ELIZABETH AND MARY REJOICING – Luke 1:39-56

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INTRODUCTION:

The scene opens.  Mary had just told the angel Gabriel, “I am the Lord’s servant . . . . May it be done to me as you have said” (NIV translation).  She has agreed to be the mother of the Messiah, and the angel Gabriel has just left her to return to the presence of God in heaven.  She is now alone, with her mind filled with thoughts and her heart filled with emotions.  “What do I do now?”  “Has the angel’s announcement already happened?”  “Am I already pregnant?”  “How will I know?”  “Who can I share all these amazing occurrences with?”

That’s where we begin our study of Luke 1:39-56.  The answers to those questions, and what happens next, are all found in this passage of Scripture.

I.  THE JOY OF ELIZABETH (verses 39-45)

Once Mary is able to gain some control over her thoughts and emotions, she remembers the angel’s words about Elizabeth.  “And behold, even your relative Elizabeth has also conceived a son in her old age; and she who was barren is now in her sixth month.”  From the response that follows, Mary may have thought, “Elizabeth is having a supernatural pregnancy also!  We have that in common!  She’s the only person I can talk to about these things that the angel told me.  I can’t tell Joseph since I’m not sure it has happened yet or when it will happen.  Her home will be a place of safety for me, and I can be of service to her.”  Are you getting the picture of Mary’s dilemma?

Verse 39 says, “Now at this time Mary arose and went with haste to the hill country to a city of Judah”.  Mary probably grabbed a few necessities for the trip, and may have left a note for her parents and for Joseph explaining that she had gone to Elizabeth to help her in the final trimester of her pregnancy.  Then she took off “in haste” to avoid any conversations and questions from family, friends, and neighbors.  The home of Zacharias and Elizabeth was 80 miles away, a journey of four to five days on foot.  In her haste to get there, Mary may have arrived in four days or even less.  She had plenty to think about along the way!  But all the travelling is going to be worth the effort on her part.  Her visit with Elizabeth and Zacharias is going to be beyond her highest expectations!  The Spirit of God is going to do some amazing things!

As Mary reaches the hill country of Judah and the home of Zacharias and Elizabeth is in sight, she has been rehearsing in her mind what she is going to say to Elizabeth and how she is going to say it.  There is probably some uneasiness about how this information is going to be received and the responses she might get.  However, when she enters their house and greets Elizabeth, the Spirit of God takes it from there and performs a miracle to her amazement.  Verse 41 says, “And it came about that when Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.”  I’m not sure that Mary observed those two things happening to Elizabeth, but she certainly heard the results.  The Holy Spirit immediately informed Elizabeth that Mary was pregnant with the Messiah, and then the Spirit took control of her voice as she described what happened and why it happened.  Verse 42 says, “And she (Elizabeth) cried out with a loud voice, and said, ‘Blessed among women are you, and blessed is the fruit of your womb’.”  Her voice was ecstatic and loud.  Notice that Elizabeth says “blessed among women”, not blessed above women.  It is a place of unmerited privilege, not a place of veneration or worship.  Her words were a confirmation to Mary that she was already pregnant.  “But how could she have known that information?”, Mary wonders.  “I haven’t told anyone that information and the news couldn’t have travelled that fast.  God must have told her.”

The answer comes in Elizabeth’s next statement in verse 43:  “And how is it that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”  Elizabeth not only knows that Mary is pregnant, but also that she is pregnant with the Messiah.  This is a second confirmation of the angel Gabriel words to her.  In verse 44, Elizabeth describes to Mary what happened within her womb when she heard her voice.  “For behold, when the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby leaped in my womb for joy.”

You mothers know what it looks like and feels like when your baby has moved around in your womb, especially when you are close to term.  Fathers and older brothers and sisters have watched wide-eyed. and with bursts of laughter, when the baby’s arm, elbow, or foot, protrudes in your belly.  It’s an amazing sight to watch and enjoy!

What Elizabeth described to Mary went well beyond the usual occurrence.  You might say that her experience was a miracle in itself.  It makes you wonder what it must have felt like when it happened!   I wonder whether the unborn John the Baptist was not only jumping for joy, but also assuming a position of worship before the Messiah in Mary’s womb.  Just a thought.

Finally, Elizabeth says in verse 45:  “And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what had been spoken to her by the Lord.”  The Holy Spirit had even given Elizabeth insight into Mary’s heart, and Mary’s faith in God’s promise.  Because Elizabeth is saying these things under the control of the Spirit, this commendation of Mary comes not only from Elizabeth but also from God Himself.

II.  THE JOY OF MARY (verses 46-56)

After hearing these words from Elizabeth, Mary’s heart is overflowing with praise and thanksgiving to God.  She responds with one of the most beautiful and worshipful prayers or declarations of praise to God in the Scriptures.  It is often called the Magnificat.  The Latin Vulgate translation begins with the words “Magnificat anima mea Dominum” (“My soul magnifies the Lord”).  The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible states:  “Some of the greatest works of Christian art have been produced around the Magnificat themes.  Artists, poets and musicians have celebrated its theme of joy at the salvation now graciously offered mankind through the gift of the Messiah.”

Mary’s words are similar to the words of Hannah in I Samuel 2:1-10, where Hannah praises and thanks God for giving her a son (Samuel).  You might want to read that passage of Scripture and compare the two prayers.

This declaration of praise to God reveals much to us about Mary’s character, her knowledge of the Old Testament Scriptures, her concept of God, and her trust in Him.  Let’s take a closer look at her words as she declares the greatness of God’s character, and His wonderful deeds.  Before we study the individual verses of Mary’s declaration of praises, let’s look at all ten verses of the Magnificat so that you can see the whole prayer at once.

“My soul exalts the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.
For He has had regard for the humble estate of His bondslave;
For behold, from this time on all generations will count me blessed.
For the Mighty One has done great things for me.  And holy is His name.
And His mercy is upon generation after generation toward those who fear Him.

