THE CAUSES AND CONSEQUENCES OF THEIR UNBELIEF – John 5:41-47

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INTRODUCTION:

The Queen Mary was the largest ship to cross the oceans when it was launched in 1936.  Through four decades and a World War, she served until she was retired and anchored as a floating hotel and museum in Long Beach, California.  During the conversion process, her three massive stacks were taken off to be scraped down and repainted.  But on the dock they crumbled.  Nothing was left of the 3/4 inch steel plate from which the stacks had been formed.  All that remained were more than thirty coats of paint that had been applied over the years.

After healing the invalid at the pool of Bethesda,  the Lord Jesus went into great detail to substantiate His claim to be the Messiah, the Son of God.  He described five witnesses that couldn’t be refuted; and there were hundreds, even thousands who could attest to the truth of what they saw and heard.  He had built a structure that was strong and lasting, incapable of being torn down and destroyed.  Now, in verses 41-47, the Lord Jesus directs His attention toward His accusers, who are standing around him in their elegant robes and with their pious countenances, and He starts chipping away at their paint!

I.  EMPTY OF LOVE (verse 41-42)

Jesus has been appealing to their minds by giving them proofs of his deity.  Then He appealed to their wills, exposing their stubborn refusal to believe Him.  Now He’s going to get to the heart of the problem.  In verse 41, Jesus gives them a brief description of His own attitude as a basis for comparison to theirs.  He says, “I do not receive glory from men.”  He is not seeking the applause of men.  Rather, His motivation is that of doing the will of the Father out of love for the Father.  He is filled and controlled by His love for His Father.  (John 5:19-20, 30).

By contrast, he says to them, “but I know you, that you do not have the love of God in yourselves.”  Can you feel the sharpness of His rebuke? “But I know you”, He says.  They are not going to pull the wool over His eyes!  He sees underneath the paint!   Now He’s going to be chipping away at it, and revealing to them what He sees!

The first thing he reveals to them, in verse 42, is that they have no love for God.  In their hearts they don’t really love God.  It’s just “external paint” that they have applied to themselves so that others might see it and admire them.  I think Jesus is also saying, “You don’t really believe in God, and you are unwilling to believe in Me, because you don’t love God.  I can envision the anger on their faces and can almost hear the murmuring and threats they are making.  I think Jesus had to raise His voice in order to be heard above their murmuring and complaining.

II.  FILLED WITH PRIDE (verses 43-44)

In order to affirm what He has just told them, and give them the underlying reason for His statement in verse 42, Jesus reiterates what He told them earlier.  In verse 43, Jesus begins by saying, “I have come in My Father’s name, and you did not receive Me”.  What He means by those words is, “I’ve already proven to you that I’ve been sent by God and have His authority, yet you refuse to accept Me for Who I am and obey Me.  You refuse to show me the honor and worship that I deserve.”

I believe that the words that follow are used by Jesus to point out the irony in what they have been doing.  He says, “if another should come in his own name, you will receive him.”  Jesus is making a true statement about what the leaders of the Jews have done many times in the past.  During the time of Jesus there were two schools of thought based upon the teachings of two rabbis:  Shammai and Hillel.  The scribes and Pharisees spent much time debating with each other regarding which one of them was right on various issues and doctrines, rather than studying the Scriptures themselves.  Later on, Jesus tells them, in Mark 13 and Matthew 24, that many other false Messiahs will come on their own authority and draw many astray.

Jesus didn’t fit their own description of the Messiah.  Jesus was too humble, poor, and plain.  They were looking for a Messiah whom they considered to be worthy of being followed – a Messiah who would come in royal robes; a stately figure with awesome physical and political power who would crush the power of the Roman Empire. They wanted a Messiah who would recognize their devotion to God and their leadership abilities, and Who would put them in positions of authority in His kingdom on earth.  Jesus was the total opposite of what they had in mind.

In verse 44, Jesus rebukes them again by asking them a pointed question: “How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another. and you do not seek the glory that is from the one and only God?”  He faced them with the true cause of their unbelief – their own personal pride and conceit.  The word “glory” is a translation of the Greek word “Doxan”, which comes from the verb “dokeo”, which means “to think”.  The scribes and Pharisees had a very high “opinion” of themselves; so high that they even argued among themselves as to who was the most famous.  You might say that there was even a battle going on to form a “pecking order” among the proud, and nobody wanted to give in to the others.  They were so busy glorifying themselves that they had no interest in seeking the glory of God that could be found reflected in Jesus Christ.

On the French Riviera, it is such an important status symbol to have a balcony on an apartment, that it is quite common to see balconies painted on the walls of apartment houses.  People even painted wet laundry hanging on the clothesline, just to give it a touch of reality!  In the same vein, there was no limit to what these Jewish leaders would do in order to give their own lives an imitation “touch of reality” that might cause others to “look up to them” and be impressed by what they saw.

III.  THE CONSEQUENCES (verses 45-47)

The Lord Jesus has been chipping away at their exterior paint.  Now He is going to hammer away at their foundation so that it crumbles like the stacks of the Queen Mary.  He says, in verse 45, “Do you think that I will accuse you before the Father”?  He’s saying, “Do you think that I am going to follow your example?”  They have been accusing Him of doing miracles on the Sabbath in violation of the Law of Moses (John 5:10,16).  The Lord wasn’t the One who would be gathering the information and pressing charges against them.  He continues by saying, the one who accuses you is Moses, in whom you have set your hope.”  The men standing around Jesus claimed to be disciples of Moses.  That statement of Jesus must have raised some eyebrows and evoked some angry responses.  They’ve put their hope in the wrong person because Moses is not going be on their side!

