From God to us through Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit
Acts 2:33 / Romans 5:5 – the Holy Ghost is given by Christ, He comes through Christ, and He proceeds from the Father through the Son – John 15:26, 16:7, 13-15, and 20:22.
Applying the Power of the Cross to Everyday Life: Crucifying the Flesh
There is going to be a lot of material to cover here, and some build up to the main points is necessary, so please stay with it, your concentrated reading will pay off. Basically, what we are going to describe is how Satan shoots an arrow of offense, deception, perversion, or whatever, using the agency of another person, etc., and how and why God allows this. We are going to explore how God allows Satan to attack us, enflaming our flesh or by using the world, and how we can “die” to these attacks.
These arrows can only hurt us on the surface, not in our inner, spiritual man. This is actually for our good, because it allows an opportunity to crucify the flesh, and to have the life of God in its place. Haven’t you always wondered what people meant by, “take it to the Cross”, and “ crucify the flesh” and especially what it means and what it takes to be Christlike? Now you will be able to see one way of how this is accomplished by God, amen.
Grace and peace from God and the Lord Jesus Christ: these words are written for us by both Paul and Peter, and by countless others down through the history of the Christian movement. These were and are more than words of encouragement. The people who penned these words had gone through tremendous trials and had received grace and peace and now they were spreading it. How are we going to be able to do the same?
We must understand that while grace is free but it doesn’t always work on “automatic”, it is grace accessed by faith (Romans 5:2 / Ephesians 2:8-10): that is how we apply grace, by our faith. There is more than saving grace; there is standing and sanctifying grace, etc. We need grace for this life, not just grace to get us to the next one.
Peace isn’t the lack of conflict it is in the face of conflict. Jesus left us His peace but it is applied when we are ready to yield to Him in the face of conflict, and not stand up for our rights.
Grace and peace are what we are supposed to be spreading; it is what God has endowed us with an unlimited supply but by our unbelief and our grumbling we limit God’s unlimited power in our life (Psalm 78:41).
Paul is an agent of grace and peace, working for the agency of God the Father through the Lord Jesus Christ. The Father is the Chairman of the Board, Christ is the President, and the Holy Spirit is the Chief Operating Officer. Have you ever seen the business card of someone who just got out of college or is just starting a career, and they haven’t worked their way into management yet? On it you will see the title, it is “account executive”, in other words, sales, but the salesman are the ones who drive the company and the ones who get paid according to their production.
We are the same in God’s kingdom. All we have to do as “account executives” for Christ is to spread His unlimited grace and peace around, especially to the other saints. When we do that we will “get paid” by receiving more grace and peace ourselves, more that we can spread out, and on and on. Grace and peace, more and more of it, are what we need, and we will reap what we sow (Galatians 6:7-10). If we are faithful in what seems to be a little thing God will be honored and promote us (Luke 16:10-12).
You can spread grace and peace around because it doesn’t depend on you and your supply, but on God’s. Philippians 1:19 – the bad will turn for your good in the sense that you will be stronger by feeling more power from God; power to overcome negative things said about you or done to you. Like Paul here in this passage, he is in prison and people are doing wrong things to him. There are situations that look bad and then a bad thing happens to seemingly make it worse, but God is mocking the devil by this thing. He is making it better and turning things to your good (Romans 8:28) because God acts more powerfully on your behalf because you need more of Him, amen! This is why we can rejoice in trials (James 1:2). That is, if you recognize instead of retaliate.
A lot of people already know some of these things in principle; however, insight without understanding is dangerous. As believers in Jesus, we all have a new spiritual insight into things. But, the question is, do we correctly understand what we see? Insight is all around us. We see what God tells us in the scriptures about how the devil, our flesh, and the world work to bring us down. We see that God intends to bring us up, out of those circumstances. We see that He intends to bring us through trials for His glory, not to simply let us avoid any semblance of suffering.
We may understand this in theory, but we fail to recognize it in practice. What we don’t recognize is how it is all orchestrated, we may see it but we don’t realize it, we don’t understand how it all plays out. What we need is insight with understanding. You see, in Jesus, insight is immediate and free. On the other hand, insight with understanding takes time and has cost. It's not something we can snap our fingers and have. The bible says with all your wisdom get understanding (Proverbs 4:5).
You have to understand how God works, and how He uses the world the flesh and the devil to conform you to Christ-likeness. We must understand how the wiles of the devil are used.
God allows the negatives to come in so as to give you an opportunity to destroy the flesh, and to see His power manifested for you to stand firm in the battles of life.
10 Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might.
11 Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.
The word for wiles or schemes in the Greek is methodeia, or the methods of the devil, which are used by God so that we may stand in the power of His might. By having to deal with what makes you upset you have to let go of you, and have to get more of God to get you through.
The key is to recognize before you respond, you see the attack for what it is, a God ordained opportunity for growth in grace. You are being trained to be a proven warrior for Christ. That person is not the enemy, but a victim of the enemy and yet is still a tool, of God. You can turn the devil’s goal of attack around, not only for yourself but also for the other person.
Imagine the power of this: what may seem to be an obstacle and a problem and an offense and nothing but a negative can actually be the way to your victory over the flesh and promotion in the ranks of the godly. Of course you can react by the flesh and you are worse off and the other person is no better. That is what we too often see, all hurt and no help, because we didn’t recognize the possibilities for the power of God.
You see it is easy to spread grace and peace around when no one is offending you or whatever. But it is also easier to spread a false grace and peace done out of your flesh done with no real love toward others only nice feelings and warm fuzzies. But if we have to suffer an arrow then the grace and peace have to come from our spirits by the power of God and what people get is real, tested and proven, and instructive to those who receive it.
Well, when we receive grace and peace from the Lord, it is like a “booster shot”, but we will get tested for effectiveness right away, and we don’t get it without the experience of crucifying the flesh. The problem is we feel like what we need is a “power boost shot”, and then we can walk around and say, “do what you will, it doesn’t matter”. We think we can get the feeling and then we can start dealing. It doesn’t usually work that way. The normal way is that we start dealing and then we get the feeling. God gets the glory and you get the grace.
You have to learn how to use the shield of faith. It isn’t some mantra you repeat in the morning or before you enter a tough situation and then expect that you are “covered” somehow just because you repeated a few positive affirmations. People think just because God says so that they can just say so, and the devil has to run, but that isn’t the case (Acts 19:13-19). In that passage it wasn’t just that they got the formula wrong by saying, “whom Paul preaches”; it wasn’t the formula that was wrong it was their faith that was wrong.
It’s the same as those who think that just because they repeat some formula about wearing the full armor of God that they are wearing it, not so. We must say so in deed and in truth (1 John 3:13-19); when God allows the devil or lets others be used “against” us, we must show forth in truth that we trust God and are dying to the flesh. The power of God is not a play toy, and isn’t a magic incantation that we can use regardless of our personal state.
The scenario goes like this: first, the devil uses someone or something to shoot an arrow into you (Ephesians 6). Now you, instead of going, woe is me, well you just recognize what God is doing, and you laugh and realize that all the arrow did was hit your flesh. Well good, let it die anyway! Instead of this puny instrument that cannot touch your spirit harming you by you living from and reacting to the flesh, you say, “go ahead, make my day!”
