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Tuesday
Jul172018

Seeking the Things that are Above II

Colossians 3:12-17.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on July 15, 2018.

Seeking the things that are above is a phrase that is used to change our perspective on how we live our life.  We can either live with our heart and mind, which is naturally fixated on the earth, leading us, or we can live with our heart and mind, turned towards heaven and the leadership of Christ.  Our flesh will lead us to destruction, but the leadership of Jesus will lead us to eternal life.

Thus, Christians need to be followers of Jesus in deed and not just in word.  To truly follow someone involves watching what direction they choose and making corrections accordingly.  Similarly, to be a disciple of Jesus, we must do more than just show up for His lessons.  We must actually take time to study the lessons that He teaches and then put them into practice in our lives.  In that way we will truly become more like Him over the course of time.

In our passage today, we will see the why, what, and how of doing this.  This passage will not answer every question that you may have.  However, it will encourage you to be a person who is seeking the things that are above rather than a person who is pursuing the things of this world.

Putting on the New Man

In verses 8-10, Paul has introduced the metaphor of taking off our old man, like you would a set of clothing, and then putting on the new man.  In this metaphor the old man represents my life as led by my own fleshly heart and mind.  The new man is Jesus, and by faith Christians are those who are taking off the old way of life and putting on the new way of life that is directed by Jesus.  Now, this is not intended just to be a nice platitude, but a template for our daily transformation.  This is something we must wake up every day and pray, “Lord, show me where I need to put off the old man today, and strengthen me to put on the new that you have for me.”

Thus verse 12 quickly explains why we should give ourselves to such a task.  The first is that we have been chosen by God.  God chose us for the purpose of becoming like Jesus.  He did not choose us just to warm a pew on Sunday mornings.  Also, this choosing was not based upon the fact that we were better than others around us, but simply because we humbled ourselves, and turned from the wisdom of this world and turned towards Jesus, the wisdom of God.  If I refuse to take off the old man and put on the new man, then I am rejecting the purpose for which God chose me.  In fact, I am ultimately rejecting His choice, period.

The second reason he gives for putting on the new man is because we are holy.  We are not holy because we got our act together better than those who are not.  We are holy because when we were chosen by God, He also set us apart for His holy purposes.  Those purposes do include taking the good news about Jesus and His salvation to all people, even to the ends of the earth.  However, we cannot preach salvation if it is not happening in our daily life.  Salvation is more than a legal standing before God.  It is also something that God does in our life every day as we listen to Him and find deliverance from our old man.  The foundation of the Gospel is God’s ability to take the worst of sinners and enable them to become like Jesus, the sinless one.  It is Jesus who purchased us with His blood on the cross, and He did so in order that we would become like Him.  When we are like Him then we can produce deliverance throughout the earth.  However, to use our life for worldly and selfish purposes would be to profane (use a holy thing for common purposes) what God has made holy.

The third reason he points out for putting on the new man is because we are loved by God.  When you have the love of the Creator, then nothing else matters.  It doesn’t matter when the world rejects me because God loves me.  It doesn’t matter if I am lacking in the things of this world.  In Christ I have everything I need.  He is the one who takes care of my needs.  Thus there are two loves that we must choose between.  We can remain in the love of God and pursue His purposes, or we can remain in love with the world and go after the purposes of our own flesh.  We cannot love both because they are diametrically opposed to one another.  I can’t love the ways of the world and the desires of my own flesh, and still love God.  I will go towards one and away from the other.  When we turn towards God in reciprocal love, then He teaches us how to love the world properly.  The proper way to love the world is to lay down your life that they might live, rather than plunging headlong with them into destruction.  May we love God enough that our hearts are changed regarding the world.  Then we will love people enough to call them back from the edge of destruction.

So what does it look like to put on the new man?  In the second part of verse 12 through verse 14, Paul lists many things that show us what this looks like.  He does so not because we need a checklist to accomplish, but because of the deceptions that Christians encountered then and of course also today.  There is one Lord, Jesus, and we are called to one life, putting Him on.  There are no such things as Christians who are at such a high level that it is now okay for them to do things that the Bible tells us are sin.  Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever.  These are listed to guard against error.

The first thing he tells us to put on is tender mercies, also translated compassionate hearts.  This parallels Micah 6:8 where we are told to love mercy enough to live it out in our daily lives.  Thus Christians are told to choose the tenderness of God over the hardness of the world.

The next word is kindness.  Kindness goes beyond doing the right thing.  It involves going beyond.  Jesus helped people, but more than that he did so in a kind manner.  We see such tenderness in John 4 as He talks with the woman at the well.

Next we are told to put on humility.  Humility is the disposition of the mind in which we do not see ourselves as superior or above others.  Christ is above us all and asks us to position ourselves beneath each other, so that we can serve one another in His name.  Of course, this is exactly what He did when He yielded to the cross.  Though He is God, He embraced the lowest place.  How much more ought we to do so?

Next we are to put on meekness.  This word is often defined as strength under control.  Its emphasis is gentleness and being mild-mannered, not because you lack strength, but because the Spirit of God enables you to control yourself.  A meek person is not pushing themselves and their agenda, but leaving room for others and what Christ is doing through them.

Patience in this passage is having a long fuse with others.  It is easy to be short-tempered and easily aroused to anger.  However, Christ is patient and slow to anger.

