Last week we started our summer sermon series called ACTS: The Early Church Initiative by reviewing the first fourteen chapters of the book of Acts. In it, we learned that a priority for the Early Church was to place the GOSPEL above all else…because in the Gospel, Jesus placed YOU above all else.
Today we are picking up where we left off last year. Which was action packed. Last year we heard about:
Fire appearing on the disciples’ heads.
A paralytic healed.
A Jesus-hater blinded.
A sorcerer converted.
Thousands baptized into Jesus’ name.
And as exciting as those things were, today we’re going to dive into something just as exciting.
Something just as thrilling.
Today we are going to hear about a marvelous, amazing, incredible, action packed…Meeting.
As we go through the events leading up to the first Church Council meeting, pay attention – you’ll see theme of Gospel above all else – running throughout the discussions. Our goal is to learn from that. Before we begin, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see, our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Problem
The account is from Acts 15 which begins right at the end of Paul and Barnabas’ first missionary journey. A journey that was successful. They had brought the message of the Gospel to people living in different countries who had never heard of Jesus.
And when they returned to their home congregation in Antioch Syria – the congregation that sponsored the mission trip – they shared their success!
About Cyprus where the Gospel overpowered the lies of a Satanist.
About Pisidian Antioch where they preached on the streets in front of thousands of people.
About being chased out of the city, mistaken for God, and narrowly avoiding attempted murder.
And about how through it all the Gospel was preached, and hundreds of souls came to faith in the saving message of Jesus.
And the congregation was thrilled.
As the night was winding down, Paul noticed a sign that had been affixed to the congregation’s 1st century version of a bulletin board: “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.” (15:1)
He went and got Barnabas.
Can you believe what they’re teaching?
This is the church that had convinced me it was by God’s grace apart from any Jewish custom that we’re saved.
A church sponsored OUR mission trip in which we were told to teach - people were saved by God’s grace apart from anything else.
A mission trip on which we taught that people were saved by Jesus apart from anything, anything, anything else.
Over the next couple days, there were heated discussions:
Paul and Barnabas said the Gospel was all about Grace.
The opposing leaders argued that it was about God’s grace…and following Old Testament Jewish Law.
A good portion of the people sat back and nodded in agreement with whomever made the last point.
Finally, they decided to send this question to the leadership of the Christian movement.
“Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some other believers, to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this question.” (v.3)
Because the Apostles were the original twelve, they were the men who had followed Jesus.
Who had been taught by Jesus.
Who had been EYEWITNESESS of the Risen Lord Jesus.
Who had been commission by Jesus to preach the Gospel.
On whom the Holy Spirit had come in a hurricane like sounded, landed on their heads in tongues of fire and taught them languages they never learned.
If anyone knew what the Gospel was really about -- it was them.
II. The Very First Council Meeting
So, the group set off from Syria and headed south to Jerusalem.
As they went, they stopped at other churches where Paul and Barnabas told of the incredible works of God.
About the Gospel overpowering the lies of a Satanist.
About preaching in the streets in front of thousands of people.
About being chased out of the city, mistaken for God, and narrowly avoiding attempted murder.
And about how through it all, the Gospel was preached, and hundreds of souls came to faith in the saving message of Jesus.
And how all the churches were thrilled!
They were excited.
They were excited with how the saving message of Jesus had made its way even to non-Jewish people.
And the excitement continued in Jerusalem.
The Apostles welcomed them.
They hugged them.
They sat down and listened to Paul and Barnabas talk all about their journeys.
They got teary-eyed.
They were ready to sing “Praise God from whom All Blessings Flow” when…
Some…stood up and said, “The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to keep the law of Moses.” (v.5)
Because in the Old Testament, God required obedience!
Don’t believe me? Read Leviticus. Read Numbers.
They had to be circumcised.
They had to cover their heads.
They had to wear prayer shawls.
And that’s our tradition.
A tradition added to by great men.
A tradition passed down by great men.
Traditions not to eat pork.
Traditions not to eat shellfish.
Traditions not to join in fellowship with anyone who doesn’t follow these traditions.
We’re supposed to drop them?
Centuries of Traditions, gone?
For the sake of some “Dirty Gentiles?”
I don’t think so.
At this Peter stood up.
Peter, the leader of the Apostles….
Peter who had preached a phenomenal sermon on Pentecost:
“Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the Gospel…”(v.7)
Do you remember that?
I was up on the roof doing some meditation when I went into a trance.
In that trance, God gave me a vision of a sheet filled with all kinds of animals.
Animals that we TRADITIONALLY don’t eat.
Food like pork chops, bacon, and oysters on the half shell.
And I said to God, “Surely not, Lord! I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.”
And God said, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” (vs. 14-15)
And then God repeated this sequence two more times.
And right at the end of it, when I was wondering what it all meant, three men sent by Cornelius, a Roman, stopped at the gate of my house. The Holy Spirit said to me, “Simon, three men are looking for you. So get up and go downstairs. Do not hesitate to go with them, for I have sent them.” (vs. 19-20)
I went down to answer. The men were sent here by his master, Cornelius, who had a vision from God – about me being in that house.
Wouldn’t I come to tell about Jesus?
Because that’s was the point of the vision.
God’s message wasn’t just for Jews anymore.
It was a message of Grace for Gentiles…
But you don’t’ have to take my word for it!
Because when I was there and when I preached the message of the Gospel.
The people believed…Something that only happens by the Holy Spirit.
And they began speaking in tongues – a miracle that happens only by the Holy Spirit.
A miracle as proof that this was real faith given by the Holy Spirit.
Guess what!?! That happened in a home that didn’t have any Jewish traditions.
They weren’t circumcised.
They weren’t wearing prayers shawls.
“God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. 9 He did not discriminate between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith.” (v.8-9)
“Now then, why do you try to test God?” (vs. 10)
Because you might think that you’re testing the Gentiles.
You might think that you’re testing their faith to see if it’s real and if they’re willing to become followers of Jesus.
You’re testing God.
You’re telling him:
“Hey God, I know you said that it’s by grace through faith in Jesus that we’re saved, but…I’m gonna preach the opposite. I want to test how long it takes for you to strike me down with a lightning bolt for teaching the opposite of you.”
Because…think about it!
You’re putting yokes on the necks of these Gentiles.
A yoke just like you put on your donkey.
Something that makes general movement in life much more difficult.
You’re putting yokes on their necks by demanding that they keep all these Old Testament Traditions…
When you couldn’t even keep them yourself.
Avram, look at that prayer shawl. That’s not regulation length.
And Jeremiah, I saw you last Sabbath. That walk was lots longer than the allotted 3000 steps according to our tradition.
And Ezekiel…I’ve got a guy over there who told me that he saw you eating a BLT last week.
And don’t even get me started on the lies, the greed, the lust, the moral failures of each and everyone of you.
Brothers, for centuries, we were under the yoke of a law that we could not keep.
The message of Jesus freed us from that yoke.
Why put that yoke on someone else?
Why not lift that yoke?
We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are. (v.7)
Until eventually, Paul and Barnabas took the opportunity to tell all about what happened on their missionary journey.
About the Gospel overpowering the lies of a Satanist.
About preaching in the streets in front of thousands of people.
About being chased out of the city, mistaken for God, and narrowly avoiding attempted murder.
And about how through it all, the Gospel was preached, and hundreds of souls came to faith in the saving message of Jesus.
When they were done…
James stood up.
James, the leader of the church in Jerusalem.
James, a Jew through and through.
We’ve heard from Peter.
We’ve heard from Paul.
We’ve heard from Barnabas.
But perhaps we need to hear from one more witness.
A witness that’s Jewish.
A witness that’s traditional.
A witness that cannot tell a lie.
The Old Testament Jewish Scriptures:
Amos 9:11-12 says:
“After this I will…rebuild David’s fallen tent.
…17 that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord, even all the Gentiles who bear my name.” (Acts 15:16-17)
Grace is grace.
We can’t force them to be Jewish and we don’t need to. And we don’t need to keep these traditions because Jesus fulfilled them all with His perfect life, death and resurrection. God doesn’t require sacrifices anymore!
It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. (Acts 15:19)
Brothers and sisters,
This is the truth.
Grace is grace.
It’s a truth that was discussed in Jerusalem.
By the Apostles of Jesus himself.
They came to a conclusion.
It hasn’t been overruled.
It hasn’t been overturned.
Grace is grace.
It isn’t worked for.
It isn’t earned.
It isn’t given in response to following Old Testament customs.
It isn’t given in response to following human customs.
It’s all about Jesus.
He lived perfectly when you couldn’t.
He died innocently in your place.
He rose triumphantly for the forgiveness of your sins.
Forgiveness is yours.
By God’s grace.
III. WHAT NOW?
Therefore, we follow the advice of James, the leader in Jerusalem. Don’t make Grace difficult.
1) For Yourself
How good are you at puzzles?
I can usually handle them if they are 20 pieces or less.
I’m really good if they have an outline for each shape.
I’m especially good at the puzzles for 4 years old and younger.
But I have a friend who is so good at puzzles, do you know what he does?
He flips the puzzles upside down.
He does them cardboard side facing up.
He wants to make it more difficult…
Sometimes I think we do the same thing with grace.
We add in the qualification of “perfection.”
We need to be the perfect mom.
We need to be a stellar dad.
We need to be the best teacher, an incredible provider and the best keeper of Christian customs ever.
We tell ourselves that in order to receive grace we need to follow God’s Laws perfectly.
just to be sure…
…we add in some of our own human customs and laws just to make it really difficult.
Grace is grace.
And because of God’s grace in Jesus, you are forgiven.
Jesus said this, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:30)
He said that because by grace salvation is yours.
By grace, you don’t have to earn God’s love.
By grace, you already have it.
2) For Others
I was at pastor’s conference this past week. And I was talking to a pastor who was telling me about something that happened to him recently. He had a gentleman join his worship service whom he had been trying to get to come for a long time.
A friend who wasn’t a part of a church.
Who didn’t actively worship and hadn’t known much about Jesus.
As he finally attended worship, the man was moved by the Gospel.
He was emotional as he listened.
He even shouted: “Amen,” at the end of the sermon.
Afterwards, the pastor was excited, and he went to talk to a member of his to share his excitement.
And he said, “Wasn’t it awesome having him join us?”
And the person he told this to simply rolled their eyes and said, “You better talk to him and tell him that we don’t shout AMEN around here. Especially if he plans on coming back.”
Friends, don’t make grace difficult for others.
Don’t add to God’s grace.
Don’t require human things.
Let grace be grace.
Grace for you.
Grace for the people you talk to.
As unyoked children of God, be in the business of unyoking those with heavy burdens to bear.
Because…the Gospel teaches that God placed YOU above all else.
And we, as an extension of the early church, need to place the Gospel above all else.
Last week we started our Eyewitness sermon series. Our goal is to look at Eyewitness accounts of Jesus’ resurrection. Last week we heard the eyewitness account of Mary Magdalene. She reported that she saw an empty tomb, two angels, and Jesus Christ himself.
But today is a second part of the series. That implies – there’s more than one eyewitness account.
I remember growing up my family was visiting my grandmother in Omaha, NE. On the way, we stopped for lunch at a McDonald's. Now – this was during one of those Monopoly promotions – where you collect peel-able Monopoly pieces from fry containers and soda cups. Once we ordered our food, mom let us peel off the game pieces to see if we could collect a FREE fry or two-for-one ice cream cone.
But…we found something better.
If you know your Monopoly, then you know that Park Place is the last set on the board. In McDonald’s Monopoly, if you collect the Park Place piece and the Boardwalk piece, you win $1,000,0000.
And I told my mom, “We won! We won a million dollars. Because…I am sure that I have Boardwalk back at home.”
At first, she didn’t believe her 6-year-old son.
But we were on vacation for a whole week. So…I kept repeating the same truth.
I insisted to everyone that we were about to be millionaires.
I started introducing myself to my relatives as, “Future millionaire-cousin Phil.”
I began explaining to my mom that, “I deserved most of the money because I peeled off the game pieces, but don’t worry…she’d get some, since she paid for it and all.”
Finally, after a week of vacation, we got in the car. We drove home.
And…honestly…mom started to get excited.
She dreamt up a golden-plated vacuum cleaner.
She dreamed of never cooking again.
She closed her eyes and pictured a kid-free trip to sunny Hawaii.
