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Entries in Duty (2)

Tuesday
Aug212018

Help in the Ministry

Colossians 4:7-18.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on August 19, 2018.

Throughout history it is clear that God uses specific individuals to open doors of ministry and accomplish great things for the Kingdom of God.  However, today I hope you will see that even in such cases, no one ministers alone.  God expects us to work together so that the work He intends will be accomplished in our area and beyond.  Each Christian needs to seek the Lord regarding how we can help in ministering the Gospel to this world, whether that involves leading a new work, or coming alongside someone whom God has filled with a vision for reaching the lost.  No matter how small and lacking in talent you may be, God has a place for you in His plan.

Those who delivered his letter

Starting in verse 7, Paul gives a series of explanations to the Colossians regarding different individuals who were helping him.  The first two are those who had delivered this very letter from Paul, who is in Rome under house-arrest, to the Colossians.  Such a journey required a lot more help than it would in today’s world.  The first individual is Tychicus.  He is described as a beloved brother, faithful minister, and fellow servant in the Lord.  Paul saw Tychicus as more than a worker who would help him get things done.  He had a familial relationship with him that was like a brother.  We must never lose sight of this in the work of the Lord.  If we treat it as a business and abuse one another in order to get things done, then we have lost sight of what God has called us to.

The second individual is named Onesimus and he is described as a faithful and beloved brother as well.  Here we are told that Onesimus is “one of you,” which means he is from Colosse.  This is the very same run-away slave of the letter to Philemon.  Apparently Onesimus had run away from his Christian master, Philemon, and ran into Paul.  Onesimus became a Christian through Paul.  But, note that Paul does not describe Onesimus as a “run-away slave” here in this letter.  He is called a brother in the work of the Lord.  In fact, it may be possible that Onesimus had delivered the letter to Philemon at the same time as the letter to the Colossians.

Paul points out that the Colossians will be able to hear what was happening with Paul in Rome in order to comfort their hearts.  When we are unaware of what is happening to others we love, it is very disconcerting.  Thus they would receive comfort by the testimony of Tychicus and Onesimus.  These two help Paul in some very practical ways.  They helped him stay in contact with the churches by carrying letters on ships and over land.  In our modern world of technological wonders we can forget that even our system of communication requires people helping and serving in very practical ways.  Not all service to the kingdom looks super spiritual, but it is needed nonetheless.

Those of the “circumcision”

Starting in verse 10 we have three individuals who are described as being part of “the circumcision.”  Basically it means that they are Jews.  However, the New Testament also describes a group of Jewish Christians who attempted to make Gentile converts to Christ follow the commands of the Law of Moses.  Circumcision became a flag for this view.  It doesn’t seem likely that these three held this view previously, so it is probably simply a way of referring to their Jewish ancestry and not their theological views.

By the way, it has been pointed out in the past that it is curious that there is no mention of Peter being in Rome at all.  Those who teach that Peter was the first bishop of Rome have a time explaining this issue.

The first of this group is Aristarchus, who is also under house-arrest with Paul.  Most of these individuals have come to Paul and are freely helping him.  However, Aristarchus is stuck.  Though he is Jewish, he was a Macedonian from Thessalonica, who had been helping Paul throughout his missionary journeys.  In fact, he was with Paul in Ephesus, when they were arrested for creating a mob.  “Great is Diana of the Ephesians!” (Acts 19:28).  Thus Aristarchus is a helper who has been with him through thick and thin. 

Next we have Mark the cousin of Barnabas.  If you are not aware, Paul and Mark had some difficult history.  Mark, also called John, had abandoned Paul and Barnabas on one of their missionary journeys.  Later, when they went out again, Paul refused to let John Mark accompany them.  Barnabas disagreed.  This led to them going separate ways.  (See Acts 13-15, esp. Acts 15:36-40).  Several times in his letters, Paul goes out of his way to encourage churches to receive John Mark and not hold his previous failings against him.  So here we see that John Mark had traveled to Rome in order to help Paul, and Paul is very appreciative.  Christians are always going to have their times of strife.  But, we must work in order to make things right and forgive one another.  This is a classic picture of such in the early Church.  By the way, Mark is the one who wrote the Gospel called by his name.

