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Entries in Ministry (5)


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


The Fire of God's Judgment II

2 Kings 2:1-15.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on March 18, 2018.

Last week we saw how the fire of God was a symbol of the judgment of the wicked, that is, when they are found to be lacking before God.  This week we will see that the fire of God can also be seen as a judgment of the righteous, in that they are found to be acceptable to God.

This amazing story of Elijah’s ascension into heaven may raise the hackles of all cynics and skeptics.  However, it is in the Scripture for a reason.  It challenges our understanding of what is possible, but it also teaches us the ultimate purpose of God.  Though mankind knew that each person would one day die and go into the grave, in the persons of Enoch and Elijah, the righteous are given the hope, even the understanding, that the grave is not their final destiny.  God is able to take whom He will into the heavens with Him.  It is in the examples of Enoch and Elijah that we see that God does not intend the righteous to share the same fate as the wicked, even though our experience tells us that they all end up in the same place.  God will do what is necessary in order to lift the righteous into His presence.  

Let me encourage you today.  Even though our Heavenly Father is a consuming fire, we need not fear Him if we are walking in faith in His Son, Jesus.  The same power that takes the wicked down in judgment is the power that will lift you up into the presence of God, according to His judgment.

Elijah’s last mission

We are told right off the bat that Elijah is going to be taken into heaven in a whirlwind.  So if you pictured Elijah riding in the fiery chariot, you will see later that this is not the case.  This is to be Elijah’s last mission and as he follows the instructions of the Lord, he is led to the place where he will leave this world.

It is clear that it has become common knowledge that Elijah is to be taken by God, at least among the prophets and those who served them.  Either Elijah has made God’s plan known to the other prophets or it was another prophet who public ally prophesied that Elijah would be taken on a particular day.  Nevertheless, we see the “sons of the prophets” warning Elisha of what is about to occur.

Who are these “sons of the prophets?”  This is metaphorical language, which speaks of a person (like Elisha was to Elijah) who serves a prophet.  In some cases this would function much like we see with Jesus and his disciples.  They followed him around, lived with him, and learned from him.  It was often done in the hopes that eventually they would become like their masters, i.e. prophets.  The proven, elder prophet would be training those who came to them.  In Elijah’s case there is only one servant, but it is clear from this passage that some of these groups were quite large with 50 people mentioned at Jericho.  Now we do see a resurgence of the idea of a “school of prophets” today.  People will take classes and learn how to be a prophet.  We do need to be careful with this idea.  Not everyone who served the prophets became prophets themselves.  A person could not call themselves to be a prophet by just showing up.  To be a prophet was made clear by the fact that God was clearly speaking to them and through them.  Thus it might seem cool to be a prophet, but going to a school or hanging out with a prophet does not necessarily make you one.  This is up to God.  Even then, even those with the calling of becoming a prophet, and who will become people of great faith, need to learn and grow in the area of hearing God and representing Him.  

Now we see Elijah going from town to town.  In each town he tries to get Elisha to stay there while he goes on.  Now this could be seen as Elijah wanting privacy in this intimate time of his life.  However, it is more than likely that Elijah is testing Elisha, in order to see if he will stay the course.  It is important in life to do more than just want to do something.  We must also learn to follow through.  Of course, it is important what your target is, and Elisha desires a good thing: to be with Elijah when he is taken by the Lord.  Sometimes God does not give us what we want immediately to see if we will persist.

When Elijah and Elisha get to the Jordan River, we are told that 50 sons of the prophets are watching in the distance.  At this point, Elijah performs an amazing miracle, he strikes the river with his rolled up mantle and it parts in two that he and Elisha can walk through on the ground.  Why would God instruct Elijah to do this?  It is not like they couldn’t cross at the fords.  One thing to see here is that it will give credence to the fantastic story that Elisha will tell when he gets back.  Second of all, it will demonstrate that the power of God that was with Elijah has not left.  It is now with Elisha.  But more on that later.  

Suffice it to say that this miracle of parting the waters is a signature act of God.  The Jordan River was parted three times: by Joshua, by Elijah here, and as we will soon read by Elisha.  We also see in the Bible that Moses parted the Red Sea so that all of Israel could escape from the armies of Pharaoh.  Why all this parting of water?  It harkens back to the creation account where we are told that God separates the waters of the heavens from the waters of the earth.  It is a way of God saying, “I’m here!”