In verse 46, Jesus gives the reason for His statement:  “For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me, for he wrote of Me.”  Where did Moses write about Jesus?  Moses does not use the name “Jesus”, but he refers to the Messiah in several places using a variety of names to describe Him.  In Genesis 3:15, Moses wrote down the words that God said to the serpent in the hearing of Adam and Eve after their disobedience:  And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between her seed and your seed; He shall bruise (crush) you on the head, and you shall bruise him on the heal.”  The “seed of the woman” is the Messiah.  He will be a descendent of her.

In Deuteronomy 18:15, Moses refers to the Messiah as a prophet when he says, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your countrymen, you shall listen to him.”

In Genesis 49, Jacob summoned all his sons to gather around him before his death, and prophesied concerning each of his sons.  In his prophecy concerning his son, Judah, Jacob says:  “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until Shiloh comes, and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.” (Genesis 49:10).  This is the only place in the Bible where Shiloh refers to a person rather than a place.  Shiloh is the Messiah, and He has already come to earth in the Person of Jesus Christ.  So why does it say that the scepter shall not depart from Judah until Shiloh comes?  History gives the answer.  In 70 A.D. the nation of Israel was conquered and its people scattered throughout the earth.  The scepter was removed from Judah, but it is still retained.  Jesus was the last Person from the line of David, on both His mother’s and his father’s side, who had the legal and spiritual right to assume the throne.  He still retains that right and will be returning to bring that prophecy to fulfilment.

Jesus closes His rebuke with the words “But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words.”  Jesus was saying to them, and He says to us today also, that belief is not just a matter of the mind, but also of the will.  They knew those Messianic texts, but they were unwilling to ascribe them to Him.  They refused to obey Moses, and they refused to obey Christ.  There was no valid excuse for their behavior.  They loved themselves to the exclusion of a true love of God, and in their pride they chose to be their own gods, doing their own will instead of God’s.

The same is true today.  There is no acceptable excuse for not believing and obeying God and His Son, Jesus Christ.  There is no excuse for not searching after God and asking Him to reveal Himself to us.  There is no excuse for not responding to the truth that we have, the truth God has given to each of us.  The only thing that holds us back is our own foolish pride in ourselves, the original sin of Adam and Eve, the temptation that Satan wants us to give in to.  Don’t let pride separate you eternally from the One who loves you sacrificially and wants you to experience the joy of submitting yourselves to Him as your Lord and King; a joy that will change your life forever, giving you a new purpose for living as you enjoy doing His will and experiencing His power and presence.  Let’s “remove the paint” and “be real” in Christ Jesus our Lord!  

Fellow Christians, let’s review each day and ask ourselves who is getting the glory in our lives.  Even when we are serving the Lord and living in obedience to His Word, it’s always tempting to take the glory to ourselves rather than put the focus on the One who loves us, inspires us, empowers us, and has gifted us to serve Him and be witnesses for Him.

“I will bless the Lord at all times;
His praise shall continually be in my mouth.
My soul shall make its boast in the Lord;
The humble shall hear it and rejoice.
O magnify the Lord with me,

And let us exalt His name together.”
Psalm 34:1-3

  CONSTRUCTION SITE:  COMPLETED

May the Lord Jesus be the One who holds your life together, and gives you joy, peace, purpose, and meaning each day.  May He also receive the glory that He alone deserves.

 

 

 

 

BE PATIENT LIKE THE FARMER – JAMES 5:7-8

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INTRODUCTION:

Are you a patient person – both on the outside and on the inside?  Do you mind standing in long lines?  Are you unperturbed when listening to long commercials on your TV or radio, or long, automated ads on the telephone?  Are you content when put on hold for an undetermined amount of time?  If your honest answer is “yes”, you are, by far, an exception to the rule!

In 2006, a survey of more than 2000 adults revealed that most peope take an average of 17 minutes to lose their patience when waiting in line.  Also, most people lose their patience in only 9 minutes when on hold on the phone. Impatience is a common trait; wouldn’t you agree?

TRANSITION:

James has finished his verbal chastening of the selfish, unrighteous rich people, and is continuing where he left off in his address to the churches.  We see the transition in verse 7, where James now calls his readers and listeners “brethren”. He is writing once again to his brothers and sisters in Christ.

I.  THE EXHORTATION (vs. 7a)

He has been telling the wicked rich people what to do before they meet their Maker.  Now he is telling his fellow-believers what their attitude should be in their present circumstances in order to prepare to meet their Lord and Savior.  He reiterates what he said in chapter 1, verse 12:  “Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial, for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life, which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.”  In this letter, James has brought to their minds many passages from the Old Testament, and I believe he is doing so again.  One Old Testament passage of Scripture which closely parallels his words is Psalm 37. In verses 7-9 of Psalm 37, King David writes:  “Rest in the Lord and wait patiently for Him; do not fret for him who prospers in his way, because of him who carries out wicked schemes.”  Then David says in verse 9, “For evildoers will be cut off, but those who wait for the Lord, they will inherit the land.”

