September 6, 1987
Live in Obedience, Walk in Love
Recent months have caused great agony to many Christians as they have watched their faith ridiculed in the news media and in public conversation because of the failures of a handful of “media ministers.” We are concerned about the testimony that is presented by such public displays.
Yet the only way most of the world has to learn about Christ’s love is through the lives of those who profess to follow Him. Perhaps that is why Paul provided so much practical guidance on living our faith in the world.
As Christians, we give witness to Christ by living in proper relationship with others.
I. We Are to be Responsible Citizens (vv. 1-7)
Christians should be counted among the most loyal and obedient citizens of any nation. In different societies that entails different responsibilities. For us in the United States, it includes obeying the law, paying our proper taxes, participating in our political system, working to make our country a just and caring society.
For example, the 1988 election year is almost upon us. The presidential primary season is only a few months away. As Christians, we ought to be faithful to study the issues, evaluate the candidates, support those we believe are the best, and vote. And that is true at every level of government: national, state, and in our local communities.
Why do we, as Christians, have a special responsibility toward government?
A. Because government is ordained of God (vv. 1-2). The human institution of government is a creation of God for our benefit. It maintains order and protects its citizens.
Imagine for just a moment a world without government. There would be no laws to order our relationships; of course, there would be no stop signs to run or roads to run them on! There would be no police to protect us from evildoers among us; it would be every person protecting himself or herself. There would be no schools to train the vast majority of our children. If government didn’t exist, we’d have to invent it!
That doesn’t mean every individual ruler or every government system is placed in power by God. A brief glance at the history of the twentieth century reveals scores of political leaders who actively opposed the principles of God’s Kingdom, but their evil actions do not eliminate the value of government itself.
When we encounter conflicts between the claims of government and the claims of God, our primary allegiance is always to God. As Jesus said, “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and unto God what is God’s.” Our first loyalty is to God, but where there is no conflict we are called to be responsible, obedient citizens — which includes working to change laws where needed and to elect qualified and committed leadership.
B. Because government encourages the good (vv. 3-5). Did you know that Paul uses the same word (diakonos, servant) to describe the good ruler that he uses to describe Christ Himself (75:8)? It is the word which we translate deacon, servant — one who ministers on behalf of others.
Paul says government is a servant because it promotes the good and opposes the bad. The power of government is to be used to restrain evil and promote that which is good.
Our call as Christians is to be supporters of government in that effort. We are to be responsible citizens.
II. We Are to be Loving Neighbors (vv. 8-10)
In the earlier verses Paul uses a broad brush to deal with our relationship to society. Now he draws closer, to show our responsibility to be loving neighbors to those who are around us.
In the Peanuts comic strip, Linus offered this honest testimony when he said: “I love mankind. It’s people I can’t stand.” For many Christians, it’s easier to be a responsible citizen than to be a loving neighbor. It can be hard to express our love in action to specific people — sometimes people who don’t seem so lovely.
Yet it is in love that all of our faith comes together. If we truly act in love, we will live lives that honor God (vv. 9-10).
How will you show your love, in specific ways, this week? Today? (JMD)
September 13, 1987
Principles of Forgiveness
I read a story about a little boy who had done something he shouldn’t have done and he did it with a whole group of adults looking onto his misdeed. He realized he was caught! He looked from one stern-faced adult to the next watching for some sign that he would be forgiven. It didn’t come and the little fellow burst into tears and asked, “Oh, won’t somebody please forgive me!”
There have been occasions when we’ve all felt that way. We’ve been caught! Guilt rises to the surface. We know what we have done is wrong — somebody please forgive us. I’ve got “good news” — the message of the Bible is that God desires to put His loving arms around us and forgive when we really desire it.
The Rabbinic law said that a brother (Jew) might be forgiven for a repeated offense three times. If a fourth repetition occurred then the offended had the right to say no.
Peter, thinking himself a bighearted soul, said: “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him?” Before Jesus has an opportunity to reply, Peter answers his own question with a question, “Up to seven times?”
