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Weekly Word

Entries in Character (2)

Tuesday
Dec192017

The Results of Spiritual Victory

1 Kings 18:40-46.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on December 17, 2017.

Last week we saw how God had honored Elijah’s public display of faith by a miraculous fire from heaven coming down upon his sacrifice.  This was all in contrast to the pitiful failure of the prophets of Baal.  Today we will look at the fallout of that momentous event and talk about spiritual victory in our own lives. 

But before we get into that it might help if you familiarize yourself with the geography of this passage.  Click here for an online map from a great website called BibleAtlas.org.  Pay attention that we are in the northern part of Israel west of the Sea of Galilee.  The sacrifice has taken place on Mt. Carmel which is on the left of the map part way down (part of the name has been cut off).  Jezreel is basically in the middle of the map with the Kishon River (thin blue line) flowing from that area past Mt. Carmel and into the Mediterranean Sea (where modern day Haifa sits).

The enemies of God’s work are executed

When we read verse 40 the passage can be shocking to our modern, western sensibilities.  However, I would remind you right up front that we in the West are shocked by things that people in the East are not, and vice versa.  Just because it offends us does not mean it is wrong.  So try and get over the shock that the prophet of God Elijah orders the people to execute all the prophets of Baal and, instead of tossing God’s Word aside, take time to understand what God wants us to understand here.

A big question that often arises from passages such as vs. 40, is that of whether or not Christians are hypocrites when they proclaim peace and yet have such a thing in their “holy book.”    If fact, one of our recent presidents, who also claims to be a Christian, chided Christians about eating shellfish when it is forbidden in the Old Testament.  Others claim that Christians are hypocrites when they promote love for our fellow man because of passages that speak of the death penalty for sexual perversion.  Each of these statements or accusations has a problem in their logic.  They assume that the Bible itself, and more importantly God who is its author, teaches that Christians should obey the Old Testament Laws.  In fact, the Bible teaches the opposite.  You cannot point out one verse and ignore the context of the rest of the Bible and also hold the intellectual high-ground.  If we want to deal with the Bible honestly then we must recognize or determine what God’s purpose was in creating Israel as a nation.  He created then and made a covenant with them in which they promised to obey The Law that God had given them through Moses.  Clearly they did not do such a good job at that, but then we would be casting stones from a glass house.  God’s purpose with Israel and The Law of Moses was not to provide a positive template for all the nations of the world.  The salvation of the world is not found in converting the whole world over to follow the Law of Moses.  The whole purpose of The Law was to shut the mouths of those who claim to be righteous.  Israel had divine laws (i.e. better than the wisest minds of mankind could come up with at the same time period).  Yet, the people of Israel were not divine and there lies the problem.  The Law of Moses failed to save Israel for the same reasons that the Constitution of the United States cannot save us.  Nations are run by people who are weak and condemned by the very laws they claim to follow.

So let’s look back at this situation.  Ahab is completely stunned.  Only moments ago, he held all the power.  He would execute Elijah when this was over with and he would continue to lead Israel into worshipping Baal rather than the God who had created Israel, Yahweh/Jehovah.  Much like a jury nullification of the law, the powerful demonstration of Yahweh’s power nullifies Ahab’s command.  The people and even his soldiers have just seen for themselves the power of God.  Notice that Ahab does not speak until the next chapter.  Even if Ahab would have tried to command for Elijah to be executed, who would have dared to carry it out?  Ahab rolled the dice and they came up “snake eyes,” or “dogs” as the ancient Romans used to say.  The stakes were Ahab’s life against the lives of the prophets of Baal and they lost.

But, Elijah’s command could not come from a truly righteous person could it?  We need to understand that Elijah is not some murderous psychopath who loves killing people.  The Law that God had given Israel (i.e. their constitution) stated that any prophet who led Israel to worship foreign God’s was guilty of a capital crime.  Thus these prophets new they were breaking The Law and committing a capital crime.  However, they could care less because they were under the protection of Israel’s Law-breaking king.  Ahab had been leading Israel in a direction that was illegal and treasonous.  These men have been helping him to commit this treason.  If you want to verify this then read Deuteronomy 13, especially verse 5.  Several times in Deuteronomy 13, 17, and 18 God declares these things a capital crime.  So now that we have exonerated Elijah from the guilt of homicide, we must deal with God.  It was His Law.  Is it barbaric?