This exhortation is repeated several times in Psalm 37.  I encourage you to read the whole psalm to get the full effect of what David is saying there under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

James also gives this encouragement in verse 7 in order to protect his readers and listeners from their own selfish plans and boastful attitudes (James 4:13-17).  Some of them have been setting up their own timetable for what they want to accomplish for themselves, and have been boasting about it to others.

When James uses the words “until the coming of the Lord”, he may be reminding himself of the Lord Jesus’ words to him and the other disciples:  “Let not your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me.  In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you.  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again, and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also”  (John 14:1-3). That’s a wonderful promise for us to cling to as well, in these troublesome times! The early church believed that Christ could come at any moment, and that was a source of joy and encouragement in their trials.  Two centuries have passed, but Christ could still come at any moment.  Are you excited about that possibility?  It could become a reality at any moment!

II.  THE EXAMPLE (vs. 7b)

James says, “take a good look at the farmer as an example of patience (long-suffering)”.  The farmer has a lot of work to do, and he also must wait for things to happen in his fields and orchards.  Plants take time to grow and fruit takes time to ripen.  As his readers and listeners know, in Deuteronomy 11:13-14, God made a promise to the nation of Israel before they crossed the Jordan River and entered the promised land.  “And it shall come about, if you listen obediently to my commandments which I am commanding you today, to love the Lord your God and serve Him with all your heart and all your soul, that He will give the rain for your land in its season, the early and late rain . . . “.  In Israel the early rain, or autumn rain, comes in October and November, after the ground has been prepared and the seed has been sown.  This rain enables the seed to germinate, produce sprouts, and grow to almost full height.  The late rain, or spring rain, comes in March or April, when the buds have formed, and enables the grain to mature for the harvest.  It’s important that the farmer follows this timetable set forth by God if he wants an abundant harvest.  There is a time of patiently waiting for the autumn rain to arrive, for the spring rain to arrive, and for the harvesting to begin, but the farmer is kept busy preparing and repairing the equipment and the barns, and getting the laborers ready for the coming harvest.  The time goes by quickly because the farmer is committed to his tasks and excited about the harvest to come.

III.  THE EXHORTATION (verse 7b)

James encourages his readers and listeners to have the same attitude of perseverance and expectancy as the farmer that he has just described.  There are, and have been, times in our lives that have tested our patience and posed a threat to our devotion to God and service for Him.  There have also been times when we have wanted to get things done in a hurry just to get them over with!  19th-century preacher A.B. Simpson offers this advice:  “Beloved, have you ever thought that someday you will not have anything to try you, or anyone to vex you again?  There will be no opportunity in heaven to learn or to show the spirit of patience, forbearance, and longsuffering.  If you are to practice these things, it must be now.”  Each day offers countless opportunities to learn patience.  Let’s not waste them.

A PERSPECTIVE FROM ABOVE

I’m going to carry this illustration of the farmer a step further because both the Old and New Testaments do so.  It is a clear, powerful, and exciting realization and motivation for us today.  I have already shared scriptures concerning the early and late rains as found in the old testament.  But there is another image that James may be trying to convey, and this image may be coming to the minds of his readers and listeners.  It is the image of God as the patient Farmer, the Cultivator, the Planter, the Nurturer, the Pruner, and the Harvester in the lives of His people.

King David says to God is Psalm 65:9-10:  “Thou dost visit the earth and cause it to overflow; Thou dost greatly enrich it.  The stream of God is full of water. Thou dost prepare their grain, for thus Thou dost prepare the earth.  Thou dost water its furrows abundantly; Thou dost settle its ridges.  Thou dost soften it with showers; Thou dost bless its growth.”  He describes God as doing the whole work of the farmer.

Psalm 121 gets more personal.  “Behold, He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.  The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is the shade at your right hand.  The sun will not smite you by day, nor the moon by night.  The Lord will protect you from every evil.  He will keep your soul.”  As the farmer takes good care of his land and crops, so the Lord takes constant care of His people.

A song that I sing to myself almost every day is the hymn, “God Will Take Care Of You”.  Now I’m beginning to realize why this song is so special to me.  The words. “God will take care of you” are repeated over and over again with different melodies.  Singing the song brings a smile to my face and an assurance that those words are really true.  It reminds me that when I was a little child, my mother used a similar method to calm me down and help take away the fear or the pain I was experiencing.  She would hold me close, rock me in her arms, and say, “It’s OK, Tommy . . . It’s alright . . . I love you . . . You’re going to be alright . . .  It’s gonna go away . . . You’re going to be OK.”  Does that bring back memories?  Those repeated words brought comfort to me, and helped take my mind off the problem.  In a similar way, God tells us over and over again in the Scriptures that He loves us and will take care of us.

Isaiah 30:18 reflects the patience of a farmer.  “Therefore the Lord longs to be gracious to you.  And therefore He waits on high to have compassion on you.”  “For the vineyard of the Lord of Hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah His delightul plant.”  If God is waiting, that means He is also watching, and with joyful anticipation!

The Lord Jesus echoed the words in the psalms and prophets when He said, “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me, and I in him, he bears much fruit.  For apart from Me you can do nothing. . . . by this is My Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be My disciples” (John 15:5,8).

