SERMON: “Having Possessions and Being Possessed” (Matthew 6:19-21)

Here is the video of the sermon I preached Sunday at the Shiloh Church on Matthew 6:19-21. I called it, “Having Possessions and Being Possessed.”

In the message, I argued that to have possessions without being possessed by them, you must…

I. Be concerned of where your treasure resides (vv. 19-20)

II. Be committed to treasure that remains (vv. 19-20)

III. Be concerned about what your treasure reveals (v. 21)

You can also read the sermon manuscript here.

Join the conversation in the comments section. 

God Is Good All The Time! (James 1:16-18)

In his book, Liberating Ministry from the Success Syndrome, R. KENT HUGHES tells of a dark night of the soul that he went through and how the Lord brought him out. Kent Hughes had been groomed for success. It was no surprise that he was chosen to plant a new church. Expectations were so high that there were whispers that his new church would soon outgrow the mother church. But several years later, there were very few signs of life, growth, or fruit. In a moment of weakness, Kent said to his wife Barbara, “God has called me to do something he hasn’t give me the gifts to accomplish. Therefore, God is not good.” Barbara assured her him that she still believed in the goodness of God. She encouraged him to hold on to her faith for the night. She had enough faith to believe for the both of them. What do you hold on to when life causes you to question the goodness of God? Let me encourage you to hold fast to the words of James 1:17: “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.”

The recipients of this letter from James were undergoing trials of various kinds. They needed wisdom to understand their trials and respond to them appropriately. Indeed, both misunderstanding and mishandling trials were both problems for James’ readers. They needed to know that God uses trials test the genuineness of our faith and to nurture our faith to maturity. Because they did not understand this, they were failing these tests of faith. Their trials were becoming temptations to sin. Some were even accusing God of a divine conspiracy in which God was using their trials to set them up to sin. In James 1:13-18, James addresses this matter of God and a case of mistaken identity. In verses 13-15, James argues that God is a holy God that never sends temptation or sin into our lives. Then in verses 16-18, James argues that God is a good God that only sends good and perfect gifts. In clear, graphic, and powerful terms, James makes the point here that God is good all the time. In fact, the English title, “God,” is derived from the German word for “good.” God’s nature and character and ways are all good. WILLIAM TYNDALE said it well: “God’s goodness is the root of all goodness; and our goodness, if we have any, springs out of his goodness.” God is good all the time. James 1:16-18 defends, declares, and demonstrates the goodness of God.

I. THE GOODNESS OF GOD DEFENDED

Verse 16 issues a stern warning: “Do not be deceived, by beloved brothers.” This verse is a bridge between what James says about the nature of temptation in verses 13-15 and the character of God in verses 17-18. Both ideas are closely connected. There is an insidious connection between misunderstanding God’s ways and indicting God’s character. So James issues a word of admonition with a word of affection.

A. A WORD OF ADMONITION

James commands, “Do not be deceived.” Do not err. Do not be misled. This Greek verb means to stray or wander away from truth, safety, or virtue. It is the picture of one who is on a journey that is led astray, so that he does not reach his destination. It is the picture of a sheep that wanders off from the shepherd and the flock and becomes lost. It is the picture of a ship that drifts off course and becomes lost at sea. James uses it here to admonish his readers who hold to wrong views about God’s character, purpose, and ways. His concern is more than a simple failure of judgment. It is a deviation from the truth. So James commands, “Do not be deceived.” This command is in a grammatical emphasis that forbids something that is already in progress. Literally, James says, “Stop being deceived.” Genesis 3:13 records God’s confrontation of Eve after her and Adam sinned: “Then the Lord God said to the woman, ‘What is this that you have done?’ The woman said, ‘The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” This is the ongoing work of the enemy of our souls. He seeks to deceive us. But in John 8:31-32, Jesus says, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

B. A WORD OF AFFECTION

Verse 16 says, “Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers.” Notice how James blends both sharpness and tenderness as he issues this warning with love, addressing his readers as “my beloved brothers.” In verse 2, James addresses his readers as “my brothers.” As a means of address, “brothers” it is a gender-neutral term that acknowledges his readers to be his brothers and sisters in Christ. But here James fills this phrase out, calling his readers “my beloved brothers.”

This term of endearment tells us something about the recipients of this letter. They were Christians. They were saved, redeemed, born again. They were fellow-members of the family of God. They were brothers and sisters in Christ. They believed in the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. Yet they were susceptible to deception about God. So are you. The peril of the unredeemed sinners is unbelief. The peril of the redeemed sinner is misbelief. In A Grief Observed, C.S. LEWIS writes, “The thing I feared is not that I’ll stop believing in God, but that I might begin believing dreadful things about him. Not that I’ll say, ‘There is no God.” But that I’ll say, ‘So what’s what God is really like.’” That can happen to you. So beware that you are not deceived about God, because your view of God is everything. Jeremiah 9:23-24 says, “Thus says the Lord: ‘Let know the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.”

This term of endearment also tells us something about the author of this letter. James was clearly concerned about the truth of God being upheld. But he was also concerned about the people who were affected by error. James reminds us that our concern for what is right does not give us license to treat people wrong. You can win and argument and lose a soul. So we must speak the truth in love. James 5:19-20 says, “My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.”

II. THE GOODNESS OF GOD DECLARED

Verse 17 says, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” This verse highlights three attributes of God in which you can place your confident trust at all times.

A. GOD IS GOOD.

Verse 17a says, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above.” Where do good and perfect things come from? They do not come from below or within or around. They come from above. That is, they come from the one who is above. They come from God. God is the source of all that is good. James says, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above.” The word “every” is emphatic. Everything that good and perfect is from God. Nothing that is not good and perfect is from God. There are actually two different Greek words in this verse that are both translated gift. The terms are basically used synonymously here. But the nuances of these two terms teach us that the goodness of God is seen in his act of giving and in the nature of his gifts.

THE GOODNESS OF GOD IS SEEN IN HIS ACT OF GIVING. When verse 17 speaks of “every good gift,” it focuses on the act of giving. Indeed, the gifts of God are good. But the very act of giving by God is good. This may be an obvious point. But it is not to be overlooked. Not everything act of giving is good. According to 2 Corinthians 9:7, one may give grudgingly or of necessity, rather than giving cheerfully. It happens during Christmas all the time. You may give someone a gift an expression of your love for him. Or you may give someone a gift because they got you one or will be offended if you do not. Matthew 7:11 says, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him?”

THE GOODNESS OF GOD IS SEEN IN THE NATURE OF HIS GIFTS. Verse 17 says that the gifts of God are both good and perfect. This is the second time James uses the word “perfect” in this letter. Verse 4 says, “And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” This word “perfect” refers to spiritual maturity, not sinless perfection. It is the picture of a fully developed person who has passed from adolescence to adulthood. The trials of life are designed to nurture our faith to maturity. As the recipients of this letter underwent various trials, some accused God of tempting them to sin. James refutes this error by asserting that God only gives perfect gifts. That is, the gifts of God are always given to build us up, never to knock us down. This does not mean that every gift of God is desirable, comfortable, or pleasurable. But Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”

A certain king placed a heavy stone in the road and hid to see who would remove it. The people simply worked their way around it, some loudly blaming the king for not keeping the highways clear. Finally a poor peasant, on his way to town with his burden of vegetables for sale, came upon the stone, laid down his load, and rolled it into out of the way. Then, he saw a purse that had lain right under the stone. He opened it and found it full of gold pieces with a note from the king, saying it was for the one who should remove the stone.

B. GOD IS SOVEREIGN.

Verse 17 states the sovereign source of all goodness: “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above.” Then it states the sovereign process by which we receive these good and perfect gifts: “coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” The verb translated “coming down” is a present participle that describes a continual, never-ending flow of God’s beneficence to his children. Every good and perfect gift is from God above who pours them down in a constant stream that never ceases to flow. Lamentations 3:22-23 says, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” Herein is wise counsel for how to respond to tests, trials, and temptations: Look up! Don’t judge God by what you see around you. Look up! Your outlook is determined by your up-look. Psalm 121:1-2 says, “I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.”

Verse 17 says that every good and perfect comes down from “the Father of lights.” This title, “the Father of lights,” is a typical Jewish circumlocution that speaks of God without directly mentioning his name. Yet this reverent ascription says so much about God. The “lights” mentioned here refer to the heavenly lights – the sun, moon, stars, planets, and other heavenly bodies. To say that God is the “Father” of these lights is to say that God created these heavenly bodies. Genesis 1:1 says, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” And Psalm 19:1 says, “The heavenly declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” God the Father created the heavenly lights. When scripture affirms that God as the creator, there is always an imbedded theological assumption: The one who creates a thing is greater than and thus controls the thing he creates.

When James calls God “the Father of lights,” he is saying that God reigns over these heavenly bodies with sovereign authority. In Joshua 10, Joshua and the fighting men of Israel went to battle against the Kings of the Amorites. God was with them and they routed their enemies. As the enemy fled in defeated, Joshua commanded the sun to stand still. And God caused the sun to stand still until the nation took vengeance on their enemies. I cannot tell you how the sun stood still for Joshua. But I can tell you who brought this supernatural phenomenon to past: “The Father of lights.” King Hezekiah was low-sick. Isaiah the Prophet told him that he would die and not live. But Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to God. God heard him and promised to give him fifteen more years of life. Isaiah told Hezekiah to pick what would be a sign that God would heal him: Did he want Ahaz’s sundial to go forward ten steps or backwards ten steps. Hezekiah said it is easy for the shadow to go forward. So the shadow of the sun went backwards ten degrees. I do not know how that happened. But I know who did it: “the Father of lights.”

C. GOD IS IMMUTABLE.

Lloyd C. Douglas, author of The Robe and other novels, lived in a boarding house during college. A retired music teacher lived on the first row, with whom he had a daily ritual. Douglas would ask, “What’s the good news today?” The old man would take his tuning fork and strike the side of his wheelchair and said, “That’s is Middle C. It was Middle C yesterday, and it will be Middle C a thousand years from now. The soprano upstairs sings off-key, and the piano across the hall is out of tune. But this is Middle C.”

THE GOODNESS OF GOD NEVER CHANGES. Verse 17 says, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation…” The word “variation,” used only here in the New Testament, denotes the constant change of heavenly bodies. The sun, moon, and stars seem to be absolutely stable from out perspective. But there are actually mutations taking placing among them all the time. Variations of different kinds are constantly taking place in the heavens. Not so with God. There is no variation in God. God is immutable. Our God never changes. Malachi 3:6 says, “For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed.” The reason why we have not been utterly wiped out is because God is a good God who does not change on us when we change on him. Hebrews 13:8 says, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”

THE GOODNESS OF GOD IS CANNOT BE BLOCKED BY ANYTHING THAT CHANGES. God is immutable. God never changes. God is good all the time. But the phrase “shadow due to change” further asserts that nothing that does change can block, hinder, obscure, or eclipse the goodness of God. In other words, life may be hard. But God is still good. The difficulties of life do not cancel out the goodness of God. If you stand in the sun long enough, the shadows around will move. From your perspective, it seems that the sun has moved. But in reality, the planet is moving, but the sun stays right where it is. You moved; the sun didn’t. It is the same way with God. An old couple was riding together, reminiscing about the early days of our relationship. The wife said to her husband, do you remember when we used to sit so close that people couldn’t tell which one of us was driving? Why aren’t we close like that anymore? Her husband replied, “I don’t know. But I haven’t moved.” If God seems far away, guess who moved? It was not God. God is good all the times.

GREAT IS THY FAITHFULNESS, O GOD, MY FATHER
THERE IS NO SHADOW OF TURNING WITH THEE
THY CHANGEST NOT, THY COMPASSIONS THEY FAIL NOT
AS THOU HAST BEEN THOU FOREVER WILL BE

III. THE GOODNESS OF GOD DEMONSTRATED

A certain couple bought their young son a new bicycle for his birthday. It was everything a boy could ask for in a bike. They could not wait to see how his reaction. On his birthday, they presented the gift, opened the box, and wheeled out the bike. To their dismay, the little boy looked at it, smiled, and began to play with the box! It took them a while to convince him that the bike, not the box, was the real gift.

James did not want his readers to be so preoccupied with outer wrappings that they miss sight of God’s true gifts. So he specifies the ultimate gift God bestows. Verse 18 says, “Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.” The phrase, “he brought us forth,” states the doctrine of regeneration. Regeneration is the sovereign and gracious act by which God gives new life to those who are death in sins and trespasses. In John 3:6-8, Jesus explains, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows were it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” This is what God has done for us in Christ: He brought us forth. This verb is the same word used in verse 15 where James says: “and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” Sin brings forth death. But God brings us forth to new life. In verse 18, the verb “brought forth” is in a grammatical emphasis that speaks of something that has happened once and for all. That is, you are not born again and again and again. God has brought us forth into new life once and for all. The statement emphasizes three wonderful facts about the new birth.

A. THE NEW BIRTH TAKES PLACE BY GOD’S WILL

Verse 18 says, “Of his own will he brought us forth.” The phrase, “of his own will,” means that God saves us by a deliberate and influenced act of his sovereign grace. This statement of the source of regeneration occupies the place of emphasis in this verse. Before mentioning the fact or means or goal of regeneration, James states the motivation behind it: “Of his own will he brought us forth.” God chose to give us new life. In John 15:16, Jesus said to his disciples, “You did not chose me, but I chose you…” Being dead in trespasses and sin, unbelievers do not have the will or the ability to choose God. A sinner cannot choose God any more than a dead man can choose to walk. God chooses us. And God did not choose us merely because he knew beforehand that we would choose him. God brought us forth by his own will. John 1:11 records a sad indictment against the people of God: “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.” But there is good news. John 1:12-13 says, “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”

B. THE NEW BIRTH TAKES PLACE THROUGH GOD’S WORD

According to verse 18, the means by which God gives new life is “by the word of truth.” Ephesians 1:13 says, “In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit.” God saves sinners who hear and believe the word of truth. Romans 10:13 is a wonderful promise: “For ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’” Then verses 14-15 raise several dilemmas that prevent sinners from calling on the Lord for salvation: “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent?” God brings us forth to new life by the word of truth. This affirms the primacy of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ in the life and work of the church. A local congregation is a true church only to the degree it is exposed to and permits its life together to be shaped by the word of God. Likewise, this phrase also reminds us of the great privilege and awesome responsibility given to those who teach and preach the word of God. James 3:1 says, “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.” Those who teach the truth must make sure that we tell the truth on the truth.

C. THE NEW BIRTH TAKES PLACE FOR GOD’S GLORY

Verse 18 says, “Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.” When the harvest would come, the people of the God were to give the firstfruits – the first and best of the harvest – to God. It was to be consecrated to God to acknowledge that God was the source of the harvest and to express confidence in God’s future provisions. Proverbs 3:9-10 says, “Honor the Lord with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your produce; then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine.” You cannot beat God giving. And the proof of your confidence in the beneficence of God is to offer God your firstfruits. Here, James uses this familiar image to say that we who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ are the firstfruits of God’s creatures. God’s redemption of rebellious sinners both affirms what he has done through Jesus Christ and what he will to redeem all creation. Romans 8:19 says, “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.” This reference to the firstfruits emphasizes the fact that salvation is for us, but is not about us. God saves us for his glory.

DOWN AT THE CROSS WHERE MY SAVIOR DIED
DOWN WHERE FROM CLEANSING FROM SIN I CRIED
THERE TO MY HEART WAS THE BLOOD APPLIED
GLORY TO HIS NAME

"Assembly Required" (Hebrews 10:24-25)

Acts 2 records the birthday of the church, when the Holy Spirit descended upon the 120 believers who were assembled in the Upper Room. It also records the growth process of the infant church. On the Day of Pentecost, about 3000 people believed the gospel, repented of their sins, and were baptized as followers of Jesus Christ. Acts 2:42 says: “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” And the last sentence of Acts 2:47 reports, “And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” Notice that God did not add people to the church without saving them. And God did not save them without adding them to the church. This organic union of personal salvation and church membership is the unchanging pattern of the New Testament. And throughout church history, whenever biblical Christianity has been practiced, Christians have had a high view of the church. Unfortunately, this is not the case in the day and times in which we live.

There are many today – both unbelievers and professing Christians – who question the necessity, relevance, and importance of the local church. And our generation has created a new category that biblical and historical Christianity never conceived of: UNCHURCHED CHRISTIANS. In contrast, the position of historic Christianity can be summarized in the words of CYPRIAN who said, “Outside the church there is no salvation.” In other words, the biblical answer to the question “Who needs the church?” is this: Whoever wants to be saved. This does not mean that church membership, attendance, and participation can save you. God forgives our sins by grace alone through faith alone because of Jesus Christ alone. But God has made the church the stewards of the gospel of Jesus Christ. So a person can be a church member without being a Christian. But I am not sure a person can be a healthy, growing, fruitful Christian without being a participating member of a local church. Christian assembly is a biblical requirement for Christians. Hebrews 10:24-25 gives four biblical reasons why Christian assembly is a requirement for every follower of Jesus Christ.

THE CONFESSION OF SALVATION REQUIRES ASSEMBLY. The Epistle of Hebrews was written to a group of at-risk Jewish Christians who were tempted to turn away from Christ because of severe persecution. The anonymous author of Hebrews wrote this letter to challenge them to persevere in their faith. He does this by emphasizing one word: BETTER. He wants them to know that what they have in the Lord Jesus Christ is better than what they had in the religious system of Judaism. In Hebrews 10:19-21, the writer summarizes the argument he has been making since chapter three; the Lord Jesus himself is our great High Priest and perfect atoning sacrifice, who has established for us a new and living way to God through his own blood. Then, on the basis of the Person and Work of Christ, he calls the readers to hold fast to Christ with three commands that begin with words “Let us.” THE FIRST COMMAND RELATES TO GOD. Verse 22 says, “Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” THE SECOND COMMAND RELATES TO SELF. Verse 23 says, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.” THE THIRD COMMAND RELATES TO OTHER BELIEVERS. Our text, says, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” What do you say to a person who is ready to give up on Jesus? This chapter gives divinely inspired instructions for those who are ready to throw in the towel. Specifically, our text teaches that you need to commit yourself to some local assembly of believers, so that you can submit to the accountability and responsibility that will help you to persevere in faith. Then verses 26-27 issues a warning about apostasy: “For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries.”