He has done mighty deeds with His arm.
He has scattered those who were proud in the thoughts of their heart.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones,
And has exalted those who were humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things; and sent away the rich empty-handed.
He has given help to Israel His servant, in remembrance of His mercy,
As He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and his offspring forever”

That’s quite a statement, isn’t it?  With just a few modifications we could turn that into our own declaration of praise to God.  As we see, this young lady (Mary) must have spent a lot of time meditating on God’s Word.

Mary begins by expressing the source of her praise and joy.  In verse 46 she refers to God as Lord, and in verse 47 she calls Him my Savior.  She is echoing the words of Hannah in I Samuel 2, and the words of David in Psalm 35:9.  Like everyone else, Mary had to acknowledge Him as Lord, repent of her sins, and receive His salvation.

In verses 48 and 49, Mary rejoices in what God has done for her personally. Though she is the least of His servants, God has blessed her with the undeserved privilege of being the mother of the Messiah, who is now in her womb, and every generation will acknowledge this blessing of God upon her.  The focus of her attention is on God, and not on herself.  He is the one who has done these things.  As she says in verse 49:  “For the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is His name.”   I am impressed by Mary’s humility and her willing surrender to God’s will, as well as her concept of God’s power and holiness.

In the next section of her song, Mary includes those who are in the same socio-economic condition as herself (poor, humble and despised followers of Him).  Quoting from Psalms 103, 98, and 118, she praises God for His faithful mercies as He scatters the proud, feeds the hungry, and sends the rich away empty-handed.  Quoting from Job 5, Mary declares how God has exalted the humble and brought down rulers from their thrones.  Mary knows the Word of God, and her praise and confidence in Him is based upon God’s faithfulness to keep His Word.

Lastly, Mary gives praise to God for the things He has done for His people Israel.  In her prayer of praise she recalls to her mind Genesis 17:7 and 17:19, declaring God’s forever-promises to Abraham and his descendants: the land, the seed, and the blessing to all nations.  Many other passages in the book of Genesis are included in these promises.

After Mary finishes her hymn of praise, the Gospel writer Luke writes these words:  “And Mary stayed with her about three months, and then returned to her home” (verse 56).  “Three months” – so for three months Mary and Elizabeth were praising God together for what God was doing in their lives.  Zacharias was praising God also.  We just don’t have any word from him.  He was speechless until after his son was born.

HAVE YOU FOUND REASONS TO REJOICE?

I think my favorite definition of worship is the one written by William Temple.  He was an Anglican minister, an advocate for social reform, and served as an archbishop for many years.  We have a William Temple House and a William Temple Thrift Store here in Portland, Oregon.   He says:  “To worship is to quicken the conscience by the holiness of God, to feed the mind with the truth of God, to purge the imagination by the beauty of God, to open the heart to the love of God, and to devote the will to the purpose of God.”  As I look at Mary’s prayer again, I find that she employed all of those characteristics of worship.  Mary declares God’s holiness and quotes from God’s Word several times.  She focuses on God’s character (His mercy, power, sovereignty, provision, and faithfulness).  As she expresses these words you can tell that her heart is filled with love for Him, and she counts it a privilege to serve Him.

Beloved, do you find it hard at times, as I do, to express praise and worship to God?  Do frustrations and distractions put you out-of-focus sometimes and rob you of joy and thankfulness to God?  What has often helped to restore my focus on God and an attitude of worship and praise has been to read one or more of the Psalms and reflect upon the character of God and His concern for us.  As a result of this study, I’m also adding the prayer of Mary and the prayer of Hannah to my list of Scripture passages to read in order to prepare my heart for worship.   Many recording artists have recorded renditions of the psalms and other passages on YouTube.  Esther Mui, for example sings beautifully many of the psalms as well as other worshipful passages of Scripture.  You can read the lyrics as she sings and the photos are awesome.  She is one of many artists who have placed their songs on YouTube for everyone to enjoy.

I hope that you have found reasons to rejoice and worship God.  If not, let’s start finding resources today.  I’ve given you a place to start.  I hope you will carry your quest for an attitude of worship and praise beyond my suggestions, and give some suggestions to me as well.

An illustration I just read caused me to realize that we will know when we are truly worshipping and praising God in our hearts because we will feel the nearness of His presence and experience the joy of His presence.    Here is the illustration:  After attending church one Sunday morning, a little boy knelt at his bedside and prayed, “Dear God, we had a good time at church today – – but I wish you had been there!”

May you experience the nearness of God’s presence and the joy of His presence today as you take time to praise and worship Him.

 

OPERATION RESTORATION – James 5:19-20

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INTRODUCTION:

We’ve come to the final two verses of James’ letter to the Hebrew Christians scattered all over the Roman Empire and beyond.  It’s not the typical conclusion of a letter, such as the ones written by the apostle Paul, or Peter, or John.  There are no parting words of farewell, and there is no closing prayer.  But James has a reason for ending his letter with the words he uses. We will soon see, as we fit these parting words into the context of the rest of the letter.

Having served as a chaplain in a hospital setting for many years, and having been “under the knife” several times myself, I’ve become somewhat familiar with the  procedures that are followed in some operations.  I think that there are some elements of comparison, and I will be pointing them out as we look at James 5:19-20 in the light of what has preceded it.

Here are two translations of this passage of Scripture, James 5:19-20:

“My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth, and one turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death, and will cover a multitude of sins.” (NASB)

“My dear friends, if you know people who have wandered off from God’s truth, don’t write them off.  Go after them.  Get them back and you will have rescued precious lives from destruction and prevented an epidemic of wandering from God.” (The Message)

I.  THE UNHAPPY WANDERERS (verse 19a)

James calls them “brethren”, meaning that they are either believers, or at least members of the congregations.  “If anyone strays from the truth”.  The word “if” implies that there are some in these congregations who have strayed, and there are others who haven’t strayed from the truth.  He is saying that straying from the truth can happen and has happened.  The word translated “strays”, or “wanders” is the Greek word “planao”.  We get our English word “planet” from this word.  It was generally believed, in those days, that the planets wandered around in the skies, and appeared in different places and at different times.  They didn’t realize that these planets are in an elliptical obit around the sun, as is the earth.

