quotient)? If so, you are far better obeying what you know than continuing to add to your head knowledge.

(3) They were “able also to admonish one another.” There seems to be a sequence to these three commendations. The Roman Christians’ “goodness” and “knowledge” qualified them to “admonish one another.” The word “admonish” (noutheteo) has to do with counseling and guiding another Christian. The Roman Christians challenged and instructed one another in God’s Word. They also cared so deeply about one another that they took the time and the risk to lovingly confront those veering off the path. This is a critical need in every church.

Many of us fail to handle conflict the way we should. We either go into denial and avoid the confrontation altogether, face it head-on with a prideful attitude, or acknowledge the problem but shrug it off for the sake of maintaining a friendship. All three of these reactions are inappropriate. God expects you to lovingly admonish those believers who He has placed in your life. This is not a job for your pastor; it is a job for you. Often, you will be able to have a greater impact on individuals in the body than your pastor. You have unique gifts, experiences, and passions that God will use in your church. But you must step out in faith and do your part. Don’t wait for someone else. Don’t count on someone else! God calls you to mission possible. He will give you the strength to fulfill what He calls you to perform.
In 15:15a Paul writes, “But I have written very boldly to you on some points so as to remind you again.” The apostle has written “very boldly” on numerous points:
(1) the Gentiles that have not heard the gospel are condemned;
(2) just being moral will not get a person to heaven;
(3) a person is justified by faith without any good works;
(4) through one single person sin came into the world;
(5) where sin increased, grace increased even more;
(6) we died to the law and are no longer under the law;
(7) nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus; and
(8) God will keep His promises to Israel despite their faithlessness.

Paul does not pull the punch—he makes it plain. His purpose is to “remind” his readers of what they know. He uses a word that literally means “to over remind” (epanamimnesko).

Why do we need to be reminded of basic truth?

(1) We are forgetful. As we age it is amazing how our memory can fade. Now that I am over 50 I am becoming a bit of an authority on this subject. Hence, we all need to be reminded of the truth we have known.

(2) We are easily distracted. Marriage, family, work, church, and our own personal pursuits can often crowd out our learning. Thus, we need to regularly return to our theological moorings and regain our focus.

(3) We think we know more than we do. One of the grave dangers of being involved in a Bible church is that it is easy to get puffed up like a spiritual blowfish and assume that we have a grasp on various theological concepts, when in reality, we don’t. Every believer can benefit from going over the fundamentals. After all, the vast majority of biblical interpretation is not profound; it is straightforward.

As Mark Twain said, “Most people are bothered by those Scripture passages which they cannot understand. But for me, the passages in Scripture which trouble me most are those which I do understand.” Our great need is to be regularly reminded of what we know; then, we must be challenged to obey! Are you grounded in the fundamentals of the faith? Are you prepared to go back to the basics? Are you willing to obey what you know? God calls you to mission possible.

Paul now explains why he can speak such forceful and repetitious words to the Roman believers. He declares: “. . . because of the grace that was given me from God, to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles, ministering as a priest the gospel of God, so that my offering of the Gentiles may become acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit” (15:15b-16). God gave Paul “grace” (charis) to minister. Grace is simply God giving to us what we don’t deserve. Paul’s calling and ministry as an apostle are founded upon grace. If you underline in your Bible, underline the words “minister” (leitourgos), “ministering as a priest” (hierourgeo), and “offering” (prosphora) in 15:16.

These are all technical Greek words that are used to describe the Jewish priests who offered animal sacrifices in the Jewish temple. Paul uses these terms drawn from temple worship in Judaism to describe his own apostolic ministry. Instead of being a temple priest, Paul is a minister of Jesus; and, instead of being in the Jerusalem temple, Paul serves on the frontiers of the Roman Empire. Instead of having a priestly duty to bring animal sacrifices as an offering, Paul’s priestly duty is to share the good news about Jesus with Gentiles.

Two significant principles stem from this verse:
(1) Ministry is a gracious privilege.Admittedly, it is daunting at times. It is easy to feel taken for granted and unappreciated. This can lead to the fleshly response, “My church is lucky to have me!” Yet, the reality is, “I am fortunate to serve my church.” Ministering to others is a privilege! Do you see your opportunity to minister as a privilege or a burden? When you have served in a ministry for an extended period of time, it is easy to grow weary and disillusioned. Pray this week for a greater awareness of the privilege of ministry.

(2) The gospel is a precious responsibility. A priest handled an offering very carefully in order to keep it holy; we must handle the gospel just as carefully. You must see yourself as a spiritual heart surgeon who is dealing with matters of eternal life and death. How well do you know the gospel of Jesus Christ? Have you mastered its contents? God calls you to mission possible.
Verses 17-21 describe the priorities and principles that shaped Paul’s ministry up to the time of his writing and explain his absence in the past. In 15:17-18a he writes, “Therefore in Christ Jesus I have found reason for boasting in things pertaining to God. For I will not presume to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me.” Paul states that he boasts (lit. “glories”) in “things pertaining to God.” Now keep in mind: no one hated boasting more than Paul. But when it came to boasting in what Christ had done through him, Paul could brag with the best of them! He does not say, “I boast about what I have done through Christ,” as if he were the subject and Christ merely the instrument. Rather, he says, “I boast about what Christ has done through me!” Paul is merely a tool, an instrument, a vessel for the work of Christ.

It is so easy to take credit for our own ministry accomplishments. Sometimes we are not even cognizant that we are doing it. We must deliberately choose not to rob God of any of His glory. This means we must consciously seek to be out of step with our culture. Today heroes in sports, entertainment, and politics promote themselves and their own agendas, yet as believers we are to be absolutely dependent upon Christ. God calls you to mission possible.

There are many reasons why Paul depended upon Christ so much. One reason was the sheer immensity of the task that God called him to. God-sized tasks typically bring about great humility. Paul explains that his ministry resulted in “. . . the obedience of the Gentiles by word and deed, in the power of signs and wonders, in the power of the Spirit; so that from Jerusalem and round about as far as Illyricum I have fully preached the gospel of Christ. And thus I aspired to preach the gospel, not where Christ was already named, so that I would not build on another man’s foundation; but as it is written, ‘THEY WHO HAD NO NEWS OF HIM SHALL SEE, AND THEY WHO HAVE NOT HEARD SHALL UNDERSTAND’”(15:18b-21).

God did great things in and through Paul whose specific burden was to preach to those who had never heard. He pictured the region from the city of Jerusalem to the city of Illyricum as being like a big circle. (Presently, Jerusalem is in modern-day Israel, and Illyricum is in what used to be Yugoslavia, modern-day Croatia, Bosnia, and Albania.) Within this circle Paul planted about a dozen Christian churches in key cities. His strategy was to plant a church in a prominent city, and then empower church leaders to fan out into the smaller towns and villages. In this passage Paul was not saying that there were no longer any non-Christians in this circle, but he felts he was laying the foundation for the churches as he proclaimed God’s good news in this entire area.

Paul’s heart would be for us to follow in his sandals and focus on those who have never heard the good news of Jesus Christ. This means that churches should be forming churches where there are no churches. We must be committed to praying for world evangelization, particularly in the 10/40 window. We must seek to plant churches throughout the world including our own county. We may even be called to offer our lives in the service of world missions. History has told us that the lieutenants in Napoleon’s army carried in their jackets, close to their hearts, a map of the world. What Napoleon was trying to communicate to his men was world conquest! Wherever they went, they had that map close to their heart. Their vision was world domination. The same is true for the disciple of Jesus Christ. Our cry must be, “God give us a passion for souls.” Ralph Waldo Emerson said it well: “Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.”
[Not only do ambitious servants proclaim Christ, but . . .]
2. Ambitious servants make plans (15:22-29)
It is good to make plans and then hold them loosely. God has ways of redirecting our paths. Paul writes: “For this reason I have often been prevented from coming to you; but now, with no further place for me in these regions, and since I have had for many years a longing to come to you whenever I go to Spain—for I hope to see you in passing, and to be helped on my way there by you, when I have first enjoyed your company for a while—but now, I am going to Jerusalem serving the saints. For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem. Yes, they were pleased to do so, and they are indebted to them. For if the Gentiles have shared in their spiritual things, they are indebted to minister to them also in material things. Therefore, when I have finished this, and have put my seal on this fruit of theirs, I will go on by way of you to Spain. I know that when I come to you, I will come in the fullness of the blessing of Christ” (15:22-29). Opposition and closed doors are not a sign of God’s disapproval. Rather, God can powerfully work through such circumstances. When Harold MacMillan was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, he was asked what represented the greatest challenge for a statesman. Famously, he replied, “Events, my dear boy, events.” Life has a way of catching us by surprise. We make our plans—and we ought to plan carefully for the future—but our plans do not equal God’s will. Events will intervene.

Perhaps you had plans for your life, which you thought were God’s will that did not come to fruition. You may have been engaged to the person you had waited your entire life for only to see the relationship break up. Maybe you are a married woman who has longed for a child of your own, but now you and your husband have been unable to conceive. You may have asked, “God why are you depriving me of being a mom? Do you think I am unfit for the task?” Perhaps you have prepared yourself for ministry and find yourself unable to get a job. It seems like every time you apply you are rejected. You may be wrestling with resentment, “God, I have spent thousands of dollars on college. I’ve tried to honor you with my life, and I feel like the well has run dry. What am I supposed to do?” Often, what has appeared as setbacks, God can use to promote us to the next level of Christian growth and character.
The apostle is also concerned that the Roman Christians give to the church at Jerusalem. The word “helped” refers to a generous financial gift. The phrase “serving” (diakoneo) is often used in connection with raising money. Apparently, many of the people who had turned from Judaism to Christ had lost their jobs and been ostracized from their families. Paul reminded the Gentile believers that salvation came through Israel, and told them that they had a moral obligation to help these Jewish believers who were enduring hardship because of their faith in Christ. Hence, the rich should help the poor; the strong should help the weak. Paul also emphasized two other terms: “pleased” (15:26, 27) and “indebted” (15:27).

His point is that sacrificial giving is a debt and a pleasure. How can these both be true at the same time? If you are a parent, you are under obligation to care for your children. If you do not care for your children, the State will remove them from your care. Yet, you likely also find pleasure in parenting (at least most of the time). If you are a parent, this great responsibility is both an obligation and a pleasure. Of course, the more you grow in Christ and spend time with your children the more pleasure you will discover in your parenting. Likewise, you are under obligation to give, but the more you grow in Christ and the more you get to know those in need the more pleasure arises in giving. Will you give sacrificially to those who need your financial assistance? Remember, you don’t own your wealth—you owe it. But there is great pleasure in giving generously to those in need. Perhaps in addition to giving cheerfully and generously to your local church, God is calling you to give to our persecuted brothers and sisters throughout the world. If so, do it today.
[Ambitious servants proclaim Christ and make plans. The third and final characteristic of ambitious servants is . . .]
3. Ambitious servants solicit prayer (15:30-33)
The quickest way to get on mission and recognize “Mission Possible” is to pray and to ask others to pray for you. In 15:30 Paul writes: “Now I urge you, brethren, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God for me.” In Romans 1 Paul assured the Christians at Rome of his prayer suppo;t, now he turns to them and asks them to return the favor. In praying, they are actually participating with Paul in his ministry; they are, in Paul’s words, “striving together with him” (sunagonizomai).

The word-group agonizomai is often associated with the strenuous discipline of the athlete who struggles to prevail, such as contestants wrestling in the Greek games. It is a Greek word from which our English word “agonize” comes from. Clearly, Paul saw prayer as part of the Christian struggle. That is why Samuel Zwemer, ground-breaking missionary to Muslim lands, could utter his famous saying, “Prayer is the gymnasium of the school.” Paul expects you to pray diligently for your leaders. If you are in leadership, there is also wisdom in recruiting a prayer shield. A prayer shield is a team of people who will pray for you in the course of your ministry. Oh, how we need prayer to fulfill our ministries and finish well!

