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Weekly Word

Entries in Gospel (14)

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.

Wednesday
Jul152015

The Test of Freedom

July 5, 2015--Luke 18:31-34

This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner.  The following is only a summary of it.  Please click the audio link at the end of the article to listen to it.

This weekend we are celebrating 239 years since our declaration of independence from King George of the British Empire in A.D. 1776.  Looking back, we can see how that freedom has been tested in many different ways over the centuries.  First it was tested by the War of Independence itself.  Once that test had been passed we were tested on whether or not we could govern ourselves.  This gave rise to the constitution in 1789.  Of course other tests involved the Civil War in the 1800's, our rise as a global economic power since WWII, and throughout the last 70 years the test of our spiritual and moral fortitude.  Freedom is not a right we can demand.  It is a condition we can enjoy, but will always be tested.  Our founding fathers believed that it was the right of all men to be free simply because they are created by God and He intends them to be free.  Do we still believe that?

The story of the Bible is one of the enslavement of men and God’s consequent work to free men from it.  It is not God who enslaves us.  We are enslaved by our own sins to do the will of the devil.  Jesus in John 8:36 tells us, “if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”  We also see in the Bible, 2 Cor 3:17, “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”  Whether or not America will pass the tests of today and remain free, every believer in Jesus needs to recognize that, regardless of society, they can remain free as individuals who have embraced Jesus, the only true source of freedom.

Jesus frees us to trust God

In Luke 18:31-34 we see that the disciples did not really understand the plan and purposes of God in Jesus.  In retrospect we can see it is all about freedom, but for them it looked like Jesus was refusing to free them.  The interaction of Jesus with the rich man earlier in this chapter is ultimately about a man enslaved by trust in his wealth, rather than God.  Thus Jesus calls this man to embrace freedom and let go of his slavery. Of course he walks away sad because he is not sure he wants to be free from what enslaves him.  He would rather have both.  I want to have my cake and eat it too.  However, freedom often requires us to choose what we want more.

The call to freedom comes from Jesus to whoever will listen.  Leave everything else behind and follow me.  Peter recognizes that they had done that in verse 28. The disciples had successfully navigated the test that the rich man failed (at least in this moment).  Jesus of course recognized that what Peter says is true.  In fact the things they have lost have been replaced with something that is more and yet different, as Pastor Nick shared with us last week.  Though they left their families and jobs behind, Jesus had made them part of a new family with a new job.  They had trusted God and wanted Him more than their previous lives.

Yet something else needed to happen.  Jesus is not just a way of looking at the world and living life. He had to do a real work of freeing us from the guilt and judgment of our sins.  Thus Jesus takes the 12 aside in order to remind them where he was headed, that is the cross. Our sins keep us from freedom by leading us off the path of trusting God’s way.  No matter how much we want to be with God the desires of our flesh continually pull us away from God and separate us from Him.  They also keep us from freedom by the guilt and judgment that stands in the way of getting back on God’s path.  Jesus is not just our great example.  He is that and much more.  He is also our Sin Remover; our Punishment Surrogate; our Willing Scapegoat.  He sacrificed himself for our freedom.  Thus, it is one thing to embrace Jesus as a means of having a wonderful life.  It is quite another to follow Him through the cross and to the other side.

To stay free is to keep trusting God

Once having been given freedom it is important to hold on to it.  Your flesh, the world, & the devil fight against that freedom.  The only way to retain freedom is to keep trusting God.  "He who endures until the end shall be saved."  The endurance here is not about human strength, but about faith.  If we hold our faith in God and His Son, Jesus, we will remain in His freedom.

Our faith is never more tested than when we have to walk a difficult path and endure the hostility of sinners.  Jesus takes time to point them to the hostilities and difficulties that lie ahead.  This is the 3rd time Luke records Jesus telling them about the difficult death ahead of him. Yes, we are tested in just taking hold of the call to freedom.  But we are also tested in the holding on to it. Difficult paths can cause us to shrink away from freedom and retreat back into the slavery of self-life.  Jesus warned his disciples that to follow him, they would need to pick up their own cross. Difficult times lay ahead.  In fact he would be mocked, insulted, spit upon, scourged, and killed. They would not stand by him in his darkest hour, which would become a guilt and shame hanging over their head.  These things would test them severely.  What are we willing to endure in order to retain freedom as an individual?  As a nation?  The Israelites of the first century A.D. had a choice to make.  They could cling to the hope of national freedom of Israel, or they could let go of it and obtain the freedom that no dictator or terrorist can take away; freedom in Jesus.  Is there a hope for freedom of America in the days ahead?  As long as there is a God there is hope.  However, even nations can cross lines that bring about the judgment of God.  Yet, even if this nation is without hope of turning back, we as individuals must stand with Joshua and say, "As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord."  We cannot lose the greater in trying to keep the lesser.  Perhaps the time has come for American Christians to make a choice.  Is your love for this country greater than your love for Jesus?  It is easy to conflate the two.