James has been describing and dealing with these “wanderings” throughout his letter.  Many of his readers and hearers have been guilty of impatience, misuse of their tongues, self-centeredness, greed, or other evidences of failing to practice the truth.  The following saying is so true:  “If truth isn’t applied, we’ve either wandered from it, or never possessed it.”

It’s a scary thing to wander from the truths of God’s Word.  It usually happens slowly, imperceptible at first.  Then we realize that we have not only wandered from the truth, but we have also drifted away from our closeness to the Lord Jesus Christ and to other believers.  Feelings of guilt, fear and embarrassment may keep us from seeking help and turning back.  We may begin to feel that our lives are out of control and that the situation is hopeless.

Have you ever been in a helpless situation because of a physical injury or infection? When I was in my early 20’s I felt pain in my lower abdomen.  Within minutes I was doubled over, and the pain was so intense that all I could do was to cry out for help.  My mother heard my cries and took me immediately to a nearby hospital.  I was given a shot to ease the pain and told that  I was having an acute appendicitis attack.  I would be going into surgery immediately.  My family doctor arrived, and told me that he would be performing the surgery.  I would be sedated and would not be awake or feel any pain during the surgery.  His presence and assurances relieved much of the tension I was experiencing.  When I awoke there was a scar, stitches and minimal pain.   The inflammation was gone and I was feeling much better.  One of my aunts died from a ruptured appendix when she was a teenager, so my fears were real.  I look back at that event as a life-saving experience, thanks in part to the immediate action by my mother and the doctor.

II.  THE RESTORERS (verse 19b)

The end of verse 19 contains five simple words:  “And one turns him back” (NASB).  The Message uses the words, “Go after them.  Bring them back.”  In verse 20 James gives a more detailed description of the wanderer’s condition when he says “turns a sinner from the error of his way.”  James uses the Greek word “hamartolos”, an archer’s term meaning, “missing the mark”.  But the word is also used to describe a traveler who has left the familiar road and is following winding, twisted paths that cause him to lose his way.  He has chosen to go his own way, and this choice has affected his thoughts, words, actions, and attitudes.  We are either walking in God’s truth or in our own way.  Those are the options.  The “turning back” is descriptive of the acknowledgement of one’s sin, confession of it, turning from it, and once again walking in fellowship with God and in obedience to God’s truth.

The apostle Paul, in Galatians 6:1, wanted to make sure that his readers knew what their attitude should be in the restoration process.  He says, “restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, lest you too be tempted.”  I have an anonymous poem in my collection of illustrations, and it brings tears of regret to my eyes every time I read it.  I hope it has a similar effect on you.

Pray don’t find fault with the man that limps

Or stumbles along the road,

Unless you have worn the shoes he wears

Or struggled beneath his load.

There may be tacks in his shoes that hurt

Tho’ hidden away from view,

Or the burden he bears placed on your back

Might make you stumble too.

Don’t sneer at the man who’s down today,

Unless you have felt the blow

That caused his fall or felt the shame

That only the fallen know.

You may be strong; but still the blows

That were his, if dealt to you

In the selfsame way at the selfsame time

Might cause you to stagger, too.

Don’t be too harsh with the man that sins,

Or pelt him with word or stone,

Unless you are sure – yes, doubly sure –

That you have no sins of your own.

For you know perhaps if the tempter’s voice

Should whisper as soft to you

As it did to him when he went astray

It might cause you to falter too.

In order to effectively turn another believer back to fellowship with God through gentle reproof and correction, we will need to have that kind of an attitude toward the wanderer and toward ourselves.   The hymn writer, Robert Robinson, expressed his inner struggles when he said:  “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, Prone to leave the God I love.” (Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing).  The wanderer will need love, concern, and encouragement in order to confess the sin which has dragged him down, and redirect his focus toward the God who loves him and wants to forgive him and welcome him back.  You might say that God is calling us to be part of the “welcoming committee”.

III.  THE JOYFUL RESULTS (verse 20)

At the end of verse 20, James describes the results of the restoration process. First, “He . . . will save his soul from death, and will cover a multitude of sins”.  These words can be confusing if taken out of their context, and without a grasp of the Hebrew concept of sin and death.  The word “he” refers to the restorer, as he is used by God. The phrase “save his soul from death” is probably referring to physical death, not spiritual death.  As a doctor often saves his patients from the harmful and continuing affects of an infection or an injury, the restorer has the responsibility and privilege of saving a wandering Christian from the continuing effects of his sin.  In the Old Testament scriptures, sin is often associated with physical death.  When Adam and Eve sinned, one of the penalties was eventual physical death.  Moses and a whole generation of the children of Israel spent 40 years wandering in the desert and dying because of their sins.  The cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed by fire because of sin, and only Lot and his family were spared.  The recipients of his letter didn’t need an explanation.  They already knew the record of God’s dealings with His people.

The other result of the restorer’s ministry is “the covering of a multitude of sins”.  By his own loving, listening, and forgiving attitude, the restorer mirrors God’s love and forgiveness, and becomes a model of forgiveness and acceptance to other believers in the fellowship.  As it says in Proverbs 10:12, “Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all transgressions.”  King David said in Psalm 32:3-6, “When I kept silent about my sin, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long.  For day and night Thy hand was heavy upon me.  My vitality was drained away as with the fever heat of summer.  I acknowledged my sin to Thee, and my iniquity I did not hide;  I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord’; and Thou didst forgive the guilt of my sin.”  As a restorer, God gives us the privilege of sharing in the joy of that forgiveness (covering) of sin and return to fellowship.  They say, “Misery loves company”.  Well, relief-from-misery loves company also, and we’re invited to the celebration!  If you’ve ever had a restoration experience, whether you were the restorer or the one who was restored, you know that it was a joy-filled experience for both parties!

IV.  SUMMARY AND PERSONAL APPLICATION

Pastor and Bible teacher Warren Wiersbe concludes his commentary on the epistle of James by asking a series of questions to help us examine our hearts and evaluate our own spiritual maturity.  Let’s reflect on each question and be honest with ourselves and with God as we answer them.