The third Jewish person was a guy named Jesus, or also called Justus.  We know nothing about this Justus, other than that he was Jewish and had gone to Rome to help Paul.  Perhaps he is a friend of John Mark and came with him.  Paul seems to imply that others of “the circumcision” should have been there to help him.  I don’t want to read more into this than is appropriate.  However, Paul may be thinking of at least two things.  First Paul is a Jew and so Jewish Christians naturally should go out of their ways to encourage him.  Second of all, Paul was arrested in Jerusalem under false charges.  Thus the Christians of Jerusalem should also feel an obligation to encourage him.

In all this, Paul praises these three for being a comfort to him.  We all need comforted as we work for the Lord.  No one is so spiritual as not to need comfort, not even our Lord Jesus.  We must allow others to come alongside of us and comfort us.  However, God’s supply of helpers in our life is not a steady stream.  In the letter of 2 Timothy, Paul notes a time of having no one with him.  Ultimately, we must always draw our comfort from the Lord first.

Other helps and greetings

In verse 12 Paul quickly mentions some other helpers who want to greet the Colossians.  Epaphras is a Colossian and a fellow slave of Christ.  Though it is not mentioned here, in the letter to Philemon it is clear that Epaphras was also imprisoned with Paul.  Note that Epaphras is praised for his many prayers for the believers in Colosse, Laodicea, and Hierapolis.  He prayed “fervently” (the word denotes that pain is involved) for them.  Thus just as some help is very practical, so some help is very spiritual, but both are needed and should be commended.

Next Luke the doctor is mentioned.  He is the author of the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles.  He was with Paul throughout many of his journeys.  In fact, if you read through the book of Acts, you will notice a change at times in the pronouns that are used.  Sometimes he writes “we” did this and “we” did that.  Then it switches to “he” did this and “he” did that.  Paul calls Luke beloved.  Perhaps Luke had to use his skills as a doctor time and time again to assist Paul in keeping healthy.

Little is said of the last individual Demas, other than that he greets them.  It is believed that this is the same Demas of 2 Timothy 4:10 of whom Paul wrote, “Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world, and has departed for Thessalonica.”  The ministry of the Gospel is not always easy and there are always those who will start out strong and then fall away from Christ.  We must always keep an eye out and minister to one another so that no one is discouraged.  However, the problem with Demas is rooted in his desire for the things of the world.  He had been trying to plow with Paul while looking back at what he had left behind.  No one can serve two masters for long.

Paul asks the Colossian believers to greet the Laodicean believers.  He also asks them to greet the individual named Nymphas, and the church that met at his house.  House churches were the norm.  Thus there is something particular about Nymphas that causes Paul to mention them, as a means of encouragement.  In fact, any church leader is always in need of encouragement.  Some translations refer to Nymphas as a man and some as a woman.  This is because some older manuscripts use a female construction of this sentence.  Regardless, the point is not the gender, but the need for encouragement.

Final Instructions

Beginning in verse 16, Paul gives some final instructions while closing the letter.  He tells them to share his letters with the churches around them and to read the letter that he wrote to them.  The early church did not have a New Testament.  The letters of the different apostles were being written at the time and typically were only known in the areas where they were sent.  Yet, over time they would be shared beyond their areas and eventually with all the Church.  Here we see the apostle instructing and approving of such.  Even though the letters were to a particular people at a particular time, they have value to any believer who would read them.  In fact it is here that we read that there had been a letter to the Laodiceans that did not survive this process.  It has been lost to the sands of time.