So… after the 8-hour drive, we hopped out of the car, I ran up to my room, opened my dresser drawer and found…
The entire family followed me …
Another “Park Place.”
If there is only one witness, it is hard to believe them.
If there is only one witness, maybe you shouldn’t believe them.
If there is only one witness to Jesus’ resurrection, that witness could be passionate…but confused.
That’s why more than one eyewitness is important.
Today we’ll look at a second eyewitness account. Before we begin, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Eyewitness Account
The eyewitness account comes from Luke 24:13. “Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. They were talking with each other about everything that had happened.”
It’s an account from two people. A disciple named Cleopas (Memorize that. It’s a great Bible trivia answer) and the other guy is…completely unknown. In fact, they are so non-famous that they are better known as the “Emmaus disciples.” Why? Because they were on their way to Emmaus.
Think about that: They are better known by the small town they were travelling to than their actual names.
That’d be like waving to someone that you meet in the hallway today and saying, “Hi guy going to the bathroom. Hope your day is good.”
The account takes place a bit later in the day on the first Easter. A brief timeline –
Jesus rises from the dead.
The women appear at the tomb.
Mary Magdalene runs away in distress to the disciples.
The other women enter the tomb and see angels.
The two disciples run back to the tomb to see it’s empty.
Concurrently, the other women are on their way back to tell about the angels when they see Jesus. (So, there’s another eyewitness account)
Then, Mary reaches the tomb and see Jesus as well.
I’m thinking that places the time of day here as early afternoon. Because as they are walking to the town of Emmaus – they are discussing the eyewitness account of Mary, the women and the disciples.
And to be fair – they’ve got some time to discuss. Emmaus is about 7 miles away from Jerusalem. This is long before cars. It’s long before bikes. It’s long before those little ‘uber’ scooter things that are popular downtown. They have to walk. At a decent pace, the trip takes about 3 hours.
But as they get started.
As they get to walking.
As they get to talking.
Look who joins them:
Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognizing him. (v.15-16)
Look at that end part.
They were “kept” from recognizing him.
It’s a bit different from Mary Magdalene who misses Jesus because she’s clouded by grief and tears. The implication is that God did some kind of cloaking miracle to keep Jesus’ identity a secret.
Remember that. We’ll come back to it.
“Random stranger” Jesus asks them: “Friends, what are you discussing together as you go along?”
Cleopas replies, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?”
It’s the Greek equivalent of: “Have you been living under a rock?” Or “Has your Twitter account stopped working?”
To which Jesus’ simply replies: “What things?”
“About Jesus of Nazareth.” (v19)
Now before we get into it, understand what just happened.
Jesus just asked these two guys to tell him what they’ve been talking about.
They just happen to be talking about Jesus.
They are about to tell Jesus all about Jesus.
That’d be like Einstein asking you to explain the theory of relativity.
Or Gordon Ramsey asking you how to make the perfect risotto.
Let’s see how they do:
He was a prophet. That’s not wrong. A prophet is someone who speaks God’s Word. Jesus spoke God’s Word. Usually Old Testament prophets spoke God’s Word about the future. Jesus also spoke God’s Word about the future. He told the blind man, “You will see.” He told the deaf person, “You will hear.” He told the lame person, “You will walk.” He told his disciples, “We’ll go to Jerusalem and I’ll be arrested, convicted and crucified.”
Jesus was a prophet.
He was powerful. True. He told storms to stop and they did. He told waves to be calm and they were. He told 5 loaves of bread to multiply into enough bread to feed 5,000 people and they did. He told demons to abandon their human hosts – and they did. He told the dead to rise and they did.
Jesus was powerful.
He suffered. He was handed over to the chief priests. Truth.
He was sentenced to death. Truth.
They crucified him. Truth.
The disciples are on a roll – bring it home for us!
“We had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.” (v.31)
Did you hear that?
As in, “no longer hoping.”
As in, “Our hope was wrong.”
As in, “Jesus is not the redeemer.”
“And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. In addition, some of our women shocked us. They went to the tomb early this morning but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.”
Really… it’s foolish.
Hopeful foolishness, but foolishness all the same.
Foolish that the women think he’s alive.
Foolish that others are starting to believe them.
Foolish that anyone we ever thought Jesus was the Redeemer.
They turned to Jesus. “What do you think?”
And Jesus responds: “How foolish…”
“How foolish…You are…
“And how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken. Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. (v.26-27)
Like the Scripture where God tells the devil that one day the Redeemer will crush his head. Which is exactly what Jesus did on the cross.
Like that Scripture that says the Messiah would come from Abraham’s genealogical line.
Then Isaac’s. Then Jacob’s and Judah’s and many more.
Jesus was a part of that family line.
Like the Scripture that a virgin would give birth.
That the Redeemer would be born in Bethlehem.
That a star would appear to mark his birth
The virgin did; Jesus was; and a star appeared.
Like the Scripture that the Redeemer would make the blind see, the deaf hear, and the lame walk.
Jesus made the blind see, the deaf hear, and the lame walk.
Like the Scripture that the Redeemer would be betrayed.
Would be arrested.
Would be convicted.
Would be killed on a cross.
Jesus was betrayed.
And killed on a cross.
Like the Scripture that said, “After he has suffered, he will see the light of life…” (Isaiah 53:11)
As the witnesses had already told these men…
He saw the light of life.
At the end of about a 3-hour journey, the trio make it to Emmaus. They get to the path leading off the main road and into their house. The journey is over, but the disciples don’t want to stop listening to Jesus.
“Stay with us. It is evening. The day is almost over.” (Lk. 24:30)
So, Jesus did.
He entered the house.
They sat him at a table.
They got some bread out of the cupboard.
They sat down to eat.
Since he knew so much about Scripture, the Emmaus disciples thought it good to let him lead the prayer.
He took the bread.
And gave it to them.
And suddenly --- “Wait.”
“That sounded familiar.”
“He took bread, broke it and said prayers just like…
II. Resurrection Truth
This is the eyewitness account of the Emmaus disciples.
When you combine that with Mary’s eyewitness and the eyewitness of the other women…
We’re led to some important resurrection truths:
(1) Jesus Rose from the Dead
If you are wondering, YES…that is the exact same first truth as we learned last time.
But it bears repeating with the second set of eyewitnesses.
Think about it.
Mary and these disciples aren’t talking about the same time.
It isn’t as if they are both talking about something where they both identify a person incorrectly and they egg each other on to belief in the process.
They both have eyewitness sightings in different places at different times.
It’s like in your neighborhood. If one of your neighbors said, “I saw a deer in our backyard.”
You might not believe them. Maybe they thought it was a deer, but the way that the light was on the shadows – maybe it was just a really, really, big squirrel.
But if another neighbor tells you that they saw a deer drinking out of their pool on Thursday…
And a third neighbor tells you that they saw a deer in their backyard on Friday…
And a fourth neighbor says that they high fived a deer on a John Deere sometime on Saturday…
There’s a deer in your neighborhood.
Jesus wasn’t just seen by Mary in the garden.
And the other women on the road from the garden.
But also, these two disciples on the road to Emmaus.
3 different sightings.
And by the way --- these guys are relatively obscure! This is Cleopas’ only appearance. And the other guy doesn’t even have a name.
If the Resurrection was something that was made up, I imagine that humans would think:
“Let’s have Jesus appear to some really important people. I’m sure that others will believe it then. People like Peter and James and John. Maybe Pontius Pilate. Or…even Caiaphas. That’d make for a good story.”
Among the first people to see Jesus.
Cleopas – a relative unknown.
And unknown guy – an absolute unknown.
That means this story is real.
It means this resurrection is real.
It means your salvation is real.
Even if you feel like a Cleopas.
Even if you feel like an unknown.
Even if you feel like you aren’t that important in the grand scheme of things at all.
What does it tell you about the importance of your everyday average person that one of Jesus’ first appearances is to these two relative nobodies?
It tells you that they weren’t nobodies.
It tells you that they were very important to Jesus.
And it tells you that you aren’t a nobody.
It tells you that you are very important to Jesus.
He lived for YOU.
He died for YOU.
He rose for YOU.
(2) Scripture is Really, Really, Really Important
Because one of the most interesting things of this story – I said we’d come back to it – is at the beginning of the account. The disciples were “kept from recognizing him.” (v.16)
Now…if I was Jesus, I think my first instinct for removing doubts and revealing to these disciples that I was really alive would be…to reveal myself to them and show that I was really alive!
But he doesn’t do that.
Instead, he takes them to Scripture.
He takes them through Scripture.
He immerses them in Scripture until their hearts are burning.
And then…only after they already believe because of the Scriptures – then Jesus reveals himself.
Why is that important?
Because you and I can’t see Jesus.
You and I can’t touch Jesus.
You and I cannot be eyewitnesses of this truth.
But visual proof was not Jesus’ first solution to a doubting faith.
Scripture that we have today.
Scripture that we read today.
Scripture that you can read any time you are doubting.
Friends, if you have doubts about this message.
If you have doubts about your Savior.
If you are struggling with guilt and sin and shame that leads to doubting the whole Easter story…
Don’t try to will yourself to faith.
Don’t try to pray yourself to faith.
Don’t try to scream at yourself to faith.
Immerse yourself in Scripture.
Not only does God create faith through Scripture…
He strengthens it.
He sustains it.
He causes it to burn within you.
Which leads to our final point:
(3) Go and Tell (and go to great lengths to do so!)
After Jesus visually reveals himself to the disciples, he disappears. But his effect doesn’t.
“Weren’t our hearts burning within us as he talked on the road?” (v.32)
Didn’t our faith burn with confidence?
Didn’t our passion burn for Jesus?
And they got up.
And hearts still burning…
And decided they’d like their lungs to burn.
Get this! They take off on a 7-mile run back to Jerusalem!
They turn around and go back on a 7-mile sprint in order to share the message that they previously thought was foolishness!
The message that...Jesus was alive.
That they had seen him.
That Jesus was the Redeemer.
Friends, go to similar lengths to share Jesus.
Granted. I’m guessing you won’t have to go on a 7-mile sprint.
Maybe you just have to go down the block.
Maybe you just have to go onto your phone.
Maybe you just have to walk down the hall.
If you know others who don’t have the reality of the resurrection, share with them the reality of the resurrection.
Tell them about the eyewitnesses.
Tell them about Mary.
Tell them about Cleopas.
Tell them about…what’s-his-face.
Tell them about the Scriptures.
Tell them about the prophecies.
Tell them about how Jesus fulfills every one of them.
Tell them the message that Jesus is alive.
That Jesus rose form the dead.
That Jesus is the Redeemer.
Don’t be surprised if your heart doesn’t burn a little while you do so…
Last week was awesome. We celebrated Easter. I think I emailed that there were over 300 people in our North Raleigh community gathered together to hear the message of the Resurrected Lord.
And that’s awesome.
But…sometimes when I get down – it’s not like I can see people’s hearts.
It’s not like I can see how many people believed.
It’s not like we can visually see that the message had an effect.
Someone came up to me this week to talk.
Someone with whom – I don’t have much of a relationship with – I barely know them.
They wanted to share some struggles that they had been having.
Some deep sadness.
Some terrible events.
That were leading to depression – sadness – and the thought that “I am worthless.”
They had come for Easter.
They had heard the sermon.
They thought God was talking to them.
They believed it.
Now…I don’t always get to see it.
It’s not about me anyways. It’s about Jesus. It’s about Jesus. It’s about Jesus.
But…man…what a privilege!
Their heart was burning.
My heart was burning.
Our hearts were on fire for the message of the Risen Lord.
It’s my prayer that your heart is burning too!
And if so, won’t you share the message of Jesus with others?
Won’t you go Plant that message in the Heart of North Raleigh? Amen.
We are finishing up our Fighting Temptation sermon series this morning. If you’ve been here following along, this is the culmination. We’re going to take everything we’ve learned about fighting temptation and apply it to enduring in the fight against temptation.
If you haven’t been here, that’s okay. Because we’re going to be talking about how to endure your walk of faith -- in a world filled with doubt, shame, guilt, and other things that make it feel like you should just give up on faith.
In short, if you want to enjoy eternal life…this is for you.
Before we study, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth, your Word is the truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; open our ears to hear what you want us to hear; and open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Surrounded by Witnesses
The section we’re going to look at it from the book of Hebrews 12: 1-3. Briefly – Hebrews is a letter written to believers anywhere at any time. We are believers. We are somewhere and sometimes – so…this is written to us.