We believers in the Lord Jesus are God’s vineyard, God’s field.  We are the fertile ground which God has prepared.  He has planted the seed of His Word in us, watered it, and caused it to germinate and grow.  He has provided for everything, filled us with His Spirit, and taken care of everything in our lives.  Now He is waiting patiently for you and I to cooperate with Him so that we might bear much fruit before He comes again. The seed is in that fruit to bear more fruit.  God wants us to depend upon His enabling, follow His example of working and waiting on Him, and so prove to be His disciples.  You are equal to the task because He is the “Lord of the Harvest”, and He has called you to be His laborers.  The coming of the Lord is very soon!

“For you are God’s fellow-workers: you are God’s field”  (I Corinthians 3:9).  May you experience the Lord’s care for you, and may your lives bear much fruit for the Lord!

I’m moving on to a new construction site:  James 5:9-11.  Hope to see you there once construction begins!  This work-in-progress must go on until He comes!  Or until I go to Him – whichever comes first!  May the Lord of the Harvest bear fruit in your life today as you abide in Him!  (Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control).

 

 

 

 

  

 

EARTHLY WISDOM – James 3:15-16

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In my previous study on verse 14, James gave a warning to his readers at that time, and the warning applies to us today:  “But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth.”

In verse 15, James gives a name to the kind of wisdom he has just described.  He calls it “earthly wisdom”.  This kind of wisdom does not “come down from above”.  In other words, God does not give this kind of wisdom.  James also uses two more words to describe this wisdom, and with each word the description seems to become worse and worse. Not only is it “earthly” wisdom (wisdom that does not come from God), but it is also “natural” wisdom.  The Greek word suggests that this wisdom has to do with the body and the soul or emotions, but not with the spirit.  So this wisdom James speaks of is not only not from God, it has nothing to do with God.    When you think it can’t get any worse than that, it does.  James goes on to say that this wisdom is demonic.  Satan and his demons evidenced this kind of wisdom when they became filled with envy and rebelled against God.  Therefore a person with this kind of wisdom is easily influenced by Satan.

Earthly wisdom is an end in itself.  People strive for it so that they might boast about it, and so that others might tell them how wise or smart they are, and pass the word on to still others.  On the other hand, godly wisdom is not an end in itself but a means to an end.  King Solomon in the Old Testament is considered to be one of the wisest men who ever lived.  Let’s take a look at how Solomon received that wisdom, and why he received such wisdom from God.  In I Kings 3 we read that King Solomon loved the Lord and walked in obedience to Him.  And while Solomon was at Gibeon, after he had offered sacrifices there on the altar, the Lord appeared to him in a dream and told him to ask for whatever he wanted.  That’s quite an offer!  In verses seven and eight of I Kings 3 Solomon says, “And now, O Lord my God, Thou hast made Thy servant King in place of my father David, yet I am but a little child;  I do not know how to go out and come in.  And Thy servant is in the midst of a people which Thou hast chosen, a great people who cannot be numbered or counted for multitude.  So give Thy servant an understanding heart to judge Thy people to discern between good and evil.  For who is able to judge this great people of Thine.”  God answered Solomon’s request and gave him far more than he asked for.

In contrast, we see in the Scriptures what human wisdom has acccomplished.  It began with Adam and Eve’s removal from the Garden of Eden and the affects of their sin upon our world.  Earthly wisdom has also resulted in wars, discrimination, poverty, and pollution of our environment to name a few.  In our churches human wisdom has led to church fights, church splits, and churches closing their doors, among other issues.

In verse 16 James sums up the effects of earthly wisdom.  He says, “For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing.”  When Christians act in this way it also leaves a bad impression on others.  As one Christian put it:  “Self is spiritual BO!”

A prime example of jealousy and selfish ambition in the Bible is found in the OId Testament book of Esther.  Haman the Agagite, in Esther, chapter 7, constructs a gallows on which he intends to hang Mordecai the Jew in order to satisfy his own selfish desires and demonstrate his power.  However, his plan backfires!  Queen Esther learns of his plot and intervenes.  As a result, the king orders that Haman be hanged on the gallows he had built for Mordecai the Jew.  Not only that but all of Haman’s ten sons are killed also.  That’s a very high price to pay for his selfish motives and actions!

As in the case of Haman, pride and selfishness can have harmful or tragic side effects on innocent people.  Let me give you another case in point.  Other examples may come to your mind.

In the summer of 1986, two ships collided in the Black Sea, causing a tragic loss of life.  The news of the disaster was further darkened, however, when an investigation revealed the cause of the accident, which hurled hundreds of passengers into the icy waters.  The tragedy was not traced to some major problem like a breakdown in radar or thick fog.  The blame was attributed to human stubbornness.  Each captain was aware of the other ship’s presence.  Both could have taken evasive action to avert the collision.  But according to news reports, neither wanted to give way to the other.  It seems that each was too proud to yield and make the first move.  By the time they saw the error of their ways, it was too late.

There’s been a lot of talk about pride, envy, and boasting in this sermon so far.  How about you?  Does life seem unfair sometimes?  Are others better off than yourself?  Do others seem to get all the “lucky breaks” in life?  Do others seem to get away with things that aren’t right?  Are you tired of listening to all the boasting that’s being done by others?  We’ve all had those thoughts and feelings before, haven’t we?  I have!  Even the psalmist expresses those feelings in Psalm 73:3.  He says, “I envied the proud when I saw them prosper despite their wickedness”.