Jesus plays with the number Peter throws out. Now some versions have seventy times seven, while some have seventy-seven times. The point is that forgiveness is not limited by frequency or quantity; the key is an attitude of forgiveness.
I. The Availability of Forgiveness (vv. 21-22)
The key concept is available. That means: “capable of being used; at hand; usable.” God is ready and capable of handing you your pardon, to release you from the wrong and guilt.
II. The Abundance of Forgiveness (v. 23-25)
This past summer my family and I visited Niagara Falls. We enjoyed everything about it. I especially enjoyed getting on the boat that took us to the Horseshoe Falls. It was as if we were going right under the falls. They gave us raincoats at the beginning and at the time I wasn’t sure why — but we were so close it was as if we could reach out and touch the millions of gallons of water that plummeted down on us. Had we not had the coats on we would have been soaked.
God is like that. It’s not a little trickle of forgiveness he offers it’s abundant. There’s enough forgiveness available to forgive all the sins of all the people who have ever lived and will ever live!
III. The Heart of Forgiveness (v. 26-27)
Dr. A. J. Gordon once said: “I have long ceased to pray, ‘Lord Jesus, have compassion on a lost world!’ I remember the day and the hour when I seemed to hear the Lord rebuking me for making such a prayer. He seemed to say, ‘I have had compassion on a lost world, and now it’s time for you to have compassion.”
If God has that much compassion — and we are His representatives — don’t you think we need a heart of compassion for the needs of people? We cannot forgive without compassion.
IV. The Responsibility of Forgiveness (v. 29-30)
When God forgives me He bestows a responsibility on me that binds me morally to forgive others. I am accountable.
It’s told that after the frightful massacre of Christian Armenians in 1901, an Armenian woman, who had seen her father, uncles, husband and son murdered by the Turks, was visiting Moslem homes with an open Bible preaching forgiveness and the life of Christ — within a week of the murders!
You and I will probably never go through that, but what about that person who ruffled your feathers this week; or hurt your ego — your feelings; what about that ex-spouse, that guy at the shop who is constantly giving you problems? How do we deal with them?
We deal with them with God’s love … with time … with positive/affirmative attitudes … by giving the hurts and scars over to God.
V. The Circumference of Forgiveness, (v. 31)
This includes others viewing our attitude of forgiveness. J. Stuart Holden asked a big, warm-hearted sergeant of the British Highland Regiment how he was saved.
His answer was: “There was a private in the same company who was converted in Malta before the regiment came on to Egypt. We gave that fellow an awful time. The devil got possession of me, and I made the man’s life positively miserable. One night, a terribly wet night, he came in from sentry duty. He was tired and wet and before getting into bed he got down to pray. My boots were heavy with wet mud and I let him have it with a kick to the head and then another. But the man went on with his prayers.
“Next morning I found my boots beautifully polished by the side of my bed.
“I knew then that was his reply to me; and it just broke my heart, and I was saved that day.”
How many folks around us are watching our attitude of forgiveness?
VI. The Judgment Upon the Lack of Forgiveness (v. 34-35)
Dr. D. A. Carson in the Expositor’s Bible Commentary writes: “Jesus sees no incongruity in the actions of a heavenly father who forgives so bountifully and punishes so ruthlessly, and neither should we. Indeed, it is precisely because He is God of such compassion and mercy. This is not to say that the King’s compassion can be earned; far from it, the servant is granted freedom only by virtue of the King’s forgiveness. Those forgiven must forgive, but they show themselves incapable of receiving forgiveness.”
There was a great king who had suffered much from his rebellious subjects. But one day they surrendered their arms, threw themselves at his feet and begged for mercy. He pardoned them all. One of his allies said to him, “Didn’t you say that every rebel should die?”
“Yes,” replied the king, “but I see no rebels here.” (DGK)
September 20, 1987
What Keeps You Going?
(Philippians 1:21-27; focus, v. 21)
People without purpose are like the box that rests on the desk of an executive of Bell Laboratories. It is a small wooden casket about the size of a cigar box.