Whether or not we agree with such a punishment today, we must agree that this was Israel’s law.  Part of understanding why God commands the death of false prophets is to understand the difference between God’s purpose with Israel and God’s purpose with the Church of Jesus Christ.  Israel was given the task to bring forth the Messiah or Savior for the world.  But, they also modeled to the world the problem with trying to create a perfect society through legislation.  All societies have to have laws to function.  But, even with divine laws it becomes a bloody business filled with hypocrisy.  This is true whether you are looking at the government of Israel or Sidon in the 9th century B.C., or you are looking at the modern governments of The United States of America, Russia, China, Iran, Turkey, et. Al.  In the West we keep telling ourselves that if we just make better laws it will fix everything.  Yet, things keep getting worse and worse (yes, not everything is getting worse, but hear what I am saying).  We have to quit fooling ourselves.  Even divine laws, or laws created by an Artificial Intelligence, will fail to fix mankind because our problem is a spiritual one and is deep in each heart.  The best we can expect from laws is that they will slow down the evil nature of our hearts and give hope for people to see it and seek God’s help.  The only way to change a heart is repentance from our own dead works and turning towards belief in Jesus as Lord and Savior.  God’s laws of capital punishment on one hand teach us that some sins are worthy of death.  However, the cross teaches us that God does not want to execute us.  He is giving us a choice.  It is appointed unto a person once to live and then the judgment.   Through the Church God is warning the world of a coming judgment or execution.  Yet, He is also giving opportunity for people to make peace with Him by putting their faith in Jesus.  The Church is not about building a perfect kingdom, but rather, it is about calling people to become citizens who are being perfected by God.  Israel focused on a geographical place on earth that required capital punishment to keep it pure, and even that failed.  The Church focuses on the spiritual geography of our own heart.  Definitely Christians should obey the laws of the nation, as long as it doesn’t break God’s commands.  And, we should also work for better laws.  But laws are not our hope.  The return of Jesus our King is the hope that we hold out to the world.  This makes a big difference and makes the Gospel far more potent in light of Israel and The Law.  We await the Kingdom of Heaven to be brought down at the Second Coming of Jesus.  Until then, we do our best to live at peace with even those who disobey God.  Instead of executing those who break God’s command (as God told Israel), Christians speak the truth in love to them, while executing those things within our own heart and mind that would lead us astray from God’s Word.  That is why Christians should be restrained in the amount of laws that they promulgate.

A contrast of character

I spent a lot of time on verse 40 because the contents are important in our day and age.  In the rest of this chapter, we see a sharp contrast between the character of Elijah and that of Ahab.  Elijah is a wise leader and Ahab is a foolish one.  After the execution of the prophets of Baal, Elijah tells Ahab to go eat because of the sound of a great rain.  Now it is clear from the passage that there is no sound of rain at the moment.  What is Elijah talking about?  Elijah is speaking by faith.  Even though there is no outward sign, Elijah is confident that God will keep His word.  God had told him what would happen and we see him acting and speaking upon that.  As I said earlier, Ahab doesn’t speak here.  But his administration has been one, big lack of faith in God’s Word.  Now it is important to guard our heart, mind and our mouth.  We should be careful of our decisions and the way that we speak about things.  Am I trusting in God’s Word or doubting it?  Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.  However, speaking by faith is not a matter of wish fulfillment, or only speaking “positive things.”  Christians should not fall into the error that tries to draw good things to us by acting and speaking positively.  Regardless of what you say and do, God is going to do certain things.  God is going to judge all the governments of the world in the future through the Second Coming of Christ.  It will be a great negative thing to those who are not on His side, but a great positive thing to those on the side of Jesus.  Speaking by faith is remembering what God has said and agreeing with it in our speech.  In other words we actually believe that God means what He says, and is not a liar.  May God help us to speak by faith in His word.