In verse 17 Paul gives a particular person a reminder of the duty of ministry.  The man is Archippus, who is mentioned in the Philemon letter.  There is clearly more to the back story that we are not aware of.  Perhaps Archippus had a calling to ministry upon him and he was either not doing it, or being apprehensive in doing it.  Regardless Paul encourages him in his duty to minister.  Three things about ministry are told to us here.  First, we must take heed or pay attention to the ministry that God has given us.  Ministry doesn’t just happen.  People must pay attention in prayer, in word, and indeed.  We must watch out for others and allow God to speak through us in order to share the Gospel, and mature those who receive it.  Second, ministry is received from the Lord.  It is never “our” ministry except as that which has been delegated to us by the Lord.  It is His ministry that we partner with Him in order to do it.  Christ opens the doors and supplies the work of the Holy Spirit to make it effective.  In ministry we must never get our eyes off of the fact that we do what we do for Christ, not for another person, or for ourselves.  Third, Christ expects us to fulfill it.  We must be diligent and obey the Lord in order to “fulfill” the ministry that He has given us.  We don’t always understand why God sends us to some people and certain places.  However, it is our job to be faithful and fulfill the purpose for which He has sent us, and not the purpose we imagine that He has sent us.

Lastly, Paul tells them to remember his chains.  The chains are real, but are also symbolic of this world’s hatred for Christ and His people.  They should never forget that even though they may not be in chains, there are others who are currently imprisoned for the cause of Christ.  They should never forget that even when people are no longer in chains in their part of the world, the Gospel was brought forth by those who endured such hostility, and it will indeed come round again.

Ministry does not happen without the Lord, but neither does it happen without people saying “yes!” to Him.  If we were to write a letter about the people who are helping with the ministry of Abundant Life Christian Fellowship in Everett, WA, or who have ever helped, that would be a long list, and we are a small church.  What would be said of you or me?  May God help us to be faithful to come alongside the ministry that He is calling us to do.  We may not be the leader like Paul was, but we all need each other in order to help the ministry of the Gospel to go to fellow believers and to the lost.

This concludes our time in the letter to the Colossians.

Help in the Ministry Audio

Wednesday
May272015

Faith, Duty and Being Offended

May 24, 2015-Luke 17:1-10

Today’s passage follows the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus.  The parable was given to the Pharisees, but at this point Jesus turns back to his disciples to instruct them on obedience in these matters.  It is easy to treat the instructions of Jesus as optional, and only for those who want to move to higher levels of discipleship.  But in this passage Jesus drives home the importance of listening to him.  When people live for themselves and without thought for others, we end up sinning against each other.  Eventually those sins heap up on top of each other and create large separations between us.  In the last chapter Jesus spoke of how wealth could be used to bless people around us in His name.  But in this chapter Jesus deals with the other side of the equation: when you are the one being overlooked or sinned against.

Make Sure You Are Not A Cause Of Stumbling

It is very easy in this area to only focus on the sin of other people.  But Jesus warns against causing each other to stumble.  In 1 John 2:10 it says, “He who loves his brother abides in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling in him.”  When we truly love one another we will rid ourselves of those things that get in each other’s way.  Yet, when something does happen, we can let it bother us so much that it impacts our ability to trust God and obey Him.  Thus Jesus puts this in very strong terms; as a command and as a warning.

So what is meant by “offense” in this passage?  In verse 4 it is to sin against your brother.  The word that is translated “offense” here is more than just being offended by someone.  It is used to refer to anything that causes a person to be trapped or to fall.  It was used to refer to the stick that triggers a trap.  The Bible also refers to a “stone of offense (or stumbling)” in which the same word is used in regards to causing someone to fall and be injured.  Here it is being used of spiritual matters.  When we sin against each other we are causing a situation where the other person is tempted to fall into a trap of sin with us.  Jesus says that it is impossible for these offenses not to happen.  In fact it is impossible for us to live in this world without being an offense to others.  Some are an offense because they could care less about pleasing God and living for Him.  However, we can be an offense even when we want to please God, simply because we have a heart of flesh.  Christ is calling those who want to follow him to learn to deal with sins that inevitably crop up between them and others.

Jesus then pronounces a woe upon those who offend others.  This is a warning that when we walk this way (offending each other) we are headed for grief.  Like the Rich Man we will wake up one day to find ourselves weeping and crying for mercy.  Jesus gives very stern warning to those who do not take these matters seriously and learn to restrain themselves.  Even though Jesus does not flesh out what the woe would detail, it is clear that it can involve a number of things.  How we treat one another can affect our eternal destinies.  But, it can also affect our lives in the here and now.  It can bring grief to every one of our relationships and spoil the good it is intended for.  In fact, many times people who reject being a part of Christ’s Church do so out of hurt and bitterness.  They see Christians sinning against each other without dealing with it and it causes them to reject Jesus.  What a woeful condition we can find ourselves in when we reject God’s way and follow our own.