Paul makes two specific requests in 15:31-32:
(1) “that I may be rescued from those who are disobedient in Judea” (15:31). He does not ask that they pray for the salvation of these unbelieving Jews. They have had their opportunity. Judgment now awaits them. Paul does not see this journey as an evangelistic campaign among the unbelieving Jews but as a ministry to the saints in Jerusalem (15:26).
(2) Paul also prayed “that my service for Jerusalem may prove acceptable to the saints” (15:31). The Gentiles gladly gave to minister to the Jewish saints, but would the Jews gladly receive these gifts? Paul asked for prayer that they would. The goal of Paul’s prayer requests is: “so that I may come to you in joy by the will of God and find refreshing rest in your company” (15:32). Thus, the “refreshing rest” (sunanapausomai) envisioned is not the relaxation of a hammock and a tropical drink. The refreshment stems from the fellowship and joy that exist when members of the church mutually minister to one another. God calls you to mission possible.

We must keep our main focus in prayer on the main task of the gospel. We must go for Satan’s jugular in our prayers and not get distracted into majoring on minor skirmishes. I imagine Satan briefing his demons: “I am afraid we can’t stop them praying altogether. Some of them have gotten in the habit. But, let’s divert them from the jugular and get them aiming for the little toe. See if you can get them to spend all their prayer time praying about physical illness. When their circumstances are difficult, get them to focus their praying on asking that things will get easier. Don’t, whatever you do, let them pray for courage and faithfulness to Christ in their difficult circumstances. I don’t mind too much if their health returns or for their circumstances get easier; but, I mind very much if they are loyal witnesses to Christ and servants of the gospel.”

In our final verse of this chapter, Paul writes, “Now the God of peace be with you all. Amen” (15:33). Paul uses the familiar term “peace” (Gk. eirene/Heb. shalom) to emphasize that his mind is preoccupied to the end with Jewish and Gentile unity. Similarly, God wants us to experience true peace and harmony with other believers by tearing down any ethnic, social, and preferential barriers in the local church. God calls you to mission possible.

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Don’t believe the lie

Many years ago a man in San Francisco was caught speeding. The man blew through an intersection without realizing there was a camera on the traffic light. A couple weeks later he received in the mail a picture of his car and a ticket for $40. Since he had never had a ticket like this before, he decided to have a little fun. So he wrote out a check for $40, took a picture of the check and sent the picture back to the police department. A couple of days later, the police responded in return and sent him a picture. This time it was of handcuffs. He got the point, and they got their money.

There are some laws that we just can’t get away from. One such a law is this: Trusting in religion brings condemnation. Religion on the whole has been Satan’s great counterfeit to true spirituality. Religion has done far more damage to the church than all the atheists, communists, and world-class sinners. Religion is Satan’s greatest lie because it keeps so many people out of God’s heaven. I guess you could rightly say: Religion is all pain, no gain.

 

The overall purpose of Romans 1-3 is to level humankind under sin. Paul begins with Gentiles who are guilty of blatant disobedience (1:18-32). He then pronounces the moralist guilty of counterfeit obedience (2:1-16). Now in 2:17-29, Paul, a Hebrew of Hebrews, goes after his own people the Jews and demonstrates that even the Jew is a sinner who stands guilty before God. Paul issues two timely warnings that have greater relevance to us.

 

  1. Beware Of Religious Overconfidence (2:17-24).

With this section Paul begins a long sentence in which he piles up description after description of the Jews’ privileges (2:17-20), only to show that these blessings mean little because Jews have not lived up to their privileges (2:21-24). Like all good speakers, Paul begins with the positive. In 2:17-20, he summarizes three great privileges or advantages the Jews held over the Gentiles. The first privilege of the Jews is their name. Paul writes in 2:17a, “But if you bear the name Jew.” The name “Jew” means “praise to Yahweh.” This name reminded them that they were privileged among all the people of the world—they were God’s chosen people. So proud were they of this name that many of the Jews living in Gentile cities used it as a surname such as (insert your name), Jew.

 

In the same way, many modern day churchgoers pride themselves in their names: conservative, charismatic, Pentecostal, evangelical, Baptist, and Presbyterian just to name a few. It’s so easy to brag on a preacher or writer. Yet, a principle that we must always bear in mind is: When people are steeped in religion, they talk about names and churches; when people are steeped in Christianity, they talk about Jesus. We must be careful to distinguish between religion and a relationship with Christ. Religion is all pain, no gain. A relationship with Jesus, however, is the difference between pain and gain.

 

The second privilege of the Jews is their book. In 2:17b-18 Paul writes that the Jews “rely upon the Law and boast in God, and know His will and approve the things that are essential, being instructed out of the Law.” The Jews possessed the Old Testament and were the keepers of the Law. They knew God’s will in a way the Romans and Greeks never knew it. They knew what was right and what was wrong. They were a people of the book! Sadly, they often failed to see the big picture (i.e., recognize Jesus was the Messiah promised in the Old Testament) to fulfill their primary calling (i.e., be a light to the Gentiles). Likewise, a great danger that we face in the 21st century is getting high on our knowledge of the Bible without allowing it to affect our lives. Unlike the Jews, we utilize the full revelation of God’s Word—all sixty-six books. We have multiple versions, cutting edge Bible software, thousands of internet search sites and the Bible on CD and Mp3. Here in America we have every opportunity to know God’s Word. But we must ensure that we don’t fool ourselves into assuming that we know the God of the Bible when all we really know are the contents of the Bible. As R.E.M. once sang, “We need to ‘lose our religion.’” The reason for this seemingly extreme measure is religion is all pain, no gain.

 

The third privilege of the Jews is their works. In 2:19-20, Paul lists four advantages the Jews made for themselves: “. . . you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, a corrector of the foolish, a teacher of the immature, having in the Law the embodiment of knowledge and of the truth.” These are pretty heavy claims, yet Paul never contradicts them. Each of these claims is good if used in the right way. If you widen the lens to take in all three advantages, they are all outward—a name, a book, and a series of good works. None of those things touch the heart, and since they don’t touch the heart, they can all be faked. They require no inward change. Without a change of heart, the Jew has no advantage at all! The truth applies to us as well. We must be careful not to place confidence in our Christian service, whether it’s children’s ministry, youth ministry, the worship team, or pastoral ministry. Our confidence must be in Christ, not works.

 

Do you like to watch boxing? I bring up boxing because in 2:17-20, Paul was shadowboxing. In 2:21-24, he abruptly turns aggressive and his blows become lethal as he confronts the Jew with the disparity between what he teaches others and his own manner of life. Paul’s right hand comes over the top and breaks the jaw of the Jew with four consecutive questions. This series of questions is an attempt by Paul to turn the complacent Jew back on himself to search his own soul. The Jewish religious leaders of Paul’s day were notorious for their inconsistency and hypocrisy in respect to the Scriptures.

 

Paul begins with the thesis question in 2:21a, “. . . you, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself?” The word “therefore” (oun) links 2:21-24 with 2:17-20. Paul argues that, given all the amazing advantages listed in 2:17-20, it seems that the Jews would teach themselves. It is important that we apply the sermon to ourselves first. John Calvin said, “If the preacher is not first preaching to himself, better that he falls on the steps of the pulpit and breaks his neck than preaches that sermon.”

 

In 2:21b, Paul writes, “You who preach that one should not steal, do you steal?” The Jews were stealing from one another, perhaps by collecting extreme interest or cheating on business deals. They preached against stealing, yet they themselves broke the eighth commandment. Paul follows this up in 2:22a with, “You who say that one should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery?” The Jews preached against adultery but were also guilty of breaking the seventh commandment as well. Finally, Paul questions the Jews again in 2:22b, “You who abhor idols, do you rob temples?” God’s Law commanded Israel to destroy pagan temples in Canaan (Deut 7:1-6) and zealous Jews sometimes acted on this statute. However, they often broke the second commandment by confiscating the temples’ treasures (Deut 20:16-18; Josh 6:18-19; 20). This isn’t the obedience that God demands. Verse 23 appears to be a fifth and final question; however, it is likely a statement since there is not a question mark in the Greek text. Thus, this verse should be translated: “You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law” (ESV; cf. NET, NLT). On one hand the Jews boasted in their knowledge of the Law, yet on the other hand, they were guilty of breaking the Law and dishonoring God. We would call this hypocrisy!

 

After doing a search on “hypocrisy” on the web, here is what I found:

Def: the practice of claiming to have moral standards or beliefs to which one’s own behavior does not conform

(1) Driving School owner drives drunk;

(2) a fire station goes up in flames because it didn’t install a smoke detector; (3) a robber who dresses up in police clothing;

(4) a Lowe’s Home Improvement store that failed to pass a building inspection; and

(5) Typo checking software that has a typo in their press releases. 

 

What about for us?

  1. Texting while driving, yet yelling at your children or others not to do it. Guilty as charged on this one. And perhaps the best of all hypocrisy examples in the modern world.
  2. Saying, “I have black friends” as if you have no prejudice against the race, but then holding tighter to your purse or locking your doors at the first sight of a black man. If you were brought up with fear of people of other races, maybe it’s time to work on letting it go.
  3. This is one of the most obvious examples of hypocrisy: thinking that gossip is bad, and then repeating it to a friend. This needs no explanation.
  4. Saying, “No child should go hungry,” but then neglecting to donate to a food bank or doing something about it. If you can afford that daily cup of fancy coffee, you can afford to give to someone in need.
  5. Here’s another one of the best hypocrisy examples out there: espousing the whole work/life balance thing but then not really modeling it yourself. Who is not guilty of this one from time to time?
  6. Telling your teenager to slow down on the road, but then you roll through a stop sign ‘cause you don’t want to miss the season premiere of God knows what. Try to model good driving habits for your kids always.
  7. Telling your children that stealing is bad, but “borrowing” some paper clips or other items from your office to take home. It may not seem like much, but it adds up over time.
  8. Complaining about the government, but not voting. This makes us so mad! Let’s just stop there. Now, with all these in mind, go do better, be better and live better.

 

 

Such examples demonstrate that hypocrisy remains a problem today. It is both timeless and universal. But our major concern shouldn’t be with the Jews of Paul’s day or even other contemporary examples. We should be concerned with ourselves. Do we also commit the same or similar sins that we denounce in others? Do we slander the welfare cheats yet take deductions on our income tax return to which we’re not lawfully entitled? Do we rebuke the pornographers publicly, yet vicariously live out other people’s sexual adventures through the media? Do we decry the breakdown of the family yet head for divorce court when faced with difficult marriage problems? What about you? Are you practicing what you’re preaching? Does your life match up to your lips? If not, humble yourself, forsake the spiritual snobbery, and submit your life fully to Christ. 

 

The hypocritical behavior of the Jews led to a disturbing result in 2:24. Paul explains: “For ‘THE NAME OF GOD IS BLASPHEMED AMONG THE GENTILES BECAUSE OF YOU’, just as it is written.” This quotation can be traced back to Isaiah 52:5 LXX (cf. Ezek 36:20-21) where God is mocked by the Gentiles on account of Israel’s disregard for and disobedience of the Law. The Gentiles knew that Israel was God’s “chosen people.” They expected them to live accordingly. When the Jews violated God’s Law, the Gentiles “blasphemed” (blasphemeo) God’s name. In other words, they developed a wrong attitude about God. On one hand, the Jews were so jealous for God’s name that they would not even pronounce it; they would substitute another word for God instead. Yet, their conduct caused the Gentiles to blaspheme that very name. The Jews utterly failed in their calling to make God known. Will we?

