Advent 2: Repent!

Isaiah 11:1-10 and Matthew 3:1-12

You can listen to the recording of this Sermon HERE

John the Baptist, what a legend! Jesus Himself later said of John: “Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist!” Here was a man who totally fulfilled the mission God had given him. And what a crazy mission it was!

Here’s a man who went out into the wilderness of Judea without any creature comforts. He wore a rough camel hair robe and a leather sash round his waist. He braved the elements, the wild animals, and the bandits; and he positioned himself far from civilization, living off the wilderness, eating locusts and wild honey.

Allow me a moment to take a brief detour: I sometimes wonder which came first? The calling or the wilderness. Did he go to the wilderness in response to a clear call; or did he go to seek God and then hear a clear call? All I know is that if he didn’t have a clear understanding of his call … spending time in the solitude and silence of the wilderness is an awesome way to open one’s spiritual ears to the voice of God. That’s why I’m raising this as an aside… just to encourage us to consider the opportunities that Advent offers … opportunities to go aside and spend a season deliberately seeking God. if you’re going on leave this Advent … why not take time and make space to just be with God in a silent place of solitude. If you’re at home and still working, that will mean getting up earlier or going to bed later I suppose … but make the space and time and seek God! Listen for His voice. Listen for His call on your life in 2020. Detour over …

We also don’t know how God spoke to John to give him his clear instructions for his mission. However, given that Matthew and the other Gospels understood John’s mission as a fulfilment of the words of the prophet Isaiah … I think it’s possible that John was meditating on Isaiah out there in the wilderness. And perhaps one of the passages that helped to clarify his call was today’s passage from Isaiah 11. (We read it as the call to worship).

In chapter 11, Isaiah foresees the coming of the anointed saviour of Israel. And he foresees that the Messiah’s ministry will be a double-edged sword.

  • On the one hand he says that, empowered by the Holy Spirit and guided by the Spirit’s knowledge, wisdom and counsel, “With the rod of his mouth he will strike the earth. With the breath of his lips, he will slay the wicked.” That’s judgment!
  • On the other hand, he says that those who “know the Lord” will live in this amazing state of supernatural harmony where the wolf lies down with the lamb and the cow feeds with the bear, and no-one harms or destroys anymore. And this also, the Messiah will accomplish in the power of the Holy Spirit and guided by the Spirit’s knowledge, wisdom and counsel. That’s restoration and new life!

In the days of John the Baptist, almost everyone in Israel was eagerly awaiting the coming of this Messiah – this Christ – this Anointed Saviour. John was no different. And out there in the wilderness … it became clear to him that he had a call.

Please remember that in Luke 1:15-17 the angel Gabriel had told John’s father that John would be filled with the Holy Spirit “from his mother’s womb” and that he would go ahead of the Lord to bring many back to the Lord their God, and to prepare them for His coming. Here’s a man who was prepared for his mission by the Holy Spirit … called by the Spirit … gifted by the Spirit … anointed by the Spirit. And finally … here in the wilderness … led by the Holy Spirit … he begins his ministry of preparing people for the coming of Messiah. That was the sole aim of John’s mission: Get people ready to encounter the Saviour and enter the Kingdom.

Let’s take a moment first to think about John’s “Mission Methodology”. He had a really important message (which we’ll come to in a moment) but what was his Method?

The Method

John was literally what Isaiah had prophesied: “One calling in the desert: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord’.”

Come with me in your imagination to the Judean desert. If it helps, please close your eyes as you do so (not if you’re reading this online of ourse). For the sake of this exercise it’s a hot, dry day in a Karoo-like landscape … running somewhere reasonably close by was the Jordan River where the vegetation was at least a bit greener. You can hear the beetles. You can hear a crow cawing. You can hear and feel the gravely road under your feet as you trudge your way down the road from Jerusalem to visit your relatives in the countryside. You can smell sheep droppings and perspiration. Your eyes and ears are peeled for the bandits who frequent these parts. And then you hear a distant shout. It’s a man’s voice. It sounds quite wild and its definitely urgent. Your first thoughts are that someone is being attacked and is calling for help. But as you cautiously round the next bend in the path you see a lone man about 50 meters off the road. Another 50 meters or so behind him is the river you will soon be crossing. As he sees you he shouts again.

“What?” you call back, “I didn’t hear you.”

This time he calls back even louder: “Repent! The Kingdom of God is near!”

“What are you talking about?”

“You are a sinner! Turn away from your sin because God’s Kingdom is coming”

Please come out of your imagination again and rejoin me in the Service.

That is all we’re told John was doing. Shouting out in the desert that people should repent of their sin because God’s kingdom was near … it was at hand … and coming soon.

John’s effectiveness was supernatural. Anyone who responded to his method did so purely because the Holy Spirit had anointed John’s words. Only the Holy Spirit can take this message – calling people to repent of sin – and make it effective. Because more often than not we humans, left to our own devices, either:

  • know we’re sinners and we love our sin … and therefore will not repent … OR
  • believe we’re not sinners and don’t need to repent.

But Matthew records that, “People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. Confessing their sins they were baptised by him in the Jordan.” That kind of effectiveness can ONLY be the work of the Holy Spirit.

John then completed his ministry to people by baptising all those who confessed that they were sinners and repented of their sins – turning away from a sinful lifestyle. This baptism marked them making a new beginning – resetting their lives and starting over with God … ready now to receive the ministry of the Messiah Jesus … who was just about to burst onto the scene. Now they were ready to encounter JESUS.

Do you want to encounter the Saviour of humanity and live in His eternal Kingdom? Then pay close attention not only to his Method, but also to John’s Message which we will unpack in a bit more detail now.

The Message

I think we see the importance of John’s message best in his interactions with the religious leaders.

When they come out to the wilderness, John clearly sees that they are not there to repent. They are just there to assess him. They don’t believe for a moment that they are sinners in need of repentance and a Saviour; and John greets them with total disrespect!

I’ll paraphrase:

“You rattlesnakes! Who warned you to flee from the coming fire of God’s judgment? Hey?…What’s that?…What judgment, you ask? You’re so proud of your so-called spiritual heritage as Abraham’s descendants. You think you’re safe? I tell you, God can make descendants for Abraham from these rocks. He doesn’t care about your bloodline. He cares about your prideful, arrogant, sinning hearts. And if you don’t repent and turn your lives around, He’s going to destroy you.”

John was very clear. His call was for people to truly repent – to turn away from lives of sin and to turn to God … to be baptised as a sign of the old life of sin being washed away and the new life of living for God beginning … and then to go home and live like people who have truly turned away from sin and turned to God. There was no room for fakers and spiritual pretenders!

And then – for the sake of these men who were so resistant to repentance – and also for us today – John fleshed out his message into 2 promises:

  1. Promise #1: The coming Messiah – that’s Jesus – will baptise some of you with the Holy Spirit. To apply the images of Isaiah 11 – the coming Messiah will grant you life in glorious harmony with God and others through the power of His Holy Spirit … in His Kingdom-Family … both now and forever.
  2. Promise #2: The coming Messiah – that’s Jesus – will baptise some of you with the fire of judgment. To apply the images of Isaiah 11, He will slay the wicked. John’s image was just as strident: “He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”

To those who had been open, John had not warned them about the coming judgment … He had simply held out to them the beautiful first promise that the Kingdom of God was about to come and that to enter it they needed to repent of their sin and turn to God

But now, John presented the resistant religious leaders with the full truth. Seeing them in grave danger of failing to repent because they were blind to their need for repentance … John issues the 2nd promise. You have set your life on course for the judgment of God. if you do not change the direction of your life through repenting of sin and turning to God … you will walk headlong into the fire of judgment.

