Forbearance and the Seven Churches

Posted by on January 26, 1997 under Sermons

Forbearance is such a difficult spiritual quality to embrace. First, we never need to be forbearing unless there is a tension, a stress, or a problem. When everything is fine, there is no call or need to be forbearing. Second, being forbearing goes against our natures. When we are disturbed, or upset, or offended, or wounded, or suffering from injustice, the last thing we want to do is to “hold ourselves back” or “restrain ourselves.” Our natural inclination is to “get in there swinging and straighten this mess out.” We want resolution, not forbearance. We want justice, not forbearance. Forbearance is like mercy and forgiveness. The only time we are whole heartedly in favor of it is when it is not needed.

The most powerful motivation to be forbearing is gained by considering God. God is perfect purity, perfect holiness, perfect goodness, and perfect righteous. And this pure, holy, good, righteous God looks down on the mess humanity produces every day. No human being is ever insulted or offended as unjustly, as extensively, as unreasonably as is God. You and I have committed ourselves to being godly. I don’t know about you, but I am constantly amazed by the fact that God puts up with me.

God sees everything. He knows everything that happens. He even sees the villainy and wickedness in human hearts as they enjoy evil and promote evil. You and I never see it all; God sees it all every second. Yet, He holds Himself back, He restrains Himself.

We surely need a clear, insightful understanding of forbearance. We must see it when and where it exists. This evening we extend our insights by examining the seven congregations in Asia Minor. Revelation 2 and 3 tells us about those congregations.

  1. The resurrected Jesus, from heaven, instructed John in Revelation 1:19, 20 to “write the things you have seen and heard.”
    1. Jesus said:
      1. “The seven stars in my hand are the angels of the seven churches.”
      2. “The seven lamp stands are the seven churches.”
    2. There are some specifics that we need to note.
      1. The opening of each letter to each congregation is identical: “To the angel of the church in . . .”
      2. At the moment John wrote these letters to each of the seven churches, each congregation was still in fellowship with Christ.
        1. The angel of each congregation was still in place.
        2. Each congregation was still on the lamp stand.
  2. We will examine each congregation in exactly the same way.
    1. The congregation in Ephesus (2:1-7):
      1. The positives:
        1. I know that you work hard and that you persevere.
        2. I know that you will not endure evil people.
        3. I know that you have tested false prophets and rejected them.
        4. I know that you refuse to get too tired to continue on.
        5. I know that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans just as I do.
      2. The negative:
        1. You do not have the same love you had when you became Christians.
        2. Please note how important love was in the face of all that they did right.
      3. Instructions:
        1. Redirect yourselves (repent).
        2. Remember your lost love, and do the deeds that love leads you to do.
      4. Promise:
        1. If you redirect, you will eat fruit from the tree of life in God’s paradise.
    2. To the congregation in Symrna (2:8-11):
      1. Positives:
        1. I know the severity of your suffering.
        2. I know your physical poverty.
        3. I know how strong your opposition is.
      2. Negatives: None.
      3. Encouragement:
        1. You are about to experience increased suffering, but do not be afraid.
        2. This additional suffering is a test.
        3. It will last only for a period of time.
      4. Promise:
        1. Continue in your faithfulness even if it results in your death, and you will not be hurt by the second death.
    3. To the congregation in Pergamum (12:12-17):
      1. Positives:
        1. I know that you live where Satan’s throne is.
        2. Yet, you hold to My name and refuse to deny My faith.
        3. You do that even though a person in the congregation was killed.
      2. Negatives:
        1. Some of you are making the same mistake Balaam made–you are encouraging idolatry and sexual immorality.
        2. Some of you believe the teachings of the Nicolaitans.
      3. Promises:
        1. If you do not redirect soon, I will come quickly and make war with those who are doing these things.
        2. If you do redirect, I will give you a special food and a special name.
    4. To the congregation in Thyatira (2:18-29):
      1. Positives:
        1. I know what you have done.
        2. I know your love, faith, service, and perseverance.
        3. The things you are now doing are greater than the things you did in the past.
      2. Negatives:
        1. You permit a woman in the congregation who claims to be speaking for Me to encourage and lead members into idolatry and sexual immorality.
          1. She has had time to repent, but refuses to do so.
          2. If she does not, I will bring sickness and suffering upon her and those who follow her.
      3. Promises:
        1. I will kill the woman’s children.
        2. All the churches will know that I search the inner person and the heart.
        3. I will give each person according to his or her acts.
        4. To those who do not follow this woman’s teachings, I place no other burden on them.
        5. I ask them to hold what you have until I come, and you will receive authority, position, and the morning star.
    5. To the congregation at Sardis (3:1-6):
      1. Positives: none.
      2. Negatives:
        1. I know your works and reputation, and they both leave a false impression.
        2. Others think you are alive; I know that you are dead.
        3. The few things that remain good among you are almost dead; you never complete what you start.
      3. Responsibilities:
        1. Wake up.
        2. Remember the things that led you to be Christians.
      4. Promise: if you don’t, I will surprise you as a thief surprises his victims.
      5. Declaration: there are a few among you who are still pure.
      6. Promises:
        1. Those people will walk with me.
        2. I will present those who overcome to God: their names will remain in the book of life.
    6. To the congregation in Philadelphia (3:7-13):
      1. Positives:
        1. I know what you do.
        2. You have an opportunity that cannot be closed.
        3. Though you have little power, you keep my word and refuse to deny my name.
      2. Negatives: none.
      3. Promises:
        1. I will make your enemies bow at your feet.
        2. I will make them understand that I love you.
        3. Because you have persevered, I will protect you in coming hard times.
        4. The one who perseveres will be a pillar in God’s temple.
      4. Encouragement: hang on to what you have; do not let anyone take your crown.
    7. To the congregation at Laodicea (3:14-22):
      1. Positives: none.
      2. Negatives:
        1. You nauseate me to the point of vomiting you.
        2. You are completely self-deluded: you claim to be spiritually wealthy, but are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked.
      3. Directive:
        1. Buy refined gold from me so that you will be rich.
        2. Buy rich clothing from me and hide your shame.
        3. Get eye salve from me and cure your blindness.
      4. Promises:
        1. I reprove and discipline those I love (He still loved them!)
        2. I am knocking right now.
          1. The one who opens the door to me will eat with me.
          2. The one who overcomes will sit on my throne with me.
      5. Responsibility: be zealous and redirect.
  3. First observations:
    1. Ephesus had six glowing positives that we would applaud, and only one negative.
      1. The only negative was their love, which we would regard as lesser in importance that the six positives–they were doing the right things.
      2. Christ did not applaud.
      3. Having proper love was as important as all the glowing positives.
    2. Symrna had three positives and no negatives; Philadelphia had three positives and no negatives.
    3. Pegamum had three positives and two negatives (almost equal); Thyatira had three positives and one negative of several parts (almost equal).
    4. Sardis and Laodicea had all negatives and no positives.
    5. Yet, at the time of the writing, all these congregations were in fellowship with Christ.
  4. IV.Second observations:
    1. The negatives included:
      1. Loveless obedience and service.
      2. Encouraging idolatry.
      3. Encouraging and supporting sexual immorality.
      4. Being spiritually dead.
      5. Never completing what they started.
      6. Spiritual self-delusion.
    2. Yet, at the time of writing, they all were in fellowship with Christ. What does that say about the forbearance of God?
    3. Even the worst congregations, Christ still loved, still wanted to save, and still wanted them to repent. What does that say about Christ’s forbearance?
    4. The few who were pure in Sardis were not instructed to take any course of action against their dead brothers. What does that say about our forbearance with each other?

The most astounding statement of God’s forbearance is found in 2 Peter 3:9:

The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.

Some were saying, “Where are you, Lord? Why are you so slow about returning? Don’t you see how we are suffering? Don’t you see how evil the people of this world are? Have you forgotten your promise?”

Peter said, “The Lord is not slow, and He certainly has not forgotten His promise. The fact that this evil world continues does not prove that the Lord is hesitant to keep His promise. Instead, it is an evidence of the Lord’s patience. He does not want one person to be destroyed, not even the most evil person on earth. He wants every person to come to repentance.”

Do you get the picture? God is not sitting in heaven fuming about all those evil people in the church and ungodly people on earth. He is not saying, “I can’t wait until I get My hands on those people. I will make them sorry they rejected me!”

God is saying, “If I wait just a little longer, perhaps they will exercise their free wills and turn to me. I don’t want to destroy anyone.” That is forbearance.

If God is that forbearing with everyone, how forbearing should we be with each other?

Passing Through the Valley of Deep Darkness

Posted by on under Sermons

This world is a dangerous place. Our society makes life complicated for all of us. Life is confusing. We contend with new experiences every day. No day has ever been like today, and tomorrow will also be unique. Every day the world changes; every day society changes; every day we change. Nothing remains exactly the same.

We desperately need a guide in this wilderness called life. Left to ourselves, we will wander ourselves to death.

There is a reason that Psalm 23 is the best known and most popular scripture in the Bible. It tells us there is a guide.