Although it is Elijah’s idea, Ahab is a king and can do what he wants.  Notice that King Ahab is feeding his belly while Elijah is praying for the rain to come.  Ahab is a man of the flesh, not because he eats food.  We all eat food and even Elijah ate food.  But something powerful and spiritual has just happened in Israel.  But one man is praying for God’s will and the other is satisfying the will of his stomach.  God’s people can enjoy the physical joys of life within godly boundaries.  However, we must not let our lives be only about them.  Though God has promised rain, Elijah will not rest until it comes.  He goes back up to Mt. Carmel and begins praying for God to fulfill His word.  Then we see a cycle of Elijah praying, and asking his servant to check and see if any rain is coming.  This goes on seven times until the servant notices a small cloud on the horizon of the Mediterranean Sea.  This seven times is intended to highlight that Elijah was not a man who would quit in prayer.  He persevered in prayer until God kept His word.  He waited upon the Lord completely and kept himself watchful through prayer.  We should be the same way concerning the Second Coming of Christ.  We should not be apathetic towards what God has said He will do with a kind of que sera, sera attitude (whatever will be, will be).  Jesus is not coming back for a people who have an intellectual assent that He will do so, but for those who have desired it and have spent their lives praying and watching for it (like Elijah).  When a cloud the size of a man’s hand is seen, then Elijah knows the fulfillment has come.  May God help us also to remain faithful even in the day of small things.  It may not seem like anything big, but God is in it and rejoices to make it happen.

In the end, it is God’s will working with Elijah’s faithfulness that brings rain to the land.  Elijah’s speech and life have been lived by faith in what God had said in the past and what He was personally telling Elijah.  In contrast, it was the unfaithfulness of Ahab and the people of Israel who followed him that led to the drought and famine, both naturally and spiritually.  We must be careful that we do not give up living lives faithful to God and His Word simply because the society around us does not pat us on the back for doing so.  Even in the face of active persecution, the hope of our land depends upon Christians living out lives faithful to Jesus.  We concern ourselves not with just physical rain and dry land, although that is important to people’s livelihood.  We concern ourselves more importantly on spreading the rain of God’s Word into the lives of those who are dry as deserts from years of rejecting or being ignorant of God’s Word.

Lastly we see that God’s power is upon those who are humble.  The power of God comes upon Elijah as the rain comes and he runs ahead of Ahab’s chariot to Jezreel.  Now in our competitive modern minds we would read this as God empowering Elijah to outrun the chariot of Ahab and to be the first to Jezreel.  Now this is no small feat.  Jezreel was about 10-15 miles away.  However, an ancient person reading this would see a servant running ahead of his master.  Elijah is running ahead of Ahab’s chariot, like a servant who is letting people know that the king is coming.  It is as if God is showing Ahab what could be.  God, and His servant Elijah, do not have to be enemies of Ahab.  Elijah was not seeking a crown, though he could have tried to take it after such a powerful display.  Who wouldn’t want a king who could call down fire from heaven?  Instead, Elijah’s run says to Ahab, I will take my place as your servant if you will take your place as God’s servant.  May the Lord help Christians today to have such a humility and empowerment from the Lord.   Instead of seeking to have the highest place, may we be the influence that those who have it need, to become what God wants them to be.

Spiritual Victory audio

Sunday
May072017

Walking Worthy of Our Calling

Ephesians 4:1-6 & Matthew 22:1-14.  This sermon was delivered by Pastor Marty Bonner on May 7, 2017.

We apologize that there is no audio for this sermon.

Over the last two weeks we have been talking about the wisdom of this world versus the wisdom of God.  This ended last week with the Apostle James stating that those who are truly wise should prove it by their good conduct done in meekness.  Today we are going to pick up on this concept that the wisdom of God leads to a life of good conduct done in meekness.  These are not the words that Paul uses in Ephesians 4.  However, it will become obvious that he has the same idea in mind.  What James calls “pure and undefiled” religion (James 1:27), the Apostle Paul calls “to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.”

It is easy to point to religion as the problem.  But the Bible does not just offer religion.  It offers a pure and undefiled religion that is worthy of the calling to which God has called us.  Some make a better distinction by pointing to extremists within religion.  They are the true problem.  Sure, extremists can cause problems.  But it fails to recognize that even a moderate religion that is untrue is harmful to an individual and the world.  The real problem is our refusal to let God cleanse our understandings of the world around us.  In a sense, it is our refusal to be broken out of the virtual reality that the Powers of this Age have immersed us in.  People who follow Jesus are not the problem.  Rather, it is people who pretend that they are following Jesus, or at the least, who follow a pale shadow of the true Jesus and his teachings.  Let’s look at our passage.