On the other side of the Jordan, Elijah asks Elisha what last thing he can do for him before he leaves.  Here Elisha asks for a double-portion of Elijah’s spirit.  Many teachers have made a big deal about Elisha performing exactly twice as many miracles as Elijah.  That may be true.  However, Elisha is not asking to do twice as many miracles or to be twice as powerful as Elijah.  A double-portion is terminology that goes with matters of inheritance.  Elijah is about to be taken from the earth.  Typically one would put their affairs in order and have a will to bequeath all their effects to their inheritors.  In Israel the estate would be divided between the sons in a way where the eldest would receive two portions compared to the other brothers.  For example, if there were three sons then the estate would be divided into 4 parts.  The eldest would get two (50%) and each of the other brothers would get 1 part (25%).  This was a picture of the blessing of God upon the eldest who would now be taking the place of the family patriarch.  Elisha is not worried about getting a material inheritance because Elijah did not amass any estate in this life.  What Elisha wants is a spiritual inheritance, and is essentially asking to take Elijah’s place, or to be used by God in the same way.  IT is interesting that God has given His Spirit to all who put their faith in Jesus Christ.  As Elisha looked to Elijah, the man of God, and hoped to have the same Spirit, so we must learn to look to Jesus and ask the Father that the Spirit of Christ would rest upon us and empower us for what we need in order to face this life.  May we become the spiritual inheritors of Christ.  In fact, in Christ we can all inherit a “double-portion” of His Spirit.

At some point as they are talking, a fiery chariot with fiery horses speeds between the two, separating them.  Then Elijah is caught up by a whirlwind that supposedly is in the wake of the chariot.  What Elisha actually saw is not told to us, we simply have his description of what it looked like.  Regardless, we see Elijah ascending into heaven in a fiery whirlwind.  This is not quite as grand and majestic as the ascension of Jesus in Acts 1.  But it is amazing, nonetheless.

I mentioned in the opening that Elijah and Enoch are unique in the Old Testament in that it is not said that they died, and that they do not go into the grave, but up towards heaven.  In fact Hebrews 11:5 tells us that Enoch did not see death.  This raises all sorts of questions.  Is it possible for a material being to be in heaven?  Isn’t it supposed to be a place for spirits only?  Well, Jesus has a material body and He is seated at the right hand of God.  I know that his is a glorified body, but I want us to see that there is much we do not understand about the physics of the material world and the spiritual world.  Because these two men of the Old Testament do not see death, and Malachi prophesies that Elijah will return before the coming of the Messiah, some have speculated that perhaps they are the two witnesses of Revelation 11.  We don’t have time to go into this today.  However, I would just say that it is clear that we are leaving the strong foundation of biblical witness and crawling out on the thin limb of speculation or opinion, at this point.  Regardless, of the full extent of its implications, the ascension of Elijah gives the righteous the hope that we too shall dwell with God by His mighty power.

Elisha begins his new ministry

As Elijah is taken up into heaven, we see the shock and amazement of Elisha as he cries out, “My father, my father, the chariot and the horsemen of Israel.”  Father here is a metaphorical term of endearment that is the complement to “son of the prophet.”  This spiritual chariot and horsemen convinced Elisha that the real defenses and protection of Israel came from God Himself.  In 2 Kings 2:6, Elisha and his servant Gehazi will be surrounded by the king of Syria.  We are told that Elisha prayed, “Open his eyes, Lord, so that he may see.”  Then the Lord opened the servants eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.  We must never look to the things of this world as our true defenses and help.  It is God’s spiritual defense and help that is our true source.

Elijah’s mantle had fallen to the ground as he was snatched up.  A mantle was often designed in such a way that was indicative of both the profession a person had, and the individual themselves.  Thus Elisha taking up the mantle of Elijah is symbolic of him stepping into the shoes of Elijah.  God would now work powerfully through Elisha as He had with Elijah.  This is how it has always been in God’s kingdom.  Those who have gone before must train and disciple those who are coming behind.  At some point the older generation passes on and the younger generation must step into their shoes, and carry on the work of the Lord.  Not all are called to be prophets as Elijah and Elisha were.  However, there is a calling on our life which asks us to pick up a mantle that has been left behind.  We must learn to bravely pick up the mantle of what God calls us to do, not because we are confident in ourselves, but because we trust the God who is calling us.