On one side of the box is a single switch. When you flip the switch, a buzzing sound is heard, the lid slowly lifts, and, as it does, a mechanical hand emerges. Slowly and surely this hand moves down and turns off the switch and goes back into the box. The lid comes down and the buzzing stops. The whole operation is over.
That is the purpose of the box. You turn it on, and it turns itself off. It was designed to do nothing at all.
Life is not like that. We were designed to glorify God. We were designed to make a difference. We were designed to do a great work here on earth.
I. What is Life?
The Apostle Paul struggled with his reason for being. “My desire and hope is that I shall never fail in my duty, but that at all times, and especially right now, I shall be full of courage so that with my whole being I shall bring honor to Christ. For what is life? To me, it is Christ” (Philippians 1:20,21 TEV).
One day a distinguished-looking man approached a building entrance. A modern young woman arrived at the same time, and the man held the door open for her. She said, “Don’t hold the door for me just because I’m a woman.”
The man was silent for a moment. Then he said, “I didn’t open the door because you are a woman. I opened the door because I am a gentleman.”
Who we are is the most important thing in the world. “For what is life?” What is it that keeps you going every day? Why do you get up every morning? Is it just because the alarm went off? If that is the only reason that you get up, then just turn it off, like the box on the executive’s desk. That will take care of that!
II. Christ Can Keep You Going.
For Paul, the reason for getting up each day was Jesus Christ. Paul had patterned his life after Jesus, and his one hope, his one aspiration, was to mirror Christ in his life.
Therefore, he tried to be loving like Jesus. He tried to have compassion for all people, like Jesus. He tried to be open to new movements of the Holy Spirit, like Jesus. He tried to forgive others, like Jesus.
He tried to be honest, and do his duty, and handle his responsibilities, like Jesus. He tried to right injustices, and pursue peace and denounce prejudice, like Jesus. Even when he found himself in jail, he simply went about doing good, like Jesus would do.
III. Grace alone.
Paul lived his life by the grace of God. He knew that his salvation was completely dependent on God alone through Jesus Christ. “For me to live is Christ,” is what he felt. Paul didn’t write this gospel hymn, but he surely could have sung it:
Jesus, my Lord, my God, my All,
Hear me, blest Saviour, when I call;
Hear me, and from Thy dwelling place
Pour down the riches of Thy grace.
Jesus, my Lord, I Thee adore,
O make me love Thee more and more. (Henry Collins — 1854)
A church leader died and went directly to the Pearly Gates. St. Peter met him and said, “It takes a thousand points to get in, so tell me something about yourself.” The man said, “Well, until I was twenty-one years old, I never missed Sunday School, unless I was sick in bed. I have a string of perfect attendance medals that almost reaches the floor. I was an acolyte, active in the youth group, and I often worked around the church, cutting grass and doing other odd jobs.” St. Peter said, “That is extremely good. That gives you one point. Tell me something else about yourself.”
The man said, “Well, I am seventy years old. I attended church regularly, served on the session many times, sang in the choir, and was a speaker on Laymen’s Sunday one year. I always gave ten percent of the income that you gave me to your church, and was a lifelong church member.” St. Peter said, “That is truly remarkable. That gives you another point. Tell me something else about yourself.”
By this time the man was getting a little desperate, and, if the truth were known, a little irritated, and he blurted out to St. Peter, “Look, at this rate the only way I’ll ever get into Heaven is by the grace of God.” St. Peter said, “That is worth one thousand points, and with the two you earned, it makes one thousand two. Would you like to come in now?”
What keeps you going? Can you say “the grace of God”? “For me to live is Christ.” (CTH)
September 27, 1987
A Portrait of Christ
When the brush is held by a master artist, a portrait reveals much about the subject. By examining the details — looking closely at the eyes, the shape of the mouth, the appearance of the clothing — the artist helps us peer into the soul of the subject.
Paul is concerned about dissension in the church at Philippi. To counter disunity, he provides a striking model for them: he draws a word portrait of Christ, their example and ours. As the Philippians did, we can examine this portrait and learn that the path to true exaltation leads through humility.