This is written to you.
Look at the encouragement in chapter 12:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.
Right away, I get this picture of a track and field meet. The stadium seating is filled with people. They’ve got their popcorn. They’ve got their sports drinks. They’ve got their sunglasses on and a granola bar for the kids. They are cheering on your behalf – “You can do it! You’ve got this! Keep running.”
There’s even that coach running alongside the infield. He’s the one’s that’s running by you as you hit the corner – he’s screaming. He’s yelling. He’s waving his arms in big old circles – (because I think he thinks that it’ll help with the airflow so you can run faster.) He’s part of the crowd of people that are encouraging you and cheering you on.
But who is this group of people that the Bible is talking about?
Who are these witnesses?
(1) Those who have Finished the Race
It is usually in good taste, once you finish a race, to turn around and cheer for those who are still finishing up. You’re letting them know it’s possible by the fact that you already made it.
Scripture is filled with those who have finished the race.
Scripture is filled with those who have fought the fight against temptation.
Scripture is filled with those who have walked the walk of faith.
Like a guy named Abraham -- God said to him, “Get up. Move your family. Go to a different country. Even though I won’t tell you where, it’ll be good, just…trust me.”
And Abraham did.
And God gave him the land of Israel that would lead to the entire nation of Israel as we know them today.
Like a woman named Sarah – God said to her, “Even though you’re 90 years old and are barren, I will come back in a year and you will have a son – trust me.”
And Sarah did.
And God gave her a child named Isaac --- the great, great, great, great, many times over, grandfather of Jesus Christ.
Like a guy named Moses – God said to him, “I will work through you to do miraculous signs and lead my people out of slavery in Egypt – trust me.”
And Moses did.
And God sent locusts, frogs, hail, bugs, darkness and blood until the king of Egypt finally let them go.
And a young boy named David – God said to him, “Even though you are small, I will take care of you. Trust me.”
And David did.
And God protected him – guiding a tiny little stone from a sling shot into the gap of the giant goliath’s helmet – knocking him down – dead.
And a young man named Joshua – God said to him, “Even though there’s a gigantic wall surrounding the city, I will help you defeat Jericho and it will be yours…trust me.”
And Joshua did.
And God roared, Jericho trembled, God shook the city of Jericho and sent the walls of Jericho a tumbling down.
And a guy named Daniel – God said to him, “Even though the king has threatened a night in the lion’s den for not worshipping him, don’t do it. I’ll protect you…trust me.”
And Daniel did.
And God sent angels to calm those ferocious beasts – that come the next morning – the lions were snuggling up to Daniel purring like housecats.
And a young woman named Mary – God said to her, “Even though you’ve never slept with anyone – and biology says it’s impossible, trust me…You will have a Son and will call his name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
And she did.
And God did. And Jesus was born of a virgin.
And a guy named Peter…And Andrew. And James and John…and Thomas and Philip and hundreds more – to whom Jesus himself said, “They will kill me…. But…three days later…I will come back to life. Trust me.”
And they… didn’t.
But God did anyway. He came back to life.
The Bible is filled with people who have finished the race of faith.
And through the pages of Scripture – they cheer you on:
You will win.
(2) Those who are Running the Race with you
Because when you run a race – it’s good to run a race with friends. It’s nice to have people there to push you. People there to encourage you. People there to say, “You know what. Why don’t we walk for a bit.”
God has given you people to encourage you.
God has given you people to uplift you.
God has given you people to witness to God’s grace and run the race with you.
I remember Pastor John Jeske. He was a pastor of mine growing up. He preached rather long sermons. (Some of you are wondering – “How long does he think a ‘long sermon’ is…?”) He was a kind, gentle, older man – who always took the time to shake my hand and ask how my day was going.
He encouraged me.
One of the interactions that I ever had was a graduation card that I received from him. It said, “Philip, keep holding onto Jesus and keep sharing him with others.”
It wasn’t much.
A few simple words.
Yet – even today –
Years after I received that card.
Years after Pastor Jeske became a member of God’s congregation in heaven.
I hear his encouragement.
I want you to take a moment and think about some of the people God has given you to encourage you.
A grandma? A grandpa?
A church friend?
Because that’s really the point of church. It’s a group of people who gather together to encourage, uplift, run beside, pull each other along, and occasionally -- give someone a ride on their back as we run the race of faith together.
If you don’t have that group of people, God says you need it.
If you have that group of people, God says, “Don’t forget to encourage them too.”
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.
Because you wouldn’t do very well in a race if your shoelaces were tied together.
You wouldn’t do very well in a race if you were wrapped up in toilet paper.
You wouldn’t do very well in a race if you are the only one with a weighted backpack of about 50 pounds. (Unless you’re that one guy at my gym – who always wears the 50-pound backpack…I think he wears it when he brushes his teeth.)
But you get the point? You can’t run well when things are tangling you up and slowing you down.
And you can’t run the race of faith when things are tangling you up and slowing you down.
Again, what might entangle you? Two things:
(1) Sin that Entangles
This one seems easy.
Sin is bad.
God is good.
Sin is wrong.
God is opposed to wrong.
If you are trying to run the race of faith with God, then you’re going to be immensely slowed down.
And we’re not necessarily talking about tripping up in sin – that happens to all Christians all the time because we are all sinners.
But we’re talking about sin that entangles.
Sin that’s repeated.
Sin that’s repetitive.
Sin that’s got you all wrapped up.
Because think about it:
It’s hard set your heart after God, when your heart is after a bunch of porn on the internet.
It’s hard to run with all your strength, when most of your strength is boasting on social media.
It’s hard to run with joy, when you’re harboring bitterness in your heart.
It’s hard to share Jesus with people of all cultures, when you’d rather share your racist thoughts about other cultures.
It’s hard to trust God’s forgiveness of you, when you’re struggling with forgiving in your heart.
It’s hard to work together to share the Gospel, when you’re working on your own to share gossip about others at church.
Throw off the sin that entangles.
(2) Anything that Hinders
But it’s not just that. Scripture says to throw off anything that hinders.
Meaning things that aren’t necessarily sin.
Cause there’s all kinds of things in this world that aren’t necessarily sin. They are spiritually neutral. Things like: TV, sleep, food, money, career, sports, Rice Krispy Bars, Pokémon, and vegetables – (except for brussels sprouts – those are probably sinful – just kidding…kind of.)
Neutral things are not wrong on their own.
They become wrong, when they consume you to the point of slowing your spiritual race.
Like video games. I enjoy video games. Not the violent, intense, R rated games that have all kinds of questionable content.
But the light-hearted, goofy video games – that leave you questioning how old I am.
But here’s the thing. If those video games start to take up my time, if they start to envelop my thoughts, if I start thinking more about “How can I save princess Peach from Bowser” – rather than – “How can I share Jesus who saves eternally with that person…”
Video games have become a hindrance.
They need to be thrown off.
Think about you and your life.
What is slowing you down?
I bet it’s different than mine.
But I also bet there is one.
The devil will do everything possible to make you think that’s most important.
But it’s not.
So…whatever has become a hindrance to growing in faith, following Jesus, and sharing his message.
Identify and throw it off.
III. Eyes on the Prize
One more thing that Scripture implores us to do as we run the race of faith:
Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. (v.2)
Over at Lafayette Village, every September they hold Octoberfest. Let me say that again – Every September, they hold Octoberfest. (I think that the 4th of July is celebrated on August 10th this year, too). Part of the celebration is the Annual Wiener Dog Race. (Picture it.) It is exactly what you picture. A race with wiener dogs. The race isn’t long. It’s probably the length of a pew. And the dogs are dropped off at the starting line. They are positioned behind a starting gate and then, their owner goes down to the finish line – ready to call for the dog and cheer them to victory.
Sounds simple, right?
But…here’s what happens.
The announcer says, “On your mark. Get set. Go!”
The gates open…and…
One of them immediately runs over to the walls and starts trying to jump over them to get to the crowd.
Another sees a butterfly in the air and chases it to the other side.
A third was on his way to the end but stops when he sees the little kid eating a “hot dog.”
And a fourth – just kinda settles down for a nap.
I remember watching a race. It’s literally 30 feet in length, but it took about 5 minutes because the dogs couldn’t keep their attention on the endgame.
The same thing is true in this life.
We can’t get distracted by shiny, flashy things.
We can’t lose focus from Christ – and drift to career, money, friendship, physique…
None of those things lead to the finish line of eternal life.
None of those things lead to the finish line of heaven.
Only one thing does --
So fix your eyes on Jesus.
Why Jesus? Three reasons…
(1) He is the author of your faith
An author is someone who writes a book. They are the ones who come up with the ideas and write it on a page. People like Dr. Seuss, Maya Angelou and Nathaniel Hawthorne. All authors – all wrote their ideas and thoughts down on paper.
Jesus is the author of faith.
Its contents: He looked down upon earth. He saw that we were mired in sin, guilt and shame. He saw that we couldn’t get ourselves out of it – and eternal death was our destiny. So…he wrote “Faith.”
He came down to earthly willingly.
Lived perfectly when we couldn’t.
Died innocently in our place.
And rose triumphantly for the forgiveness of all of our sins!
He said, “Put your faith in ME, in ME, in ME, not in yourself, in ME!”
Jesus authored the contents of our faith – but – more than that – he authored your faith.
He came to you through Scripture.
He came to you through the words of someone who knew Scripture.
He came to you through the waters of baptism.
He brought you the message that we are sinners and are in need of a Savior.
He wrote on your heart the words of faith:
“I belong to Jesus.”
“He is my Savior.”
“I will follow him.”
Think about it: If he is the one who set you on this journey of faith!
Since he’s the one who started you on it, keep your eyes on him – he’ll help you through it.
(2) He is the Perfecter of Your Faith
In fact, he’ll get you to the end! The Scripture says, “He is the perfecter of your faith.” That means – you can’t do this race without him. You can’t do this race without your Savior. You can’t do this race on your own.
Be careful with that. It’s so common for Christians to say – “Thanks Jesus for starting me out on faith. I appreciate it. But…I don’t want you to get tired…Let me run it on my own.”
And a couple of paces – they’re passed out in a spiritual ditch.
Jesus said this, “I am the Vine; you are the branches. If someone remains in me and I in them, they will bear much fruit. Apart from me; they can do nothing.” (John 15:5)
If you think you can do this race without Jesus, you’ll be like one of those old branches lying in the woods. Brittle. Withered. Dead.
But…if you stay connected to Jesus, hear his promise: you will grow.
You will be nourished.
Your faith will flourish.
You will run and you will run fast.
(3) He’s Excellent at Keeping His Eye on the Prize
One more reason to keep your eyes on Jesus.
Today is Palm Sunday. It’s the day we remember how Jesus came to Jerusalem in a festive fashion.
He rode on a donkey.
People were cheering for him.
They were waving Palm branches in the air.
They were pumping their fists in the air.
They were laying their coats on the ground so the donkey didn’t have to step on mud.
The entire city of Jerusalem was watching this one-person parade of Jesus and shouting:
HOSANNA! HOSANNA TO THE SON OF DAVID!
The scene is impressive.
And you might think – I can understand why Jesus wanted to go to Jerusalem.
If that was his goal…Who wouldn’t want to have an entire city singing your adulation and giving praise and attention to you.
That’s not why Jesus went to Jerusalem.
“We are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled. He will be delivered over to the Gentiles. They will mock him, insult him and spit on him; they will flog him and kill him.” (Luke 18:31-33)
Do you see it?
Jesus reason for going to Jerusalem wasn’t Palm Sunday; it was Good Friday.
He didn’t come to earth for the adulation of the crowd; but the ridicule of the soldiers.
He didn’t come to hear “Hosanna!”; but to hear “Crucify him.”
He didn’t come to have palms waves at him, but to have nailed driven into his him.
He didn’t come to ride on a donkey, but to hang from a cross.
He didn’t come to gain glory for himself; he came to gain glory for you.
Jesus’ eyes were on the prize.
And the prize wasn’t himself.
The prize was YOU.
Hebrews says, “For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
That ultimate joy of God.
That ultimate joy of God that powered Jesus to go through with dying on the cross.
Was the promise of eternity with you.
What helped Jesus endured his immensely painful moments on the cross, was considering eternity with you.
What will help you endure the intense painful moments in this life, the moments that make you doubt, the moments that make you want to give up…
Is considering Jesus.