 

Friederick Nietzche (1844-1900) once said that the best argument against Christianity is Christians. Nietzche was so right! We are our own worst enemies. The acid test is not so much what we say about ourselves but what the world says about God because of us! Jesus said, “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matt 5:16). Does your life point people to the Savior? Or, does your life cause people to blaspheme His holy name? We must recognize that there is nothing that God is more concerned about than His Name (i.e., His reputation and glory). Our job is to live godly and make Him look good before the nations. If we’re striving for practical righteousness in our lives, the world will sit up and take notice. If they see that we live lives of humility, integrity, and purity, they may just be attracted to what we believe.

[Confidence in one’s good works provides no assurance for salvation. God requires complete obedience. Thus, Paul exclaims, “Beware of religious overconfidence.” His second warning is . . .]

  1. Beware Of Religious Association (2:25-29).

These verses serve as “the great reversal.” Paul levels Jews and puts them on par with Gentiles. He does so by calling out their favorite religious work—circumcision. He indicates that even circumcision will not ensure salvation. Paul puts it like this: “For indeed circumcision is of value if you practice the Law; but if you are a transgressor of the Law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision” (2:25). Paul is quite clear that circumcision is only valuable “if” (repeated twice) you continually practice the Law. For those Jews who have failed to keep the Law and are relying on their circumcision, it’s “uncircumcision.” Paul is slapping his readers silly with a spiritual 2×4. One of the greatest insults in Judaism was to call another Jew “an uncircumcised one,” and this is exactly what Paul is doing here. He’s showing no mercy on his fellow Jews! He argues that the circumcised Jew who transgresses the Law will literally “become a foreskin” (Greek). This means they are no different than a Gentile. What a slam upon these overconfident Jews!

 

Our primary problem in approaching these verses is that circumcision doesn’t mean to us what it meant to the Jews. To us, circumcision is an optional physical act performed on baby boys. Some are circumcised; some aren’t. Outside of the Jewish faith, few people are circumcised for religious reasons. Most undergo the procedure for hygienic reasons. But the act of circumcision was incredibly significant to Jews. God first instituted circumcision as a “sign of the covenant” that God entered into with Abraham and his descendants (Gen 17:10-14). All males descended from Abraham were to be circumcised on the eighth day as a mark of their identity as the people of God. To the Jews circumcision was intended to demonstrate that a man had committed himself to obey the Lord, and it invited God to cut off the man and his heirs if he rebelled against God. Unfortunately, many Jews came to think that the mere rite guaranteed their salvation.

 

One Jewish Rabbi stated that Abraham himself will sit at the entrance of Hell to make sure that no circumcised man was ever cast into Hell. However, circumcision was never meant to be an end in itself. The physical mark was meant to be accompanied by a deep spiritual commitment to God. Where commitment was absent, circumcision soon degenerated into ritualism. That’s roughly what happened over the centuries. By the first century many rabbis spoke of circumcision as if it were an automatic ticket to heaven. However, this is like placing a Mercedes Benz hood ornament on a broken down Yugo.

 

Circumcision was a ritual meant to be an outward sign or seal (Rom 4:11) of an inward reality. The outward ritual profits a person only if it is accompanied by the inner reality. The outward rite is worthless (of no benefit or advantage) apart from the inward reality. Apart from this, it is just ritual with no reality, a symbol with no substance. Now, in the place of circumcision, you can put a number of equivalent things: baptism, confirmation, church membership, communion, and other good works. Personally, I’m concerned for many who regard their infant baptism in much the same way the Jews regarded circumcision.

 

Some churches even teach that baptism saves from sin and guarantees entrance into heaven. To put a sharp point on it, this is one place where the practice of infant baptism may be rightly criticized. Multiplied millions of people today are putting their hope of heaven in the fact that a priest sprinkled some water on their forehead when they were a few days old. Whatever may be said in favor of infant baptism, this is the most damning indictment against it! It can become a religious ritual that leads many people away from saving faith in Jesus Christ. Hence, when a well-meaning individual acknowledges that he or she is trusting in infant baptism or any other work for salvation, please urge this person to believe in Christ alone. Religion is all pain, no gain.

 

In 2:26-27, Paul expounds on his thought that Jews face God’s judgment because they have sinned just like Gentiles. “So if the uncircumcised man keeps the requirements of the Law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? And he who is physically uncircumcised, if he keeps the Law, will he not judge you who though having the letter of the Law and circumcision are a transgressor of the Law?” In these two verses Paul powerfully sets forth the truth that inner change happens without works. If the Gentile has the inward reality, then he has the one thing that really counts. The uncircumcised Gentile who perfectly keeps the Law (or as some argue: the Christian who fulfills the Law through the Spirit) is capable of surpassing the circumcised Jew who transgresses the Law. Paul even puts forth the possibility that if the uncircumcised Gentile keeps the Law he or she will judge the circumcised Jew who does not. Ouch! This is a serious slap across the face of the Jew who is reading this letter or listening to Paul’s words being read.

 

(optional) Do you like peaches? If so, I have a can of peaches right here that I’d be willing to give you. But what you don’t know is that this can of peaches is actually a can of peas. I replaced the labels, so that it has the appearance of being peaches, when in reality, it is a can of peas. (UGH! I don’t know about you, but I hate canned peas.) The outside of this can is not consistent with what is inside.

In our day cans and bottles have labels on them to indicate what is inside. Circumcision was a label, and it implied that the Jew was obedient to God. However, if he was not completely obedient the label was not only worthless but misleading. The contents of the can are more important than the label. Similarly, if a Gentile was completely obedient to God, the absence of the label of circumcision was not of major consequence. The Jews had put more emphasis on the presence of the label than on the contents of the can. Paul’s point is that disobedience brings condemnation and perfect obedience, hypothetically, brings salvation, regardless of whether one is a Jew or a Gentile. Circumcision or baptism or any other rite practiced in an attempt to gain salvation is analogous to a label on a can of fruit or vegetables. If the outer label doesn’t match with the inner product, something is rotten! Religion is all pain, no gain.

 

Again, let me be clear on this point. Paul is saying that all religious ritual is worthless unless something has already happened in the heart! Baptism can’t save you or help you. The Lord’s Supper can’t save you or help you. Church membership can’t save you or help you. Good works can’t save you or help you. These things aren’t bad—they are wonderful. God expects you to obey Him in each of these areas. But to whatever extent you base your hope of eternal life upon any of these things, you’re making the same mistake the Jews made 2000 years ago. Good works are always an expression of gratitude for the gift of salvation. They are never to be equated with salvation or included in the salvation equation.

Paul closes this section by explaining positively what a true Jew is: “For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God” (2:28-29). The real message of this passage may be summed up in one simple sentence: Being a Jew is not a matter of racial heritage or religious ritual, but is instead a matter of the heart. No outward circumcision will ultimately earn praise from God. Salvation is by sheer grace, for God will not share His glory with another.

 

The great ignorance of religion is that people don’t realize that God approves matters of the heart. He seeks a circumcision of the heart by the Spirit. This is what results in the praise of God. Why? Because what a man is inwardly is the true measure of what he is before God. The word translated “but” (alla) in 2:29 is the strongest contrast in the Greek language. Paul transitions from the exterior to the interior, from the body to the heart. In doing so, he uses a play on words to summarize the point of this section. The word “praise” (epainos) links back to the word “Jew” (Ioudaios) in 2:17, because the word Jew means “praise.” It comes from the Hebrew word judah, which means “praise.” These Jews were praising themselves because they had the rite of circumcision. This was the great mark of the true people of God. Whenever anybody questioned their standing before God, they only had to refer to the fact that they were circumcised. Yet, they failed to appropriate true praise from God.

 

With this we come to the bottom line. As shocking as it may sound, there will be many church members in hell. In fact, hell will be populated with people from every religious persuasion. Why? It is because many people are locked into a false religious confidence. They trusted in religion instead of Christ. In the end, they were too religious for their own good. What are you trusting for your eternal salvation? Or, to put it more accurately: In whom are you trusting to take you to heaven? After all, salvation isn’t a what; it’s a who. The issue on the floor is your relationship with Jesus Christ. Let me give you five simple words that can take you all the way from earth to heaven. Here they are: Faith alone in Christ alone. Only Jesus can save you, so put your trust in Jesus only.

It was every business person’s nightmare. Arriving at Harv’s Metro Car Wash in Sacramento, CA were two dark-suited IRS agents demanding payment of delinquent taxes. “They were deadly serious, very aggressive, very condescending,” says Harv’s owner, Aaron Zeff. The really odd part of this: The letter that was hand-delivered to Zeff’s on-site manager showed the amount of money owed to the feds was . . . four cents. Inexplicably, penalties and taxes accruing on the debt—stemming from the 2006 tax year—were listed as $202.31, leaving Harv’s with an obligation of $202.35. Thank God, when it comes to our sin debt, Jesus paid it all; He didn’t leave a balance.

 

Aren’t you glad that the debt you owe has been paid for by the person and work of Jesus Christ? His sinless life and His excruciating death have turned away God’s wrath and satisfied His holy demands. Your sins—past, present, future—have been forgiven, forgotten, forever. All that is necessary for you to have eternal life is to place your confidence in Jesus Christ alone. Today, will you simply acknowledge your sin and turn to the Savior?

Walk His way

One day, Frederick the Great of Prussia was walking on the outskirts of Berlin when he encountered a very old man walking in the opposite direction. “Who are you?” Frederick asked his subject. “I am a king,” replied the old man. “A king!” laughed Frederick. “Over what kingdom do you reign?” “Over myself,” was the proud old man’s reply. This old man was on to something. Each of us is “monarch” over our own lives. By that I mean we are responsible for ruling our actions and decisions. To make consistently good decisions, to take the right action at the right time, and to refrain from the wrong actions requires character and self-discipline. To do otherwise is to lose control of ourselves—to potentially destroy our witness or disqualify ourselves from ministry. When we are foolish, we want to conquer the world. When we are wise, we want to conquer ourselves. This begins when we do what we should, no matter how we feel about it.
Today, in 1 Thess 4:1-12 we will learn how to do what we should. It is important to recognize that we have arrived at the center of the book of 1 Thessalonians. To clearly see this, it will be helpful to return to the theme of the letter found in 1:9-10. In these two verses, Paul summarizes the three components of the argument of his book. He writes, “(1) For they themselves report about us what kind of a reception we had with you, and how you turned to God from idols (2) to serve a living and true God, and (3) to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, that is Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath to come.” The first section entails 2:1-3:13; the second section deals with our present text (4:1-12); and the third and final section encompasses the remainder of the book (4:13-5:28). The structure of the theme verses in 1:9-10 point readers to the center of the letter: “to serve the living and true God.” Or as I shall suggest, “walk His way.” In the twelve verses of 1 Thess 4:1-12, Paul exhorts us to walk His way by being sexually pure, loving other believers, and working not meddling.