As Elisha comes back to the Jordan River, he cries out, “Where is the God of Elijah?”  In the mouth of a foreign warlord, this would be seen as a mocking question.  But in Elisha’s mouth it is simply asking, “God are you still with us and in particular me?”  It is also important for the sons of the prophets who see Elisha coming back.  The question, and God’s response will highlight in their mind that God is with Elisha like He was with Elijah.  Did they ever get a show that day.  When Elisha strikes the river, it parts again (twice in one day).  They witness that the spirit of Elijah was on Elisha.  That spirit is the Holy Spirit of God.  May God help us to see what He is calling us to do.  In a way we are all prophets.  We have been given a message from God to share with all those around us who do not know it.  We must learn to trust Him to give us direction and empower us to do it.  Thus each day is a new day to rise up and ask, “God are you still with me?  Help me to walk with you today as long as I have time left on this earth.”

God's Judgement II audio


Greatness in God's Kingdom

Today we are going to be in Luke 9:46-50.  Here we are going to see some rivalry between the disciples of Jesus.  Throughout the Bible we run into different kinds of rivalries: between siblings, within marriages, between nations, and here among God’s leaders.  At the heart of rivalries is often the desire to have the attention or favor of a parent, or spouse, or even God himself.  There is nothing wrong with wanting favor.  However, when we want that favor at the expense of another it is wrong.  These situations can take on a whole life of their own, in which even siblings who are now adults continue to fight each other long after their parents are gone.

The disciples could not understand that the powerful workings of Christ were leading to a cross, rather than to the throne of Israel.  In their mind power means greatness and greatness means the throne.  This is the kind of worldly thinking that causes us to chafe against the ways of the Lord.  We need to change how we view greatness and lowliness in serving God.

Which Of Us Is The Greatest?

So let’s look at verses 46-48 to discover which of us is the greatest.  Somewhere along the road the disciples began to have strife with each other.  This strife developed into a dispute among them as to which of them was greatest.  Now the word “dispute” here is literally reasoning or a line of reasoning without reference to whether it is in one’s head or actually spoken to others.  The term “among” them also is general in nature.  Whether every single one of them thought they were the greatest or not, a spirit of self-promotion had come into the group and had lead to friction.  Apparently these disputes were not happening in front of Jesus because it says that he “perceived” their rivalry and the source of it.

Now if we were to answer the disciples we might piously state, “Knock it off!  Jesus is the greatest, period!”  However, the disciples are not thinking they are greater than Jesus.  They really are arguing over 2nd place.  Which of us will have the prestige of being the Right Hand of Jesus?  So Jesus goes to the heart of the matter.  In truth some will serve Christ greater than others.  In the coming Kingdom some will have greater positions of authority than others.  Who will it be?

Now we need to recognize up front that we pretty much always see things in our favor and this not righteous.  Let me describe a scenario for you.  So you are watching a sporting event in which you don’t care about either team.  However, you have two buddies who are each strong supporters of different teams.  As penalties and friction happen in the game you will see them arguing strongly against each other.  “That was a foul!  No it wasn’t!”  Of course when the situation is reversed the guy who thought it was a foul before will suddenly not see it as a foul now, simply because he doesn’t want it to be a foul.  Our sin nature infects the way that we think and tends to bring up thoughts and lines of reasoning that justify ourselves and condemn others.  This self-promotion over the top of others is not good.  In fact, it is contrary to the way of Jesus.  It is the source to their inability to understand the purpose of Jesus’ ministry.  Think about this truth.  Our thinking will tend to go against the way of Jesus and towards our own self-promotion, or greatness.  Such things lead to division and dissension among Christians, and is an open door to the work of the enemy.  If we want to follow Jesus we are going to have to drop the concern of our own promotion.

Now Jesus answers this by using a child as an object lesson.  In this situation the child represents someone who has zero status.  He may belong to Jesus, but he is low on the scale of greatness.  To receive this child can mean many things.  But, in this situation it probably focuses on ministry.  People were often coming to Jesus asking for help.  When he “received” them, he was allowing them not just to come to him, but also be healed.  Jesus equates ministering to those of zero status as the same as ministering to God Himself, who has the greatest status.  Notice that we don’t tend to think that way.  Wouldn’t you rather be the right hand man of the King rather than the right hand man of a pig farmer?  Doesn’t one seem like a position that is “greater” than the other?  Yet, Jesus is equating them.  This is a hard lesson to learn emotionally.  We may understand it intellectually, but our heart and desires resist this way to which Jesus points us.

