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Entries in Purpose (7)

Tuesday
Mar272018

The Flesh Profits Nothing

Mark 11:7-26.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on March 25, 2018.

Today we remember the Triumphal Entry of Jesus into Jerusalem the week before he was crucified.  In some ways it looks like a victorious thing we should be excited about, yet in other ways, it represents a clear defeat of mankind’s ability to follow God in truth.  Yes, many people publicly embraced Jesus as the Messiah that day.  But over the course of the following days they were unable to follow the Spirit of God because they were operating according to the desires of their flesh, rather than the desires of the Spirit of God.  Of course, God knew this was the case and therefore had worked it into His plan to use the fleshly desires of mankind (and even fallen cherubim) in accomplishing His plan.  This doesn’t make these things good or acceptable.  The crucifixion of Jesus still stands as the most reprehensible action of mankind and the devil and his angels.  There is no absolving ourselves by claiming it was the will of God because those who participated in the crucifixion of Jesus did so in answer to their flesh, not the Spirit of God.

Jesus made it clear that he was doing a spiritual work that was directed by the Spirit of God.  He said in John 6:63,

“It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing.  The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life.”  

I want to highlight this concept.  Following the flesh will not benefit you in any way.  It is only in hearing and following the Spirit that we can benefit.  I do not say this to exclude physical things.  We can grow up, marry, raise children and work as a person who follows the Spirit of God, rather than one who follows the desires of their flesh.

On this amazing day, Jesus finally quits beating around the bush (from the perspective of the average person in Israel) and presents himself as God’s Anointed One, the King of Israel.  However, we must take note that Jesus does not present himself in a way that would satisfy the flesh of those who were celebrating that day.

The same is true today.  We declare that Jesus is the King of kings and Lord of lords to the people of this nation and world.  However, we must follow the Spirit of God and not the desires of our flesh (i.e. be born again) if we are to enter the Kingdom of God.

He appears to do nothing.

We are picking up the story mid-stream.  Each day more and more people are swelling the population of Jerusalem, and the surrounding area, in preparation for the coming Feast of Passover.  On top of this is the growing anticipation of this man Jesus.  Will he show up?  Is this the year Messiah appears and delivers us from the Romans?  When Jesus comes down the Mt. of Olives, opposite the temple, riding on the back of a donkey, it was an unmistakable signal to the people that Jesus was presenting Himself as their king.  The prophecies of Zechariah spoke about the Messiah and His work.

“Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!  Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem!  Behold your King is coming to you; He is just and having salvation, lowly and riding on a donkey, a colt, the foal of a donkey.  I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the horse from Jerusalem; the battle bow shall be cut off.  He shall speak peace to the nations; His dominion shall be ‘from sea to sea, and from The River to the ends of the earth.’ “  Zechariah 9:9-10.

Yes the stories of all that Jesus did around the country had stirred up an anticipation that he would step into the role of Israel’s messianic king.  He has avoided this up to this point.  But, now he clearly accepts the role that the prophets had declared and publicly offers himself to Israel.

Yet, what we will see in the following events, both that day and in the days to follow, is that there is an anticlimactic feel.  This is the high point, but everything continues to unravel over the next days and culminates with the crowds crying, “Crucify him,” and then the death of Jesus on the cross.  Mark seems to highlight this anticlimactic feel.  Everything builds up in the story.  Jesus enters Jerusalem and goes directly to the temple.  He then looks around at everything (with everyone watching him with bated breath).  Yet, Jesus simply leaves, “as the hour was already late, He went out to Bethany with the twelve.”  Why the grand entrance into Jerusalem, fulfilling prophecy, only to look around and leave?  Why did he come so late in the day?

This should be a clue to us that Jesus is doing something more than offering himself to Israel as the Messiah.  This timing issue ought to catch our attention.  Is it not true that God often seems to come “too late” for our tastes?  Are not we tempted to just give up and walk away because He appears to do nothing?  Yet, when we think God is doing nothing, we are wrong.  We have to learn to see with the eyes of the Spirit, rather than the eyes of our flesh.  We need the eyes of faith in God rather than faith in the flesh and what we see.  God is always working by His Spirit.  If He comes late in the day, it is because that is precisely the best time to come for the things of the Spirit, but not for the desires of our flesh.

Mark emphasizes that Jesus looked around at everything.  In light of the fact that he will come back the next day and “clean house,” we must see this as a kind of inspection.  Rather than doing nothing, Jesus is inspecting the temple that belongs to Him, the temple that he had commanded Israel to build along with the instructions of what to do there.  Were they focused on the purposes and plan of God in what they did there?  The irony of the situation is that as they are being inspected by The Lord of Glory, they presume to be “inspecting him.”  Be careful that you are not so critical of Jesus and the Christians who follow him that you miss the fact that you too are being inspected by God.  If He uses the same criteria of fleshly judgment against you that you use against him, will you survive? 