  1.  Am I becoming more and more patient in the testings of life?
  2. Do I play with temptation, or resist it from the start?
  3. Do I find joy in obeying the Word of God, or do I merely study it and learn it?
  4. Are there any prejudices that saddle me?
  5. Am I able to control my tongue?
  6. Am I a peacemaker rather than a troublemaker?  Do people come to me for spiritual wisdom?
  7. Am I a friend of God or a friend of the world?
  8. Do I make plans without considering the will of God?
  9. Am I selfish when it comes to money?  Am I unfaithful in the paying of my bills?
  10. Do I naturally depend on prayer when I find myself in some kind of trouble?
  11. Am I the kind of person others seek for prayer support?
  12. What is my attitude toward the wandering brother?  Do I criticize and gossip, or do I seek to restore him in love?

May the Lord give you diligence as you pursue godliness and divine wisdom.  May He also provide strength and a loving friend if you should begin to stumble or falter.

“But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.”  (James 1:22)

 

 

THE RIGHT KIND OF FAITH – James 2:14-26

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INTRODUCTION:

Someone has said that faith is not “believing in spite of the evidence, but obeying in spite of the consequences”.  When we read Hebrews 11, we meet men and women who acted upon God’s Word, no matter what the price they had to pay.  Faith is not some kind of feeling that we work up, but a confidence that God’s Word is true, and that obeying it will bring God’s blessing.  What kind of faith really saves a person?  Is it necessary to perform good works in order to be saved?  How can a person tell whether or not he is exercising true saving faith?  James answers these questions by explaining to us that there are three kinds of faith, and only one of them is true saving faith.

I.  DEAD FAITH (verses 14-17)

In verses 14-17, James talks about dead faith.  People with dead faith substitute words for actions.  They know all the right words to say during times of prayer and testimony, and can even quote the right verses from the Bible, but their actions do not measure up to their talk.

James gives a simple illustration:  a poor believer came into a fellowship without proper clothing and in need of food.  The person with dead faith noticed the visitor and saw his needs, but he did not do anything to meet those needs.  All he did was say a few pious words:  “Go in peace, be warm and be filled.”  But the visitor went out just as hungry and unclothed as he came in!

In verse 14, James is saying, “Can that kind of faith save him?”  What kind?  The kind of faith that is never seen in practical works.  The answer is “No”!  Any declaration of faith that does not result in a changed life and good works is a false declaration.  What kind of faith is dead faith?  In verse 17, James says “Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.”  True saving faith can never be by itself.  It always brings life, and life produces good works.

In a Decision Magazine article, missionary Patrick Harris tells of his son David, who was brain-damaged.  When David was very young and his family was home on furlough, many people told them, “We are praying for David.”  Patrick and his wife were grateful.  But one woman said, “I have Wednesday off.  Give me the privilege of taking David out that day to relieve you.”  Harris said, “That was what was needed – not only prayer but practical help!”  An important part of praying is a willingness to be part of the answer.

II.  DEMONIC FAITH (verses 18-19)

Only God can see “faith” in the heart of a person.  People see our faith only by our works. Faith is like a seed planted in the ground.  It is hidden from view, but if it is a living seed it will soon manifest itself by pushing its stalk up through the soil for all to see.  Out of the war comes a story of faith in action.  A godly chaplain in the army found a dying soldier on the battlefield, and being anxious about his salvation, he took out his Bible and said, “Shall I read a portion of Scripture for you?”  But the soldier replied, “No sir, I am thirsty and need a drink of water.”  At the risk of his own life, amid bursting shells, the chaplain went in search of water, and having found some, gave it to the wounded man.  Then he asked again, “Shall I read some Scripture to you?”  But the man replied, “No thank you, I am so cold.  I am almost freezing,”  The chaplain removed his own coat and wrapped it around about him, and once more asked with shivering and chattering teeth, “Now may I read to you?”  Again the reply was, “No sir, I am too uncomfortable on this rough ground.”  The chaplain gently lifted him up and placed him across his knees with his head in his arms and once more asked the same question.  “Yes sir”, he replied, “for if what you are going to read can make a man willing to risk his own life like this to ease a dying stranger, I want to hear about it!”  And there on the battlefield he was told about Jesus who died that he might live.  This is the gospel in action!  This is what the world is looking for today!

Then James says in verse 19, “the demons also believe and shudder.”  It comes as a shock to many people that demons have faith!  What do they believe?  For one thing, they believe in the existence of God.  They are not atheists.  They also believe in the deity of Christ.  Whenever they met Christ when He was on this earth, they bore witness that He was the Son of God.  They also believe in the existence of a place of punishment.  They live there!  Not only that, but they also recognize Jesus Christ as the Judge, and they submit to the power of His Word.  Yet, knowing all that, they still rebelled against God and were condemned to hell.

In verse 19, the word “shudder” or “tremble” meant to be “rough on the surface”, “to bristle”.  It has the idea of making your hair stand on end and goose bumps to appear. That’s the way the demons respond to God and to His Son, Jesus Christ!

III.  GENUINE FAITH (verses 20-26)

Dead faith touches only the mind; demonic faith involves both the mind and the emotions; but genuine faith also involves the will.  The whole person plays a part in true saving faith. The mind understands the truth, the emotions desire the truth, and the will acts upon the truth.  Faith and works go together.

Pastor John MacArthur says it very clearly in his sermon entitled “Living Faith” (www.gty.org/resources/sermons/59-16/living-faith).  Preaching about James 2:21-26, Pastor MacArthur says:  “There is a faith in God, there is a faith in Christ, there is a belief of Scripture, there is a belief of the gospel that does not save from hell. . . . It is possible to believe in God, to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, to even believe that what Christ did He actually did, to affirm the cross and the resurrection and never be delivered from sin and never be given eternal life.  This is what James would call ‘dead faith’.”  That’s what he called it in verse 17, and now he says it again in verse 20 and again in verse 26.