Now you have gotten your booster shot, you have recognized what God was doing through the agency of others. Satan meant it for bad, and the other person may or may not have, but God meant it for both your and their good, you get more grace, renewed strength. The other person sees a true light of Christ in you, and the only thing that gets hurt is your flesh, which you want to die anyway! Then that thing that once could hurt you cannot hurt you any more, and you have experience in wielding the shield of faith. What hurt you before can’t hurt you no more! You grow in the Lord and know how to spread grace and peace, amen!
We are in a battle. If some little imp can get the best of you, if all the enemy has to do is shoot one little arrow, and then you cry and scream, “I’m hit”, and fall down and focus on your wound, then you are out of the battle for the time being. When you eventually get up, the same little arrow is used to knock you down again. This will keep happening until you learn that if you just keep going after getting hit, not focusing on the flesh that is hurting, then what happens is that flesh dies and the life of Christ takes its place!
Most Christians just go around after getting hit with a little toy arrow and moan and complain about how bad life is treating them; if that is all that the devil has to do, you aren’t very mature. What we should want is to get to the place where there could be all kinds of weapons in array against us. It would be like, “come on help me get holy!” That way other people will have to deal with less, and they can even help us out if we need it.
So many think they are in this big battle when all the enemy has to do is take one little arrow of offense and you are down for the count, for weeks or months, or maybe even leave the church or the fellowship of the saints altogether. So often this is what is happening to those who get hurt so easily and then say they don’t have to go to church, they have been stung by a bb. Why in the world do you think you can do real spiritual warfare when the sound of a cap gun knocks you down?
Satan has a limited supply, if all he needs is a toy dart to keep you down, then that is all you will get, but since you aren’t growing and letting these darts kill the flesh, these darts seem like great big attacks because they are multiplied. Satan has limited resources but he is always trying to enlist you to do his will, and in that way he multiplies his arsenal. Are you his agent? The bible describes Jesus as our Advocate (1 John 2:1), and Satan as our Adversary (1 Peter 5:8). What agency are you using most often, the Advocate, or the Adversary?
Now Satan has got other kinds of weapons in his arsenal besides offense, like fear, frustration, discouragement, and others, but grace and peace are your way to begin to win versus these too. Satan’s arrows may be intended by him to harm you, but God intends them to show off your skills as a Christian warrior. He will give you power to overcome if you will let that part of you that can’t overcome, namely your flesh, your “self”, die so that He can take its place.
1 Peter 5:8-10 – the process of suffering and gaining life from death for the Christian Warrior.
8 Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour:
9 Whom resist stedfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world.
10 But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you.
You have to suffer the death of the flesh first and then God will strengthen you. The question is, How well are you doing in the fight?
Be prepared to suffer with the death of the flesh. “Therefore, since Christ suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind, for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh for the lusts of men, but for the will of God (1 Peter 4:1-2 NKJV).” Crucifixion is a slow, painful death. When we crucify our sinful desires, we will suffer as they die. When the pain of death begins, the joy of the Lord will flood our souls, and it is this joy that is our strength (Nehemiah 8:10). We should be mentally prepared for the suffering we'll face on the road to freedom. Armed with the mind of Christ, we will have permanent victory!
The Way (to the Cross) the Truth (of the Cross) and the Life (from the Cross)
So many times we have heard to take it to the Cross, that we have to go to the Cross, that the Cross hold power for us in this life, and that we have to crucify the flesh, etc.; but what does that mean, and how is it done? That is what we have been beginning to show you, now look further.
Colossians 2:15 – God mocks the devil again by making a show of the devil openly with our lives, following Jesus to the Cross and becoming Christlike with the death of our flesh that the life we live is by the Son of God (Galatians 2:20 / Philippians 1:21).
If you teach or learn this then it will invite the attack of the enemy, which is what your flesh will speak to you. Your old man doesn’t want to be starved to death; he wants constant attention. Well in a sense the attacks are what we want, cause all it can do is allow us to win even more, the devil cannot touch us where it really hurts, in our spirits, if we are dead to the flesh (Romans 6:6 / Luke 12:4-5 / Colossians 3:3).
Matthew 10:28 – And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.
We will be able to suffer the death of the flesh more, God will get more glory, the devil will be mocked, and we will be more Christlike. If the fire gets hotter, so be it, all it does is burn off the dross, and really it isn’t that it is getting any more intense it’s just that we will recognize the battles for what they are and now we will be prepared to win.
John 12:20-28 – a prophetic passage about how we can see Jesus’ power in our lives.
20 And there were certain Greeks among them that came up to worship at the feast:
21 The same came therefore to Philip, which was of Bethsaida of Galilee, and desired him, saying, Sir, we would see Jesus.
22 Philip cometh and telleth Andrew: and again Andrew and Philip tell Jesus.
23 And Jesus answered them, saying, The hour is come, that the Son of man should be glorified.
24 Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.
25 He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal.
26 If any man serve me, let him follow me; and where I am, there shall also my servant be: if any man serve me, him will my Father honour.
27 Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour: but for this cause came I unto this hour.
28 Father, glorify thy name. Then came there a voice from heaven, saying, I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again.
We live this passage out literally and we are literally becoming more Christlike. In other words, the hour has come for you, as a Son of God, a child of God, that the Son of man should be glorified in your life. You must lose your life to find it, not that we have to lose all our possessions, although that is what many see this passage as saying. However, it isn’t the stuff that is bad, material things aren’t bad in themselves. What we must and we will lose is the stuff that is bad inherently, like envy, jealousy, covetousness, greed, pride, etc.
These are what make having those things bad, what spoils us from having them, but if we don’t have the lust for those things then those things won’t spoil us. Then it will be okay to have them because they won’t cause us to sin and so it is more likely that God will allow us to have them. However, since we don’t have that other stuff like pride that sometimes makes us want certain stuff, than it won’t matter if we get the stuff or not anyway. It also won’t matter if some have the stuff and we don’t have it, we won’t care, and the other who has also lost the lust for the things won’t mind sharing.
We serve Christ and His cause by following Him, and so we need to realize where He was going, which was the cross, which means we must also go to the Cross. Through that sacrifice (Romans 12:1-2) God honors us. It is a troubling thing to our soul to realize what is going to happen because our flesh will not like it one bit, but it is for this that the sons of God are manifested that the name of God might be glorified once again. We can set our eyes on the joy set before us (Hebrews 12:1-2). Jesus knew it was going to hurt and we are to humble ourselves and arm ourselves with the like mind (1 Peter 4:1 / Philippians 2:5-15).
There it is: we get hit, but instead of looking at what it has done to “our life”, we move on to the cross, it hurts, our flesh is troubled, but we keep on going and the flesh eventually dies, and the resurrection life of Jesus takes its place. We are becoming Christian warriors; the shield of faith has quenched the arrows of the devil. We are learning to use the weapons of our warfare, and we are moving ahead in the battle, not lying there wounded on the field, no glory being given to god. We are more than conquerors, our lives mock the devil instead of us spewing out threats to him, and God is glorified in His saints. Hallelujah!
Now Satan has other arrows in his quiver, not just offense. There is, of course, deception, and perversion. Perversion is when an otherwise good thing is used in a bad way. Everyone seems to be looking for something to grab on to, and that thing can become sin. We are holding on to what God has given us instead of holding on to God Himself. Many times this is when we have gotten hold of a truth of God, and we think it a thing to be grasped like a tool, but instead of us using it, it uses us, a perversion.