  1. The setting and message of Psalm 23:
    1. The setting of the psalm is the rugged, barren wilderness of southern Palestine.
      1. In many ways, that area is similar to the American west:
        1. Open, unfenced land as far as the eye can see.
        2. A brown landscape dominated by rugged mountains, huge boulders, and deep ravines.
        3. The only green areas are along the streams that occasionally run through the dry land.
        4. It is so dry that water is scarce and precious.
      2. In Psalm 23 the shepherd is leading his sheep in this wilderness.
        1. He and the flock are constantly moving from one small grazing place to another.
        2. Most of the time there is so little to eat that the sheep graze as they move.
        3. Rarely will you see these sheep lying down, because rarely are they full enough to lie down.
    2. In Psalm 23, a sheep is speaking.
      1. David is the sheep, and God is his shepherd leading him through the wilderness.
      2. The sheep says:
        1. God is the shepherd who leads me.
        2. He will lead me to a place so green with grass that I can eat my fill and lie down.
        3. He will lead me to still waters where I can drink and rest.
        4. And I will be refreshed.
      3. God, my shepherd, leads me along the right paths, and that brings honor to Him.
        1. It was impossible for a sheep of itself to determine the right path that would lead it to grass and water.
        2. The sheep found grass and water only because the shepherd guided it along the right path.
  2. The next verse is one of the most familiar verses in the Bible, but it is misunderstood.
    “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil; for You are with me.”
    1. “The valley of the shadow of death” is also quite properly translated “the valley of deep darkness.”
      1. This verse is not talking about death as I watch it approach me.
        1. This verse is not saying that God is leading me as I near my death.
        2. For the person who belongs to God, that is a correct concept, but it is not the point of this verse.
      2. This verse is talking about living, not about dying.
        1. God is leading me through a wilderness to a place green with grass and with plenty of water so I can rest and be refreshed.
        2. He is leading me to the place that will meet my needs, and that is the place that I want to go.
        3. But to get to that place with its green grass and pool of quiet water, I must pass through a valley of deep darkness.
      3. What is a valley of deep darkness?
        1. It is a long, narrow passage tucked deep between high, rugged cliffs–cliffs so high that they block out the sunlight.
        2. It is a place of danger.
          1. It is so narrow that there is no place to run, no way to escape.
          2. It is the perfect place to be trapped.
          3. Wild animals have many places to hide, and the shadows are so deep that you do not see danger until it is upon you.
    2. What is David’s point? You cannot met the true needs of your life if you look for them on your own; only God can lead you along the right path that takes you to the place of refreshing and restoration.
      1. You cannot find the necessities that refresh the soul and give you rest unless you follow the shepherd.
      2. But if you follow the shepherd, he will lead you to the place that meets your needs and gives you rest.
      3. However, if the shepherd is to lead you to that place, you must allow Him to lead you through places you do not want to go.
        1. No sheep would ever choose to go through a valley of deep darkness.
        2. But if the sheep is to have the grass, the water, the refreshing, the rest, it must pass through the valley of deep darkness.
      4. No person by choice would choose to go through life’s valleys of deep darkness.
        1. But in this wilderness we call life, if we are to find the place that refreshes the soul and gives rest, we must allow God to lead us through those valleys.
      5. The sheep will travel through the valley of deep darkness only because he trusts the shepherd and the shepherd’s protection.
        1. He passes through that valley unafraid of harm because he trusts the shepherd.
        2. We will pass through our valleys of deep darkness unafraid of harm only when we know that God is leading us.
  3. David spoke about what he knew; he spoke from the reality of his experience.
    1. He had been a shepherd.
      1. He had led his sheep to green grass, still water, refreshment, and rest.
      2. As a shepherd, he caught and killed the lion and the bear who attacked the flock (1 Samuel 17:34,35).
    2. David knew, without doubt or question, that in his relationship with God, he was the helpless sheep that needed guidance, and God was the shepherd.
      1. God led David through several valleys of deep darkness.
      2. One valley was created when King Saul attempted to kill him.
        1. Saul felt very insecure as king.
        2. When David killed Goliath, a valley of deep darkness loomed ahead.
        3. Saul heard the people singing, “Saul has killed his thousands, but David has killed his ten thousands,” he became angry and distrustful (1 Samuel 18:6-8).
        4. As David’s popularity grew, Saul became jealous as well as angry.
        5. When his jealous anger turned to rage, he attempted to kill David.
        6. David was forced to flee to the Judean wilderness to live like a hunted animal.
        7. While David was on the run hiding in the wilderness, he wrote this in Psalm 63:1-4, 6-8:
          O God, You are my God; I shall seek You earnestly; my soul thirsts for You, my flesh yearns for You, in a dry and weary land where there is no water. Thus I beheld You in the sanctuary, to see Your power and glory. Because Your lovingkindness is better than life, my lips will praise You. So I will bless You as long as I live; I will lift up my hands in Your name. . . . When I remember You on my bed, I meditate on You in the night watches. For You have been my help, and in the shadow of Your wings I sing for joy. My soul clings to You; Your right hand upholds me.
        8. Repeatedly, David escaped from Saul by trusting God.
      3. David created a radically different valley of deep darkness when he lusted after another man’s wife, seduced her, and had her husband killed to hide the evil he did.
        1. He thought he had successfully hidden his wickedness, but the prophet Nathan confronted him with his guilt.
        2. When David realized what he had done, this is what he said in Psalm 51:1-4:
          Be gracious to me, O God, according to Your lovingkindness; according to the greatness of Your compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against You, You only, I have sinned, and done what is evil in Your sight, so that You are justified when you do speak, and blameless when you do judge.
        3. After the seduction of Bathsheba and the murder of Uriah, David entered a terrifying valley of deep darkness that was filled with consequences, but God led him through it.
      4. In yet another valley of deep darkness, David’s son, Absalom, took control of the city of Jerusalem, forced his father to flee for his life, and raped his father’s wives in public.
        1. As David fled from Absalom, this is what he said (Psalm 3:l-6):
          O Lord, how my adversaries have increased! Many are rising up against me. Many are saying of my soul, “There is no deliverance for him in God.” But, You, O Lord, are a shield about me, my glory, and the One who lifts my head. I was crying to the Lord with my voice, and He answered me from His holy mountain. I lay down and slept; I awoke, for the Lord sustains me. I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people who have set themselves against me round about.
        2. Later, David was restored to his throne in Jerusalem, but it cost him the death of a son that he loved dearly.
      5. Years later, after passing through many valleys of deep darkness, David declared (2 Samuel 22:2-4, 7):
        The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer; my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge; my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold and my refuge: my Savior, You save me from violence. I will call upon the name of the Lord, who is worthy to be praised; and I am saved from my enemies. . . . In my distress I called upon the Lord, yes, I cried to my God; and from the temple He heard my voice, and my cry for help came into His ears.
        1. David understood the urgency of allowing God to be the shepherd who led him through life’s valleys of deep darkness.
  4. If Christ is to be our good shepherd who leads us through this wilderness to places of refreshing and rest, we must allow him to be our guide through the life’s valleys of deep darkness.
    1. Though there are many, many valleys of deep darkness in this wilderness we call life, I ask you to consider two.
      1. The first valley of deep darkness that many travel is the dark valley of worthlessness.
        1. This person believes that he or she is utterly without value or worth.
          1. “Everything I do is wrong; I make a mess of everything; I fail at everything.”
          2. “I am a walking disaster; I am filled with shame; I am consumed with guilt.”
        2. This person constantly attacks and abuses self.
        3. He or she says, “I need a Savior, but a Savior would know how worthless I am, and, with that knowledge, he could not possibly love me.”
        4. This valley of deep darkness is the valley of depression, and he or she must allow Jesus to be the shepherd who leads him or her through the valley.
      2. The second valley of deep darkness is the valley of the self-made Christian.
        1. This person asks, “What must I do to be a Christian?”
          1. “Hear, believe, repent, confess, and be baptized? Okay, done that!”
          2. “Worship properly by doing the right things? Okay, done that!”
          3. “Avoid impure things? No sexual sin, no drinking, no smoking, no cussing, no gambling? Okay, done that!”
          4. “Do God’s will? Read the Bible, pray, serve? Okay, done that!”
        2. This person believes he or she is godly because “I have done what I am supposed to do.”
          1. He or she is a self-made Christian–acquired the right spiritual model kit and put it together exactly according to the instructions.
          2. “I didn’t need a Savior; I just needed to know what to do.”
          3. “Needing a Savior would mean that I could not take care of myself.”
          4. “I can take care of myself; I just need to know what to do.”
        3. This valley of deep darkness is the valley of self-righteousness.
          1. We enter this valley innocently thinking we can make ourselves righteous by knowing and doing the right things.
          2. We don’t need a Savior, we just need the right knowledge, the right instructions.
        4. In some ways, this is the most frightening valley of all.
          1. Few things are scarier than believing “I am righteous because of what I have done” and finding out, “I desperately need a Savior.”
          2. Only Christ can guide us through this valley to places of peace and rest.

When will I find the green grass and quiet waters that restore my soul? When I understand I need a Savior. When I understand that my Savior used a cross and an empty tomb to do for me what I cannot do for myself. When I understand purity comes through the blood of Jesus. When I understand that holiness comes from being clothed in Jesus. When I understand peace comes from God’s forgiveness and love. When I understand that I serve God because I love him, not because I am trying to prove something.

God sent Jesus to be our perfect Shepherd. He can guide us through any valley of deep darkness. He knows them all. He will guide us and protect us through this wilderness called life. But you must be his sheep, and you must follow him, even when he leads you where you do not want to go. But, if you follow him, you need fear no evil.