This warning about apostasy does not mean that it is possible to lose your salvation. God’s preserving graces ensures that every true believer is eternally secure, which means that true believers will not apostatize or fall away from Christ. They will endure until the end. But the perseverance of the saints is not only tied to the preservation of the saints. It is also tied to the partnership of the saints. Church membership, corporate worship, and Christian fellowship are primary means through which God’s preserving grace sustains true believers. This refutes those who say that church does not have anything to do with salvation. The fact is that it has everything to do with your salvation. In 1 Timothy 3:15, Paul says, “I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.” The pillar and foundation of a building hold it up. If the foundation gives or the pillars fall, the building will not stand. Likewise, the church is the pillar and foundation of the truth. Your faith in the truth of the gospel will not be able to stand without the church in your life. Or as WILLIAM WILLIMON puts it: “The gospel does not make sense without the church that makes it make sense.” The confession of salvation requires Christian assembly.

I learned about the spiritual epidemic called “MORBUS SABBATICUS.” In laymen’s terms, it is known as “Sunday Morning Sickness.” The symptoms are quite interesting. It never interferes with the appetite or affects the eyes. The Sunday newspaper can be read with no pain. And watching television seems to help the victim. The only symptom is that you cannot get up and go to church. Strangely you usually do not feel it on Saturday. But it hits when the morning comes. And it never lasts more than 24 hours. About the time Sunday morning services are over, the patient feels better. Monday morning, the patient is able to get up and go to work. But it has a way of striking again the next Sunday. And after a few weekly “attacks,” it may become chronic. I am talking to someone who suffers from MORBUS SABBATICUS. And I stand to tell you that you need to ask the Great Physician to heal you today, once and for all, from the dreaded disease that can strike a deathblow to your faith walk with Jesus Christ.

THE COMMUNION OF THE SAINTS REQUIRES ASSEMBLY. California redwood trees are the tallest and oldest trees in the world. They stand hundreds of feet high and some of them are said to be over 2,500 years old. As a result, you would think that redwoods have tremendous root systems reaching deep down into the earth. But compared to other trees, redwoods do not have many roots and they do not go very deep. Yet the redwoods have stood for centuries, because their roots are intertwined and interwoven with each other. So when the winds blow, the redwoods stand, because they are linked and locked to each other, holding one another up. That is the way Christians stand against the storms of life that assault our faith in Jesus Christ: We hold each other up. THE APOSTLE’S CREED refers to this as “the communions of the saints.” It is the internal disposition and external demonstration of Christian fellowship that is succinctly summarized in verse 24: “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works.”

THE INTERNAL DISPOSITION OF CHRISTIAN FELLOWSHIP. Verse 24 commands us to consider one another. The verb “consider” means to perceive clearly, understand fully, or consider closely. It is the same word used in Hebrews 3:1, which says: “Therefore, holy brothers, you who share in a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession.” You must set your mind on the Person and Work of the Lord Jesus Christ if your faith is to be strong, stable, and secure. But our text teaches us that Christians should also set their minds on one another. And this verb “continue” is in a grammatical emphasis that denotes continual or repeated action. Literally, the reading is, “And let us constantly consider one another…” Just as we are to always be thinking about Jesus, we also are to always be thinking about one another. The important point to get from this term is that Christian fellowship is – primarily, essentially, and ultimately – an internal reality. Fundamentally, our fellowship is not geographic, social, organizational, institutional, or programmatic. It is an internal disposition of care, concern, and compassion for one another that results in words, decisions, and actions that express the love of Jesus Christ.

1 John 3:14 says, “We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death.” True Christian love will not only lead you to attend and participate in corporate worship, it will also lead you to prayerfully consider the needs, growth, and concerns of your brothers and sisters in Christ even when you are not physically together.

This biblical emphasis rebukes those who would say, “Well, I read Christian books, watch religious television, and listen to teaching tapes. Doesn’t that count?” NO! Do not misunderstand me. Those things can be helpful supplements to what you receive by being a participating member of a local church. However, if you are able to get up and out, you must make sure that supplements to corporate worship do not become substitutes for corporate worship, because your fellowship with God must never be self-centered. Proverbs 18:1 says, “Whoever isolates himself seeks his own; he breaks out against all sound judgment.” 1 Corinthians 10:24 says, “Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor.” And Philippians 2:4 says, “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interest of others.”

THE EXTERNAL DEMONSTRATION OF CHRISTIAN FELLOWSHIP. After commanding us to consider one another, verse 24 tells us why we should do this: “to stir up one another to love and good works.” The church is to be marked by love and good works. However, love and good works are not automatic parts of church life. Every Christian is called to love and good works. But you cannot fulfill this calling on your own. You need others to “stir up” love and good works in and through you. The KJV uses the term “provoke.” The NASB uses the word “stimulate.” The NIV uses the word “spur.” These different terms translate a Greek term from which we get our English term “PAROXYSM.” It refers to a sudden outbreak of sickness, symptoms, or spasms. Usually, this term has a negative connotation, meaning something like “irritation” or “exasperation.” In fact, the only other time it is used in the New Testament, it is used negatively. Explaining Paul and Barnabas’ disagreement over whether to take John Mark on their second missionary journey, Acts 15:39 records, “And there arose a sharp disagreement, so that they separated from each other.”

But while Luke says that paroxusmos caused Paul and Barnabas to separate from one another, our text says that paroxusmos ought to bring Christians together. Yet the negative connotations of the term should not be dismissed here. If need be, we should irritate one another to love and good works. Proverbs 27:17 says, “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.” You do not sharpen iron by hugging, caressing, or pampering it. You sharpen iron by getting another piece of iron and rubbing it the wrong way. Likewise, your true friends are not the people who always agree with you, cosign your agenda, and stay out of your way. Your best friends are the ones who make you better. That involves times when friends put a supportive arm around your shoulder and times when they put a scolding finger in your face. You need both the comfort of tender love and the confrontation of tough love. You need to be with brothers and sisters in Christ who think enough of you to stir you up to love and good works.

This command to stir up one another to love and good works confronts those who may say, “Church is boring. I don’t really get anything out of it. It doesn’t meet my needs.” SO WHAT? If you practice a spiritual discipline solely for personal benefit, you pervert the discipline, rob yourself of its true benefit, and God is not pleased. That includes corporate worship. Football has been described as 22 men on a field in desperate need of rest, being watched by 22,000 people in the stands in desperate need of exercise. The sad fact is that most churches operate just like that. But corporate worship is not a spectator sport where you simply show up, receive the ministry of others, give an offering, greet a few acquaintances and friends, and then go home thinking and talking about how whether the service suited your tastes, touched your emotions, and met your needs. Corporate worship is three-dimensional. God blesses us and we bless God. But it doesn’t stop there. In corporate worship we also bless one another by saying and doing those things that stir up love and good works.

THE COMMAND OF SCRIPTURE REQUIRES ASSEMBLY. Verse 25 teaches us that, if you are a follower of Christ, your presence and participation in corporate worship are mandatory.

YOUR PRESENCE IS MANDATORY. If you were to ask me for one verse that commands to go to church, I would give you Hebrews 10:25. But the truth is that this verse does not technically command us to go to church. It commands us not to forsake Christian assembly. Yet in commanding the reader not to forsake the assembly, the text assumes a previously established commitment to corporate worship. So it tells us not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together. The word “neglecting” is emphatic and intensive, meaning to totally abandon or to utterly forsake. This term is used in Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34, where Jesus cried out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” Paul used it in 2 Corinthians 4:9, where he describes himself as “persecuted, but not forsaken.” It is also used in Hebrews 13:5, in the promise of God that says, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” And the writer uses it in our text to tell us that we are not to forsake, abandon, or desert the gathering together of the church. Every Christian should be marked present when the church assembles on the Lord’s Day.

This call to weekly corporate worship attendance may sound legalistic, pedantic, and impractical. But such a high view of corporate worship is warranted in light of verse 25b: “as is the habit of some.” Some people had already started missing the meetings. And the word “habit” tells us that their habitual absence had become customary. Remember why some people were missing the meetings. They were facing persecution because of their faith in Christ. Their lives were on the lines every time they met together. But God still said to them, do not neglect to meet together. If God did not excuse these ancient believers, even though the may be martyred if they showed up, then I know that God does not excuse us for the sinful, selfish, silly, and superficial reasons we come up with for missing church. Does this mean that you should attend every meeting, function, and service the church holds? Let me answer that by laying down a principle: If you are absent, and others do not know where you are, but they are not surprised by your absence, you are probably out of the will of God on this matter. If you can miss church without being missed at church, something is missing. And if you can miss church without missing church, something is missing.

An elderly saint had lost his hearing and his eyes had grown dim with age. But he never stopped attending church. One intrigued individual finally asked the obvious, “Why do continue attending church when you can’t see or hear what’s going on?” The old man replied, “I want to show everybody whose side I’m on!” And that ought to be your attitude. You presence in corporate worship ought to show your family and friends whose side you’re on. Your presence ought to show neighbors and coworkers whose sign your own. Your presence ought you show the principalities and powers in the unseen realm what side you’re on.

YOUR PARTICIPATION IS MANDATORY. Notice verse 25 again: “not neglecting to meet to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another.” Note that the contrast is not between showing up and not showing up. It is between not neglecting the meeting and encouraging one another. This text calls for more than just your presence in the meetings of the church. It calls for your participation. Consequently, there are those of you who have forsaken the assembly, even though you attend the worship meetings on a regular basis. You neglect the meeting when you show up late and leave early every week. You neglect the meeting when you get to church and hang outside, rather than coming in. You neglect the meeting when you show up with a bad attitude. You forsake the assembly when you are inhospitably, critical, and irreverent. You neglect the meeting when you spend the service sleeping, walking, talking, or passing notes. You neglect the meeting when what you have on or don’t have on distracts others from worship. You neglect the meeting when you are filling out an envelope during prayer or reading the bulleting during the sermon.

God demands your presence and your participation in the worship meetings of the local church. Unfortunately, many Christians are ecclesiastical hitchhikers. The hitchhiker’s thumb says, “You buy the car, pay for repairs and upkeep and insurance, fill the car with gas – and I’ll ride with you. But if you have an accident, you’re one your own! I may even sue you.” That is the way many people treat the church. They say, “You worship. You serve. You give. You pray. You support. And if you do it well enough, I’ll come along for the ride. But don’t expect anything from me. And know that if things don’t suit me, I’ll criticize and complain and bail out. My thumb is always out for a better ride.” But I submit to you that it is not God’s will for you to be a church-hopping hitchhiker. God want you to be a participating member of a local assembly. Many churches buildings have signs that say, “Enter to worship; depart to serve.” But that is a false dichotomy. We are to enter to worship and serve and then we leave to keep on worshiping and serving.

THE COMING OF THE SAVIOR REQUIRES ASSEMBLY. In every congregation, there are those who believe the church meets together too much. And from a carnal-minded, flesh-dominated, self-centered point of view, that may be true. But notice verse 25 one more time: “not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” While some would say the church meets too much, God says that we need to assemble even more than we do, so that we might encourage one another. Hebrews 3:12-13 says, “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” You may think it is too much to go to church every Sunday. But the Bible says you really need Christian exhortation every day, so that sin does not harden your heart. As we see the Day of the Lord’s return drawing near, we need to meet together as much as possible to exhort, encourage, and admonish one another to remain faithful.

One survey reports that 66% of Americans believe that Jesus Christ will return to earth someday – yet one third of those people say they never attend church. That is a blatant contradiction. The imminent return of the Lord Jesus is biblical motivation for being faithful to Christian assembly. In fact, the word translated “meet together” (or “assembling”) in verse 25 is only used twice in the New Testament – here, and in 2 Thessalonians 2:1, where Paul speaks of “the coming of tour Lord Jesus Christ and our bring gathered together to him.” Those who expect to meet Christ in heaven ought to be meeting with other Christians on earth. Here’s why: The closer we get to the Lord’s return, the worse things are going to get for the church in this world.

There are those who talk about a great end time revival. But they do not get that from scripture. The New Testament consistently speaks of end time apostasy among those who claim the name of Jesus Christ. Yes, God gives you strength to persevere. But God gives that strength by using other believers to come alongside of us to help us hang in there. So he says we are to be “encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” The word “encouraging” (or “exhorting”) means, “to call alongside.” The noun form is used in 1 John 2:1 to refer to Jesus as our Advocate with the Father. It is also used in John 14:16 to refer to the Holy Spirit who is our Helper or Comforter. Just as Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit come alongside of us to help us, we as brothers and sisters in Christ are to come alongside one another to exhort one another.

Usually, when I am preaching away from home, I stay in my room reading and resting until time for church. Except for those special times when I am preaching for a pastor that I really enjoy spending time with. That’s what happened on one occasion. So much so, that my host talked me into to working out with him just hours before preaching time. After giving me a general tour of the facilities, he marched me to the weight-lifting area. Now, I can sit on a stationary bike and read with the best of them. But I don’t mess around with weights. So honesty, fear, and pride forced me to be tell him straight out, “I really don’t do weights.” But, again, he talked me into it. For my sake, he started with lighter weights. And I stood back and watched, and he bench-pressed the weights effortlessly. When he finished his reps, he got up and I got on the bench. But rather than standing back and watching, my host went on the other side of the bars to “spot” me or watch me just in case I needed help. And I did it. And when he added more weight, I lifted that too. In fact, everything he lifted, I lifted, even though he was a much bigger man than I am. I had no idea that I was that strong. And I never would have known it, had it not been for this brother who came alongside to help me. And you will not ever know how strong you are spiritually if you don’t have other believers who will come alongside to exhort, encourage, and admonish you.

BLEST BE THE TIE THAT BINDS OUR HEARTS IN CHRISTIAN LOVE!
THE FELLOWSHIP OF KINDRED MINDS IS LIKE TO THAT ABOVE.

BEFORE OUR FATHER’S THRONE WE POUR OUR ARDENT PRAYERS
OUR FEARS, OUR HOPES, OUR AIMS ARE ONE, OUR COMFORT AND OUR CARES.

WE SHARE OUR MUTUAL WOES; OUR MUTUAL BURDENS BEAR.
AND OFTEN FOR EACH OTHER FLOWS THE SYMPATHIZING TEAR.

WHEN WE ASUNDER PART, IT GIVES US INWARD PAIN.
BUT WE SHALL STILL BE JOINED IN HEART, AND HOPE TO MEET AGAIN.

Count Your Blessings

COUNT YOUR BLESSINGS (Ephesians 1:3)

Ephesians 1:3-14 records what is called THE HYMN OF GRACE. It is so because scholars tell us that these verses record an actual hymn of praise that was sung in worship by the early church. Whether or not this is true, the content of this passage is still accurately labeled a hymn of grace. In the original Greek text, these twelve verses comprise only one sentence, even though no English versions translate it that way. In some remarkable way, this complex passage was one simple exclamation of praise in Paul’s mind. And this high praise is offered to almighty God for the sovereign grace by which he gives sinful people a new position in Christ. Verses 4-6 praise God the Father for choosing us for salvation. Verses 7-12 praise God the Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, for purchasing our salvation with his own lifeblood. And verses 13-14 praise God the Holy Spirit for sealing our salvation.This passage is a careful explanation of the God-centered, God-exalting nature of the Christian message of salvation. But this explanation begins with a celebration. Verse 3 says: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.”

What does it mean to be blessed? This is one of the fast-growing list of words in the Christian lexicon that is often used, seldom explained, and very misunderstood. Consequently, there are many believers who spend their energy chasing down the seemingly-elusive blessings of God. And there is much jealousy, rivalry, and disunity in the church, as children of God quietly compete for supposedly bigger and better blessings. And then there’s the great cover-up of breaking news that we do not really talk about; namely, that the material and financial things we so desperately crave as blessings from God do not really satisfy. In the process, God’s sheepfold has become a zoo, filled with professing Christians whose view of life is no different than the people of the world who do not know God. So I raise this question with confidence that the right answer can change our lives, revive our church, and strengthen our witness. What does it mean to be blessed? Ephesians 1:3 provides a clear and comprehensive answer: “Bless be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Chris who has bless us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.”

I submit to you that every person who is united to Christ by faith is already richly blessed. Notice that this verse does not promise that God will bless us. And it does not announce that God is in the process of blessing us right now. It declares that God has already blessed us. It is a done deal, a settled reality, and an unimpeachable position. If you have put your faith in Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord, you are sovereignly, abundantly, and eternally blessed. TOM JULIEN writes: “Some seek blessings and miss Christ. Others seek him and find both.” If you belong to Jesus Christ, you are richly blessed beyond measure. Now, I did not say that you will always feel blessed. The fact is that there will be times when you will feel abandoned, frustrated, hurt, neglected, and overwhelmed – anything but blessed. But your changing feelings have absolutely no affect on the reality, prosperity, and security of your blessed position in Christ. My wife has a sign on the refrigerator door that says, “I’M TOO BLESSED TO BE STRESSED.” But that’s not my testimony. I’ve discovered that you can be blessed and stressed at the same time. And the only way to handle some stressful situations is to remind yourself that you are blessed in spite of the stress. JOHN OATMAN JR. gave us some wise advice when he wrote:

WHEN UPON LIFE’S BILLOWS YOU ARE TEMPEST TOSSED,
WHEN YOU ARE DISCOURAGED, THINKING ALL IS LOST,
COUNT YOUR MANY BLESSINGS – NAME THEM ONE BY ONE
AND IT WILL SURPRISE YOU WHAT THE LORD HATH DONE.