I. He Became a Servant (vv. 5-7)
You are a human being. You may try to cease acting human — you may reduce your appearance and actions to the level of an animal — but nothing can change your essential humanness. You remain, by your very nature, human.
When Paul says Christ was in “the form of God,” he is asserting the absolute divinity of Christ. Christ is, by His very nature, God. Nothing could change that; nothing could take Christ’s divinity away from Him.
Yet, says Paul, Christ did not consider His divinity something to be clung to. Rather, He laid aside the privileged estate of heaven and willingly assumed human form — the form of a servant. He emptied Himself of privileges and powers and poured out His life as a servant on our behalf.
What love and grace! How dare we complain when our faith causes the slightest discomfort or inconvenience, when the very King of Glory laid aside His sceptre, stepped down from His heavenly throne, and took His place in our midst as a servant of humanity.
What an example of humility! How can we, who so often fall short of God’s will for our lives, cling to pride and position in the face of such love and humility? Our lives are touched by this portrait of Christ.
II. He Accepted a Cross (v. 8)
Paul develops his portrait more fully. Not only do we see the humility that caused Jesus Christ to accept the form of a servant on our behalf — we also see the obedience that sent Him to a cross for us.
Jesus was utterly obedient to the Father, even if it meant the ultimate self-sacrifice. There was no limit to His obedience.
What about us? Are there areas of your life and mine where God is calling even now for us to obey, to follow His will and not our own?
III. He Received a Crown (vv. 9-11)
The portrait is complete. Christ emptied Himself of His rightful power and position, taking on the form of a servant, obedient even unto death. And this same Jesus — who would not grasp for His rightful place but willingly poured Himself out in sacrificial service — has been exalted by God.
The servant has become Lord. Humiliation has been transformed into exaltation. And this same Christ will ultimately be acknowledged as Lord by all creation. Whatever our personal response to Him, His Lordship is certain.
Pope John Paul II’s visit to the United States this year recalls the October 1979 Papal visit to the U.S. In the Communicator’s Commentary, Maxie Dunnam tells about one event that took place in connection with that visit.
Officials in the Chicago archdiocese were shocked to discover that the local papal throne was missing. It is customary for each archdiocese to have a “throne room” in case a Pope visits, but there had never been a Papal visit to Chicago, so the “throne room” had been turned into a committee room and the throne somehow misplaced. Just a week before the visit, officials found the throne in a storage closet at a nearby Catholic college, stored along with other unneeded items.
How many people today have filled the “throne room” of their own lives with other things, and cast aside Christ’s rightful throne in their lives? Many of us have even chosen to sit on the throne ourselves.
The majestic testimony of God’s Word is that Christ is Lord. Only when we acknowledge this Lordship in our own lives will we find life eternal and life abundant. (JMD)
October 4, 1987
Productivity is the Bottom Line
The “bottom line” for the business world is the productivity which produces a profit. The “bottom line” for the Kingdom of God is that productivity of faith which bears fruit. Jesus’ parable is given during his final week in Jerusalem, according to Matthew, and centers on productivity and fruit.
It is impossible to miss the connection between the landowner and God, the beaten servants and the Old Testament prophets, and the son who is killed and Jesus of Nazareth.
I. God Provides All That is Needed for Productivity.
The landowner has provided all that is needed for the vineyard to be productive. He has planted it, a hedge has been set about it to protect it from the animals and from thieves. A wine press has been dug. The tenants will not have to provide one or transport the grapes somewhere else. There is a tower, both a place to guard the vineyard and to rest.
God has provided all that is needed for faith to be fruitful. We have the Scriptures, the story of our mutual history. There are directions for living. We have the Spirit for daily support and direction.
II. People Have the Freedom to Serve or to Rebel.
The landowner let the land to tenants, not slaves. Tenants have a joint share in the productivity of the vineyard. The tenants promised to produce and to share their profits. But their greed overcame them.
Each follower of God today has a choice. It is the choice of obedience or rebellion. Our choice is faithless rejection, or fruitful service.
