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Tuesday
Jan232018

God’s Grace towards the Undeserving

1 Kings 20.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on January 21, 2018.

There are times in our lives when we need something so badly, and yet we feel like we don’t deserve it.  The world often counters this with the trite saying, “Yes, you do deserve this.”   In fact Christians can also fall into this trap of thinking that we deserve things from God.  The truth is that much of life has nothing to do with whether we deserve it or not, and whether for good or for bad.  Today, our passage highlights the grace of God to help Israel in a time that they and their king do not “deserve it,” and yet He gives it. 

I pray that you are not guilty of the depths of rebellion that King Ahab and Israel were in the passage today.  However, I know how the enemy operates.  He gets into our head and uses our failures, of any size, as fodder for talking us out of trusting God (e.g. “You don’t deserve it.”).  Don’t tell yourself that God no longer cares, regardless of how hopeless the situation or our level of “deserving” something.  Instead trust the God who is not seeking to make you pay, but rather is seeking to help you draw nearer to Him.  In our passage today, God is trying to draw the hearts of the people of Israel and King Ahab.  Ahab is an especially bad model of how to respond to God’s grace.  Yet, if you will turn to Him in faith and repentance then you will find Him already at your side, regardless of what you are facing.

God’s grace is given to Israel

In the previous chapter (1 Kings 19) we saw how God had graciously ended the drought that Israel experienced for 3 years.  We also saw that Ahab and Jezebel had not responded in repentance, but rather in doubling down on their sin of Baal worship.  We would expect this chapter to be full of rebukes from God and disaster.  Instead, chapter 20 is filled with the grace of God, grace that they did not deserve.

In the first 6 verses we see that Ben Hadad, the king of Damascus, has surrounded Ahab’s capital city of Samaria.  He is joined by 32 other kings and their armies.  These are vassal kings who rule over walled cities around Damascus.  As was typical in siege campaigns, Ben Hadad gives Ahab the terms of surrender that he will accept, which are “your silver and gold are mine.  Your loveliest wives and children are mine.”  Now Ben Hadad and the armies that are with him represent a very capable and serious threat.  Ahab knows that he is in a bad situation.  So how does he respond?

Ahab very quickly agrees to the terms of surrender.   Why lose everything when he can purchase the lives of his city with his wealth and family?  We could say that Ahab deserves some commendation because of his willingness to sacrifice his things for those of his people, but that might be overly naïve.  Yet, we should also notice that there is no sense of seeking God or Baal for wisdom on what to do.  Ahab only sees the natural element and thus only seeks natural answers.  It is important to recognize that though our life is filled with the natural, there is more to life than the natural.  There is a whole spiritual side to the things that are happening in our lives and the world around us.  A person who understands this will be a person who seeks God and His direction.  When Ben Hadad receives the quick answer from Ahab, he ups the ante by sending back “new and improved terms of surrender.”  Basically he will send his soldiers into Samaria the next day and take everything that is valuable.  They will be pillaged and the city will be left with nothing, while the most skilled will be carted as slaves.  Ahab balks at this and talks to the elders of the city.  Backed into an impossible corner, they decide to fight (which may have been Ben Hadad’s true purpose).  Again, at the human level we can say that this is commendable.  It is better to die free and fighting than to die enslaved and submitting.  And yet, there is still no thought of seeking God’s help.

In verses 11-14 we have a tense exchange between Ahab and Ben Hadad.  In the middle of it, God sends one of His prophets to Ahab.  There is irony in the fact that Ahab has spent years having the prophets of the Lord hunted down and killed.  Here in his own moment of being hunted, God sends one of His prophets to promise him victory.  There is a lesson to be learned here.  When we abandon the ways of god, we often destroy the very things that God wants to use to bless us.  With our own hands we tear apart the very things that we will need down the road.  Yet, God is still gracious to Ahab even though he doesn’t deserve it.