Jesus leaves exactly when you would expect something big to happen.  Our flesh does not like that sort of thing.  If we don’t get the “bang for our buck” then we feel like we are cheated.  God will never allow us to turn Him into our personal “God machine.”  You know; where you put in a certain amount of effort or money and get what you ordered by 3 PM the next day (or with Amazon Air within 30 minutes).  Not only does our flesh profit nothing, it cannot recognize a spiritual profit when it is staring it in the face.  We must recognize this critical point about ourselves as humans.  We have to learn to recognize that God often operates in a way that is a rebuke to our flesh, and simultaneously a call of the Spirit to follow Him.

He rejects the empty, religious practices of the day.

Now look at verses 12-19.  I ask you to put the verses about the fig tree on hold so that we can deal with them later.  However, after spending the night in a neighboring village called Bethany, Jesus and his disciples come back to Jerusalem and go to the temple the next day.  When Jesus gets there, he tosses the money changers out, and forces those selling sheep and doves to get everything out of the temple grounds.  Why does Jesus do this?  He is confronting the empty, religious practices of his day.

The temple had turned into a convenience store for religious people.  They could come from anywhere in the world, purchase a sacrifice in the temple, and not have to bother themselves with any of that nasty work of touching them (except for a ceremonial touch).  The problem was not that they purchased the sheep.  This was acceptable.  But that this was being done in a place that was not meant to be a commercial place that focused on the comfort of the “worshipper.”  This conflation of the sacred and the common (commerce is not evil, but neither does it have place in the sacred), has forever been a bane to humanity.  Today, we can be in jeopardy of turning churches into a means of making money off of those who are in our niche market, all by satisfying the desires of the religious people who gather, which are superficially spiritual desires, but at their depths are only fleshly desires dressed up as spiritual desires).  It becomes a type of “spiritual transaction” in which those in the pew pay in order to have their conscience assuaged.  This is a dangerous undermining of the true purpose of the place of worship.

The true purpose of the temple was to be a place where people could approach God in order to deal with their sin, but also, to fellowship with Him.  It was a place to celebrate His appointed feasts and to rejoice in His kingship over them.  The flesh turns religion into a marketplace of hyperactivity that loses sight of what the Spirit of God is trying to accomplish.  The flesh is hostile to the purposes of God and will always choose one of two paths: active rejection or passive repurposing.  Jesus is reminding them that the true purpose of the temple was to be a place of prayer (i.e. interaction between people and God) for all nations.

He does not confront the Romans.

We won’t spend a lot of time on this.  But, it is worth noting that Jesus did not even lift a finger towards removing this occupying force.  He did not raise an army, or connect with the zealots of the day in order to raise up a rebellion.  There was no great battle of Messiah vs. the Romans that week.  This was an added consternation to those whose flesh badly wanted free of the Romans, but not necessarily their sins.

The lesson of The Withered Fig Tree

Verses 20-26 bring us back to the fig tree that was mentioned earlier.  It is important to recognize that these two interactions with this fig tree are like bookends to the actions of Jesus in the temple.  So what about this?

When Jesus and his disciples were traveling into Jerusalem, Jesus saw a fig tree in the distance that had leaves on it.  It was common for travelers to eat from food that was found along the road.  As long as it wasn’t in an enclosure, it was considered common fare.  The fig tree is different from some fruit trees in that it will fruit first and then grow leaves.  Thus the leaves on this tree give the appearance that there is fruit to be had.  It represents something that promises fruit from a distance.  It is clear that this interaction with the fig tree is intended to be a parable for something.  So we must dig deeper to discern the spiritual truth that Jesus is trying to teach his disciples and us.  As I said earlier, it is obvious that Mark understood the events of the fig tree to be connected to the cleansing of the temple.

The fig tree that promises fruit from afar has none upon closer inspection.  Jesus draws near, but finds no dates on the fig tree.  The inspection of the fig tree is parallel to the inspection of the temple that Jesus had done the night before.  The shouting crowds surrounding Jerusalem and the temple activity all gave the appearance of a people who were obedient to the Lord and were righteously awaiting his coming.  Like the fig tree, it would appear that Israel was faithfully serving the Lord and waiting for His deliverance, but it was superficial.  In truth, most of their hearts were following fleshly desires.  Only a remnant of the people would follow the Spirit of God over the course of the next 40 years.  And, only a remnant would escape the destruction that was coming upon this fig tree that God had planted in the land.