R. KENT HUGHES rightly asks, “The Devil may curse us, but if God blesses us, what does it matter? If you are united to Christ by faith, you are already richly blessed of God. And Ephesians 1:3 highlights three dynamics of the blessed life that is ours through faith in Jesus Christ.

I. THE PROPER RESPONSE TO THE BLESSED LIFE

What is the proper response to the blessings of God? There are several ways to respond to God’s blessings on the believer’s life. For instance, it would have been proper for this declaration of blessing to say, “Trust in the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ…” Or, it would have been proper for this declaration of blessing to say, “Serve the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ…” But Paul did not choose these or any of the other legitimate responses to the God’s blessings we could mention. Instead, under the divine inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Paul wrote: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.”

The NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION translates this verse: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,” in order to avoid the potential confusion of the repeated use of the word blessed. But in so doing, it robs the reader of the beautiful play on words here. Literally, the verse says that we ought to bless God because God has blessed us. This word “blessed” literally means, “to speak well of” someone. It is the Greek term from which we get our word “eulogy.” Paul says that we ought to eulogize God! We ought to speak well of God. We ought to declare good things about God in grateful praise to him. In Mark 10:18, Jesus declares, “No one is good except God alone.” And since God alone is truly good, he is supremely and exclusively worthy of our highest expressions of praise. We ought to bless God with our praise for all his blessings toward us.

The same root word for blessing is used throughout this verse. But there is a difference between how we bless and how God blesses us. When God blesses us, it is both gracious and effectual. It is gracious in that God does not speak well of us because we deserve it. God blesses us because he is good and in spite of the fact that we are not good. Likewise, his blessings are effectual. When God declares his goodwill on us, his sovereign authority fully accomplishes everything he decrees. Paul affirms this by calling him “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” In calling him God, Paul declares that he is our SOVEREIGN CREATOR. Psalm 100:3 says, “Know that the Lord, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.” God is our sovereign Creator. And note that Paul says he is “the God,” meaning that he is God all by himself. But not only is God our Creator; he is also our SOVEREIGN REDEEMER. Paul calls also him “the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” In verse 2, he is “our Father.” But now he is “the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” This description states the unique relationship between God the Father and God the Son. It declares Jesus Christ to be the only and eternally begotten Son of God. And God loved us so much that he sent his son to die on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins, adopt us into his family, and qualify us for eternal blessings.

So when God blesses us, it is gracious and effectual. However, when we bless God it is deserved and useless. It is deserved in that we speak well of God because he is worthy to be praised. Or as WALTER WINK defines it, “To worship is to remember who owns the house.” And to say that it is useless is to say that our blessing God does not contribute anything to God in any way. We are wrong when we speak of magnifying God, exalting God, or lifting him up in any way that suggests we make God bigger with our praise. If God needs us to make him bigger, then he is no God at all. The biblical idea of magnifying God is that we are to treat God with the glorious magnificence that he rightly deserves. MARVA DAWN calls worship “a royal waste of time.” By this she means that worship is not a means to an end; it’s an end in itself. God alone is the SUBJECT and OBJECT of true worship. And we ought to bless him for blessing us.

This doxology teaches us much about true worship. First of all, it teaches us that true worship is to be God-centered, not man-centered. Real worship is not about who you are, what you have, or how you feel. It’s about who God is and what God has done for you through Jesus Christ. So when our worship begins to lapse, we really cannot blame the preacher, the music, or the atmosphere. When you find it difficult to worship God, it only means that we have forgotten what God has done for us through Jesus Christ. If you consider the spiritual blessings that are yours in Christ, you can praise God no matter what. John 4:24 says: “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” That is, true worship must be with head and heart. We see that here in THE HYMN OF GRACE, where Paul is filled with both joyful exuberance and theological reflection. Likewise, our worship will have a proper balance of God-entranced joy and God-centered truth when we learn to bless God for Jesus Christ. May our prayer be:

COME, THOU FOUNT OF EVERY BLESSING, TUNE MY HEART TO SING THY GRACE
STREAMS OF MERCY, NEVER CEASING, CALL FOR SONGS OF LOUDEST PRAISE
TEACH ME SOME MELODIOUS SONNET, SUNG BY FLAMING TONGUES ABOVE
PRAISE THE MOUNT! I’M FIXED UPON IT, MOUNT OF GOD’S UNCHANGING LOVE

II. THE EXCLUSIVE MEANS TO THE BLESSED LIFE

Again, Ephesians 1:3 declares: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.” That phrase, “in Christ,” is a succinct statement of the dominating theme of THE EPISTLE OF EPHESIANS. It, or some variation of it, is used more than thirty-five times in this letter. This phrase, “in Christ,” is theological shorthand that describes the believer’s spiritual union to, intimate relationship with, and new identity in Christ. In fact, the early Christians would begin their answer to the question, “Who are you?” with this simple phrase: EN CHRISTO – “in Christ.”

This phrase is, first of all, a statement about Christ himself. On one hand, it affirms the exclusivity of Christ. ST. AUGUSTINE was right: God is more anxious to bestow his blessings on us than we are to receive them. But God’s blessings can only be received in Christ. Note that Paul did not say we are blessed in Christ and something or someone else. Christ alone is the only means to spiritual blessings. In John 14:6, Jesus says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Jesus Christ is the only way to the blessings of God. On the other hand, this phrase also affirms the sufficiency of Christ. That is, if you are in Christ, you already have full and free access to the God’s blessings. There is absolutely nothing lacking from your salvation. But this phrase is also a statement the Christian. It tells us that if we you are in Christ, you don’t have to be governed by your past, haunted by your mistakes, bound by your limitations, afraid of your weaknesses, or handicapped by your pain. You have a brand new identity in Christ.

In his book, Why Am I Afraid to Tell You Who I Am?, JOHN POWELL writes of asking that question in a classroom. “Do you want my answer?” asked a student.” “Yes, of course I do,” responded Dr. Powell. “I am afraid to tell you who I am, because if I tell you who I am, you may not like who I am, and it’s all that I have.”

In the same way, many of us find it difficult to live authentically before others out of fear that others people will not like who we are. In fact, some of us are afraid to live authentically with ourselves out of fear that we will not like ourselves. But 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” If you are in Christ, you have a brand new identity. You are blessed in Christ. Verse 3 is a celebration of our blessings in Christ. But verses 4-12 are an exposition of our blessings in Christ. Verse 4 says you have been chosen by God. Verse 5 says you have been predestined and adoption. Verse 6 says we are blessed, accepted, graciously endowed by God. Verse 7 says you have been redeemed and forgiven. Verse 13 says you have been sealed. And verse 14 says that you have received the guarantee, the down payment of the Spirit. In Christ, we are richly blessed.

III. THE INFINITE SCOPE OF THE BLESSED LIFE

The infinite scope of our spiritual blessings in Christ is described three ways in this verse.

OUR BLESSING IN CHRIST IS SUFFICIENT. In verse 3b, Paul declares that God is the one “who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.” Even though most versions translate this phrase to read “every spiritual blessing”; the original text actually reads all, not every. The intended idea is that there is one blessing that God gives the believer in Christ of which there is nothing lacking. It’s not that there is a series of individual blessings that God promises to give. There is no first, second, or third blessing that God gives us in Christ. There is just one blessing that is first, full, and final. MATTHEW HENRY wrote: “Those whom God blessed with some he blesses with all spiritual blessings.” Our blessing is Christ is sufficient. Romans 8:32 says, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” Colossians 2:10 says: “and you have been filled in him.” And 2 Peter 1:3-4 says: “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness.” Our blessing in Christ is sufficient.

A faithful but struggling missionary candidate finally raised enough funds to purchase a ticket overseas on a cruise ship. And when he packed his bags, he includes enough cheese and crackers to get him through the entire trip. And at every mealtime, while the rest of the passengers went to the dining room to eat, this missionary would go to the deck of the ship and eat cheese and crackers from a brown paper bag. Every meal, he would sit on the deck eating cheese and crackers. Finally, some one asked him why he kept sitting on the deck eating cheese and crackers during each meal. He explained that he barely had enough money to purchase his ticket. He definitely didn’t have the money to pay for the expensive meals that they were serving in the dining room. And he was shocked to discover that once he had paid for the ticket; the meals were provided for free.

I submit to you that we don’t really know how blessed we are. You can tell it in how we pray. We often pray for spiritual blessings that already ours in Christ. We sometimes pray for the love of God. But Romans 5:5 says “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us.” We sometimes pray for peace. But in John 14:27, Jesus says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” We sometimes pray for joy. But in John 15:11, Jesus says, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” Sometimes we pray for strength. But Philippians 4:13 declares, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

WE HAVE A SPIRITUAL BLESSING IN CHRIST. Again, verse 4 declares that God has blessed us in Christ with “every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.” This word spiritual has two implications. First, it means that our blessings in Christ come from the Holy Spirit. Ephesians 1:13-14 says: “In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.” The wonderful Holy Spirit is the agent who delivers, affirms, and secures our spiritual blessings in Christ. But this term spiritual is also a reference to the nature of our blessing in Christ. That is, the blessing in Christ is spiritual, rather than material. In Deuteronomy 28:1-14, God promises material blessings to the obedient children of Israel. If the members of the old covenant kept God’s law, the Lord would reward them with long life, a large family, abundant crops, and protection from their enemies, among other things. But the obedient Jew could only enjoy certain spiritual blessings.
But in the new covenant, God does not promise Christians guaranteed or uninterrupted health and wealth. But he does bless us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ. Now, this is not to say that God does not bless his children materially. Matthew 6:33 says, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” 2 Corinthians 9:8 declares: “And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.” And Philippians 4:19 is true: “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” Now, God doesn’t promise to supply all of your greeds. But God will meet your needs. In fact, let me stop here give some advice to someone who may be having a hard time with limited resources:

IF THE WORLD FROM YOU WITHHOLD OF ITS SILVER AND ITS GOLD
AND YOU HAVE TO GET ALONG WITH MEAGER FARE
JUST REMEMBER, IN HIS WORD, HOW HE FEEDS THE LITTLE BIRD
TAKE YOUR BURDEN TO THE LORD AND LEAVE IT THERE

God can, does, and will bless you materially. However, even more than scripture promises God’s material blessings, it warns us about the spiritual dangers of material prosperity. In Luke 12:15, Jesus says: “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” In a letter to his followers from prison, former televangelist JIM BAKKER wrote: “There is no way, if you take the whole counsel of God’s Word, that you can equate riches or material things as a sign of God’s blessing.”

WE HAVE A SECURE BLESSING IN CHRIST. Again, this verse declares that God has “blessed us in him with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.” This phrase “the heavenly places” (or the heavenlies) does not refer to heaven itself, the glorious dwelling place of almighty God. It speaks of a real environment of spiritual activity that is beyond the physical ordering of the created universe. JOHN R.W. STOTT calls it “the unseen world of spiritual reality.” And that may be the best definition for the heavenly places. It’s the place of spiritual reality beyond the physical realm. And Paul introduces us to it in the verse to declare to us that our blessings in Christ are secure. They are secure because Ephesians 1:20 says that God has raised up Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is name, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And Ephesians 2:6 says that God raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus. And Ephesians 3:10 says that through the church the manifold wisdom of God is now made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.

Now, this does mean that the believer can enjoy a life without any struggles. Ephesians 6:10-12 says: “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” I must warn you that if you determine to walk in the spiritual blessings that are yours in Christ, the devil will fight back. However, the good is that God has already provided everything you need to stand in victory. Ephesians 6:13 says: “Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.” You can stand firm with the spiritual armor that God has given you in Christ.

BLESSED ASSURANCE, JESUS IS MINE!
O WHAT A FORETASTE OF GLORY DIVINE!
HEAR OF SALVATION, PURCHASE OF GOD,
BORN OF HIS SPIRIT, WASHED IN HIS BLOOD.

Having Possessions and Being Possessed

Matthew 6:19-21 marks a transition in THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT. In the first half of this chapter, Jesus explains how righteous people practice religion. Verses 1-4 address how righteous people give. Verse 5-15 address how righteous people pray. Verses 16-18 address how righteous people fast. In the later half of this chapter, Jesus moves from warning his disciples about the consequences of hypocrisy to calling his disciples to embrace the values of the kingdom of heaven. Verses 19-34 make it clear that true righteousness transcends religious activity. To be a citizen of the kingdom is to adopt a countercultural mindset toward material possessions. In other words, righteous people do not, cannot live for the Lord on Sundays and live for money the rest of the week. We show where our devotion rests by seeking the eternal rewards of heaven rather than the passing riches of this life. This does not mean that Christians must be poor to be righteous. The Lord does not condemn giving, having, or using material possessions. Money is morally neutral. It is our attitude toward money that is either godly or evil. And having material possessions is not a sin. But being materialistic is.

A rich man with a miserable attitude visited the local minister who lived a simple life. They were not together long before the minister got a wonderful idea on how to illustrate to the man that his attitude was wrong. He led him over to his window and said, “Look out the window and tell me what you see.” The said, “I see some men and women and children.” “Fine.” Then minister then led him across the room to a mirror. “Now tell me what you see.” The man frowned and said, “Obviously, I see myself.” “Interesting,” replied the minister. “In the window there is glass, in the mirror there is glass, but the glass of the mirror is covered with a little bit of silver. And no sooner is the silver added than you cease to see others, only yourself.”

If the Lord allows you to see financial prosperity, you are blessed. But it is a curse if that is all you can see. We must seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and trust that God will take care of our needs. That is what Jesus is teaching here in this text. Go ahead. Lay up treasure for yourself. Just make sure you lay it up in the right place. Do nit live for material possessions that will not last. Live for what 1 Peter 1:4 calls “an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you.” Let me bottom-line this for you. It is not wrong for you to have possessions; it is wrong for your possessions to have you. In Matthew 6:19-21, Jesus teaches us how to have possessions without being possessed by our possessions.

I. BE CAREFUL OF WHERE YOUR TREASURES RESIDE.

Verse 19 issues a prohibition: “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal.” In the ancient Near East, one’s wardrobe was considered a part of one’s wealth. In 2 Kings 5:22, Gehazi attempted to swindle Namaan out of two changes of clothes. And In Joshua 7:21, Achan sinned by stealing a beautiful cloak from Jericho. Fine clothes were considered great wealth. But Jesus says do not treasure your clothes, because moth will destroy then. Likewise, precious metals were considered a part of one’s wealth. But Jesus warns not to treasure precious metals, because rust will destroy it. And whatever other valuables you has stashed in your house, don’t treasure them. Thieves will break through the mud walls and steal them.

Then verse 20 gives a parallel exhortation: “but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither most nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.” Notice that the issue Jesus addresses here is not whether you lay up a treasure. The issue is where your treasure resides. And the location of your treasure – earth or heaven – indicates the character of your treasure – worldly or spiritual. Laying up treasures on earth speaks of worldliness, materialism, and covetousness. Laying up treasure in heaven speaks of trust in God, communion with God, and blessings from God. The point is that in order to have possessions without possessions being possessed by them, you must have a godly value system. You must make sure your priorities are in order. You must adopt a heavenly attitude toward earthly things.

There is an important play on words here. More literally, verse 18 reads, “Do not treasure your treasures on earth. But treasure your treasures in heaven.” And in verse 19 is in a grammatical emphasis that forbids an action that is already in progress. In other words, Jesus says, “Stop treasuring your treasures on earth. But continue to treasure your treasures in heaven.” If you are not going to be possessed by your possession, you must resist treasuring worldly things, and persist in treasuring spiritual things. Proverbs 23:4-5 says: “Do not toil to acquire wealth; be discerning enough to desist. When yours eyes light on it, it is gone, for suddenly it sprouts wings, flying like an eagle toward heaven.” Ecclesiastes 5:10 says, “He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his good income; this also is vanity.” And in Matthew 16:26, Jesus says: “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life? Or what shall a man give in return for his life?”

Mark it down.
• Money can buy amusement, but not joy.
• Money can buy a bed, but not sleep.
• Money can buy companions, but not friends.
• Money can buy a house, but not peace.
• Money can buy a medicine, but not health.
• Money can buy sex, but not intimacy.
• Money can buy therapy, but not redemption.

Matthew 19:16-21 records the story of a young man came to Jesus wanting to know how to inherit the heavenly treasure of eternal life. Jesus told him, in essence, to obey THE TEN COMMANDMENTS. Interestingly, though, Jesus skipped over the first commandments that deal with how we should relate to God. And he only mentions the later commandments that deal with how we should relate to our neighbor. But this guy totally missed the point. And he replied, “I learned those commandments when I was a little boy. And I’ve been keeping them all of my life.” Jesus said, “Good, but there is still something missing. Go sell all your stuff and give the money to the poor and come follow me. And if you do this, you will have treasure in heaven.”

In Matthew 16:21, Jesus explicitly told this man how to have treasure in heaven, which refers to eternal life. But this guy refused to follow Jesus’ instructions. Matthew 16:22 says that he walked away in great sorrow, because he had a lot of stuff. Or, according to the CHARLES INTERNATIONAL VERSION: “His stuff had him.” Now, when Jesus told this young man to divest himself of his wealth, he was not condemning the rich of calling for charity toward the poor. Jesus was addressing what was most important to this guy. Although the young man said he wanted eternal life, the truth was that he wanted his stuff more than he wanted eternal life. And that’s the danger and power of materialism. The quest to get, have, and spend money can so pull you away from God that you can get to a place where you don’t really even care whether you go to heaven or hell – as long has you can have your cash, cars, clothes, and other stuff in this life. That’s why Jesus says stop treasuring your treasures on heart and keep treasuring your treasures in heaven.