You will not grow weary and lose heart.
You will run.
All the way.
To your Savior’s waiting arms. Amen.
Jesus poses two questions tonight as he gets at an issue so important for our spiritual health. The topic we’re digging into is: being neither hypocritical in action, nor paralyzed into inaction. Take a listen. Jesus tells us:
“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye."
Do you agree with this statement? “Hypocritical actions are one of the great damaging forces in our world.” I’m thinking especially of damaging to relationships, like friendships. Do you agree? Any disagreement?
Okay, now let me focus the statement in a little further: “Hypocritical actions are one of the great damaging forces in our world …and within churches.” If they are present, if they are allowed to go unchecked, do you agree? Yes.
We might be led to ponder adopting the minimalist approach that is popular in our culture today, namely “I’ll just keep myself from commenting on anything that anyone else does, to avoid the impression of being unlovingly hypocritical.” But before you go there, or if you’ve bought into that thinking to some degree, I’ve got an additional statement for us to consider:
“Inaction is also a great damaging force in our culture in our age.” Make the statement specific to when someone else with whom you are connected – family or close friend – is involved in something harmful. Adopting an “I’ll do nothing, say nothing, in order to avoid the impression of being unloving or hypocritical” approach, results many times in a great deal of damage impacting lives. Do you agree?
Let’s pinpoint the type of toxic effects for relationships that are in play with either one of the problematic approaches we’ve identified: being hypocritical in action, as well as being paralyzed into inaction. And keep in view there is more than our relationships with one another involved here. There is also the relationship for each one of us, as Christians, with our God that is connected here.
If we see someone in our family in Christ doing something harmful, if we do nothing we allow something toxic to go on working its damaging effects. Think about that proposition. It sounds silly! I’m sure you see the disconnect in that. We, as a family in Christ, want to help one another with identifying whatever is causing hurt or harm.
Doing that is important. And how we go at that goal is equally critical. If any “holier-than-thou” / any pride or self-righteous attitude is in the offering, the “help” being offered is actually likely to multiply the harm, rather than help remove it. Why? For starters, any correction offered with such an attitude is harmful to the one offering it. Pride or a self-righteous spirit would indicate some spiritual infection in thoughts and actions of that individual. And in many cases, the recipient of the correction too will experience additional hurt or harm. How so? Either they’ll see the self-righteous attitude for the hypocrisy that it really is, and be understandably turned off by it…. Or, there is this possibility: they can be potentially misled by the appeal of self-righteousness and pride. They may pursue the corrected behavior being offered, but if they do that with the wrong motivation of self-righteousness themselves, it is still spiritually harmful.
One word helps us guard against the immensely damaging attitude of hypocrisy when we step in to help someone else. It’s Jesus word: “first.” Matthew 7:5 - "You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye."
Now as you see Jesus’ “first,” I want you to look at 1 Timothy 1:15, and see the apostle Paul use this “first” for himself:
This saying is trustworthy and worthy of full acceptance: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners,” of whom I am the first."
That “first” is a literal rendering where many English translations say “worst.”
As we place Jesus’ “first” in Matthew 7:5 beside the “first” here in Paul’s statement, we can each see a personal perspective for us to make our own. As we view ourselves - and everyone else in relation to us - I’m “first” among the sinners. If you’re standing “first” in line, seeing your sin, and then being on the receiving end of Jesus’ full and fully undeserved forgiveness and peace, - got it? - think of how that affects every interaction you have as you turn back to everyone else you face and encounter in your relationships.
Then you and I are not coming from any attitude of “holier than thou” or pride, but from an awareness of “here is a sinner who has received Jesus’ healing.” “Then” also “here is someone happy to share the healing medicine of God’s truth and love.”
Just think how different that is than if I were to be turning around to the people around me, without first standing before Jesus with the issue of my sin addressed… If I came to someone else to talk to them about their problem, but I go about that thinking I don’t have any problems myself or my problems are minor compared theirs… how much help am I going to be? That’s a recipe for turning them off (to disregard anything I offer), or tempting them to join in hypocrisy / pride themselves.
You could find example after example of harm done by those trying to correct others when they themselves have spiritual planks unaddressed.
Notice I say, unaddressed. But once addressed, don’t leave Jesus’ “then” undone. Jesus gives a 2nd part to his answer to the questions he poses here: “First… then.” How important is this “then”?
I’ve got another statement I want you to evaluate: “The opposite of love isn’t always hateful action. It is, maybe even sometimes more powerfully, felt in apathy.” Do you agree? Can lack of action cause such a negative impact in lives? Can it cause such negative kind of impact in a church, a Christian family?
Our Savior knows what He is talking about when he teaches us this “first… then” truth.
Hypocritical actions do harm in churches. Think of the conclusion people are likely to draw if such actions are left unaddressed.
Let’s follow Jesus’ direction. When we see / hear something wrong from someone in our group, let’s lovingly, humbly act.
Pastor Earle Treptow wrote an article entitled “Judge Me, Please!” I’m going to wrap up our topic with a few of his encouragements [2015/05/31/in FIC Features, Forward in Christ - Judge me, please! Earle D. Treptow].
While standing in line to board a plane, I noticed her tattoo. “No one can judge me,” it said. What struck me later about her tattoo was its placement. It was on the back of her neck, a place she probably didn’t see all that often. The words of the tattoo, then, weren’t really intended as words of comfort or encouragement for her. The tattoo meant to sound a warning to others. “You are going to judge me? Please! Who are you to talk to me about my attitude or my words or my actions? You’re no better than I am.”
We know exactly where she’s coming from! We don’t particularly care to have people question our attitudes or confront us about our actions. If they want to praise us for what we do, we are willing to listen. But should they wish to address some failing, we definitely don’t want to hear it.
That, however, is not the community in which the Lord wants his people to live. He brought us into his church and gave us our fellow believers for our benefit. Because he wants you to live with him forever, the Lord puts fellow believers into your life. He moves them to love you enough to judge you, to confront you with your sinful attitudes, and to rebuke your sinful actions. He does so for your everlasting good, to lead you to repentance and rescue you from death. Knowing our Savior’s love for our souls, we humbly ask our brothers and sisters in Christ, “Judge me, please!”
Or, to put that in terms of Jesus’ encouragement from Matthew 7… As we turn to one another after walking to the foot of our Savior, we say, “Please, help me see the ‘specks’ in my life.” May God grant this for His glory and for our good! Amen.
We are four weeks into our Fighting Temptation series.
Question: How is it going with that?
Are you on a hot streak against temptation like never before?
Have you been sinless for three weeks?
Are you a perfect, 1,567-0 against every temptation in the month of March?
Maybe a better question is:
Have you won any temptation battles?
Today we’re going to talk about what to do when you have failed at fighting temptation. Before we do that, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Two Different Reactions
The lesson we are going to look at is from the book of James 4. James is a letter written by James, a pastor in the early Christian church to Christians everywhere. In his letter, James gives all kinds of guidance to FIGHT temptation. He tells them to not be prideful (1:11), to be slow to anger (1:19), to get rid of moral filth (1:20), to watch their tongues (1:24), to not show favoritism (2:1), to care for others (2:15), to not curse (3:10), to not be envious (3:14), to be peace-loving (3:17), to not fight amongst each other (4:1), to not covet (4:3), and to not be romantic with someone that isn’t your spouse (4:4).
That’s a lot of commands.
That’s a lot of opportunity for temptation.
But about midway through chapter 4, James begins to talk about what to do if you find yourself falling to temptation. He identifies two completely different approaches to losing: God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (4:6)
Have any of you been watching the NCAA Tournament? Teams win and teams lose. It’s interesting to listen to teams when they lose – whether it’s in an interview or Twitter – there’s really two different reactions to losing:
Some say, “We lost. We didn’t play well. We didn’t deserve to win. We failed.”
Others say, “It was the refs’ fault.” “My teammate didn’t play up to his potential.” “I read a mean tweet and I wasn’t able to focus like I should.”
Two different reactions:
Humility and Pride.
It’s the same thing when we fail at temptation.
We can respond in humility or pride.
God opposes the proud.
God gives grace to the humble.
II. Types of Pride
But it’s not necessarily that easy.
One of the trickiest things about pride is that pride tends to be very good at disguising itself.
It’s very good at not realizing its own sinfulness.
It’s very good at making you think – that it’s not prideful at all.
Because of that – I would submit that each and every one of us -- even long time Christians – struggle with some version of pride when we fail to temptation.
Here’s a list of a few different prideful ways that we respond when we fall to temptation. Which one are you?
1. The Bar-lower-er
It’s like the high jump. Did any of you have to do the high jump back in high school gym class? It isn’t easy. You have to time your run, time your approach, plant off the back foot while arching your back in the air, throwing your feet back and then jack-knifing over the top.
If you aren’t very good at it, what happens? The coach lowers the bar. From 5 foot to 4 foot 6 inches to 4 foot to…maybe let’s try laying the bar on the ground.
Bar-lower-ers do the same thing with the bar of conduct that God has set:
“God, I know you said to love my spouse – but marriage is hard. You should be happy! I wasn’t that rude.”
“I know the Bible says, ‘Don’t lust,’ but that’s unrealistic. God’s probably happy that I didn’t actually sleep with her…for long.”
“I know the Bible says, ‘Love your neighbor,’ but have you met my neighbors? I’ll tolerate them. What more can you really ask for?”
And there’s no sorrow.
There’s no humility.
Because the bar-lower-er makes it over the fake bar that he set up – while ignoring the divine bar that God set up way over his head.
2. The Fixer
That name comes from politics. A fixer is the person on your political team who has the ability to fix any negative, dirty laundry news story and make you into the hero of the narrative. If you’ve ever watched Scandal, this is Olivia Pope’s job. She finds out the bad story that’s going to hurt her client, she reworks it, and feeds that story out instead in order to make her client look good.
The Spiritual Fixer responds to sin the same way.
Bitter and angry at work? No. I was just standing my ground against all the bitter and angry people who were challenging my ideas!
Cheated on my wife? Nope. I’m just a romantic. A fan of true love. I’m the good guy in the story.
Said something racist? Nope. I was baited into it…by some other friends…who knew it would happen. They’re the real racists.
And there’s no sorrow.
There’s no humility.
Because the fixer imagines himself the hero of his story --- even when God says he’s clearly not.
3. The Accountant
Kudos to actual accountants. They do impressive work. They take numbers. They take receipts. They take line items and mistakes and put them all together to try and make the numbers balance – no matter how it is.
This is hard work. It’s why Kevin from The Office developed a “Keleven” It’s a made up, magic number he uses to balance the numbers when he can’t figure out the mistake.
The Spiritual Accountant does the same thing. They try to take the seeming “good” that they’ve done and balance it against the bad that they just committed. Like some kind of magic number, they try to make it balance.
Sure. I was grumpy this morning. But I was nice from like 1:15-3:30p yesterday afternoon so…
I have been gossiping a lot lately. But I did go to church Sunday and Wednesday for the Meditation service.
I know I told a lie there. But this morning I told like 4 truths. Things like “Good morning” and “I had an egg for breakfast.” It all balances out.
And there’s no sorrow.
There’s no humility.
Because the Spiritual Accountant thinks they’ve made up for their wrongdoing – even when God says the only way to make up for sinful wrongdoing is death.
4. The Bootstrapper
This type of person “Pulls themselves up by their Bootstraps.” Have you heard that phrase? Apparently, it means to be lying on the ground with your boots on and then, to grab ahold of the strap at the top of the boot until you are standing. This isn’t actually that possible. It’s really, really, really hard. Hence the phrase, “Pulling yourself up by your bootsteps” being an exemplary thing. If you can do that, then people will forget all about the fact that you fell – they’ll be way too impressed by the fact that you pulled yourself up by the bootstraps.
Spiritual Bootstrappers think they can do the same thing. They focus on how they’ll get themselves out of sin to distract themselves – and God – from the fact that they have sinned.
I know. I know. I got drunk for the 8th day in a row You might even call me addicted. No worries. When I get out of this, it’ll be that much more impressive.
Yes, I lost it on my kids again. But I’m gonna keep improving, keep working harder, and I’ll figure out how to deal with 4 whining kids all by myself.
And…I said things that made my spouse mad at me. But I’ll fix it. I’ll buy flowers. I’ll buy a nice card. I’ll send her a cutesy emoji. I’ll pull myself out of the pit I dug.