Now we can focus on the fact that it wasn’t prime fig season, yet.  However, this plant put forth the outward appearances that it was fruitful, when all the other fig trees were not.  This signifies all who are easily drawn into religion by their flesh.  We can fall into the trap of thinking that we are fruitful because we gather at a particular place, at a particular time, and do a particular set of rituals.  But the real thing that prepares us for God comes from listening to the Holy Spirit and following Him.  There were some who had fruit in those days, just as there are some who have fruit today.  But, God is not looking for an outward show that has lost the true inner purpose of His Spirit.  If you lack the fruit of the Spirit of God then humble yourself and cry out to Him for His presence and salvation in your life.  But under no circumstances should you pretend that you are okay with God, when you are not.  Those who do so have nothing to expect from God, but a curse and His judgment that they are unacceptable.  Jesus does not curse the fig tree because his flesh is angered that it won’t get food.  He does so to teach us a spiritual lesson that the outward show of religion that lacks the fruit of the Spirit of God is ripe for judgment from God.

It is easy to think that Jesus simply takes time to teach on prayer all of the sudden.  But, his comments about prayer are directly tied to the fig tree.  We need to understand the role of faith in our spiritual life as a follower of God.  That which is by faith will live, but that which is by the flesh will die and benefit us nothing.  The flesh tells us that the path of faith won’t work, but the Spirit faithfully calls us to pick up our cross and follow Jesus.  When we cling to our sins over the top of the call of the Holy Spirit, our flesh becomes blind and calloused to what the Spirit of God is saying.  The Pharisees could only see that Jesus was trespassing upon their authority.  Who did He think He was?  They were so offended in the flesh that they could not hear the Spirit saying, “Israel, behold your king!”  In truth it was the Pharisees and the Sadducees who were the true trespassers.  Their right to represent God before the people was only authoritative as long as they actually represented Him, and not the desires of their flesh.  We must learn to let go of what others have done to us, and follow the Spirit of God, rather than the spirit of fear and offense.  Only then can we escape becoming a fig tree that offers false hope to God and ends up withered and dead.

Flesh Profits Nothing audio

Monday
Jun192017

Our Heavenly Father

Matthew 5:43-48.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on Father’s Day, June 18, 2017.

This weekend I entered a new stage of life when my first child was married.  He begins that new stage of life for him in which he creates a new home of his own with the young woman whom he loves.  Whether you have seen either of these stages yet or not, our passage today speaks to us today about looking to our Heavenly Father and asking Him to teach us to be good, earthly fathers.

Father’s have a purpose

Verse 48 of this passage hits all of us like a ton of bricks and we will deal with it more as we go along.  However, I want us to notice that this whole section is about how those who want to follow the wisdom of Jesus will follow him in being like the Heavenly Father.  So, instead of starting with the impossible command to “be perfect,” let’s start with the sense of belonging and purpose that is the foundation of what Jesus has to say.  We have a Heavenly Father and we are meant to choose to be like Him in our actions.  This really is a wonderful thing.

In fact, Jesus points out in verse 43 that they had heard it said, “You shall love your neighbor, and hate your enemy.”  Now the first part of this sentence comes from the Law of Moses.  Though Jesus doesn’t specifically point this out, it is worth recognizing that they heard this because the Heavenly Father had spoken to them through Moses and later through others.  God has not been silent, but has spoken some very clear things to mankind.  The Bible is the collection of those words throughout time.  With that said, you will not find a place in the Old Testament where they were commanded to hate their enemies.  God had not actually said this. They heard this part from those who thought they were safely speaking what God intends.  Perhaps the logic could go like this.  God is going to judge his enemies who hate him, so we should hate them.  So within this one statement Jesus reminds us of that mix of instructions that come to people, some from God and some from religious leaders that goes beyond God’s Word and even contrary to it.  There is only one Son of God that perfectly represents the Heavenly Father and speaks only what the Father told him to say, and that is Jesus.  Thus we can read the Word, but even more, we can hear what the One and Only Son of God, Jesus, who can help us perfectly understand what our Father is saying.  Now I would point out here that earthly fathers who want to be like the Heavenly Father should be faithful to speak to their kids in appropriate ways at appropriate times.  Be a good representative of our Heavenly Father to your children and properly point them to Him.  Be careful of inserting your own ideas without prefacing them with the fact that they are just that.  Kids need to know that as you speak to them, so has God.

In verse 45, Jesus goes beyond speaking.  He reminds us that God has given us examples.  We can look at all the goodness and provision of creation and recognize that it is given to the righteous and the unrighteous alike, without distinction.  Even those who make themselves enemies of God receive massive amounts of kindness from Him.  Thus Jesus points us to learn from the example of God.  Fathers, let’s not forget that our life and the way it is lived must be a good example for our kids.  Yes, they need to hear our words, but our actions often speak louder than words.  So pay attention to the example you are setting.