Ultimately Jesus is challenging us to pay attention to ourselves.  It is our tendency to be so focused on the sin of others that we pay little attention to our own.  We are told to “pay attention” to ourselves.  Inspect, and analyze how you treat others and how you respond to them.  Make sure there is no cause for stumbling within you.  It would be good to recognize that even if someone sins against us, there is a secondary temptation for us to sin against them.  Thus, especially in this situation we need to watch ourselves carefully.

Now the way Jesus lays this out, it doesn’t seem that there is much mercy.  I believe he puts it so sternly because our pride does not need coddled.  Yet, we know that God does not just warn us of woes, but also calls us to take advantage of the grace He has provided in order for us to deal with our sin correctly.  The heart of this instruction is that we work on not sinning against each other and that we exercise mercy with each other regardless of what side of the problem we find ourselves.  When we think of the rich man and Lazarus we clearly see the warning for the rich man.  But, Lazarus was being tempted to fall and to be trapped in the sin of bitterness and unbelief.  He could have refused to serve a God who would allow such a horrible life to happen to him, and yet, he clearly kept his faith in God.  What a sad turn to this story it would be if Lazarus would have been filled with such bitterness and hatred that he found himself right beside the rich man in the fires of Hell.

Reconcile With Those Who Sin Against You

Though Jesus doesn’t use the word reconcile here, the two instructions he does give to those who are sinned against are what help believers overcome the separating influence of sin and keep themselves tied together in relationship.  Sins separate, but forgiveness overcomes that separation.  Thus God does not give us any excuses to pull away from working things out with each other.

So, verse 3 gives the first instruction to you when someone sins against you.  Rebuke them.  Now that word sounds pretty harsh, but it simply means to correct them.  It is easy when we are hurt to lash out angrily or to retreat silently.  Neither one is a godly response to sin.  The believer is under a command from the Lord to face it when others sin against us and to deal with it.  Yet, correcting someone is a skill that needs to be honed.  Just as you were not born able to walk, so you are not born able to correct.  Sure you can do it, but are you causing more damage than good?  In this case we can be so right, in that we were sinned against, and yet so wrong, in that we rebuke harshly and angrily.

Now let me remind us that not all things are big enough to merit a rebuke.  We cannot expect people to speak and act perfectly all the time.  Little things that are merely aggravations can be and should be overlooked.  1 Peter 4:8 reminds us, “Above all things have fervent love for one another, for ‘love will cover a multitude of sins.’”  Now that doesn’t mean we are covering up sins.  But rather we cover it much like we would cover a bill for which someone else is short the money.  Also in Proverbs 19:11 it is said this way, “The discretion of a man makes him slow to anger, and his glory is to overlook a transgression.”  Thus discretion is found in thinking about ourselves and how we need to give mercy to others that we expect from them.

So how do we properly correct each other?  Ephesians 4:15 tells us to speak the truth in love with one another.  Love is that guiding principle that should surround our decision to correct someone.  This takes some serious time spent in prayer asking for wisdom as to what to say and for control over our own spirit.  I can sin against my brother in how I rebuke him.

Thus we are to correct and then forgive our brother.  Now forgiveness is a skill that needs to be honed as well.  We all have emotional barriers to overcome in order to truly forgive someone.  When we truly forgive someone we release them from the desire for justice we could hold over them.  When I see them their sin is no longer a part of the picture because I have released them from it.  Now this passage assumes a brother repents.  What do you do if he won’t repent?  You have to go to Matthew 18 for that information.  But let me just say that it follows the same spirit of this passage.  You must reconcile with your brother as far as is possible from your side.  There is no choice, if you are going to follow Jesus, and you are never free to flee from reconciliation.  Thus in Matthew 18 we first correct our brother in private and without telling others what happened.  If the brother rejects us then we widen the circle and bring in one or two others to try and help us reconcile.  If he still refuses to repent then we take it before the Church and its elders.  If a person still refuses to repent even when faced with a whole church that is calling him to repentance he would be treated as if he wasn’t a believer.  Of course at any time he could repent and rejoin the assembly.  But, until then, he would not be received as a brother.  Why?  If he was truly following Jesus he would have no problem repenting.  Today we can get offended and go down the street to another church.  This is a weakness in the church today.  Instead of being reconciled and becoming more like Christ, we are fractured and become more like the spirit of this world.  God forgive us for running from reconciliation, repentance, and forgiveness.