Freeing Me By Freeing You

Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

Slavery of the mind commonly is more horrible than slavery of the body. Frequently, an enslaved mind enslaves the body. Damaged emotions and distorted perspectives condemn the body to an unfulfilled, joyless existence. Such a mind and body experience pain frequently and contentment rarely.

Everyone sees such slavery. Consider persons enslaved mentally and physically to bitterness, jealousy, envy, anger, or vengeance. Nothing in their lives is a source of joy. Their obsession forces these people to live in degrees of misery that are always evident. Minds enslaved to such emotions constantly express themselves in the persons’ attitudes, words, actions, and body language. They never miss an opportunity to vent. Their slavery cannot be hidden.

The person enslaved focuses on the person who is the object of his or her bitterness, jealousy, envy, anger, or vengeance. The person is obsessed with his or her consuming emotion. The one who is the object of the contempt will never “pay” enough or suffer enough to right the perceived or actual wrong. The object of this contempt will never be free. He or she will be resented, despised, or hated as long as the enslaved one lives. With but one exception: forgiveness can liberate.

Two are enslaved by such negative emotions: the person who is the object of the emotions, and the person who possesses the emotions. The object is the partial slave. The possessor is the total slave. The possessor can be freed only by freeing the object.

The single greatest liberating force in human existence is forgiveness. Compassion acts on empathy. Mercy offers help. Kindness seeks to encourage. But forgiveness liberates–both the forgiver and the forgiven. Forgiveness is not the burden of my Christian responsibility. It is the gateway to my freedom. The past ceases to rule my present only when I forgive. Each time I forgive another, I free myself.

Forbearance and the Corinthian Church

Posted by on January 19, 1997 under Sermons

Please permit me to begin our study tonight with an apology and a correction. First, the apology: I apologize for trying to cover too much material last Sunday night and going through some material too quickly. I have two basic objectives when I teach. First, I want to challenge you to think. Second, I want to increase your understanding. You do not have to agree with me. I know that I am not inspired. I understand better than anyone else that my knowledge and insights are limited.

Second, the correction: Last Sunday evening I said that God did not have to be forbearing after the death of Jesus. The context of that statement dealt with the fact that, in the death of Jesus, God paid for the sins He ignored in the past. When Jesus died, God did pay for the sins that He passed over prior to the death of Jesus. In doing that, God was true to His just nature. But that did not end the need for God’s forbearance. God satisfied justice, He paid for the right to be forbearing by sacrificing the pure blood of Jesus. But God is still forbearing; you and I are dependent on that forbearing.

  1. I want to begin tonight with a point I covered too quickly last week.
    1. I cited Adam and Eve as the first manifestation of God’s forbearance.
      1. Some of you asked me about that example, and your questions made me realize I covered the material too quickly.
      2. Remember what forbearance is.
        1. Forbearance is holding oneself back.
        2. It is restraining oneself.
        3. Commonly, in reference to God, it is God restraining His wrath, holding Himself back from executing justice.
    2. Let me show you why I think Adam and Eve is an example of God’s forbearance.
      1. Turn in your Bibles to Genesis 2.
        1. In verses 8, 9 we are told that God planted a garden and placed Adam in that garden (and we know that Eve was to join Adam there).
        2. That gardened contained every food producing tree and they could eat the fruit of all those trees.
        3. It also contained the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, which was forbidden for food.
        4. In 2:17 Adam is specifically told that “in the day” that you eat from it you shall surely die.”
        5. Both Adam and Eve clearly understood what God said; in 3:3 Eve informed Satan that she was not to eat from that tree because God had said, “You shall not eat from it or touch it, lest you die.”
      2. Before I understood forbearance, this situation presented a problem for me.
        1. They ate the fruit, consequences were pronounced because they rebelled, they were forced out of the garden, but they did not die.
        2. It was in violation of other Bible teaching to conclude that God lied, because the Bible clearly states in several places that God cannot lie.
        3. For a long time I concluded that God meant something by the word death other than would be the common understanding of the word in that situation.
          1. Death means separation, so He meant that they would be spiritually separated from him.
          2. He meant that they would be spiritually dead to him.
          3. I certainly agree that they destroyed their original relationship with God and that the result was spiritual death.
          4. I wonder if we understand that because we look back as Christians; I don’t think that would be the conclusion of the early readers.
      3. Look in chapter 4, and becomes evident that the separation between God and people at this point was not total.
        1. In verse 1 when Eve gave birth to Cain, she said, “I have a son by the help of the Lord.”
        2. Abel pleased God with his sacrifice; he did well.
        3. In verse 25 when Eve gave birth to Seth, she said, “God has appointed me another son in place of Abel, for Cain killed him.”
        4. Verse 26 tells us that when Seth was an adult, a father, “Then men began to call upon the name of the Lord.”
      4. In 5:24 we are told that Enoch had such an extraordinary relationship with God that God took him from this earth without his dying–he must have been an incredibly good man.
      5. 6:2 tells us that for a while there were a group of people who were so devoted to God that they were known as the sons of God.
        1. My own personal judgment is that these were the descendants of Seth, the people who called upon the name of the Lord.
        2. It is also my personal judgment that the daughters of men referred to the descendants of Cain who wanted no contact or relationship with God.
    3. All of this information leads me to conclude that God was forbearing, that He held Himself back, that He restrained His wrath when Adam and Even sinned, and God, in His forbearance, permitted them to continue to live.
      1. That is my conclusion.
      2. I do not insist that you hold my conclusion.
  2. Now I want you to examine a case of New Testament forbearance that, to me, is more astounding than Adam and Eve: God’s forbearance in the church at Corinth.
    1. First, examine their astounding congregational problems.
      1. Problem one: they were a deeply fractured congregation, and their factions were quarreling (1:11-17).
        1. Some professed loyalty to Paul.
        2. Some to Apollos.
        3. Some to Peter.
        4. Some to Christ.
        5. At the foundation of their disagreement was what to emphasize when presenting the gospel to other people.
          1. Some found proclaiming a Savior who was executed by the Roman government disgusting–people would think they followed a criminal.
          2. They preferred to teach the gospel that emphasized Greek philosophy in the area of wisdom instead of talking about the crucifixion of Jesus.
      2. Problem two: they ignored open immorality in a family by pretending the problem did not exist (5:1-13).
      3. Problem three: They were taking each other to civil court to settle their problems and differences (6:1-11).
      4. Problem four: there was an enormous disagreement about marriage (7).
      5. Problem five: there was serious confusion and disagreement about eating the meat of animals that were killed as a sacrifice to idols (8).
      6. Problem six: there was serious confusion and disagreement about hair and veils in worship assemblies (11:1-16).
      7. Problem seven: they were taking communion in a manner that hurt fellowship and divided the congregation (11:17-34).
      8. Problem eight: they were using spiritual gifts in worship assemblies to compete with each other and creating major confusion (14).
      9. Problem nine: some were teaching that there was no resurrection from the dead (15).
    2. Look at the types of problems they had:
      1. Open congregational division (the factions).
      2. Sexual immorality problems (the man living with his father’s wife).
      3. Relationship problems (taking each other to court).
      4. Fellowship problems (discrimination in abuse of the Lord’s supper).
      5. Personal conviction and conscience problems (the question of meat offered to idols).
      6. Cultural problems (the hair and veil questions).
      7. Worship problems (using the assembly for competition).
      8. Doctrinal problems (rejection of resurrection).
    3. As a Christian, what is your reaction to that mix of problems in that church?
      1. Should they be disfellowshipped as a congregation?
      2. Should certain groups in the congregation be forced to submit or leave?
      3. Should they no longer be considered either Christians or in Christ?
      4. Should they no longer be considered Christ’s church?
  3. Do not form your conclusion until you consider all the evidence.
    1. In the letter, twenty-one times Paul called them “brethren.”
      1. Once it is “my brethren,” and once “my beloved brethren.”
      2. The only chapters in which he does not refer to them as brethren are chapters 5, 8, 9, and 13.
    2. He called them his children and said that he was their father (4:14, 15)–Paul spiritually claimed them.
    3. He repeatedly affirmed their continuing relationship with God through Christ.
      1. 1:2–He called them the church of God in Corinth.
      2. 1:3–He bade them grace and peace from God and Christ.
      3. 1:4–He thanked God for them and the grace they received.
      4. 1:30–He said, “By God’s doing you are in Christ.”
      5. 3:16–He said they are a temple of God (as a congregation) and that the spirit of God dwells in them (as a congregation).
      6. 6:10, 11–Paul stressed the fact that they had been ungodly, but now they were washed, were sanctified, were justified.
      7. 12:12-27–They did not understand what it meant to be Christ’s body; they did not understand that they were not supposed to be duplicates of each other.
        1. Even though they did not understand that they were Christ’s body and did not act like Christ’s body, Paul said, “Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it” (vs. 27).
      8. 16:1-5–Paul included them in a cooperative benevolent effort that included all the churches in the area.
      9. 16:6–He planned to come stay with them and hoped that they would support him in the future (Paul had no doubt that this congregation had a future).
      10. 16:10, 11–He was sending Timothy to them and asked them to take care of him.
      11. 16:12–He promised that Apollos would come back.
      12. 16:19,20–He sent them greetings from other Christians.
      13. 16:23–He declared, “The grace of Jesus be with you.”
      14. 16:24–“My love be with you.”
    4. This is obvious:
      1. With all their problems, they were not out of Christ.
      2. With all their problems, they were not out of the brotherhood.
      3. With all their problems, they were not out of fellowship with other congregations.
      4. With all their problems, they were not out of fellowship with Paul.
    5. Not once does Paul suggest:
      1. That they should drive a part of the congregation away.
      2. That the “faithful” should take over the congregation and defeat the “unfaithful.”
    6. Paul is insistent in his instructions.
      1. “Address your problems:
        1. “With love for Jesus Christ.
        2. “With a better understanding of Jesus Christ.
        3. “In a manner that will bring healing.”
      2. He pointedly discussed the spiritual damage their problems created, and he held them responsible to open their eyes and address the problems.
    7. That is a powerful example of God’s forbearance with those who are in Christ Jesus.
  4. To me, two enormous, powerful, practical understandings leap out.
    1. Lesson one: there is too much concern in congregations today about capturing and exercising control.
      1. “We know best; our way is the best way for the congregation.”
      2. “We know best; our way will save the congregation.”
      3. “Our way is the direction the congregation must go in.”
      4. Too many things are done in congregations today because people want control.
      5. Too many Christians have the ambition to be in control.
    2. Lesson two: too much energy is wasted in congregations trying to assign blame.
      1. There often is a powerful drive to assign blame and to determine fault.
      2. Assigning blame and declaring who is at fault never solves a problem–not in a family, not in the church.
      3. Commonly, blame has two ambitions.
        1. Getting the focus on anyone but me.
        2. Exonerating me or excusing me of responsibility.
    3. Forbearance:
      1. Is not concerned about exercising control.
      2. Is not concerned about assigning blame.
      3. Is concerned about promoting peace and unity through love.
      4. Is concerned about being forgiving, kind, and gentle.