So with the Word of God and the example of God, it is our purpose to become “sons of our father in heaven.”  I believe that this is key to understanding what Jesus is driving at in verse 48.  It is in the context of being a son of the Heavenly Father that we are called to “be perfect, as your father in heaven is perfect.”  Now the word “perfect” in the original language has the sense of that which is complete, finished, or has come to maturity.  Since we are speaking of humans and their heavenly father, maturity is the concept which fits best.  And, we should note that spiritual maturity is clearly intended.  The emphasis is not a lack of error or sin, as the English may imply.  Rather it is on becoming what you are intended to be.  You were created to be like God, to bear His image in this life.  Of course that is a tall order and yet we are in good company.  The Apostle Paul said in Philippians 3:12-14,

“12 Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. 13 Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, 14 I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.  15 Therefore let us, as many as are mature, have this mind; and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal even this to you.”

The words that I have emboldened and underlined are translated differently but they come from the same Greek word.  Now my point is not to point out that they are translated wrong.  But that they are the same word used in Matthew 5:48 for “perfect.”  In Paul’s passage he uses the word in two different ways.  In verse 12 he is stating that even he, the Apostle Paul, had not been completely finished.  He was still in the flesh, and was not without sin.  Thus this first use is that which sees that he falls short of all that God has for him.  But in verse 15, he uses it to emphasize those who have spiritually grown up and are mature Christians.  He clearly sees himself as a part of this group.  Maturity is a funny thing.  When a child is 1 year old and they are starting to walk and talk, we might speak of them as being perfect.  They are exactly where they should be in their development for their age.  So an 18 year old has a far higher bar to reach in order to be considered mature.  Though Paul had room for improvement, he was a mature Christian, one who understood the Father’s purpose and walked in conformity with it.

Now back to Matthew 5:48.  If we see the word “perfect” in the first sense of which Paul speaks, then the verse is stating that we (in the future) will be perfect, which will mainly be God’s work in our life.  This is true, but doesn’t seem to fit the context well.  But the second sense that Paul uses fits perfectly.    When we look to our Heavenly Father’s example and listen to His words, our lives will grow to be like Him and we will become mature believers in this life (and sinless beings after the resurrection).  May we all press forward each day to be like our Father in Heaven.  Of course this is the joy of any father, to see their child grow up and become a mature adult (and to be like us in our best ways).

Fathers have a Heavenly Father

I have already made this clear.  But I want to push this part a bit further.  Earthly fathers don’t always live out this purpose that God has for them.  Our culture continually pumps a philosophy that promotes living life for yourself, and this contradicts God’s Word.  When we think about God it is important for us to understand that He is not just more mature than us.  He truly is without error and sin.  If there is something that we think He has done wrong, then we are the one in error.  More than likely we are missing information that God has.  However, it is quite possible that our judgment is not as wise and righteous as we think.  Even if you had the worst of earthly fathers, nothing can change the fact that you have a Heavenly Father who is good and perfect.  He has been working, and is even now working in your life just as a good father would do.  In fact, in many ways the best thing a father can do is to help their child to recognize that he and they are both children of the same Heavenly Father.  In that sense we are helping our kids to grow up and take their place side by side with us before God.

As Jesus mentioned in verse 46 and 47, it is not the presence of love that makes us like Him.  It is the prevalence of our love that makes us like Him.  Yes, we are going to mess up and fall down in trying to be like our Heavenly Father.  But He loves us no matter what.  Here is the logic.  If God even loves His enemies enough to provide for them even in their rebellion, how much will He love and provide for us who are His children?  Clearly, He will move Heaven and Earth to love and help us.  Thus, parents, do your best to demonstrate that kind of love and mercy to your children.  And, when you fail be quick to admit it and ask forgiveness.  This will help them to see God in a clearly light.  Yet, children don’t always agree with what a parent thinks is the loving thing to do.  When we talk about tough love, we recognize that sometimes love is difficult.  Even though a kid may think their parents hate them, generally as they mature they recognize that it wasn’t hate.  It was love and concern.  Perhaps we should think of this in regard to our Heavenly Father.  Yes, He may discipline us from time to time and we are often tempted to think that God hates us or has rejected us.  But the truth is that He loves us very much and only has a good goal in mind for us.

So we must learn to rest in His ability to help us.  As a Father, verse 48 is not being put in front of us as some impossible task.  Yes, it is tough, but we have a Heavenly Father that will help us to accomplish it.  We can rest in the fact that HE is not trying to disqualify us.  Rather, He will finish that good work which He has begun in us.  In fact, through our own death and resurrection, He will help us to even be without sin and error.  What a day that will be!