In verse 20, James responds to the unwillingness of his readers to recognize the connection between faith and works.  He says:  “You foolish fellow”.  The Greek word can be translated “empty” in the sense that they are “without spiritual life”.  James goes on to say, “Can’t you see that faith without works is useless”?  The Greek word “arge” means “barren”, “unproductive”.  Faith that fails to produce genuine works motivated by willing obedience from the heart is a dead faith.  It demonstrates that it has never been alive because there has been no external evidence sufficient to remove any doubt.  Righteous behavior is an inevitable result of genuine faith.

In verses 21-25 James proves his point by giving two examples of true living faith from the Old Testament:  Abraham and Rahab, described as “our father” and “the harlot”.  The evidence for Abraham’s genuine faith was his willing obedience to God’s command to offer up his own son, Isaac, on the altar.  Because of his obedience, Galatians, chapter 3, teaches that Abraham is the spiritual father of all true believers..

James 2:22 reads, “You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected.”  The Berkeley version says it this way:  “You see how his faith cooperated with his works and how faith reached its supreme expression through his works.”  Abraham’s works made his faith complete.  In verse 23 Abraham  is called “the friend of God”

On the opposite end of the social and moral spectrum, James now chooses Rahab as an example of true living faith.  Even though Rahab was a Gentile and a prostitute, James says “Likewise also”, telling us that the illustration of Rahab teaches the same lesson about faith as the illustration of Abraham:  “God saves, not because of one’s righteousness, but because of one’s faith.”  Remember:  only God can actually see our faith.  We see genuine saving faith only by works.   Rahab demonstrated her saving faith by her words to the spies in Joshua 2 saying, “… the Lord your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth below”, and by her willingness to hide the spies at the risk of her own life and the lives of her family members.  Joshua 6:25 and Matthew 1:5  tell us how God blessed Rahab.  She was grafted into the nation of Israel, became the wife of Salmon, and was an ancestor in the line of David and the Lord Jesus Christ.  She is also mentioned in Hebrews 11 as a woman of faith.

CONCLUSION AND APPLICATION:

In verse 25, the apostle James states his conclusion one more time:  “For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead”  Do you have living faith? Do you have saving faith?  Is it evident to those around you?  Is it evident to you?  You may have been baptized, you may have made a public or private profession of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.  You may be attending a church at the present time.  You may be in the choir or teaching a Sunday School Class.  You may be on the deacon or elder board.  You could even be a pastor and not have a saving faith that manifests itself in a deepening walk with Jesus Christ and increasing joy in serving Him and obeying his Word.  I’m not saying this to point the finger at anyone or embarrass anyone.   I just want you to be sure if there might be any doubt.  Good works are the proof that Jesus Christ is living and reigning in your life.  As Jesus said in Luke 6:46, “And why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?”

May our faith be genuine and evident to the world around us, and may we enjoy the privilege of being children of God through faith evidenced by works (Ephesians 2:8-10).

 

 

 

 

 

SIMEON AND ANNA MEET THE BABY JESUS

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In Luke’s Gospel we read about two elderly people who loved God, served Him with all their hearts, and looked forward to the coming of the promised Messiah.  Luke 2:22-24 tells us that the baby Jesus was circumcised on the eighth day after His birth in obedience to the Law of Moses.  Then after the time of purification, which is thirty-three days for a male child according to Leviticus 12, if the child is the first-born, he was to be brought to the temple to be dedicated to God.  So the baby Jesus was about six weeks old when his parents brought Him to the temple for His dedication, and they also brought two turtle doves as a sacrifice to the Lord.

SIMEON (Luke 2:25-35)

In Luke 2:25 we are told about Simeon.  He was “a righteous and devout man, looking for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him.”  Verse 26 says that the Holy Spirit revealed to him “that he would not see death until he had seen the Lord’s Christ.”  The word “Christ” means “the Anointed One”, the “Messiah”.  Verse 27 tells us that it was the Holy Spirit who led Simeon to go to the temple at the very time when Mary and Joseph were bringing the baby Jesus to the temple to dedicate Him to God.  Simeon was given the ability to recognize that this baby was the Messiah, and as he holds the baby Jesus in his arms, his heart is filled with joy and his words of gratitude are very moving as he says, “Now Lord, Thou dost let Thy bond-servant depart in peace, according to Thy word, for my eyes have seen Thy salvation.”  The sight of the baby Jesus in his arms made possible Simeon’s joyful departure from this world.

Jesus’ presence with us today is also real, giving us strength for service, and taking the fear out of dying for those who have put their faith in Him.  I have seen humble believers leave this world with peace, joy, and radiant hope on the faces because they knew that the Lord Jesus was with them and was taking them home to be with Him.  Even martyrs have been able to sing while being burned at the stake.

Simeon’s words that follow in verses 31-35 causes us to realize that Simeon knew that this baby Jesus would someday provide salvation by suffering and dying for our sins.  Simeon also prophesied that Jesus would be a Savior to both Jews and Gentiles, and that Mary’s soul would be pierced by a sword of sorrow at her Son’s death.  Like Simeon, we too must look to Jesus for our salvation.  Like Simeon, we too can rejoice even in the face of death if we know Jesus as our Savior and Lord.  So don’t let hardship and trials rob your Christmas of its deeper joy.

ANNA THE PROPHETESS (verses 36-38)

While Simeon was holding the baby Jesus in his arms, someone else was there in the temple, and she came forward to see the baby Jesus.  Her name was Anna and she was a prophetess of God.  If you add up the numbers in verses 36 and 37 you will find that Anna was over a hundred years old.  Verse 37 says that she “never left the temple, serving night and day with fastings and prayers.”  Her entire life was devoted to prayer.  What an example she is to us all!

Anna instantly knew that this baby was the Messiah and she immediately gave fervent thanks to God.  But Anna didn’t stop there.  Verse 38 says that Anna “continued to speak of Him to all those who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.”  She  became a ready and willing witness for Jesus Christ, and probably prepared many to follow Him thirty years later when Jesus began His public ministry.  The affects of her witness for Christ continued long after her lifetime here on this earth.