The Application

It is so sad to me that the promise of the Holy Spirit and the Kingdom of God is not enough to get all to turn to back to God. It should be, but its not.

However, today our job is not to criticize the ancient religious leaders … so resistant to the call to repent.

Our job today is to hear that call to US and to respond. Our job is to ponder deeply … what was the first thing to come to mind when – in your imagination – you came around the bend in that hot and dusty wilderness path … and heard John’s voice call out:  “You are a sinner! Turn away from your sin because God’s Kingdom is coming”

I am convinced that anyone whose heart is even remotely open to the Holy Spirit today, will have had an immediate reaction to those words. At the sound of those words, a thought immediately came to mind of some attitude or action that is troubling your conscience before God. And our job today is to admit that to ourselves as sin … and make a deliberate decision to turn away from it and turn to God to receive His forgiveness and grace.

Our job is also to recognise the grave danger we are in if … upon hearing those words … the first thought that came to mind was of someone else’s sin and how THEY should be hearing this call and repenting of THEIR sin. That response is the response of a heart hard at work resisting the call to repentance.

This Advent season, let us be open and honest and pliable in the hands of the Holy Spirit as He works in us to continue the ministry of John the Baptist … calling us to repentance so that our lives will be better prepared to encounter Jesus … not at some future date … but this very day!

Advent 1: Be Ready

Isaiah 2:1-5; Matthew 24:36-44; Romans 13:11-14

The audio of this Sermon can be listened to or downloaded HERE

Advent truly is one of the most beautiful seasons on the Christian Calendar – a time to be still, to refocus, to anticipate our celebration of the coming of Jesus the Messiah, God’s anointed Saviour of humanity; and also to reflect on what His coming means for each of our lives.

Whilst we Christians may complain about how Christmas has been widely popularised and commercialised … I do feel that there is a positive to this. Even if we wanted to, throughout Advent, the retailers would not allow us to forget that Christmas is coming. Their motives are purely profit, of course, but we can quite easily leverage their efforts by determining that we will remain constantly mindful of the presence of Jesus, and of the call to ponder the meaning and significance of His coming.

  • Every time we see an enormous Christmas Tree … let us remember the birth of our Saviour.
  • Every time we see a fairy tale Father Christmas … let us remember the One True Father who loved the world so much that He gave His only begotten Son for the salvation of the world.
  • When we see the white glare of fake snow let’s remember the real deal of the white robe of righteousness Jesus has imputed to us.
  • Every painted “angel” can remind us of the real angels who announced His birth.

We do not need to be victims of a commercialised Christmas …rather we can use it to trigger our anticipation of the real deal!

Now, today’s readings issue a call for us to be proactive about keeping our hearts, our minds, and our lifestyles focused on Christ … not only in Advent … but every day. We will start our reflection on the readings in Matthew … then we’ll go to Romans 13 to look for some practical specifics … and finally we’ll find our conclusion in Isaiah. Particularly Matthew 24:36-44 leaves us in no doubt that this is our responsibility.

WAKE UP & KEEP WATCH & BE READY

Jesus’ clear instruction is that we disciples should, “Keep watch .. because you do not know on what day your Lord will come…” (v.42) … “the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect Him.” (v.44) So keep watch!

And when the apostle Paul writes to the Roman Christians, he says in chapter 13:11, “The time has come to wake up from your slumber”. Why? “Because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here.” He means: the Day is coming closer and closer when we will see the Lord face to face. The ultimate completion of our salvation is nearer now than ever before.

The Biblical worldview – the clear teaching of Jesus and of the apostles – is this:

  • Jesus has been raised from the dead
  • He has ascended to the Father’s right hand in glory.
  • From there He will one day return (at the End of the Age) to judge the Living and the Dead.
  • Therefore, says 2 Corinthians 5:9-10: ”We make it our aim to please Him … for we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due to him or her, for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.”

Jesus Himself phrased it this way in John 5:25-29: “A time is coming and now is when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son to have life in Himself. And He has given Him authority to judge because He is the Son of Man. Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear His voice and come out – those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned.” Again…just a reminder … those are the words of Jesus.

Either you and I will see Jesus returning in glory at the End of the Age – if that comes before we die. Or we will die and will come before Him face to face. What Jesus makes perfectly clear is that, either way, we will never know when that day will be … until it comes.

The clear call of Jesus is this: Wake up! And for the rest of your life stay alert to Jesus! So that you can BE READY when that day comes.

 HOW CAN WE BE READY?

Getting ready is an interesting image. In our home, getting ready is relative. And it isn’t what you might initially expect. The two gentlemen in our family prepare for something slowly and for in advance. We want to know when we will be leaving and then we will wake up at least an hour and a half or two hours before departure to prepare in a slow-cooker kind of way. By contrast, the two females in our family want to maximise on other activities … like sleep … and despite the fact that preconceived notions of these matters is contrary … their reality is that they can wake up half an hour before needing to be fully dressed and ready … and still get out the door on time.

But Jesus has complicated matters hasn’t He. He has said that we can’t know the day and time of our departure. We always have to be ready.

So this is clearly not about a sudden last-minute preparation. This is not about throwing on pair of jeans and a T-shirt and running out the door.

This image of constant readiness which Jesus uses is to alert us to the fact that we are called to a permanent and ongoing state of readiness. We can’t think of it as becoming ready and then relaxing again into un-readiness.

So how do we do this?

According to our reading from Romans 13, being ready is a three-step process … which I’ll sum up in the following statements:

  1. Take SIN off
  2. Put JESUS on
  3. Follow HIS ways

 

1.Take SIN off

According to the consistent teaching of Scripture, this is where the journey of readiness begins.

Whether it be the Old Testament Prophets … or John the Baptist … or Jesus Himself … the consistent first call of readiness is this: “Repent of your sins”.

This is not only where the journey to being born into God’s family through faith in Jesus begins … it is also where the journey to daily, constant readiness begins. As Romans 13:12 says: “Put aside the deeds of darkness.”

Readiness is an ongoing rejection of sin … whatever form that sin might take. It is an ongoing “taking off” of the “dirty clothes of darkness”.

The deeds of darkness which are listed in Romans 13 include some of a social nature, like what Romans 13 calls carousing (orgies in NIV) and drunkenness. These words refer to feasts and drinking parties which caused people to become intoxicated and then be a nuisance in the streets.

Some were of a sexual nature, like what the NIV translates “sexual immorality and debauchery”. These sins mean essentially being driven by one’s desire for sexual pleasure and satisfying those desires by any means available, while ignoring God’s call to honour the purty of sexual intimacy only within marriage.

Some of the sins listed were of an self-centred nature, like jealousy and dissension. Driven by self-centredness, we can begrudge others their happiness or success (because it’s not ours) or we can pick petty quarrels driven by our pride and desire for superiority … our desire to always have the final word and be seen to be right.

Romans 13 is not setting out here to give us a comprehensive list of “deeds of darkness” for us to put off … rather it seems to be a representative list. The gist of this first step of readiness if to get rid of sin from our inner lives, our personal lives and our social lives … to get id of everything in our hearts or in our behaviour which are not pleasing to Christ our Lord and to the Creator Father God Whom He perfectly manifested to us.