For example, with the teaching we just went over, this could be perverted by thinking that everything is just a dart, and by this we never listen to anybody at all. Nothing “gets through” to us, and we think we are wearing the breastplate of righteousness when what we are really doing is just being a victim of a hard heart.
We are going to look at preacher, and pew, and prayer, and the power of thanksgiving. We will be going through a lot of scripture, so be careful to hear it all, don’t get sidetracked or offended.
FIRST THINGS FIRST
– THANKING GOD – STEWARDSHIP
First – The first thing Paul was going to do was to thank God for what he was given, in this instance people to preach to. We are thank God for what we are given, and we thank Him rightly by giving Him the firstfruits, including the fruit of our lips (Hebrews 13:15). God, and specifically our allegiance to Jesus Christ, should be our first priority (Colossians 1:18).
Seek ye first – Matthew 6:33 – the first thing we need to do is seek Jesus. What is the kingdom of God and his righteousness, it is the person of Jesus Himself. Luke 17:21 – Jesus IS the kingdom. 2 Corinthians 5:21 – God’s righteousness IS Christ.
So to seek God’s kingdom and His righteousness is to seek Jesus. The question, then, is how do we do that?
Hebrews 12:28 – reverence and awe, not a casual thing.
Philippians 2:21 – others, 1 Corinthians 10:24, 14:12
Colossians 3:1 – not worldly
Hebrews 11:6 – diligently
Matthew 7:7 – persistently
Hebrews 13:14 – future grace
1 Peter 3:11 – peace
Romans 2:7 – holiness (Romans 14:17)
Galatians 2:17 – realize it is still us in Christ, not Christ in us, our old man still sins
Acts 17:30 – repentance
Galatians 1:10 – to please God not man
Luke 13:24-27 – narrow way
Luke 19:10 – Jesus is the seeker
John 5:44 – faithfulness
The firstfruits belong to God; a principle found throughout the Word. We could cover a lot of direct commands, types, shadows, and examples, but lets just consider one that many people haven’t thought about before. In the book of Joshua, there were 10 cities conquered, and they were allowed to take whatever they wanted from last nine, but nothing from Jericho, the first.
Matthew 6:33 – people put themselves first, but it shows our trust in God when put Him first. This is God’s will, and along with giving thanks (Colossians 2:7, 4:2), it gives us power in prayer (1 John 5:14-15).
Thank Him for what you have before you ask Him for what you need. He already knows what you need (Matthew 6:8, 32); what He wants is to hear how much you appreciate what He has already done. If we will honor Him, He will honor us (1 Timothy 4:8).
Regarding your giving, the “net or gross” question shows you are in the wrong ballpark altogether – it is not a question of a duty to be discharged but of a devotion to be discovered (2 Corinthians 9:7). You don’t have to try and find out exactly the line where you need to start, most are doing that so as to know what they can avoid doing. Its like the parable of the Good Samaritan, the lawyer wanted to know who his neighbor was, not so he could know who to love, but so he could know who he didn’t have to.
The same happens when it comes to the matter of giving to the church. It’s not that people don’t want to give too little, it’s that they don’t want to give too much! You could give whatever it is that you feel is your “obligation”, and discharge your “duty” and God still not have your heart. You are commanded to give, but even if you found some imaginary line where God was happy with, it is only a start, not a finish (Luke 17:10).
It is about faithfulness, but the bigger item, and the one that you never seem to hear the preachers and teachers talk about, or when they do you go temporarily deaf, is that giving is also a matter of worship. Not obligation, like, “you better give off the gross, dude, or God’s gonna be mad.” No. Giving is worship. If we love the Pittsburgh Steelers, we watch their games, we pay to see them at the stadium, we buy their souvenirs, and we wear their apparel, which we paid for. We even dress our little kids in their little Steeler clothes. We wear the shoes that the big stars are wearing, and we learn all the new buzzwords and catch phrases of those whom we worship.
Now I like sports, but follow me here, and realize that giving is a form of and a part of worship. It doesn’t mean that every thing we give to we worship, but what is put foremost in our minds, that thing we will give our utmost to. Think about sports teams that you see people love and how they defend and promote them, and don’t you just wish we would do it for Jesus? We root for them even when their season isn’t going so well. We praise them when it is, and we aren’t ashamed of it when they lose a game, we speak of how they will eventually bounce back. We give our money, our time, our energy, and our devotion. Where we give is where we worship. Jesus said that where your treasure is, that is where your heart is (Matthew 6:21). How can you say you don’t have to give and still believe that God has your heart?
I’m not asking you to give more money. Giving more doesn’t necessarily mean you are more devoted; it is not a contest, but a conquest. It isn’t the quantity but the quality. So if you are down in cash this month but have an extra amount of time, then give what you have to give. Out of the abundance of the heart them mouth speaks (Luke 6:45), what do you talk about the most, Jesus or the Steelers or your favorite movie star, or hit song? Whatever it is that has the majority of your attention, that is what has your devotion. What do you think of first thing in the morning?
Let’s get practical, then. Don’t give the church the money for your light bill, but don’t neglect the church just to buy a new light fixture. Own stuff; don’t let it own you. We do not need to debate whether or not tithing is commanded or even recognized in the New Testament, all that is doing is wrangling over a disputed idea (1 Timothy 6:4 – keep your place here, we will be looking at the next part of this passage in a minute, and it is interesting that this verse comes in the context that it does).
It isn’t a matter of doctrine; the truth is that the simplest way to be disciplined is by giving the first 10 percent right off the top, and that is why we see this principle used in the church today. We don’t have to argue, but if you were to look at those that would teach “against” tithing, or those who try and justify why they don’t need to give you might be surprised at what you see and the lack of discipline in their lives. If you are giving more than 10 percent but not “tithing” per se, wonderful, but make sure you are honoring God with the firstfruits.
The concept of tithing in the New Testament is not some rule we have to keep in order to keep God off our back or to curry favor with God, but so we will put first things first, and God will help us take care of the rest.
Tithing is a blessing not a burden, but please don’t give out of compulsion. You can’t give because you feel forced and expect God to understand. As long as you see it as a burden it will not have the effect you desire. God knows your heart, and you can give and give and give, but if you don’t do it out of love, it will profit you nothing (1 Corinthians 13:3).
We can give without loving but we can’t love without giving.
Luke 16:10-12 – three areas of faithfulness
In little things (Hudson Taylor) – A little thing is a little thing, but faithfulness to a little thing is a big thing.
In financial things (Oswald Chambers) – The golden rule for understanding in spiritual matters is not intellect, but obedience.
In another ministry (Charles Spurgeon) – Those who have no master are slaves to themselves.
Galatians 6:7 / 1 Timothy 6:5-10 – sowing out of a desire for gain will get you the gain all right, but it won’t be what you expect.
Ezekiel 33:31 – don’t use tithing as a means to an end, the end being your own desire for wealth.
Isaiah 29:13 / Mark 7:6-7 – don’t turn tithing into a work and don’t use giving to the church to dismiss your obligations to the IRS or from taking care of your sick relatives or paying your bills and think that God is pleased with this, He isn’t.
I thank my God through Jesus Christ –
Colossians 3:17 – notice that we give thanks through both word and deed.
THANKING GOD – SINCERITY
Speaking again about prayer, the first thing they thanked God for in the Old Testament prayers was proclaiming God’s majesty and His mighty acts of redemption, and specifically the deliverance from Egypt and the bondage of slavery (2 Samuel 7:22-23 / Nehemiah 1:5-10). Now we thank God for His greatest act of redemption, and proclaim the work of Jesus Christ and our deliverance from the bondage of sin.