God was infinitely forbearing with the Christians at Corinth. God is infinitely forbearing with us as a congregation. God is infinitely forbearing with each of us as individual Christians. Thank You God, for your forbearance. Without it everyone of us would be spiritually dead. God, please help us learn how to be forbearing like You are–with our brothers and sisters within the church, and with all those who are outside Christ.

Our Commitment To Do Good

Posted by on under Sermons

An ancient worship theme is the goodness of God. That theme has been prominent in worship in Judaism and in Christianity for at least 3000 years. For at least 3000 years, people have been praising God because He is good.

We do. For years we frequently declared the goodness of God. Do you remembering singing, “Let Every Heart Rejoice and Sing”? In the chorus we sing,

“For He is good, the Lord is good, And kind are all His ways;
With songs and honors sounding loud, The Lord Jehovah praise;
While the rocks and the rills, While the vales and the hills
A glorious anthem raise; Let each prolong the grateful song,
And the God of our fathers praise, And the God of our fathers praise.”

In recent years many of us have found the praise song, “God is Good,” meaningful.

God is so good, God is so good, God is so good, He’s so good to me!
He cares for me, He’s so good to me!
I love Him so, He’s so good to me!
He answers prayers, He’s so good to me!

Goodness and God are inseparable. Genesis 1 affirms that God brought this world into existence. By His order, light came into existence, and God saw that the light was good (1:4). He separated the land from the seas, and it was good (1:10). He brought the vegetation into existence, and He saw it was good (1:12). He established the sun and moon in their roles, and He saw it was good (1:18). He brought marine life and birds into existence, and He saw that it was good (1:21). He made all forms of land creatures, and He saw that it was good (1:25). And when the entire creation was completed, God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good (1:31).

James says of our God that He is the source of every good and perfect gift (James 1:17, NIV)

  1. The psalmist used the goodness of God as a worship theme frequently.
    1. Many, many of the psalms declare God’s goodness.
      1. Psalm 25:8–Good and upright is the Lord; therefore He instructs sinners in the way.
      2. Psalm 34:8–O taste and see that the Lord is good; how blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him!
      3. Psalm 86:5–For you, O Lord, are good and ready to forgive and abundant in lovingkindness to all who call upon you.
      4. Psalm 100:5–For the Lord is good, His lovingkindness is everlasting, and His faithfulness is to all generations.
      5. Psalm 135:3–Praise the Lord, for the Lord is good.
    2. And how did the psalmist say that we should respond to God’s goodness?
      1. Psalm 34:8 said taste and see that the Lord is good, and then in verse 14 he declared, “Depart from evil, and do good.”
      2. Psalm 37:3 urges us to “Trust the Lord and do good.”
  2. This theme that stresses God’s goodness continued in the teachings of Jesus.
    1. In Matthew 5:44,45 Jesus declared:
      1. God is good–He causes His sun to shine on the evil as well as the good; and sends rain on the unrighteous as well as the righteous.
      2. It is because we are the children of the good God that we love our enemies and pray for those who mistreat us.
    2. In Luke 6:45 Jesus again declared:
      1. The good person has a treasury of good things in his heart.
      2. So he reaches into that treasury of good things within and shares those good things through his actions and conduct.
      3. The evil person does the opposite.
      4. Belonging to the good God produces good people who have good treasures in their hearts, who produce good actions, and who speak good things.
  3. This theme increased after the resurrection of Jesus; it is repeatedly found in the letters to the churches.
    1. Again and again, those who belong to the good God because they have accepted Jesus Christ are told this: belonging to Christ means we are devoted to doing good.
    2. Consider Paul’s statement to the Christians in Rome in Romans 12:1,2:
      1. Give your bodies to God as a living, holy sacrifice.
      2. Climb up on His altar everyday–with all He has done to save you, nothing less is reasonable, acceptable worship.
      3. Because of what God did for you in Jesus Christ, you belong to God, not to this ungodly world.
        1. Do not allow the ungodly world to shape your life.
        2. Allow God to totally remake you, and let Him begin by creating a new way for you to think and understand.
      4. As you climb up on God’s altar every day, you have a new purpose, a new goal.
        1. You want to discover God’s will.
        2. God’s will shall reveal to you what is good, what is well pleasing to God, and what is perfect.
    3. To these same Christians in the same chapter, Paul said, “Do not allow evil to triumph over you; defeat evil by doing good” (Romans 12:21).
      1. I find it fascinating that Paul did not say to defeat evil with knowledge, or defeat evil with logic, or defeat evil with irrefutable arguments, or defeat evil by exposing evil for what it is.
        1. Unquestionably, knowledge is important, but evil can confuse knowledge.
        2. Certainly, there is a place and need for logic, but evil can pervert logic.
        3. Sound arguments have their role and place, but evil loves to exploit irrefutable arguments.
        4. Surely evil needs to be exposed for what it is, but evil is very skilled at making itself look so good and making what is right look so vile.
      2. But evil cannot handle good; when evil attacks good, it discredits itself.
    4. The instruction to Christians in the epistles to do good continues on and on.
      1. The Corinthian Christians were told that God’s grace could provide what they needed that “you may have abundance for every good deed” (2 Corinthians 9:8).
      2. The Galatian Christians were told, “Let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are our brothers and sisters in Christ” (Galatians 6:10).
      3. The Ephesians Christians are told, “Christians are handmade by God, the master Craftsman. He created us in Christ Jesus, and He designed us to do good works. He predetermined those good works before He sent Jesus, and He predetermined that Christians would live their lives doing these good works” (Ephesians 2:10).
      4. The Colossian Christians were told that they should bear fruit in every good work and increase in the knowledge of God (Colossians 1:10).
    5. For many years one of the key memory verses in churches of Christ has been 2 Timothy 3:16,17.

      All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.

      1. We do an excellent job of properly emphasizing that Scripture exists as “the breath of God;” it exists a God’s own personal expression of Himself.
      2. We do an excellent job of stressing what Scripture does:
        1. It destroys my ignorance.
        2. It reveals what is wrong in me and my life.
        3. It instructs me in what is right.
        4. It trains me in righteousness.
      3. We could do a better job of stressing why scripture does these things for me: to make me spiritually adequate, to equip me to do all forms of good.
  4. As we assembled for worship, you should have received a commitment sheet.
    1. The sheet is very simple.
      1. It contains two simple commitments.
      2. Commitment # 1: I commit myself to doing something good every day, something that I would not ordinarily do. Every day I will look for opportunities to be kind, thoughtful, compassionate, and merciful.
      3. Commitment # 2: Beyond my usual involvement and attendance, every week I will do something good that will bless and encourage this congregation.
    2. There is a place for you to sign the commitment sheet.
      1. If you are willing to make those commitments, sign it.
      2. It is yours; take it home with you; place it where it will be a reminder to you.
  5. Joyce and I have been a part of this congregation for 81 days.
    1. You have created many wonderful opportunities for us to meet you, and we sincerely appreciate it.
      1. Tonight we will meet with our forty-second group or family.
      2. We are amazed that so many of you have created opportunities to meet us.
    2. Many, many times someone has said to me, “Your being here is the answer to my prayer.”
      1. You have indicated that you are astounded at the way God answered your prayers by placing us together.
      2. Joyce and I also are astounded at the way God answered our prayers in placing us with you.
      3. You and we are agreed–God has answered our prayers.
    3. Because we are agreed, I ask all of us two questions.
      1. Question # 1: To what end did God answer all these prayers?
        1. Why has God placed us together?
          1. So we can be religiously comfortable?
          2. So religiously things can be like we want and enjoy?
          3. So religiously we can stop being anxious about matters that concerned us?
        2. Or does God have something more in mind? Does the God who had something in mind when He sent Jesus, who had something in mind when He called Paul, who always has something in mind when He acts, does this God have something in mind for us?
      2. Question # 2: Will we now stop praying?
        1. Or will we continue to pray as fervently that God will accomplish in us what He has in mind?
        2. Because of fervent prayer, we are together.
        3. Will we pray as fervently that God will accomplish His purposes in this congregation?
        4. Will we pray that God will use us to do good?
    4. “But David, is doing good really that important?”
      1. Let Jesus answer.
        1. John 5:28,29–. . . For an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs shall hear his voice, and shall come forth; those who did good deeds, to a resurrection of life, those who committed evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment.
        2. Do you remember the judgment scene in Matthew 25:31-46?
          1. Do you remember that people were separated to the right and left hand of Jesus as he sat on the throne?
          2. Do you remember that those on the right were blessed and those on the left condemned?
          3. Do you remember the basis for the separation, for the blessing, for the condemnation?
          4. “I was hungry, and you fed me; thirsty and you gave me a drink; a traveler, and you gave me lodging; naked, and you clothed me; sick, and you visited me; in prison, and you came to me. . . .To the extent that you did it for the least of my brothers, you did it to me.”