Put Jesus on

This brings us to the second part of readying ourselves, which is to “clothe ourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom 13:14). Which goes on to say that we should not think about how to gratify “the desires of the sinful nature”.

There is clearly a contrast going on here … and readying ourselves involves taking off the dirty clothing of a heart and life driven by the desire to please ourselves … and then putting on the clean and beautiful clothes of a life driven by the desire to please Jesus. As Ephesians 5:10 says, “Find out what pleases the Lord” … and in v.17, “Understand what the Lord’s will is.”

Ultimately, of course, if deeds of darkness are born out of a heart of self-centredness … then clothing ourselves with Jesus starts with living from a heart that longs to please Jesus … and that means a heart that longs not for our own highest best … but for the highest best of others … that is a heart of love. As Romans 13:10 says, just before the passage where our lectionary reading for today begins, “Love is the fulfilment of the law.”

Now, these words alert us to the fact it goes further than having a loving heart which longs to please Christ … we also need to express this heart through lives that contrast to that list of deeds of darkness. In the power of the Holy Spirit, we are called to:

  • Be a blessing to God and others through our social lives,
  • Live in decency and God-honouring purity in our sexual lives,
  • Live in other-centred service.

Readiness begins in deliberately turning from self-pleasing sin. It continues in deliberately turning to Christ-pleasing, other-centred living.

Conclusion: Follow His Ways

Let us end our reflection on Scripture with the conclusion  in Isaiah 2. In his vision of a world which is set right by God, Isaiah sees an Age when God settles disputes, nations lay down their weapons of war, and those weapons are transformed into implements with which to farm the created world and bring forth food. It is an Age of peace and prosperity for all.

So here’s how that ties in with every other reading for today: This world of peace and prosperity for ALL hinges not only on a sovereign intervention of God. It also hinges on what is said in Isaiah 2:3 and 5: “He will teach us His ways so that we may walk in His paths … and Come, O people of God (“house of Jacob”) … let us walk in the light of the Lord.

The Isaiah reading helps us to see that putting off deeds of darkness and clothing ourselves with Christ is our way of “walking in His paths … walking in the light of the Lord” … and ultimately … when all of us do just that … it ushers in the cessation of hostilities and the furthering of a world at peace.

How we live matters. We may feel that our lives have only a tiny impact on the world … but empowered by the Holy Spirit, and inspired by the example of Christ … our lives can change the world … not least of all for everyone we meet and share life with.

So I pray that for all of us, Advent 2019 will be a season of deep reflection and preparation … not so much for the celebration of Christmas … as for the return of our King. When He returns, may He encounter us living lives of love, of purity and of selfless service … and thereby being ready to partner with Him in bringing about His eternal Kingdom of Peace.

A Life of Gratitude

Thanksgiving Service 2019_Colossians 1:9-23

You can listen to the Sermon Audio HERE

In today’s final instalment of the “Life in the Spirit” series we learn that Life in the Spirit is a Life of Gratitude!

Scientific studies have found that having an attitude of gratitude is associated with: Greater happiness; more optimism; more positive emotions; better and more lasting relationships; better physical health; better progress toward personal goals; better mental alertness and determination; increased generosity and empathy; better sleep and improved self-esteem (https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/compassion-matters/201511/the-healing-power-gratitude)

No wonder then that the God who created us as human beings gave us so many Biblical commands to be grateful! Life is better when we are grateful! When we open our eyes to the good things and blessings of God and give Him thanks for every one of them!

Twenty six times in the book of Psalms alone we are stirred up to “Give thanks to the Lord”. One of the most common refrains of the Old Testament authors is “Give thanks to the Lord for He is good and His love endures forever.”

When we cultivate an attitude of gratitude towards God we tend to become more consciously aware of the goodness and love of God … life seems to take on a richer and fuller sense of God’s presence and power … and life is better for us!

Not only this but Gratitude towards God is a key element of the Spirit-filled life. Ephesians 5:18-20 commands us:

18 Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit19 speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, 20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Thanksgiving is a key element of the Spirit-filled life.

Today, being our Thanksgiving Service, we will use this Sermon time to reflect and give thanks, on the basis of Colossians 1:9-23.

1-For our Salvation

Colossians 1:12-14 says: “giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. 13 For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”

Our greatest cause for thanksgiving to God is this:

God loves us so much that:

  • He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness … that is,
  • He has rescued us from slavery to sin, and
  • He has rescued us from death and hell
  • He has done so by paying for our sins through His own precious life in Jesus Christ
  • He has thereby forgiven all our sins and presented us holy in His sight, without blemish and free from accusation
  • He has made us part of the Kingdom of Jesus
  • He has made us part of His very own family
  • He has given us an eternal inheritance

So you can be thankful for family and friends … and food and clothing and shelter … and pleasures and luxuries and great experiences.

But first and foremost we need to be grateful today :

  • that we are loved by God and
  • that God has saved us freely, by grace, through faith in Jesus

May I therefore invite you to take a moment of silence to remember and to try to put into words:

  • What was my life like before Jesus?
  • How did I meet Jesus?
  • What has Jesus accomplished for me and done in my life since I received His salvation?

Silent Reflection followed by prayer of thanksgiving!

 2-For Who Jesus is

I guess in some ways this is more about PRAISE than thanks, but bear with me for a moment.

Is it not so that sometimes we say this to the important people in our lives: “Thank you so much for who you are! You mean so much to me.”

It is not just what people do for us … but who they are for which we are profoundly grateful. And it is that way with the Lord Jesus too.

Colossians gives a few profound revelations about Jesus. It says Jesus is:

  • The firstborn over all Creation
  • The One through Whom all things were created
  • The One by Whom all things were created
  • The One for Whom all things were created
  • Before and therefore superior to all things
  • The One who holds all things together
  • The Image of the invisible God
  • Supreme over all
  • The One in whom all the fullness of God dwells
  • The One who made peace with God through the sacrifice of His life on the Cross

Jesus is all of this … and infinitely more … and yet, wonder above wonders … Jesus is MY Saviour and Lord and God and constant Companion and Guide and Strength and Protector and Provider.

This is Who He is … and I want to invite you this day to join me in THANKING Jesus for Who He is and what He means to us in our lives.

May I therefore invite you to take a moment of silence to remember and to try to put into words:

  • Who is Jesus to ME?
  • What does Jesus mean in my life?

Silent Reflection followed by prayer of thanksgiving!

3-Not only by our lips but by our lives

This is the last thing I want to pick out today as we ponder the life of gratitude.

Gratitude is not best expressed in words. It is best expressed in action.

So when Colossians says to “Give thanks to the Father” it only does so after it has already described what I would call a life lived in gratitude. And it is the life that the apostle told the Colossians he was praying for them to live:

He said in v.9 that he prayed constantly for the Colossians:

  1. to be filled with the knowledge of God’s will
  2. to be filled with wisdom and understanding
  3. And he says he prayed this (v.10) “in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please Him in every way; bearing fruit in every good work .. growing in the knowledge of God and being strengthened with all power according to His glorious might.”

That’s profound.

But it’s also so simple. It’s this prayer:

God:

  • show me what you want from me
  • show me how you want me to do it
  • and give me the power to do it.

Do you want to live a life of gratitude towards God. Pray that prayer sincerely. Pray it and mean it: God, show me what you want from me … show me how you want me to do it … and give me the power to do it.

I dare you 🙂

A Life of God-Honouring Work

2 Thessalonians 3:6-13

You can listen the the recording of this Sermon HERE

Unless we understand the background to this section of Paul’s 2nd letter to the Thessalonians, we would be inclined to misinterpret it as unnecessarily harsh.