1. Serve God by being sexually pure (4:1-8).
In these first eight verses, Paul explains that God’s will is for us to become holy (“sanctified”) like Jesus. In 4:1-2 he writes, “Finally then, brethren, we request and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us instruction as to how you ought to walk and please God (just as you actually do walk), that you excel still more. For you know what commandments we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus.” Paul begins this chapter with the word “finally.” Have you heard the latest definition of an optimist? It is someone who believes the preacher is almost finished when he says “finally.” From a purely statistical point of view, it is interesting to note that in chapters 1-3 there is a total of 43 verses, and in chapters 4-5 there are a whopping 46 verses to add to the total! So the question is, “What does Paul mean when he says ‘finally?’” I would suggest it is almost like a change of gears as he moves into overdrive. He ups the ante. He raises the stakes. The word “finally” serves as the punch line. In chapters 4-5, Paul moves from the theological to the practical. Paul continually affirms believers in their position and encourages them in their practice. In 1 Thessalonians, he affirms that the Thessalonian believers are positionally chosen (1:4), yet he exhorts them to practically live out this positional truth by walking in obedience (2:12). In this passage, he encourages the Thessalonians with their present “walk”—their lifestyle of faith. The Christian life begins with a step of faith, but that step leads to a walk of faith. Christianity is not a sprint; it is a walk of perseverance along the way marked out for us by Jesus Christ. The biblical metaphor “walk” is an appropriate term that most likely came into use because Christianity was originally called “The Way” in Acts. What is of particular interest here is that Paul uses the word “walk” to bookend this section. The Greek word peripateo (“walk”) is used twice in 4:1 and again in 4:12 where the NASB renders it “behave.” Hence, the thrust of this passage is that you and I would walk with God, which entails seeking to please Him by receiving His instruction and obeying His commandments. Will you make a conscious decision to walk His way? It will be difficult, if not impossible, to continue to work through this passage unless you choose as an act of your will that you are going to obey God, whether you like it or not and whether you feel like it or not. I urge you with all that I am to walk His way.
Now the $6 million question is, “How do we please the Lord and walk His way?” There’s a simple answer—by doing the will of God. In 4:3-8, Paul insists that Christians must maintain their sexual purity. In 4:3-6a, Paul gives three specific instructions.
o Abstain from sexual immorality (4:3b).Paul bluntly states, “For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality.” The word “abstain” means “to keep as far away from as possible, to have nothing to do with.” As believers we should never ask how far we can go and not step over the line. Instead, we should attempt to do everything to stay as far away from the line as we possibly can. This leads to an obvious question: What does Paul mean when he uses the phrase “sexual immorality?” In brief, the answer is everything immoral! Sorry about that! I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but that’s what the Bible says. The phrase “sexual immorality” comes from the Greek word porneia, which is a broad word that includes premarital sex, extramarital sex, homosexuality, and every form of pornography. This term covers sins of the mind, body, eyes, ears, and lips. Paul forbids all expressions of porneia because he is concerned with our “sanctification.” The word “sanctification” means “to be separate to God, to be distinct.” This word occurs in its various forms four times in 4:3-7. Sanctification does not mean saying “no” to anything that is fun; it means progressively growing to be more like the Lord who said, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” In 4:3, Paul clarifies a very important aspect of God’s will: Christians are to avoid sexual immorality like the plague. Certain things in the Christian life are not open to debate. Many Christians ask, “What is God’s will for my life?” in the midst of practicing sexual immorality. I would dare say that God will not clearly reveal His will to those who are practicing sexual sin. If we want to walk His way, we will abstain from sexual immorality.
o Control your own body (4:4-5). Paul writes, “[The will of God is] that each of you know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God.” Paul states that it is God’s will for us to be able to sexually control ourselves—to “gird up our loins.” In our flesh, our natural tendency is to say, “I just can’t help myself” or “I’m a guy or I’m a gal” or “I am in love.” Do you know what I find so interesting about these justifications? In the most intense heat of the moment, any one of us could bring our passion to a screeching halt. If a police officer walks up to your parked car and knocks on your steamed-over window, I bet you could stop. If an angry husband armed with a shotgun walked in on you with his wife, I would guess you could stop in a hurry. We can always stop what we are doing…the issue is one of motivation. Paul expects us to live in “sanctification and honor, not in lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God.” Many of us have been far too hard on those who do not know God and too light on those who do know God. I don’t know about you, but I expect pagans to live sexually immoral lives. Sinners are supposed to sin, it’s a part of their job description. What’s unacceptable is when saints live sexually immoral lives. Our problem is not with our society; our problem is with our church and the church of Jesus Christ throughout our country. Many believers need to be told, “Either be pure…or stop calling yourself a Christian!” If we want to walk His way, we will learn to control our own body.
o Protect other men and women (4:6a).Paul writes, “[The will of God is] that no man transgress and defraud his brother in the matter.” The word “brother” in this context indicates any person. The point is, God cares for people. He doesn’t want us to take advantage of any of His creations. Sexual sin steals from others. It steals both from the person and from their present or future mate, parents and other family members, and present or future children. This is no different than stealing someone’s property. We have no more right to have sex with someone’s spouse because they are attractive to us than we have a right to steal their car because it appeals to us. This phrase is a sign saying, “Trespassers Will Be Prosecuted.” If we want to walk His way, we will protect other men and women.

Young people and singles are thinking, “What kind of sick humor is this? God puts this sex drive in us then says, ‘Oh, but you have to wait.’ It’s cruel.” This is kind of like buying your 16-year-old son a brand new Lamborghini, parking it outside, and then saying, “It’s yours. It’s paid for, but there are no keys, and you can’t drive it.” So every day he has to walk by and look at it, sit in it, but cannot drive it. He has the car but nowhere to go. Is God crazy? No, He is very smart. God understands there are consequences to premature oneness. His design is for you and me to have this beautiful thing called intimacy and oneness in marriage, where two become one for life. When we choose to ignore God’s design, there are consequences.
[Tear off a single piece of scotch tape, and begin sticking the tape to different people’s pants, shirts, and foreheads.] Each time I stick this tape on someone, when I pull it off, pieces of that person’s clothing stick to the tape. The more people I stick the tape to, the more adhesive was lost. This piece of tape is designed to stick things together, yet the more I use it on people’s clothing, the less sticky it becomes. The same thing happens with our sexuality. Sexuality is who we are. We want to be able to stick together through thick and thin so that we can enjoy the oneness waiting for us. When we go outside God’s principles, our stick-ability in marriage is diminished. Many of us are married and wonder why we don’t have the ability to have a cohesive relationship. This may be the reason why. God is not a killjoy. He’s just smart. He said oneness is what we are to pursue.

In 4:6b-8, Paul shares three incentives to pursue sexual purity.
o Avoid God’s judgment (4:6b). Paul writes, “[Abstain from sexual immorality] because the Lord is the avenger in all these things, just as we also told you before and solemnly warned you.” In the course of his ministry in Thessalonica, Paul has warned these new believers that they must be men and women of purity. For those believers who choose to be sexually immoral, Paul warns that “the Lord is the avenger.” The word “avenger” (ekdikos) is only used here and in Rom 13:4, where it refers to the governing authorities that bear the sword and will pour out wrath on the one who sins. The leading Greek dictionary defines this term as “one who punishes.” This is a very scary word! Paul probably has in mind the judgment seat of Christ (2 Cor 5:10) when Jesus Himself will elevate our sexual purity or lack thereof. It is also likely that God “gives us over” (Rom 1:24, 26, 28) to the consequences of our sin in this life. Believers who cheat are often cheated upon by someone else. What goes around comes around! An immoral Christian teenager may learn the hard way that condoms fail 20-30% of the time. In today’s culture, this is playing Russian roulette with our lives. A gun will give you one in six. A condom will give you one in five, or less. Gals, you may get pregnant and guys you may get a venereal disease. Another severe consequence can be the memories that will stay with you for the rest of your life. There is a chemical called epinephrine in your brain. It is released during physical contact, and what happens is people get married to a wonderful person and all of a sudden the memories of previous encounters come flooding back. There is a term for this called “sex ghosts.” Can we get over some of these consequences? Yes, with God’s grace we can; however, in Gal 6:7 Paul writes, “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap.” God is an ethical God. He keeps books on sexual issues and He is a very good accountant. These are all the laws of the harvest. If we want to walk His way, we will take the avenger dead serious.
o Fulfill God’s call (4:7). Paul writes, “[Abstain from sexual immorality] for God has not called us for the purpose of impurity, but in sanctification.” God “calls” us to both salvation and sanctification. He takes the initiative in both our everlasting life and our spiritual growth. We simply respond to His work in us. Throughout the course of our Christian experience, God issues an upward calling, a high calling, a calling to sanctification, to ministry, and to heavenly reward. We fulfill our destiny by heeding His call and walking His way.
o Honor the Scriptures and the Spirit (4:8). In the final verse of this first section, Paul issues a warning: “So, he who rejects this is not rejecting man but the God who gives His Holy Spirit to you.” Paul says, “If you don’t like what I’ve written, please understand that your “beef” is with God. You are rejecting Him and His authority. Likewise, if you do not like what I have said, your problem is not with me, it is with God. I am just the mailman…I deliver the mail. I am the doctor, I give the prescription.” Before you complain too much, please understand that sexual immorality was even more prevalent in Paul’s day. In the first place Thessalonica was a seaport, which meant that people from all over the Mediterranean world stopped there in transit from one place to another. The sailors and visiting merchants brought with them the usual desires for sexual gratification. More importantly, the Greek religions of that day practiced sacred prostitution. That involved hiring a prostitute at a pagan temple as part of your acts of worship. The famed orator Demosthenes described the moral climate of ancient Greece this way: “We keep prostitutes for pleasure, we keep mistresses for day to day needs of the body, we keep wives for the begetting of children and for the faithful guarding of the home.” So long as a man supported his wife and family there was no shame whatsoever in extra-marital relationships. Given the moral atmosphere of the day, there must have been enormous pressure on those young Christians to lower their standards to conform to the world around them. But Paul will have none of it. He orders them to abstain from every form of sexual immorality. Fortunately, 4:8 ends with a very hopeful phrase. It mentions “God who gives His Holy Spirit to you.” The word “gives” is a present tense verb. In this case it means that God gives and keeps on giving the Spirit to you. You have the Holy Spirit always within you. Therefore, when God commands you to abstain, He also gives you the power to obey. What a wonderful thought. You are not in this battle alone! Your weakness is His strength. Do you need help? You’ve got it!
Perhaps, you’ve found yourself lost in the above instructions and incentives. If so, here are some other suggestions that may be helpful to you.
o Recognize your position in Christ. You are a “saint” who is dead to sin.
o Ask God for grace and mercy. Acknowledge “it” could happen to you. Plead the blood of Jesus.
o Saturate yourself with Scripture. Read God’s Word to shore up your strength.
o Pray when you are tempted. Satan flees when we pray.
o Have an accountability partner. Make sure he or she asks you brutal purity questions.
o Beware of raunchy music. Research proves that teens who listen to music with sexually graphic or degrading lyrics are far more likely to be sexually active (51% vs. 29%).
o Exercise with a vengeance. Cardiovascular workouts will so tire you out that your drive can be diminished.
o Refuse to live together before marriage. Data from Rutgers University now suggests that 90% of couples who live together before marriage will end in divorce.
o Invest in your marriage. Pour your time and energy into your spouse. This is the best distraction.
Before we move on, I really want you to hear that it is never too late to walk with God. Many of you have already sinned sexually. It is God’s will that you move on. God makes it clear that He will welcome you back and restore you to fellowship. As we trusted the finished work of Christ for salvation, so we trust His finished work on the cross for our sin (1 John 1:9-2:2). What Paul is saying in this section is that through our relationship with God, we can have the power and the discipline to stay sexually pure; or if we have already messed up, we can begin right now. God is simply waiting for you to confess your sin, receive His forgiveness, and go and sin no more. Or, if you prefer, walk His way.
[Why should you serve God by being sexually pure? For the simple reason that God loves you and wants the best for you.]
2. Serve God by loving other believers (4:9-10).
The transition from holiness to love is not a difficult one (cf. 3:11-13). God’s love is a holy love, so our love for God and for one another ought to motivate us to holy living. The more we live like God, the more we will love one another. If a Christian really loves his brother, he will not sin against him (4:6). Paul writes, “Now as to the love of the brethren, you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another; for indeed you do practice it toward all the brethren who are in all Macedonia. But we urge you, brethren, to excel still more.” In these two verses, Paul reminds the Thessalonians that they should demonstrate “the love of the brethren.” The Greek word behind this phrase is philadelphia, which means “brotherly love.” In the New Testament it is used exclusively of the love Christians are to show to each other. Outside of the New Testament philadelphia is used only of love for blood brothers or sisters. The idea seems to be that believers should have a fondness for one another. This only occurs when the agapelove of 4:10 is first implemented. The word “love” (agapao) in 4:10 is a different word for love than in the first phrase of 4:9. The word here is a self-sacrificing love produced by the Holy Spirit. This requires believers making a conscious decision of their wills to love and forgive one another. Paul reveals that the Thessalonians are exuding love for not only one another but all the brethren in their entire region. They are a model church, yet Paul urges these believers to “excel still more.” How can we accomplish this? First, it is important to recognize that the church is made up of individuals and families. Therefore, it is essential to love believers closest to you. If you don’t love those people closest to you, you won’t love the body of Christ at large. So if you are married, the most important person in your life is your spouse. You need to love your husband or wife with every fiber of your being. Obviously, you can do this by being sexually pure. But you can also listen to your spouse, verbally affirm your spouse, and support his or her dreams. If you have children or grandchildren, you must love those precious souls with unconditional love. One way I have found of doing this is adopting an area of their interest. If they like a sport, a type of music, or a particular hobby, do that with them—even if you don’t like it. If you are a student or a single, you are called to first and foremost love other believers in Christ. This means prioritizing your friendships with those in youth or college groups above those of your coworkers or friends. As a church, we are called to love people within our body. One of the most tangible ways you can do this is by simply reaching out to people on Sunday morning. This is as simple as greeting someone who looks new or lonely and seeking to befriend that person. Additionally, we are expected to love those believers outside of our church walls.