Ahab quickly pounces on the words of the prophet because he is desperate.  Thus he quizzes the prophet as to how this victory will come about.  The prophet tells Ahab that he is to have the young leaders of the provinces lead the attack (as opposed to his seasoned veterans).  This would not be normal military advice.  But another sign of Ahab’s desperation is the fact that he follows through with the prophet’s instructions.  Throughout Israel’s history God would many times instruct them to do things that didn’t make sense in the natural.  In one battle they were told to put the Levites in the front of the army with musical instruments and praising God.  This is always done in cases when God wants to demonstrate that the battle is not being won by natural means, but by supernatural help from Him.  In life we can get so used to seeing the natural that it becomes the only thing we see.  We can lose sight of God’s supernatural grace all around us every day.  From time to time, God removes those natural barriers so that we can see His grace.  These are always times that are distressing to our natural selves.

In verses 16-22 Israel comes out of Samaria and win a huge victory.  As is common in warfare, soldiers are fickle creatures.  Even though they have superior numbers, the quick success of Israel’s initial attack causes the armies of Ben Hadad to flee.  They all flee back to Damascus with their tails between their legs and being attacked by Israel all the way back.  On the heels of such a great victory, the prophet of the Lord speaks to Ahab again.  Though there is victory, he warns Ahab that Ben Hadad will attack next spring.  It was common for armies to avoid the winter months because cold and mud would hamper the movement of troops and engines of war.  There is a spiritual lesson here for us to remember.  When we stand upon the Word of the Lord and trust His instructions, we can put our spiritual enemy to flight.  The Bible says in James 4:6-7, “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.  Therefore submit to God.  Resist the devil and he will flee from you.”  When we stand our ground and continue doing what God has told us to do it puts the devil to flight.  We resist him by trusting God and obeying His word.  Yet, we must realize that even though the devil may flee, he will also regroup and figure out another way to attack us.  Thus victory is no time to get arrogant and cocky.  It is a time to praise God and prepare for future attacks.  We must use the time between spiritual attacks, whether temptations, trials, or doubts, to prepare ourselves for the next wave.  So draw near to God in a relationship of trust and love.  Learn His Word and what He is calling you to do, and be faithful to do it.  Too often we coast in times of ease, and thus set ourselves up for spiritual failure in the future.

In verses 23-28, we see that Ben Hadad returns the next spring (as prophesied).  Only this time his forces take up position near the city of Aphek, which was on a plain across the Jordan.  Several things stick out in this passage.  First, Israel’s army looks like two, little flocks of goats before the Syrians.  In the natural they are in trouble.

Second, we should notice the foolish counsel of the Syrians to Ben Hadad.  They believe they lost because the God of Israel is stronger in the mountains.  If we can only fight them in the plains, then surely our gods will win.  This blasphemy against God (saying untrue things about God) is not well received by God.  He intends to teach everyone a lesson.  You see the God of Israel is not just God of the mountains, but also God of the valleys.  It is one thing for God’s enemies to underestimate Him, but God forbid that His own people should underestimate Him.  In our day and age, it appears that all the earth is turning against God and His Anointed One, Jesus.  We may look like two little flocks of goats before their sheer numbers and power.  However, God is the one who gives the victory.  We must not lose heart, but rather stand in faithfulness to the mission that God has given us.  This chapter goes on to see a great victory given to Israel and prophesied by a prophet of the Lord.  In fact, over 20,000 Syrian soldiers perished when the wall of Aphek collapsed on them.

At the end of such a string of victories that were foretold by the prophets of God, what would you think Ahab would do?  The chapter ends with Ahab still playing up to Ben Hadad, who had been captured.  Ahab makes an alliance with Ben Hadad and sends him back to Damascus.  Ahab does not trust the Lord.  Instead he trusts military alliances, or natural things.  Thus God sends another prophet to rebuke Ahab for his refusal to do what God had decreed: put Ahab to death.

Where is Elijah and Elisha?

This whole chapter begs the question, just where is Elijah and Elisha?  Several possibilities have been conjectured through the years.  Perhaps God has put Elijah on the bench so that he can get his attitude adjusted.  Perhaps God is giving Elijah time to train Elisha before sending him back into the fray.  However, the most likely idea is that God is proving His point to Elijah that He still had 7,000 who hadn’t worshipped Baal.