Remember that Paul, Silas and Timothy established the church in Thessalonica. They preached in the synagogue there for three successive Sabbath days and then taught the new disciples of Jesus, before being forced to leave the city under threat of persecution.

Not long after, Paul sent Timothy back to check on the new believers, and then on the basis of Timothy’s report, he wrote to the new Christians in the letter we have in our Bibles as 1 Thessalonians. What’s interesting is that in 1 Thess. 4, Paul says that they had taught the Thessalonians how to live in order to please God. And one of the things they had taught them is reflected in v.11-12: “Make it your ambition to live a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life will win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.”

What we learn from all of this is that:

  • First the mission team had taught this principle of hard work in order to support oneself when they were in Thessalonica. We know this because he wrote to them to do so “just as we told you”. First they had told them
  • Secondly after Timothy had visited and returned to Paul with news about the Church it became apparent that they had not heeded this teaching, so Paul felt it necessary to write to them to remind them about what they had been told…
  • Thirdly, when news again reached Paul of the progress of the Thessalonian believers he picked up that some of the Christians had still not responded to this teaching. And that is when he wrote 2 Thessalonians and taught them again by including the exhortation we read from chapter 3.

We are not told exactly what the circumstances in Thessalonica were, but clues in the rest of the letter make many commentators think that perhaps there were those who felt that despite the apostles’ teaching, since Jesus would be returning soon, they didn’t need to work. We’ll never know for sure.

What we do know for sure, however, is that early Christian communities lived in a very communal way. They met regularly, they supported one another financially when necessary, they took each other into their homes when persecution affected that part of their lives and, for example, they ate together regularly in common meals which were much like a big 1st Century bring-and-share.

The picture Paul’s letter paints is of some members of the Christian family in Thessalonica making a conscious choice that they were not going to work – and yet they were still participating fully in the communal life, and expecting others to provide for them because of their Christian faith. And despite the fact that Paul and the others had taught against this in person, and had written again to warn them against such practices, there were still some who thought that this was quite okay and were carrying on regardless.

Now before we go any further we must be very clear about three things:

  1. This has nothing to do with giving graciously to those in genuine need who are within or outside the family of believers, in order to help them survive;
  2. This has everything to do with people who claim to be followers of Jesus, are quite capable of working, yet deliberately choose not to work, and then expect fellow believers to support them. In today’s language they were acting like lazy spongers.
  3. In addition to not working, they were not even using their free time to do ministry or evangelism. They were using their free time to meddle in the affairs of others. They were not busy with work … rather they had become busy-bodies … and they were causing all sorts of relational harm. “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop”, my mom always used to say.

For this reason Paul now writes to the Church to express the need for what is essentially Church discipline. One side is positive discipline, the other is negative. Let’s first get the negative out of the way:

1. No more Sponging!

And his message is really straightforward. Essentially the discipline is this: Don’t let these fellow members of the Body of Christ sponge off you all any more.

He says it like this: “We command you in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, to keep away from every brother who is idle and does not live according to the teaching you received from us (v.6).”

And then he adds in v.10 that the basic rule is this: “If a man will not work, he shall not eat.”

Again, let me emphasize what is being said: Where there is a Christian who refuses to work and has thus become dependent on the rest of you … and has kept himself dependent on the rest of you despite our clear oral teaching and despite our clear written reminder and exhortation … where he has considered the teaching and exhortation and decided to continue his sponging ways anyway … cut off his free-loading self from the source of supply.

Do not allow him to participate in your communal meals. Do not give him free food any more. Of course, lovingly explain to him why you are doing this. Lovingly explain that by his deliberate disobedience he is causing himself to be excluded. Lovingly explain that he will be welcomed back with open arms when he repents of his ways and starts doing his part. But do not let this free-loading laziness continue.

Don’t be complicit in allowing the abuse of the fellowship.

Don’t be complicit in essentially enabling lazy living and idleness by your Christian family.

I suppose we all have to wrestle today with how to apply that principle, and how to do so with a pure heart and not just sinfully use it as a way to avoid sharing generously and graciously with those in genuine need.

2. Work hard

Then we come to the positive. In the midst of the negative exhortation the apostle says: “Live according to the teaching you received from us.” And that takes us back to what we quoted earlier from 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12: “Make it your ambition to live a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life will win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.”

Working hard has always been a characteristic of a godly life:

  • Genesis 1: God worked in creation, setting us an example to follow as His image-bearers;
  • Genesis 1-2: Even in the Garden of Eden, and before the Fall, God gave Adam and Eve work when He commanded them to name the animals and then to steward the earth as His representatives.
  • Genesis 3:17-19: Despite the fact that one consequence of the Fall was that humanity would now earn our food by the sweat of our brow,
  • later in Exodus 20:9-10 God commanded His people, “Six days you shall work” before giving them the precious gift of a day of Sabbath rest.
  • One particularly precious Christian view of work is that in fact even our work in this fallen world is a gift from God by which we not only enjoy the good things of the earth, but also by which we may glorify Him. And so we are exhorted in Colossians 3:23 “Whatever you, do work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord and not for men.” Ephesians 4:7 adds, “Serve wholeheartedly as if you were serving the Lord.”

 

Here is the liberating truth of the Christian view of work: Work is a means by which to worship God and to glorify Him before others. It is a means by which to enhance the reputation and the glory of the God we love and serve in the eyes of the watching world.

For that reason 2 Thessalonians 3 exhorts us today to follow the apostles’ example and work hard, earn our own food, clothing and shelter, and not be an unnecessary burden on anyone else, especially our Christian family.

Application

In our South African context of really high unemployment, and of very tough economic times, it’s important to apply this positive message carefully. So may I suggest a few exhortations which this passage should be understood to be giving us as a Christian community.

  1. If you find yourself gainfully employed, work at it with all your heart and apply all of your skills to the best of your ability … to bring glory and honour to Jesus, and to be a blessing to everyone you encounter in the course of your work. And then don’t only look after yourself with your earnings, but live a life of generous sharing, especially within the community of faith of which you are a part.
  2. If you find yourself able to work and yet unemployed through no choice of your own, work hard at finding stable employment (job-seeking has become your most important current “job”) … and while you do so … work hard at home or in your community to add value to the lives of those who are in this with you … and who are quite possibly supporting you financially. The work Paul wrote about is not only working for a salary … it includes any form of work we put our hands to. Working at home to clean or cook or grow vegetables … volunteering at some ministry or community project… these are all beautiful forms of work which glorify God and bless others – even if they don’t bring us in an income.
  3. If you find yourself in the really tough position of being literally unable to work for a living in the traditional sense of the word – perhaps because of physical- or mental-health reasons – then make the determination that you will add value to the lives of those around you, and especially those who are providing for your needs where you are unable to do so.

May the Lord give us grace to apply this Word to us!

Becoming More Like Jesus

2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17

We saw last week that in about 50 A.D. Paul, Silas and Timothy preached the Gospel in the synagogue of Thessalonica for three consecutive Sabbath days. There was a good response to their ministry with a number of people coming to faith in Christ, and a Church had been born. Shortly after this, however, persecution targeted at the mission team broke out and they had to move onwards with their mission.

Not too much later Paul sent Timothy back to Thessalonica to see how the new church there was getting on. After his visit, Timothy met Paul in Corinth with a wonderful report on the health of the young believers and that’s what prompted Paul to write the first letter to the Thessalonians. A few months later Paul received more news of the Thessalonians and followed up with this second rich and wonderful letter to them.