The people in Fort Smith will have little interest in what we believe until they are impressed with the ways that our faith in Christ and our love for God produce good through our lives.

And that is wonderful! Because every Christian can do good. Because God Himself is our power source for doing good. Because we only need eyes that will see and bodies that will act. Do good, and let our God work through the good that you do.

How Do I Improve My Spiritual Understandings?

Posted by on January 12, 1997 under Sermons

Every sincere Christian hungers to improve his or her spiritual understandings. Every person genuinely converted to Jesus Christ wants accurate knowledge. But to possess accurate knowledge, he or she realizes it is not enough to have accurate facts. It is just as important to have accurate understandings. It was the desire to understand that played an important role in our conversion.

Our Christian desire to understand is intensified by an enormous personal need. Each of our private worlds creates a very complex existence for all of us. Life is not simple for any of us. Is life simple for you? Our lives and worlds challenge each of us. Our lives and worlds often confuse us. We want to do what is good; we want to do what is right; we want to depend on Jesus–but often the proper way to do that is not clearly evident. How often do you have a week that does not challenge your spiritual understanding? Often personal situations and circumstances force us to realize that we do not have enough spiritual understanding. We are frequently reminded that we need a better understanding of God and His will.

But how do you acquire it? If we want a better understanding, how do we build it? The answer to that question has many parts, and the answer will not be identical for all of us. But there is a common beginning point for everyone. Any person who wants a better spiritual understanding must advance his or her understanding of God. A better understanding of God is essential to a better spiritual understanding.

Tonight we begin focusing on forbearance. I want to illustrate the importance of better understanding God to increase our spiritual understanding. We will do that by examining the concept of forbearance.

  1. Let’s begin by reading together Romans 2:1-4.
    1. Consider the context of this scripture:
      1. Because of his devotion to the gospel (the good news about Jesus Christ), Paul suffered major physical abuse–but that abuse did not cause him to be ashamed of that good news (Romans 1:16).
        1. He was not ashamed because he knew that the good news revealed God’s power to save anyone who believes.
        2. He was not ashamed because the good news revealed God’s righteousness.
      2. Paul verified that everyone–excluding no one–needed the righteousness revealed by this good news.
        1. This revealed righteousness allows a person to become righteous through faith, and everyone desperately needs the means of becoming righteous.
        2. Those who abandon themselves to ungodliness need the way to become righteous through faith (Romans 1:18-29).
        3. The “good moral person” who passes judgment on people who do not meet his or her moral standards needs the way to become righteous through faith (Romans 2:1-16).
        4. The teacher and defender of the Old Testament law needs the way to become righteous through faith (Romans 2:17-29).
    2. I want to focus your attention for a moment on the good moral person.
      1. It is common for a person committed to a moral code to judge everyone who fails to measure up to that moral code–that is very characteristic of people committed to a moral code.
      2. It is also common for few people to meet his or her moral expectations.
      3. Paul said what the moral person fails to realize that each time he or she passes judgment on other’s failure to meet his or her moral code, he or she automatically passes judgment on himself or herself.
      4. Why? Because no moral person perfectly meets the standards of her or her moral code–thus condemning the short comings of others automatically condemns his or her own shortcomings.
      5. Paul said in verse 4 that the moralist makes this mistake because he or she places too little significance, to little importance on God’s kindness, forbearance, and patience.
        1. Forbearance is a divine attribute, a part of God’s divine nature that is reflected in His divine character.
        2. Understanding God’s kindness, forbearance, and patience is extremely important, for that is the understanding that motivates a person to repent.
        3. But what is forbearance? How much do you understand about forbearance?
        4. How can you increase your understanding of forbearance? By better understanding God.
  2. Consider the concept of forbearance.
    1. Divine forbearance keeps some close friends: divine kindness, divine patience, and divine mercy.
      1. Forbearance always exists and functions in conjunction with kindness, patience, and mercy.
      2. Forbearance is one of the ways that patience expresses itself.
      3. It is also a specific element of mercy.
      4. The kind God’s patience and mercy interact with each other and express themselves through forbearance.
    2. What does forbearance do?
      1. To forbear means to restrain oneself.
      2. One forbears by holding oneself back.
      3. In God’s actions, divine forbearance restrains divine wrath.
    3. But does God really do that?
      1. Does he really hold himself back?
      2. Did he really restrain his wrath?
      3. Absolutely!
        1. God has been doing that from the time of the first human evil.
        2. God did it in incredible ways until He could offer Jesus in sacrifice for us.
        3. Until God satisfied justice with Jesus’ blood by paying for the evil people committed, it was God’s forbearance that governed His response to human evil.
      4. Read with me Romans 3:21-25.
        1. God has revealed a way to righteous that has nothing to do with law–not Old Testament law, not any form of law.
          1. In this revealed way to be righteous, God could be true to His own righteous nature.
          2. Evil people could become righteous.
          3. The Old Testament law and the Old Testament prophets stood as the witnesses to this revealed way to be righteous.
        2. In this revealed way, righteousness exists through faith in Jesus Christ.
          1. It is available to every person who will place his or her faith in Jesus Christ.
          2. Every person needs this revealed way to become righteous because every person is guilty of doing evil.
        3. This revealed way to be righteous can exist because God gives His grace as a gift.
          1. God acquired this right to expresss His goodness because God justified us.
          2. He justified us by redeeming us with Jesus Christ.
          3. He allowed His son to die publicly, substituting His innocent life for our guilty lives, paying the penalty for our evil with His own son’s blood.
        4. God did this for two reasons:
          1. First, to create a “doable” means by which every evil person can become righteous.
          2. Second, to be true to his own righteous nature.
          3. It was necessary for God to demonstrate His loyalty to His own righteousness because He had been forbearing–He had passed over the evil that was committed before the death of Christ.
          4. He had held Himself back, He had restrained His wrath, until He could pay for human evil with the blood of His innocent son.
  3. Let me show you in a clear manner that is exactly what God did before He sent Jesus to die for human evil.
    1. Go all the way back to Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden.
      1. Genesis 2:8, 9 states that God planted a garden to exist as the ideal place for Adam and Eve to live.
        1. He placed them in the garden to cultivate and keep it (2:15).
        2. They were permitted to eat fruit from everything that grew in the garden except for one tree–the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (2:16).
        3. They were told that if they ate of that tree, on that day they would surely die (2:17), and they clearly understood what God said and meant (3:3).
      2. Most of my past life I did not understand forbearance, nor did I understand God’s forbearance.
        1. In my lack of understanding, I oversimplified this situation and created a problem.
        2. God said that the day they ate the fruit that they would die.
        3. They ate the fruit, and they did not die.
        4. In my too narrow, too shallow understanding, that fact created a dilemma for me: Why did they not die that day? Did God lie when He told them they would die?
        5. The possibility that God lied was totally unacceptable and contradictory to what other scriptures clearly state–God cannot lie.
        6. Then I created a theological answer to the dilemma: God did not mean that they would physically die (since they obviously did not), so the word “death” as God used it meant something else–it meant that they would be separated from God.
        7. But it is very obvious in Genesis four that there was not a complete separation between God, and Adam and Eve, or Able, or Seth, the men that began to call upon the name of the Lord.
      3. When God did not kill Adam and Eve, it had nothing to do with truthfulness or lying; it had everything to do with divine forbearance.
        1. Adam and Eve defied God in the face of all His love, all His goodness, and all His kindness.
        2. And when they did, God held Himself back, He restrained His wrath, He further extended His kindness in exercising patience and mercy.
    2. That is only the first expression of His forbearance.
      1. Consider God’s refusal to kill Cain when Cain murdered his brother.
      2. Consider God’s saving of Noah and his family.
      3. Consider the way God continued to work with Isaac and Jacob when they did some very ungodly things.
      4. Consider the ways God repeatedly refused to completely destroy the wicked, rebellious nation of Israel in the wilderness.
      5. Consider the centuries that God endured incredible ungodliness in Israel through the periods of the judges, the united kingdom, and the divided kingdom.
      6. Over and over and over you see God’s forbearance, God’s holding Himself back, God’s restraining His wrath.
      7. Even when God exercised His wrath, He restrained it–He never completely destroyed evil humanity, never completely destroyed evil Israel.