What does it mean that our love should “excel still more?” It means that we should increase in our sympathy for those in need, patience for those who are struggling, and tolerance toward those with whom we disagree. We can’t be satisfied with our past performance. We must excel still more in our love for others. Research shows that when the unchurched are asked what they are looking for in a church, the answer is always the same: They are looking for a caring church. Not just a friendly church, a relevant church, or a church with plenty of programs for the kids. As good and essential as those things are, they don’t touch the deepest heart cry of this generation, which is for a place where they can be loved truly and deeply. When the people of the world find such a place they stand in line to get in. This was the primary attraction of the early church. They had no buildings, no fancy programs, no large budgets, no radio, no TV. They had none of the things that we consider essential for success. Yet nothing could stop them. In just three centuries, Christianity conquered the Roman Empire. How did this happen? It was said of the early Christians, “Behold, how they love one another.” If we want to walk His way, we will love other believers.
[Why should you serve God by loving other believers? It pleases God and serves as a witness to the world.]
3. Serve God by working not meddling (4:11-12).
In this third and final section, Paul argues that our work is a witness. People are watching. We are witnesses! He puts it like this: “And to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands, just as we commanded you, so that you will behave [“walk”] properly toward outsiders and not be in any need.” These challenging words should be understood in the context of 4:13-5:11, which teaches Christ’s return. Furthermore, in 5:14 there is yet another warning against slackness.
o Lead a quiet life. Paul states “make it your ambition to lead a quiet life.” It is a life that does its best to avoid unnecessary contention and to be at peace with all men insofar as it is humanly possible. The word translated “make it your ambition” (philotimeomai) can also be rendered “aspire.” Paul’s point is: There is a time to share Christ, but more often than not, it is better to listen and draw others out. Don’t have pat answers for all the suffering in the world. Seek to learn from others. Have a pleasant demeanor. Do not have fits of anger or jealousy.
o Mind your own business. Do not be a busybody. Don’t meddle in other people’s affairs. Say no to gossip and slander. You don’t need to know the latest and greatest news on someone else. You have enough to be concerned about yourself.
o Work with your hands. The upper classes of Rome and Greece despised manual labor. That’s why they owned so many slaves. They hated to work with their hands. But Christianity brought in a new ethic based on personal responsibility and hard work. Jesus was a carpenter and Paul himself was a tentmaker! It’s important to understand that Paul isn’t being metaphorical here. He literally worked with his hands as a tentmaker whenever he could so that he could support himself while he preached the gospel. Even though he was highly educated, he didn’t mind hard work in the least and he didn’t find manual labor embarrassing. So Paul says “work with your hands” so that you can provide for the needs of your own family and not give the gospel a black eye. If you’re looking for true welfare reform, it begins right here.
The point is this: God longs for us to use our work as a witness. He wants us to represent Him in our thoughts, attitudes, and actions. As we do so, we will see others drawn to Christ.
Let me say it again: Walk His way. When you walk His way life is not usually easier but God is glorified in and through you, and eventually the world sits up and takes notice. Will you be a Christian who is characterized by sexual purity, love for the brethren, and a godly work ethic? If so, you can change your world. For when you learn to conquer yourself and allow God’s Spirit to reign in and through you, your life and the lives of others will be changed for eternity. Walk His way.

Living confidently

There was once an elderly gentleman who loved playing golf. But he was almost eighty, and his vision was not very good anymore. He always had partners with him when he went out to play so they could watch his ball and tell him where it went. One day his buddies did not show up. It was a beautiful day for golf, and as he waited at the clubhouse he got more and more upset that he wasn’t going to get to play his round. Another elderly man in the clubhouse saw him and asked, “What’s wrong?” The man explained his predicament: “I was really looking forward to playing golf today. But I don’t see very well anymore, so I need someone to watch the ball after I hit.” The second man was even older than he was, but he said, “That’s no problem. I’ll be glad to ride around with you. I’ve got 20/20 vision. I can see like a hawk. You just hit the ball, and I’ll watch it fly right down the fairway.” So they went out on the first tee, and the old man hit the ball right down the center. He turned to his spotter. “Did you see it?” The man replied, “I saw it all the way until it stopped rolling.” “Well, where did it go?” The older man paused for a moment and then said, “I forgot.”

Even the best-laid plans don’t always work out—that’s a reality we all have to face every day. So how should you live when you’re not sure how things are going to turn out? Solomon says, “Don’t play it safe—take risks.” In other words, you have to live confidently. You can’t hide just because life won’t cooperate. Don’t avoid blessings because of the concerns that come with them. Don’t say, “I can’t get married. What if difficult struggles come up between me and my mate?” Or, “I can’t have children. How will I know they won’t be born with a birth defect?” Or, “I can’t start a business. What if it folds?” Or I can’t join the military. I might get deployed.” God wants you to step out in faith and take risks. He yearns for us to stop playing it safe. In Eccl 11:1-6, Solomon will pass on two insider tips that will help us to take some risks and avoid playing it safe.

 

  1. Diversify your investments (11:1-2).

It may surprise you that Solomon offers financial counsel as he nears the end of Ecclesiastes. Yet, this book is down and dirty, nitty-gritty relevant to our earthly lives. Thus, in these first two verses Solomon says, “Since life is so uncertain, spread your financial investments out.” In 11:1 he writes, “Cast your bread on the surface of the waters, for you will find it after many days.” What in the world does this peculiar verse mean? Perhaps you’re like me and in your mind a number of thoughts arise. Cast your bread on the surface of the waters…and it will return to you soggy or moldy…and the seagulls will eat it…and your mother will be mad at you for playing with your food. These bizarre notions should cause us to ask the question, “What is Solomon’s point?” I would suggest that the word “cast” is better rendered “send” (NRSV). This verb refers to the commercial enterprises of sea trade. Furthermore, the term “bread” refers to grain and wheat from which bread is produced.

 

Solomon was deeply involved in international trade with countless merchants. Then as now, one of the main trade commodities was grain. The merchants of Solomon’s day would load their grain ships and send them off. The Israelites were “casting [their] bread upon the water.” But notice that with Solomon, the word is plural: “cast your bread on the waters.” In other words, don’t put all your grain in one ship. Put your wheat in several ships, and send it out in a diversified way so that if one of the ships should sink, you’ll not be ruined.

 

In others words, “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.” Diversify your portfolio.

Instead of putting your grain in a boat and sending it off, you could keep it and make bread. That would be a safe bet since you would retain control of your grain and your bread. But that’s all you would have. Obviously, when you send grain that you own across the sea you are taking a risk. You may never see it or any return again. There are various risks like pirates, shipwrecks, and unscrupulous traders. Yet, there are also prospects of receiving back a dividend. It has been said, “A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.” The truth is, any kind of investing requires faith. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. No risk, no reward. So Solomon says, “Don’t play it safe—take risks.”

 

The thought of 11:1 is repeated and unfolded in 11:2. As is often done in the Scriptures, the case is first stated in a figure to grab our attention, and then a plain literal statement is given to avoid all possibility of misunderstanding. So 11:2 is a commentary on 11:1. Solomon puts it like this: “Divide your portion to seven, or even to eight, for you do not know what misfortune may occur on the earth.” Here Solomon clearly encourages us to diversity our investments. The phrase “to seven or even to eight” is the Old Testament pattern of x + 1. Solomon speaks of trying every avenue there is and then adding one more. The reason for dividing your portion is “you do not know what misfortune may occur on the earth.” The stock market could drop, the value of your house could plummet, Social Security could run out, and Medicare may be insufficient. Any number of financial misfortunes could, and most likely will, occur. In light of this, you and I must prepare to the best of our abilities. The phrase “you do not know” is found four times in 11:2-6. This has been a common theme throughout Ecclesiastes (cf. 1:13; 3:10, 11; 8:17). God and His works and ways cannot be completely known by fallen mankind, but we can trust Him because of what we do know!

 

God’s expectation is that we will invest our money wisely. Perhaps all of your money has been in the bank and you are barely drawing interest. You may need to consider purchasing stocks or a rental home. You may need to enroll your kids in the GET program (Guaranteed Education Tuition). Do not commit all of one’s possessions to a single venture. Look for the best means of investing the money that the Lord has entrusted to you. But don’t fall for any get-rich-quick schemes or multi-level marketing businesses. Before you know it, you’ve spent all of your money.

 

The biblical view comes down to this: Since God alone knows the future, we ought to make our plans, use our brains, study the situation, take all factors into consideration, seek wise counsel, do the best we can, and then leave the results to God. Don’t be reckless—that’s the path of certain ruin; but don’t sit on your hands either. Invest your money, take your chances, sleep like a baby, and let God take care of the future. Don’t play it safe—take risks.

[Why should you diversify your investments? Because you don’t know what will happen in the future. This reality will be especially drawn out in the following section where Solomon says…]

  1. Seize your opportunities (11:3-6).

In this section, Solomon says that we cannot delay our course of action. We must “seize the day”—Carpe Deim. In 11:3-5, Solomon gives observations concerning the way things are, while in 11:6 he gives the practical application—the “so what” of the passage. In 11:3 Solomon writes, “If the clouds are full, they pour out rain upon the earth; and whether a tree falls toward the south or toward the north, wherever the tree falls, there it lies.” Humans experience, but cannot predict or control, the events of their lives (a recurrent theme in Ecclesiastes). We need to distinguish between those things about which we can do nothing and those about which we can. Since we cannot stop nature’s patterns (when it rains or where a tree falls), we had better work on finding something else to do. The point is simple: Don’t waste your time with God’s affairs! “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof” (Ps 24:1 KJV). Let God be God; He can concern Himself with His responsibilities. When we do that, we will realize all that we have to concern ourselves with.