Like Anna, may we pause to reflect upon, and give thanks for, the One who came as a baby in order to save us from the penalty of our sins.  Also, like Anna, let us ask God for opportunities to share the saving work of Christ with others during this Christmas season, so that they too might experience the true and lasting joy of Christmas, and have the peace of heart that only Jesus Christ can give.  During this season of the year when depression and suicides are at their highest, may we radiate the love of Christ, and be ready to give a reason for the hope and joy that is in us.

NEW YEAR’S 2013 – ARE YOU READY?

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New Year’s Day is the closest thing to being the world’s only truly global public holiday or day of celebration.  It may be celebrated on different months and different days but the new year is celebrated in almost every nation and culture.  Most countries use the Gregorian calendar as their main calendar, and New Year’s Day is observed on the first day of January.

The month of January originally owes its name to the deity Janus, the Roman god of gates, doors, and beginnings.  Janus had two faces, one looking forward and the other looking backward.  January 1 represents the fresh start of a new year after a period of remembrance of the passing year.  In our country we celebrate New Year’s Day with New Year’s resolutions, parades, football games, and fireworks.

2012 has been a very eventful and alarming year in many ways.  It has been a very stressful year for many who have lost jobs or who have lost family members in very traumatic ways. Thoughts of the end of the world have filled the minds of many of us.  Have you given your fears, concerns, regrets, and disappointments from the year 2012 over to God?   Pastor Ray Steadman once told his congregation, “On New Year’s Eve we realize more than at any other time in our lives that we can never go back in time.  We can look and remember, but we cannot retrace a single moment of the year that is past.”

Looking ahead, are we ready to move on into 2013?  As we’ve waited for, and been warned about, the end of the Mayan calendar and the predictions of the end of the world, are we ready for the calendar of events God has revealed to us in the Bible?  According to the Scriptures, the next thing on the world’s  calendar is not the end of the world.  That won’t occur for over a thousand years.  The next thing we need to be ready for is the rapture of Christians.  By “Christians” I mean those who have repented of their sins and have invited Jesus Christ to be their Savior and Lord, and their changed lives bear witness to the fact that their commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ is real.  I Thessalonians 4:15-18 and I Corinthians 15:50-53 tell us that all genuine Christians will suddenly disappear.  They will be caught up to meet Jesus Christ in the air and be taken to heaven.  Are you ready for that moment?  If not, you will be left behind, and there will be seven years of Tribulation – the wrath of  God upon the earth.  Please make a New Year’s resolution to come to a personal knowledge of, and commitment to, Jesus Christ.

Dr. Dennis DeHaan shared the following message in the New Year’s Eve Daily Bread brochure in 2004.  16th-century Venetian artist Titian portrayed Prudence as a man with three heads.  One head was of a youth facing the future, another was of a mature man with his eyes on the present, and the third head was that of a wise old man gazing at the past.  Over their heads Titian wrote a Latin phrase that means, “From the example of the past, the man of the present acts prudently so as not to imperil the future.”

This has not been an easy year to look back on, and the coming year may not be an easy one to look forward to, but we are not alone.  In the Old Testament book of Joshua, chapter 1, after Moses died and God told Joshua to enter the land of Canaan and conquer it, He also gave this promise:  “As I have been with Moses, so I will be with you. . . . Do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”  Let’s dedicate ourselves to the Lord Jesus Christ so that we might enter the year 2013 with courage and joyful excitement!

CHRISTMAS – Why Is It Significant?

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INTRODUCTION:

After the first American astronaut landed on the moon, the President of the United States  praised this wonder of modern science.  He said, “The planting of human feet on the moon is the greatest moment in human history!”  Later, evangelist Billy Graham made this comment:  “With all due respect”, he said, “the greatest moment in human history was not when man set foot on the moon, but when the infinite and eternal God set foot on this earth in Jesus of Nazareth!”  Just how significant is the birth of Jesus Christ in our world today?

I.  THE SIGNIFICANCE OF CHRIST’S BIRTH

The year is 2012 A.D., isn’t it?  As you probably know, the letters A.D. are an abbreviation for two Latin words:  “anno Domini”, a phrase which means “in the year of the Lord”.  Events prior to Jesus’ birth are dated B.C., that is, “before Christ”.  Everything in history is dated from the time when Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem.  Every newspaper and magazine, every official document gives testimony to Christ’s birth.

II.  THE CIRCUMSTANCES SURROUNDING HIS BIRTH (Luke 2:1-20)

Yet when we look at the circumstances surrounding His birth, we see poverty and humility.  But from these circumstances, and the symbolism in them, we can gain valuable insight into why the Lord Jesus was born.  Let’s take a closer look at this passage of Scripture:  Luke chapter 2, verses one to twenty.

In verses 1 to 6, we read that Caesar Augustus decreed that a census be taken of the whole Roman empire.  Joseph and Mary were forced to make an eighty mile trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem because they belonged to the descendants of David.  Caesar didn’t know it, but he was doing an errand for God, so that Micah’s prophecy in Micah 5:2 would be fulfilled.  The Savior of the world was to be born in the city of Bethlehem.

In verse 7, Mary brought forth her child alone.  There was no midwife;  there were no friends and no family, except her husband, Joseph.  Similarly, at the end of Jesus’ life, as He hung dying on a cross, there was only a handful of His family and friends close to him.  Verse 7 also says, “they wrapped Him in cloths.  The Greek word literally means “to swaddle” or to wrap in strips of cloth.  This was often the way dead bodies were wrapped in preparation for burial.

Verse 7 also says that they laid the newborn baby Jesus in a manger – a feeding trough for animals.  Jesus was born in a stable, a place for sheep and cattle.  There were probably many lambs under the same roof with the baby Jesus.  This is significant because, before Jesus began his public ministry, John the Baptist said of Him, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”

From verses 8-20, we learn that the only other people to see the newborn baby Jesus were the shepherds.  And these were no ordinary shepherds.  The Jewish book of legal codes, called the “Mishnah”, prohibited the tending of flocks of sheep throughout the land of Israel, except in the wilderness areas, because sheep were unclean animals.  The only exception was the flocks used for the temple sacrifices.  These sheep were killed and offered up as sacrifices for the sins of the people.