Adding to what we said earlier about prayer, that we are to thank Him for what we have before we ask Him for what we need, we must also consider adoration a large part of our devotional and prayer life.
Where thanksgiving is about God’s gifts and our gratitude, adoration is about God’s person and our awe. We give thanks when we recognize what we have received from God. We express adoration when we recognize who God is. Paul is giving thanks here, and later and at many other times in his letters he gives “doxologies”, or statements about God and His magnificence (cf. Romans 11:33-36 / Jude 24-25 / Revelation 4:8-11, etc.). It literally means to speak of His glory.
It is the very center of the prayer life. Unless we are motivated by a strong sense of adoration, the prayer life becomes greedy, selfish, and stunted. Adoration is our first and highest calling. For this we were made. For this we were redeemed. We need to cultivate this discipline of giving God the glory due Him, as best we can, and striving to get better all the time.
God is more than worth it, and this is another powerful principle of prayer. You must see God in His power before you see Him in your problems. Until our hearts find their safety, satisfaction, and rest in God, they will have no rest. We cannot glorify God in the world until we have glorified Him first in our hearts.
Also notice the repentance here, and in Daniel 2, etc. Here is yet another powerful principle of prayer: Tell God what you have done wrong before you ask Him to make it right.
God already knows what you have done wrong, but He wants you to live in constant view of the fact that He does know all that is going on about you, more than we know about ourselves. Realizing that we are open to God (Hebrews 4:13) helps us to live a more holy life.
We have spoken about putting first things first, but where does God look first? Of course, it is your heart (1 Samuel 16:7 / Jeremiah 17:10). How then, or what then, is a good test of that?
Here are three things that provide a good measure of where you are spiritually:
What am I really like in secret? I may appear to others to be master of myself when in public; but what happens when I close the door and only the Father sees me? It is not visible service so much as my hidden life of devotion that is the index of my spirituality.
How do I react to the words “duty”, “obedience”, and “submission”? Sanctification, growing in grace, is not about a feeling; it is about the submission of our wills to the will of God. Love for God and duty are two parts of the same thing. True faith manifests itself through obedience.
Am I living with a sense of how visible my life is to God? The giants of the faith learned to live visibly, even in secret; they knew they lived Coram Deo (before the face of God). That one principle is enough to transform your whole life, and rid you of all deception – of others, of God, of self.
You give thanks to God through Jesus Christ by doing the will of God, by maturing spiritually.
Giving thanks to God through Jesus Christ is more than putting “in Jesus name” on the end of our prayers. Certainly it is that, but it is more. Which child would truly be giving thanks for that item you gave to them or that wisdom you imparted to them: the one who did it with just words, or the one who put it to use?
Is the life you live like Paul’s, by the faith of the Son of God (Galatians 2:20)? Yes, well then, look again at Colossians 3:17, and look at 1 Corinthians 10:31. Are we giving thanks to God through Jesus Christ by giving glory to God, that is, by the life of Christ in us, in all that we do as well as say? Of course not, but are we progressing in that?
Do you want to be a more effective witness, or a leader in the church? Then look at what Paul told Timothy (1 Timothy 4:15-16). Are we becoming more holy, that our lives give thanks to God? Do we even recognize the need for that?
THANKING GOD – SANCTIFICATION
We explained that we give thanks to God through Jesus Christ in both word and in deed (Colossians 3:17), and we gave the example of two kids, the one who put the gift to use was the one who was truly giving thanks. The gift we receive from God through Jesus Christ is the Holy Spirit, and it is God the Spirit who sanctifies us, or sets us apart. Sanctification, or growing in grace, is the supreme way and measure of our thanks to God through Jesus Christ.
We are predestined to be conformed to the image of Christ, and this will ultimately happen at the coming of the Lord, but in this life, we cooperate with the Spirit. As Paul says in Romans 12:1-2, we are not to be conformed by the world but transformed by the renewing of our mind to think and act like Jesus. This is a dual effort with God and us as Paul says in Philippians 2:12-13. Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure. We act in accordance with His decrees.
The problem we see in the church today is the nature of how this works, and we see three examples of how it can be done wrong, how we can drift one way or another into error.
The P, Q, R, of S (Understanding the Two Sides of Sanctification)
P = Pietism
Pietism is the notion that sanctification (holiness) is a purely human work.
Produced by too much emphasis on the human side of the equation.
Pietism is a totally active approach to sanctification. It is up to you to defeat sin.
This is manifest in various forms of legalism and asceticism, like the religion of the Pharisees, and the monasticism of medieval Christianity.
Operative phrase: Go and get God
Q = Quietism
Quietism is the view that sanctification doesn't occur until we give up striving for it.
Produced by too little emphasis on the human side of the equation.
Quietism is a totally passive approach to sanctification; it is an attempt to become holy by abandoning all effort and simply "trusting" God to remove the temptation to sin.
This is manifest in the Deeper Life movements.
Operative phrase: Let go and let God
R = Riotism
Riotism is the idea that sanctification is an unnecessary focus.
Produced by no emphasis on the human or the divine side of the equation.
Riotism is a totally careless approach to sanctification. Because we teach that one can be saved without sanctification, masses of unconverted church members are lulled to sleep and end up in hell. The Bible teaches, "without holiness, no one will see the Lord" (Hebrews 12:14).
This is manifest in seeker sensitive movement, and sections of prosperity teachings.
Operative phrase: Don’t go – forget God
T = Truth:
The truth brings the knowledge that sanctification is an ongoing struggle where we ask God to give us the will to win (Ephesians 4:22-24 / Colossians 3).
Produced by a proper emphasis on both sides of the equation.
Truth is the proper approach to sanctification. We are simultaneously justified yet sinful.
This is manifest in the giants of the faith, and their struggles with each of the other ways.
Martin Luther was clearly involved with pietism first, being a monk.
John Wesley taught entire sanctification, but never achieved it in his own life.
We see both pietism and quietism as having failed, and of course riotism isn’t even a consideration, not that those who practice it are even considering anything anyway.
Operative phrase: Don’t let go of God
Fear and trembling is to understand that we will always have to be fending off our old man, but understanding that God will give us both the increased will and the deeds of holiness as we become closer to Him.
THANKING GOD – SUFFERING
We have talked about giving thanks unto God through Jesus Christ by being faithful (3 areas), in word, in deed, and in truth (3 verses – Colossians 3:17 / 1 Corinthians 10:31 / 1 John 3:18), through our prayer lives (3 principles), by taking our spiritual temperature (3 measures), and by our growing in grace, or sanctification (3 wrong ways).
Developing the idea of sanctification further, and in keeping with the operative phrase, “don’t let go of God”, we come to our next point, which brings us back around to the overall point. Our spiritual power and our sanctification depend on a moment-by-moment bond with God. The dynamic of that relationship that helps build that bond is by thanking Him in all things. So we see how we give thanks through Christ in those other areas we have discussed, and now we will move on to matters about thanking Him that are deeper.
Now, as a starting point, we said earlier when discussing “first things first”, God initiates and establishes our relationship with Him. We don’t seek Him; He seeks us. Like everyone else, we were rebels under the spell and the power of the enemy; Christ rescues us and brings us home. We have nothing to do with it. We only respond to Life because we have been made alive. Because of His great love for us, God makes us alive when we were dead. It’s an empowering realization.