So how can one remain free when faced with such choices?  Ultimately freedom was won by the sacrifice of Jesus on our behalf.  In a similar manner, the natural freedom of our nation was won by the sacrifice of men and women who put their lives on the line. This principle cannot be avoided: freedom is only maintained by sacrifice.  As Christians we follow a Lord who sacrificed earthly glory in order to give us true freedom.  So how can I put my life on the line for this nation?  Yes we can join militaries and police forces and fight against evil.  But even that finds a dead end when whole nations embrace wickedness and reject God.  The way of the cross has never been about saving the body of a man or the body politic of a nation.  Jesus and his disciples are our model.  They did not shrink back because the path was difficult.  Rather, they pushed ahead even to the point of laying down their lives as fishermen and Israelites.  They did this for themselves but also for the sake of those who would follow behind them.  They wanted others to be free.

When you trust God it does not mean the path will be easy.  But God has always aided His people against the forces of tyranny.  Even when those forces seem invincible.  He has pledged to free the world from this age of the darkness of man’s rebellion and the tyranny that forever chases us like a howling wolf.  We must trust that.  We must pick up our cross and follow Him.  Let’s be the light in this dark and perverse generation so that some may believe and find freedom.

Test of Freedom Audio

Sunday
Mar222015

Invitation To The Great Supper

Tuesday
Sep162014

Consequences: Rejecting the Gospel

Today we will be looking at Luke 10:12-16.  Here Jesus points out the consequences of rejecting the Gospel.  In some ways we are a generation in rebellion against this principle of cause and effect.  We like it when it allows us to create new technology.  But we do not like it when it gets in the way of our sin.  Sin always has destructive consequences in your life, of which the ultimate one is eternal judgment.

Jesus had just finished telling his disciples how to deal with rejection.  They were to shake the dust off of their feet as evidence against that city and those people.  They had heard the gospel.  Now Jesus turns to speak to those cities regarding the consequences.  Do you recognize that our decisions and choices in life have many consequences, and that some of those may be eternal?  Yes, some choices are about small matters and have minimal consequences.  But, rejecting the gospel of Jesus has eternal consequences.  Thus Jesus warns them of the coming Day of Judgment.  Jesus uses a term translated as “woe.”  It is more a cry than it is a word.  It is used to simulate the cry that comes from a person who is receiving punishment or judgment.  Woe is coming upon this world, and woe to those who refuse to hear the truth.

The Greater Witness

Jesus points out that some people have receive a greater witness of the Truth of God than others.  Greater here can mean in content.  Some had received a testimony of the law and yet others had received the greater testimony of the Gospel.  Although the Gospel is in the Law it is there in seed form.  In the gospel we see those seeds as full grown and flourishing plants.  However, some have received greater witness in the sense of the person and power displayed.  Sodom did have a witness of righteousness in the person of Lot.  However, Lot did not do any miracles that we know of.  Yet, the people of Capernaum had Jesus and his disciples who came healing all who came to them and casting out any demons.  Thus Jesus says in verse 15 that Capernaum was “exalted to the heavens.”  Of all Israel this city had received the greatest portion of Christ’s ministry, not because they deserved it more, but because that is just how things happened.  Jesus stayed in the north because it was not his time yet and Jerusalem was too hostile towards him.  His own town did not really want him around either.  Thus the cities of the Sea of Galilee received a greater portion of God’s grace to that age.