III. Jesus is the Key to the Fruit of Faith.
The tenants killed the son, thinking that without an heir, the landowner would possibly give the land to them. It was an unrealistic thought. Israel had done the same. When they determined to put Jesus to death, it was so that they could have God all to themselves.
Had the tenants paid the son, they would have been blessed, not punished. Had the leaders of Israel followed Jesus, they would not have been replaced, but would have fellowshipped with God Himself. Their decision was unrealistic.
Productivity is the “bottom line.” Fruitbearing is the key to life with God. God has provided all things for us. Our question is what shall we do with the produce of our lives? Shall we keep what we have for ourselves? Or shall we give to God His proper due? (HCP)
October 11, 1987
What Can I Wear?
The invitation is received, but the couple hesitates to accept. And the wife’s response is clear: “I have nothing to wear.” What she means is “I have a closet full of clothes, but none of them are really appropriate for this occasion.”
The second of these parables in Matthew 22 is concerned with wearing the most appropriate dress in the presence of God.
We have two parables in these verses. Both are given as a part of the teaching of Jesus during His final week in Jerusalem. Many of the earlier parables are more difficult to understand. But these parables have a clear relationship between the people of Israel and the God whom they have abandoned.
In the first parable about the wedding feast, although warned of a coming invitation, the invited guests were not ready to receive the word about the time and place, and go on to do other things instead.
In this parable, there is both a particular and a general message. The particular message is about the rejection of Jesus by the Jews as the final act in a drama of rejection. The Gospel calls us to be cautious that we do not reject the invitation for secondary reasons. The general message is just as clear. There is a joy in following God just as in a wedding feast. There is a celebration in the Kingdom as surely as at a wedding party.
The rejection of the invitation was not for evil choices. The attention to business was not bad. These choices were for less important and less vital realities, however.
It is possible for us to be so busy about the things of the world that we forget the things of God. It is possible for anyone of us to be so busy making a living that we forget to make a life.
After a stunning career as a classical guitarist, the artist disappears from view. There are no more concerts, no more records. He has retreated to a private ranch in the West because there is no joy or meaning in the music. After many years, he returns to the concert stage. The artist announces that he has found a new meaning for life, a new purpose for his music. God is now the center of his life, and music is once again a joy. When God comes first, the day-to-day affairs take on new meaning and new joy for us all.
The second parable is about grace. The invitation to the feast with God is a gift, but it is also a grave responsibility. Just as one should be properly attired for the wedding feast, so one should have the proper attitude and spirit in the feast of the Kingdom. The improperly-attired were cast from the wedding feast.
Penitence, faith, reverence-these are the garments of expectation with God. Without such clothing for our hearts and spirits, we can be just as exiled from the presence of the King of Kings.
There is an attire which is proper before God, and in living with Jesus Christ. We can be grateful for a story which provides both the graceful invitation and a graceful understanding of the proper heart and spirit in the presence of our Christ. (HCP)
October 18, 1987
God and Caesar
With another presidential campaign getting more in gear each day, we face the question of the relationship between religion and politics. The issue comes as nothing new, as we know from the Bible.
At the time of the Exodus, God sent Moses to Pharoah to say, “Let my people go.” The prophets continued to rail against the injustices in the political and social system of their day.
Jesus entered the fray when the Pharisees and Herodians asked Him a question about taxes. Those religious leaders thought that they had hatched a fool-proof plan: they would ask Jesus a “Catch-22” question, one that would get Him in trouble whichever way He answered.
They found Jesus and said, “Teacher, we know that you are true, and teach the way of God, and care for no man; for you do not regard the position of men. Tell us, then, what do you think? Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”
You see the dilemma. Jesus will lose either way. A “yes” will alienate His followers. A “no” will incur the wrath of the Roman authorities.
Jesus knew how to handle such situations. As He had done on other occasions, he responded with a question. He asked for a coin, then said, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?”
The religious leaders took the bait, as they replied, “Caesar’s.”
Jesus retorted with, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
I suspect that silence greeted His response. Jesus had outfoxed them again.
Notice that Jesus did not lay down any specific rules and regulations. Rather he left us with a principle: give to the state what is the state’s and give to God what is God’s.