Jesus then tells them that “He who is least among you all will be great.”  He is basically telling that if they want to be great they need to seek the lowest place.  His answer is really challenging our definitions.  The least, by their definition, would be great, by God’s definition.  The beauty of this answer is that Jesus tells them to quit seeking what they think is the “greatest place” and start seeking what they see as the “lowest place.”  It is a rebuke to humble their minds and hearts.  This is more than simply refraining from promoting yourself.  This is a radical 180 degree turn to actually demote their self.  In this world you will probably never see anyone ask for a demotion.  All of this hinges on changing our worldly reasoning and definitions about greatness.  John the Baptist understood this when he said to his disciples, “He must increase, but I must decrease.”  Though John would be tested on this declaration when he was put in prison, He understood that It was not about him.  It was all about Jesus.  This is a principle we need to live by within our own life.  The thinking and actions of Jesus need to increase in my life and the old thinking and actions need to decrease.  Jesus must be promoted in my life and I must be demoted.  Seek the lowest place.

Before we leave this; notice that Jesus does use the word “greater” or even greatest.  He merely says great.  Greater and greatest are terms of comparison.  Whereas great is a term that simply describes one despite its relationship to others.  This attitude of comparison is something that we need to flee.  The disciples are not simply wanting to be great, but wanting to be greater than each other. In 2 Corinthians 10:12 Paul states, “We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves.  When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise.”  The disciples were being foolish and opening a door for the enemy in their lives.  In Christ all ministry is measured by our faith in God and faithfulness to what He gives us.  If he sends us a small child then we will minister unto that small child as if it were God himself.  We can be great because we do it out of love for Him and by His direction.  If we are given a task by the greatest one it is by definition a great task.

Our Desire For Greatness Squelches Ministry

In verses 49-50 we see that our desire for ministry can get in the way of ministry and even stop it.  Sometimes instead of trying to completely shut down ministry we can simply try to control it.  Jesus rebukes such activity.

When Jesus tells them to receive a small child in His name, John is remind of a man that they had not received.  He tells Jesus the situation and Jesus tells him that they had acted wrongly.  They had come upon a guy who was casting out demons in the name of Jesus.  They told him to stop because he wasn’t one of the 12.  Up to this point they are the only ones that Jesus had told to do this.  They were being territorial over this kind of ministry.  “Who do you think you are?”  It is most likely that this guy had seen the disciples themselves ministering and casting out demons in the name of Jesus and had decided to follow their example.

Now one thing we need to recognize is that this guy must have had faith in Jesus.  He is doing the same thing the disciples did.  Whereas in Acts 19 the 7 sons of Sceva, who are not believers in Jesus, tried casting out demons “by the name of Jesus that Paul preaches…”  The demon states that it knows who Paul and Jesus are but not them and proceeds to beat the guys up.  The ability to cast out the demons demonstrates that the guy had true believing faith in Jesus.  So why shut down a fellow believer who is only doing what Jesus told us to do?  There is no room for such rivalry in the Kingdom of God.  It is a wrong spirit and opens the door for the enemy to sow seeds of dissension and destruction.

Jesus states that “He who is not against us is for us.”  This man was not speaking against Jesus.  In fact, he was clearly promoting Jesus.  This statement is the Lord’s stand against cliques that develop within His kingdom.  Now a denomination is not the same thing as a clique.  But it can develop these kind of attitudes of superiority and rejection of others, based merely on their own reasoning and not the reasoning of Christ.

Walking humbly before God and our fellow man is not an easy thing for our flesh.  It runs counter to our sinful nature.  This is why we are told to daily crucify our sinful nature.  There is going to be friction, and we are going to have to continually die to our self, and humble ourselves before one another, and forgive each other. Greatness for the believer is about following Jesus who laid his life down for us.  It is about laying our lives down for each other.

Greatness Audio


Parable of the Soils

Today we will be looking at Luke 8:1-15 where the question is asked.  What is the condition of my heart?  It is good for us to be in the audience when God’s Word is being spoken.  However, even more important than being able to hear the Word of God is to be ready to receive it.  Our heart is even more important than our ears.  If a person is deaf then we can work around that obstacle to help them know God’s Word.  But we are in trouble when our hearts do not want to hear what God is saying.