When this happens, we’ve lost our perspective and have begun to fall into the habit pattern of using “earthly wisdom”.  God wants us to look at life from the perspective of eternity.  If you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ;  if you’ve repented of your sins and invited Him to reign as Lord in your life, then you’re going to spend eternity with Him in heaven and your joy will be unending.  It doesn’t get any better than that!

Doesn’t our envy seem to be a waste of time in comparison to what’s already ours for eternity?  Shouldn’t it be reminding us to pray for those who have this world’s wisdom and this world’s goods, yet will forfeit their souls?  When envious thoughts begin to fill our minds, let’s spend time alone with God in His Word and in prayer, and ask Him to put things back into their proper perspective.

This section is still under construction.  Thought you might like to see how it’s coming along.  It’s still a “work in progress”, and so am I (and so are you)!

 

II. A WARNING – James 3:14

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Here in verse 14 of James, chapter 3, James says, “But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition . . . “.  Pay close attention to the first four words:  “But if you have”.  James isn’t saying that it’s a possibility.  He’s implying that it is a reality.  James has observed this attitude among believers and he is telling them not to glory in it.

Notice three more words in this verse that need to be kept in mind.  Those three words are:  “in your heart”.  That’s where it begins, isn’t it?  And that’s where it needs to be dealt with.

James is accusing them of “bitter jealousy” and “selfish ambition”.  The word “jealousy” is not necessarily a bad word.  We get our English word “zeal” from the Greek word “zelon” that’s used in this verse.  That same word was used of the Lord Jesus Christ in John 2 when He cleansed the Temple of the corruption that was going on inside.  It’s a question of motives.  Jesus’ motive was to glorify the Father.  The jealousy that James is referring to is a “bitter jealousy”.  The word “bitter” is the Greek word “pikron”  which means “sharp”, “piercing”.  The sound of the Greek word, “pikron” brings to my mind the image of an ice pick.  The jealous person is pictured as jabbing his rival with it and enjoying the pain and agony that he is inflicting.

Such a jealous person is excessively concerned about himself and resents the good fortune of others.  We all have problems with envy at times, don’t we?  Even if it’s not obvious on the outside, it’s happening on the inside.  We may even envy the success of others when we are successful ourselves.

There’s a legend about a successful Burmese potter who had become envious of the prosperity of a washerman (a laundryman or cleaner).  Determined to put this man out of business, the potter convinced the king to issue an order requiring the man to wash one of the king’s black elephants and make it white.

The washerman replied that according to the rules of his vocation he would need a vessel large enough to hold the elephant, whereupon the king commanded the potter to provide one.  So the potter constructed a giant bowl and had it carefully delivered to the washerman.  But when the elephant stepped into it, it crumbled to pieces beneath the weight of the enormous beast.

More vessels were made, but each was crushed in the same way.  Eventually it was the potter who was put out of business by the very scheme he had devised to ruin the man he envied.

This is a very abbreviated version of the story.  There are many versions of the full story.  My favorite is the one written by Pam Hopper and illustrated by Allan Eitzen. Type “The Potter and the Washerman” into your web browzer and you will see it.  It is a very amusing story with a good moral lesson to it.  You can even find it acted out on UTube.  Enjoy!

So “bitter jealousy” is an excessive concern for oneself, and a resentment for the good fortune of another.  Bible expositor and theologian, William Barclay, had this to say about “bitter jealousy” or envy:  “As long as we think of our own prestige, our own importance, our own reputation, and our own rights, we will always be envious.”

James also accused his readers of “selfish ambition”.  The Greek word is actually a political term.  It can also be translated “party spirit”, “rivalry”, or “faction”.  It was used to refer to rival schools of thought in the political arena who were heaping abuse on each other.  You’ve probably heard the term “mud slinging” used to refer to these kinds of tactics.  We are getting very close to an election year here in America, and potential candidates are already canvassing for votes.  Have you received any such mail lately?  You will very soon!

James’ admonition to those with jealousy and selfish ambition is to “stop being arrogant and so lie against the truth”.  Verse 14 is a sequence of events.  Warren Wiersbe, in his commentary of James, calls it a “chain of events”.  He says:  “First there is selfish ambition, which leads to a party spirit and rivalry.  In order to ‘win the election’ we must resort to boasting, and boasting usually involves lies.”

If you should find yourself at the first “link” of envy, or you’re aleady adding links to it, stop now, confess your sin to God and ask for His wisdom and strength before you get wrapped up in those chains and drag others down along with you!

UNDER CONSTRUCTION!  A WORK IN PROGRESS!

Please come back and visit again soon.  I don’t want to be the only one having fun!  There is much more to learn!  You are welcome to visit the other sermons on this site.  Thank you for visiting!  I would enjoy hearing from you.

 

THE TRUE MINISTER – I Corinthians 4:1-5

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INTRODUCTION:

How do you evaluate a pastor?  All kinds of criteria have been used to determine who are the most successful, the most influential, the most gifted, and the most effective ministers.  Some magazines take surveys and write extensive reports, ranking pastors by church membership, attendance at worship services, sizes of church staff and Sunday school, academic and honorary degrees, books and articles written, numbers of messages given at conferences and conventions, and so on.  As popular as this practice may be, it may not always be true to God’s Word.