We have to apply the principle to discern what is Caesar’s and what is God’s, and that is no easy task, as we all know. We have to wrestle constantly with the issue of what belongs to Caesar and what belongs to God; there is no clear-cut distinction.
The further we journey into this valley of decisions, the easier and more tempting it becomes to hand all decisions over to Caesar. We have given more and more to the state (Caesar) in our time. Caesar has responded by keeping things running smoothly for us. But in doing so, are we rendering to Caesar what we should be rendering to God?
The problem is that it is easier to let Caesar do it. That way we do not have to deal with flesh and blood people and their needs. We never have to get involved, except to complain about the faceless and heartless bureaucrats who work for Caesar.
Once Caesar gets control, it becomes hard to have any say so. When God’s people protest Caesar’s plans or actions, Caesar does not like it. Caesar wants God out of it.
That leaves us in a dilemma: how do we know what things to render to whom?
Really, it boils down to priorities. Who gets top billing: Caesar or God? That being the case, I hear Jesus implying that all things belong to God, even those of Caesar. We may render our taxes to Caesar. Yet, we remember in doing so that Caesar only exists because God allows Caesar to do so. Our top priority has to be the things of God. (RMR)
October 25, 1987
Love God With Your Mind
(Matthew 22:34-46; focus, vv. 35-37)
The human mind is the most amazing computer on earth. Millions of cells form a complex, intricate instrument greater than anything created by men.
Your mind is used every day. At work, at school, at home — even when you are asleep — your mind is constantly working on your behalf.
So it’s particularly interesting to question what Jesus meant by His command to love God with our minds. To properly understand what Jesus was saying, it is helpful to see how writers of His day used the same word, for it was a common Greek term. As we understand the background of that word, “mind,” we can more fully understand what Jesus is asking of us.
I. Loving God With Your Mind Involves Your Intellect
One of the most common meanings of the word “mind” involved the thought process, human rationality. Certainly the ability to think, to reason, is a gift of God. Thus, using that gift is, in a sense, an act of worship.
Some folks believe that becoming a Christian means putting your mind in neutral, afraid to admit that we can think and reason in search of truth. I’ve heard people say, “God gave me that poem,” unwilling to acknowledge that God might also give the talent and creative energy that allows a person to write poetry. Of course, I’ve also heard some poetry attributed to God by people for which I’m sure God would prefer to refuse authorship!
God wants us to use our minds to the best of our ability. No faith worth keeping is damaged by prayerful, careful study. All truth is God’s truth, and we have nothing to fear from seeking to understand His Word and His world better. When we use our minds to our best ability, we glorify the One who created them.
We must always be careful, however, that it is God we worship with our minds, and not ourselves. Our minds are not the objective standard of judgment; God’s Word is.
II. Loving God With Your Mind Involves Your Attitudes
Another common Greek use of this word “mind” was as a “way of thought” or the “disposition” of a person — our attitudes, our perspective toward life. And Jesus says these should be turned toward God.
Our attitudes are inevitably reflected in our words and actions. There’s something wrong about the statement: “Sure, he’s flunking all his classes, but he has a good attitude about school!” Attitudes issue in actions that are consistent.
III. Loving God With Your Mind Involves Your Will
Several ancient Greek writers used this word “mind” to refer to the will – the volitional aspect of our lives. It is that part of us that makes decisions, that says “yes” and “no.”
Loving God with our minds involves our will — a decision to surrender control of our lives to Jesus Christ, to make Him Lord of our lives. That is an act of your will — a decision you and I must make as individuals. (JMD)
Outlines in this issue have been provided by Derl G. Keefer, Pastor of Three Rivers (MI) Church of the Nazarene; C. Thomas Hilton, Senior Minister of First Presbyterian Church, Pompano Beach, FL; Harold C. Perdue, Pastor of First United Methodist Church, San Angelo, TX; R. Michael Reed, Pastor of Center United Methodist Church, Indianapolis, IN; and Michael Duduit, Editor of Preaching.
September 6, 1987