And there’s no sorrow.
There’s no humility.
Because the Bootstrapper distracts himself from his severe sin by looking at his half-hearted, sin-tainted, feeble efforts at righting it.
5. The Humble Looking
This seems a bit like an oxymoron. Because this type of response to sinning doesn’t seem prideful at all. In fact, they sound humble. They say things like, “I am a miserable sinner.” “I did an awful job.” “I am a horrible, no good, very bad person – God!”
It sounds humble.
God, I have so much sin, that it’s too much for you to handle on your own. I’ll try to help.
God, I’ve done so much wrong. I don’t think your blood can cover it all.
God, I really messed up. I can’t ask you to help. I don’t belong in church. That wouldn’t be right.
There’s false sorrow.
There’s false humility.
And there’s this strange clinging to a tiny ounce of sinful dignity, because “I’ll feel better about myself if I can help God out with getting rid of my sins.”
Here’s the truth:
All five of these responses to sin are prideful.
All five of these responses to sin set oneself up against God.
The Bar-lower-er says, “God, your bar wasn’t good enough. I’ll make my own.”
The Fixer says, “God, you don’t know the whole story. You’re wrong for rebuking me.”
The Accountant says, “God, if you don’t accept all the good I do for you, you’re the one who isn’t any good.”
The Bootstrapper says, “God, don’t patronize me. I don’t need your help. Even if you tell me I do need your help.”
The Humble Looking says, “God, you can’t do this on your own. You need my help.”
All five of these responses to falling at sin will leave you…imagining that you’re up and on your feet again.
When in reality…
You’re still lying on the ground.
You’re still beaten.
You. Aren’t. Getting. Up.
God opposes the proud…
God gives grace to the humble. (v.6)
III. Blessings of Humility
Our Old Testament lesson was from the book of Judges. Have you ever read the book of Judges? It fits in really well with today’s lesson, because it is filled with a very repetitive theme:
Repeated, repetitive failures to temptation.
It’s a cycle.
Israel falls to temptation.
God warns them to stop.
Israel has too much pride to listen.
God warns them again.
Israel still doesn’t listen and…
God is against them.
God sends a foreign nation to overtake them.
Israel is overrun by the Assyrians, the Moabites, the Philistines.
The once proud people of Israel are defeated – lying flat on their backs.
As they are on their backs…
They realize that they cannot get themselves out of the predicament.
Their story changes.
They ask God for mercy.
He sends a conqueror.
He sends a hero.
He fights for his people and gives them the victory!
Friends, there is blessing in humility. Look at what James says:
1. The Devil Flees
Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. (v.7)
Which seems strange. Because you would expect your best chance at beating the devil to involve puffing your chest out, getting really big, really prideful. Like scaring off a grizzly bear. You act as impressive as possible so as to scare him off.
The devil is not scared of you.
Not one bit.
On the other hand, when you are humble…
When you admit that you can’t do it alone…
When you call out for help…
He’s absolutely terrified!
2. God Comes Near
This is the reason the devil is terrified. Look at what James writes, “Come near to God and he will come near to you.” (v.8)
Because God is a God of mercy.
He is a God of compassion.
He is a God who helps those who need help.
He erupts volcanos.
He flicks his wrists to send hurricane like winds.
He pours out rushing flood waters.
He is the undisputed, undefeated, champion against temptation – and there is no love lost between him and the devil.
God shows up and the devil runs.
He does one of those things that the Roadrunner used to do in Looney Tunes and leaves a cloud of dust behind.
James writes, “Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” (v.8b)
Because the reality is that falling to temptation can feel awfully icky.
It can feel like the end of a long day working outside.
There’s dried sweat on your forehead.
Dirt under your finger nails.
And this…stench that just seems to be deeply entrenched in your skin.
He washes us cleans.
He washes away your guilt.
He washes away your shame.
He washes away the stink and the stench.
And replaces it with the beautiful perfume of the phrase: “Forgiven.”
4. Uplifting to the Highest Heights
James writes, “Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.” (v. 9-10)
The truth is the humbling yourself means that you will be lowering yourself.
There’s a moment when you say, “I am a sinner.”
A moment when you say, “I failed, again.”
A moment when you say, “I can’t do this on my own.”
During that time, you can feel really low.
God forgives you.
God uplifts you.
God lifts you up beyond where you were before – and places you up beside Him – in His kingdom!
Do you get it? If you fall and a friend picks you up, your feet are back on solid ground.
But if you fall and God picks you up…your feet are on heavenly ground.
IV. What Now?
The one WHAT NOW? It’s pretty simple:
When you fail against temptation…
Humbly seek God’s help.
Humbly hear his promise of forgiveness.
No matter how many times you’ve fallen to temptation.
Like the son in the story that Jesus told.
Remember what he did?
He came up to his dad – long before his dad was dead – and said, “Give me my inheritance! I’ve had enough of living under your roof. I’m sick and tired of doing what you tell me to do. I’m sick of being here. There’s a whole world full of life out there. Give my money. Give my money so I can leave and never have to look at your ugly face again.”
And his dad was sad.
But he gave him the inheritance.
A couple hundred thousand dollars.
And the son takes the money.
He heads to the city.
He goes downtown.
He rents a high-rise $4,000 a month apartment.
Every night he goes to the finest steak restaurants.
He drinks top notch scotch after drinking top shelf vodka after drinking a $25 dollar shot of whiskey.
And he buys for his friends.
And he buys illegal drugs for him and his friends.
And he buys women for him and his friends.
And he wakes up around 2 pm the next day.
And does it all over again.
The money’s out.
No one will hire him.
He gets evicted.
His “friends” ignore his text messages.
He pretends to have enough cash for an Uber out of the city – only to pretend like he left his wallet in the other pants when he gets to a local pig farm that’s hiring.
And he gets a job.
Feeding the pigs.
He gives them slimy old applesauce.
He gives them moldy old cheese.
He gives them this greenish, brownish muck that he’s not sure – isn’t snot.
It looks so good.
He’s so hungry.
And he says to himself, “I should never have done it. I should never have left my dad. I had it good in my dad’s house. I was fed. I was clothed. I was…home.”
I don’t deserve to be his son.
But…maybe he’ll let me clean the outhouse. And gives me a few pieces of bread for supper.
He makes his way to his dad’s house.
When he reaches the dirt road, the long dirt road that leads to his Father’s house…
He takes a deep breath…before he walks up.
But before he can get far, way off in the distance…his dad. He sees him! And he takes off down the dirt road.
And the son thinks, “Here he comes. He’s going to give it to me. He’s going to scream at me. He’s going to tell me how awful and terrible I messed up and that I should buzz off and never be around again.”
And as his dad approaches.
He lifts up his hand.
And his son braces himself to be smacked on the cheek.
His hand doesn’t hit his face.
It embraces him.
But the son shrugs him off! “Seriously, Dad! I sinned. I did wrong. I don’t deserve to be your son! Let me work my way back. Let me do my own thing. Let me be a worker on the lowest run in your farm.”
But the dad…isn’t listening.
“Hey Walter! My son’s back!! Run; tell the cooks to get the steaks from the freezer. Go grab some of my finest wines. And text everyone that I know. There’s a party at my house tonight.”
Because…This son of mine is lost; but NOW? is found.
Friends, this is God’s reaction to you.
When you fail against temptation, humbly return.
And you’ll be welcomed home.
Last week we started our Fighting Temptation series by looking at Jesus’ one-on-one battle against the devil. We watched him effortlessly defeat Satan’s attempt at trying to make him sin. Jesus is the Undisputed, Undefeated, Unblemished Champion against Temptation.
But maybe you also noticed that the battle had some cost for Jesus.
It cost him time with his friends.
It cost him a stress-free month.
It cost him a delicious meal for about 40 days.
Truth is that temptation costs…
Is it worth it?
A couple of years back one of the dads at Precious Lambs taught karate. With some encouragement, I tried it out. And I enjoyed it! I liked learning the proper way to punch. I enjoyed learning a few combos. I think I looked pretty good in the ghee.
But after about a month of training, the Sensei invited me to a sparring match against another gym. I wouldn’t do any sparring, but I could watch more experienced classmates in action. He said, “In the future, this could be you.”
So, I watched.
It looked pretty fun.
I thought, “I sure would like to do that.”
Until about 30 minutes in. One gentleman began a reverse turn while lifting up his back leg (almost parallel to his head). As he completed his revolution, he brought his heel down in a striking manner towards his opponent’s head. Now – his opponent was ready and put his arm up to block the heel kick.
He did everything right.
And I thought: “I think I’ve had enough karate…”
It cost too much.
Today we’ll examine fighting temptation when it costs. Our goal this morning is to identify those costs, compare them to the costs of NOT fighting temptation and get some motivation to keep fighting even when it costs. Before we do that, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Costs of Fighting Temptation
The lesson for this morning comes from Philippians 3:17-21. A brief bit of background. This is from a letter written by a pastor named Paul to his former congregation in a city called Philippi. One of the key parts of the letter is to encourage the believers in Philippi to fight against temptation.
In 1:10 he says, “Be pure” and fight sexual temptation.
In 2:1-3 he says, “In humility consider others better than yourself” and fight selfish temptation.
In 2:14 he says, “Do everything without grumbling or arguing” and fight temptation to discord.
In 3:2 he says, “Watch out mutilators of the flesh” guys who taught you needed to be circumcised to be saved and fight the temptation of trusting your own works more than God.
All of this fighting temptation talk leads up to verse 17. Paul writes, “Join together in my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do.”
Fight temptation like I, Paul, have fought temptation.
That sounds nice.
Paul was an apostle.
He fought temptation well.
It’d be good to fight like him.
Do you know what happened to Paul for fighting temptation?
I don’t know exactly how this letter got to the Philippians. But if it is anything like today, there’d be a return address up on in the corner of the envelope containing the letter. And…based on where Paul was when he wrote this, the return address would have said something like this:
Roman Inmate #1764
Roman Federal Prison
Rome, Italy 2761 Jailbird
And I bet the church thought:
Did we break some kind of legal code?
Is someone asking our church for money?
Did one of our youths from youth group get in a bunch of trouble?
It’s just your former pastor…
And yet Paul tells them! I’m in Chains for Christ!
“I’m in jail not because I fell to sin. But because I didn’t fall to sin.
Because I kept preaching the Word of God.
Because I kept telling others about Jesus.
Because I kept sharing the Gospel even when the temptation (and the temptation was great) even when the temptation was to stop sharing the Gospel.”
And now Paul tells the to join in his example, to fight temptation just like him.
But if I’m one of the Philippians reading this message, I’m not so sure!
Because if fighting temptation means going to prison, then…
Fighting temptation has a cost.
It costs you time with your family.
It costs you your job.
It costs you your freedom.
It costs you 6 am fresh coffee from Sola Coffee Café!
It’s like one of those commercials for a new drug. The voiceover tells you that this new, simple pill will allow you to grow back your hair in only 3 months. Everyone in the commercial looks happy. They all have a full head of hair. And you think: “Sure I’m interested. I’d love to get rid of my balding look.” Then, at the end of the commercial, there’s that part where they run through a few of the side effects in 10-point font:
Side effects include: nausea, headache, joint pain, dizziness, loss of sleep, too much sleep, loss of taste, loss of vision, loss of hearing and loss of hair.
Fighting temptation has side effects.
Fighting temptation has costs.
Here are a few common costs to fighting temptation
1) Earthly Relationships
I remember one time that I found a pretty good devotional. It was talking about a hot topic social issue. I posted this pretty good devotional on a hot topic social issue despite the temptation to maybe…move on. The result? I had a friend message me that if I ever did that again – he would block me. We wouldn’t be friends on Facebook.
Fighting temptation can cost you relationships.
“No, I won’t meet together for coffee and complaining anymore.” And they reply, “I guess you’re not our friend.”
“No, I won’t support your addiction and tell you that you don’t have a problem.” And they respond, “Okay. I’m done with you.”
“Significant other…I love you, but NO I won’t be sexually intimate with you until the promises of marriage.” And they say, “Well, then. You don’t love me. And we’re done here.”
2) Career Path
If you’re looking at Paul’s career strictly from an economic perspective, he made a big mistake by using his oratory skills to preach Jesus. Before he did that, he followed the Pharisees. He was an up and comer. Rich people liked him. He was a made man – a future leader in the city of Jerusalem. Thankfully Jesus intervened and taught Paul the truth – about what to believe and what to preach.