The Call of God

Verse 1, of Ephesians 4, begins with Paul calling himself a “prisoner of the Lord.”  The main point for this distinction is to remind the Ephesians and us who is really in charge.  Paul had been arrested in Jerusalem and then he had appealed to Caesar.  This led to him being in Rome under house arrest.  It would be easy in such a situation for Paul to be so focused on Rome and its antagonism towards God’s call upon his life that he would lose sight of God’s sovereignty.  Paul wrote at least 4 New Testament letters during this time of arrest and most likely wrote many other letters that we do not have.  He is a prisoner of man, but also a prisoner in the Lord.  God had a plan through this and Paul trusted Him.  So what is this call that Paul is talking about in verse 1?

Ultimately the call is God crying out to mankind, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”  (Matthew 11:28).  The call is the gracious offer of God to save us from the effects of our sin, both corporate and individual.  We are saved by grace because there is no other salvation possible, but by God, and He is not obligated to do so.  Even if we felt God had a moral obligation to try and save mankind, we have taken his grace for granted over and over again, often throwing it back in His face.  Yet, God graciously continues to offer salvation to the world.  We are saved through faith because we must believe in God and follow His directions.  It is called the Gospel of Jesus because He is the one who not only explains the plan of salvation, but also accomplishes the salvation.  The good news is that our savior has come and our salvation has been obtained. 

Paul describes this calling in verses 11-15 of this chapter.   Notice how he points to the purpose behind all that God is doing in the Church, those who have responded to His call.  The whole purpose is to help us become fully like Jesus.  As an individual the arrow of your heart needs to be towards Jesus.  However, this is not done in our own strength.  It is the Spirit of God who supplies people that He has gifted to teach.  It is the Spirit of God who has supplied us with a written account of His words, the Bible.  And, it is the Spirit of God that supplies an inner witness to our hearts of what Jesus desires of us.

This call is to anyone who will listen.  It is not limited by any race, geography, or economic status.  John 3:16 demonstrates that God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes on Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.  The call is to “whoever” would believe it.  Christians are called to take the good news about Jesus and His salvation to the ends of the earth.  2 Peter 3:9 makes the desire of God even clearer.  “The Lord is not slow concerning His promise, as some count slowness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.”  He does not want anyone to perish and is gives a mission to those who answer His call:  Be my ambassador to extend this call to the ends of the earth.

Walking worthy of our calling

So what exactly is meant by walking worthy of our calling, which is to be made over in the image of Jesus Christ?  Verse 2 lists several character issues, and from other passages we know that this, by no means, is exhaustive.  Basically Paul is telling us that character matters.  He starts with “lowliness.”  It is a reference to our mindset.  It is a person who does not think of themselves as higher than others.  It is interesting to think that Jesus, who is Lord of the heavens and the earth, was lowly of mind.  This is highlighted in Philippians 2:5 and following.  To walk worthy of our calling is to walk with humility before God and others.  The next word is “gentleness.”  This word is sometimes translated meekness and refers to an inner disposition and calmness of spirit.  They are not just gentle on the outside, but on the inside as well.  Next is “longsuffering.”  This term regarding patience is about not quickly losing your temper, which flows into the next phrase, “bearing one another.”  Instead of losing our temper, we have a long fuse, and carry along the heavy things about each other.  It is not just about helping other people, but also putting up with their opinions and actions.  Any group that is going to stay connected has to learn to carry the imperfections of each other.  All of this is to be done “in love.”  Now Paul is not saying that a worthy walk is a perfect walk.  He is not a perfect man telling the Church to be more perfect.  Rather, it is about Christians helping each other to be perfected by the Holy Spirit.  Church is not a place of perfect people, but a place of people being perfected.  In fact, the same could be said about this life.  Quit seeking the perfect life and understand that life itself is perfecting you.  It is easy to be so worried about someone else judging us, that we forget we will be judged by God.  Don’t be deceived, God is saving you so that you can change and become like Jesus in character and action.  If you say you are answering that call then show it by living in a manner that agrees with your words.