Father’s, don’t let yourself get discouraged to the point that you quit being a father.  Take it one day at a time and engage with your children at whatever stage they are in.  Daily take the time to look to your Heavenly Father for strength, wisdom, and direction.  And, learn to follow the Holy Spirit as He enables you to both overcome your own sin, and become more and more like Jesus.  God hasn’t left you alone to accomplish it all.  He has put His Spirit within you to help you fight the good fight.  So let’s cooperate with Him and, as Paul said in Philippians 3:13, “forgetting those things that are behind, and reaching forward…I press toward the goal.”  Let go of the mistakes and failures and reach forward to what He has for you.

Our Heavenly Father audio

Friday
Mar102017

Serving Selflessly

John 13:1-17.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on March 5, 2017. 

As we continue talking about the purpose that Jesus has for His people and His Church, we have adopted the phrase, “Connecting people to the Abundant Life found in Jesus.”  So our purpose begins with connecting to Jesus and His people, and then moves to growing spiritually to be like Jesus.  Part of spiritual growth is being used by God to serve other believers and in a manner that is not for selfish reasons.  One thing you may notice is that each of these is simply an extension of the initial connection to Jesus.  So it may be better to think of them as facets of the main purpose of coming into relationship with God. 

In our passage today, we will look at a very critical act that Jesus did on the night that he was going to be betrayed.  In this act of service, Jesus removes all doubt as to what God is saying to those who want to be his disciples.  In essence God is asking us to prove our love for Him by serving His people, our brothers and sisters.  Because of our Christian background, Americans often speak of politicians and social leaders as public servants.  However, it is clear that most are not serving for the sake of the public.  They are more concerned with their own station in life and honor among men, than they are about what will really serve the people.  Today’s passage will show the heart of service.  Next week we will look at the practical side of what it means to serve.

The love of Jesus caused him to serve

This story of how Jesus washed the feet of his disciples is a powerful one that is intended to challenge those who would want to follow him.  But, before we look at the act itself, let’s look at the context in which this service takes place.  Verse 1 emphasizes that Jesus knew it was his time.  He was about to leave the disciples, and they would have to go on without his physical presence.  This makes his action here critical because it represents what is most important to him.  Verse 2 also tells us that Jesus knew that the betrayal was already in motion.  His arrest was only hours away and by noon the next day he would be executed.  These were his last moments of physical freedom.  Lastly, verse 3 points out that Jesus knew that everything was in his hands.  Now in Matthew 28:18 Jesus says, “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth.”  This means that Jesus was not a victim as he went to the cross, but a victor.  Not only did he have authority over those who thought they had authority over him, but it was in his hands what to do.  Yes, Jesus came for the purpose of dying on the cross, being resurrected and leading many sons to righteousness.  However, his prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, just moments after this event, makes it clear that he had a choice.  Jesus asks for the cup to be taken from him and yet, surrenders to the will of the Father.  What we see here is that though the Spirit of Christ was unified with the will of the Father, the flesh body was shrinking back from the cross.  The Father would not force His Son to do this.  It had to be the choice of Jesus and not just in his invulnerable, past existence.  In the moment of weak flesh he had to choose freely to save mankind.  Imagine if all authority and choice was given to you today.  What would your choice be?  In this situation Jesus chose to wash his disciple’s feet and to go to the cross for mankind.  This is a powerful statement.

When we look at the descriptions regarding this service, two poignant phrases stick out.  The first is at the end of verse 1, “He loved them to the end.”  This was an act of teaching, but it was also an act of love.  It was a divine, supreme act of love that would help them to better understand the cross and God’s will for them in the months and years ahead.  Service cannot be just an act.  It truly must be fueled by and informed by the love of God.  Too often we allow our service to become an identifying thing that we do, and lose sight of love for the people we are serving.  Another aspect to recognize is how John builds up to this act.  He stipulates all the things Jesus knew and how it was all in his hands, which lead up to the climax of “then he arose from supper, laid aside his garments, took a towel and girded himself.”  The statement itself would be anticlimactic to anyone who was looking to Jesus as Messiah.  I believe John intends this statement and the actions of Jesus to be shocking.  It is easy for us to miss this because we have grown up in a society that takes this for granted.    We must understand that the love of God is far more radical and shocking than we can ever completely understand.  Jesus hanging on the cross was the exact opposite picture anyone expected to see of the savior of the world.  Let’s face it; even now we do not completely understand the love of God and the depths to which it leads him to go in order to serve mankind.  So, when I try to follow Jesus and serve others, I will find myself needing to grow in the ability to love at such a shocking level.