II. BE COMMITTED TO TREASURES THAT REMAIN.

Luke 12:13-21 records how Jesus responded to a guy who interrupted his teaching and asked him to settle a financial dispute he was in with his brother. “Make my brother split the inheritance with me,” he said. Jesus replied, “What do you thing this is? The People’s Court? Who made me a judge of an arbitrator over you?” And in Luke 12:15, Jesus says: “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” Then Jesus illustrated warning point with a parable. Once upon a time, there was a man who had a great harvest. His bumper crop was so plentiful that he didn’t have room to store it all. And with that premise, the story proceeds to show us the smallest package in the world – a man wrapped up in himself. He didn’t know what to do with his great harvest. So he went into counsel with himself and said, “Self, we’re rich! We’re loaded. In fact, we’re overloaded. What will we do? Where will we put it all? Yeah. That’s a great idea. Let’s demolish these barns and build bigger ones. We can store our harvest and we won’t have to worry about anything for years to come. We can just eat, drink, and be merry.”

But while he toasting himself for his great business savvy, God intruded into the conference room of this man’s heart, and said, “You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?” Jesus called this man a fool, because he was shortsighted. He cared about his bankbook, but not his soul. He thought about tomorrow, but not eternity. He knew what he would do if there was a drought next season, but he did not know what he would do when he had to stand before God. So God called him a fool. And in Luke 12:21, Jesus warns: “So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.” That’s a disturbing statement, because we here this story all the time. The media regularly spotlights the stories of people who live, act, and think just like this man. But the world calls these celebrities smart, stars, and successful. But God calls them fools.

Indeed, the world around us is filled with people who are doomed, because they have embraced two foolish myths: more is better and now is better. But there is one big problem with our “get-more-and-get-it-now” way of life: the material things of this life do not last. Jesus says, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where most and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.”

When Jesus commands us to lay up treasures in heaven, he is not in any way suggesting that one can earn his salvation by the performance of good works. Romans 3:23-25 says, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.” Sinners are saved from eternal judgment by trusting what God has done for us through the blood and righteousness of Christ – not by anything we do or do not do. So Jesus is not teaching a works salvation here. He is teaching that there are those who are saved by grace through faith should live in light of the fact that there is coming a day of reckoning and reward.

1 Corinthians 3:11-14 says, “For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw – each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward.” The matter that is before us in our text is this: make sure you are investing your life in things that will last. In his book, The Treasure Principle, RANDY ALCORN sums it up neatly: “You cannot take it with you, but you can send it ahead of you.” If that is true, then you should only invest your life in things that are going to last.

• How important will your house be a hundred years from now?
• How important will your car be a hundred years from now?
• How important will your diploma be a hundred years from now?
• How important will your career be a hundred years from now?
• How important will your accomplishments be a hundred years from now?

Some things we invest so much of ourselves into will not really matter ten years from now, much less a hundred years from now. How about 100 million trillion years from now?

In Matthew 6:19-20, Jesus declares the FACT of life’s loses. The old saying jokes that the one who has the most stuff when he dies wins. But the serious question is, wins what? In Job 1:21, Job confesses, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” The inevitable reality is that earthly treasures do not last. This may be the most valuable lesson of the board game, MONOPOLY. At the end of the game, the board is folded, everything is put away, and the lid is placed on top of the box. It’s a little reminder that someday our lives will be over as well. Then it will hardly matter who owned how many railroads and utilities, or who owned boardwalk. Earthly treasures do not last. Likewise, Jesus declares the FACTORS of life’s losses. Verses 19-20 name three factors that guarantee the loss of material possessions: moth, rust, and thieves. Moth speaks of nature: tornados, hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, etc. Rust speaks of time (depreciation, wear-and-tear, out-datedness, etc. And thieves speak of people: swindlers, car-jackers, family members, televangelists.

Furthermore, Jesus declares the FORCE of life’s losses. Jesus mentions three factors that he places into two groups: moth and rust being one; thieves being the other. Moth and rust destroying your stuff says that some things we will lose passively, subtly and eventually. But thieves digging through and stealing says that we will lose some things abruptly, immediately, violently. The point is that, be it over years or overnight, earthly treasures do not last. In 1 Timothy 6:17-19, Paul says, “As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, not to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly live.” If you are going to have possessions without possessions having you, you must be committed to treasures that remain.

III. BE CONCERNED ABOUT WHAT YOUR TREASURES REVEAL.

MARTIN LUTHER, the father of the 16th century Protestant Reformation, coined a slogan. In Latin, the statement is: Sacra Scriptura sui interpres. It means: “Sacred Scripture is its own interpreter.” That is, the word of God explains itself. I wholeheartedly agree. Consequently, a significant part of my personal Bible study involves the process of discovering what the rest of scripture has to say about the specific passage of scripture I am studying. And I did that in my study of Matthew 6:19-21. The Treasury of Scripture Knowledge, a big book of cross-references, is the primary resource I use during this part of my study. The first passage it mentions in relation to Matthew 6:21 is Genesis 21:14. It says: “So Abraham rose early in the morning and took bread and a skin of water and gave it to Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, along with the child, and sent her away. And she departed and wandered in the wilderness of Beersheba.” This reference is a backdoor into the meaning of Matthew 6:21.

God called Abraham away from his family and homeland in order to walk with him. This call was accompanied by the promise that God would make a great nation through Abraham seed. Abraham trusted God and obeyed. But after years of following God, Abraham still did not have a son, his wife Sarah was barren, and old age was gaining on him. So Sarah devised a plan where Abraham would have a son through her maid Hagar, before it was too late. He did. But that was not the son that God had promised. God intended to give Abraham a son through his wife, Sarah. And sure enough the Lord visited Sarah and she conceived and had a son named Isaac. After this, it did not take long for the already-present tension between Sarah and Hagar to grow, concerning the respective boys they had borne to Abraham. And Sarah demanded that Abraham kick Hagar and Ishmael out. Abraham’s heart was distressed, to say the least. But God told him to do what his wife said. Genesis 21:14 records that early the next morning, Abraham prepared a meal, gave it and the boy to Hagar, and sent them away.

Sarah represents the sovereign and guaranteed promises of God to bless Abraham. Hagar represents Abraham’s doubt-filled and flesh-centered attempt to do what God promised to do. Juggling these two realities brought inevitable distress to Abraham’s heart, because the two realities couldn’t live together under the same roof. It would have confused and compromised God’s plans for Abraham. Likewise, you are I today are either standing on the sovereign promises of God, or we are attempting to accomplish in the flesh what God has promised to do if we trust and obey him. Both realities cannot live in the same heart. The only way to ensure that you do not confuse or compromise God’s plans for your life is to heed the voice of Jesus: “For where your treasures is, there your heart will be also.”

When the heart is mentioned in scripture metaphorically, as it is here, it refers to the seat of personhood, the totality of our inward being, who we are underneath the skin – the mind, the will, and the emotions. So when Jesus says that your heart follows your treasure, the point is clear, precise, and stinging. Your treasure is revealed by what you think about the most. Your treasure is revealed by what you choose to do and do not do. And your treasure is revealed by what you are passionate about. R. KENT HUGHES said it well: “If anything in this world is everything to you, it is an earthly treasure.” In order to have possessions without your possessions having you, you must be concerned about what your treasures reveal. And note that Jesus makes this statement to his own disciples. But even though the disciples were following Jesus, their hearts could still be lead astray into an ungodly fixation with things. And the same thing can happen to you. 1 John 2:15-17 says, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world – the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions – is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.” So you must be careful about what your treasures reveal.

Acts 8:14-25 records how the church at Jerusalem sent Peter and John to verify what was going on, after the Holy Spirit fell on the Samaritans. When they saw that the Lord was now moving among the Samaritans, they affirmed it by the laying on of hands. A magician named Simon watched all of this curiously. And he offered the apostles money if they would show him how to do that “laying-on-of-hands” trick. Acts 8:20-21 records, “But Peter said to him, ‘May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! You have neither part nor lot in this matter, for your heart is not right before God.’” I submit to you that we need people today who are courageous enough to say to this covetous generation of so-called Christians, who are only concerned about health-and-wealth. “Your heart is not right.” Be careful about what your treasure reveals. Proverbs 4:23 says, “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” In Matthew 12:35, Jesus says: “The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil.” And Hebrews 3:12 says: “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God.” I repeat: Be concerned about what you treasure reveals.

When I first engaged this text in a meaningful way, it had a radical and revolutionary effect on my view of life. I assumed that your treasure follows your heart. That made perfect sense to me. You invest in that which you love. Your resources follow your affections. That makes perfect sense to me. Where your heart is, there will your treasure be also. But Jesus says, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Counter-intuitively, Jesus teaches us not to invest in earthly treasures – be it a goal or relationship – that you do not want to love. Only invest in that which is worth loving. “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” The more I invest in the kingdom of heaven, the more my heart will be drawn toward God the Father. But if I only invest in earthly things, then my heart will never be drawn toward the things of God. So let me challenge you to make a new commitment today to invest your life in the things of God. May FANNY J. CROSBY’S song be your prayer:

DRAW ME NEARER, NEARER, BLESSED LORD
TO THE CROSS WHERE THOU HAST DIED
DRAW ME NEARER, NEARER, BLESSED LORD
TO THY PRECIOUS, BLEEDING SIDE

One day, a shipwrecked sailor was seized by the natives, hoisted on their shoulders, and carried to the village, and set on a throne. He later learned that it was their custom once each year to make some man a king. King for a year. He liked it until he began to wonder what happened to all the former kings. Soon he discovered that every year when his kingship was ended, the king was banished to an island, where he starved to death. The sailor did not like that, but he was smart and he was king for the year. SO he put his carpenters to work making boats, his farmers to work transplanting fruit trees to the island, farmers growing crops, masons building houses. So when his kingship was over, he was banished, not to a barren island, but an island of abundance.

Making Time for God

MAKING TIME FOR GOD
Exodus 20:8-11

Exodus 20:8-11 continues the train of thought of the previous three commandments. The first commandment -“You shall have no other gods before me” – instructs us to have the proper object of worship. The second commandment – “You shall not make for yourself a cared image” – instructs us to have the proper manner of worship. The third commandment – “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain” – instructs us to have the proper attitude of worship. The fourth commandment – “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy” – instructs us to have the proper time of worship. We must worship God exclusively, correctly, reverently, and – and this fourth commandment teaches – regularly. If you are not careful, life has a way of crowding God out. But redeemed people must never forget to make proper time for the God who created us, sustains us, and redeemed us. That is the message of this text. We must make time for God. Let’s talk about three aspects of this fourth command.

I. THE PRINCIPLE OF THE SABBATH

This fourth commandment charges us to be faithful stewards of the gift of time. It gives us three ways to sanctify our time to and for God.

A. IT IS A CALL TO WORSHIP.

Exodus 20:8 commands: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.” This command to remember the Sabbath indicates that they already knew about it. After God delivered Israel from Egypt, he provided heavenly food called “Manna” for them to eat. Every day, when they woke up, it would be on the ground. And they would go out and collect enough for their households. On the sixth day they were to collect twice as much, because God did not provide the manna on the seventh day. Exodus 16:23 says, “This is what the Lord has commanded: ‘Tomorrow is a day of solemn rest, a holy Sabbath to the Lord.’” So Israel had already been introduced to the concept of the Sabbath. Now, in this Mosaic legislation of it, God tells them to remember the Sabbath. Verse 8b states the reason why it is to be remembered: “to keep it holy.”

The word “holy” means to be sanctified or set apart for the special purposes of God. In scripture, certain people, places, and things are called holy. But here we find that certain times are also holy. The Sabbath was to be remembered so that it would be kept holy. This emphasis on the holiness of the Sabbath is a call to worship. It is a call to deliberately set aside time for God. It is a call to regularly schedule time in your life where you and your family stop working to worship God. MATTHEW HENRY rightly said that the Sabbath was made a day of holy rest so that it might be a day of holy work. The Sabbath is a call to worship.

B. IT IS A CALL TO LABOR.

Verse 8 commands Israel to stop working one day a week to worship God. But verse 9 commands, “Six days you shall labor, and do all your work.” This verse makes it clear that God expects his people to work daily and diligently. This call to labor reminds us that work is good. Many people view success as getting to the place where you do not have to work anymore. But that view of life reflects our sinful nature, not God’s holy wisdom. God has wired us to work. Work is not the curse. God created us to work. Genesis 2:18 says, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” The dignity of work was established by God in creation. The fall of man into sin in Genesis 3 resulted in work being difficult, exhausting, and frustrating. But work itself is good. Work is a part of what it means for human beings to be made in the image of God. Our God works.

• God was at work in the creation of the world.
• God was at work through the history of Israel. God was at work in the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ.
• God is at work in the church of Jesus Christ.
• God is at work in and through every one of you who has been born-again by faith in Jesus Christ.
• God is at work in this place right now.

GOD WORKS IN MYSTERIOUS WAYS, HIS WONDERS TO PERFORM
HE PLANTS HIS FOOTSTEPS ON THE SEAS, AND RIDES ON EVERY STORM

God works. People often say that the devil is busy. But the devil cannot out-busy God. God never takes a break. God never calls in sick. God never takes a vacation. God is always at work. God works the night shift. And God always finishes the work that he begins. Our God works. And he commands us to work. ARTHUR W. PINK has written, “He who never works is unfit for worship. Work is to pave the way for worship, as worship is to fit us for work.”

C. IT IS A CALL TO REST.

In The Tender Commandments, Ron Mehl writes of waking up in the ICU to see the face of his friend Jack Hayford, who had flown from Los Angeles to Beaverton to check on him. “Good enough for you?” was Hayford’s strange greeting. “You’re a prideful man, Ron,” he went on to say. “You think people are really impressed that you work seven days a week.” Hayford had told him this many times before. But Mehl always found a way to escape the subject. But this time he was trapped in ICU, recovering from a heart attack. Hayford continued “This is an ego thing for you, isn’t it, Ron? You want affirmation. You want everybody to say, ’Isn’t he amazing? Look at that Ron Mehl. Always in the office. Never misses a service. Works seven days a week!’ Get serious, Mehl. Who are you trying to impress? God? Well, I can tell you something. He’s not impressed. God’s only impressed with one thing, and that’s His Son?”

After this stern confrontation, Hayford lovingly counseled his longtime friend to take the life principle of Sabbath-rest more seriously. And I want to challenge us to embrace the wisdom of God that calls us to rest. Exodus 20:9-10 says: “Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work.” This commandment should is not some restrictive rule. It is loving concern of a good God. Our heavenly Father, in his infinite wisdom, commands us to rest. It’s a personal call to rest. God knows that you cannot make it without rest, refreshment and rejuvenation. So he gave us this human maintenance schedule. God calls those who will not work lazy. But God calls those who will not rest disobedient. In Mark 6:31, Jesus told his disciples, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” VANCE HAVNER used to say of this verse that if we do not come away we will fall apart. You need rest.

It is also a communal call to rest. Verse 10 says: “On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates.” Every one was to rest – you, your children, servants, and animals, even strangers. This all inclusive call to rest was meant to affirm equality and justice for all, the precious nature of creation, and the human dignity of even the people from foreign lands. We need to remember that our family, coworkers, and possessions belong to God. Every person that you come across is a person of value who has been created in the image of God. The Lord affirmed this by calling the entire community – including the cattle – to rest on the Sabbath.

Lastly, it is a spiritual call to rest. Exodus 20:11 explains: “For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, an rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath and made it holy.” God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh day. God did not rest because he was tired. Omnipotence cannot become weary. He rested in order to set a pattern for us to follow. The Lord blessed and sanctified the seventh day in creation to get us to stop and remember that he is the Creator. God established the pattern of six days of work and one day of rest to remind us to that our lives do not depend on our work. It depends on God’s work. God is our creator, sustainer, and redeemer. Our lives depend on his work; not ours. RAY PRITCHARD said it well: We give 1 day in 7 to God because 7 out of 7 belong to him!!!

II. THE PRESCRIPTION OF THE SABBATH

This fourth commandment is the longest of the Ten Commandments. It is the only one that is not taught, repeated, or affirmed in the New Testament. And it is, without a doubt, the most controversial commandment. The principle of this commandment is clear. But the prescription of it is very controversial, because it does not just tell us to make time for God; it tells us when that time should be. The prescribed time is named in verse 8: the Sabbath day. It is specified in verse 10: the seventh day.

For the record, today is not the Sabbath day. It is not the seventh day. It is not Saturday. Today is what the people of the text would have called the first or eighth day. Today is what the early church called the Lord’s Day. It is what we call Sunday. This Saturday-Sabbath/Sunday-Lord’s Day distinction makes this commandment so complicated. The issue is this: Do Christians violate this commandment by worshiping on Sunday? Why do Christians worship on Sunday when this commandment sets apart Saturday as the day of worship? Sabbath keeping is the fourth commandment; therefore, if we believe that Christians are obligated to obey the Decalogue, aren’t we saying that they are to keep the Sabbath? My answer is no. As I mentioned, each of the Ten Commandments is emphasized in the New Testament, except this fourth commandment. There is no place in the New Testament where Christians are taught to keep the Sabbath. It is not even suggested.

Matthew 19:16-20; Mark 10:17-20, Luke 18:18-21; and Romans 13:8-10 record summaries of the law. But none of them mention the Sabbath-keeping. In Romans 13:9, Paul gives a summary of the commandments, without mentioning the Sabbath. But he says that any other commandment can be summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” In the New Testament, love is the law. In John 13:34, Jesus says: “A new commandment I give to you, that your love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” This verse affirms the fact that love supersedes the law. It also affirms the preeminence of the Lord Jesus Christ over everything. This is the key reason why the New Testament church is not commanded to observe the Saturday-Sabbath. The impeccable life, bloody cross, and empty tomb of Jesus has changed everything. This is why the early church intentionally, willingly, and naturally changed their day of worship to Sunday. It was to celebrate the resurrection of Christ. They did not just celebrate the resurrection in an annual Easter observance. They celebrated it in their Lord’s Day worship meetings every Sunday.