We are told to bear with one another.  We would probably call it putting up with one another.  Yes, it is not always easy to put up with YOU, just as it is not always easy to put up with ME!  This has more to do with the personality differences and disagreements we may have.  Christ puts up with our pettiness and slowness to follow Him, and He does so because He loves us.  Our flesh is too quick to write others off and refuse to deal with them.  This is not the heart of God.

Then we are told to forgive one another.  Here we get to the parts where may do each other wrong in one way or another.  The heart of God wants to forgive us for our sins and works towards reconciliation.  Thus, those who follow Jesus must also be a forgiving people.  This is one of the hardest things for our flesh to swallow.  Forgiveness is not saying, “It’s OK.”  Rather, it is saying, “I am not going to hold this against you.  It is now between you and God.”  If a person is repentant and wants reconciliation, then we embrace them as Jesus embraced Peter on the shores of the Sea of Galilee in John 21.

Lastly, Paul tells us, “above all these things put on love.”  One way to view these different virtues is to see them as different facets of what it means to love Christ and to love others.  When you love someone you have a tender heart towards them, are kind to them, and humble around them, etc.  When we live out the love of Christ in our life it perfectly binds us to one another.  Genealogy, blood, race, nationality, and any other thing cannot perfectly bind people to one another, but the love of Christ can.  Such love cannot be commanded or forced by any human being.  But, every one of us is led by the Spirit of Christ to let the love of Christ be expressed in our life.

So how can we live in such an incredible way?  Verse 15 transitions to answering this question.  Putting on Christ is a daunting task and an extremely high bar.  How can God expect us to do it?  Paul points us back to Christ as our hope of accomplishing such a task.

The phrase, “let the peace of Christ rule in your heart,” has two parts to it.  First we must let it.  Those who put their faith in Christ are the recipients of His peace.  This is given to us by the work of the Holy Spirit in our heart.  The picture I would use for this situation is when the disciples were with Jesus in a boat on the Sea of Galilee (Mark 4:39).  The sea represents our heart and all the emotions, desires, and thoughts that can stir up such an internal tempest that we fear for our lives.  Letting Jesus bring His peace into our hearts involves having Jesus in our “boat” in the first place.  But, more than that, we must call out to Jesus and ask Him to quell our inner storms.  When we call on Jesus, He says the words, “Peace, be still!”  Once Jesus calms those fears, emotions and desires, we then must let it rule in our hearts.  The word “rule” means the peace that Christ has brought to us is now calling the shots about what we will think, desire, and feel.  When you let Jesus lead in your life, you are enabled to have an inner peace that directs you without turbulence and chaos.  Clearly, this is something we must do each day.  Our hearts tend towards chaos, but letting Jesus rule in our hearts brings peace.  You don’t do this by yourself and all in one day.  You simply need to let the peace of Christ take up residence in your heart and let Him be your King.  “What are we working on today, Lord?”

Next, we are told to be thankful.  Learning to be thankful in each moment is a difficult thing.  Without the assurance that Christ is with us, it would be an impossible thing.  Thankfulness begins with contentment.  When we are content with what God has provided in our life and the station of life in which we have found ourselves, it transforms how we approach others.  Thankfulness needs to become the atmosphere of our daily life.  Each morning, rise up and thank God for the day, but not because it is an opportunity to get more.  Do so simply because it is another day to be faithful in those good things that the Lord has given you.  Instead of looking to the hills for something better, ask the Lord how you might care for what He has already given you.  When you are faithful with the “little” that He has given you, then perhaps you will find that those little things are far greater than you imagined.  It seems impossible to be able to choose to be thankful.  It involves getting our eyes off of what you don’t have here on earth, and looking towards what you do have there in heaven.  God, help me to see what I have already.  Lord, help me to want to please you, in order that I might be more like you!

Lastly, we are told to let the Word of Christ dwell in us richly.  Notice that we are to “let” it happen.  God is working to put His Word in us and to have it richly bless our inner life.  This definitely involves reading the Bible, and spending some time in studying it yourself and with others.  However, Jesus is also called the Word.  Thus it is both, the commands that He gives us and He Himself.  Like the glory of God coming upon the tabernacle or the temple of Israel, so we should want the Holy Spirit dwelling in us.  We must not only memorize the word of God, but also have the Spirit who spoke it working inside of us that it might be fruitful.  This process of letting the Word of Christ dwell in us richly is expressed in several ways.  We are told to teach and admonish one another, in the ways of Christ.  Also we are to sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (alone and with others).  God’s people are intended to be a singing people.  We sing not because our voices are so good, but because we have something worth singing about, Jesus!  Our hearts are full of the grace of God, and He is pleased to hear the sound of our hearts as we sing about it.

Paul ends this passage with a powerful statement.  Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him!  We are representatives of Christ in this world.  How well do I represent Jesus?  To some degree, we all fall short.  However, that is why we are told to bear with one another and forgive each other.  Jesus knows that we will have bumps and scrapes along the way, but He promises to dwell within us and enable us from the inside out.  The path forward is not an easy path, but it is a good one in which God will give us all the resources we need to put on the New Man and become like Jesus.  He will help us to be His spiritual children, amen!

Seeking things II 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.