One of the issues raised by the second report-back from Thessalonica seems to have been that the Christians had become very unsettled and alarmed because somehow they had come to believe that the Day of the Lord had already come and gone. Paul had taught them quite a bit about the return of the Lord in 1 Thessalonians 4 …but even so, they were now confused and very unsettled.

One of the dangers we must guard against today – even as we read this passage – is to fall into the same trap that they did and become caught up in trying to unravel the details of the mystery of Christ’s return … and in the process get ourselves unsettled and alarmed … and then miss the point about what matters for here and now.

Paul’s response to them is very straightforward:

  • Jesus is indeed going to return;
  • We are definitely going to be gathered to Him;
  • There will be clear signs that His return is near;
  • And you know that these signs have not yet taken place.

The particular sign Paul then  points to in v.3-4 is the coming of a character who Christians would later come to refer to as the antichrist; someone who would set himself up in the place of God and proclaim himself to be God. And Paul says that he has not yet come, so they can relax.

Paul’s response makes me think of Jesus’ own words in Matthew 24: “(27) As lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man  … (29) Immediately after the distress of those days… (30) the sign of the Son of man will appear in the sky and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory..(31) And He will send His angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather His elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other … (v.36) No-one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son but only the Father.”

One thing is very clear from this. A person, even a believer, might very well not be expecting the return of Christ at a particular moment … but they will certainly not miss the moment it happens. It will be a world-wide event. In fact, it will be a cosmic event. And all who are in Christ, we are told, will at that moment be “gathered” to Jesus. How wonderful is that. “Gathered” is a passive word. It is something that will happen to us. We don’t have to make it happen. It will happen to us! So relax.

This brings us to the part I believe we must focus on today; i.e. v.13-17. If the Thessalonian Christians were not to be caught up in looking out for signs and figuring out the timeline for Christ’s return, what then were they supposed to be doing in the meantime, until Jesus’ return? What are we supposed to be doing while we too await the return of our King?

  1. Understand who you are!
  2. Understand what God has done for you!
  3. Co-operate with what God is NOW doing in you!

 

  1. Understand who you are (v.13)

It seems that the apostle wants to give the Thessalonians the gift of greater security in their relationship with Christ as he addresses the Christians: “Brothers and sisters, loved by the Lord.”

Here’s the most important truth about every Christian … before anything else is true of us … we are loved by the Lord. This is who we are. That is who they were. That is how Paul addresses them: “Brothers and sisters, loved by the Lord.”

Which Lord is that? It is the Lord Jesus Christ.

Everything that the Lord Jesus Christ does for us, and in us, is born out of His love for us.

How much does He love us? He loves us so much that He came into our world to live and die for us, so that “whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)

Will someone who loves you like that ever abandon you and leave you behind?

Never! He has bought you out of slavery to sin and death. He has paid with His life so that you can be adopted into His family. That is how much He loves you. How will He now leave you behind?

Today, we may not give much thought to missing the 2nd coming, but this world we live in can be profoundly confusing to us in many other ways … and Christians can just as easily be led astray by falsehood today as in the 1st Century. So the foundation of our lives MUST be the same one upon which Paul was asking the Thessalonians to build their lives. This one thing remains and will never change: I am a beloved of the LORD.

This is who you are, Christian, you are loved by the LORDWe must believe that. We must understand that. And we must hold to that forever. I am loved by the LORD.

 

  1. Understand what God has done for you (v.13-14)

In his words to the believers, Paul writes that he thanks God for them because of what God has done and is doing in them. What was that?

Firstly: From the very beginning of time, God chose. God chose not to leave humanity in the mess we create of our own lives and of His world. Paul is summarising the whole broad sweep of Biblical history when he says this. From beginning to end, God’s Word reveals that God chose not to leave us in darkness but to save us.

 Secondly: Yet Paul goes on to say to the Thessalonians that from the very beginning God also chose that this saving would happen through what Paul calls in verse 14 “our gospel”. The Thessalonians knew what Paul, Silas and Timothy were talking about because they had only recently proclaimed “their gospel” to the Thessalonians. But we might need to be reminded. In Acts 17 Paul preached to the Thessalonians on three Sabbath days … “explaining and proving that the Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead, and saying, ‘This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Messiah.” (v.3) And in 1 Corinthians 15: 1-4 Paul says that he wants to remind them of “the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By THIS gospel you are saved …. that Christ died for our sins … that he was buried … that He was raised on the 3rdThe death and resurrection of Jesus is the Gospel … This is the good news. Jesus died and rose again. He died to take the consequences of our sins and rose again to give us free forgiveness and eternal life in relationship with God. From the very beginning God chose that He would save us from the darkness of sin and the curse of death through the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Thirdly: Paul says, God calledyou to this through the Gospel message. God gave you a choice. God chose to save you. God chose that this saving would be through Jesus Christ. But God also chose to give you a choice in the matter. So He issued you a call … or some may say an invitation: If you desire to be saved from sin and death then the invitation throughout the New Testament is clear: Repent of your sin and believe the Good News. As Paul said in Ephesians 2:8: “It is by grace you are saved through faith.” God does all the saving work through Jesus … but our part is to believe the message and entrust our lives to Jesus Christ by faith. Salvation is free … but it must be received.

 

3.Co-operate with what God is NOW doing in you!

This is where the whole passage has been heading all along.

These Christians were very concerned about the future coming of Jesus, and were placing far too much attention on it, and getting all anxious and unsettled about it. Paul deliberately points them back to what God has done in the past … but also to what God is busy doing in them in the present. Because that is the only thing the Thessalonians can do anything about.

  • They can’t change their past. They can only celebrate what God has done for them in it.
  • Their future hasn’t arrived yet. So they can only joyfully trust that God is in control of it and one day they WILL share in the glory of Jesus.
  • But right here and right now God is doing something in them. So celebrate the past … and anticipate the future … but right here and right now co-operate with what God is doing in you.

The questions fo us to consider are:

a.What is God doing?

God is sanctifying them. And as believers God is sanctifying US too.

Notice that in v.13 we are told that God chose to save us through the “sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth.” We are not only saved in the past through our faith in Christ … but we are saved in the present by the Holy Spirit “sanctifying” us.

What does that mean? It literally means that God is making us holy. As Christians we know that the best way to understand what that means is that God is transforming us to be just like Jesus. Among other things, this means that we are becoming more like Jesus in:

  • completely setting ourselves apart for God and His purposes;
  • loving God with every fibre of our being; and
  • loving our neighbours as we love ourselves – even to the point of laying down our lives for others.

Another way of saying that God is sanctifying us is that God is making us increasingly more perfect in love – more perfect in love for Him and love for others.

Notice this: God is doing this! God is sanctifying us. We are not sanctifying ourselves. Pauls speaks in v.13 of the “sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit”. The Holy Spirit is at work in us to make us more like Jesus.

And THAT is where we Christ-followers should be very, very focussed.

b. How do we co-operate?

Co-operating with this sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit in us here and now is also where we should be putting our energies.

We should never be satisfied that we have “arrived”. We have arrived in the sense that we HAVE BEEN SAVED from the penalty of sin. But we MUST also understand that we also are arriving in the sense that we ARE BEING SAVED from the presence of sin in our lives. The Holy Spirit is cleansing and transforming us. And we desperately need to co-operate with Him in this work of transformation.