Colossians 2:16-17 says: “Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.” This is God’s word to every person who defines his relationship to God in terms of strict diets or special days. Stop chasing shadows. Embrace the reality. Trust in Jesus. Christ is our Sabbath-rest. Hebrews 4:9-10 says: “So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.” Did you get that? True rest comes through saving-faith in and personal devotion to Jesus Christ. In Mathew 11:28-30, Jesus says: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Jesus is our rest.

The Sabbath was one of the greatest points of tension between Jesus and the Jewish religious establishment. By the time of Jesus, Sabbath-keeping had been entangled with many restrictive rules that made the fulfillment of the fourth commandment hopeless for most Jews. It is said that there were some 1521 rabbinical rules that many religious leaders could not faithfully keep. In what I believe was a sincere attempt to keep this commandment, the religious establishment built “fence laws” around the Sabbath. And these applications were eventually given the same authority as the commandment itself, so if one broke the rules of the establishment he was viewed as a Sabbath breaker. That was one of the religious leaders’ charges against Jesus himself. The Gospels record six incidents in which Jesus’ actions resulted in controversy over the Sabbath. Mark 2:27 records how he responded on one of those occasions. Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.”

III. THE PRACTICE OF THE SABBATH

The prescription of the Sabbath is controversial. However, the controversy must not as an excuse to neglect or reject the principle of the Sabbath. The confusion about the specific designation of this command does not free us from the reality that God commands that we make time for him. What is the practical application of this commandment for us today? Let me give you two ways we as Christians can honor the spirit of this fourth commandment.

A. PRIVATE DEVOTIONS

Psalm 118:24 says: “This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” This verse affirms a fundamental fact you can count on every day: God is in charge. God is in control. God is sovereign over every moment, event, and situation you will face today, tomorrow, and everyday. The Lord makes every day. And he reigns over all that he creates. Because God is in charge, you ought to rejoice and be glad every day. If you really believe that God the Father is good, faithful, and sovereign, you ought not to be miserable, frustrated, and hard to get along with. You ought to be grateful, joyful, and content. I am not saying that you have to like everything that is going on in your life. But you ought live with the confidence of Hebrews 13:8: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forevermore.” It is one thing to know the truth of the Lord’s unchanging goodness. But it is another thing to live it out. The question is how do you practice the presence of God on a daily basis? Let me answer that by recommending to you that you make it a priority to spend quality time with God in private devotions every day.

• Make time to offer thanksgiving to God everyday.
• Make time to read a portion of his holy word every day.
• Make time to bring your personal needs to God in prayer every day.
• Make time to pray for the needs of others every day.
• Make time to bless God every day.

I was a teenager preaching out of town. I was bored, lonely, and homesick. It was miserable. And I didn’t know what to do about it. I ended up turning on the TV. A football game was on. After watching the game for a few minutes, I saw something that I have never paid attention to before. The quarterback threw an interception. And when they showed him on the sideline after the series, he had a phone to his ear. And the commentators began to talk about the instructions he might be getting from the press box. And God used that to turn my room into a sanctuary. You see, the head football coach is on the sidelines. But the other key coaches are often up in the press box, where they can have a better vantage point on the whole field. When the series is over; players call up to the press box to get instructions about what they are doing wrong and what they are doing right. And every day God blesses you to go out on the field of life; call up your press box through scripture and prayer.

B. CORPORATE WORSHIP

Hebrews 10:24-25 says: “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” This passage emphasizes the fact that we need one another. And the mutual care that builds one another up requires that we regularly meet together for worship, prayer, service, fellowship, and instruction. In fact, we should disregard the profession of faith of any person who habitually neglects the corporate meetings of their local church. Our failure to submit to the wisdom of this text dishonors the Lord, stunts our growth, and hinders our mission.

Don’t use your family as an excuse to neglect corporate worship. “God understands,” people say. “Sunday is the only time I have to spend quality with my family.” Let me respond to that two ways. First, if you really want to spend quality time with your family, the best thing for you to do is bring your husband, wife, and children to worship God together. Shame on you if you think that staying in or hanging out with your family on Sunday is of more quality then bringing them to praise the Lord for who is he and thank the Lord for what he has done. Likewise, if Sunday is really the only time you have to spend with your family, you need to check your priorities. Shame of you if the Lord gives you six other days every week, and you cannot find any time in them to spend with your family. This also applies to extended family and friends. “God understands,” people say. “But I couldn’t come to church because I had guests at my house.” Let me remind you of something: God gave you what you have. So use your family as an excuse to miss corporate worship.

Do not use your work as an excuse to miss corporate worship. I know you are busy. I know you have a lot to do. I know that you have bills to pay. I know that you have places to go, things to do, and people to meet. But if your are too busy to come to worship the God who has been so good to you, you may too busy. J.C. PENNY said: If a man’s business requires so much of his time that he cannot attend the Sunday morning and evening services, and Wednesday night prayer meeting, then that man has more business than God intended him to have. Don’t use your work as an excuse to miss corporate worship.

A certain man took over the presidency of a large corporation. An aide told him that there was a very important meeting called for the next day at ten o’clock. He said, “I’m sorry. I won’t be able to be there.” The aide said, “But, sir, this is regarding a very important matter. It’s a crisis that must be dealt with.” But he just shook his head and said, “I’m sorry, but I have a previous appointment. I can’t make it.” His aide said, “Sir, “I’d really like to know what appointment means so much to you that you can’t break it for something as important as this.” The president smiled and explained, “I have an appointment with the Lord God Almighty tomorrow at ten-thirty, in his house, at his table, and I will be there.” This man’s name was James Garfield. And he went on to become the president of the United States.

Lastly, don’t use church as an excuse to miss corporate worship. I have pastor friends who extended the invitation to church membership by saying, “If you aren’t growing; why are you going?” I struggle with this statement because I am convinced that church-hopping weakens Christians and sheep-stealing weakens churches. But, I admit, that statement does make a good point. You ought not force yourself to go to any church where you are not being taught, edified, and challenged. It grieves me to hear that some person or family has left our church. But I recognize that the best thing some people can do for the development of their faith is to find another church.
• If you cannot receive the clear and faithful teaching of the word of God, you may need to find you another church.
• If you live so far away that the distance easily becomes a regular reason why you can’t make it, you may need to find you another church.
• If you do not respect the leadership of your church, you may need to find another church.
• If your heart is hardening so that you cannot worship freely, serve willingly, and fellowship sincerely, you may need to find you another church.

Before you run out and find another church, let me challenge you to examine yourself. The problem may be your unwillingness to submit, reach out, forgive, get involved, or consider others. But there is a right time, a right reason, and a right way to leave your church. And you ought to find a new household of faith before you allow yourself to use the church as an excuse to miss corporate worship. God is too good, time is too short, and life is too hard for you to keep going to a place where you are not growing. So don’t let the church keep you from coming to corporate worship. And don’t let the church keep you from worshiping when you come.

There was an old lady who shouted in church every week, not matter what. If the preach died or hit it out of the park, she shouted. If the choir was on it or missed it, she shouted. If the atmosphere of the worship was warm or cold, she shouted. Some people around her could understand how she praised the Lord like that every Sunday. And they asked her how is that you praise God like that every Sunday, no matter how good or bad the service is. She answered, “Well, when the preacher is good; I look at him and see Jesus, and I shout. But if he’s bad, I look around him to see Jesus, and I shout. If the choir is good, I look at them and see Jesus, and I shout. And if they’re bad, I look around them and see Jesus, and I shout.

JESUS IS ALL THE WORLD TO ME, MY LIFE, MY JOY, MY ALL
HE IS MY STRENGTH FROM DAY TO DAY, WITHOUT HIM I WOULD FALL
WHEN I AM SAD, TO HIM I GO, NO OTHER NAME CAN CHEER ME SO
WHEN I AM SAD HE MAKES ME GLAD, HE’S MY FRIEND

What It Means To Be A Saint

WHAT IT MEANS TO BE A SAINT
Philippians 4:20-23

There is much confusion about what it means to be a saint. Of course, sainthood is misunderstood among the unsaved, unchurched, and uninitiated in biblical truth. But many who claim the name of Jesus do not understand sainthood, either. If given an essay requiring a formal definition of the term “saint,” some of us would fail. But that’s not important. What is important is that some of us do not know the right answer to the simple question: “Are you a saint?” Would you say, “No. I am not a saint. I’m a Christian. I love Jesus. He is my Savior and Lord. But I wouldn’t dare call myself a saint.”? We would not call ourselves saints because we think saints are highly virtuous Christians – like the Apostles of Jesus or the New Testament writers or historic Christian figures. We do not get this view from the Bible. We have Roman Catholicism to thank for this confusion.

Roman Catholicism has a detailed process for conferring sainthood. First of all, you have to die before you become a saint in the Catholic Church. But sainthood makes the dead Christian a living, functioning member of the mystical body of Christ. When someone becomes a saint, the Catholic Church appoints a feast day, dedicates churches and altars and displays statues and pictures in his honor. They even venerate his relics and pray to him publicly. Sure, you have to go through the processes of beatification and canonization in order to become a saint. But if the pope includes you in the canon of saints, the judgments reached in this process are infallible. It is an unbeatable method for honoring virtuous and sacrificial Christian living, except for one small problem. It is not biblical.

I submit that there is more truth about sainthood in these closing verses of Philippians than in the entire Roman Catholic doctrine of sainthood. Paul does not define Christian sainthood in this passage. He assumes it, mentioning it twice in these final remarks to the church at Philippi. But these remarks tell us what it means to be a saint. Verse 21 says, “Greet every saint in Christ Jesus.” You don’t have to be a paradigm of virtue to be a saint. You don’t have to be a historic Christian figure to be a saint. And you don’t have to have supernatural or miraculous events associated with your life to be a saint. You are a saint if you are in Christ Jesus.

Consider the church at Corinth. They were divided over who was going to lead the church. One of the members was in an adulterous relationship with his stepmother. Members were taking one another to court over financial disputes. People were getting drunk during the Lord’s Supper. Prominent teachers were denying the resurrection from the dead. The church at Corinth was the most sinful and worldly church in the New Testament. Yet in 1 Corinthians 1:2, Paul addressed them by saying: “To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Every person who has trusted Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord is a saint. Saints are not good people. Saints are bad people who have by redeemed by a good God. That is what makes Christianity different from other religions. Christians are not just people who follow the teachings of Jesus. We are in him. No one would dare say that they are in Mohammed or Buddha or Confucius. But we are in Christ. And because we are in him, we are saints. Therefore, to be asked if you are a saint is to be asked, are you saved? And to understand what it means to be a saint is to understand what it means to be saved. So let’s walk through these final verses Philippians and consider the practical implications of Christian sainthood.

I. THE GOAL OF THE SAINTS

Philippians 4:20 is a doxology – a statement of praise in response to the revelation of God. I suppose Paul paused before writing this verse, contemplating all he had written in this letter, culminating with the promise of verse 19: “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” When Paul thought about the fact that God is ready, willing, and able to meet every need the Philippians had, he burst forth into praise. Verse 20 says: “To our God and Father be glory forever and ever.” This is the goal of the saints: THE GLORY OF GOD. Saints are not to be worshipped. They are worshipers. Saints are people who live with the glory of God as their highest priority.

What is the glory of God? The Bible speaks of the glory of God two ways. There is God’s INTRINSIC GLORY. In other words, God’s glory refers to the sum total of all his divine attributes. It is all that he intrinsically is. It is the weightiness of God’s character. It includes all the divine characteristics that are innately his and all the divine perfections that are inherently his – his holiness, righteousness, wrath, truth, love, grace, goodness, sovereignty, and power. “Glory is essential to the Godhead, as light is to the sun,” said THOMAS WATSON. “Glory is the sparkling of the deity.” God and his glory cannot be separated. It is who he is. The second aspect of God’s glory is called ASCRIBED GLORY. Intrinsic glory refers to the character of God. Ascribed glory is the response to the manifestation of his self-revelation to us. We cannot add to God’s intrinsic glory. But we can give him the glory he deserves through our worship, trust, and obedience. This is the goal of the saints.

Psalm 115:1 says, “Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness!”

1 Corinthians 10:31 says, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”

Ephesians 3:21 says, “To him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”

1 Timothy 1:17 says, “To the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.”

Revelation 4:11 says, “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.”

Louis XIV became King of France at age fourteen and ruled for seventy-two years. It was the longest reign in modern European history. Consumed with power, he called himself the “Great Monarch.” And declared, “I am the state!” But in 1715, Louis XIV abdicated his throne in death. The great cathedral was packed with mourners for his funeral. To dramatize his greatness, a single candle burned above his solid gold coffin. Thousands waited in hushed silence as they peered at the exquisite casket that held the mortal remains of their monarch. Bishop Massillon presided over this official act of state. When the service began, Massillon stunned the nation by bending down from the pulpit and snuffing out the candle that represented the king’s greatness. Then came four words from behind the open Bible: “Only God is great!’

To be a saint is to trust, confess, and live in a manner that affirms that only God is great. A.W. TOZER said: “God is looking for men in whose hands his glory is safe.” TOZER meant that God uses people who have a high view of him and are jealous for the honor of his holy name. God is searching for men and women who will lay down their glory before his throne and give him the glory he alone deserves. He is looking for those who are absorbed in his surpassing glory and who are jealous for his name, not theirs. Could that be why so little true ministry takes place in many churches? CHARLES SWINDOLL said, “We are often so caught up in our activities that we tent to worship our work, work at our play, and play at our worship.” Think about it. A rowboat in the sand is hard to move. But when the tide comes in, it’s easy. The church is like that. When genuine worship is absent from the church, she struggles to do her work. But when a tide of praise uplifts her heart, everything else goes better. Everything gets better when God is the subject and object of your praise – the infinite center of your life and the life of the church.

II. THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE SAINTS

I believe in the plenary inspiration of Scripture. I am convinced that there is nothing superfluous or unnecessary in Scripture. I agree with 2 Timothy 3:16: “All Scripture is breathed out by God.” And I read our text as an affirmation of the full, absolute, and complete inspiration of Scripture. Verses 21-22a record simple words of greetings. In the first sentence of verse 21, Paul sends his personal greetings to the saints at Philippi. In the second sentence of verse 21, the coworkers on Paul’s ministry team send their greetings. In the first clause of verse 22, all the saints in the church at Rome send their greetings. And in the closing clause of verse 22, the saints in Caesar’s house send their greetings. Just simple words of greeting. But this simple greeting is a powerful statement about the fellowship of the saints.

Look at the text again. Verse 21a says, “Greet every saint.” Note that Paul uses the personal term “every,” rather than the collective term “all.” That is not just a greeting. It is a statement about the unity and equality of the church. Whether Jew or Gentile, male or female, bond or free, they were all saints in Christ Jesus. So Paul honors them by addressing each one of them personally. Then verse 21b says, “The brothers who are with me greet you.” We know from Philippians 1:1 and 2:19-30 that the “brothers” included Timothy and Epaphroditus. Scholars tell us that this group probably included many of the people Paul mentioned by name in Romans 16:3-16. This group was made up of men and women of great stature within the church. But Paul does not give them any special titles. He does not even call their names. He just lumps them together as “the brothers.” Then verse 22a says, “All the saints greet you,” a reference to the general membership of the church at Rome. They had never met the saints in Philippi. But when they found out that what Paul was writing the Philippians, they said, “Please send them our regards, as well.”

These are not just mere greetings. These words are meant to remind us that the gospel does not make sense without the church that makes it make sense. Mark it down. It is not accidental or incidental that the New Testament does not teach how to follow Christ on your own. The assumption of scripture is that true faith in God is lived out in partnership with other believers.

The California Redwood Trees are some of the largest living organisms in the world. The redwoods are three hundred feet high. Some of them are forty feet around. Some of them have been there for 250 years. Because of the size and strength of the Redwoods, you would think they have deep roots. But not so. They have rather shallow roots. But their roots are intertwined. So when the wind blows and the storm rages, Redwoods Trees stand tall because they hold each other up.

In John 13:34-35, Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” How will the world know that we truly are the church of Jesus Christ?

• Not if we always agree with one another.
• Not if we solve every controversy.
• Not if we are unanimous in every vote.
• Note if we never make a doctrinal error.
• Not if we build great ministries.

They will know that we are disciples of Christ by our love for one another. To be a fully devoted follower of Jesus Christ is to be an active part of the communion of the saints. In fact, the Greek word for “saints” (hagios) is used some 229 times in the New Testament – more than any other term used to refer to Christians. Yet the New Testament only uses the singular form of the term here in verse 21. But when Paul says, “Greet every saint,” he was not doing so with our “I-have-Jesus-and-I-don’t-need-nobody-else” attitude. He used it to remind us that every person in the church matters to God. So every person in the church should matter to us. The communion of the saints is meant to remind us that God is in the people business.

III. THE JOY OF THE SAINTS

In verse 22a, Paul sends greetings to the church at Philippi from the church at Rome. But Paul ends the verse by sending greetings from a particular group within the church at Rome: Those in Caesar’s household. This reference to the saints in Caesar’s house highlights the joy of the saints. It is a twofold joy.

A. THE JOY OF BECOMING

This reference to Caesar’s household is most intriguing. Your mind is tempted to run riot when you think about it. Who exactly were the saints in Caesar’s house? Were they soldiers who had been assigned to the apostle Paul and had been saved through his ministry? Were they slaves or freedmen who worked in the palace? Were they officials in the Roman government? Or might this expression dare include members of the Emperor’s family?