But then he taught about Jesus.
That landed him in jail.
Fighting Temptation can cost you your career path.
“No, I won’t fudge the numbers of my sales calls…and I’ll probably lose the promotion to the guy who does.”
“No, I won’t bad-mouth my coworkers…and I’ll probably lose the bonus to the guys who do.”
“No, I won’t hide my faith at work…and I’ll probably have to get a talking to from HR.”
3) Bodily Pleasure
Easy example. Think of the temptation to overeat. The temptation to have the third eclair is great! To say, “No!” comes with the cost of not having the pleasure of enjoying it.
Fighting temptation can cost you bodily pleasure.
“If I say NO to porn, it will cost me an excited feeling.”
“If I say NO to getting drunk, it’ll cost me a wonderful relaxation.”
“If I say NO to letting all of my rage out on that loser over there, then It’ll cost me the opportunity to get my stress out.”
4) Human Glory
For Paul, he lost all kinds of glory! He could have been something big. He could have been a guy that people walked by and said, “Now that guy’s impressive. He’s really good at following God’s laws. He’s so religious. He’s so holy.”
Instead? “That Paul guy is a loser.”
Fighting temptation can cost you human glory.
“If I say NO to racism and stop bad-mouthing people of another culture, it’ll make me feel inadequate because I won’t be able to distract people from my own flaws.”
“If I say NO to berating my wife, she might feel valuable and worthwhile to this family at the expense of me feeling like the sole provider!”
“If I say NO to pride, it’ll cost me all those people over there knowing how awesome I am!”
“If I say NO to making that funny dirty joke, all my grade school friends won’t think I’m cool anymore”
“If I say NO to drugs, all my high school friends will think I’m a loser.”
“If I say NO to supporting that sinful thing society says is “OK,” all my adult friends will think I’m a bigot.”
There is no doubt that Fighting Temptation comes with costs.
There is no doubt that Fighting Temptation will be painful.
There is no doubt that the temptation to not Fight Temptation is enticing.
II. The Cost of NOT Fighting
Before we give up on fighting temptation and give in to whatever sin is tempting us, we need to look at this from the other side.
We need to compare the cost of Fighting temptation with the cost of NOT fighting Temptation.
That’s exactly Paul’s next point. Look at what “not” fighting temptation costs:
For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. (v.18-20)
Did you catch it? Let’s break it apart to find some of the costs of not fighting temptation:
1) A Relationship with God
Specifically, Paul writes, “Many live as enemies of the cross of Christ.” (V.18) Before we said, a cost of fighting temptation is that you might lose some relationships: friends, family members, boyfriends, girlfriends, etc.
But if you stop fighting temptation and live in sin? You’ll forfeit your friendship with God.
And it isn’t that you’ll be an acquaintance or some guy on the bus that you have a neutral feeling with.
But you’ll be an enemy of God!
Why do that?
Why would you want to be an enemy of the One who gave his life for you to save you from sin and death?
Why would you want to be an enemy of the One who is all powerful? Who conquered death itself and will have no problem conquering YOU?
Understand: Giving up on Fighting Temptation means that you will be giving up on your relationship with God.
2) Eternal Path
Paul writes, “(Those people who don’t fight temptation) their destiny is destruction.” (v.19a) Contrast this with the loss of our career path.
Because “Yes,” fighting temptation may mean you lose out on the career prestige of this world, but NOT fighting temptation leads to a change in your eternal destiny.
Instead of the promise of eternal life forever in heaven?
It’s like a soda can. When you are done with a Pepsi, you might throw it on the ground and crush it. Destruction.
Do you really want your destiny to be the same as that of an aluminum 7-Up can?
That’s the cost of not fighting temptation.
3) Heavenly Pleasure
Paul writes, “Their god is their stomach.” (v.19b) Think about that. If your stomach is your ‘god,’ that means that it is the most important thing to you. Everything that you do in life is for your stomach and to serve your stomach.
But…what can your stomach give you?
A full feeling…for about 2 hours.
How about constipation?
If your stomach…better yet…if your physical body is your God, then your pleasure will be momentary.
But if Jesus is your God?
You have the pleasure of forgiveness.
You have the pleasure of a peace with God.
You have the pleasure of knowing your salvation is certain.
Not fighting temptation costs you that heavenly pleasure.
4) God’s Glory
Paul writes, “Their glory is their shame.” (v.19c) It’s an interesting verse. Because we said earlier that if you fight temptation, you might lose some of your own glory! Pride helps you feel good about yourself. Pride makes the world pay attention. Pride makes everyone in church pay attention to how awesome you are! It gives you a human version of glory.
But at the same time that it earns your momentary, human glory, it forfeits eternal heavenly glory.
And heavenly glory lasts!
Heavenly glory lasts forever.
Heavenly glory comes from the mouth of God himself as he says,
“You are forgiven.”
“You are mine.”
“Come, dwell with me…forever.”
Giving up on saying “No” to temptation forfeits that glory.
It forfeits heaven.
III. Other Reasons to Fight
Do you know the process for becoming a citizen in the United States?
You must have a valid Green Card for at least 5 years. There are costs involved in that.
You must apply and do paperwork and do some more paperwork. There are costs involved in that.
You must attend classes, take tests, and await results. There are costs involved in that.
Finally, you must be approved and take an oath of citizenships. Again – there are costs involved in that.
It costs a lot of money.
It takes a lot of work.
It involves a lot of time.
But that’s nothing compared to becoming a citizen of heaven!
God says we need to be holy.
God says that we need to be perfect.
God says that we need to love him with all our heart and all our soul and all our mind…all of the time!
We could never earn his citizenship. We fall to temptation too often.
The fact remains…
Dear believing friends…
Our citizenship is in heaven. (v.20)
Jesus paid for all of it.
Jesus did all of the paperwork.
Jesus has made you a citizen of his kingdom.
God the Father has approved you because of Jesus’ work.
You are a citizen of God’s kingdom.
And as a result, you have an incredible reason to fight temptation:
1) You are a Citizen of God’s Kingdom
A citizen of the United States may join the military and fight for our country.
Athletic citizens of the United States may join the Olympic team and win a gold medal for the U. S. flag.
Ambassador citizens of the U.S. may go to another country to watch out for and keep safe the U.S. Citizens in that foreign country.
If you are United States citizen, you do things on its behalf.
If you are a citizen of God’s kingdom? You do things on its behalf.
You fight temptation.
You are part of the one and only eternal kingdom of God Himself.
He fought for you and gave up his life to get you there.
Live like a citizen of His kingdom.
2) Fight on the Winning Side
Paul writes, “And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ.” (v.21b)
Savior implies that he does saving.
Which implies that he is successful at saving.
Which implies that he wins every battle against anyone that tries to stop him from saving.
Which implies that he is a winner.
Which implies that whoever is on his side…is also a winner!
In Christ, you are a winner, too.
Remember – Jesus destroyed the devil in that one-on-one temptation battle last week.
Then he went on to crush Satan’s head with his work on the cross.
And as an encore, he destroyed death by emerging victoriously from the grave.
And in him – you are victorious.
In Jesus, you are a winner.
In Jesus, you will receive all of the victory spoils.
3) The Promise of a Glorious Body
Paul writes: “Jesus, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.” (v.21c)
Our bodies are lowly.
I can sleep for 8 hours and I’m still tired.
I can do about 30 pushups and then I just lay on my stomach.
I can resist putting a second Dorito into my mouth – for about 5 seconds.
Our bodies are lowly.
They are tired, weak and dying.
God promises that our bodies will be transformed.
After our bodies die.
After our souls are in heaven.
On the Last Day, when God does an incredible miracle and brings our bodies back to life.
They will still be our bodies, but…
They will be glorious!
Just like what happened to Jesus.
When rose from the dead, he made his way to see his disciples on that first Easter evening.
Think about all he went through.
Surely, his body would be weak.
But when Jesus walked in…
He was different.
He had nail marks in his hands, but they weren’t bleeding, bruised, or scabbed. His body was without pain.
He had a smile on his face and no sweat on his forehead. His body was without weakness.
The sin that he had taken on his body – our sins – was gone! His body was without shame.
That same kind of body is promised to you.
In eternal life, there will be no pain.
In eternal life, there will be no weakness to temptation.
In eternal life, there will be no remembrance of sinful failures.
There will be no guilt.
There will be no shame.
Friends, the benefits to following Jesus and fighting temptation far outweigh the benefits to not fight temptation.
May Jesus empower us to keep fighting temptation even when it costs.
Guest Preacher Pastor Tom Glende
Life-changing questions. Identity & purpose. Matthew 5:13-16.
It’s a question that might sound deceptively simple if we just kind of get surface deep. If salt loses its saltiness, what good is it? And you’d answer, ‘well, none.’ But the question proves to be huge when we actually dig in, and see the deeper truth to which Jesus’ question is attached, namely: our identity and purpose in life. That’s what we want to meditate on tonight.
This is a rather light example to begin with, but I want to use it to lead into our deeper issue. Has anyone konmaried their home yet? Konmari is a pretty big movement. Marie Kondo wrote the best-seller, the Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up. It has spun into a Netflix show. And she has even been named one of Times 100 most influential people. There’s organizational elements to her method, like folding clothes so that they stand vertically for storage, and thus are all easily seen and accessed. Sounds intriguing. And when you get to the part about what to get rid of… The tactic used in Konmari is: hold each item, and evaluate its worth by answering, “does it spark joy?” You keep only those things that bring joy.
I think this could really help one de-clutter. But it might get taken too far. If none of your socks spark joy when you hold them, you might still want to hold on to some. (Please, if not for your own sake, then for the sake of us all.)
Pastor James Hein in a blog picking up on these limits of the “does it spark joy” method of decluttering life commented: “If you’re holding a screaming, poopy-diapered baby in your arms, it’s unlikely that unmitigated joy is running through you.” It wouldn’t be good to just discard everything in life, and every task in life, that doesn’t spark joy.
He went on to talk about the bigger picture of life…
“The method itself is logically too simplistic to be a significant life tool. Though the method’s popularity is clearly tapping into a public sentiment – i.e. in a postmodern, subjective, ‘you do you’ world.”
Think about that outlook, or worldview: a ‘you do you’ approach to life. Do you hear any indication of what an individual’s purpose in life is going to look like, if this is the focus? It’s a view that our sinful flesh could leverage to a lot of harm.
In contrast to that, as we hear Jesus tonight asking the question “what good is salt if it has lost its flavor,” we are directed to the kind of purpose he gives to our lives as Christians. And from purpose, we’re going to get back to the issue of identity as well.
“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men. “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven. - Matthew 5:13-16
Jesus makes the statements: “You are salt. You are light.”
With these examples Jesus describes a very different outlook for us. What salt and light have in common is: they stand out. Jesus talks about us being distinct and different in the world, with the ultimate goal being that people would be directed to God, our Savior.
You are salt. You are light. Now those talk about purpose you have as a Christian. But… and this is huge to keep this distinction in view… these statements, connected to Jesus’ question about salt, don’t tell the story of what made you a Christian. If you want to see what made you – and what makes you – a Christian, you have to look back further.
Where does your identity come from?
Earlier in Matthew 5 we hear the very telling description of “the poor in spirit.” That’s you and me when we recognize our sin. We lack holiness. We “hunger and thirst for righteousness.” We turn to the Lord. We plead for His mercy. We trust in Him to make us right.
That’s what we gather in the Lenten season to hear and see.
Now rewind to Jesus’ words to us: You are salt; You are light. Being salt and light describes the purpose God has for us as His people, but it doesn’t speak to how we become – and how we remain – God’s children.
Do you see how important it is to keep that distinction in place?
Where would we be left if our identity would come from what we do, from how well we are salt or light?
And that is precisely what enables us to be salt and light.
In a really great book on this topic, “Through the Looking Glass, Your Passport to Identity,” it states it like this:
“Not ‘living up to’ requirements, but ‘living out’ our identity in Christ describes the Christian’s life.” &
“True humility is knowing that in Christ you are everything you could ever be, have everything there is worth having. You have nothing to prove, nowhere to climb. From that position of strength you, like your Savior, can find great joy in serving.” – Through the Looking Glass, Your Passport to Identity.
To wrap up, just think about how much this issue of identity plays into our day-in-day out lives.
Teenagers, and even you children who are younger, this topic - “where do you and I look to find our identity” – is important for you too.