So the Holy Spirit does the work but, as the apostle Peter said in 2 Peter 1:5-8

Make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

2 Thessalonians 2:15 commands us:

“Stand firm then and hold to the teachings we passed on to you.”

Today we must make sure that we KNOW the truth about Jesus through the apostolic teachings which are recorded for us in the Gospels and the rest of the New Testament. Allow the Bible to build an accurate picture of Jesus and who He is and what He is like … and then set your heart  and mind to become just like Him. And know this … that as you make every effort to live in this world in a Jesus-like way … the Holy Spirt is simultaneously at work in you to empower this and to make it happen!

One last but very important comment on co-operating with the work of sanctification is  for me to mention the value of the ancient Christian practice of the “examen of conscience”. This involves taking time every night to do an examination of the day that has just passed.

As you prepare to settle down for the night become prayerful and reflect on your day. Replay the video of your day in your head. Ask the Holy Spirit to remind you first of where you experienced the presence and love of God for you. Give thanks for those moments. Then ask the Holy Spirit to show you moments when you failed to think, speak or act like Jesus – moments when you failed to manifest His love. Allow Him to show you and then ask for forgiveness. Go to bed resting in His love and forgiveness, and with a fresh commitment to rising in the morning with His power at work in you to make you more like Jesus.

Conclusion

Let we forget that we are asking each week: What does this passage teach us about the Spirit-filled Life, I shouldprobably end by saying that The Spirit-Filled Life is a life of becoming more like Jesus.

I invite us today to make some commitments.

  1. The commitment to pray for one another that we may all grow to be more like Christ.
  2. The commitment to become a student of Jesus so that we will know the truth about Him, into whose likeness we are making every effort to be transformed.
  3. The commitment to make the effort each today to study our own lives through reflection to determine where we need to concentrate our transformation efforts … in the power of the Holy Spirit.

 

Two Marks of a Spirit-Filled Church

2 Thessalonians 1:1-4

You may listen to the Audio of this Sermon HERE

For the last few weeks we have been considering passages from the letters of 1 &2 Timothy. So it is rather appropriate that we now move to one of the letters to the believers in Thessalonica … because the very same Timothy to whom Paul wrote his letters in later years was in fact travelling with Paul on his second missionary journey when the mission team arrived in the city of Thessalonica.

Thessalonica (Thessaloniki) is today the 2nd largest city in Greece. At the time of Paul it had about a quarter of a million inhabitants and was called the “mother of Macedonia”. It was a very important city on the coast of the Aegean Sea, founded by one of the generals of Alexander the Great about 350BC as a key maritime centre, and was inhabited and populated by traders and sailors. It was known as a place of many vices. Murder was common. Prostitution was rampant and well organized, babies were often abandoned; and historians tell us that obscene pictures were painted on the walls of houses.

In about 50 A.D. Paul landed there with his two mission companions (Silas and Timothy). Acts 17 records how they preached the Gospel of Jesus in the synagogue for three consecutive Sabbath days. Some Jews and many God-fearing gentiles came to faith in Christ … as did a number of the prominent women of the city. So a church came into being – a gathering of Christians/

Sadly, some religious leaders were jealous of Paul’s success, and they rounded up a mob to accuse Paul, Silas and Timothy of saying that there is a king other than Caesar, one called Jesus! There was a riot and the city authorities were thrown into turmoil. That very night the mission team was sent away  to nearby Berea.

Not too much later Paul sent Timothy back to Thessalonica to see how the new church there was getting on. After his visit, Timothy met Paul where he was then ministering, in Corinth, with a wonderful report and that’s what prompted Paul to write the first letter to the Thessalonians. A few months later Paul received more news of the Thessalonians and followed up with this second rich and wonderful letter to them.

The passage before us today is the introduction to the letter. In light of our current theme of “The Spirit-Filled Life” I think it is fitting to say that today’s passage reveals to us two “Marks of a Spirit-filled Church”.

In 2019 this is something very important to have on our radar as a church … and as individual believers. More than ever we are able to look at other churches and see what they’re doing. If we move to a new place we might go looking for a new church, and we will certainly want to pay attention to certain qualities to decide whether this is the church for us. What would you look for?

  • Maybe whether the people attending look like you? Lots of people? A small crowd?
  • Good music? Loud music? Rock music? Organ music?
  • A hip-looking pastor with skinny-jeans, or an impressive beard, or cool tattoos?
  • Free coffee? Convenient parking? Air conditioning?
  • Sound Biblical sermons?

Now I got thinking about this on the basis of this passage because Paul actually says in v.4 that he boasts about the Thessalonian church … and in v.3 he says that it is only right that he should thank God for them. There were certain qualities of this Church that Paul thought were fantastic and, as he travelled around to other believers, he says he used the Thessalonians as an example to them. If Paul had had a blog he would have written glowingly about the Thessalonians. If he was managing their webpage, there were certain qualities he would definitely have highlighted.

What are these qualities? What are some key marks of a truly Spirit-filled Church? What are the qualities of a church that would be valued by the Holy Spirit and therefore “boast-worthy?”  These are some of the vital qualities that any Christian should be looking to help establish in the church we are in! Not only should we use them as important criteria for joining a church in the first place. But right here at CMC, the church where you and I are members, these are qualities we should be working to establish.

  1. A Growing Faith

Of the Thessalonians, the Apostle Paul says: “We ought always to thank God for you, brothers, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more.” (v.3)

In a Spirit-filled Church the faith of every member ought to be grow ‘more and more’. And please, let’s recognise that God is to get the credit for it. The Apostle does not say, “Thank you for growing!” Rather he says that he is under obligation to thank God for them. Although the believers are co-operating with God for the sake of their growth in faith, the truth is that God is the one growing them by the power of His Holy Spirit. That’s so encouraging. The Holy Spirit is at work in us here at CMC to grow our faith. God wants us to grow in faith and the Holy Spirit is at work in us to grow it!

We should also notice that he does not say, “We thank God that your worship attendance is growing more and more”, or “your band is growing more and more”, or “your Sunday School is growing more and more”, or “your income is growing more and more”. Those things are precious and important … but they are not central. Central to what the Holy Spirit is producing in the church is faith in God; real, genuine, vibrant faith in God … because our faith is the fountain from which everything else in the Christian life springs.

A person is rescued from the kingdom of darkness and is born again into the Kingdom of God through the initial act of turning away from self-centred sin and placing one’s faith in Jesus Christ for salvation. It is by our faith in Christ that we are born again and adopted into the family of Abba, Father. So there is no Christian life without faith in the first place. It’s foundational.

But faith is not meant to stop there. We are not meant to be stuck in what Juan Carlos Ortiz called “the eternal babyhood of the believer” – a state of constant spiritual immaturity … where we trust in Christ for our salvation but nothing else.

The believer in Christ as an individual … and the community of Christ (the Church) as a Body … has within us the Holy Spirit of God … Who is constantly working to grow us in faith … He is growing in us a great depth of faith in God … He is developing in us such a deep-seated trust in God … that we will be willing to obey God in all things. Are you willing to obey God in all things?

For the Thessalonians that meant continuing to meet and worship in the Name of Jesus Christ despite persecution and the threat of death. Remember initially the threat of persecution against Paul, Silas and Timothy had caused the Thessalonians to send them away to Berea. But now their trust and faith in the LORD Jesus was such that Paul says in v.4 “We boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are facing.” The Christians themselves were now making the choice daily to claim that Jesus is Lord and King, even in the face of threats and violence.