I Corinthians 4:1-5 focuses on the true nature and marks of God’s ministers.  Paul is not speaking here of the traditional concept of a full-time employee of a church who  is hired to do the preaching, the teaching, and the counseling, as well as officiate at other church functions.  This concept is unknown in the New Testament.  It came into the church only within the past 500 years.  A minister of Christ in the New Testament was anyone, “anyone”, who, because of the gift of the Holy Spirit, was a preacher or a teacher of the Word of God.  That is what Paul is talking about here.  And Paul gives basic guidelines and standards by which ministers are to minister and be evaluated.  He also gives us the characteristics of a true minister.

I.  THE IDENTITY OF THE MINISTER (verse 1)

In verse 1, the first characteristic Paul gives us is the identity of the minister.  When Paul says, “Let a man regard us in this manner”, he is referring to all men, both Christians and non-Christians.  He wants them to see God’s ministers according to what God has called them to be, that is, “servants of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God.”  The word “servants” is a translation of the Greek word “huperetes”, which literally means “under-rowers”.  Everyone in Corinth understood what that word meant.  Corinth was where the war ships of the Roman Empire crossed the isthmus that separated the Ionian Sea from the Aegean Sea, and the Corinthians knew that the lowest deck was the place where the lowest class of slaves sat.  Then, on a little deck, raised up about them all so that all could see him, was the captain of the ship.  It was the rowers’ task to row according to what he said.  If he wanted the ship to move,  then they were to row.  If he wanted them to stop, they were to stop instantly.  Their whole business was to obey his orders.  That is the word that Paul chooses to describe those who are teachers, preachers, and ministers of the Word of God within the congregation of the church.  They are “under-rowers” of Christ.

A young pastor at a pastor’s conference once asked an older pastor whom he respected, “What would you do if you were in my shoes?  My church board called me in and said to me, ‘Look, there are some things we want you to understand.  One is that this is our church;  it is not your church.  We were here before you came and we are going to be here when you leave.  Therefore, we expect you to do what we want you to do and not what you think you ought to do.’  What would you say to a church like that?”  The other pastor told him that he would call together the elders of the church and would say to them, “Brothers, I think you are suffering from two very serious theological errors.  One, you think this is your church, but it is the Lord’s church.  Churches belong to Him.  They do not belong to the people.  They are not a democracy, owned by the people.  Jesus said, ‘On this rock I will build My church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.’  So all of us are under the authority of the Lord of this church and it is His work to tell us what He wants the church to be, and not our job to tell Him what we think it ought to be.”

“The second error is that you think you hired me to work in this church, but you have not.  I did not come on that basis.  I have joined you to share the ministry with you.  I appreciate the fact that you have set me aside and given me support from the congregation so that I don’t have to spend time earning a living but can devote my full time to the study of God’s Word, and to the ministry of preaching and teaching His Word.  If you will not accept those terms then I will have to look elsewhere.  I cannot work on any other terms because that is what the New Testament says.”

He went back to his church, shared these principles with them, and they fired him.  But now he has another church, and he made his stand clear from the beginning, and things are working out very well with him.  So, to look first of all at men’s needs is to fail men as well as to fail the Lord.  A minister who becomes so occupied with counseling and helping his congregation and community that he spends little time in the Word is unable to meet those people’s deepest needs.  To serve Christ is to serve His Word, which is the revelation of His will.  As a servant of Christ, his function is to obey God’s commands as revealed in His Word, serving Him with all humility.

Ministers of the Gospel are also “stewards of the mysteries of God”.  The word for steward is “oikonomos”, meaning “housekeeper”.  When you are on an airplane you find a stewardess or a steward who serves coffee, tea, milk, and other beverages, as well as serving a tray of food at the proper time.  They are entrusted with certain valuable commodities which they are responsible to give you.

A minister of Christ, whoever he or she may be within a congregation, is to be a steward entrusted with what Paul calls “the mysteries of God”.  These are the secret truths and the hidden wisdom which can only be found in God’s Word and nowhere else.  As a steward of God’s mysteries, a minister is to take God’s revealed Word and dispense it to God’s household, so that lives are changed and are lived on the basis of these remarkable truths.  A preacher or teacher’s concern should not be to please his hearers or to dispense his own views.  As the apostle Paul said to Timothy in II Timothy 2:15, “be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, handling accurately the word of truth.”

II.  THE REQUIREMENT OF A MINISTER (verse 2)

In verse 2, Paul says that the most important requirement of a good steward is that he be trustworthy or faithful.  God does not require brilliance or cleverness or creativity or popularity.  He can use servants with those qualities, but only trustworthiness is absolutely essential.  So the main issue is not, “Is Paul popular?”, or “Is Apollos a better preacher than Paul?”  The main issue is, “Have Paul, Apollos, and Peter been faithful to do the work God assigned to them?”

God supplied His Word, His Spirit, His gifts, and His power.  All that the minister can supply is his faithfulness in using those resources for God’s glory.  George Washington Carver once asked the Lord to tell him all about the universe.  According to Carver, the Lord said, “George, the universe is just too big for you to understand.  Suppose you let me take care of that.”  Humbled, George Carver replied, “Lord, how about a peanut?”  The Lord said, “Now, George, that’s something your own size.  Go to work on it and I’ll help you.”  George discovered over 300 uses for peanuts, and he helped farmers by showing them how to take care of the soil.  Carver used what little he had, and God rewarded his faithfulness.