We are challenged by the service of Jesus

Peter often becomes the vehicle through which we get to see ourselves.  So in verses 6-8, the shocking actions of Jesus bother Peter.  He balks at what Jesus is doing and had earlier rebuked Jesus for saying that he would be executed.  This is the very nature of even the most loyal disciple.  Our hearts are challenged and even made afraid by what Jesus does and calls us to do.

So what is at the heart of this issue?  Perhaps it is our pride.  Peter’s pride in his station as a close disciple to the Messiah of Israel (maybe even #1 disciple), shrinks back from this menial service that Jesus does.  Jesus is supposed to be the greatest and highest person in all of Israel.  But here he takes on a task that only the lowest servant would perform.  This is unthinkable to him because of his pride.  Leaders, beware of followers who tell you that certain things are beneath you.  They are not being led by the wisdom of God, but the fear of prideful flesh.  Peter was so proud of being there that he forgot to wash his own feet.  His joy of being in the presence of Jesus had overwhelmed his self-awareness that his feet were filthy.  This is such a powerful picture of our desire to follow Jesus.  We get so caught up in the wonder of it all that we can miss areas of our life that need cleaned up.  Even so, if Jesus wanted their feet cleaned, he should command one of them to do it, right?  In Peter’s mind the lowest of them all should be the one washing feet, not Jesus (and most likely not him).  This is precisely why Jesus had to wash their feet.  He had to break their pride.  But he doesn’t do it like the leaders of this world do it.  The leaders of this world command you to do the most menial tasks until your pride is wore down.  But Jesus does the menial task himself and then asks them to love one another as he has loved them.  He leads the way, and not as one who does so once and never humbles himself again.  The cross shows us that all of the life of Jesus was one long humbling of the highest being in the universe.  Can we not see that God has no pride?  We must see our own shrinkage from service and its foreign mindset in Peter’s actions.  We must also ask the Lord to transform our mind and heart in this area.

Another point I would like to make about Peter’s refusal is that it is God who defines how we need to be served.  Peter does not want to let Jesus feet.  When others serve us we are often uncomfortable.  We tend to want to control how it is done.  We can be guilty of trying to tell God exactly how He should do things.  But the reality is that we don’t have a clue what we need and what He should be doing.  The Church has struggled over this question, “What do people really need.”  Especially in America, we have developed two different approaches over the years.  The first is called the “Pie in the Sky” Gospel.  This approach says that people really only need their spirit’s saved and the flesh is immaterial.  Thus, people who preached to the homeless would promise that in heaven you will have all the things you didn’t on earth.  Instead of helping materially they only helped spiritually.  The cynicism of the people being served led to some Christians then going to the other extreme.  This led to what is called the “Social Gospel.”  They tended to focus so much on the physical needs of the poor at the expense of the spiritual message of Jesus.  It almost becomes a badge of nobility to feed a poor man and not tell him the gospel, so that you are not manipulating them.  Yet, Jesus does both within hours.  He washes their feet, a very physical service, and then dies on the cross for their sins, a very spiritual service.  In truth we need both.  Yes, we could accuse Jesus of trying to manipulate us by dying on a cross.  But in the end it is a reality that we have to deal with.  Was Jesus manipulating or loving?  When we serve, we must be aware of the physical nature of those we serve and yet the spiritual side.  Not all will receive what you do and may even cast aspersions on your motives.  Nevertheless, it is not wise to let those being served to dictate how we serve them.  We serve people because God loves them and it is He who directs us on how they need served.

In verse 9 and following the scene comes to a conclusion with Jesus explaining why he did what he did.  In verse 14 the word “ought” should slam into the pit of our stomach like a ton of bricks.  It comes from a word that has the idea of owing a debt that you are obligated to pay back.  Thus, it came to be used for social and moral obligations.  If the master did this lowly service, then by definition his disciples are obligated to keep themselves beneath him in station.  To not lower myself is more than an act of rebellion, but even an act of rejection.   In this act of service and the cross that follows, Jesus forever undercuts the protest, “You couldn’t expect me to do that!”  No, such a statement is hollow when you recognize the wisdom of Jesus.  We are precisely obligated to serve one another because our Lord and master served us.  But our obligation is not just on a moral level.  We say that we love God, but in this moment God shows the very depths of his heart.  He is not trying to be on top, and is not filled with pride.  He is willing to lower himself to the lowest place and serve.  So, the question then is, “Having received such a glimpse into the depths of His heart, do you still love Him?”  Christians are those who have discovered the shocking truth about the God who created all things and have chosen to follow him.  How can we not but serve?