Because of God’s forbearance, you and I can be Christians. Because of God’s forbearance you and I have a Savior. Because of God’s forbearance you and I can be forgiven.

And the forbearing God asks those who accept His forgiveness and live in the Savior to be forbearing. But we cannot possibly understand how to be forbearing, we cannot even understand what forbearance is, unless we first understand the forbearance of God.

Don’t you rejoice in the fact that God was and is a God of forbearance?

Reconciliation:  The Bridge That Spans Quarrels

Posted by on under Sermons

We are too often disillusioned and defeated when our expectations are rooted in the ideal. For example, soon-to-be married Christians commonly expect their coming marriage to be ideal. “In our marriage, we won’t have problems. We will agree about everything. We will experience nothing but togetherness, happiness, and pleasantness. Our marriage will be the best of the best.”

The truth is that there are no ideal marriages. There are successful marriages and happy marriages, but no ideal marriages. Every marriage experiences problems. Every marriage endures stress. Every marriage has disagreements. Different kinds of marriage relationships handle the problems, stress, and disagreements in different ways. Regardless of how a marriage handles them, it has them. No marriage experiences nothing but joy, laughter, and total agreement seven days a week, fifty-two weeks a year.

To expect an ideal marriage and then to slam into the wall of reality is at best disillusioning and at worst devastating.

Commonly, Christians expect a congregation of Christ’s church to be ideal. The real church doesn’t have problems. The true church never experiences conflict. The church that really belongs to Christ has only love and peace as everyone always gets along superbly and makes only good decisions. When we discover that a congregation is not the ideal congregation, at best we are spiritually disillusioned; at worst we are spiritually devastated.

Marriages and congregations can never be ideal for the same reason–both are made of people, and there are no ideal people. The best people can ever be is forgiven sinners.

A successful marriage is not a marriage that has no problems. A successful marriage is a marriage that deals honestly and responsibly with its problems. A successful congregation is not a congregation that has no problems. A successful congregation is a congregation that deals honestly and responsibly with its problems.

  1. I wonder why students of the New Testament ever conclude it is possible to have an ideal congregation.
    1. In the New Testament we have nine letters that Paul wrote to seven congregations.
    2. Because of the information in the book of Acts and the information in those nine letters, we know many things about each of those seven congregations. Not one of them approached the ideal.
      1. The congregation in Rome was in severe disagreement about the control of the congregation and about the theology of salvation.
      2. The congregation in Corinth had every congregational problem you ever heard of, and a few you never heard of.
      3. The congregations in Galatia were totally confused–they thought it was more important to follow Judaism than Christ.
      4. The congregation at Ephesus did not understand that Christians were to abandon the lifestyle of their ungodly past.
      5. The congregation at Philippi had serious personal conflicts within.
      6. The congregation at Colosse has serious relationship problems, serious concept problems, and serious moral problems.
      7. The congregation at Thessalonica had members who refused to work and take responsibility for their own physical needs.
    3. Even if a congregation is composed of nothing but the finest Christians, each Christian is still a distinct individual.
      1. We are not and cannot become carbon copies of each other, and we certainly are not carbon copies of Jesus.
      2. When we, in faith, surrender our wills and lives to Christ, God uses our differences for His purposes–that is why we can be Christ’s body.
      3. While God uses our differences for His purposes, too often we handle our differences very poorly.
  2. Please allow me to introduce you to three men that most of you know, three men whom God used powerfully, but three men who did a poor job of handling their differences: Paul, Barnabas, and Mark.
    1. Consider Paul:
      1. Prior to his conversion, Paul was a man of violence (1 Timothy 1:12, 13).
        1. He believed the crucified Jesus was an impostor, a liar, and a fraud.
        2. He rejoiced in the execution of Christians.
        3. He was a vigilante who put Christians in prison.
        4. He dedicated his life and his faith to destroying the church.
      2. Paul was not a nice person–you would have detested him.
    2. Consider Barnabas:
      1. He was among the first converts of the first congregation that ever existed.
        1. In the early days of this congregation, the members shared anything they owned with fellow Christians in need (Acts 4:32-36).
          1. All private property was considered by the owners to be common property.
          2. Because of their incredible generosity, there was not one needy person in this congregation of several thousand members.
        2. Barnabas was one of the effective, good-hearted members of this congregation, so much so that the apostles changed his name from Joseph to Barnabas, the encourager (Acts 4:36, 37).
          1. He sold some land he owned.
          2. He gave 100% of the money to be used to help those in need.
      2. Barnabas was an exceptionally nice person–you would have loved Barnabas.
  3. Paul, through the direct intervention of the resurrected Jesus, was converted and immediately found himself in big trouble (Acts 9).
    1. The people who encouraged him to persecute Christians quickly decided they needed to kill this traitor (Acts 9:23-25).
      1. A death squad watched the gates of the city, waiting to kill him when he left.
      2. Some of the Christians he came to arrest saved his life by lowering him over the city wall in a basket at night.
    2. Sometime later Paul returned to Jerusalem.
      1. Because it was in Jerusalem:
        1. That Paul assisted those who killed the Christian Stephen,
        2. That Paul conducted house-to-house searches to arrest Christians,
        3. Christians were afraid of him.
      2. It was Barnabas who took Paul to the apostles and told them that his conversion was genuine, and gained acceptance in the congregation for him.
        1. Paul immediately began preaching boldly.
        2. Quickly the persecutors he formerly worked with decided the traitor needed to die.
        3. Christians took him safely to the coast and sent him home to Tarsus by boat.
      3. Because Barnabas was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, the Jerusalem congregation of several thousand members sent Barnabas to check on the non-Jewish congregation in Antioch that was experiencing explosive growth (Acts 11:20-24).
        1. The need and opportunity in Antioch was too big for Barnabas alone.
        2. He personally traveled to Tarsus, found Paul, and brought him back to Antioch (Acts 11:25, 26).
        3. There they worked together for a year and became a powerful team.
  4. One day, at the specific instruction of the Holy Spirit, Paul and Barnabas began a missionary trip to non-Jewish countries (Acts 13:1-3).
    1. They took with them a young Christian named Mark.
      1. Early in the trip, Mark left them and returned home.
    2. Much later, perhaps a couple of years or more, after completing the missionary journey and visiting the congregation in Jerusalem, Paul and Barnabas decided to take a second journey and check on all the young congregations (Act 15:36).
      1. Barnabas insisted that they take Mark again.
      2. Paul emphatically said no.
      3. They disagreed so sharply that they broke up as a team: perhaps the best missionary team in the history of the church, and the only team that I recall being personally put together by the direct action of the Holy Spirit.
    3. Why did this happen? It happened because these two exceptional Christians were very different persons.
      1. Barnabas was committed to people–he had always been that kind of man.
        1. He was a people-person who saw potential in Mark just as he had seen potential in Paul.
      2. Paul was committed mind and body to an objective–he had always been that kind of man.
      3. Barnabas saw great potential in Mark that needed to be developed.
      4. Paul saw an essential job that needed to done efficiently and effectively.
      5. They more than disagreed–their argument was so intense that it reached the point that they split up as a missionary team.
      6. Barnabas took Mark as his new team member; Paul took a man named Silas.
  5. I wonder how all this affected Mark?
    1. While he surely felt loved by Barnabas, he must have felt rejected and slammed by Paul.
      1. I wonder how much pain he felt because Paul rejected him?
      2. I wonder how put down and humiliated he felt?
      3. I wonder if he felt like Paul degraded him and attacked his faith and devotion to Christ by insisting that Mark could not be a part of the mission team?
      4. Mark must have had some deep feelings about the incident because Paul felt so deeply about Mark’s involvement that Paul left a dear, good friend.
      5. Did Mark feel that it was his fault that the team broke up? Did he resent being put in that position?
      6. Did he feel guilty for coming between two good friends?
    2. I am afraid that I understand too much about that kind of situation.
      1. I know the anger that is common in that situation.
      2. I know the deep hurt that comes from that situation.
      3. I know the resentment felt in that situation.
      4. I know how easy it is to be bitter.
    3. I personally have no doubt that Paul and Barnabas had some deep, negative feelings and some pain after the argument and the split.
  6. I call your attention to two amazing things.
    1. Amazing thing number one:
      1. A few years after this, Paul wrote at least three letters to the congregation in Corinth.
        1. When Paul and Barnabas had their argument and split, neither had visited this city and the congregation did not exist.
      2. In Paul’s second letter to that congregation (1 Corinthians 9:1-6), Paul used Barnabas as a positive illustration, as positive evidence of his point.
    2. Amazing thing number two:
      1. The last existing letter that Paul wrote is 2 Timothy.
      2. When Paul wrote this letter, he knew that he would be executed.
      3. He made some final requests of Timothy.
        1. “Come to me as soon as you can.”
        2. “Bring the coat that I left in Troas when you come.”
        3. “Bring my books and parchments” (he wanted his study materials).
        4. And this: “Pick up Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for service.”
      4. Paul split a fantastic missionary team that the Holy Spirit put together because he had no use for Mark.
      5. Years later, as he neared death by execution, one of his last requests was, “Bring Mark with you; he is useful to me…”

At some point Paul realized that God used and worked through Mark as surely as God used and worked through him. At some point, there was reconciliation.