III.  EVALUATION OF A MINISTER (verses 3,4)

In verses 3 and 4, Paul uses his own situation as an example of the evaluation of the minister.  Paul is not bragging or placing himself above other ministers, or above any other Christian.  What he said about his own attitude about himself should be said by every minister and every Christian.  It should be “a small thing” to any of us when our ministry or our spiritual life is examined by other Christians or “by any human court”.  The word “examined” means “to investigate, question, evaluate”.  It does not mean to determine guilt or innocence.

It is important to remind ourselves that in the spiritual realm, outward appearance means nothing.  You cannot fool God!  That’s what Paul emphasizes here.  He declares that he is not concerned about the judgment people place upon him and his work.  This doesn’t mean that a sincere word of appreciation from others or a helpful criticism can’t be useful and even a blessing.  But no minister can remain faithful to his calling if he lets his congregation, or any other human beings, decide how true his motives are, or whether he is working within the Lord’s will.  Because their knowledge and understanding of his motives are imperfect, their criticisms and compliments are imperfect.

In fact, Paul says that even his own evaluation of himself isn’t really important.  What matters is the Lord’s verdict.  A person can do things that make him look good before men, and in the process even fool himself into thinking he is pleasing the Lord;  yet, in reality, he may be motivated by selfishness and greed.  Men see only the outward deeds and may be favorably impressed, but God sees the intentions of the heart.  Therefore He alone can judge with complete fairness.

There is the story of a young composer whose music was being performed.  He kept his eye fixed intently on one man in the audience, watching every expression that appeared on his face.  It was his teacher.  He cared more for the slightest mark of favor on his face than for all the applause of the large audience.  In our own lives as well, we should watch the face of Christ, as mirrored in His Word, caring only that He should be pleased.

Whenever you are tempted to speak insincerely, or do a good deed only for the praise of men, remember that the Father in Heaven is watching.  In His sight it’s what you really are that counts.  God alone is the judge of the true spiritual value of our service.

IV.  GOD’S EVALUATION (verse 5)

In verse 5, Paul looks ahead to God’s evaluation of His people.  Paul tells us not to go on passing judgment before the time.  We need to remember that our brothers and sisters in the faith are at different stages of growth and come from many different backgrounds and cultures.  Conversion to Christ is just the beginning, and a lifetime of replacing old thoughts, attitudes, habits, and actions with new ones follows after it, through the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit, who continually works to change us.   We must take the time to understand people, get to know them, learn their backgrounds, and ask for God’s wisdom to discern each one’s stage of spiritual development.  We should never draw hasty conclusions.

God has a day when He will “bring to light the things hidden in the darkness”.  I do not believe “things hidden in the darkness” refers to sins or anything evil, but simply to things presently unknown to us.  We know from this Scripture that the rewards and praise that God will give to his servants will not be based on the degrees behind our names, the numbers we have preached to, taught or witnessed to.  It will also not be based on the programs we have planned and directed, the books we have written, or even the number of converts won to Christ through us.  It will be based on one thing alone:  the motives of our hearts.

According to a legend, a desert wanderer found a crystal spring of unsurpassed freshness.  The water was so pure that he decided to bring some to his king.  Barely satisfying his own thirst, he filled a leather bottle with the water and carried it many days beneath the desert sun before he reached the palace.  When he finally laid his offering at the feet of his king, the water had become stale because of the old container in which it had been stored.  But the king would not let his faithful subject even imagine that it was unfit for use.  He tasted it with expressions of gratitude and delight, and the loyal man went away with a heart filled with gladness.  After he had gone, others sampled the water and expressed their surprise that the king had even pretended to enjoy it.  “Ah”, he said, “it was not the water I tasted, but the love that prompted the offering.”

Our service to God may be marked by many imperfections, but the Master looks at our motives.  He rejoices in our loyal actions, no matter what others may think of them.

Have you become discouraged in your work for the Lord?  Remember the parable of the water and let it motivate you to keep on serving the King of Kings, being faithful to Him and His Word.  Someday your faithful efforts will receive God’s praise.  What is done for Christ now will be rewarded in eternity.

 

LOVE – TRUE LOVE

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How is your love-life?  Do you want to be a better lover?  Do you want to show your love in ways that will be more greatly appreciated, and more fulfilling to you as well?  Then two words, when correctly understood and properly applied to your relationships, will make all the difference in the world!

The first word is “patience” .  True love isn’t in a hurry.  It doesn’t put the other person on a timetable, but gives the person space to make decisions and adjustments.  True love  lets relationships go at their own pace.  It never gets tired of waiting, and demonstrates this attitude by the absence of griping, complaining, grumbling, or any other outward signs of irritation and impatience.

True love doesn’t lose heart, but perseveres through difficult and troublesome times.  It keeps on hoping and believing.  True love is also forgiving. Remember:  nobody is perfect.  If you’re looking for the perfect person to love, you’re in for a very long wait, and hopefully you’ll learn patience in the process!

A true lover is a good listener, and knows how to ask the right questions to keep the conversation going. A true lover seeks to understand, and shows respect for the loved one’s opinions.  A patient person also excercises self-control and knows how to hold his or her tongue to avoid hurting the other person by a hasty or thoughtless word.  A billboard had these words written on it:  “A moment of patience in a moment of anger saves you a thousand moments of regret”.  Do you want to be a more patient person?  You will be loved for it, and you won’t regret it.