 

In 11:4 Solomon writes, “He who watches the wind will not sow and he who looks at the clouds will not reap.” This proverb criticizes those who are overly cautious. The farmer who waits for the most opportune moment to plant, when there is no wind to blow away the seed, and to reap, when there is no rain to ruin a ripe harvest, will never do anything but sit around waiting for the right moment. And so, the seed stays in the barn. Solomon exhorts us not to be like this farmer. Don’t wait for conditions to be perfect, because that will never happen. It is true that the wind and rain might come and destroy the harvest. Today’s work might be ruined and you might have to do it over again tomorrow. But that’s okay. Today’s work might succeed as well as tomorrows. And if so, then you will be able to reap the rewards for both. Don’t play it safe—take risks.

 

There is no time better than the present to step out in faith. So stop procrastinating! Be diligent constantly. If we wait until we “have time” to do something we never will. The “perfect opportunity” begins now—while we still can. Don’t put what God has placed in your heart off another day. There is no perfect time to have kids. We never have enough money, energy, or patience.

Once you have children, don’t wait for the right time to spend time with them. Before you know it, your kids will be all grown up.

Don’t wait for your husband or wife to be all that you want. Begin pouring your life into your spouse now.

Don’t wait until you have spare time, more money, or better health.

Don’t settle for settled-for Christianity. If you are not currently ministering, get involved today. If we wait until we’re less busy, until we feel right, until just the right moment, we will never witness, never serve, and never see results. Don’t play it safe—take risks.

In 11:5 Solomon continues with two more analogies: “Just as you do not know the path of the wind and how bones are formed in the womb of the pregnant woman, so you do not know the activity of God who makes all things.” Life is unpredictable and mysterious. Solomon says life is just like the wind. The wind operates sovereignly. Humankind cannot create or control it, for the wind is unseen and unknowable. We perceive its presence by its effects. Likewise, we cannot understand how God forms bones in the womb. This is far beyond our comprehension, so we have to take this by faith. Yet, in doing so, we adhere to the most intelligent option available to us.

 

It is clear that the creation of the human body couldn’t have happened by itself. Scientist Fred Hoyle says this would be akin to a tornado in a junkyard taking all the pieces of metal lying there and turning them into a Boeing 747. So, of course, since we cannot know God’s activities, we take it in faith that He is the one who makes all things.

 

There are many times when we look at things that go on in the world and we don’t have a clue as to what God is doing. But we have to trust Him because He is the one who makes and sustains all things. Too many Christians freeze because they don’t know what God wants them to do. They suffer from a paralysis of analysis. When facing a decision in their lives, they want God to tell them exactly what their choices should be. Does God have to tell you what to do? Will God tell you what to do?

 

There is a difference between right or wrong decisions and right or left decisions. In the Bible, the will of God always refers to moral choices—decisions where one path leads to sin and the other to righteousness. For these right or wrong decisions, we can know the will of God. It’s found in the Bible. We need to pray and pursue the path of righteousness. For right or left decisions, God is under no obligation to reveal His plan to us. More than likely, He will not. That’s why in Ecclesiastes Solomon says you just have to be bold and act. Too often, Christians are looking for a no-fault deal. We try to do insider-trading with God to get some information that will show us which choice is best for us. But God doesn’t do insider-trading. He does not reveal His plan to men. In the Bible, there are men who wanted someone to tell them the future. Basically, they wanted someone to be their fortune-teller. God won’t tell you your fortune; He has already told you your duty. Don’t get your Tarot cards read or read your horoscope to find God’s will. Don’t turn everything into a mystical decision about what you “feel” God wants you to do. If it’s a right or left decision, pray about it and then boldly follow your heart.

 

Our passage closes in 11:6 with the “so what:” “Sow your seed in the morning and do not be idle in the evening, for you do not know whether morning or evening sowing will succeed, or whether both of them alike will be good.” Solomon issues a command: “sow your seed,” which is used metaphorically of giving (cf. 2 Cor 9:6). He wants us to have confidence and leave the results to God. The key to this passage is found in 11:6, “do not be idle.” The terms “morning” and “evening” form a merism (a figure of speech using two polar extremes to include everything in between) that connotes “from morning until evening.” The point is not that the farmer should plant at two times in the day (morning and evening), but that he should plant all day long (i.e., from morning until evening). That is what Solomon would have for us. To represent God in all that we do, with all that we have.

 

What types of risks can you take? Actor John Wayne (1907–1979) once said, “Courage is being scared to death and saddling up anyway.” So how will you step out in faith today? What will you do in an attempt to stop playing it safe? Will you take some risks for the kingdom of God?

Danny Cox, a former jet pilot turned business leader, tells his readers in Seize the Day that when jet fighters were first invented, they “flew much faster than their propeller predecessors.” So pilot ejection became a more sophisticated process. Theoretically, of course, all a pilot needed to do was push a button, clear the plane, then roll forward out of the seat so the parachute would open.

But there was a problem that popped up during testing. Some pilots, instead of letting go, would keep a grip on the seat. The parachute would remain trapped between the seat and the pilot’s back. The engineers went back to the drawing board and came up with a solution. The new design called for a two-inch webbed strap. One end attached to the front edge of the seat, under the pilot. The other end attached to an electronic take-up reel behind the headrest. Two seconds after ejection, the electronic take-up reel would immediately take up the slack and force the pilot forward out of his seat, thus freeing the parachute. Bottom line? Jet fighter pilots needed that device to launch them out of their chairs. The question is, “What will it take to launch us out of ours?”

Giving and going

One of the most familiar plays in basketball is called “give-and-go.” The “give-and-go” is a basic offensive play in which a player simply “gives” the ball to a teammate and “goes” to the basket. The goal is to break free of one’s defender, receive a return pass from a teammate, and score a basket. The great thing about the “give-and-go” is that anyone can run it, regardless of size, strength, or experience.

The “give-and-go” is not only a great basketball play, it is also an excellent play for the church to run. If we are to score for the kingdom of God, we must master a critical “give-and-go” play. Coach Paul is going to the chalkboard to design a “give-and-go” play for the Corinthians to utilize. I would like us to imagine that we are in a locker room while Coach Paul draws up this play. As we listen to his words, may we prepare to execute the “give-and-go” play that he has designed to score points for God’s kingdom? In 1 Cor 16:1-12, Paul will challenge us to “give-and-go till glory.”

 

  1. Give to the Lord’s Work(16:1-4). In these first four verses, Paul shares his practical philosophy of giving to the church. He writes, “Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I directed the churches of Galatia, so do you also. On the first day of every week each one of you is to put aside and save, as he may prosper, so that no collections be made when I come. When I arrive, whomever you may approve, I will send them with letters to carry your gift to Jerusalem; and if it is fitting for me to go also, they will go with me.” In these four verses, Paul provides six guidelines as to how we should give. But before I share with you these biblical guidelines, you must accept the Bible’s premise: you and I don’t own anything! Our home, cars, possessions, and money all belong to the Lord. We are merely stewards of the resources that God has entrusted to us. If you accept this premise, you will not have any problem with anything that I will say. If you do not, this could be a very long message.

 

Guideline #1: Biblical giving is not optional but mandatory (16:1). The word translated “directed” is a strong word that is frequently translated “command” or “order.” Paul is speaking with apostolic authority and calling for the church in Corinth to do what he has already directed the Galatian churches to do. Generous financial giving is one of the key characteristics of a mature Christian. This ties in rather nicely with the previous verse (15:58), where Paul commands the Corinthians to be “always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.” It’s like he’s saying, “Speaking of giving yourselves fully, let’s talk about financial giving…”

 

Guideline #2: Biblical giving starts with meeting the basic needs of believers (16:1, 3). Typically, when a pastor preaches a message on money, it’s in order to generate pledges for the annual budget, buy land, or build a new building. This is to be expected. Such matters concern most congregations at some point in their church history. But that is not where biblical giving begins. It begins with a heart that cares about the basic needs of other Christians for food, shelter, and clothing. That’s what the collection here in 1 Corinthians 16 is all about—sending a gift to Jerusalem so the believers there can survive (16:3). Their financial plight was due to famine, persecution, and economic sanctions against them, making it difficult for new converts to hold anything but the most menial jobs.

 

The above guideline indicates that we who are wealthy (every American, from a world perspective) have an obligation to help the poverty-stricken believers in the inner city as well as the persecuted church in foreign lands. Such support should never be treated as optional. Instead, the needs of our brothers and sisters in Christ should be an essential part of our financial giving. When you think about giving to others, think about all God has given you. This ought to compel you to give generously to those who are less fortunate. May you “give-and-go till glory.”

 

Guideline #3: Biblical giving is the believer’s #1 financial priority (16:2). Notice that giving is to be done “on the first day of every week.” This implies that people got paid once a week in the first century, and that’s why they are encouraged to give once a week. If you get paid twice a month I’m sure God will accept your giving twice a month. The important point is that you give on a regular basis.

Tragically, many Christians don’t give at all, and often those who do give do so sporadically. They might give two months in a row, skip three months, give one, and skip two more. Some people don’t give when they are on vacation, sick at home, or snowed in. Some don’t give if they miss the offering plate. Imagine standing before the Lord and explaining why you disobeyed His command to give: “Lord, I could never find a pen before the plate got there.” That’s crazy! We don’t think that way about anything else. If my house payment comes due while I’m on vacation, I don’t say, “Well, that’s no big deal, my mortgage company will understand. I’ll pay my mortgage next month.” No way! Those of us who are wise pay our house note before we go on our vacation. If we are that serious about our house, should we not be equally serious about the God of the universe?

 

Today, you may need to reevaluate your financial giving. God’s Word is clear from cover-to-cover, we are to give to the Lord first, not last. This implies that giving to the Lord’s work should take place before other obligations are met. Every once in a while I hear someone say, “Well, I had to take a pass on giving for a couple of months because we had some unexpected medical expenses, house expenses, etc.” I don’t think Paul would buy that. If we would give the first part of our paycheck, then maybe we wouldn’t get into those tight spots in the first place. That’s the point of the Old Testament prophet, Haggai, who told the poverty-stricken Israelites that God was putting holes in their pockets because their financial priorities were amiss. Giving should come before bill paying, before pursuing hobbies, before eating out, even before repaying debt. Does giving have this priority in your life? If so, I can assure you that God will meet all of your financial needs.

 

Guideline #4: Biblical giving is every believer’s responsibility (16:2). Still in 16:2, we read “each one of you is to put aside and save…” Notice that Paul doesn’t excuse the poor, the slaves, the pastors, or the large family with three kids in college. Giving is every believer’s privilege and responsibility. We are all to be involved in giving regularly, whether we have a lot of money or we’re impoverished, whether we’re children or the most senior adult.

 

I believe that we must help our children learn when they are very small how to give back a portion of what they have to the Lord. We gave our kids an allowance to teach them to tithe, not to just give them money. Our children give at least 10% of the money that they earn. Karen and I committed to this at the beginning of our marriage and we have never thought about giving less than 10%. Furthermore, it is important to communicate the importance of giving to your family. We want our children to understand where our money is going. We also want their input because we value them and want them to have ownership in the giving process. As parents, we bear a huge responsibility in raising our children in the Lord. Since Jesus talked about money more than any other subject, how can we fail to instruct our kids in giving to the Lord? If they learn to give, they will be blessed in every sphere of their lives. More importantly, they will please the heart of God.

Unfortunately, many of us have erroneously assumed that if we don’t have a lot of money or are in debt, we don’t have to give. Nothing could be further from the truth! The greatest examples in Scripture of sacrificial giving come from those who are in the midst of poverty and persecution. God wants and expects us to give in spite of our circumstances or lack of wealth. A while back, a student approached me and said, “I am in a truckload of debt. Should I give to the Lord even though I am in debt?” “Absolutely,” I responded. “The quickest way to get out of debt is by giving to the Lord, not by holding back what is rightfully His.” I then explained to this young man that the Lord will honor even a meager attempt to prioritize giving.