This chapter emphasizes that God always has others who can serve, and there is a rhyme and reason for why He chooses certain ones to do certain things.  We see at least three different prophets at work in this chapter, and they are all unnamed.  Now God uses each of us differently.  If you are discouraged because you feel like you are the only one and are all alone, then wake up and start leaning on God.  He has others who are working as well.  Everything is not up to you.  We can lose sight of this and forget.  May God help us to learn to listen to Him, to do the work He gives us, and to trust that He can work through others also.  Instead of letting the enemy get inside your head and pillage all that God has given you, choose to stand your ground through repentance, and faithfulness to our Lord, Jesus, alongside other faithful believers.

God's Grace 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

Tuesday
Dec082015

Lessons of Christmas- The Mystery of It All

1 Peter 1:10-13.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on December 5, 2015.

As we enter the Christmas season, we have been looking at lessons that it teaches us.  Last week we talked about the Goodness of God displayed at the birth of Jesus.  Today we are going to look at the Mystery of God.  It has been said that God works in mysterious ways.  Although this is true, there is much more to it than that.  Whether you are a person who likes mysteries or not, there is something about mystery that engages our mind.  Our natural curiosity wants to try and solve it.  One thing about a good mystery is that it usually has a surprise twist that provides the hidden information to solve the mystery.  We see these same elements in the plan of God, which has some parts that are very clear and others that are not.  At the birth of Jesus there was the mystery of who the messiah would be and how salvation would be accomplished.  A big part of the mystery was the timing.  When would all this happen?  Lastly, I would point out the mystery of God’s dealings with Israel and the nations of the world.  All of these mysterious things come together at Christmas in an even greater mystery: the incarnation.  In Jesus was united God and man in one being.  He is the one who is both fully God and yet fully man.  This is a mystery. 

In 1 Peter 1:10-13, Peter points out these things to the believers of his day.

Salvation Was A Mystery

Through the years prophets in Israel had spoke on behalf of God.  They explained past, present, and sometimes future things.  Of course God himself gives the first prophecy in the Garden of Eden when he explains that the “seed of the woman” would crush the serpents head.  This first word of hope to mankind let us have a glimpse that God was doing something about our situation.  Over the centuries a large body of prophecies had been accumulated.  These words were not a complete picture, and in fact they left many questions in the hearts and minds of those who pondered them.

The prophets themselves were in the same boat as those to whom they spoke.  They did not understand everything they were being told.  Yes, Adam and Eve knew that God would help one of their seed to give them victory over the serpent, but they didn’t know how and when.  Peter reminds us that there has always been mystery in what God is doing.

Yet, this drove the prophets to search and inquire into it carefully.  Up to Moses, the Words of God were handed down orally.  Thus to search and inquire into the matter could only be done by finding an elder who was faithful to the old ways and would explain what God had done and said in the past.  Such wise men like Noah had held onto the promises and prophecies of God despite the fact that the rest of mankind had cast them aside.  With Moses God began directing the prophets and others to write these things down.  Once that was done the writings themselves could be searched and compared.  Ultimately we see the prophets exemplified in Daniel who was searching the scroll of Jeremiah and came to understand that the exile into Babylon would only last 70 years.  Thus he knew that God was going to help his people return to Israel.  He also received many visions and prophecies regarding the future.  Yet, Daniel had many questions.  In chapter 12 of the book of Daniel, we see him asking God for more understanding and yet the Lord tells him, “Go your way, Daniel, for the words are closed up and sealed till the time of the end.”  Even though he was the holy prophet of God, he had to trust God in the midst of many mysterious, unknowns regarding the plan of God.  We live in days where it is easy to connect with faithful, godly elders.  We can also search the Scriptures with the help of powerful computers.  Along with this, God is as close as He has ever been when we pray.  So have we grown weary of the mystery?  Have we come to the place where we quit hoping for the resolution of God’s plan?  There are even some in the Church today that teach that prophecy and searching it out for understanding is a problem.  The problem is not trying to understand prophecies.  This has been the impulse of godly people from the beginning.

Peter points out that these prophets wanted to know who the messiah would be and when he would come.  Over time God gave further clarification.  First we find that the messiah would come from Abraham, then Isaac, and then Jacob.  Later we are told that he would be of the lineage of David.  In regards to time, they are eventually given some inkling in Daniel.  In fact chapter 9 of Daniel is a prophecy that lays out how much time was left.  He also reveals that it would happen during the reign of the 4th Beast Empire.  Notice how similar their questions are to ours today.  Our waiting for Jesus to come back is very similar to what they waited for.