We do not know. But do not let the wonderful possibilities cause you to miss the point. The point is not who these saints were but where they were: CAESAR’S HOUSEHOLD! That is the last place one would have expected to find Christians. Do you know who the Caesar was at the time of the text? NERO. Nero the unprincipled. Nero the jealous fiend who murdered his mother, wife, and son to protect his throne. Nero, the archenemy of the church and persecutor of Christians. After Nero died, a legend sprang up that he was not really dead, but had fled beyond the Euphrates and would one day return as the Anti-Christ. Centuries later, people name the sons Paul but name their dogs Nero. Yet Paul tells the Philippians that the good news of Jesus Christ had penetrated the walls of Nero’s own palace. That’s the joy of the saints.

Every Christ follower is called to Christian fellowship. But we cannot celebrate our bond in Christ and forget about those who are not a part of the communion of the saints. We are commissioned to make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

In Luke 15, God is pictured as a shepherd who goes temporarily insane when one of his sheep is lost. God is pictured as a housewife who has a panic-attack when she loses her wedding ring. And God is pictured as a lovesick father who spends his days watching and waiting for his runaway son to come back home. Jesus paints these unorthodox pictures of God to make a graphic point: Lost people matter to God! And if God matters to us, then whatever matters to God will matter to us. And we will be people who rejoice with God and the angels in heaven when lost people come home. I may be talking to someone who is concerned about a lost relative or friend. Don’t give up on them. I don’t care what they’re into. Never underestimate God’s power to change a person’s life.

• God is able to break any habit.
• God is able to demolish any stronghold.
• God is able to overthrow any enemy.
• God is able to penetrate any barrier.
• God is able to repair any breach.

That is what Jesus meant when he said in Matthew 16:18: “On this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” And that includes Caesar’s household!

B. THE JOY OF OVERCOMING

This reference to the saints in Caesar’s house is an object lesson that drives home the point of this letter. Throughout this letter, Paul addresses the internal and external threats to the saint’s devotion to Christ. Some of those threats were internal. Some were external. Yet Paul exhorts the church to live out the life of the teachings of the faith no matter what. As he closes, Paul says, ‘The members here in the church at Rome want me to let you know that they are thinking about you and praying for you, especially those members who are a part of Caesar’s household.” I do not know if Paul intended the strategic nature of that reference. But God did. God is saying to us that we can overcome anything that stands against our commitment to Jesus Christ. Here’s why: There were saints in Caesar’s household.

Let me ask you something.
• Do you need a favorable atmosphere in order to be loyal to Christ?
• Are you a moral chameleon, taking your color from the last environment you crawl across?
• Are you changing your surroundings or are your surroundings changing you?
• Do you create a moral fashion statement or do you merely adopt whatever happens to be in vogue at the moment?

You do not have to keep trying to run with the rabbits and hunt with the hounds at the same time. When things get rough, just remember those saints in Caesar’s house. Take heart. And press on. If they could manage, so can you. ISAAC WATTS asked:

MUST I BE CARRIED TO THE SKIES
ON FLOWERY BEDS OF EASE
WHILE OTHERS FOUGHT TO WIN THE PRIZE
AND SAILED ON BLOODY SEAS

No. You cannot get to heaven on flowery beds of ease. God has only had one child that lived without sin. Jesus. But God has no children who have lived without suffering, including Jesus. You cannot live for Jesus without facing some trouble. But you can live for Jesus, even when you are facing trouble. You don’t need to be in ideal circumstances in order to live out our faith. You can bloom right where you are planted.

IV. THE RESOURCE OF THE SAINTS

Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi ends in verse 23 with a benediction. A benediction is an announcement of God’s favor on his people. Paul affirms God’s blessings on his readers by saying, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.” In Paul’s final statement to the church in this letter, he entrusts them to the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. That was his pattern. The Apostle Paul wrote thirteen of the twenty-seven books of the New Testament. And in the closing remarks of each of those letters, Paul gives a benediction that affirms the presence and power of God’s grace. Paul closes his letters with a benediction for the same reason we end our services with a benediction: When the message is finished, the faith must be lived. James 1:22 says, “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” What you learn on Sunday does not mean a thing if we do not live it out on Monday. Biblical truth is not just to be learned. It is to be lived. So Paul closes this letter by commending the saints to Jesus Christ who will provide his grace to abide with them. That is the resource of the saints. We live out the life of the teachings of our faith through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.

You have been saved from sin by grace. And you are sustained after salvation by grace. Do not put artificial limits on the grace of God. The same grace that will one day get you into heaven will also keep you day-by-day until you get there.

• You need grace to trust wholeheartedly.
• You need grace to live obedient.
• You need grace to resist temptation.
• You need grace to love sacrificially.
• You need grace to serve faithfully.
• You need grace to endure hardship.
• You need grave to fight victoriously.

You need the grace of the Lord Jesus to be with you every step of the way. In 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 Paul says, “In order to keep me from becoming lifted up in pride, I was given a thorn in the flesh. It was like one of Satan’s henchmen beating up on me. I went to God in prayer about it three times. I asked the Lord to take the pain away. Deliver me. Heal me. Restore me. Perform a miracle. Take the pain away.” But the Lord said, “I will not take the thorn away. But my grace is sufficient for you. My power works best in weak people.” The Lord Jesus says the same thing to you today: “My grace is sufficient for you.”

‘TIS SO SWEET TO TRUST IN JESUS
JUST TO TAKE HIM AT HIS WORD
JUST TO REST UPON HIS PROMISE
JUST TO KNOW, “THUS SAITH THE LORD!”

I’M SO GLAD I LEARNED TO TRUST THEE
PRECIOUS JESUS, SAVIOR, FRIEND
AND I KNOW THAT THOU ARE WITH ME
WILL BE WITH ME TO THE END

JESUS, JESUS, HOW I TRUST HIM!
HOW I’VE PROVED HIM O’ER AND O’ER!
JESUS, JESUS, PRECIOUS JESUS!
O FOR GRACE TO TRUST HIM MORE!

Practicing the Presence of God

Philippians 4:7 is a promise of peace. It promises that God’s peace will guard the heart and mind of the believer who prays instead of worrying. Philippians 4:9 is also a promise of peace. It promises that the God of peace himself will be with the believer who lives out the teachings of our faith. The tension between these two promises is the burden of this message.

Both of these verses promise God’s peace. Verse 7 promises the peace of God. But verse 9 promises the God of peace. The difference is not mere semantics. The peace of God speaks of the resources of God. But the God of peace speaks of relationship with God. There is an important message in the progression of the text: Don’t settle for living on the resources of God. Sure, when worry, fear, and doubt attack, you can pray and God will give you peace. But don’t settle for that. Don’t settle for peace coming to rescue you will when you fall. Nurture your relationship with God so that you can live with the assurance that the God who gives peace is with you.

The Bible has much to say about the God of peace. For instance, Romans 16:20 says, “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.” 1 Thessalonians 5:23 says, “Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.” And Hebrews 13:20-21 says, “Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord, the great Shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever.” There are many people seek peace without God – who is the author of true peace. But that just cannot be done. To know peace, you must know God. I repeat: It is good to have the peace of God. But it is better to have the God of peace. It is good to live on the resources of God. But it is better to live on relationship with God. It is good to access the power of God when you are in trouble. But it is better to practice the presence of God on a day-to-day basis. The question is does one practice the presence of God? Philippians 4:8-9 teaches three principles that will help you live with assurance that God is with you.

I. FEED YOUR MIND WITH GODLY CONCEPTS.

Philippians 4:8 says, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever us pure, whatever us lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” If you are worried that I am going to use this text to fuss about the music, movies, magazines, and other media you enjoy, don’t worry. I am. But before I do, let me be clear about why I am fussing. I do not stand to defend so called “traditional family values.” And I am not trying to lay any legalistic guilt trip on you. The fact that you do not go to movies or that you only listen to Christian music does not prove that you are godly. Likewise, I do not embrace the position that views popular culture as the inevitable instrument of Satan. Media, like money, is morally neutral. It is either good or evil as it is slanted by the condition of the human heart.

Sure, I believe that we Christians must be more discriminate about the things we expose our minds to. But my concern is not political in the sense of the culture wars. It is political in terms of what it means to be citizens of the kingdom of heaven. The central issue is this: YOUR THOUGHT LIFE MATTERS TO GOD. Our relationship with God is not based on emotional, mystical, or sensual experiences. Instead, we are commanded to love God with our minds. Your emotions are untrustworthy. Your heart is deceitful. Your feelings are fickle. So the Bible constantly warns us about letting our natural desires govern our lives. And it challenges us to live according to what we know is right, because you cannot live right is your thinking is wrong. Romans 12:2 says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” You cannot practice the presence of God if your lifestyle is shaped by this world’s false value system. You must feed your mind with godly concepts.

A certain mother was peeling vegetables for a salad when her daughter, home from college, casually mentioned that she was going to a questionable movie that evening. The mother suddenly picked up a handful of garbage and threw it in the salad. “Mother!” screamed the shocked girl. “You’re putting garbage in the salad.” “I know,” replied the mother, “but I thought that if you don’t mind putting garbage in your mind, you certainly wouldn’t mind a little in your stomach too!”

This is the sad indictment of our contemporary culture. We have fit bodies, but fat minds – even within the church. Physically, you are what you eat. But spiritually, you are what you think. As a man thinks in his heart, so is he. You cannot be grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ if you live on a mental diet of suggestive music, R-rated moves, and trashy talk shows. When you fill your mind with worldly garbage, you poison yourself and lose your appetite for the spiritual nourishment that will help you practice the presence of God. So Philippians 4:8 gives a spiritual MRI of what a Christ-follower’s mind should reflect: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” The term “think” means to calculate, like a workman who takes careful measurements before he begins building. Grammatically, this verb is a present imperative, which means that the text commands us to constantly examine the things we expose our minds to by asking the questions:

• Is it true?
• Is it honorable?
• Is it just?
• Is it pure?
• Is it lovely?
• Is it commendable?
• Is it excellent?
• Is it praiseworthy?

You may ask, “Do you really expect us to run everything we see, hear, and read through the grid given in this verse?” Yes and no. Sure, you ought memorize this verse and hide it in your heart. But I am not going to go through a word-by-word explanation of each of key terms in this verse, because I do not want you to miss the point by getting lost in the details. I want you to heed the call of this verse, not analyze the particulars of it. I think Paul himself would agree with that. I believe he intended this list to be representative, not exhaustive. That is why after giving his list of “whatever” things, he summarizes all he has said and could say with the all-encompassing statement: “if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise.” You don’t have to memorize and constantly rehearse these eight terms in order to practice the presence of God. If it will make you feel better, I’ll take all eight terms and replace them with just one – one name. JESUS. This verse has been called the briefest biography of Jesus Christ in scripture. I agree. Jesus Christ himself is the incarnation of truth, honor, justice, purity, and loveliness. There is no better model than Christ. So heed the exhortation of Philippians 2:5 – “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.” Set your mind on the things of Christ.”

Notice one more thing about this Christian perspective on mental health. The emphasis on the thought life here is offensive, not defensive. This verse does not condemn wrong thinking. It does not protest against sex and violence in the media. Negative thinking is never mentioned. Instead, the verse emphasizes the importance of right thinking. That is not accidental. It is an intentional process for renewing the mind called THE PRINCIPLE OF REPLACEMENT. The reason why some of us cannot break free from sinful, harmful, or negative thought patterns is because we are trying to do it through resistance, not replacement. The church’s first response to sin is always to say, “Stop it.” But simply condemning sin as wrong does not help bring deliverance. Most of us who are doing wrong already know we are doing wrong. And most of us who are doing wrong have tried to stop. But our personal reformation efforts have failed. Why?

In Matthew 12:43-45, Jesus tells of an unclean spirit that had left a heart he had made home. Then the house was totally restored, refurbished, and redecorated. When the demon returned, he found it looking like new. But it was still empty. So he got seven worse demons and they reclaimed the house. And Jesus said that the last state of the man was worse than the first. The point is that religious reformation does not bring about spiritual transformation. Just joining the church will not make you a better person if the unclean spirit still has the key to your heart. You cannot change if you allow ungodly thoughts to be at home in your heart and minds. You need a strong man on the inside. You need to expel ungodly thoughts and attitude. Moreover, you need to make Jesus the landlord of your thought life. You need the word of God to dwell in you richly. You need to walk in the Spirit that you will not fulfill the lusts of the flesh. When Jesus is Lord of your thought life, you will experience the irresistible power of a new affection. That’s the principle of replacement. Colossians 3:1-2 says, “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.”

II. FOCUS YOUR MIND ON GODLY COMPANIONS.

Philippians 4:8-9 records two commands. Verse 8 commands us to think right. Verse 9 commands us to do right. The main idea of verse 9 is found in the command to “practice these things.” But before we get to this command, I want us to consider its premise. It is in the opening clause of verse 9 where, before Paul tells them to do what they know, he reminds them how they know what to do: “What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me.” In verse 8, Paul points the church to the spiritual meditations that leads to the God of peace. But in verse 9, he points the church to the incarnational models that lead to the God of peace. Both are necessary for practicing the presence of God.

In Philippians 1:1, Paul addresses the intended recipients of this letter: “To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi.” This is the tension of the Christian life. Paul calls the church “saints in Christ Jesus.” But they are saints “who are at Philippi.” Christians are called to be saints. But being a saint is not about retreating to some secluded monastery, surrounding yourself with classic Christian literature, and spending all day in silence as you think great thoughts about God. Rather, our sainthood must be fleshed out in the real world. In Philippi. In Jacksonville. At home or work or school. We are called to be saints right where we are. We are called to practice the presence of God right where we are. To do this we must be connected to godly people who are intentionally, constantly, and obviously growing in Christlikeness. Mark it down. You cannot practice the presence of God if you allow yourself to be influence by people who pull you away from God, rather than leading you closer to him.

Psalm 1:1 says, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, not sits in the seat of scoffers.” Proverbs 13:20 says, “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer.” 1 Corinthians 15:33 says, “Do not be deceived: Band company ruins good morals.” To practice the presence of God, you need to focus your mind on godly companions. You must forget and forsake friendships, associations, and romances that hinder your devotion to God. It may be hard. But you have got to do it. Any person who helps you sin against God is not your real friend. Any romantic relationship that causes you to disobey God is not God’s will for you. Any business association that causes you to hurt your witness will only lead God to curse your blessing. You need godly companions who talk the talk and walk the walk.

A. GODLY COMPANIONS ARE PEOPLE WHO TALK THE TALK.

In verse 9, Paul says the church learned and received from him. These two terms refer to apostle’s formal, public, and official teaching ministry. Paul was a herald of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. He taught them what it means to follow the one who died on the cross to be our Savior and rose from the dead to be our Lord. And you, too, we need people in your life who will teach you the truth of God’s word. You need to be in a Bible-teaching and biblically functioning church. You need to be in corporate worship on the Lord’s Day to hear the exposition of God word. You need to be in a Bible study fellowship group to learn scripture through instruction and discussion. And you need to build personal relationships with people who are serious about studying, obeying, and sharing the word of God. You need to be under the teaching of God’s word within an organized authority structure of a local church that will hold you accountable.

I used to think that my job as a preacher was just to give you the facts and let you make up your own mind – a kind of “We report. You decide.” philosophy of ministry. I know better now. So let me warn you: I do not preach and teach to merely inform. I preach and teach to persuade. I know that you are smart and educated. You can think rationally and logically. That is why I make sure that I do not stand here unprepared. I respect your ability to think. But I really do not give you credit for being able to make up your own mind. I know this may sound harsh, but it’s true. Until someone indoctrinates you, you do not have much of a mind to make up. Don’t be offended. Just think with me for a moment.

• How do you know that the earth orbits around the sun? Indoctrination.
• How do you know that 2+2=4? Indoctrination.
• How do you know that the sky is blue? Indoctrination.

You don’t know anything by inherent knowledge. Every thing we know, we are taught in some form or another. But when it comes to the things of God, we assume that we can make up our own minds about God without help or interference. But that is just not true. We need to be hooked up with those from whom we can learn and receive the truth. 1 Timothy 3:15 calls the church as “a pillar and buttress of the truth.” When the pillars fall and the foundations cave in, the building will not stand. Likewise, truth cannot stand in your life without the church. The gospel does not make sense with the church that makes it make sense. You need godly companions who talk the talk.

B. GODLY COMPANIONS ARE PEOPLE WHO WALK THE WALK.

Notice the second set of verbs Paul uses in verse 9. He says the church had heard and seen some things in him. They learned from Paul in the formal settings of teaching and preaching. But they also learned from Paul by just watching what he did and listening to what he said during informal moments. He talked the talk. But he also walked the walk. May the Lord deliver us from people who are just spiritual on Sunday mornings! You do not need those kinds of people in your life. They will not help you practice the presence of God. They will only teach you how to be a hypocrite. You need to be hooked up with people who live out the teachings of their faith on a day-to-day basis.

Let me get in your business for a minute.
• Who are the people in your life who talk about Jesus even when they are not in church?
• Who are the people in your life who you can call if you need someone to pray for you?
• Who are the people in your life who model sacrificial, humble, and joyful Christian service for you?

A church member told his pastor, “We have some neighbors who believe a false gospel. Do you have any literature I can give them?” The pastor opened answered by reading 2 Corinthians 3:2 to him. In the KJV, it says: “You are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read of all men.” His point was that the good literature is not a substitute for your own life. The most powerful weapon against the enemy is not a stirring sermon or a powerful book. It is the godly lives of believers. If you let people see you walk your talk, it will open opportunities to share the gospel with them.