A man once said, “I don’t believe in giving. I can be a good Christian without giving. After all, the dying thief never gave anything.” To which his friend replied, “Well, there is one difference between you and the dying thief: he was a dying thief; you are a living one.” Are you a living thief? If so, don’t continue to rob God. Begin giving to the Lord’s work today. Don’t delay; give today.

Guideline #5: Biblical giving should be proportionate (16:2). Paul says that a believer’s giving should be “as he may prosper” or “in keeping with his income” (NIV). In other words, the more we are blessed, the more we should give. There are two ways one can approach this matter. If you are giving a set percentage of your income, let’s say 10%, as your income rises your giving will automatically rise proportionately. But a more generous approach to proportionate giving is to increase the percentage of your giving as your income increases. In the case of a substantial raise, you will still be left with more than you had before the promotion. The issue is: where does your heart lie?

 

“What do you think of the tithe?” Since I know that there are questions on this subject, let me attempt to answer this debated question. The New Testament does not advocate flat 10% giving. The tithe was an income tax system in the Old Testament. There were three tithes—two tithes per year for two years and on the third year an additional tithe of 10%, making it 30% for that year. The tithes for the third year were for the poor. Tithes are always in the plural, not the singular. In addition to this you are to give “offerings.” Israelites gave both tithes and offerings. All this was done for the national entity of Israel. A national entity needs an income tax system, so that was the purpose of the tithe. The New Testament does not command tithes for the church. The idea for the church is an offering of proportional giving or as God has blessed the believer financially. There is no percentage in this system of giving.

 

With that said, my personal conviction is that 10% of one’s income is a good place to start for most people. Yet, I acknowledge that some people may need to build up gradually before taking a step of faith. That’s fine. Giving is ultimately a matter between the individual believer and God. However, I believe the tithe is one of the greatest misnomers in Christianity today. Many well-meaning Christians assume that if they are giving 10%, they are doing great. I would suggest that the vast majority of American Christians can and should give far more than 10% of their income to the Lord. Sadly though, many Christians are more concerned with their standard of living than their standard of giving. For many of us, prosperity has become a greater test of character than poverty. So the issue is: how has God prospered you? To what degree do you want to express your gratitude to Him for all that He has given you?

One Sunday afternoon, a family was driving home from church. The father was complaining, “That church service was awful. The sermon was too long, the music was too loud, and the building was too hot.” His son in the back seat replied, “I don’t know, Dad, I thought it was a pretty good show for a buck.” This illustration would be far funnier if it wasn’t so true. Often, those who give the least complain the most. There are at least two reasons for this: (1) God will not let stingy Christians experience joy and contentment. (2) Those Christians who give sense great ownership and personal responsibility for the church and their own lives.

Guideline #6: Biblical giving should not be motivated by pressure (16:2). Looking again at 16:2 we see that the apostle is asking that the collection be made each week so that there doesn’t have to be a fund drive when he arrives. He is in Ephesus as he writes this letter, and he has plans to come to visit Corinth in the future. He knows that his credibility and charisma is such that he could generate a huge offering with his personal presence. But he doesn’t want them to give under that kind of pressure. He says in effect, “Do what you’re going to do before I arrive.” Pressure, of course, works. Countless churches and ministries have funded vast building projects through high-pressure fund-raising efforts. But everything that works isn’t necessarily right.

 

In addition to the above six guidelines, there is a concluding principle that has more to do with how offerings are handled than with how they are given.

Biblical givers have a right to expect integrity and accountability from those they give to (16:3-4). Verses 3-4 explain that it is the responsibility of every congregation to entrust its funds into the hands of trustworthy members. Paul doesn’t say, “Give your money to me and I will handle it for you.” Instead he urges the church to choose their own representatives to disburse the gifts.

In light of all that we have considered, I challenge you to either continue or begin giving generously and cheerfully. Not only does gracious giving please the Lord, but there are also legitimate personal blessings as well.

[We have seen that we are called to give to the Lord’s work. Now we will be exhorted to…]

  1. Go to the Lord’s People(16:5-12). In this section, Paul shares his own travel log and that of two of his coworkers. These verses explain how Paul and his ministry partners were willing to go to minister to believers and unbelievers alike. Paul writes, “But I will come to you after I go through Macedonia, for I am going through Macedonia; and perhaps I will stay with you, or even spend the winter, so that you may send me on my way wherever I may go. For I do not wish to see you now just in passing; for I hope to remain with you for some time, if the Lord permits. But I will remain in Ephesus until Pentecost; for a wide door for effective service has opened to me, and there are many adversaries. Now if Timothy comes, see that he is with you without cause to be afraid, for he is doing the Lord’s work, as I also am. So let no one despise him. But send him on his way in peace, so that he may come to me; for I expect him with the brethren. But concerning Apollos our brother, I encouraged him greatly to come to you with the brethren; and it was not at all his desire to come now, but he will come when he has opportunity.” There are at least five observations worth making from these eight verses. First, Paul had plans and goals to share the gospel with unbelievers and build up the church (16:5-9). Even before Day Timers, Palm Pilots, and Blackberries, Paul had a schedule mapped out. He didn’t just trust God and sit on his hands. He took initiative and moved forward with holy ambition. Do you have a plan to share Christ and build up His body? If not, why not? Today, make a holy resolution and write down the names of three unbelievers and three believers. Then develop a game plan to share Christ with these individuals.

 

Second, Paul submitted his plans and goals to Christ. Words and phrases like “perhaps,” “wherever I may go,” and “I hope to remain with you for some time, if the Lord permits” reveal Paul’s sensitivity to the Holy Spirit. Although he had plans and goals that he wanted to accomplish, he was always striving to make sure that he was doing what God wanted him to do. Are you willing to relocate and change jobs if God calls you to? Would you be willing to take on a new ministry? God longs for willing hearts.

Third, God eventually opens a door of ministry for faithful believers. Admittedly, sometimes it takes many years but God has a way of blessing our meager efforts. In 16:9, Paul writes “for a wide door for effective service has opened to me, and there are many adversaries.” This “open door” in Ephesus brought great evangelistic fruit. However, with the fruit there were many adversaries. This is to be expected. Where there is light there are bugs. When God pours out His blessing, Satan sends adversaries to destroy God’s work. If you are a pastor, elder, deacon, or ministry leader, you must learn to expect opposition. It is important then to recognize “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph 6:13).

Fourth, Paul values ministry partners. In this section, he spends three verses talking about Timothy and Apollos (16:10-12). In the passage that follows he will mention five more valuable coworkers. The point is: Paul recognized how important other ministry leaders were to his ministry and to God’s kingdom.

God uses teammates (brothers and sisters) to help us to accomplish His purposes for our lives. More importantly, He uses the purposes He works in us to accomplish His kingdom agenda in the world. Have you expressed gratitude to God for all that He has accomplished in your life? Have you said “thank you” to your Christian teammates?

 

God wants us to work on the “give-and-go” play He has designed for us. Today, will you commit yourself to fulfilling God’s plans for your life? Will you submit yourself to Him in the areas of giving and going? Will you seek to ensure that your life will make an eternal impact?


 