Then in verse 17 Jesus slams the point home.  Blessed are you if you know these things and do them.  Today you have been made aware of these things.  Now, what are you going to do with them?  This is not just about washing feet.  It was a need within their immediate context.  What are the needs in our context?  What ways can I serve others for God?  In fact, it would be good for me to spend some time in prayer asking the Lord to give me His thinking on this subject.  Service is the key to blessing.

One of our problems in the Western world is that we make service sound noble.  I am not saying that it isn’t noble in some ways.  However, it is also humiliating and hard on our flesh in other ways.  Service by its very nature is not a noble thing, but it is a God thing.  Jesus washing the dirty, stinky feet of his disciples was not fun.  But it was necessary for them.  Similarly, trying to love another person and serve them can be some of the most difficult times of your life, and yet God asks us to do it.  Yes, it is noble, but the nobility is not what we feel when we truly start serving others.  We can tell young men of the noble act of dying so that other may be free.  But, when they are in the trenches and their friends are dying around them, it will feel like anything but nobility.  No, service that is not self-serving (a.k.a. I am getting noticed and good press) will try your soul like a furnace.  But in the end you will come forth like pure gold refined in the fire seven times.

Serving Selflessly audio

Friday
Mar032017

Growing Spiritually

Ephesians 4:11-16.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on February 19, 2017.

We have been talking about the purpose that Jesus has for His Church.  It begins with connecting to Him and to His people.  The next purpose comes from the fact that this connection is not intended to be static.  In John 15, when Jesus used the analogy of a vine, he emphasizes that the Father wants each branch to be fruitful.  Thus this second purpose is for God’s people to grow spiritually.  Now this is not just an individual self-help exercise.  Rather, God is working in us in order to help us to grow spiritually as an individual and as a group. 

In our society we see the problem of immaturity everywhere.  It causes problems in our jobs, relationships, homes, politics at every level, and yes, even in our churches.  God’s answer to the reality of immaturity is not that we quit and go down the street, or go home.  Instead, God’s answer is for His people to turn to Him and receive from Him what we need in order to mature.

Now God has some very specific things that He has done in order to help this purpose along.  The first is that He connects us to a group of believers.  The dynamic of learning to love each other fuels this purpose of God.  In Ephesians 4:11-16, the relationship we have with the body of Christ is explained in regards to this purpose of spiritual growth.

Jesus Wants His Followers to Grow

We see the metaphor of growth throughout the Bible.  It points to the changes that happen within us in order to make us more like God Himself.  In Psalm 1 we are told, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful; but, his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night.  He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also shall not wither; and whatever he does shall prosper.”  This is God’s vision for each of us.  He wants to make us into a fruitful tree of life to everyone around us.  Sadly we often fall into a minimal intellectual assent to the Faith.  We only accept so much of what God’s Word says and try to ignore the rest.  We can also settle for a minimal association with God’s people.  When God’s word has a minimal impact on our lives it will not result in spiritual growth.  Ask yourself, “Have I settled for having just a little bit of Jesus?  Am I trying to fit a little bit of Jesus into my life?”  The reality is that Jesus is too big to fit into your life.  You must surrender your life to the purposes of Christ, then you will begin to grow spiritually to become like him.

In verse 11 Paul points out that God has raised up certain individuals to serve in differing capacities within the Church, so that we can all grow spiritually.  The top of this list is the apostles and prophets.  It was important for the teachings of Christ and His purposes to be authoritatively recorded.  The truth is that Jesus did not right any books.  He called and authorized certain individuals with the task of passing on His teaching.  More than that, Jesus even told his disciples that he had far more to teach them, but there wasn’t enough time.  Thus He promises that the Holy Spirit will guide them into all truth.  The reality is that Jesus Himself places a stamp of approval, or guarantee, on the authority and teaching of His apostles.    In this sense there are no more apostles and prophets that are establishing Scripture and the foundation of the Faith.  However, apostles were also used mightily to bring the gospel into new areas along with signs and wonders to confirm it.  This aspect still occurs from time to time as God wills.  As for prophets today, they can be used to speak into our lives by God, but not add new teaching to the Faith that was once and for all delivered unto the saints in the first century.  Paul also mentions evangelists, who typically travel from city to city preaching the gospel.  Lastly he lists pastors and teachers.  It appears that he is putting these together, perhaps as two sides of the same coin.  The term “pastor” is a shepherd term that points to the caring and nurturing they do.  “Teacher” points to the transfer of information that they perform.  Teachers teach the Word of God to His people, not because they can’t read it for themselves, but because it helps us to grow.  The purpose of all of these individuals is not to rule over God’s people, or to control His Church.  They are not given by Jesus to dominate the other believers, but rather to help us.  Some people have been hurt by the domineering tactics of some who call themselves apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers.  Yet, we must also recognize the danger of casting off any help in this area.  Without the guarantee of the foundational teaching of the Apostles in the first century, we are intellectually standing on quicksand.