Paul also brings up the issue of unity in verse 3.  This has become a buzz word over the course of the 20th century.  Yet, notice that it is a “unity of the Spirit.”  Unity is not something that leaders and Christians can engineer, or make happen.  The world and worldly churches turn to forceful mechanisms in order to “make peace.”  However, this is not a true peace.  To say, “There will be unity when you agree with us,” is not what Paul has in mind.  True, Jesus and His Apostles laid down, once and for all, the Faith that all believers should embrace.  However, the key to unity is when everyone in a church is looking to the Holy Spirit and walking in harmony with Him (i.e. walking worthy of our calling.)  Unity is something with demonstrates the level to which we are all walking in harmony with God’s Spirit.  Any other form is the wisdom of this world and not the wisdom of God.  Paul goes on for the rest of this section to emphasize that there is one Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and that we have received one baptism, faith, and hope.  When we have a living connection with the Spirit of God, He creates unity, but not uniformity.  God’ signature is diversity within unity.  This is why the world can never have true peace and true unity.  They have embraced the wisdom of the Powers of this Age and not the wisdom of God.  They refuse the wisdom of Jesus and continue to create their own wisdom.  Such wisdom is fractured at its source and doomed to failure by its rejection of the Creator.

Paul does not mention the issue of being chosen by God.  But I believe it is critical to discuss at this juncture.  Throughout the Scripture we see the dual concepts of God’s call and God’s choosing, or election.  So let’s look at a parable that Jesus tells in Matthew 22:1-14 to explore what it means to be “called” versus “chosen.”

In this passage there is a call or invitation that is being sent out and there are also several categories of “unworthy” people.  Let’s first understand that Jesus is describing God’s call (as the King) for people to apart of His Kingdom celebration of the wedding of his Son (i.e. The people of God receiving Christ and coming into relationship with Him).  The servants who bear the message are the prophets of God who have been faithful throughout history to declare God’s call to the world.  The first category of “unworthy” people is those who didn’t think the invitation worth a response.  They simply didn’t respond and are apathetic to the call.  The next group is mixed, but they have one thing in common.  They are all caustic towards the call, to some degree.  If the first group is neutral, this group is negative.  Some merely ridicule the call and make light of it.  Others actively abuse the messengers, and still others actually kill some of the messengers.  Clearly this is a response that is unworthy of benefiting from the call of God.  The last group is pictured by the individual who actually comes to the wedding.  He accepts the invitation, but refuses to comply with the conditions and stipulations of the King.  It was common in those days for a King to supply mandatory garments for state functions like this.  Thus the parable implies that the man came to the event, but refused to put on the wedding garments.  He did not care for the King’s wishes, but rather only cared about what he wanted.  He liked his garments better than those supplied by the King.  This is important because Paul uses this concept of putting off and putting on clothing as a metaphor for righteous works.  Christians are called to put off the dead works of our self-righteousness and put on the living works of the righteousness of Jesus.  The man who is being expelled was called and even responded to the invitation.  But, he did not comply with the conditions and thus is not chosen.  Verse 14, “Many are called, but few are chosen.”  This is similar to the verse in Matthew 7:22-23.  Jesus said, “Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you who practice lawlessness!’”  These had answered the call and even had an outward showing of righteousness.  But putting on the righteousness of Christ begins in the heart.  What makes a work a dead work versus a living work?  Two people can give money to the poor, but for one it is a dead work of self-righteousness, and for the other a living work of true righteousness.  How can that be?  It is so because one has only answered the call, but has not walked worthy of the calling.  In the end they loved their own clothing.  They clung to lawlessness towards God and created a righteousness of their own.  Ultimately, the person who is chosen is the one who responds to the call by following Jesus fully.  They do not look to a man made list of do’s and don’ts.  Rather they are daily listening to the Holy Spirit through the written word, Spirit-filled mentors, and personal prayer.  They are allowing the Spirit to undress them of their own self-righteous sin, and to be dressed in the works that are born of the Spirit of God.  Don’t be deceived.  God is saving us from the lawlessness of self-righteousness.  This world reeks of self-righteousness.  Let us not think that we can remain the same and Jesus will cover everything when we die.  No.  True faith is enabled by the Spirit of God to throw off dead works and put on the living works of the Spirit of God, which is the righteousness of Christ.