Yet, all peoples will be held accountable for that witness that they did receive.  These cities are being used to represent those who lived within them.  Jesus is not just warning cities, but in actuality, those individuals who lived within them.  Though some have received more witness and some less, all had received enough to believe.  In the Gospel of John Jesus had said, “My sheep hear my voice.”  Those who are hungry for truth will drink of it when it is given, regardless of the amount.  This Day of Accountability comes in two ways.  Sodom had received a judgment from God in which the whole city was destroyed and disappeared from the face of the earth.  This represents an extreme judgment while one is alive upon the earth.  They are not always this extreme.  But, we often experience God’s judgment against sin throughout our lives in various ways.  Yet, Jesus speaks of a judgment upon Sodom that is future.  Here he refers to The Final Judgment that takes place at the end of this age.  It is a judgment that is after our death and has eternal consequences.  Jesus says that it will be more tolerable for Sodom at the Final Judgment than it will be for Capernaum.  How could this be?  It will be this way because Capernaum had received far more than Sodom and yet would still ultimately reject Christ.

Think of each of these ancient cities.  Sodom, Tyre and Sidon were all Gentile cities that had received clear and overwhelming judgments from God.  Each of them had received some witness of the truth, whether through the lives of the righteous, or warnings from prophets.  It was easy for Israel to look down upon these cities as wicked and doomed by God’s judgment.  But they couldn’t see the same problem within themselves.  Just like Sodom, Capernaum would be brought down to hades, or the grave.  Not only will the inhabitants die, but the city will be completely destroyed too. 

So what is a “more tolerable” judgment?  Jesus is not saying that they will get off without judgment.  The inhabitants of both Sodom and Capernaum will suffer judgment.  But those who had the greater witness will receive a greater judgment.  There are several verses within the New Testament that mention different degrees of punishment in hell.  We are given no details which has lead to the imagination of men to write books like Dante’s “Inferno.”  But, recognize that lesser punishment is no great hope.  It is the greater punishment that is meant to be a warning to Capernaum, Chorazin, and Bethsaida.  Though the degrees of punishment are not detailed they are presented as a matter of fact.  Here is one of them.  Luke 12:47-48.

“And that servant who knew his master’s will, and did not prepare himself or do according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes.  But he who did not know, yet committed things deserving of stripes, shall be beaten with few.  For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more.”

Thus, the key is to take full advantage of the truth and witness that God gives you.  No one will be held accountable for what they didn’t receive.  Sometimes we have the tendency to expect God to “prove” himself to us.  I will not believe unless God does such and such exactly to my specifications.  Be careful of such an attitude.  God has revealed himself to you in a way for which you will be accountable.  You can miss the blessing of that witness because it is not “great” enough.

Rejecting His Disciples Is Rejecting Jesus

Jesus ends this with the statement that his disciples represent him.  He has appointed and sent them.  Down through the ages this teaching has been passed down.  To reject these teachers was to reject Christ himself.  Now it is clear that not all who claim to represent Christ actually do.  They represent their own selfish motivations.  Yet, this is not an excuse to reject those who really do represent Christ.  We are fooling ourselves if we say that no one represents Jesus.  This is a warning to both Churches and to those who judge them.  It is a warning to both Christians and those who despise them.  We will be held accountable for what God has given us.  Lastly, Jesus is equated with the Father.  To reject Jesus is to reject God the Father.  Many say they serve God, but refuse to accept Jesus.  This is tragic because the Father sent Jesus.  Jesus is his plan.  He wants you to know that and is working to reveal that truth to you.  There is no other way.  Don’t use your devotion to God as a means of cloaking your rejection of Jesus because to reject Jesus is actually rejecting the Father himself.

Final Thoughts

America has received a great quantity and quality of God’s witness compared to many other places.  Will we not go through difficult things in this life and in the Final Judgment because of this?  Don’t harden your heart because you don’t think it is great enough.  In fact, many from places that have received far less witness are pressing into the Kingdom of God ahead of Americans.  We most certainly have judgments coming within this life at every level: individual, city, state, and the nation as a whole.  Unless we repent and turn in faith to Jesus it is unavoidable.  The warning signs are all around us and in fact we are already knee deep in it.  Yet, even now, if we will turn from our wicked ways and turn towards Jesus we can be saved.

God loves us and will be faithful to give us enough in order to believe.  Great miracles are no guarantee of faith.  Many have perished and gone on to judgment in spite of amazing miraculous things.  Look at the grace and truth He is pouring out to you even now and believe.

Consequences audio