A Win-Win situation – Philippians 1:18b-26

Small group, Mobberly Baptist Church, August 10, 2014

“Have you ever dreamed something so intense you were happy to wake up?” When was the last time you had a really scary dream? Okay, call that dream to mind for just a moment. Was your dream so vivid that when you woke up you wondered if it was real? Those types of dreams are both disturbing and frightening. What was your dream like?
Were you grateful to get up? The relief I experienced was exhilarating. In those waking moments, my priorities became quite clear to me. Now, the question is: Why does it always take a bizarre dream or a dramatic event to really get my attention? Why can’t I see what truly matters in this life? Do you ever feel like I do? When you wake up, do you ever choose the newspaper over the Bible? When you come home from work do you ever choose TV over your children? Do you ever choose the computer over conversation with your spouse? Do you ever choose relaxation over church? Do you ever choose to increase your standard of living instead of your standard of giving? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions and you’re serious about Christ, you know what its like to shake your head and think, “What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I get my act together?” Philippians 1:18b–26 will challenge you to reexamine your priorities. Paul will exhort you to live to die, die to live. In this passage, he also provides two key motivations for you to rejoice in.
1. Rejoice in your future vindication (1:18b–20). In 1:12–18a, Paul rejoiced in adverse circumstances because he recognized that his best witness could occur in his worst circumstances. Now, he transitions and explains: “Not only have I been rejoicing, but I will rejoice in the future.”2 Paul puts it this way: “Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that this [i.e., my seemingly negative circumstances, 1:12–18a will turn out for my deliverance [lit. “salvation”] through your prayers and the provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, according to my earnest expectation and hope, that I will not be put to shame in anything, but that with all boldness, Christ will even now, as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death” (1:18b–20). The reason that Paul can rejoice is that he believes his trials are advantageous to his Christian experience. The phrase, “this will turn out for my deliverance,” is an exact quote from Job 13:16 in the Greek Old Testament. ‘Job, you must have done something terribly wrong, or else these business reverses, these family deaths, these health issues wouldn’t have happened to you.’ Then Job shot back to them: ‘You are all dead wrong! One day when I am standing before God, you’re going to see how wrong you are. You’re going to see everything “turning out for my salvation.” You’re going to see my vindication, my validation. God’s going to deliver me and put His stamp of approval on me.’ In this same sense, Paul uses the word “deliverance” to refer to his future vindication at the judgment seat of Christ. The immediate context supports this view because Paul’s salvation is not dependent upon the prayers of the saints. He is saved, once for all by God’s grace. The prayers of the saints and the provision of the Holy Spirit are those things that strengthen Paul in his times of adversity and which gave him courage to stand firm for the gospel. Since Paul doesn’t want his words and behavior to bring shame to the cause of Christ, he relies upon the Philippians’ prayers and the Holy Spirit’s filling to grant him boldness in the midst of his trials.
I love how Paul concludes this section by saying that he wants Christ “to be exalted in his body whether by life or by death” (1:20b). This is how you should think and live. Despite your circumstances you can exalt Christ. The word “exalted” (megaluno) means “to make great, to enlarge, to make glorious.” We get our English word “megaphone” from this word. A megaphone makes your voice big. Similarly, a magnifying glass makes print big. We are to make Jesus big with our lives and lips! The verb “be exalted” is passive, which means that Christ receives magnification by our actions. There are two types of magnification: microscope and telescope. The microscope makes the little seem big. That is not the picture here. The telescope makes the actually big loom big. This is what Paul is saying: Your task as a Christian is to bring the immensity of who Jesus truly is to the forefront. Do you want your body to be a magnifying glass for the Lord Jesus? Do you want to make Him big to the world? Not life-size, but King-size. If you magnify Jesus, people will be attracted to Him and embrace Him as their Savior. Folks will sit up and take notice of Him. By this you will enhance the world’s estimation of Christ.
But in order to exalt Christ whether in life or death, you must make one mental adjustment: You must adjust your expectations. Yes, good ole’ expectations! You have them. I have them. All God’s people have them! Think about it: You expect your spouse to love you and respect you. You expect that people will be nice to you, that you’ll have good health, a great marriage, faithful friends, and a successful career. But how do you respond when life doesn’t live up to your expectations? If you’re like most Christians, you become outraged. Yet, I figure since you can’t choose your circumstances, you might as well choose how you will respond to them. My motto is: If you can’t beat them, join them. Regardless of what you’re going through today, God can use your adverse circumstances for His glory and your good. Why not say today: “God, whatever comes I am going to trust You to grant me grace to persevere through my trials so that I can be vindicated when I stand before Christ. Live to die, die to live.
[How can you survive your trials? First, you must recognize that God uses the prayers of His people and the power of His Holy Spirit to help you grow in Christ. God’s work in and through you then allows you to rejoice in your future vindication before Christ. The second key motivation is for you to…]
2. Rejoice in your future ministry (1:21–26). Paul continues his life or death theme, but now applies it specifically to his ministry in the local church. His conclusion: The only reason to live is to minister. Paul begins this section by penning the ever familiar 1:21: “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” The word “me” (emoi) stands first in the Greek clause for emphasis. Paul is saying, “I don’t care what anyone else does. Ultimately, I don’t care if I am released from prison. MY passion is Christ! All I care about is Him.” For Paul “to live is Christ” means to live out the life of Christ, which includes His sufferings. This is confirmed by studying the lives of Jesus and the apostle Paul. Both men experienced poverty, slander, rejection, and abuse. Yet, in the midst of their adverse circumstances, Jesus and Paul continually exuded joy and walked intimately with God.
The natural transition in 1:21 is the underlying truth that you’re not ready to live until you’re ready to die.
Paul states that death is “gain.” He deliberately chooses the word “gain” (kerdos) because it means “profit or advantage.” Death is not loss; death is gain! Yet, this notion is foreign to most of our conversations. We talk about people “losing the battle” with disease. When a loved one dies we often say “we have lost them.” When treatments are exhausted doctors say, “There is nothing more we can do” in an attitude of defeat and resignation. We view death as the ultimate defeat. But this is not Paul’s attitude toward death. He sees it not as defeat, he sees it as victory. This should be your mindset as well. When the believer dies he or she leaves behind the suffering and groaning of this life, the rejection and persecution of unbelievers, and immediately enters the presence of God, where sorrow, sadness, and sickness do not exist. That is why death is gain! Our rewards are often not realized on earth—they are realized in eternity. This is why it can be said, “When a Christian dies, he has just begun to live.” So today, live to die, die to live. Live with the realization of your imminent death in mind; die to yourself so that you can experience the abundant life on earth and in eternity.
Philippians 1:21 is Paul’s life motto. It’s his abbreviated Personal Missions Statement. What is your mission? Why not make it your goal this week to write out a Personal Missions Statement? Just seek God in prayer and ask Him to reveal your Personal Missions Statement. It can be done in as little as an hour. I’d like to share my Personal Missions Statement with you. It may help you or give you some ideas of what you may want to write up. My PMS is this:
I will strive to serve God and grow in my relationship with Him.
I will love my wife as Christ loved the Church and gave (of) Himself for her.
I will love my children daily and strive to raise them to love and serve God.
I will work with an attitude of service and strive to find ways to share God’s love at my place of employment.
I will work to keep myself healthy and fit and commit to honor my body as God’s temple.
I will serve my church. I will pray for and support my pastor and staff.
I will seek to have fun every day and enjoy the life God has given me.
Here is what I have on my Linked In site:
Committed to God and family, mentor to faculty and students, lover of learning and life
I crafted this Personal Missions Statement carefully. My purpose is first, intensely personal. I want to know Jesus Christ intimately and passionately. I don’t just want to know about Jesus, I want to know Jesus intimately. I want to have a love relationship with Him. I also want to know Him passionately. I want to be obsessed with Jesus. I want to be energetic, enthusiastic, and excited about who He is and what He has done. But my Personal Missions Statement also includes my responsibility to others. After the Lord has worked in and through me, I then want to use my primary spiritual gift of service and my calling as a teacher to equip others to know Christ intimately and passionately to the same degree, and Lord willing, to an even greater degree than I do. That is my Personal Missions Statement. This statement is the reason that I wake up in the morning. It’s what I live for. Granted, I don’t always succeed at fulfilling this responsibility, but it is my aim. It is my calling. Do you have such a mission? If not, I challenge you to write one up. Just complete the following sentence: “I exist to…” Do it this week. It may just change your life.
Paul continues his life/death motif in 1:22–24 where he writes: “But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose. But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake.” Paul is in a quandary. If he lives, he wins; if he dies, he wins. This is a dilemma between two wins! It’s like someone offering to give you a BMW or a Lexus. The choice is up to you. You can’t lose! For Paul, the two alternatives are whether he should continue his work in time or see Jesus in eternity. If Paul continues to live in the flesh he writes that it will mean “fruitful labor.” Notice that in Paul’s mind there is only one reason to live in the flesh and that is for further ministry. It is not children, grandkids, hobbies, or pleasure; it is ministry! And not just mediocre maintenance ministry, but what Paul calls “fruitful labor” (karpos ergou). Paul knows that if God grants him life, He will bless him with more fruit. How can you have “fruitful labor”? In 1:19, Paul refers to the prayers of the saints and the filling of the Holy Spirit. If you want fruitful labor, ask a team of people to pray for you and your ministry and ask the Lord to fill you with His Spirit (cf. Eph 5:18). Fruitful labor is the result when your passion is to see Christ made big in your body. This means you wake up in the morning to serve Christ and to show Him off. It means you see all that you do as ministry.
As Paul envisions the possibilities of an even more fruitful ministry, he concludes that he doesn’t know which to choose. In 1:23, he writes that he is “hard pressed.” The word translated “hard pressed” (sunechomai) is used in Luke 12:50 where Jesus speaks of the baptism of suffering that He must undergo. Jesus says that He is “distressed” (sunechomai) and will remain distressed until His death is accomplished. In His deity, Jesus longs to go the cross; in His humanity, Jesus longs to bypass the cross. In the same vein, the decision of life or death is distressing and agonizing for Paul.
Paul confesses that his “desire is to depart and be with Christ” (1:23). The word translated “desire” (epithumian) seems like a rather mellow word. You may be thinking to yourself, “I, too, desire to be with Christ.” However, you may be surprised to learn that this word is used numerous times in the New Testament, but is only translated in a positive sense one other time (1 Thess 2:17). Elsewhere this word is rendered “lust.” Lust is a burning yearning for that which is forbidden. Now this may change your initial take on the seemingly tame word “desire.” The point is: Paul has a strong and intense desire to depart and be with Christ. Thus, you could say that one of the “lusts” of a godly man’s heart is to be with Christ. Paul had an obsessive compulsion, an intense longing to be with Jesus. The implication is that you must share his desire—live to die, die to live.
Another key word that is easy to read over at first glance is the verb “depart” (analuo). However, in the Greek Old Testament this term was used of breaking up camp and reflects the camp-life of the Israelites in the wilderness in contrast with their permanent dwellings in the promised land. Likely, Paul, the old tentmaker, resorts to the language of his trade. In this term, he sees camp-life is exchanged at death for home-life with Christ” (cf. 2 Cor 5:1–8). What a beautiful and picturesque concept.
Paul insists that the prospect of being with Christ is “very much better.” He uses three Greek words (pollo mallon kreisson) that could be translated “better beyond all expression.” This expresses the highest superlative Paul could think of. The bottom line is: It is far better for a Christian to die than to live, although few of us believe it. We want to live long and prosperous and then retire, vacation, and help raise our grandchildren. Yet, Paul’s mindset is far different. He actually yearns for death. He beckons his dying day. He is able to do this because he is absolutely convinced that the moment he passes from this life, he will be in the presence of Jesus. As he says in 2 Cor 5:8, to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. What a comfort! Paul understood the truth that you are not prepared to live until you are prepared to die.
Can you say that you have the same confidence as Paul? If not, you can. You can be 100% assured that you will spend eternity with Jesus. Simply believe in Jesus to rescue you from your sins. Transfer your trust from yourself and your good works to Jesus Christ’s work and person alone, and you will live with Him forever. If you make this decision, please contact me and I would be happy to send you some materials that will help you grow in your new faith. The greatest joy on earth is the clear prospect of heaven.
In spite of Paul’s godly lust for his heavenly home, he states in 1:24 that “to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake.” The word “necessary” (avagnaioteron) speaks of Paul’s need to be alive so that he can minister to others. God still has more work for Paul to accomplish in the lives of the Philippian believers. They need Paul more than he needs to go to heaven at this time in his life. Paul is willing to temporarily forestall his desire to go home to be with Christ in order to fulfill their need. The principle here is that as long as you are alive on earth God has a purpose for your being here. Therefore, you must ask, “Why does God have me here on earth?” The only reason Paul longed to stay behind is for the purpose of ministry.
This ties right into Paul’s conclusion in 1:25–26: “Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy in the faith, so that your proud confidence in me may abound in Christ Jesus through my coming to you again.” After weighing all the evidence, Paul figures that he will probably live a little longer. He evidently believes this because the case his accusers had brought against him was not strong (cf. Acts 23:29; 25:25; 26:31-32). This conclusion is confirmed by the evidence in the Pastoral Epistles and the early church fathers, which points to Paul’s release from Roman imprisonment in A.D. 62 and several additional years of ministry until his second Roman imprisonment. Paul is saying he is “convinced” (pepoithos) that if he lives on in the flesh, he will do so for the Philippians. He says he will “remain” (meno) and “continue” for their “progress and joy in the faith.” The word for “progress” (prokopeen) means “to go forward and advance” (cf. 1:12). Paul desires not only the progress of the gospel but also the advancement in maturity by those who had responded to the gospel (Col 1:28). This is the reason God has Paul upon earth.
So I must ask the question: What are you doing to advance the faith of others? How are you presently bringing about others’ joy in the faith? Your answer to these questions is critically important, for this is why you’ve been left on planet earth. Have you ever considered that your marriage is ministry? Did you know that the most fulfilling fruit you can achieve is in your spouse? Another great ministry must be your children. If you impact and influence each of your children, you won’t just see individual lives changed. You may eventually see generations transformed.
Did you know that your work is your ministry? You are in full-time ministry whether you know it or not. You don’t have to be a teacher at a Christian university like I am. You may be a doctor, an engineer, a mechanic, a secretary, a housewife, or a retiree. It really doesn’t matter what you do. God has called you into the ministry—full time!
Of course, your church can also be a place of ministry. You can perform countless acts of service. You can work in the sound or video ministries, greet, usher, teach children or adults, serve in the nursery, or work on the grounds. Furthermore, you can also volunteer to cook meals, transport people in need, write letters to encourage others, use the phone to minister to those who suffer, pray, and give financially. The goal is that each and every person serves in one small way with excellence. Remember, the reason that you are still here is to serve God and others. Live to die, die to live.

There’s a ritual that takes place at the beginning of every professional ball game called “the pre-game speech” or “chalk talk.” Before the players take the field or court, the coach gets everyone together and reminds the team of the basics of their game. Typically, these speeches take place in the locker room with a dry erase board that allows the coach to draw up some plays. He then makes statements such as: “You guys have worked hard and prepared for this moment. I believe in you. You just need to play your game and take it to them!” Every week the coach says the same stuff but one way or another he gets the team focused and fired up for the game.
Like the apostle Paul, I consider myself a coach who is called to rally a team to victory. I want you to know that I believe in you and have high hopes for you. I also want to pump you up! Tragically, you may wrestle with this type of “emotionalism.” You may say, “Just give me the truth of God’s Word. I don’t want a lot of emotionalism that will fade by Sunday evening or maybe Monday morning.” While I can appreciate this, I believe one of the grave dangers in Bible churches is truth delivered without passion. This results in dry orthodoxy and can lead to arrogance. However, God calls you to a passionate pursuit of all that He is in exchange for all that you are. So what do have you to live for? What is your ruling passion? I’m confident that if you live to die, die to live, like Paul, you too may be used by God to affect the entire course of human history. If your church adopts this mentality, she can touch the world for Jesus Christ. Today, will you live your life for Jesus Christ with the expectation that He may come today or you may pass from this life? Will you deny yourself, take up your cross daily, and follow Christ? This is the only way to live—live to die, die to live.