You may say, well we received eternal life, we responded. True, we opened the door and it was our choice. Jesus knocking on the door example – the door only has a handle on our side so it is of our own volition, our own “free will” that we open to Christ, but the truth is that we can only hear Him knock if He grants us the ability to hear.
We started this series in Romans with the title, the righteousness of God and the redemption of man. As we become more and more aware of how desperately sinful we really are, we also become more and more astounded by how righteous God really is. We begin to more fully realize, to make it real in our lives, the fact that God didn’t owe us His grace and mercy. We were dead in our sins, but God has made us alive. How often we forget that.
This “empowering realization” is the fountainhead of our giving thanks for His grace. Now, then, once we’re spiritually alive by God’s power, we can act to remain plugged into His current of grace. We are getting that moment-by-moment thing going. As we thank God for His presents, we remain in His presence.
However, it needs to be said that it is easy to give thanks when things are good, according to our standards. We have also talked about adoration, and it is tied to thankfulness. It gives thanks for His character regardless of any favors received. It is the real evidence of the Holy Spirit in a person’s life. Gracious gratitude, as Jonathan Edwards called it, can grow in the midst of pain.
We need to give thanks to God through Jesus Christ by our suffering, and indeed it is Jesus Christ alone who gives value to suffering, so through Him is the only way to give thanks in it.
1 Thessalonians 5:18 – the story of “it is well with my soul” song.
We must encounter God in such a way that we have a change in our perspective, regardless of any change in our circumstances. Instead of looking at our problem, we are longing for His perspective.
We need to be like Habakkuk after his encounter with God and respond humbly to trials. Habakkuk was a post-exilic prophet. He had gone from confusion about the circumstances to certainty about the Savior. A momentous change occurred in the disposition of Habakkuk's heart, and yet there has been absolutely no improvement in his circumstances. Nothing has changed, and yet, for Habakkuk's heart, everything has changed.
Habakkuk is a compelling example of prayer and patience. He says, "I will quietly wait for the day of trouble to come upon people who invade us" (Habakkuk 3:16). God has promised to discipline His people. He has promised to judge the Babylonians, and He has promised to fill the earth with the knowledge of His glory; therefore, Habakkuk will wait humbly and quietly for the fulfillment of each promise, be it judgment or blessing.
Habakkuk knew nothing about God's timing on all this. He didn't know when this all would happen, and normally, neither do we. Though we find the promises of God throughout Scripture, they don't come with specific dates and times. Therefore, when our circumstances contradict God's character and promises, we're tempted to supply God with a time frame and demand that He fulfill His promises according to it. Instead we need to heed Colossians 4:2 – Continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving;
Listen to Habakkuk's humble, joyful response to trials in Habakkuk 3:17-18.
Without ignoring the reality of suffering, Habakkuk turned his attention away from it and fixed his gaze upon the more critical issue of salvation. So which are you more aware of, the present suffering or, the great salvation (Hebrews 2:3) that is in Jesus Christ?
To know true joy in the midst of suffering is to recognize that regardless of the severity of suffering we experience in this life, it is never as great or as serious as our sins. That's a divine perspective of suffering. As a Christian, our suffering is never as great as our sins.
2 Corinthians 4:7 – apples of silver in pitchers of gold, wrapped in a cardboard box, the box has to be ripped opened to reveal the treasure (words fitly spoken can be likened to God’s Word, the revelation of Himself through our flesh). The prize, the gift is on the inside but all we want to do is decorate the box.
Verses 8-9 of 2 Corinthians 4 is not about just making it through, it is about the triumph of Christ that reveals itself when we are at our personal weakest. It’s not that we see trouble but eventually we will be okay, it is that we see trouble and we know that we are revealing God by giving thanks anyway. We understand that thought we are crushed in body, and weak in soul, our Savior Jesus lives on strong, He is a flame that cannot be put out!
Pressed but not crushed, it isn’t that we are pressed but we still have some volume left, like we are only hanging in there, this type of press only presses out our weakness that His strength might appear as it is. We are perplexed but not in despair, we are to be at a loss with one's self but we are not with any less hope at all, it is not that we still have hope it is that hope has become greater to us. Persecuted but not abandoned, we are chased off but we are not out of the company we really want to keep, struck down but not destroyed, struck down and not destroyed doesn’t mean struck down and then we are down but not out, it means struck down in ourselves, so that He might live. Our lives may be being destroyed but He is emerging from that.
2 Corinthians 4:15 – For all things are for your sakes, that the abundant grace might through the thanksgiving of many redound to the glory of God.
By His stripes we are healed, by our stripes He is revealed.
I will close with words of wisdom from J.I. Packer:
Scripture tells us that God gives strength for three things: endurance of strain and pressure, fidelity in serving God and others, and resistance to Satanic wiles. (Note – Of course these are the very three things we have been discussing for the last 6 weeks.)
But, and this the crucial point to grasp, what I have just formulated only becomes reality when Christians feel too weak, mentally, morally, and spiritually, and maybe physically too, to rise to the demands of each situation. Then they extend the hand of faith to God as drowning men stretch for the lifebelt. “Help!” is prayer at is truest, as it is weakness at its most explicit. And it is a prayer that God answers!
What the world never understands and those who think that the good Christian feels strong and powerful and has life easy never understands is that only consciously weak souls ever lean hard enough on the Lord to stand steady or walk straight in his risen power. Weakness is the true path, the only healthy way.
How weak, I wonder, are you today?
THANKING GOD – SOLIDARITY
We previously discussed the fact that God helps those who know they are weak. While we are all indeed weak, it does not mean that we don’t act. While we must be giving thanks to God for all things, and we must cling to the promises of God, we must also realize our part in the promises. As we have seen in our discussions about the compatibility between the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man, we have seen the need to act in accordance with God’s decrees, in salvation and in sanctification.
We have talked extensively about giving thanks in all things, and the last two meetings we spoke of giving thanks to God through Jesus Christ in our sanctification, and also in our suffering. Now we turn to a matter and manner of giving thanks that is near and dear to this pastor’s heart. That is the idea of giving thanks to God though Jesus Christ in our solidarity.
Solidarity is defined as common interest and active loyalty within a group. They go together: not just doing activity, and not just being within. Not on the outside and not stationary, inside and involved. Not simply showing up once in a while and perhaps participating when we want to, but staying within the group and in an active way. To both be present and to participate regularly.
The promises of God are yea and amen, and God wants us to possess them all in abundance. Now, while some promises are things God will bring to pass no matter what, others are like a garment waiting to be worn; they are for those who meet the conditions of them. When we meet those conditions, and we continue to pray, to give thanks, and believe in God the possibilities turn into probabilities as we put on the promises of God like prophecy.
There are promises of God that have been given to the Church, but many in these last days have come to believe that these promises are simply for individuals in the Church, which to them means simply saved individuals. This is not so, however; these promises are for the universal Church, yes, but they are appropriated by the individuals who are resident and active within the universal, invisible Church’s visible expression, which is the local church. If you are missing from the local church, you will be missing some of the blessings.
Let’s ask a question that is asked, every day, in many ways.
Do you have to go to church to be a Christian?
The answer to this is simple, but the reality of what this question is trying to point out isn’t as simple as it may seem, because many are not focusing on what is really meant by this question.