Where do you look for your identity? In other words, does your identity ever seem tied up with… a) how good of a student you are (heading toward a career goal you have targeted); b) having good friends & being a friend, or another way maybe to view that is how much positive social interaction you have; c) being successful at an activity – whether that is as an athlete, or a musician, or some other interest? Or if you’re a little older, some additional possibilities may arise: d) a relationship with that special someone; and even, e) how your children turn out – if they’re stable, productive, successful.
It’s good for us to look closely – do some evaluating – to see: have I slipped and shifted from seeing my identity coming from Jesus, and turned my attention to other things for answering the question of where my identity comes from?
You might score 32 on the ACT, you might be the varsity sports star, you may end up making a six figure salary with the profession you arrive at, you may be adored by the special someone or be appreciated for your role in the family. But none of that determines your identity of what makes you who you are in God’s sight.
You might work your best to get average grades, you might get cut at the tryouts for the sports team, you might have a blue-collar job at a trade that will never get you to a six-figure salary. But none of that touches your identity. None of that changes the fact of where you stand with God.
Think about the joy and relief to be able to come time and time again back to the truth: your identity in God’s sight is entirely based on Jesus. He has made you who you are: holy, forgiven, loved by him, with His truth planted in your heart. And from that position, you get the wonderful purpose in life: to be a reflector of His love. You’re enabled to pass on what He has given to you: His Truth, love, forgiveness, self-less service. This is Jesus’ life-changing truth for us. Amen.
It was a run of the mill pastoring day.
I woke up.
Drank some coffee and kissed my wife.
I got to church.
Drank some coffee.
Talked to more parents.
And had a good conversation about Jesus.
About 3 hours into the day, I went into the 4-year-old room.
I saw some friends playing with the Duplo’s and thought I would join them in constructing a gigantic Duplo station wagon.
As I started putting them together, I turned to the friend next to me and said, “What do you think of my car?”
The friend scrunched his face up.
I said, “You don’t like it? I thought it was pretty cool.”
Again – he turned his face away from me.
I said, “I’m sorry you don’t like it. What should I change?”
And my friend said, “It’s not your car….”
“It’s your stinky breath.”
Over the few weeks we have been in our sermon series called FRESH and talking about how to FRESHEN up our own lives. We discussed our FRESH identity, our FRESH start, our personalized FRESHNESS in baptism, we talked about our FRESH purpose and our FRESHNESS of speech.
But…how do you bring FRESHNESS to those who aren’t you?
How do you tell someone else about their need for FRESHNESS?
How do you tell someone that their spiritual life – is kinda like coffee breath – it stinks?
Today’s lesson is called a Breath of Fresh Air in the Heart of North Raleigh. Our goal is to consider how we can bring the FRESHNESS that Jesus provides to our family, friends and community. Before we do that, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth, your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see, our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. God’s Biggest Air Freshener
The section of God’s Word that we’ll study this morning comes from 2 Corinthians 2. It’s a letter written by a pastor named Paul to a church in Corinth. Important to note – the Corinthian community was a community that wreaked of ungodliness.
Because it was a market city that was all about the major dollar, it had issues with greed, fraud, and theft.
Because it was a bustling with many kinds of people it also had issues with hatred, racism, and bigotry.
Because it was influenced by fertility idols, it also had issues with sexual immorality, lust, and rape.
Because it was far apart from the true God, it had issues with unbelief, guilt, and shame.
Sound like any countries you know?
Sound like any communities?
And so, Paul writes to the believers in Corinth and explains to them how God wants them to FRESHen up the place. He starts by explaining how he has been freshening up places in his travels:
Now when I went to Troas to preach the gospel of Christ and found that the Lord had opened a door for me, I still had no peace of mind,because I did not find my brother Titus there. So I said goodbye to them and went on to Macedonia. (v.12-13)
This is an interesting start to this section. Paul wanted to go to a place called Troas. He says, “God opened a door” for him. Whether that means that someone offered him a ride on his carriage or let him borrow a horse, I don’t know. But Paul goes. He travels hundreds of miles to get to Troas because he really hoped to find Titus, a ministry partner of his, at work in Troas. But when he got to Troas – Titus wasn’t around. He had gone the entire trip just to find the guy and he wasn’t there.
Some might call that trip worthless.
Look at what he writes:
But thanks be to God, who always leads us as captives in Christ’s triumphal procession and uses us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of him everywhere. (v.14)
Triumphal Procession. In the early 1st century, that was pretty common. As countries battled for control of other countries, they would celebrate a war victory with a parade! They’d parade the troops. They’d parade the prized stallions. They’d have trumpeters trumpeting the trumpets, drummers drumming the drums and trombonists tromboning the trombones.
But the big part of the parade was the spoils:
Soldiers would wheel in carts filled with gold – spoils of war.
Soldiers would march with foreign stallions – spoils of war.
Solders would march with captivities, tied together, marching in front of them – spoils of war.
Jesus says that we are his victory spoils.
He defeated sin.
He defeated guilt.
He defeated shame.
He defeated Satan himself as he bore our sins on that cross.
And now – we are HIS victory spoils
And He is parading us to showcase HIS Victory.
To put it another way – because we are a part of Christ’s victory parade – we are also the aroma of Christ.
Another common sight (or rather smell) among 1st century victory parades would be incense burners! As people cheered and music played, incense bearers would twirl incense carrying sticks and let the smell of victory permeate the air. In addition, women would dance and throw flower petals into the air in order to welcome their conquering heroes. Again – the sweet aroma of victory would linger.
A modern version of this might not be as pleasant. It’d probably have the smell of gasoline from all the cars that are carrying the local Parks and Rec float, the smell of little pieces of unwrapped candy that float dwellers would throw towards the crowd – and maybe the smell of the horses as they walk around.
Still – regardless – the smells are associated with a parade. They are associated with a celebration!
Believers are the aroma of Christ.
An aroma of forgiveness, with a hint of joy, and the lasting airs of grace.
God wants us to share that forgiveness, that joy, and that grace with others!
That was Paul’s excitement when he talked about his travels. Even though the goal was to go see Titus…and he didn’t get to see Titus, but that didn’t mean his trip was worthless.
Because everywhere he went, he was paraded as Christ’s victory spoils.
As he walked on the path to Troas, he stopped to provide for the needs of an old beggar with a few coins – while telling him about how Jesus took care of his own need of forgiveness.
As he stopped by a local watering hole and waited behind a woman with 4 screaming children, he got their attention and told stories about Jesus’ miraculous power over death – even his own!
When he made it to Troas and grabbed a bite to eat at the local restaurant, he talked with the waiter about how Jesus is the bread of life and how he had filled him spiritually.
When he got to Troas and saw that Titus wasn’t there, he didn’t just turn and leave – he took the opportunity to parade himself as victory spoils for Christ – to tell about how Jesus had mercifully saved him…
…and could save others too.
You are also the aroma of Christ.
Let that aroma permeate the air wherever you go.
Share the message of Jesus.
Share the joy of salvation!
II. One Man’s Potpourri
But…I need you to be aware of one thing as you go to share this message.
Not everyone is going to like it.
It’s like potpourri. Do you know what potpourri is? (It’s a pot filled with pourri…I think). Really, it’s a bag filled with supposedly good smelling things. Usually it’s things like pine twigs, pieces of bark infused with essential oils and cinnamon sticks. You put it in a bowl and it gives a sweet smell to the house.
Or at least…it gives off a smell.
I remember one time someone was so excited to have me smell their potpourri. I’m pretty sure that potpourri must have been called: “Mowing the Lawn while Sweating.” It wasn’t pleasant.
I didn’t love it.
But that person did.
What’s pleasant to some people’s nostrils is repugnant to others.
It’s the same with the aroma of Christ. Look at what Paul writes: We are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are an aroma that brings death; to the other, an aroma that brings life. (v.15-16)
Maybe you’ve noticed that.
Maybe you’ve noticed that sometimes the person you share a Bible passage with on Facebook puts a big THUMBS UP by it and others put the ANGRY face.
Maybe you’ve noticed that some people appreciate your holiday card with a religious passage; others tell you to stop or they’ll report you to HR.
Maybe you’ve noticed that some people are thankful when you share the Gospel with them; others tell you to “keep that religious mumbo jumbo to yourself.”
Here’s the reality:
The message of Jesus smells…great to BELIEVERS, but awful to REJECTERS.
For instance, think about the message of John 3:16.
“God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
To the rejecter, it’s the smell of death:
“I’m a sinner? You’re telling me that I need a Savior? You’re telling me that I’m not good enough? You’re telling me that I need God’s help? You’re telling me that without Jesus I won’t be saved!?!”
Smells like a rat.
Get that garbage away from me.
But to the believer, it’s a smell of life:
“I have a Savior? His name is Jesus/ He died for all of my sins? He has completed forgiven me, completely rid me of guilt and absolutely guaranteed that I will have life?!?
I want to soak it in.
Tell me more…
The message of Jesus smells great to WHO BELIEVE, but awful to WHO REJECT.
Expect different reactions.
III. Another Reason to Be a Good Smell…
But…that doesn’t mean you should stop sharing Jesus.
When someone is mean about it…
When someone doesn’t listen…
When someone makes you feel uncomfortable just because you were trying to invite them to church…
That doesn’t mean you should stop being the aroma of Christ.
Our Old Testament lesson today was a unique lesson. Often, we read poetry or narratives. It isn’t often that we read a recipe for ceremonial incense:
Pure frankincense – all in equal amounts.
Then grind it up into a powder and place it in the altar area.
Use it to burn incense to the Lord.
But did you know this recipe comes with a warning?
Take a look:
Whoever makes incense like it to enjoy its fragrance must be cut off from their people. (Leviticus 30:38)
Do you get it?
This incense was for God.
This aroma was for God.
And it’s the same with you and me.
The aroma of Christ that permeates from our lives it isn’t for OUR SAKE, but for GOD’s!
We don’t share the message of Jesus in order to feel good about ourselves.
We don’t stop sharing it when people reject it.
We don’t do the things we do at Gethsemane to feel good about ourselves, to glorify our own desires, to impress others with what we do at church or in anyway to give glory to us!
We share Jesus for God’s sake.
And that’s important.
Because when we start sharing Jesus for our own glory, it can easily become some strange version of work righteousness. It can become a thing you do IN ORDER To make God like you.
It can become something that you do in order to earn God’s approval.
In order to cover up the stench of your sins.
And I get it. The stench of our sins is great.
There are sins from years ago that still have a stench.
There are day to day sins that make the day stink.
There can be relationship sins that just make the whole day smell awful.
And try as we might, we can’t cover it up!
And He didn’t use a bottle of perfume.
He didn’t burn a stick of incense.
He didn’t cover us in Glade Plugins.
He sacrificed himself to cover up the stench of our sins.
And I’ll tell you what – his blood was so powerful – that God doesn’t even smell a hint of your sins anymore.
Like an incredible, divine, righteous incense, God doesn’t smell even a hint of your sins.
Only the pleasing aroma of Christ’s sacrifice!
IV. What Now?
And now? He wants to cover up your neighbor’s sins by bring the message of his forgiveness to them through you.
1) Be Fragrant…EVERYWHERE!
Paul’s language says, “spread the aroma of the knowledge of Jesus…EVERYWHERE.” (v.14)
That means we aren’t just being fragrant here in worship.
It’s not a one hour a week aroma that happens in this particular building.
Be fragrant with Jesus’ love EVERYWHERE.
At the Valentine’s Dinner.
At the President’s Day Luncheon.
At Sola Coffee café!
2) Be Fragrant…ALWAYS!
God doesn’t want you to be one of those timed air fresheners – that goes off once a week and freshens things for a few minutes, but then quickly fades into general bathroom funkiness.
God wants you to be a long-lasting air fresheners. One of the ones that is always letting off a beautiful aroma.
Always changing the air around them.
Always connecting others to Christ.
Let me tell you – you have opportunity to do so later today.
You’ll have interactions.
Make use of those interactions.
Share the love of Jesus.
3) Combine Odors
Have you ever been to a football locker before? It’s pretty stinky. Practice gear. Practice socks. Practice pads. Washed once a week. Steeped in sweat, grass stains, blood, and general YUCK!
If you want to make a football locker room smell good, you need more than just one of those little Christmas Tree air fresheners.
You’ll need hundreds.
To make our world smell better – it’s gonna take more than just you.