They are not being ruled by the fear of man any more. Now they are being ruled by faith in the Lord.

How crucial in our day and age to be a Christian and to be a Church that does not operate out of the fear of man … but operates entirely out of faith in the LORD.

How can we co-operate with the Spirit’s work of growing us in faith?

I’d like to suggest just 3 practical ways:

  • Get to know the LORD better: If we really know the LORD, we will definitely love and trust Him more. Practically, this means studying the Word of God, the Bible, as God’s written self-revelation, in order to know the LORD and His character and nature and qualities better. And it means speaking to the LORD and listening to Him more through prayer. DO you want to grow to trust the LORD more? Good. Then get to know Him more. Because He is so awesome that I can guarantee that the more you genuinely get to know Him the more you will genuinely trust Him.
  • Get to understand the WILL of the LORD better: This is so important because faith is always practical. If we are to grow in faith we must also come to a point of knowing what the Lord wants us to be doing. Yet again this comes as we study the Word of God, the Bible. Romans 10:17 says that “FAITH comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God” … the Word of God is crucial to our faith because by it we become clear about the will of God. Knowing God’s will also comes through prayer as we ask the LORD to help us apply His WORD – and what we know of His WILL – to given situations. Life today will put us in positions that are confusing. We won’t always be 100% clear immediately what the Lord requires of us. Therefore we need to have built up the solid habit of asking the Lord what He wants from us … and of listening for His answer.
  • Once we know what the LORD desires from us, our faith will grow when we simply step out and DO IT! There is no better way to grow in faith than to step OUT in faith … trusting the Lord’s direction and obeying by faith. Remember that James 1:17 says that faith without deeds is dead! The genuineness of our faith is proved when we act on it.

As the great missionary to India, William Carey famously said:

“Attempt great things for God … expect great things FROM God.”

So in a nutshell … the Holy Spirit is at work in us to grow us in faith … and we are to cooperate with Him.

  1. An Increasing Love for One Another

This is the second “boast-worthy” quality of the Thessalonian church. Paul was so glad … yes even proud … of the Thessalonian churches for this quality.

In his first letter he had prayed for them: “May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else.” (1 Thess. 3:12)

Now, in 2 Thess. 1:3 he says that he, Silas and Timothy should always thank God for the Thessalonian Christians because “the love every one of you has for each other is increasing.”

The second mark of a Spirit-filled Church is that we are all growing in Christian love for one another.

I said “Christian love” because this is a different quality of love. Jesus said in John 13: “By this all people will know that you are My disciples – if you have love for one another.

Neither Jesus, nor Paul, used a word which could be understood to be squishy emotional love … or romantic/erotic love … or even just friendship-love.

All “love” is not equal … and all “love” is not the same. The love of Jesus … Christian love … described in the Greek as “agape”. This is an unconditional love that persists despite circumstances and is essentially the outworking of a conscious decision to act in another person’s best interests … to seek the well-being of someone other than yourself.

Christian love (agape love) can be quite surprising. Let’s take Jesus and Peter as an example.

  • Jesus was showing agape love when He called Peter to come out to Him walking on the water – because He was meeting the need of growing Peter’s faith. Invitation equalled love.
  • Jesus was also showing agape love when He washed Peter’s dirty feet at the Last Supper – because He was meeting a practical need. Service equalled love.
  • But Jesus was also showing agape love when He turned to Peter and rebuked him, saying “Get behind me Satan” for you do not have in mind the things of God but the things of men.” (Mark 8:33) – because He knew that Peter desperately needed to understand God’s plan for the Cross. A rebuke equalled love.

Quick aside: Christian love is multi-faceted and surprisingly can even come across to some people as unloving.

  • Like a teenager who hates his mother for telling him IN LOVE to brush his teeth before he leaves the house … we may not always respond well to a loving correction or rebuke. But because love is about seeking another person’s highest best, loving correction is also a key part of Christian love.
  • Or like a woman leaving an abusive husband. This is not just a wise and God-honouring thing to do because your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit and that man is abusing it! It is also a loving thing to do in that it causes the life-destroying sin in that man’s life to be exposed … and he has a better chance of being set free.

As Paul received reports of the Thessalonian Church, he was genuinely thrilled to hear that they were growing in love for each other. I suspect that this mainly had to do with the fact that these Christians were standing up for each other in the face of persecution and were providing for each other’s physical needs. When one person’s house was confiscated for their refusal to worship Caesar … other believers were probably taking them in. When another lost his job because he was a Christian … a fellow-believer fed him until he got back on his feet.

The Holy Spirit is at work to grow us in love. How do we co-operate with this work?

  1. Look around this building after the service for someone who is alone and simply go over and build a friendship with them.
  2. Seek out the genuine needs of fellow believers and members of the covenant community and minister to those needs.
  3. Join a home group and get genuinely involved in the lives of other believers.
  4. Give generously to the Love Fund and help to meet the physical needs of your family in Christ.

A Life of Proclaiming the Word

2 Timothy 3:14 – 4:8

The audio for this Sermon is posted HERE

We have seen in previous weeks that this letter of 2 Timothy is from the imprisoned and soon to be executed Paul the apostle, to his beloved son-in-the-faith, Timothy. Paul is imprisoned in Rome as he writes this letter … Timothy, is the pastor of the Church in Ephesus. He was appointed there by Paul to disciple the Christian believers and to strengthen them as a community of faithful followers of Christ.

This task was never an easy one. Timothy was faced with numerous challenges from false teachers who were leading his community astray. He was faced with the threat of persecution. But his calling was clear … and he knew what he was there to do.

In 2 Timothy 4:6-8 … as Paul comes to the end of the last letter we have of his … he knew that the time for his departure was at hand. He described himself as one “already being poured out as a drink offering”. He was conscious of having passed the tipping point of his imprisonment, and he knew that his execution was now inevitable. He declares that he has fought the good fight of faith, and that he has now finished the race. He, Paul, has completed the task to which God called him … and he would soon be receiving his heavenly reward (“the crown of righteousness”).

Paul makes all of this very clear to Timothy … because it was now time for Timothy to take over the baton. This section of the 2nd letter to Timothy is headed in the NIV “Paul’s Charge to Timothy.” I love that phrasing. Similar to the address that will often be given to graduates at their graduation … when a missionary is sent out by the local church … or when a minister or pastor is being ordained … in “church-speak” someone will “preach the charge” to the missionary or the minister. Obviously, it is not that they are being “charged” with a crime … but that they are being charged with a task … reminded that they have a calling from God … and what the framework of that calling is.

This is what Paul is doing here for Timothy.

Now someone else’s “charge” won’t always be relevant to all of us. But when we read Paul’s charge to Timothy we can clearly conclude that all of it is a charge that is relevant to ALL pastors and preachers … AND with slight modifications it is also applicable to every Christian.

So I want to encourage each of us today to receive this charge as though it is being given to us personally! Hear it! Chew on it! Listen for the voice of the Holy Spirit! And then … dear brothers and sisters … obey it!

This charge is for us today because we are living in a period of time such as that foreseen by the apostle Paul in this “charge”. Now of course, Timothy experienced the fulfilment of Paul’s “prophecy” nearly 2000 years ago. But when we read it, I certainly see that we are yet again in such a time. And God has called us precisely for such a time as this.

What kind of time is that? Let’s read it in the words of sacred Scripture … the Holy Word of God in 2 Timothy 4:3-4: “The time will come when” … here is the description of such a time … “men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires (and that is literally “lusts”) they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.”