To simply answer the question, then, do you have to go to church to be a Christian?
The answer is no.
However, lets now propose a different, more pointed question that actually gets to the heart of the matter.
Do you have to go to church when you are a Christian?
The answer is yes.
Lets state them together, so that you may think about this, and begin to realize where we are going next.
Do you have to go to church to BE a Christian? No
Do you have to go to church WHEN you’re a Christian? Yes.
Now people can get all up in arms about this statement, but what they are doing, not me, what they are doing is focusing on the legal aspect of it, not the spiritual aspect of it, and they fail to recognize that their spiritual lives will indeed suffer if they are not in church. Period. God knows it, everyone else knows it, and you know it.
What many people fail to realize is the benefit of just being there. It is very much like when I counsel couples; I always get them to commit to praying together at night before they go to bed. I am sure many of them wonder why this is so important. They probably feel like this exercise, as they might call it, has little chance of actually helping them.
However, what they are doing in their fleshly minds is trying to reason out why this is valuable inherently, and come to believe that the prayers won’t solve anything. They are looking at the prayers as some sort of vehicle that will magically deliver a message or some innate power that will get them to the next level. The answer isn’t always in the prayer by itself, it is that we honor God by doing it, and then He begins to line up the events and situations that will help us overcome the obstacles.
People are looking at the prayer itself, and wondering, what can that possibly do, I need money right now, or I need this or that to stop happening, or I need a job. It isn’t that He will give you a message right then and there, that this and this is what you should do, though He may, it is that this and this will start happening, all in response to your obedience to worship God and honor Him with prayer. You are leaving it on Him, in a way. You are coming in to His presence, as a couple, and the mere fact that you do this, becoming more intimately involved with God together, is why God becomes more intimately involved in your situation.
Church is the same way. The message may not have all that jazz for you in your mind, and the music may not move you as much as what is in your CD player right now, but that is only part of the plan God has for church. If you will just submit to God and commit, really now, to the local church, God will commit to your local lives. When you miss church you are not simply missing the message, you are missing the method.
The leading God gives is not only through the probing eye of the pastor, and not only through the community of believers assembled there, it is also just by attending yourself, in that God will then attend to your wants as you have attended to what He wants. Participating in church precipitates the providence and provision of God. When you open the doors of your will, then God will open the doors of your opportunity.
Saying that you can be a believer without going to church is like saying you can be a tennis player without stepping on the court. People say that they have a problem, that is why they couldn’t make it to church, but in truth they couldn’t make it church, and that is why they have a problem. God knows your heart, and God knows if you are looking for an excuse. If that problem weren’t there, would you have gone then? Then why didn’t you come that one particular week you didn’t have to work, or when you didn’t have that problem? You had better go when you can or God will make sure you can’t. Instead of looking for one reason not to go to church we should be looking for one reason to go to church. It is just like what we were studying in Jeremiah 44 (Arrow of Deception teaching).
The Church is a community, which is supposed to reflect the fact that God, in His tri-unity, is also a community. He is one, yet is three distinct persons. We are one in Christ through the Spirit, but we are also distinct persons.
Jesus put it this way when He was praying to God for His disciples: The glory which you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as we are one; I in them, and you in me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that you sent me, and loved them, even as you have loved me (John 17:22-23).
Notice here that Jesus speaks of the glorious unity, which His disciples should have, is not some internal state of affairs, but a visible unity, which no one around can possibly deny. Jesus wants His followers to form an objective society in order to demonstrate that God is a society – a community of love between the Father, the Son, and the Spirit into which we have been brought as members.
Earlier when we talked about Romans 1:7, which leads “to all that be in Rome”, we were talking about all the believers, as we discussed. Now lets examine that for a moment. Who and exactly where were all the believers in Rome? How could Paul make sure that the letter would be read to every believer in Rome? How did Paul know where to address this letter?
The answer is simple. Paul addressed the letters he wrote to CHURCHES, because there was no thought of believers acting like lone rangers outside the fellowship of other believers. The church is an essential part of the gospel!
Is the church essential to the gospel? If so, why? The Church is the Body of Christ (Ephesians 1:22-23) and Christ is the Head of this Body (Colossians 1:18). Furthermore, He is the Savior of this Body (Ephesians 5:23) because He died for the Church (Ephesians 5:25).
When you are saved you are made part of the Body of Christ: another way of saying the same thing is that one cannot be saved without becoming a part of the Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12-13, 27). Therefore, the church is an essential part of the gospel. We cannot become a part of a Body and then separate ourselves from the rest of it, and expect to live.
You may think that all you need to do is stay connected to the Head and you are all right, but when you are separating from the rest of the Body, you are also separating from the Head. You cannot be nourished by the Head while at the same time un-sewing yourself from that which you are knit together (Colossians 2:19). We only increase with the increase of God as we are holding the Head and we stay knit together with all the joints and ligaments. You may think that you can continue to be a part of the invisible body while at the same time declining to participate in the visible body, but you are only fooling yourself.
We give thanks to God through Jesus Christ by attending and serving the institution that He founded, the Church, and we serve the universal church body by serving its visible expression, the local church body. God has a covenant with the Church.
Church is about fellowship, yes, and it is also about worship, yes, and worship in the context of fellowship is good and right. However, church is also about discipleship, and this takes leadership. All of this is necessary for the proper stewardship of a church through its members.
Let’s look at some negative and positive reasons for attending a local church.
To those who say they don't need to or have to go to church, or ask the question, "Why do I have to go to church?" …
Going to church honors God, does your absence?
Preaching helps build the building (edifice - edification - preaching) and it is essential for the exhortation and comfort of believers, in addition to their regular feeding on the Word. Also, most that I have observed who give the excuse that they don't need to go to church to be fed and led aren't actually feeding on Christ at all, or very little at best.
When you avoid church, you are avoiding the community of believers that need your gifting, 1 Corinthians (12-14) speaks plainly to this. Romans 15:14 / Colossians 3:16 – you cannot admonish and edify others without fellowship! In other words, you are being selfish, and you are ripping me off personally! He that is joined to the Lord is one spirit; that is, one with Christ, AND ALSO, one with each other. Are you really part of the Body of Christ?
It is the fellowship of the church where we find Jesus Christ. Jesus is active in His Church. Yes, He is active in individual lives, but those lives find more power in the context of the local church.
It is the fellowship of the church where we find protection from the demonic forces of evil and sin in this world. We call it a sanctuary for a reason, folks.
It is the fellowship of the church where we find encouragement in life. We can't keep on the path with Christ without the help and support of other Christians.
It is the fellowship of the church where we become Jesus Christ to the world.
The church is where we can find the best vehicle for our growth. We hear the Word preached and taught, and it stimulates us in our own private devotional and study times.
That, in the “spiritual bodybuilding” aspect, is like “taking your vitamins” The second part of “getting big” is to engage in resistance training. In accordance with this idea, the environment of the church provides two important features of growth producing conflict:
Authority who will challenge you with truth and correct you when you are wrong.
The environment of believers who are imperfect and whose rough edges will serve as sandpaper to smooth out your wrinkles. “As iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend” (Proverbs 27:17). Hurt feelings are probably the greatest reason why people leave churches, but deepening your roots in Christ and His Word can immunize you against such tenderness. “Great peace have they which love thy law: and nothing shall offend them” (Psalm 119:165).