Now in verse 12, Paul explains further why Christ gave these to the Church.  So far I have summed it up under the need for spiritual growth.  Let’s explore further.  The first purpose is for the equipping of the saints.  The King James Version says for the perfecting of the saints.  Equipping is a better translation today, because “perfecting” gives the sense of being done.    To be fully equipped is always done in order to accomplish something.  When you are done gathering all your camping equipment, you haven’t actually camped yet.  You still have to drive to your destination and set up all your equipment.  Equipping is always for a purpose.  Another example is how an Emergency Room is equipped with all manner of tools and medicines.  This is for the purpose of saving a life that is brought into the room.  Similarly God uses these verse 11 roles to equip us.  This leads to the question, “What am I being equipped for?”

Paul next lists several reasons why we are being equipped.  God wants us to be able to do “works of service.”  God has particular works of service that He has for you to do.  Some of that service is towards other believers.  You are to use your gifts out of love in order to help other believers.  However, we are also called to do works of service towards those who are not believers.  Thus I am serving God by going out and serving His people, and those who are still lost.  So what do you need in order to do these things?  First, you need to know what God has already said in His Word.  You also need encouragement and direction in learning to pray and hear from God ourselves.  Ask Jesus each day, “Lord, help me to know the works of service that you want me to do today.”

Next Paul mentions we are equipped for the unity of the faith and the knowledge of Jesus.  Part of spiritual growth is that we are unified as a group of people.  Individual growth is never complete until it enables us to grow in relationship with others.  Today, the concept of unity is held up as essential.  But notice that God is not promoting unity just for unity’s sake.  He actually says unity of the faith.  “The faith” is the teachings that God has revealed through Jesus and His apostles.  Thus, when people talk about finding common ground so that we can unify, they generally mean, “What beliefs can we drop so that we can be one?”  God is calling believers to be unified around the teaching of His apostles.  If you sacrifice the teachings of Christ and the knowledge of who He is, then you have not accomplished the purpose of God.  In fact you have actually rejected it.  You may notice that all such groups that hold up unity and love as their overarching principle, and yet do not adhere to a particular set of teachings, fall apart in the end.  Only promoting love and unity is not enough to deal with the sinful nature of mankind.  Whether it is a leader that tries to dominate the group, or the fact that a person is hurt by another’s concept of free love, we must have a truth that we are committed to that has power against the flesh and is greater than any person today.  The Word of God is the only thing that has demonstrated the power to stop the sinful desires of our flesh.

The third purpose for being equipped is so that we will not be a spiritual child, but instead a mature body of Christ.  This is where we see how the individual weaves with the group dynamic.  If I am individually taken in by every new heresy that pretends to be truth, then I weaken the group.  We are not able to operate as the body of Christ.  Yes, I need to believe the things Jesus and his apostles taught, and I need to live out the things they taught.  But our group has to grow in living these things together.  Together, we can minister, heal, and save far more than any one of us can do alone.  We need each other, but the lost need the Church to be operating as a mature body of Christ.

In verse 14 we are given another reason why God wants us to grow.  He does not want us to be taken in and deceived by false teaching.  Children are easily taken in and deceived.  We see this with Adam and Eve, who had a child-like innocence in regards to sinful ways.  Not all that masquerades as truth is Truth, and not all that masquerades as Jesus is Jesus.  Think about scams that happen in this world.  They are successful because they play on the immature desire to get something for nothing, or at least, the desire to get an inordinate amount of return on minimal investment.  A mature person is often protected by scams simply because they have grown up in regards to working hard for what you get.  Like a person who has already eaten and therefore is not tempted to eat dessert, the mature person can say, “No, thanks.  I am full.”  We need to be so full of the Truth of Jesus that the lies and deception don’t interest us.  We are not hungry for some new, amazing truth.  We already have the amazing truth of Jesus.

Instead of falling into deceptions, Jesus wants us to speak the truth, but in love.  This has been a problem for the Church.  Typically we have not faltered with having the truth, but we have with sharing it in love.  This too is a sign of maturity.  The mature person does not feel the necessity to control how people respond to the Gospel.  They continue to reach out to people who reject them, and sometimes even persecute them. 

Let me just close with emphasizing verses 15 and 16.  Paul points out that it is our connection to Jesus, the head, is what gives us anything to do and share, both as an individual and as a group.  When we are connected to Jesus, His Truth and spiritual Life will not only mature us, but also enable us to be that fruitful branch that has something to offer others.  May God help us to grow spiritually, by keeping our eyes upon Jesus and taking advantage of those gifts that He has given to help us.

Growing Spiritually audio