As Christians we have two challenges that never end as long as we live in this world. The first is to be reconciled to God. The second is to be reconciled with each other. We do not dare live in the past. We can never undo what we did in the past. We can bridge enmity and quarrels of the past with reconciliation.

Reconciliation? What is That?

Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

Reconciliation (translation for three New Testament Greek words) brings an end to enmity. It builds a bridge over the quarrel that produced enemies and caused separation. It ends the hostility.

The priority illustration is the reconciliation to God that produces a Christian (2 Corinthians 5:18-21). Prior to entering Christ, every accountable person is God’s enemy (Romans 5:10; Colossians 1:21,22; James 4:4). Human evil, as it occurs in an unforgiven life, invokes God’s anger and stirs His just wrath. Righteous hostility alienates the God of holiness from the unforgiven person.

Reconciliation occurs only if the true cause of the enmity is addressed. God addressed the true cause of the enmity that invoked His wrath and alienated Him from people–sin. God empowered perfect forgiveness by destroying the cause of the enmity. The guiltiness for sin (evil) can be removed from a person by the perfect cleansing power of Christ’s blood. Atonement and redemption built a bridge over human evil.

If a person is to be reconciled to God, he must respond to God’s initiative. (God’s initiative exists independent of human response.) For a person to make reconciliation reality, he must accept ownership of his evil and surrender his evil to God’s forgiveness. While God cannot “forget” unforgiven human evil, God and people can be reconciled. God initiated reconciliation. People must respond to His initiative if reconciliation is to occur.

When enmity and hostility are born in person-to-person alienation, they, too, must be reconciled. A classic Old Testament example involved brothers, Jacob and Esau. Through exploitation and greed, Jacob stole Esau’s most precious right. Enraged, Esau vowed that he would kill Jacob, and Jacob fled.

In great fear of Esau’s anger and vow, Jacob returned many years later with a family and wealth (Genesis 32, 33). He initiated reconciliation, and Esau accepted. Jacob could not right the ugliness of his greed and abuse in the past. However, through reconciliation, they ended their enmity and built a bridge across their quarrel.

Responsibilities of a Righteous Person

Posted by on January 5, 1997 under Sermons

Matthew 7:6-27

For several weeks we have examined Jesus’ sermon found in Matthew 5, 6, and 7. May I call your attention to a brief, insightful overview? First, Jesus presented in positive concepts a basic description of a righteous person. In that description, eight times he said, “Blessed are . . .” He did not present the description by saying, “Cursed are . . .” He presented basically what a righteous person did, not what a righteous person did not do.

Second, he emphasized that the righteousness of the person who followed him must go beyond the righteousness of the religious leaders of their society.

Third, he drew a distinct contrast between what they always had been taught and what they were now to understand. He contrasted “you have heard that it was said” with “I say to you.”

Fourth, he revealed two current inadequacies in the religious life common to their society. Inadequacy one: religious acts done for wrong motives are inadequate. Inadequacy two: placing your life focus on physical well being and material security is inadequate.

Fifth, he concluded with five responsibilities.

This is the insight:

Jesus was not teaching them just to inform them: the objective was not merely knowledge.

Jesus was not teaching them just for them to understand proper contrasts: the objective was not merely understanding.

Jesus was not teaching them just for them to realize inadequacies: the objective was not merely realization.

Jesus was teaching them to enable them to accept responsibility: the objective was to lead them to the knowledge, the understanding, and the realizations that would allow them to accept responsibility.

As I stated last Sunday evening [i.e., 22 December 1996], chapter 7 concluded the sermon by declaring five responsibilities. Last Sunday evening we examined the first: the responsibility for self-evaluation.

  1. Responsibility # 2: the responsibility for spiritual discretion (Matthew 7:6).
    1. “Do not judge,” responsibility #1, could have been interpreted to mean that they should indiscriminately share Jesus’ teachings with all others.
      1. If they saw and understood, they should go out and share their understandings with everyone.
      2. “Be excited about what you understand and share it with absolutely everyone.”
      3. “Don’t go out to condemn anyone, but go out to tell them what you have learned.”
    2. But immediately following the instruction not to judge, Jesus said something we would not expect: do not go out and share what you have learned with just anyone.
      1. Jesus’ statement was not a statement of exclusion: he was not indicating that God is unconcerned about some people.
      2. His point: “Share my teachings with those who are receptive; do not try to force my teachings on those who are incapable of appreciating or understanding them.”
      3. Jesus made his point by using dogs and pigs, both unclean animals to the Jews.
        1. Dogs were incapable of appreciating anything holy–in fact, they made no distinction between something holy and something unclean; they would eat either a holy thing or an unclean thing without hesitation.
          1. Sacrifices, such as the sin offering, were holy (Leviticus 6:24-30).
          2. A portion of the holy sacrifice was eaten by the priest.
          3. What the priest could not eat was to be burned (Leviticus 7:17).
          4. You did not provide the dogs opportunity to eat the priests’ holy food–for they surely would.
        2. Pearls are totally without value to pigs, though they were extremely valuable to those people.
          1. Since pearls are not food to pigs, pigs will sniff at, then ignore a pearl, and then trample it into the muck of the pigpen.
        3. If you frustrate or disappoint the dog or the pig, it will turn on you and rip you if it can.
      4. Some people are incapable of understanding what is holy and what is spiritually of great value.
        1. They not only have no appreciation of what you try to share with them, but they easily become irritated and frustrated with you.
        2. Among the most violent enemies you will ever encounter are religious enemies. Some of the most horrible things are done in the name of religion.
      5. Jesus was talking about both ungodly and religious people who were incapable of appreciating his teachings.
  2. Responsibility # 3: the responsibility of initiative.
    1. When a person understands Jesus’ teachings, that understanding makes him aware of how much he does not know, does not understand.
      1. I am certain that Jesus was not speaking of material pursuits when he instructed them to ask, to seek, to knock.
      2. “If you truly want to be a righteous person, if you truly want to understand the existence and relationship with God that I am revealing, it is your responsibility to ask God for wisdom/understanding, to pursue this new awareness built on new insights by knocking on God’s door.”
        1. It is the responsibility of faith to initiate, to act.
        2. If you hunger for righteousness, act.
      3. “You are evil; it is impossible for you to remove the reality of evil and the influence of evil from your lives.”
        1. Even though evil will forever be the reality of your earthly existence, you still know how to respond to your children’s requests for food by giving them food–by doing good.
        2. Is not the God of pure goodness much more capable and willing to respond to your requests when you ask, seek, and knock?
      4. Since you belong to the God of pure goodness, you do good by treating other people like you want to be treated.
  3. Responsibility # 4: the responsibility of direction.
    1. The easiest, simplest course of action to take in life is to move in the direction the crowd is moving.
      1. It is easy to go with the crowd in the ungodly world.
      2. It is easy to go with the unspiritual crowd in the religious world.
    2. The most difficult, challenging course to take is the “I am responsible for me and my decisions” direction.
      1. The crowd in both the ungodly world and the religious world typically moves in the direction of least resistance, the path more comfortably traveled.
      2. The path of personal responsibility requires personal knowledge, personal understanding, personal commitment, and personal decision.
    3. We have to be very careful to use this scripture in its context.
      1. It is much too easy to assign anything we personally dislike or disapprove of to the broad way.
      2. It is much too easy to assign any demand we personally think needs emphasis as an evidence that we are traveling the narrow way.
      3. Here the narrow way is the direction Jesus’ teachings would take them.
      4. The broad way could be the direction of disinterest or the direction of the Pharisees.
      5. Just being hard to do does not make a direction the narrow way Jesus spoke of.
      6. The narrow way is the more difficult way because it requires thought, understanding, and heart response.
      7. The broad way may be any easy direction that leads me away from Jesus’ teachings.
  4. Responsibility # 5: the responsibility to exercise caution.
    1. Jesus said it was their responsibility to exercise caution in identifying three sources of spiritual deceit:
      1. False prophets.
      2. Faulty fruit trees.
      3. Verbal declarations.
      4. False prophets and faulty fruit trees focus on your choice of influences.
    2. Be on guard against false prophets.
      1. If you use today’s typical concept of false prophets, you will miss Jesus’ point.
      2. The false prophet Jesus spoke of was identified in two ways.
        1. The false prophet deliberately created a fake spiritual appearance to hide his or her savagery and greed.
          1. A wolf is a cunning, deadly animal that stalks its prey.
          2. A false prophet made prey of other people.
          3. A wolf thinks only of himself, his desire of the moment, his appetite–in his greed, he destroys for his own purposes.
        2. Thus, the false prophet was to be identified by the way he used you, preyed upon you.
          1. It was not what he or she said that make him or her a false prophet.
          2. It was what he or she did, how he or she exploited and preyed upon others, that made him or her a false prophet.
    3. Be on guard against faulty fruit trees.
      1. Do not pattern your life and existence after the person who bears faulty fruit.
        1. Righteous people do not live their lives doing evil things.
        2. Righteous people do not look good but have horrible influences on others.
        3. Righteous people’s lives do not produce the consequences of ungodliness.
        4. The Pharisees bore faulty fruit.
      2. Good trees produce good fruit, and rotten trees produce rotten fruit.
      3. When you choose those you will allow to spiritually influence you, do not merely examine their appearance or listen to their claims; examine the influence and the impact of their lives.
    4. Be on guard: distinguish between verbal declarations and commitment to the will of God.
      1. Verbal declarations will not place you in God’s kingdom.
        1. You can honor Jesus with the right words and right titles.
        2. You can properly praise Jesus.
        3. You can do the priority religious deeds of the day.
      2. But, if in doing these things, you are not committed to the will of God, then Jesus does not know you and will not acknowledge you in the last day.