III.  WHY WAS JESUS CHRIST BORN

Why was Jesus Christ born?  What is the true meaning of Christmas?  I found out the answer to that question in 1970.  Have you ever had a miserable Christmas?  Well, Christmas of 1970 had all the indications of being the worst Christmas I would ever experience.  It was Christmas eve, and I was in the Air Force, stationed at a remote base in northern Thailand.  I was away from my family and friends, and there was no “Christmas spirit” in me.  I was on a bus headed into town to attend a Bible study at the Christian Servicemen’s Center.  I had been going there for several weeks, hoping to find some answers to life.  The director of the center must have noticed my despondency because he asked  me if I would mind staying for a while after the Bible study.  He said he had something he wanted to talk to me about.  I had nothing else going on that evening so I agreed.

He began by asking me this question:  “If you died tonight, and you stood before God in judgment, and God said, ‘Tom, give me one reason why I should let you into My heaven’, what would you say?”  I don’t remember what the Bible study was about that night, nor who was there, but I do remember the joy and peace I experienced when I invited Jesus Christ to come into my life as my Savior and Lord.  I also remember smiling as I rode back to the base on the 10:00 p.m. bus.  I was probably the only serviceman who was smiling and who wasn’t drunk!  On Christmas Day I had no Christmas tree and no presents, but I had more joy than I had ever experienced.  I spent most of Christmas Day reading the New Testament Scriptures.  It was a new book to me because I was now a child of God.  If you want to know more about what I learned, and what happened to me that night, it’s all in the ABOUT PAGE of this blog.

The real joy of Christmas comes when we discover the true meaning of Christmas.  Why did Jesus Christ come to earth?  Let’s allow Jesus to answer that question for Himself.  In Mark 10:45 Jesus says, “For the Son of man also came, not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.”  In John 10:10 Jesus says, “I came that you may have life, and have it in all its fullness.”  In the midst of shopping for presents, sending cards, and putting up decorations, is there room in your heart for Jesus?

THE SECRET OF CONTENTMENT – Philippians 4:10-23

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INTRODUCTION:

A deacon in a church once said to his pastor:  “We Christians are either thermometers or thermostats”.  A thermometer doesn’t change anything around it.  It just tells the temperature.  It’s always going up and down.  But  a thermostat regulates the room or building it is in.  When you turn up the thermostat, the heater comes on and the room gets warmer.

The apostle Paul was a thermostat.   Instead of having spiritual ups and downs as his situation changed, Paul went right on, doing his work and serving the Lord Jesus Christ.  Here in Philippians 4:10-23, Paul gives the reasons for his contentment, and gives the glory to God.

I.  PAUL’S CONTENTMENT (verses 10-13)

In verse 10, the apostle Paul rejoices that the church at Philippi had become concerned about his needs.  He had been praying for them.  Now Paul rejoices at the way God had answered his prayers and provided an opportunity for them to be of service to him while he was in prison at Rome.  Then Paul says in verse 11, “For I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am.”  The word “learned” means “learned by experience”  Paul had to go through many difficult experiences in life in order to learn how to be content.  When Paul wrote these words, he was deprived of almost everything – except contentment.

I may have shared this illustration with you before , but it’s so appropriate for this verse.  Leaning on his fence one day, a devout Quaker, who believed in simplicity of life, was watching a new neighbor move in next door.  After all kinds of modern appliances, electronic gadgets, and plush furnishings had been carried into the house, the Quaker called over to his new neighbor and said, “If you are lacking anything, neighbor, let  me know, and I’ll show you how to live  without it.”  That Quaker and the apostle Paul had at least one thing in common – they had learned the secret of contentment.  We may not always be able to choose our circumstances in life, but we can choose our attitude toward them.

The opposite of contentment is dissatisfaction or greed.  I’m sure we’ve all met greedy people, but people aren’t the only ones who are greedy.  An animal that is almost impossible to capture is the ring-tailed monkey of Africa.  But the Zulu people have a method that’s both simple and effective.  It’s based on this little creature’s love for a particular melon that grows on a vine.  The seeds are its favorite food.  Knowing this, the Zulus cut a small hole in the melon, just large enough for the monkey to put his hand inside to get the delicious morsels.  The little fellow reaches through the hole and grabs as many seeds as he can.  But pulling his clenched fist out of the melon is impossible because now it is larger than the hole.  He will pull and tug and scream and struggle to get free, but it’s no use.  As long as he holds on to his prized seeds, he is trapped by the melon – and the Zulus have captured one more ring-tailed monkey.

All too often we also become the victims of our own selfishness and greed.  Lured by the  attractiveness of material things, we strive to get more and more.  Then one day we realize  that what we have been living for is the cause of our frustration and unhappiness.  Our hand is in the “hole” and we can’t seem to get it out because we won’t let go!

Happy is the person, whether wealthy or poor, whose greatest satisfaction is in the Lord Jesus Christ!  That person can say with the apostle Paul, “I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am.”

Paul’s motto is found in verse 13:  “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”  A father found his little boy one day trying to lift a heavy stone.  The youngster pushed, pulled, and struggled to get the boulder to move.  Then, as he was just about to give up, his dad said, “Son, are you using all your strength?”  “Sure am”, he answered.  “No, you aren’t”, the father responded.  “I’ve been standing here all the time and you haven’t asked me for help!”  How often have we tried to do things without relying on God’s strength?  We use up all our energies, and then, because the task seems impossible, we’re tempted to throw up our hands and give up.  Remember, we are not using all our strength unless we are drawing upon the power of the Lord Jesus Christ in us.