In fact Jesus goes on to instruct us not to limit our forgiveness.  Even if your brother sins 7 times in one day and continues to ask forgiveness, we must forgive him.  There is no wiggle room to deny the repentant forgiveness.  We are under a command.  Now seven times is amazing to us.  We would question such a person’s sincerity.  However, the truth is that our flesh questions their sincerity on time number one.  If he is not sincere then his master (Jesus) will take care of that.  The rich man did all manner of religious things in his life, but eventually his lack of sincerity caught up with him.  Quit worrying about a person’s sincerity and start worrying about your own soul.  Yes, we can even rebuke a person regarding their sincerity or lack thereof.  But we still must do so in order to reconcile and out of love.  Now, seven is not some lucky number that allows us to quit forgiving.  Elsewhere, Jesus gives the number 70X7, i.e. 490.  The numbers are really meant to be so incredulous so as to cure us from counting.  Love keeps no record of wrongs, i.e. it doesn’t keep count.  Instead it speaks the truth in love and forgives.  If you limit your forgiveness to others, do you not limit it to yourself?  If you are merciless to others are you not asking God to be merciless to you?  Think on this.

We Have A Duty To God

Now Jesus ends on a note of duty.  He does so particularly because his disciples are amazed at what he expects of them.  “Increase our faith.”  Now surely this is a prayer we all should pray.  However, that is not what they are doing.  It is the equivalent of saying, how in the world do you expect us to do that!  Lord, I don’t have enough faith to do that!  Now before we talk about duty let us all understand that God wants us to do the right thing for more than duty.  He would rather we obey Him out of love for Him and also a love for His character, and the way that He does things.  Our obedience is best when it is the cry of faith, “I want to be like you, Lord!”  Yet, underlying this higher motivation must be a foundation understanding that I am also duty bound.  Like a foundation is to a building, so duty is to our desire to be like God.  When a hurricane strikes and wipes out a house, it leaves behind a foundation.  So, there are times when our desire to be like God and our love for him is wiped away in the storm and trial of temptation.  Yet, there must always be a foundational response of duty before God.  If you are a follower of Jesus then you have become a servant of God, duty-bound to Him.  Duty can save us when our own love fails us.  But, we must never settle for duty as the sole motivation.  We must build upon this foundation a whole structure of love and desire to be like Jesus.

Now the instructions of Jesus make it clear that the disciples do not need their faith increased.  You do not need great faith to follow these commands.  You need only a small amount of faith.  The amount of faith is not the problem.  It is my own stubborn pride.  The problem isn’t that I can’t believe and do it, it is that I don’t want to do it.  It is simple to do and yet hard because my flesh fights it so.

Yet, even our pride and wounds can be overcome.  The mulberry bush in this passage represents the root and bush of the sin of unforgiveness and bitterness that can grow in our hearts.  If we even have a mustard seed of faith in Jesus we can send our own bitterness into the sea of God’s forgiveness.  If we even trust Jesus one speck we could free our brother from his sins against us.  It is only our pride that stands in the way of forgiving another person.  So why am I so prideful?  And, if it causes me to reject the command of Jesus, am I truly trusting and believing upon Him?

Thus, the call to duty is given by Christ.  There is a reward for those who will serve him in this matter.  Yes, a reward in the life to come, for sure.  However, there is a reward in this life.  We will be enabled to become one with a spouse, and to raise a family.  We will be enabled to build a church body that brings honor to God.  We will be able to be a peaceful influence everywhere we go and enjoy the fruits of brotherly love rather than the bitterness of selfish endeavors.  We will be rewarded according to what masters us.  So who is your master, your own fleshly pride or Jesus?

Being Offended mp3