If anyone thinks he is spiritual, just get close to your brethren, and you’ll find out what’s really inside you. People are like “mirrors” in which we can see ourselves as we really are. Matthew 7:3-5, consider how having a beam makes us see everything as having a beam in it. Sometimes we don’t notice a certain type of car all over the road until you own one yourself. If there’s bitterness or a lack of love, it will become exposed. When you hide from church, you are exposed.
It doesn’t matter how agitating, rude or unspiritual your brethren might be. This does not justify your intolerance or impatience with them. These attitudes are characteristics of your own immaturity – a weakness in YOU that needs perfected. This is why some people run from church to church – because it exposes their bad side. They see their own sins and blemishes revealed in their relationship with the brethren, or they become outraged when their self-willed desires or sins are challenged through convicting preaching or correction.
If a person remains an “island” to themselves they will never have to face up to the spiritual immaturity within them. But exposing themselves to the environment of the church will cause them to face conflicts that must be overcome in order to grow up. A sign of a spiritually mature person is that they can be loving and patient with anyone (1 John 2:10 / Galatians 5:22-23), and they can humbly submit themselves to truth and the correction of authority (Hebrews 13:17).
Many would fight against God’s institution and claim they don’t have to go to church by appealing to the “priesthood of all believers.” Yes, it is true we are all able to come to God through Jesus; we are all a royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:5-9 / Revelation 1:6), and no one else is a mediator between God and man but Christ (1 Timothy 2:5). So, you are a priest, but did you consider the fact that the priests served in the temple!
Another objector (read: REBEL) may use what we just said and then say, “okay, but I am the temple – take a look at 1 Corinthians 6:19, pal! Of course, this is easily refuted by pointing out that the church is also the temple, 1 Corinthians 3:16 – so there!
And furthermore, looking back at the 1 Peter 2:5-9 passage, it says that we are lively stones. Now consider the fact that God, in 1 Corinthians 3:17, says, “If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are” (the church). If we are lively stones, yet we are absent from the church, the temple of God, then are we helping build the church, or are we hindering the building of it? Well, we certainly aren’t helping matters by not being there!
We may not feel like we are tearing it down, but our lively stone is supposed to be a part of the building. You might say, well, it can be built without me. Okay, then God will indeed build it without you, but then just remember you won’t be a part of it. If God has to build the building without you in it, then you are not a part of it, e.g., you are not a part of the temple, you are outside, and it was your choice! See?
You will either leave the church or believe in the church. As the days of Noah were, so will the coming of the Son of Man be (Matthew 24:37). Noah pleaded for people to come on board, and he didn’t promise good times, great music, hot babes, or any other thing in the world except a bunch of dirty, stinking animals! Are you going to get in the Ark or not?
If you are out of the church you are out of God’s will. Part of finding a good one is you staying and growing and helping it to be a good one.
Instead of looking for one reason not to go to church we should be looking for one reason to go to church. No more selfish excuses – GET IN CHURCH, AND STAY IN CHURCH.
THANKING GOD – SERVICE
We have talked about giving thanks unto God through Jesus Christ by our stewardship (3 areas of faithfulness). We have talked about giving thanks unto God through Jesus Christ by our sincerity, in word, in deed, and in truth (3 verses – Colossians 3:17 / 1 Corinthians 10:31 / 1 John 3:18), through our prayer lives (3 principles), and by taking our spiritual temperature (3 measures). We have talked about giving thanks unto God through Jesus Christ by our growing in grace, or sanctification (3 wrong ways).
We have talked about giving thanks unto God through Jesus Christ by our suffering (3 realizations – As a Christian, our suffering is never as great as our sins. By His stripes we are healed, by our stripes He is revealed. Weakness is the true path, the only healthy way.) We have talked about giving thanks unto God through Jesus Christ by our solidarity (3 questions – Do you have to go to church to BE a Christian? No. Do you have to go to church WHEN you’re a Christian? Yes. Are you a lively stone? That’s up to you to answer).
Another way that we often forget to give thanks to God through Jesus Christ is by the use of our time. However, that doesn’t mean just to be busier “about God’s business” by just being busier. It means living each moment as an opportunity to serve God, in whatever situation you find yourself in, not just waiting to get to that thing you want to do for God (Colossians 3:23-24). Sometimes your responsibilities for God can keep you from God.
Most people understand how material stuff has a way of keeping you from God. Well it is the same with ministry stuff. We go from one bad thing to another, we trade one love of stuff for another, we feel like we have licked the covetousness bug concerning material things, just to turn around and find that bug right back on us regarding ministry things. Instead of acquiring material we acquire ministry, and we are blind to the fact that God still doesn’t have our heart, not in that area, at least. This is the first of three issues, one positive and two negative, that deal with our time, and giving thanks to the Lord, that I want to deal with today. The first, again, is acquiring.
If this is you, you need to realize that this isn’t the way to please God, by doing more stuff for God. Just as your money doesn’t buy influence with God, neither will that big plan you have. What God wants, and requires, of you is that you stay humble, and worshipful, repentant, and submissive, and in order with your family life, loving your wife or husband and respecting them, giving to your children’s lives before you give to your church life, building your personal and family spiritual life before you build your ministry life, and so forth. That is Christian success. No amount of ministry success will change that.
One sign of spiritual immaturity that we often see as pastors is the desire to minister before the time is right. People start to “get right” with God, they finally attend church regularly, and then they feel like they are supposed to go out and conquer the world for God. A person starts to really believe, and they want to put into practice the things they are learning, and that is good. They should be sharing their faith, yes, but not starting some “big idea” ministry. The problem lies in the fact that they aren’t as equipped as they think they are. They are well intentioned, but they are not ready to lead. They may be great leaders in the world, but that doesn’t mean they are ready to lead in the kingdom of God, not yet at least.
They need to learn more than simple desire for God. You have to learn to lead, and it is a process. They need to learn to serve before they can learn to lead, and they have to learn to submit before they can learn to serve. They need to learn to obey before they learn to submit. That is the order: obedience, submission, service, and then, and only then, leadership. Said another way, your actions, attitudes, availability, and then ability.
Remember what we said earlier about faithfulness in another ministry (Luke 16:10-12)? What makes you think you can have this para-church ministry when you cannot even commit to the ministry of the local church? Learning to serve means learning to do what the church already knows it needs, not coming up with something you want to do and calling that service. Acquiring ministry is not the measure of spirituality.
Paul had a lot to say, and in this book of Romans he was about to lay it out in a way that the revelation of God had never been laid out before or since. This was Paul’s magnum opus, and yet after he gave his salutation, and before he got on with the meat of his letter, before he ministered to the people, he stopped and smelled the roses, as it were. First he gave thanks to God through Jesus Christ. Your ministry to God is more important, and comes before, your ministry for God.
How many times do we fail this standard? We may have some great revelation, some wonderful thing to say, some great idea, but we are so driven we forget our true purpose. It isn’t about what God has given us, or what we think we know but others don’t, it is God Himself that matters. The deal is already done, it is our privilege to proclaim it, not rush to name it and claim it. You don’t always have to “get on with it”; sometimes the interruptions are the main thing itself.
This is where many otherwise gifted people become blind. They are asleep to a big part of life. Indeed, many who are getting excited about the things of God don’t recognize the process God uses to grow us up. The reason so many don’t recognize opportunities to minister is because they think they have something “better” or “bigger” to do at the moment God is bringing a “certain person” or situation into focus. Often it is a situation that they need to learn to be able to handle that “bigger thing” when it comes along. However, that big thing won’t come along or we won’t be successful at it until we learn these smaller lessons, which of course are not smaller at all, just smaller in our own, finite minds.