Was what Jesus shared in that sermon very important? That lesson did not deal with many of what you and I refer to as fundamentals. Since it did not focus on fundamentals, what he said was good, but was it essential?

Jesus said, “If you have heard me (meaning understood me) and will put into practice what I have told you, in so doing you build a life that will not collapse no matter what storms descend on your life. If you have heard me (meaning understood me), and you do not act on what I have shared, you can be assured that you are building a life that will collapse when the storms come.”

Look at the lessons Jesus taught in Matthew 5, 6, and 7, and ask yourself, “What kind of life am I building?”

God Can’t Do That!  Can He?

Posted by on under Sermons

I want to begin this morning by challenging you to use your imagination. Imagine the physical and emotional impact of these circumstances. Suppose that a coalition of Middle East nations successfully developed several nuclear bombs. Suppose by covert action they successfully planted those devises in Washington, DC; in New York City; in Norfolk, VA; at Norad in Colorado; at AWAC in Oklahoma City; and in San Diego, CA. Suppose each of those devises exploded simultaneously. The result: our Federal government was crippled; our business world was crippled; and the command for our armed forces was crippled.

Suppose that within a week America surrendered to that coalition of Middle East nations. Suppose the militant Muslim religion immediately became the official religion of this nation, and that Christianity immediately became illegal.

Suppose our captors implemented the policy of displacing devout Christians. Suppose that every member of this congregation was relocated in a northern city to provide labor to a Muslim community. How would that impact you emotionally? physically? spiritually?

You say, “Something like that could never happen in this nation.” That is what Israel said. That is what Jerusalem said. But it happened. The nation fell. The city fell. Later, the city was destroyed, the temple was destroyed, and the vast majority of the citizens of the nation were placed in exile.

In Babylon a stunned, disillusioned, dazed nation of captives asked, “How did this happen? How could it happen? We believed in the living God. We had the temple. We had the scriptures. How could a nation who does not even know the living God do this to us?”

Completely disillusioned, most Jews said, “There is nothing God can do to help us now. We will never recover. If God couldn’t help us when Jerusalem fell and the temple was destroyed, he can’t help us now!” From their human perspective, it was an impossible situation.

The prophet Ezekiel was among those who were forced into exile. He received his call to be a prophet in Babylon. In stark, graphic terms, he told them exactly how it happened and exactly why it happened.

  1. In Ezekiel 37:1-14 the Lord’s hand was on Ezekiel and the Lord’s spirit took him to a valley that was filled with dry, human bones.
    1. He was placed in the middle of an old battlefield–for centuries it was common for two armies to fight a war by confronting each other in a valley.
      1. One army would camp in the hills on one side, and the other would camp in the hills on the other side.
      2. They would meet in the valley and fight until one army won.
    2. Ezekiel was standing in the middle of an old battlefield where there had been so many thousand casualties that the slain soldiers could not be buried.
      1. When the battle ended, the valley was full of dead bodies.
      2. Then came the vultures and scavengers.
      3. Then time passed.
      4. It became a valley filled with dry, bleached bones instead of a valley of decaying bodies.
    3. In that valley God had a conversation with Ezekiel.
      1. He asked, “Ezekiel, can these bones come back to life?”
      2. Ezekiel gave a noncommittal answer: “Lord, you know.”
      3. God told him, “Prophesy to these bones. Say to these bones, ‘Hear the word of the Lord.’ When you do that, I will turn these bones back into bodies, and I will put life back in those bodies.”
    4. Ezekiel told the bones to hear the word of the Lord, and suddenly there was a loud rattling noise as all the bones began fitting back into skeletons again.
      1. And as Ezekiel watched, those skeletons became fleshly bodies, but it was a valley full of bodies that had no life.
      2. And God told Ezekiel to prophesy again and tell the breath, “Thus says the Lord God, come from the fours winds and make these bodies alive again.”
      3. And a great army came to life and stood up.
    5. God then said to Ezekiel, “These bones are the whole nation of Israel.”
      1. “Everyone is saying, ‘Our bones are dried up, our hope has been destroyed, and we are completely cut off.'”
      2. “So you go to Israel and prophesy, ‘Thus says the Lord God, I will open your graves and bring you out of them, and I will return you to the land of Israel.'”
      3. “Then you will know that I am the Lord. Then you will understand that you are my people.”
      4. “And I will put my spirit in you, and you will come to life, and I will place you in your land.”
      5. “Then you will know that I, the Lord, said that I would do it, and did it.”
  2. The hardest, most demanding challenge to a living faith is turning loose of the past.
    1. Unfortunately, the present is commonly captive to the past.
      1. Responsibly dealing with the consequences of our past is distinctly different from being a captive to our past.
        1. Our past always produces consequences because we all make mistakes, and we must learn to responsibly deal with consequences of those mistakes.
        2. But a captive to the past has been enslaved to the past; a captive to the past does not live in the present because the past controls his mind, his heart, and his understanding.
      2. Individuals can be captives to the past.
        1. “I had a child when I was 16 and unmarried.”
        2. “I stole a car when I was 18.”
        3. “I experimented with drugs extensively when I was in college.”
        4. “I was divorced when I was 30.”
        5. “I lost a business and everything I owned when I was 35.”
        6. “I had a car wreck that killed my family when I was 40.”
        7. Do such events result in consequences? Absolutely!
        8. Will the person be a captive who is held hostage by that past? That is a matter of decision, of choice.
      3. Congregations can be captives to the past.
        1. “We had some terrible, unkind disagreements in the past, and many people were devastated.”
        2. “We had a lot of hard feelings in the past, and some cruel things were done.”
        3. “We had alienated groups in the congregation in the past.”
        4. “We had power hungry men and women who wanted to control things in the past.”
        5. Do such occurrences produce consequences? Absolutely!
        6. Will the congregation be a captive that is held hostage to that past? That is a matter of decision, a matter of choice.
      4. Of this there can be no doubt: when a congregation becomes captive to its past and is held hostage by that past, it will become a valley of dry bones.
    2. What was God really saying to Ezekiel in that valley of dry, sun bleached bones?
      1. God is in control–even of dry bones.
      2. Life comes from God, not from the past, not from favorable circumstances.
      3. God has the power to make those dry, scattered bones skeletons; and those skeletons bodies; and those bodies alive.
      4. God could deliver Israel from the grave of their captivity and put them back in their homeland again, and God would do it.
      5. And when God did it, they would know that He was the Lord God, the God who spoke, the God who made it happen.
    3. Is there a point for us? Yes! When a congregation is becoming a valley of dry bones, the Lord God who raised Jesus from the dead can resurrect that congregation to life.
      1. God is still in control.
      2. God still has the power to make alive.
      3. God can deliver us from being a hostage to our past.
      4. God will do it, and when he does it, we will know that He is the Lord God.
  3. I have a serious question to ask you, personally, and I ask it in all earnestness. I am not asking the person next to you; I am not asking everyone else assembled this morning but you; I am asking you.
    1. “What is the question? ” Are you, personally, willing to put the future of this congregation in God’s hands?
      1. Are you, personally, willing to say in all honesty, “I don’t care what is necessary, and I surrender all my personal preferences to You, God: I want your will to be done in this congregation just like heaven does your will.”
      2. “I want us, as a congregation, to have the same sensitivity to your desires and your purposes as heaven has to your desires and your purposes.”
    2. “How do I do that?” You pray. “What do I pray?”
      1. I ask every one of us to place the future of this congregation in God’s hands by regularly, frequently praying for three things.
      2. Request number one: “God, do whatever is necessary to help me, personally, become more like Jesus Christ.”
      3. Request number two: “God, help this congregation grow in all the ways you want it to grow.”
        1. Help this congregation look like people who belong to Jesus Christ. Amen?
        2. Help this congregation sound like people who belong to Jesus Christ. Amen?
        3. Help this congregation act like people who belong to Jesus Christ. Amen?
        4. Help this congregation truly belong to Jesus Christ. Amen?
      4. Request number three: “God, use me in any way that You want to help this congregation be and do what you want it to be and do.”
    3. Then, as you continue to pray, care; love; get involved.

Religiously, spiritually, are you committed to a cause, or do you love God? Brothers and sisters, we simply must learn to stop playing God. When Christians attempt to play God, as individuals and as a congregation, they become a valley of dry bones.

So many times throughout my life I unknowingly tried to play God. I never realized it. I wasn’t consciously trying to play God. God has informed me in powerful ways, “David Chadwell, I never asked you to play God. I never asked you to do what only I can do. David Chadwell, stop trying to play God; just love me, and love people.”

If the core of our spirituality is commitment to a cause, it is much too easy to try to play God. When we attempt to play God, we become a valley of dry bones.

The less we pray, the more likely we are to try to play God. The more we pray, the more humble we become before God.

Will you leave here this morning committed to placing the future of this congregation in God’s hands? Will you leave here this morning committed to praying for this to happen? Will you leave here this morning committed to becoming more like Jesus Christ?

Have the battles of your past turned your life into a valley of dry bones? Here is the good news: God through Jesus Christ can bring you back to life. Will you let Him?