Paul is saying, Timothy, you are going to experience a time when people will set aside what they have been taught about God and specially about Godly morality and lifestyle … and they are going to decide what it is they want to hear … and then they will go looking for a teacher … a preacher … or even a church or a whole denomination … that will tell them that God is not who and what they have always been taught … and that God does not really mind if they indulge in their pursuit of the satisfaction of their personal desires (or lusts). They will find the one who tells them what they want to hear.

Now Timothy might have been faced with that challenge. But for the 21st century, cyber-aged, 4th industrial revolution facing Christian … the challenge has just gone off the chart. No longer is my search (for a teacher who will convince me of what I already want to believe) confined to Claremont or Cape Town or even the surrounding towns. Now my search can be made from the palm of my own hand … all the way to the ends of the earth.

  • Did God really say life is found when you deny yourself and follow Him? Doesn’t God actually want us to pursue our own desires and dreams?
  • Did God really say that I should apply my wealth for the upliftment of others? Doesn’t God actually want me to get rich?
  • Did God really say that sexual intimacy is only for a husband and wife in the marriage bed? Didn’t God actually create me with this desire for sexual pleasure? Surely indulging it could never be wrong in God’s eyes?

Just Google it or search it on YouTube and someone out there will gladly tell you whatever you’re wanting to hear! That is why Timothy’s challenge … now in the 21st century … is totally off the chart! And if we are going to be faithful to the Lord in this era of social and moral upheaval … we MUST … we MUST hear what the Holy Spirit is telling us today through the written Word of God. We simply MUST hear it. We cannot afford to ignore it.

1. Keep yourself tethered to the TRUTH (3:14-17)

“As for you, continue in what you have learned and become convinced of, because you know those from whom you have learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, correcting, rebuking and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

The Holy Spirit was telling Timothy then, and us now, to stay tethered to the Truth.

You and I have

  • come to know God,
  • (and we have) come to have a relationship with God through our faith in Jesus,
  • (and we have) received abundant life in this world and for eternity

… and all of this came to us through people who were able to minister this Gospel and this relationship with God to us because they believed that what is written on the pages of this Book (The Bible) is the Truth … the revealed truth

God has recorded His self-revelation for us in written form … by His Spirit … working through the human Biblical authors.

My dad and mom could lead me and my brother to eternal life through faith in Jesus because they believed this Book was the Word of God, and therefore contained everything we needed to know in order to have a right relationship with God. They in turn believed this because their parents and Sunday School teachers and youth leaders and ministers had believed that this book was the Word of God and therefore contained everything they needed to know in order to have a right relationship with God. Can you see where this is headed?

You know that one major reason you are in a right relationship with God today is because someone else believed the Bible to be the Word of God and therefore taught it to you as being the self-revelation of God and His Truth.

This Book is the self-revelation of God. As a written revelation from God it is given life-giving power by the Holy Spirit … and it is purposed by God to:

  • teach us correct beliefs about God
  • correct our wrong beliefs about God
  • rebuke our behaviour that is wrong in the sight of God; and
  • train us in living out our right relationship with God through daily acts of righteousness in respect of both God and people.

If you and I are to avoid being sucked into the vortex of false teaching that is currently sweeping the planet … this BOOK is where we are to be anchored and rooted and it is to be the foundation of our lives.

So when someone posits a new teaching that sounds foreign to your ear and dubious to your spirit … go to the Word which you trust … and go to the ones who built the foundation of your knowledge of Jesus as your Saviour and Lord.

BIND yourself to this BOOK. TETHER yourself to this TRUTH!

 2. Keep yourself mindful of your MASTER (4:1)

I love the fact that Paul puts this so front and centre of Timothy … because like most people I really, really need this reminder daily: “In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of His appearing and His Kingdom, I give you this charge:”

What’s he doing here? He is reminding Timothy the timid … Timothy who was prone to rather be quiet and not stir up a hornet’s nest … Timothy the conflict-avoider … that it is not okay to stick your head in the ground like an ostrich. Why not? Because God is witnessing your life and ministry.

This charge to tether yourself to God’s Word of Truth … and also the charge that is about to follow … MUST be heeded by Timothy … and by us, brothers and sisters … because God is witnessing our lives.

I need to be constantly mindful that as a preacher it doesn’t actually matter whether you like what I have to say from the Word of God … the only thing that matters is that it is pleasing to God. God … that is the Heavenly Father … with His only begotten Son Jesus Christ … in the power of the Holy Spirit … is witnessing my life and ministry and will one day be the ONE and ONLY person to whom I will have to give an account.

What you think … what the MCSA thinks … what the Ministers’ Fellowship thinks … are indeed important … but they are secondary and subject to what the LORD – who has called me and will one day JUDGE me – thinks.

This was true for Timothy. This is true for me. This is also true for YOU.

So as we live and move and interact and speak and listen and debate and relate to others in this world we must be CONSTANTLY mindful of the presence of the MASTER, the AUDIENCE OF ONE! He is the One who will measure your life and teaching. The approval or criticism of people is powerless and irrelevant when we remember the One Who will put our life and ministry to the test in the end … and that is JESUS Himself.

3. Keep yourself publicly proclaiming the Word (4:2)

Paul says to Timothy, “Preach the Word! Be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage – with great patience and careful instruction.”

In Acts 20 we read that when Paul was on his way to Jerusalem, after his 3rd missionary journey, he called the elders of the Church in Ephesus to meet him in the nearby coastal port of Miletus. In what would be his farewell to them he made this remarkable statement: 25 And now, behold, I know that none of you among whom I have gone about proclaiming the kingdom will see my face again. 26 Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all, 27 for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.”

Paul is claiming boldly that when he ministered among the Ephesians, he did not only speak to them what they wanted to hear. he gave them everything he knew of the Word of God … the whole counsel of God. He didn’t speak only what was politically correct or popular.

He called them to repentance from idolatry and sexual sin … he called them to turn away from faith in the magic arts and place their faith in Christ … and he encouraged them to live godly lives in a sinful age.

Now to the man he has charged with the responsibility of pastoring this very same church, Paul says PREACH the WORD … and do it in season and out of season. Do it when it will make you popular … and when it will make you despised. Preach the whole counsel of God.

To preach is simply to proclaim publicly.

You say, I’m not a preacher, I don’t have a pulpit, so this isn’t for me.

Nonsense! Listen! If you have a social media account you have a pulpit! If you’re on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter you have a pulpit. If you write a blog or a monthly emailed newsletter to family and friends, you have a pulpit! If you gather your family around the supper table, you have a pulpit.

The Spirit of God says to you today … do not shrink back from proclaiming publicly the truth of the Word of God … even if that will make you profoundly unpopular.

No … don’t set out to get up people’s noses. Don’t be unkind in the way you communicate. Don’t be deliberately inflammatory. Be patient and gentle and kind and encouraging … choose your words wisely and cautiously. But do not shrink back from communicating (i.e. proclaiming) the counsel of the Word of God.

if that means being like Jesus in standing against sin – then do it. Just remember you are a sinner too … so do it humbly.

If it means being like Jesus in correcting wrong thinking – then do it. Just remember that you also suffer from wrong thinking sometimes, so do it humbly.

If it means being like Jesus in encouraging the way of love – then do it. Just remember that what God defines as love is not what the world calls love. Love is not romance. Love is not sex. Love is self-sacrificially honouring God and others.