YOU ARE WRITING A GOSPEL, A CHAPTER A DAY
BY THE DEEDS THAT YOU DO AND THE WORDS THAT YOU SAY
MEN READ WHAT YOU WRITE, WHETHER FAITHLESS OR TRUE
SAY, WHAT IS THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO YOU?

III. FORTIFY YOUR MIND THROUGH GODLY CONDUCT.

Notice verse 9 again: “What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me – practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” Verse 8 stresses the importance of meditating on godly principles. But verse 9 stresses the importance of the application of godly principles. After emphasizing how vital it is to think right, Paul then lets us know that right thinking is not enough to make us sensitive to the presence of God. Learning and receiving and hearing and seeing are not enough. In order to practice the presence of God, you must fortify your mind with godly conduct. OSWALD CHAMBERS wisely said, “The best measure of the spiritual life is not its ecstasies, but its obedience.” You must do what you know is right.

I am burdened by the crisis of biblical illiteracy among Christians. I can intimately identify with the grief expressed in Hosea 4:6 “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.” But the longer I pastor, the more convinced I am that biblical illiteracy is not the church’s biggest problem. Our biggest problem is indifference, not illiteracy. There are many people in the church who do not know what is right to do. But there are many more of us who do not do what we know is right. And if God is grieved by those who do not know what pleases him; how much more is God grieved by those of us who will not do what we know is pleasing to God. To practice the presence of God, you must adopt a personal covenant of obedience that says: “If it’s God will, I will.”

TRUST AND OBEY
FOR THERE’S NO OTHER WAY
TO BE HAPPY IN JESUS
THAN TO TRUST AND OBEY

Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things now seen.” This verse is good news. But it is not what we really want to hear. We want faith to guarantee that what we desire will come to pass. But faith is not certainty. It is trust. The assurance of things hoped for is not itself the things hoped for. Batter in the bowl is the substance of hoped-for cake. But is not cake. Likewise, the conviction of things not seen does not guarantee what the specific outcome of your circumstances is going to be. Faith does not guarantee that your desires will come to pass. Faith is trusting that God is able and willing to give you the desires of your heart, while conceding that God has the sovereign right to do what he wants to do. And that whatever God’s will is always right. “Faith,” writes PHIL YANCEY, “is trusting in advance, what can only be proven in reverse.” That can be frustrating. But if you trust God enough to do what he says, The God of peace will be with you. Faith honors God. So God honors faith. God honors those who honor him by taking him at his word. Things may not turn out the way you want them to. But the God of peace will be with you. James 1:25 says, “But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.”

Let me close by saying that the assurance of God’s favor is not based on a supernatural experience. It is not based on your ability to follow some blessing plan. And it is not based on some preacher laying his hand on you. If you want to know that the God of peace is with you, just do what he says. If you put God’s word into practice, he will make his presence known to you – even if everything around you seems to be going wrong.

That’s what happened in Luke 5:1-11. Simon Peter was a skilled fisherman. But one night he could not catch anything. When morning dawned, his nets were empty. But the Lord Jesus borrowed his boat and made it his pulpit. And when the Lord finished teaching, he told Simon to go out into the deep waters, drop his nets again, and get ready for a big catch of fish. Simon responded, “Lord, we have been fishing all night long and caught nothing. Nevertheless, at your word, we will let down our nets again.” When Simon obeyed, they caught so many fish that their nets broke and their ships began to sink. If you want the God of peace to be with you, you must learn how to say, “Nevertheless, at your word…”

STANDING ON THE PROMISES OF CHRIST MY KING
THROUGH ETERNAL AGES LET HIS PRAISES RING
GLORY IN THE HIGHEST, I WILL SHOUT AND SING
STANDING ON THE PROMISES OF GOD

STANDING ON THE PROMISES THAT CANNOT FAIL
WHEN THE HOWLING STORMS OF DOUBT AND FEAR ASSAIL
BY THE LIVING WORD OF GOD, I WILL PREVAIL
STANDING ON THE PROMISES OF GOD

The Good News of the Incarnation

Dad called a family meeting and proclaimed, “Christmas is going to be different this year.” He challenged them to be more disciplined in their time management during the busy season and to curtail excessive spending on gifts. He talked about having a more congenial atmosphere in their home and better relationships with visiting relatives. And he brought his speech to a climax with a final rally cry, “Let’s make this the best Christmas ever!” Then he asked, “Any question?” His second-grade son raised his hand and said “Dad, I don’t see how we could ever improve on the first Christmas?”

That little boy’s complaint is the burden of this sermon.
• How can you improve on the first Christmas, when a teenaged virgin gave birth to the infant-God?
• How can you improve on the first Christmas, when a star led the Magi from the East to worship the baby Christ?
• How can you improve on the first Christmas, when King Herod went into an infanticidal rage upon hearing of one who was born King of the Jews?
• How can you improve on the first Christmas, when an angel of the Lord proclaimed to a group of lowly shepherds: “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”
• How can you improve on the first Christmas, when an angelic choir sang: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

No matter how special the gifts you receive or how good the food you enjoy or how warm the fellowship you experience, your celebration of Christmas today can never measure up to that day when Joseph’s virgin betrothed wife gave birth to the Son of God. In fact, your celebration will ultimately be meaningless if it does not flow from your understanding of, faith in, and gratitude for what happened on that first Christmas Day. If you do not acknowledge, believe, and reflect upon the true meaning of Christmas, you will miss the beauty of this day in the clutter of trees, gifts, parties, food, and eggnog. The good news of Christmas is essentially and inextricably tied to the Incarnation of the Lord Jesus Christ. And the Incarnation is succinctly explained in the creedal statement of Galatians 4:4-5 – “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” These two verses teach four aspects of the good news of the Incarnation.

I. THE TIMING OF THE INCARNATION IS GOOD NEWS

The first promise of the coming of Jesus is recorded in the Genesis 3:15. Addressing the Serpent who deceived Eve, God said, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heal.” Centuries later, in Genesis 12:1-3, God promised Abraham that he would have a son through which all the earth would be blessed. Several generations later the promise of the coming Savior was given in the words of Genesis 49:10: “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until tribute comes to him; and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.” In 2 Samuel 7:12-16, God promised David that one day he would have a son on his throne whose reign would be everlasting. And in Daniel 9:24-27, the prophet was given insight into the exact time frame when Christ would come to earth.

The Jews knew these prophecies. And even though they may not have fully understood them, they understood enough to have a deep desire and great expectations for the imminent advent of the Messiah-King. When the Old Testament ends the promise is not fulfilled, even though it is repeated many times. In fact, between the end of the Old Testament in Malachi and the beginning of the New Testament in Matthew, God stopped talking. And when the ministry of John the Baptist began, there had not been a prophetic voice for over four hundred years. When Jesus came on the scene, the Jews – who were under Roman occupation – were desperate for the arrival of the Messiah. It seemed as if God was sitting on his hands, dragging his feet, and wasting time. But that was just from the limited viewpoint of earthbound creatures. Galatians 4:4 declares the truth about the timing of the Incarnation: “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son.”

The Incarnation of Jesus took place according to the sovereign schedule, providential orchestration, and perfect timing of God. Christ was born in the fullness of the time. Admittedly, we do not and cannot know for certain that Jesus was actually born on December 25. But even though we may not know the exact date of Christ’s birth, his coming into the world was so significant that it split history into B.C. and A.D. The life of Christ is the hinge of history. Jesus is the blending of deity and humanity. He is the intersection of earth and heaven. And he is the meeting pace of time and eternity. And the Bible affirms that he invaded history in the fullness of the time, at the right time, at the appointed time.

• It was a time of prophetic fulfillment.
• It was a time of religious fervor.
• It was a time of international peace.
• It was a time of moral decline.
• It was a time of cultural harmony.

In the fullness of time, God sent his Son into the world. The Incarnation was no last minute solution for sin. It was not a hastily thrown together rescue mission. It was not too early or too late. It was the fullness of the time. The good news proclaimed in the Incarnation is that God’s timing is perfect. Because God is God, there are no such things as accidents. Nothing just happens. Everything happens according to God’s sovereign will, schedule, and timetable. And God’s timing is perfect. He is never late and he is never early. He is always right on time. God proved that ultimately by sending his Son in the fullness of the time.

Jesus will come again in the fullness of time. The Old Testament believers were waiting for the Messiah to come. As New Testament believers, we are waiting for the Messiah to come again. Yet the church still wrestles with the same doubts, questions, and impatience. When will the Lord come again? Why has the Lord come again yet to rapture the church, consummate the kingdom, and judge the world? Is there a reason why the coming of the Lord is being delayed? 2 Peter 3:9 answered, “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” God’s timing is perfect. And Jesus will come again in the fullness of time. But the Lord is delaying because he is being patient toward those who have not repented of their sins and put their faith in Jesus Christ. In his mercy, the Lord is giving the lost time to defect from the life of sin and to run to the cross to put their faith in blood and righteousness of Jesus Christ.

WHEN HE SHALL COME WITH TRUMPET SOUND
OH MAY I THEN IN HIM BE FOUND
DRESSED IN HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS ALONE
FAULTLESS TO STAND BEFORE THRONE

II. THE SOURCE OF THE INCARNATION IS GOOD NEWS

Verse 4 says. “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son.” This clause, “God sent forth his Son,” tells us how much the Incarnation cost God. The term sent forth means to send forth or to send away. It was used to refer to sending an army off to war, commissioning a person for some duty, or even banishing someone. Paul uses it here to speak of the source of Incarnation: God sent forth his Son. This statement assumes the Preexistence of Christ. Christ is co-equal and co-eternal with God the Father. And when a Savior was needed to be man’s substitute, God sent his own Son. When a Savior was needed, God gave us his very best. When Adam and Eve rebelled against the government of God, and humanity needed a Savior to restore us to right relationship with God, God did not send Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Joshua, David, Solomon, Isaiah, or Jeremiah. God did not even send an angel. God sent forth his Son.

Matthew 21:33-46 Jesus tells of a landowner who planted a fully equipped vineyard a leased it to tenants. When the season of fruit came, he sent his servants to get his fruit. But the tenants beat one, killed another, and stoned another. The master of the house sent more servants. They did the same to them. Finally, he sent his son, thinking, “They will respect my son.” But when the tenants saw the son, they plotted, “This is the heir. Let’s kill him and have his inheritance.” And they killed his son outside of the vineyard. Then Jesus asked, “What do you think the owner of the vineyard is going to do to the tenants when he comes? Everyone knew the answer. Then Jesus quoted scripture to back up his parable: “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes.”

When the religious leaders heard these things, they perceived he was talking about them. They would have arrested him on the spot, but they feared the crowds. At least the religious leaders understood the theological implications of Jesus’ life and ministry. If Jesus claimed to be a wise rabbi, a mighty prophet, a miracle worker, a social reformer, or a revolutionary leader, they would have known how to deal with him. But Jesus claimed that he was the Son of God and that God will make sure that everyone answers for how they treat his Son. This is still a scandalous idea. Some ask, “Why did God sent his Son? Did Jesus have to die on the cross? Couldn’t he just declare us forgiven?” The answer is no. To ask this reveals that you do not understand how sinful your sin is to God. Our sin offends the holiness of God and Jesus is the only who is able to satisfy God’s righteous demands. So God sent forth his Son to pay the penalty for our sins. 1 John 4:9-10 says, “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”

III. THE MANNER OF THE INCARNATION IS GOOD NEWS

A little girl heard sounds in the dark and became afraid. So she rushed into her parent’s bedroom, begging to sleep with them. They refused. Instead, they prayed with her and sent her back to bed, instructing her to remember that God would be with her. She went back to her room and tried to sleep. But it didn’t work. So she went back to her parent’s room, only to be sent away again with the reminder that God was with her. So she went again to her room and tried to sleep. And, again, it didn’t work. So she made her way to her parent’s room one more time. They were less patient with her this time. “Didn’t we pray with you?” they scolded. “Didn’t we tell you that God was with you? What’s the problem?” Her reply was classic: “God doesn’t have any skin on him!”

Before the Incarnation, every method God used to declare his love for humanity was misunderstood. God didn’t have any skin. So his expressions of love – like the Law of Moses, for instance – were viewed as acts of divine tyranny. But in the Incarnation, God perfectly declared his love for us. He spoke in a language that we could understand. He did so by becoming one of us. In fact, that is what the term Incarnation means: “in the flesh.” God took on human form. Paul put it this way: “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law.” Think about that. The statement, “God sent forth his Son,” can only be said of one person – the Lord Jesus Christ. But the phrase “born of woman” can be said of every one of us. So much so that it is ridiculous for Paul to point out that Christ was born of woman if he was no more than a mere man. But the fact is that on Christmas the eternal Son – the second Person of the undivided Trinity became human in the Person of Jesus Christ.

• God became a fetus.
• The creator of life was created.
• He who is larger than the universe became an embryo.
• The omnipotent one made himself breakable.
• He who had been spirit became pierceable.
• The ancient of days became of the infant of days.
• He who sustains the world with a word chose to be dependent upon the nourishment of a young girl.

The question of the ages is how can one get to know God personally? In Jesus’ day, the answer was shockingly simple: You know him the same you get to know anybody else. You walk up, shake his hand, introduce yourself, and ask how he’s doing. Matthew 1:23 says, “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call his name ‘Immanuel,’ which is translated, ‘God with us.’” Jesus is the God-Man – fully divine and fully human at the same time. He was born. He grew. He lived. He ate. He drank. He slept. He cried. He even died. The God who fills the universe imploded and became a baby who, like every other infant who ever lived, had to learn how to walk and talk and dress himself. In the Incarnation, God’s Son deliberately handicapped himself, exchanging omniscience for a brain that learned Aramaic, omniscience for two legs and an occasional donkey, and omnipotence for arms strong enough to saw wood but too weak for self-defense. God became a human being.

IV. THE PURPOSE OF THE INCARNATION IS GOOD NEWS

Salvation comes through faith in the Person and Work of Jesus Christ. So the Incarnation is essential to salvation, because it affirms the Person of Christ – who he is. But we must not forget that the hope of salvation rests in both the Person and Work of Christ. The Incarnation alone does not save. According to the Bible, Calvary – not Bethlehem – is the center of Christianity. MARTIN LUTHER hit the nail on the head when he described Christianity theology as “THEOLOGIA CRUXIS” (a theology of the cross). Yes, we praise God for the virgin birth, irreproachable life, matchless teachings, astonishing miracles, and moral example of Jesus. But all of these wonderful things would have availed nothing for our salvation had they not found their consummation in his perfect atoning sacrifice on the cross. So why verse 4 proclaims the timing, sacrifice, and manner of the Incarnation, verse 5 proclaims the purpose of it.

A. THE REDEMPTION FROM SIN

Verse 5 says that God sent forth his son in the fullness of time “to redeem those who were under the law.” The word redeem means to release by paying a ransom price. It is a commercial term that was used of buying slaves or purchasing the freedom of slaves in the marketplace. That is the picture of our sinful condition. In John 8:34 Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.” Sin is bondage from which we cannot get free through our own goodness, wisdom, strength, merit, or resources. Without a Redeemer, the bondage of sin will separate us from God for both time and eternity. In John 8:35-36, Jesus declares, “The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” The only way you can avoid the holy wrath of eternal judgment is if the Son sets you free. That is the purpose of the Incarnation. Jesus was born with an assignment from the Father to die on the cross, where his blood would be the ransom that sets us free from the bondage of sin and its consequences.

• If information was our greatest need, God would have sent an educator.
• If technology was our greatest need, God would have sent us a scientist.
• If money was our greatest need, God would have sent an economist.
• If pleasure was our greatest need, God would have sent an entertainer.
• But our greatest need was salvation, so God sent us a Redeemer.

Matthew 20:28 says, “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Ephesians 1:7 says, “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace.” Colossians 1:13-14 says, “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” Hebrews 9:12 says, “He entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.” And 1 Peter 1:18-19 says, “You were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver and gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.” The blood of Jesus was the purchase price for our redemption from sin.

• He stood before God with all our sin on him that we through faith might stand before God with none of our sin on us.
• He who was righteous was judged as unrighteous that we who are unrighteous should be judged before God as righteous.
• He was made for us all that God must judge and by faith we are made in him all that God cannot judge.
• At Calvary, Jesus paid a debt he did not know for those who owed a debt we could not pay.
• On that cross, God treated Jesus as if he had committed all of our ss so that he could treat us as if we had practiced all of the righteousness of Christ.

B. THE ADOPTION AS SONS

The doctrine of redemption is three-dimensional. First of all, we are redeemed from something (the bondage of sin and its consequences). We are redeemed by something (the blood and righteousness of Christ). But we are also redeemed unto something (the adoption as sons). Verse 5 says that the purpose of the Incarnation is “to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” A man would redeem a slave for only one of two reasons: to set him free or to personally enslave him. But a man would not redeem a slave, take him home, and make him the heir of his estate. But that is the good news of the Incarnation. God dispatched his Son to the marketplace of sin in order to set us free from the bondage of sin. But the grace and mercy of God did not stop there. In Christ, God redeems us and adopts us. The moment you are saved, God takes you from slavery to sonship. He adopts you as his own.

John 1:11-12 says, “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become the children of God.” Romans 8:15 says, “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba, Father!’” And Ephesians 1:5-6 says, “He predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.”

Do not confuse adoption with regeneration. Regeneration is the act of the Holy Spirit taking a heart that is dead in trespasses and sins and making it alive in Christ. It is the radical change God makes in us so that we can know, acknowledge, and believe the gospel. But adoption speaks of the resulting relationship with God enjoyed by those who receive regeneration. We are adopted into God’s family. And we are adopted as sons. Do not let the desire for inclusive gender language cause you to miss the blessing of this text. Galatians 4:1-3 says: “I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything, but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father. In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world.” In spite of sin, God has always had children in this world. But they were under bondage. So how would God move his children from where they are to where he wants them to be? Galatians 4:4-5 answers: “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” God does not want you to be a slave. So in redemption, he doesn’t just make you his child. He puts you in the place of a son. He makes you an heir. He gives you access to riches, rule, and righteousness.