Have you ever wondered why churches often worship in song before hearing the Word?  Music has a way of clearing our mind of everything but what is being sung about.  It is a way of preparing our heart to be in the right condition to receive God’s Word.  This is the issue in the parable we will see today.  Let’s look at these verses.

Jesus Ministered in Every City

When Jesus first began ministering, he was by himself.  But, he quickly drew together 12 disciples who would go with him wherever he went.  It was at this point that our text tells us Jesus purposefully set out to visit each city and village in Israel.  Whether in the synagogue or outside the city on its hills, Jesus went throughout all of Israel to share the good news that God’s Kingdom was at hand.  Jesus did heal people and cast out evil spirits.  But, his main objective was to call people to join the Kingdom of God that had arrived.  God had promised to send to Israel His Anointed King who would set up a kingdom that would never be destroyed.

Luke points out that this group of disciples was more than just the Twelve.  There were some women who also followed Jesus and three of them are mentioned by name.  Mary Magdalene is the most famous person on the list due to the great amount of speculation about her.  Jesus had cast out 7 evil spirits from Mary.  Apparently she was a woman of means because it is mentioned that she and the other two ladies supported Jesus and the Twelve from their finances.  Thus these three women are apparently significant donors.  Now let me just point out that the money is not used to build Jesus a big house or a fancy, beautiful horse, or simply living like a king.  Jesus and the Twelve were able to travel throughout all the cities of Israel without working a job because of the thankful giving of people like these three women.  This money would be used to help feed and shelter them all.  We are told that Judas, who was the treasurer, was dipping into the money.  However, he did so at the expense of his own soul.  To misappropriate finances that are donated to the Lord’s work is to bring judgment upon your own head.  It is at this point that Luke introduces this parable.

Jesus Often Told Parables

The parable is sometimes called the Parable of the Sower, but it is really about the soils more.  Thus this Parable of the Soils is about a sower who is casting seed.  It falls on 4 different types of soil.  In the end it will only be fruitful in the good soil.

We are not told where exactly Jesus is.  However, it is likely that he taught this parable many times throughout Israel.  So it is less important where he is.  When Jesus would tell a parable it was not obvious to the disciples and those listening what he was talking about.  Thus we have the disciples asking for better understanding.  Notice that Jesus tells them that it had been given to them to understand the parables; given to them by God.  Those who had left all to follow Jesus and who fully believed that he was the Anointed One would be the ones who were given understanding.  However, those who stayed a part of the crowd and did not truly believe would not understand.  They are not truly learners of Jesus.  They may hear him, but their hearts are not in the right place.  Jesus even quotes from Isaiah 6 a passage in which God is asking for someone to go speak to Israel for Him.  Of course, Isaiah responds, “Here am I, send me.”  What was the message?  God was going to pour out judgment upon Israel, yet He would keep a remnant.  The Word of God is sent to help the remnant to remain faithful and enter into God’s blessing.  Yet at the same time it is sent to be a testimony against those who do not believe.  The fact that they don’t understand it testifies that their heart is not in the right place.  These are spiritual matters that are explained when Jesus says, “My sheep hear my voice.”  He doesn’t mean literally, but rather spiritually. 

Jesus ends the parable with the phrase, “He who has ears to hear let him hear.”  The book of Revelation has a similar statement in chapters 2 and 3 that are also given by Jesus.  “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”  Notice in those chapters there are those who are to hear the message and be saved.  But there are also some who will hear it and continue on to judgment.  These were supposed to all be Christians.  It is good to be a part of God’s Church physically.  However, if your heart is not right, it still won’t do you any good.

The Spirit of God is always trying to teach us and open our understanding to what God is doing.  But I can be deaf and blind to it, not because I lack intelligence or the physical capabilities, but simply because I am not hungry for what God is trying to give me.

The Parable of the Soils Explained

Jesus first explains that the seed being sown is the Word of God.  1 Peter 1:23 says that we have been born again, “not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the Word of God, which abides forever.”  A seed contains the information to make something.  The thing made is directly related to the seed.  Thus God’s Word is the information and understanding to become a matured son of God.  Just as a seed is powerful and has life in it, so God’s Word is living and active.  It is the power of transforming a person.  Do I receive God’s Word like that?  Now, it is very common to critique speakers; and rightly so.  However, Jesus turns the tables on his hearers.  In critiquing speakers we fail to critique ourselves as hearers.  No matter how imperfect were those who spoke God’s Word to you, you will not have a valid excuse when you stand before God.  No matter how perfect the speaker, if your heart isn’t in the right place, you won’t receive what they have to say and most likely you will use all manner of excuses why you didn’t listen to them.  God’s Word is a seed.  The power is in the information rather than in the person giving it.