The other word is “kindness”.  A true lover is kind, and a kind person is a joy to be around because he or she lifts the spirits of others.  A kind person is also merciful, showing kindness even when it isn’t deserved.  A true lover is kind and doesn’t take advantage of others.  A little child was heard saying these words in a prayer:  “God, make all the bad people good, and make all the good people nice”.  This child saw a difference between being “good” and being “nice”.  I think we can notice that difference also.  Kind people don’t look down on others or make fun of others.  True lovers focus on lifting up their loved ones, not bringing them down.

Kindness is something we all long for.  We experience joy when we receive it from others, and even greater joy when we show it to others.  An act of kindness leaves an indelible impression on the receiver and the giver, as well as on all who witness it.  On the New York subway, a young man, his head covered by a hooded sweatshirt, fell asleep on the shoulder of an older passenger.  When someone else offered to wake the young rider, the older man quietly said, “He must have had a long day.  Let him sleep.  We’ve all been there.”

We all need someone to lean on sometimes, don’t we?  Do you want kindness to be more evident in your life?  Do you want your loved ones to experience it more often from you?

These two qualities, patience and kindness, are at the top of the list, and that list is given in the Bible, in I Corinthians 13:4-7:

Love is patient, love is kind.  It does not envy, it does not boast,
it is not proud.  It is not rude, it is not self-seeking,                                   
It is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.                 
Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.                              It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.                                     Love never fails.

May our love for one another be characterized by these virtues.

 

THE WORD BECAME FLESH – John 1:14

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GOD BECAME A MAN. Major Ian Thomas, in a message given at a Moody Bible Institute Conference, described Jesus’ coming as a man with these words: “Jesus had to come as He came (born of a virgin) in order to be what He was (a perfect man inhabited by God). He had to be what He was in order to do what He did (die to redeem us). He had to do what He did so that we might have what He has (His life; all that we lost when Adam sinned). We have to have what He has in order to be what He was (a person inhabited by God).”

In John 1:14, John describes Christ’s incarnation in three words, in contrast to the 2500 words used by Luke. He “dwelt among us”. The Greek word for “dwelt” is “eskenosen”, which means “to pitch a tent”. “He tabernacled among us” is another way to say it. The tabernacle in the Old Testament was made of plain white linen. The glory of the tabernacle was hidden inside. There was no beauty in its outward appearance. So too, the glory of the Lord Jesus was a hidden glory. When He came to pitch His tent among us, He did not lay aside His deity, but He did veil his glory.

The tabernacle in the Old Testament was only a temporary dwelling place. It was used while the people of Israel were journeying in the wilderness, and until the temple of Solomon was built. It’s’ interesting that Israel used the tabernacle in the wilderness for a little less than 35 years, the approximate lifetime of the Lord Jesus on this earth.

The apostle John then says, “we beheld His glory”. Our thoughts may go back to the Shekinah glory that filled the tabernacle in the wilderness when the pillar of cloud, which guided them by day, came to rest over the tabernacle and then filled the inside of the tabernacle with the glory of God. It was this inner glory that John, the one who knew the Lord so intimately, saw in Jesus Christ. He describes Jesus as being “full of grace and truth”. “Grace” reveals God as love; “truth” reveals God as light.

The God who “tabernacled” with the people of Israel for about 35 years, as they journeyed through the wilderness, and who “tabernacled” among us in the Person of Jesus of Nazareth for about 35 years, wants to “tabernacle” in each of us for the rest of our lives, and then face to face for eternity if we have repented of our sins and invited the Lord Jesus Christ to come in and reign as Lord in our Lives. Once again He wants to display His glory to us and to others around us through our actions, words, and attitude. Will you invite Him to do so this Christmas season?

GOD BECAME A MAN. Those words brought a song to my mind that is very appropriate for the Christmas season. Think with me about these lyrics:

Love was when God became a man, locked in time and space without rank or place.
Love was God born of Jewish kin, just a carpenter with some fishermen.
Love was when Jesus walked in history. Lovingly He brought a new life that’s free.
Love was God nailed to bleed and die to reach and love one such as I.

Love was when God became a man, down where I could see; love that reached to me.
Love was God dying for my sin, and so trapped was I, my whole world caved in.
Love was when Jesus rose to walk with me. Lovingly he brought a new life that’s free.
Love was God, only He would try to reach and love one such as I.
(John E. Walvoord/Don Wyrtzen)

For those of you who have never heard this song before, or for those who would like to hear it sung again, you can click this web site: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OK96FOXOclU, or type: John and Trini Pendleton sing “Love Was When” in your web browser. Trini sings and John accompanies her on the guitar. I think it’s a beautiful rendition.

As you celebrate this Christmas season, please remember that Christmas is just the introduction to His story. There are many chapters which follow, covering His life, death, resurrection, appearances, and ascension into heaven. And His story isn’t over yet. Any moment now He will be coming in the clouds to suddenly snatch His children out of this world in an instant. Then, after the seven years of tribulation, Christ will establish His kingdom on earth and reign for a thousand years. Finally, the Lord Jesus will return to heaven and all believers will enjoy His presence forever. I love happy endings!

That’s a lot to remember this Christmas season! May those memories bring you joy and expectation, and may you know and experience the real joy of Christmas!