BLESSED ASSURANCE, JESUS IS MINE
OH WHAT A FORFEIT OF GLORY DIVINE
HEIR OF SALVATION, PURCHASE OF GOD
BORN OF HIS SPIRIT, WASHED IN HIS BLOOD

In closing, let me point out one more word in the text. It is the word “receive.” We receive the adoption as sons. We are not forgiven because we deserve it. We are not saved because we work for it. And we are not redeemed because we earned it. Independent of any good works we do, God adopts us into his family through the agency of Jesus Christ and his perfect atoning sacrifice on the cross. The good news of the Incarnation is that in order to be saved all we have to do is receive by faith what God has doe for us through his Son – Jesus Christ. Only a phony god would be pleased with our self-righteousness. Only a temperamental god would be satisfied with sacrifices. Only a puny god would be impressed with our pain. Only a heartless god would sell salvation to the highest bidder. And only a holy, sovereign, and gracious God would step out of eternity into time and do for us what we could never do for ourselves. That is what God did for us.

The evangelist, BILLY SUNDAY, was helping workers take down the tent after a meeting, when a young man came running in. Out of breath, the young man said, “I wanted to come to the revival, but I missed the meeting. But please tell me, what must I do to be saved?” Sunday responded, “You’re too late,” and kept taking down the tent. The young man responded, “Just because I missed the meeting, you’re not going to tell me how to be saved?” Sunday answered, “No, you’re too to do anything to be saved, because Jesus did it all almost two thousand years ago. Now you must receive the finished work of Jesus Christ.” What good news! Because of what Jesus did on the cross, you do not have to do anything. God has offered salvation free of charge through the offering of his beloved Son. So do not try to earn his love. Just receive it.

God’s Answer For Your Anxiety

Philippians 4:1-9 is a call to Christian steadfastness. Verse 1 exhorts the church to “stand firm in the Lord.” The next eight verses teach practical steps that lead to the steadfastness of faith verse 1 calls for. Our text is a part of this inspired strategy for Christian stability. It begins with a command: “Do not be anxious about anything.” The term anxious means “to deeply care about something or someone.” It can refer to proper or legitimate concern. Paul uses it this way in Philippians 2:20 when he says of Timothy, “I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare.” It can also refer to sinful or undue concern. Jesus used the term this way in Luke 10:41, when he told Martha, “You are anxious and troubled about many things.” Our text uses the term in this latter sense. We are not to be carefree or unconcerned about the important things, issues, and people in our lives. But we should not worry about them. And legitimate concern turns into sinful anxiety when we allow our hearts and minds to be pulled into different directions by our circumstances.

Faith pulls in one direction. Doubt pulls in another direction. Hope pulls in one direction. Fear pulls us the opposite direction. Peace pulls is one direction. Confusion pulls in a different direction. And we are pulled apart with worry. Our word WORRY is derived from an Old English word that means, “to strangle.” Yes, worry is internal strangulation. Jesus affirms this in THE PARABLE OF THE SOWER when he speaks of seed being planted among thorns. Matthew 13:22 says, “This is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.” So our text says: “do not be anxious about anything.” The verb is in a grammatical emphasis that forbids an action that is already in progress. Literally, God is not saying, “Don’t worry.” He’s saying, “Stop worrying!” Am I talking to you? What are you worrying about? Is it your family? Your health? Your finances? Your job? Your future? Whatever it is, God says stop worrying. But he does not leave you with just a command to obey. He gives you an answer for your anxiety. Here it is: PRAY YOUR WORRIES AWAY!

• Don’t worry. Pray!
• Turn your worries into prayers.
• Take everything off of your worry list and put it on your prayer list.
• Whenever you start to worry, stop and pray.
• Give each worry – one by one – to God in prayer.

“I have a mountain of credit card debt,” one man told another. “I’ve lost my job, my car is being repossessed, and our house is in foreclosure. But I’m not worried about it.” “Not worried about it!” exclaimed his friend. “No. I’ve hired a professional worrier. He does all my worrying for me so I don’t have to think about it.” Playing along, the friend asked, “How much does your professional worrier charge?” “$50,000 a year,” replied the first man. “$50,000! Where are you going to get that kind of money?” “I don’t know,” came the reply. “That’s for him to worry about.”

In a real sense, we – as followers of Christ – have the services of a professional worrier. 1 Peter 5:7 says: “casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” Have you ever thought about that? GOD IS WORRIED ABOUT YOU!

• He’s worried about your sin – That’s why he sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to die on the cross for your sins.
• He’s worried about your sickness – That’s why he has declared himself to be “Jehovah-Roa,” the God that heals.
• He’s worried about the daily affairs of your life – That’s why he’s the Good Shepherd who leads us in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
• He’s worried about your spiritual growth – That’s why he has given the Holy Spirit and scripture to facilitate your development in Christlikeness.
• He’s worried about your future – That’s why he announced that he is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end.

God is worried about you. Of course, God doesn’t worry as we do – pacing the floor, scratching his head, and biting his fingernails. God is sovereign, holy, omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent. So God cannot have panic attacks. But he is worried about you in the sense that he his intimately aware of what your dealing with. He cares about your situation. And he is actively at work on your behalf. Jeremiah 29:11 puts it this way: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” If that is true, what in the world are you worrying about? Pray your troubles away. Let me show you how to do it.

I. REMEMBER THE PRIVILEGE OF PRAYER.

Verse 6 says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be known to God.” This verse succinctly states the privilege of prayer with two words: in everything. Feel the tension of the text. Don’t worry about anything. Pray about everything. Nothing is worth worrying about. Everything is worth praying about. Did you get that? Worry and prayer cannot coexist. Worry and prayer are two great opposing forces. BENGEL said, “Anxiety and prayer are more opposed to each other than fire and water.” So this verse teaches us that the way to be anxious for nothing is to be prayerful in everything. And the word everything literally means everything. There’s no fine print, qualifiers, loopholes, or exceptions. We are to come to God about everything. Hebrews 4:16 says, “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” God has an open door policy with those who trust Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord. You don’t have to be afraid. You don’t have to hold anything back. And you don’t have to keep your worries to yourself. Our heavenly Father is interested in every detail of our lives. He has flung wide the gates of his presence and says, “Come and tell me all about it.”

OH, WHAT PEACE WE OFTEN FORFEIT
OH, WHAT NEEDLESS PAIN WE BEAR
ALL BECAUSE WE DO NOT CARRY
EVERYTHING TO GOD IN PRAYER

Not some things. Certain things. Or spiritual things. Everything! Take everything to God in prayer. No request is too small, difficult, or inconsequential to God. We are to talk to the Lord about everything in our lives. Nothing should be left out. Here are two reasons why:

A. THERE IS NOTHING TOO BIG FOR GOD TO HANDLE!

A woman once asked G. CAMPBELL MORGAN, “Dr. Morgan, do you think we should pray about the little things in our lives?” He answered, “Madam, can you mention anything in our life that is big to God?” There is nothing too big for God to handle. Whatever it is, God can handle it! JOHN NEWTON said it well:

THOU ART COMING TO A KING
LARGE PETITIONS WITH THEE BRING
FOR HIS GRACE AND POWER ARE SUCH
NONE CAN EVER ASK TOO MUCH

Whatever it is, God can handle it. Jeremiah 32:17 says, “Ah, Lord God! It is you who have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and by your outstretched arm! Nothing is too hard for you.” Jeremiah 32:27 says, “Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh. Is anything too hard for me?” Luke 1:37 says, “For nothing will be impossible with God.” Luke 18:27 says, “What is impossible with men is possible with God.”

B. THERE IS NOTHING TOO SMALL FOR GOD TO CARE ABOUT!

The Lord is dynamically involved in the monumental decisions, problems, and issues of our lives. The Lord also gets down into the nuts and bolts of life. God is the one flung the sun, moon, and stars out into space. He is also the one who has numbered the hairs on your head. God is the one who owns all the silver and gold. He is also the one who monitors the falling of every two-bit sparrow. God is the one who parted the waters in creation. He is also the one who turned water into wine for a newlywed couple who didn’t order enough wine for the wedding reception. There is nothing too small for God to care about.

• God cares about the things that embarrass you.
• God cares about your appliances that keep breaking down.
• God cares about those lost keys that made you late.
• God cares about those extra few minutes of sleep you need in the morning.
• God cares about the things that you think are too silly to share with anybody else.

Let me bottom line this for you: WHATEVER IS GOING ON IN YOUR LIFE, IF IT MATTERS TO YOU, IT MATTERS TO GOD.

II. REHEARSE THE PRACTICE OF PRAYER.

A soldier was court-marshaled after his superiors found him apparently sleeping on his post. His defense was that he was not sleep. He was praying. Of course, the authorities didn’t buy that story. During the hearing, the prosecutor mockingly challenged him to pray right there in court. And he did. Right there, he passionately and confidently prayed to God. When he finished, the case was thrown out. It was concluded that he never would have been able to pray like that under pressure, if he hadn’t been practicing that kind of prayer before the pressure.

If you are going to be able to pray your worries away, you must learn how to practice the discipline of prayer before problems arise, pressures attack, and pain afflict you. The text teaches three ways to discipline your prayer life.

A. DISCIPLINED PRAYER INVOLVES TIME WITH GOD.

Verse 6 says: “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” The word prayer translates a Greek noun that is the broad, generic, all-encompassing word for prayer in the New Testament. It speaks of the act of addressing God. It is conversation and communion with God. It’s the prayer that enjoys the presence of God and honors him in worship. Paul uses it here to teach us that believing prayer involves time with God. When Paul says, “By prayer… let your requests be known to God,” he is saying that prayer should involve more than making requests to God. Prayer should be more than offering petitions. Prayers should be more than the presentation of your sanctified wish list. You should pray in order to spend time in personal, deliberate, and intimate communion with God – not just to get God to do something for you.

Daniel’s enemies were jealous of his promotion. So they plotted against him. But they soon found out that Daniel could not be bribed, tempted, or discredited. He was too devoted to God. So they determined that if they couldn’t get Daniel to break his devotion to God, they would set him up based on his devotion to God. They convinced King Darius to sign a decree prohibiting his subjects from praying to any God but him for the thirty days. But Daniel 6:10 reports, “When Daniel knew that the document had been sighed, he went to his house where he had windows in his upper chamber opened toward Jerusalem. He got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave hanks before his God, as he had done previously.” Don’t miss that last line. Daniel prayed, as was his custom. He did not start praying when he heard the decree was signed. He was already praying. So rather than worrying, he just kept doing what he had already been doing. He prayed! That may be why your prayers don’t work. Many of us are practical atheists. We don’t formally deny the existence of God. But we live as if he doesn’t exist. We forget God when life gets good.

• Our prayers become perfunctory.
• Our church attendance becomes sporadic.
• Our giving becomes a tip rather than a tithe.
• Our service becomes inconsistent.
• Our time in the word becomes nonexistent.

But when your money gets funny, your body gets sick, or your loved-ones start tripping, then you rush to God for strength, guidance, and comfort. But “crisis Christianity” doesn’t work. Galatians 6:7 says, “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.” You can’t plant sinful seeds and then quickly turn to God when you see that your harvest didn’t turn out the way you thought it would. I am not saying that God cannot hear emergency prayers. I am saying that prayer without commitment is presumption. Prayer is not some spiritual 9-1-1. You try that and you may get put on hold like 9-1-1. Prayer is like two lovers getting together. They really don’t have to go anywhere special; they just want to be together. And they don’t have to have anything special to talk about. But they stay on the phone because they don’t want to hang up. Pray should be like. Authentic prayer involves time with God.

B. DISCIPLINED PRAYER INVOLVES TRUST IN GOD.

Verse 6 says: “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” The word supplication refers to the act of seeking, entreaty or asking. The picture is that of an inferior bringing a petition to a superior. It is to pray with a sense of need. But supplication is not just about the act of taking your needs to God in prayer. It’s about the implication of that act. By taking your need to God in prayer, you are not informing God of something he does not know. God is omniscient. God knows everything known, unknown, and knowable. You cannot inform God of anything. By taking your needs to God in prayer, you are affirming that God is the one who is able to meet need. Supplication is a statement of trust in God. It is a declaration of dependence upon God. It’s the simple act confessing to God that you are going to trust God with your situation. Jesus taught this in Matthew 6:25-34. It is the section of THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT where Jesus directly addresses the issue of worry. His position on worry is clear and simple: Don’t do it. Don’t worry about what you will eat, drink, or wear. And don’t worry about tomorrow. GERALD MANN suggests that Jesus really doesn’t tell us not to worry, as much as he tells us to wait to worry.

• Worry when it will feed and clothe you.
• Worry when it will make you live longer or grow taller.
• Worry when you want to know how people who don’t God react to problems.
• Worry when you want to make tomorrow to be worse than it’s already going to be.

Otherwise, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:33). Mark it down: Worry is like sitting in a rocking chair: It gives you something to do, but it doesn’t get you anywhere. So just trust God.

WHEN THE WORLD FROM YOU WITHHOLD OF ITS SILVER AND ITS GOLD
AND YOU HAVE TO GET ALONG WITH MEAGER FARE
JUST REMEMBER, IN HIS WORD, HOW HE FEED THE LITTLE BIRD
TAKE YOU BURDEN TO THE LORD AND LEAVE IT THERE

…IF YOU TRUST AND NEVER DOUBT, HE WILL SURELY BRING YOU OUT
TAKE YOUR BURDEN TO THE LORD AND LEAVE IT THERE

C. AUTHENTIC PRAYER INVOLVES THANKSGIVING TO GOD.

One reason why many of us worry so much is because we are ungrateful people. We don’t thank God enough. And because we are often short on praise, we are short on peace. MARTIN LUTHER wisely asserted that if God was stingy, close-handed, and inconsistent in blessing us, we would be more grateful for every single thing he did. However, we respond to God’s extravagant grace with indifference. Consequently, we spend more time rehearsing what’s not going right in our lives, rather than rejoicing over the undeserved goodness of God. But I dare you to make thanksgiving a habit. Your worries would vanish. Your fears would subside.

Verse 6 says that we are to make our requests to God with thanksgiving. And note that Paul is not saying that when God answers your prayer, go back and thank him. On the contrary, the phrase with thanksgiving means that gratitude is to characterize the very act of prayer – not just the answer to it. When you make your requests – right then and there – thank God. Psalm 100:4 says, “Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name!” Colossians 4:2 says, “Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.” And 1 Thessalonians 5:18 says, “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

WHEN UPON LIFE’S BILLOWS YOU ARE TEMPEST TOSS
WHEN YOU ARE DISCOURAGED, THINKING ALL IS LOST
COUNT YOUR MANY BLESSINGS – NAME THEM ONE BY ONE
AND IT WILL SURPRISE YOU WHAT THE LORD HAS DONE

III. RECEIVE THE PROMISE OF PRAYER.

I have good news and bad news for you. I’ll give you the good news first. When you go to God in believing prayer, you can expect God to respond to your prayer. God hears. God knows. God cares. God answers. God responds when you pray. That’s the good news. The bad news is that he may not respond the way you want him to. Verse 7 records a beautiful promise that affirms God will respond when you pray. But it does not promise that God will change your circumstances. No healings. No supernatural debt cancellation. No promotion. No Mr. or Miss Right. No miracles. The verse does not promise DIVINE INTERVENTION for your circumstances. But it does promise DIVINE INSULATION for your heart and mind.
This is not to say that God is unable or unwilling to move in your circumstances. He is. But that’s not point here. The point is that God is more concerned about what’s on within you than he is about what’s going on around you. God is more concerned about what’s happening in you than he is what’s happening to you. So verse 7 makes a wonderful promise: “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Have things really changes? Not necessarily. You may still be in a war zone. The battle may still be raging. The enemy may still be advancing. But even though war is raging around you, something has happened within you. God has dispatched his peace to guard your heart and mind. That’s the promise of the text. In fact, that’s God’s promise throughout scripture. Isaiah 26:3 says, “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.” John 14:27 says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” And Colossians 3:15 says, “And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.”

In Daniel 6, King Darius issued a decree prohibiting his subjects from praying to anyone but him for 30 days. But that didn’t stop Daniel from going to his room and praying to the true God, as he had always done. And Daniel got the death penalty for it. Darius put him in a lion’s den and put a stone on the mouth of the den, so he couldn’t escape. And Daniel 6:18 says, “Then the king went to his palace and spent the night fasting; no diversions were brought to him, and sleep fled from him.” He was in the palace, but he couldn’t sleep. He was surrounded by luxuries, but he couldn’t sleep. He was protected by armed soldiers and trained guards, but he couldn’t sleep. He stayed up all night long. The next morning he rushed down to the lion’s den and called out to Daniel. To his surprise, Daniel answered. Daniel 6:22 says, “My God sent his angel and shut the lions’ mouths.” The king couldn’t sleep all night. But at the same time, God was keeping the lions quiet so that his child could rest in safety. That’s what the peace of God will do for you, if you take your worries to God in prayer.

A ship was wrecked in a furious storm and the only survivor was a little boy who was swept by the waves unto a rock. He sat there all night long, until he was spotted and rescued the next morning. “Did you tremble while you were on the rock during the night?” someone asked. “Yes,” said the boy. “I trembled all night. But the rock didn’t.

MY HOPE IS BUILT ON NOTHING LESS
THAN JESUS’ BLOOD AND RIGHTEOUSNESS
I DARE NOT TRUST THE SWEETEST FRAME
BUT WHOLLY LEAN ON JESUS’ NAME

ON CHRIST, THE SOLID ROCK, I STAND
ALL OTHER GROUND IS SINKING SAND