Peter points out that that, by the Spirit, they saw the sufferings and subsequent glory of the messiah.  These two incongruous ideas created a lot of questions and mystery concerning the plan of God.  The suffering and victory of the messiah may seem to be a contradiction, but it is more a contradiction of implausibility rather than impossibility.  God had promised a savior.  But when he came he would suffer.  Why?  He would be glorious on one hand and yet there would be nothing about him physically that would draw men to him.  They mystery was in how all these puzzle pieces fit together.  At Christmas God solved part of this puzzle for us.  Christ came first to save us from our own sin (the true enemy).  To do this he had to make himself vulnerable and let himself be tortured, even put to death, for our sake.  But how could he do all that and yet remain the King who would raise up the righteous and put down the wicked?

Why All The Mystery

There is a part of us, whether as an atheist or a frustrated believer, that wished God would make things clearer.  Yet, he has a penchant for mystery and long waits in between times of revelation.  Peter points out in verse 12 that it has to do with the fact that prophecy is not just for us.  We are serving others.  Either God has to make a clear explanation to every single person who ever existed within their time, or we have to put up with a bit of mystery.  There is no way around this.  Prophecy was never given to elite men for their benefit alone.  It was given to them in order to serve others.  First they served the people of their time by sharing the prophecies.  However, Peter points out that they also served the generation that would be alive when the messiah finally came.  Those who would see the resolution of prophecy needed served in this way.  Because of the words that were shared and written down, they would be able to see the connections between what was happening and what God promised.  It would help them to navigate especially difficult times with the understanding that God desired them to have.  Thus early Jews who were heard the good news of Jesus could either ignore the Scriptures and reinterpret the events, or they could embrace them and rejoice in Jesus.  Of course, Peter is talking about the mystery of salvation.  Through Jesus it became far less mysterious.  Of course we also recognize that Jesus and his Apostles prophesied about a future 2nd coming.  Thus, as I said before, we are in the same boat.  We have been served by Jesus and the Apostles in order to understand what God desires of us in these last days.  God was not interested in giving each generation full understanding.  No, that would come after the events occurred.  Rather, was giving each generation enough information that they would be encouraged and pass down the prophecies until that generation in which they would occur.  We are not just waiting for Jesus to come back.  We are also serving the next generation for him.

We are not just passing on information about God’s plans for the future.  We are also passing on an inner response of faith toward God himself and toward His promises regardless of how much we understand.  Some reject the prophecies because they are not clear.  However, the mystery also ensures that someone somewhere will still be interested in these things.  The intellectual puzzle laid alongside of the spiritual battle helps to keep faith alive until the event itself is revealed.  We think we need full disclosure.  But what we really need is trust and faith in God.  Peter points out that the prophecies were explained to the believers of his day by the Holy Spirit.  If we do not hand down the Word of God to the next generation in the power of the Holy Spirit, then our stream of influence is doomed.  Faith is kept alive by the help of the Holy Spirit.  Prophecy must never be a matter of intellectual curiosity and fleshly pride.  It must be a matter of a soul who has placed its hope in the hands of God.  There is one last aspect here that Peter doesn’t point out, but is shown in Ephesians 3:4-10.

In the first century things were revealed by God that had been kept a mystery from the beginning of creation.  The people of God as His Church are a message from God to both mankind and the Spiritual rulers that have abused their positions.  Those angels who were put in charge of the nations and were leading mankind away from God through the teachings of demons, are just as important in this as we are.  The wisdom of God is being displayed and explained in the mere existence of the Church, much more what it has to say.  There are still mysterious things that are yet to be revealed.  But to those who put their faith in God and trust Him, there is a joy of bearing the revelation of God’s wisdom as it has been revealed.  Part of God’s plan is to raise mankind to a position greater than those angels that ruled.  All authority is being stripped from them and given to Christ and His Church.  We are being raised up to reign with Christ in their place.  The elites of the world may scoff at such thoughts and the powers of darkness may bristle at such thoughts.  However, God has pledged himself to destroy the wisdom of the wise men of this world and the power of the powerful of this world.  Thus we see the present mystery of God’s choice of the lowly over the top of the great and proud.