That is the second area, and the overall thrust of what I am trying to say today. We must acknowledge God, in humility, in weakness and in strength, we must thank Him for all the things that come before us, and all of these things are opportunities to minister, or be ministered to.
It isn’t about acquiring ministry, but about being ready and available for ministry, not as we see it, but as God calls us to it. Think about Peter and John at the gate beautiful (Acts 3:1-2): that man was there every day, but the Apostles knew exactly when they should do the works of God. Think about Jesus, and the “certain man” at the pool, how come he got healed (John 5:5-8) and Jesus left the other sick folk alone?
Why are we looking to minister only in the way and time we want to, like right after we come off the mountaintop? Often, God lets us be used when we are down in the dumps, because then we truly realize the power is from God, and it helps us to be ready, in season and out. When we feel guilty but God uses us anyway, we see that we really do have a real faith, and that God is the one whose got a hold of us, and we can turn back to God with full assurance of faith. God allowing us to be used in our so-called weakest moments is His way of getting us to draw closer to Him.
We don’t earn ministry opportunities by being good little boys and girls, but we are allowed to see them by believing God is real, and recognizing opportunities as they come. Of course, drawing close to God in holiness helps us to realize these things, but God will allow us to minister even when we are seemingly far away from Him so as to get us to want to draw closer again. When you see God use you when you’ve been bad, repent, He is waiting for you with open arms. So if you just told someone else about believing God for there life, and now He has just shown you He is real by using you in your weakest moments, catch the clue, take some of your own medicine, and believe Him for your problem. That is “Christian Success”.
Be looking for God to send someone by at the “wrong time”. Your agenda is never as important as God’s. Remember what we said before, being faithful in a little thing is a big thing. Think of the parable of the Good Samaritan, and those that walked on by. They had bigger and more important things to do, like teaching at the temple, but they missed the ministry just lying there waiting to happen.
Instead of thinking about the next big thing, pay attention to how God is present in each moment, in its mad rush or its rigmarole. He is present in both. Too often we become so time-obsessed that we take no time to really notice. We look at our watch, and think that we need to just hurry up and get on with it; we need to go watch the big game, right?
I heard of a pastor who one day after a Sunday service received a note: "Pastor I would appreciate it if you prayed shorter prayers. Your prayer this past Sunday was 12 minutes, 43 seconds in length. Please strive for greater brevity." The note was unsigned, but we know that this person is so bound by time that they haven’t learned to number the days. They can tell the time, but not discern the season.
Psalm 90:12 (HCSB) – Teach us to number our days carefully so that we may develop wisdom in our hearts.
We can miss that, and miss wisdom. See what this text proclaims: those who number their days carefully gain a wise heart. However, it is not numbering them by the clock, but by the experience. The people who do this become God's wise men: those calm, unhurried people who live in each moment fully, savoring simple things, celebrating small epiphanies, unafraid of life's inevitable surprises, adaptive to change yet not chasing after it. We must learn this many times.
Many driven people, at some point, forget their purpose. They lose the point. The very reason they began something – something that may have been noble – fades under the weight of their striving. Being driven too hard, their purpose gets displaced by greed for more, or dread of setback, or force of habit. Their drive eventually becomes their purpose.
The difference between living out our purpose and being driven is most clearly seen in what we do with time. The driven are fanatical time managers – time-mongers, time-herders, and time-hoarders. Living requires time management, true, but not the kind that attempts to quarantine most of what makes life what it is: the mess, the surprises, the breakdowns, and the breakthroughs. However, that is what many if not most people do, especially as they become “successful”. That is another pitfall of trying to be a Christian success, the first was acquiring, this is avoiding. Avoiding and acquiring hinder you from acknowledging.
I challenge you to redefine what you think is Christian “success”. Have you truly replaced your understanding of worldly success with a biblical one, or are you just using the same standard and “baptizing” it with words like ministry, and victory. Look again at “acquiring” and “avoiding” – this is what most people, even after they become Christians, think victorious living is about, and they are wrong, dead wrong. Faith without works is dead, yes, but works without faith is death itself. Trying to acquire in order to please God is not faith, and doing for others without caring for home is not faithfulness. Avoiding is not faith its fear. It’s not care, its control.
I have said it before: if you try and control every situation, you are controlled by every situation. Too much rigidity strangles purpose. The more I try to manage time, the more anxious I get about it, and the more I get distracted and lose my purpose.
Truly purposeful people manage time less and pay attention more. The most purposeful people I know rarely over-manage time, and when they do, it's usually because they're lapsing into busyness and guilt. The distinguishing mark of purposeful people is not time management. It's that they notice what is really going on for all it is worth. They are being and living prophetically. They acknowledge God, they thank God in all and for all they do.
That is mainly what prophecy is about, not fore telling the future, but forth telling the present from God’s perspective. The truly purposeful are not trying to move on to the next thing, and scratching another thing off the list, they are living God’s purposes to the full in every moment. They are truly awake to the life of God.
Martin Luther learned this lesson (Luther in the castle). Perhaps speaking about time wasted, he said, “Riches are the pettiest and least worthy gifts which God can give a man. What are they to God's Word, to bodily gifts, such as beauty and health; or to the gifts of the mind, such as understanding, skill, and wisdom! Yet men toil for them day and night, and take no rest. Therefore God commonly gives riches to foolish people to whom he gives nothing else.”
C.S. Lewis – The great thing, if one can, is to stop regarding all the unpleasant things as interruptions of one's 'own,' or 'real' life. The truth is of course that what one calls the interruptions are precisely one's real life – the life God is sending one day by day: what one calls one's 'real life' is a phantom of one's own imagination. This at least is what I see at moments of insight: but it's hard to remember it all the time.
We need to see and follow the examples of Paul, and of course, our Lord Jesus Christ.
Paul had a purpose and could have been driven; he knew his mission and was bound and determined to see it through. He was to deliver the Gospel to the whole known world, to the Gentiles. Yet he stayed three years in Ephesus, and he didn’t complain about his purpose and his lack of time, or tell God how he needed to be set free or the Gospel wouldn’t get out when he was imprisoned. He knew that he may be bound but the Word of God was not bound. He had people pray for an open door, but was sensitive to the Spirit when he felt driven to go somewhere but was told not to.
How many times have we started out on a godly, good course, one where God had indeed been taking us to, only to have Him give us a detour, or change our course? Do we cry and complain, or do we give thanks and comply?
Jesus knew where He was going; to Jerusalem and the Cross – yet He didn’t seem to keep track of time and didn’t seem in a hurry. He paid attention to the opportunities that came before Him. He didn’t stumble at interruptions; He used them as a tool. He was hospitable to interruption; He was looking for the “curveballs” that life throws at us all. Learning this secret will help you master your emotional roller coaster, my friend.
Jesus didn’t rush to the deadline for His death, but He still arrived on the scene in Jerusalem in perfect time. We can take the time to thank God through Jesus Christ for all and everything that happens to us, and every situation we find ourselves faced with, because God has everything under control, and His timing is perfect. Thank God through Jesus Christ when you get “interrupted” this week. Stop trying to acquire or avoid and start trying to be faithful wherever you are at. Don’t just move on, but enter in. Amen.