Jesus then explains that that the different types of soil are representative of the hearts of men.  It is not just about ear and brain, but also heart condition.  I can look fine on the outside, but inside I may not be as good of soil as I need to be.  Now the truth is not that 25% of us are good soil, but that our heart can be any one of these soils and probably has been all of them at sometime in our life.  But what am I right now?  Let’s look at these heart conditions.

The Soil by the Road-  This soil by the road has two problems.  One is that people keep trampling it so that it cannot grow and then the birds eat it.  Thus our two enemies in life are our negative interactions with people and the devil himself.  The actions of people can stomp out our ability to keep holding on to God’s Word.  It sounds nice until somebody stomps on your heart and then it is impractical.  The spiritual side is that the devil and his spirits are working to get that seed out of your life.  He may not remove it completely from your brain, but he can remove it from your heart.  He can even get you to so insulate your heart that it will never access the Word of God in faith ever again.  Such seed never grows because it is never given opportunity or time to grow.

Rocky Soil-  This is not just about rocks on the surface.  Many places have a thin layer of dirt but is mainly rocks and boulders underneath.  Thus Jesus says these hearts have enough dirt to cause quick growth but the ground cannot hold enough moisture to keep it growing.  The hot sun and lack of water will eventually kill the little growth.  It cannot grow enough roots to keep itself alive.  These are people who are not completely hard hearted.  But yet, they are not soft enough and the Word of God will never grow to maturity.  Instead it will die and never produce fruit.

The Thorny Soil- Here the problem is not depth of soil.  But there are other things growing in the soil.  To our thinking, God’s Word should be the strongest of all plants and choke out everything else.  But that is not how it is.  Jesus warns that the cares of this life can choke out what God cares about.  These cares are literally distractions whether trivial (entertainments) or serious (my job, finances, feeding the family).  My life purpose can be so fixated on the things of the flesh that spiritual concerns are choked out.  I never have any time for them.  Or, they aren’t as fun to do.  Either way, there may be some growth, but the cares of this world keep God’s Word from bringing forth fruit in our life.  We never become what God wants for us to become and do what He has for us to do.

The Good Soil-  Though it doesn’t need much explanation, by definition the good soil doesn’t have the problems of the other three.  We have fenced off the field so people don’t travel through it anymore.  We have removed the rocks and increased the soil depth.  We have taken the time to weed out those things that keep the good seed from growing.  Thus good soil is such because of the purposeful work of the owner of that soil.  What am I doing to prepare my heart to be good soil for the Word of God?  There are many pitfalls in this.  Notice that we often protect ourselves from people by walling ourselves off from them.  But the truth is we need to guard the Word of God in our heart, not our hurt and anger against them.  We need to actively resist the work of the enemy to steal God’s Word out of our heart.  Thus the good soil is the heart that is honest (about my own failings) and good (wanting to have God’s Word grow to maturity).  We remove the thorn bushes by actively letting go of the cares of this world and making God’s work the main pursuit of my life.  It is not easy to go from being all about what I want to do and experience in this life, to being about asking God, “What do you want me to do, Lord?”

Jesus said, “The ones that fell on the good ground are those who having heard the Word with an honest and good heart, keep it and bear fruit with patience.”  Notice that he points out 3 things.  The condition of the heart is that it is honest and good.  But then we must “keep it.”  Keeping the Word is to literally “hold it down.”  How tightly do you hold to the Word of God?  The enemy wants to knock it out of your heart.  He does so in many schemes that involve other people, bad circumstances, and difficulty of life.  But, through it all we have to hold tightly to God’s Word.  Lastly, Jesus uses the word “patiently.”  We have to let God’s Word do its work over the long period of our life.  The human crop takes longer to grow than the plants of this world.  But if we trust God’s Word and hold it firmly, it will accomplish that for which it was sent.  So what soil are you today?  Take time to seriously work through these things.  Our lives depend upon it.

Parable of the Soils mp3