It’s going to take all of us.
To make this community of North Raleigh fragrant with the message of Jesus…
It’s going to take all of us.
This is why that kind of language is used in Paul’s letter. He says: We…are the pleasing aroma. We...are an aroma that brings life…God uses US to spread the aroma.
This is a together thing.
This is a YOU thing.
This is a ME thing.
This is an ALL OF US TOGETHER thing.
That means you are a part of something BIG.
You are a part of a new wave in the Raleigh community.
We have something amazing to offer.
We have something incredible to offer.
We’ve said it like this Plant the Message of Jesus in the Hearts of North Raleigh.
A brief, Biblical paraphrase of that is to Bring a Breath of Fresh Air to the Fragrance of North Raleigh!
And it’s a fresh air – that saves eternal lives. Amen.
Last week we talked about our FRESH purpose and that is to be a part of God’s mission to SAVE ALL PEOPLE by Planting the Message of Jesus in the Hearts of North Raleigh. It’s an incredible purpose. It’s a BIG purpose and it’s a privilege to be a part of this purpose.
Maybe you left last week thinking – What is the biggest thing that I can do to help accomplish this goal?
I could use my biceps! And help tear out old bushes, carry Bibles during Bible hour and lift children in need of diaper changes at the Preschool.
I could use my head! And start planning Sanctuary updates, outreach opportunities and how to improve our Youth Group.
I could use my money! And fund exterior improvements, advertisements to church events and tuition assistance for the kids.
Today, God’s Word wants you to consider something else.
A part of the body that’s not as BIG as your biceps.
Nor as SMART as your brain.
Nor as VALUED as your money.
Yet, this body part has the ability to be MOST VALUABLE when it comes to sharing the kingdom of God.
Today our topic is SPEECH. Our goal is to consider the great power of our tongues and how we might can use it on our mission to Plant the Message of Jesus in the hearts of North Raleigh. Before we do that, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Power of the Tongue
The section of God’s Word that we’ll study this morning comes from James 3. The book of James is a letter written by an important disciple in the early church called James. James was the leader in the church in Jerusalem. A very large church. The mother church, if you will of all the other churches. It’s where the message of Jesus started and spread to other parts of Asia Minor, to Europe…even to Raleigh, NC.
In Chapter 3, James is writes to Christians everywhere about how they use their tongues. Take a look:
When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. (v.3-5a)
Anyone ever ridden a horse before? They are large animals. They are powerful animals. They have the ability to draw the Wells Fargo Wagon or the Budweiser beer carriage. Horses are the reason that we compare the power of a motor vehicle’s engine as horse power.
And if you try to move a horse with your hands, just by pushing them around? It ain’t gonna work. Instead, they developed something called a bit. It’s a small piece of technology (a rope) that fits into their mouth and attached to more rope. By pulling that rope (either on horseback or walking along the side) you can easily control which way you want the large powerful horse to go!
Gigantic power, tiny device.
Or how about a large ship? Think of a cruise ship. It’s filled with thousands of people. It has hundreds of pounds of margarita mix and suntan lotion. It has little to no problem carrying an entire set of conga line dancers in the little space in its cabin. It’s large. It’s powerful. If you are a small canoe boat in the way of a cruise ship, you better move.
But…in the back of the ship, right near the water, is a rudder. A small little part in comparison to the rest of the ship. This little rudder directs the wave flow and turns the gigantic ship.
Gigantic power; tiny device.
The Tongue is the exact same. It isn’t big. In comparison to the rest of the body, it’s rather small. Yet. The tongue wields great power.
It has the power to set your life’s course: “Honey, will you marry me?”
It has the power to get your career on track: “Yes. I do accept your offer and I will be regional manager of sales!”
It has the power to save your life: “Yes, I will go through with the chemo treatment.”
Though the tongue is small, its power is great.
Think about it.
George Washington used his tongue to win a revolution.
Abraham Lincoln used his tongue to end slavery.
Martin Luther King Jr. used his tongue to bring about great strides in equality.
And people are still using their tongues to accomplish all kinds of things – to this day.
II. Spitting Fire (Bad Uses of the Tongue)
But…because the tongue has such a great ability to accomplish powerful things…
It becomes imperative that we use them to accomplish positive, powerful things.
That is the very next thing that James writes:
Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire. (v.5b-6)
Do you remember Smokey the Bear? He always said, “Only you can prevent forest fires.” That wasn’t his way of saying, “stop using a blow torch to set the forest on fire.” In fact, I’m not sure that any forest fire has ever been started via blow torch. It was his way of saying, “Be sure to truly and completely douse your campfire in water. Because even the smallest ember or spark can set the entire forest on fire.” Think of that…some of the biggest forest fires in California – fires that have made people evacuate their homes – were caused by a simple, tiny flame.
When simple tiny words are used in the wrong way – they can cause just as great of damage. Here’s three things that your tongue can set fire to:
(1) Your Body
Look at the next part of the passage. James write, “The tongue is a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body.” (v.7) How does that work? The tongue leads you into sin which corrupts not only our tongue, but the whole body. ln other words, it is the gateway to sin that is happening right now.
“Why yes! I’ll go ahead and have that 7th shot of Jack Daniels!” And the whole body is corrupted with drunkenness.
“Why yes! I’ll go ahead and speak gossip with you!” And the whole body is corrupted with jealousy.
“Why yes! I think you’re a moron, too!” And the whole body is corrupted with rage and anger.
“Why no! I refuse to forgive you!” And the body remains corrupted with bitterness.
(2) Your Course
Look at the next part of the passage. James write, “The tongue…sets the course of one’s life on fire.” (v.7b) In other words – the tongue doesn’t just lead you to current sin, but it also leads to future sin.
“Why yes! I’ll tell you a lie about what I did for work last week!” And now I am on course with future lies to keep that lie going.
“Why yes! Even though I’m married, I find you to be quite attractive.” And now I am on course with future flirting, lust…even adultery!
“Why no! I don’t think that we should listen to the Bible on that point.” And now I have set my children on course to a life where we don’t listen to what God’s Word has to say!
(3) Its Own Eternal Destiny
James finishes by writing, “The tongue is itself set on fire by hell.” (v.7c)
Because…wicked words are sin.
The wages of sin is death.
Even eternal death in hell.
God doesn’t love it when we speak evil against His created beings or lead His created beings into sin.
He hates it so much he threatens punishment.
Even punishment in hell.
To be fair – the last one is probably good enough reason.
But combined, we have plenty of reason to tame our tongues…
To watch what we say.
To not use our tongues for evil.
III. Taming the Tongue
But…how does one tame their tongue?
Have you ever tried it?
James says this about taming the tongue:
All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. (v.7)
Think about how true that is.
Humans can tame Elephants. They’re gigantic creatures and yet, in India, they knock down trees and haul the logs wherever their trainers tell them to deliver it.
Humans can tame Lions. At the circus, the lion tamer turns to the king of the jungle, the sharp toothed, alpha predator and tells the ferocious cat to open his jaws and then – places his skull directly inside.
Humans can tame Killer Whales. At SeaWorld, Shamu, an aquatic animal of over 2,000 pounds – listens to his trainers as they hold up one tiny finish to get him to splash the crowd on demand.
Humans can train all of these different animals….
The elephant trainer struggles to stop his tongue from dropping four letter words when he steps in a pile of dung.
The lion tamer struggles to stop his tongue from boasting to his assistant because he thinks he is the greatest.
The SeaWorld trainer struggles to stop his tongue from lying – Yes, he did remember to feed the walruses – even though he didn’t.
Humans are terrible at taming their tongues.
No human can tame their own tongue.
Which means… the only one that can tame the tongue is someone isn’t human at all…
Do you know who has one of the worst tongues?
It’s the devil.
He’s been using his tongue to set the world on fire…ever since the beginning.
He spoke to God and said, “I should be God. Not you.”
He lied to Adam and Eve said, “Sin won’t be such a bad thing, trust me.”
He lies to you and me and says, “Your tongue has gotten you into so much trouble – there’s no way that God could ever forgive you.”
Satan has a powerful tongue.
His words can cause you to despair.
To be overwhelmed with guilt.
To be filled with regret.
To lose all hope.
While Satan’s tongue is powerful…
It’s not powerful enough.
If anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One… (1 John 2:1)
Did you see that? Jesus is our Advocate.
That means he talks on our behalf.
And when the devil comes along and says, “Throw that person in hell! They have done so many sins.”
Jesus says, “Shut up!”
“I died for them.”
“I rose for them.”
“I defeated sin for them.”
“I defeated death for them.”
“They are forgiven.”
Jesus tames the devil’s tongue and speaks on our behalf.
His speech is more powerful!
It’s not just human speech. But it is God’s own speech.
God’s tongue? It can tame things that even humans cannot.
It tamed a storm when Jesus said, “Stop.”
It tamed an incurable skin disease when Jesus said, “Be healed.”
It tamed death itself when Jesus said to the young man’s corpse, “Live!”
And it tamed your guilt and shamed when Jesus said to you:
But that’s not it. Check out this passage:
The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (Galatians 5:22)
Here’s the truth. With faith in Jesus, we have the Holy Spirit.
And with the Holy Spirit in our hearts we are able to tame our tongues.
Because the holy Spirit – he’s God.
He doesn’t speak any evil.
In addition, the Holy Spirit empowers you to tame your tongue,
And use it for HIS purpose.
To speak love.
To speak joy.
To speak peace.
To speak patience.
To speak goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
IV. What Now?
If you take a look at the next part of James’ letters – here’s a few rapid-fire instructions from James:
1) Produce a Singular Flow
James writes: With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water. (v.9-12)
Because if you bent down to grab a drink from a small area of fresh water and after bringing it to your lips, and got a mouth full of salt? That’s not good.
And if you went over to your fig tree and found some olives growing on it – I’d be really concerned about those olives.
If you have a fresh identity in Jesus, it will seem very odd if you mix your “praise Jesus” with the same old sinful language.
That means we’ve got to work hard by God’s grace to keep our language pleasant, kind, and loving -- not just on Sunday for an hour a week – but all the time.
With our family.
With our friends.
With our enemies.
May we produce a singular flow of refreshed language.
2) Keep it In
To do that, we’ve got to learn to keep it in. James said, “If you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it!” (v.14)
Don’t say the angry thing that comes to mind.
Don’t drop the four-letter word.
Don’t just relay gossip without thinking about it.
We need to develop some self-control, that every time we’ve got something on our tongues, we stop. Think about it. And consider:
Does this work with my mission of Planting the Message of Jesus in the Hearts of my friends and family?
If not…don’t say it.
There’s nothing worse than a Christian working against his own mission by being uncareful with his tongue. Don’t hurt others’ work of sharing Jesus by gossiping about them.
I’ll never forget the time I was excited to follow up on a visitor to church to see if they wanted to come back. I asked them if they enjoyed the music? Yes. The message? Yes. The coffee? Yes.
But would they be back?
They had overheard a few ‘members’ at their fellowship table complaining about others in church.
They heard salty language in what was supposed to be a fresh water environment.
Keep those negative comments to yourself. Don’t infect others.
3) Purify your Language
Just like trying to purify your tap water so that you can drink it…
We’ve gotta purify our language so that it accomplishes our mission.
To do that, we’ve gotta run it through the best purity filter of all. God’s Word: “The wisdom that comes from heaven is PURE.” (v.17)
If you want to know if the thing you want to say is pure or not, run it by the God’s Word filter.
Is it a lie? God’s Word says don’t lie.
Is it gossip? God’s Word says don’t gossip. And true things are gossip, too!
Is it loving? God’s Word says, “Be loving.” Good…I can say that.
Familiarity with God’s Word will help install this permanent filter in our hearts - to prevent any disgusting outpouring of filth from our tongues.
4) Sow Peace
James writes, “Peacemakers who sow in peace reap in righteousness.” (v.18) Because when we are talking about the best, most positive, and on-the-mission things to speak – nothing comes close to speaking the peace of God’s Word.
There’s nothing more uplifting than telling others about their Savior.
There’s nothing more encouraging than reminding them of his love.
There’s nothing more heartening than telling someone they are forgiven.
And that Gospel message is like a seed that’s planted.
And after planting it carefully…
Again – again and again.
Eventually – that message might grow.
Grow into a harvest of righteousness.
A soul saved.
Friends, may God bless our speech as we used our tongues to the glory of God’s kingdom. Amen.