The first Christmas reminds us that there is ahead of us a great day of rejoicing.  No matter what it may look like in the now, a great day of revelation is coming in which the wicked and powerful of this world will have no say in the matter.  God will do what He is going to do.  Blessed are those who put their faith in Him!  Maranatha!

Lessons from Christmas

Thursday
May072015

A Wise Or Foolish Manger?

Luke 16:1-13

Whether you own your own business or you work for someone else, we are all accountable to someone in some way.  The boss can fire me if I don’t do a good job.  My business can go bankrupt if I don’t do a good job.  The government may send me to jail if I try to avoid paying my taxes, etc…  The parable that we are looking at today is about an unjust steward.  Another way of saying that would be an unrighteous manager.  Normally Jesus tells a parable of something good that we are supposed to be like, or something bad that we are not supposed to be like.  Today’s parable causes many to scratch their head because it uses a bad thing to illustrate something good we are to do (or at least it seems that way).

The Day Of Accounting Is Looming

In this parable, the manager is given notice to gather his books and prepare to give an accounting to the master.  Thus this sets up a strange period of time in which a person is still the acting manager, but his time is limited because he is losing his position.  The picture here is meant to highlight our position within God’s world.  He is the Creator and we are the managers of His things within the life that He has given us.  All things that we own are not our possessions outright.   Rush Limbaugh, a syndicated, conservative, talk-radio host refers to having “talent on loan from God.”  Although this comes across rather arrogant, the truth is that all of us have talent on loan from God.  Nothing we have was made purely by ourselves, our bodies included.  We use God’s stuff to make more stuff for ourselves.  In this sense we are managing His stuff.

The next part of the parable is that an accusation has been made against the manager.  The term accusation here is from the same root word as the devil or diabolical.  It means to cast at another and implies an accusation.  Now the accusation can be a false one out of ignorance, or true one out of a desire to ruin or destroy.  So we see this same pattern in the book of Job.  The devil casts his accusations against us.  However, in the story of Abel we can see that our own sins can cry out to God with accusations against us.  Yet, at an even deeper level, Paul talks about how our own conscience can accuse us in the secret place of our mind.  Thus we are in the same place as the man in this story.  An accusation from several sources has come to God and He has established a day of accounting for us.  We will lose this life and give an accounting for how we lived it because of our sin.  This is dealt with in Genesis 3 in the Garden of Eden.  God laid the decree that all men will die and surrender the life that they have been given.  In Hebrews 9:27 it says, “it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment.”  We are all in the situation that we have not been perfectly righteous in how we have managed the things that God has given us.  The key here is what are you going to do when you come to understand your situation?

We Need To Respond Wisely

In verses 3 through 8 we see the response of this unrighteous manager.  Now responding wisely to a bad situation is easier said than done.  We don’t always have a good example or good training to follow in those moments.    Now Jesus makes a strange statement, “the sons of this world are more shrewd in their generation than the sons of light.”  When we think this through we will see the wisdom of what Jesus says.  Now the sons of this world are those who are not followers of God.  Within the context of their generation, they are much smarter than the followers of God (this is a general statement that allows exceptions).  The sons of this world don’t believe in a God or any accountability to Him.  They only believe in what they are smart enough to get for themselves on their own.  Because they believe this, they operate very shrewdly and cunningly within this world.   They are not wise in regard to their lack of understanding towards God.  But they are wise in that they act upon what they believe.  Now the sons of God say they believe in a God to whom they will be accountable and yet their actions and decision do not look as if they really believe that.  Jesus does not commend the man for being an unrighteous manager, but for recognizing the truth of his situation and working with what he had to improve it.  Many believers are wise enough to recognize the truth of God’s existence, but not wise enough to use their life now to prepare for the day of accounting.  This is not wise.

We need to think through our situation in light of the future.  Biblical thinking is a skill that we all need to work on.  We are all in the same situation as the man in this story.  Yes, I am a believer, and I have asked Jesus to cover my sins.  But, I am still going to have to give an account for what I did with God’s things in the life He has given me.  Also, we only have so much time to affect our situation.  We don’t have a specific deadline, and yet we know we don’t have forever.  Each day is a day that I can wake up and thank God for another opportunity to affect my future.

The second aspect to responding wisely is to make a plan to use what we have now in order to affect our future situation.  The man in this story takes advantage of the fact that he is still the manager.  He can use the authority that he still has to help those who buy from his master.  He plans to produce goodwill in their hearts towards him in hopes that they will help him later.  Now how can we use the things of our life within the time that we have left in order to please God?  This is the real question that Jesus expects us to think about.  What is your plan?  If it is to enjoy all the gifts God has given you for yourself, then you are in for a rude awakening when you stand before Him.

The third aspect to acting wisely is to diligently execute that plan throughout the time that you have left.  A plan is no good if we don’t start doing it and if we aren’t faithful to complete it.  It has been said that genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.  We could say that in this case diligence is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.  You have to start doing it and continue doing it.  Believers should pray, read the Word, and interact with one another with loving diligence because we know that these things are very real.  So Analyze your situation, Make a plan, and then do it.

The Instructions Of Our Lord

In verse 9-13 Jesus gives us some action items to work on.  So let’s look at them.  He first tells us to use our earthly possession to build eternal relationships.  Vs. 9 says, “make friends for yourselves.”  He is not just talking about friends for this life, but friends who will continue to be so in the life to come.  Eternal friends are those who are not just connected to our life, but also connected to our God.  Jesus says that if we were wise then we would use our earthly possessions to help others both in natural things and in spiritual things. 

Now we need to deal with the phrase “unrighteous mammon.”  Mammon is a term that means wealth and involves both possessions and money.  It is called unrighteous not because it is ill-gotten, but because of how it influences our heart and life.  Power has a corrupting influence on sinful hearts and don’t doubt that money and possessions are power.  In light of this directive of Jesus, we might ask the question, “How many people will rejoice when I enter heaven?”  We cannot fathom the age to come and how our relationships now might be important now.  However, I think the point of Jesus is not quite as pointed as that.  He is more focused on us acting wisely now and using the wealth we have to make eternal friends.

The second instruction our Lord gives us is to be faithful in the lesser things of this world.  In verse 10 Jesus calls the riches of this world, “the lesser things.”  People like Bill Gates or Warren Buffet may have great power because of the amount of money and wealth they have.  But no matter how much you have, it is still the lesser riches.  The true riches are those things that we receive from God that can never be taken away and destroyed.  The wealth of this world can be lost in a moment as the political and social tides storm their way over us.  But the brotherhood of believers is never lost even in the face of death.  Ours is a bond that cannot be taken by tyrants, criminals, nor devils.  The true riches starts with God’s love that we can share with Him and with one another.  Add to that the assurance we have of our salvation and future with God and His people.  On top of that we are promised a new glorified body that cannot be destroyed.  Such things cannot be taken away from us by this world.  Finally, in verse 12, Jesus promises that if we are faithful in the lesser things then we will be able to have “that which is our own.”  Simply put, Jesus looks ahead to the age to come and reveals that in that day God will give us things with which we can do anything we want.  But today we are in a relationship of managers and stewards.

The third instruction Jesus gives is to make sure your loyalties are with God and not your possessions.  Though we can think of selfish people as being their own master, in actuality they become a slave to their own flesh and its desires.  The truth is that those with great amounts of earthly possessions are often possessed by those very things.  When a person makes $12,000 a year they think to themselves, “If I only had $24,000.”  But when they make $24,000 they think, “If I only had $48,000.”  And the curse goes on.  It is never enough and we become more and more ruled by the fear of losing it.  This life is the proving ground of where our loyalties lie.  As much as God loves us, He will not bless rebels and fools at the Day of Judgment.  So how can I know if I am a slave to my possessions?  When I am always waiting until I have more to get serious about serving God with it, then I am a slave to it.  The widow put in her last coin because she was wise, not because she had money to spare.  She was not a slave to her money.  She mastered it because she was serving God with all her heart.  How am I using my money and possessions today to demonstrate that I serve God?  Don’t go away sad today.  Instead rejoice because you have received a great light that can deliver your soul from the corruption of the possessions of this world.

Wise or Foolish audio