II.  PAUL’S GRATITUDE (verses 14-18)

In verses 10-13, Paul expresses his gratitude to the church at Philippi for their many gifts, especially for their most recent gift.  In verse 15, Paul says “No church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving but you alone.”  They showed their devotion to the Lord Jesus Christ, and their love for the apostle Paul, by giving sacrificially to Paul.  Let me share with you another example of sacrificial giving.  In about 1490, two friends, Albrecht Durer and Franz Knigstein were struggling to become artists.  They were very poor and a lot of training was involved.  So they decided that one would work and support both while the other pursued art classes.  They cast lots and Durer won.  Before leaving, he assured Franz that he would return and help him so that he could develop his talent.  He did come back to keep his promise, but to his surprise, he discovered the enormous price his friend paid.  Hard labor had caused his slender, sensitive fingers to become stiff and twisted.  They would never be able to perform the delicate brush strokes necessary in fine painting.  On one occasion Durer found Franz kneeling, his gnarled hands folded as he prayed for his companion.  Quickly the great artist sketched that scene, and from it he produced his masterpiece, “The Praying Hands”.  The world is richer because of Albrecht Durer, but much credit must also go to his faithful friend.

In verse 18, the apostle Paul thanks the Philippian church for their most recent gift.  He calls it “a fragrant aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well-pleasing to God.”  Thank you notes give us the opportunity to make permanent our feelings of gratitude for our friends or loved ones.  Paul sent a thank you note to the Christians at Philippi.  They were the only church that had supported him financially on his missionary journey, and Paul did more than just say thanks.  He told them specifically what good they had done by helping him.  Thank you notes work both ways.  They help the sender to express appreciation, and they help the receiver to know what he had done to assist.  Does someone you know deserve a note of thanks?

III.  PRAISE TO GOD (verses 19-20)

In verses 19 and 20, Paul gives praise and glory to God, and says, “You met my need, and God is going to meet your every need.”  A needy widow in Chicago lived by the motto:  “The Lord will provide.”  Even when severely tested, Mrs. Hokanson never lost her smile and her deep faith.  Casting all her cares on God, she found that He always took the burden and supplied the needs.

Mrs. Hokanson was the sole support for her mentally retarded son.  Eventually, chronic arthritis confined her to bed.  When a church  youth group went over to Mrs. Hokanson’s house to cheer her up,, they were amazed to discover that she was not depressed.  When she was asked, “What will you and Arthur do?” She gave her usual quiet, confident response, “The Lord will provide.”  When Mrs. Hokanson died, many people wondered what would happen to her son.  But when friends and neighbors went home with Arthur after the funeral, he proudly showed them his collection of stamps.  Instead of tearing the stamps off the envelopes, he had taken and kept over a hundred letters intended for his mother and left them unopened.  Many contained substantial gifts – enough to care for the boy for the rest of his life.

When we cast all our cares on the Lord, we’ll be amazed at the wondrous way He provides! Our needs can never exhaust God’s supply.

God’s promise to provide for our needs covers the little things as well as the big ones.  The same God who helped Elisha retrieve the borrowed axe head in II Kings 6, and who supplied flour and oil for a faithful widow in I Kings 17, will meet all our needs as well, not only the physical needs, but also the emotional, social, and spiritual needs.  We worship a God who is greater than any of our problems.

Have you learned the secret of contentment in your life?  If you are still searching and want answers, please go to my ABOUT PAGE, especially to the section entitled QUESTION.  If you have more questions or want to know more about a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, please leave a comment and I’ll respond to you.  Thank you for your attention, and may God give you the joy and contentment you desire as you respond to Him.

THANKSGIVING

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Sorry this Thanksgiving message is coming to you after the celebration of Thanksgiving.  I found this message in my files today.  I had prepared it, and preached it the Sunday before Thanksgiving in 1997.  I hope that, as you read this message, you gain a better understanding of the history of the event, and an increased appreciation for what we can be thankful for.

In 1620 the English settlers, called the Puritans, arrived at Plymouth Rock, what is now Plymouth, Massachusetts, on their ship, the Mayflower.  These people were very religious and believed that they were on a mission for God.  In spite of the cold weather and lack of food, they gave thanks to God for the safe journey across the Atlantic Ocean, and for the freedom from an unjust government.  It was a harsh winter, and by Spring only 52 Puritans were still alive.  The Native American Indian chief, Squanto, had  pity on these settlers and befriended them.  He and his tribe taught them what things to grow, gave them seed, and told them when to plant them.  By Fall, they had a bountiful harvest.  In gratefulness to God, they had a worship service and then they had a feast and invited their Indian friends to join them  Five of the surviving women made the meal.  It wasn’t until almost  250 years later that president Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a national holiday.

The word “thankfulness” comes from the old Anglo-Saxon term that meant “thinkfulness”.  If you can’t think of anything to be thankful for, you have a very poor memory!  Psalm 103:2 says, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits.”  A story is told of a gifted preacher who suffered a nervous breakdown.  A friend told him that with God’s help he could overcome his depression.  The key was to practice thanksgiving.  He suggested that the minister think of all the people who had a special influence on his life over the years.  Then he asked, “Did you ever thank any of them?”  The downhearted man confessed that he couldn’t recall ever doing so.  His friend challenged him to think of one person and write to him, expressing his appreciation.  The pastor took his advice, and when he learned that his letter had greatly encouraged the person, his heart was lightened.  So he jotted down a list of all who had helped him, a list of over 500 names, and wrote a letter of appreciation to each one.  As he counted his blessings, his depression left him.  Realizing that the Lord had been showering him with encouragement through these individuals, he began thanking God daily for His love and goodness.

Psalm 93:1 says, “It is good to give thanks to the Lord, and to sing praises to your name, O Most High”,  Thankfulness is good for us.  People who see their unworthiness of God’s favor, and are filled with gratitude to Him, won’t be proud or discontented.  They also won’t be  selfish, unforgiving, or hateful.

Psalm 116:12 says, “What shall I render to the Lord for all His benefits?”  His immediate answer is:  “I will take up the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the Lord”.  Nothing gratifies God more than when we gratefully receive His gifts, and nothing grieves Him more than when we reject His gifts.

What are you thanking God for today?  There’s always the traditional things like food, family, and friends.  But what about those things we cannot lose, such as eternal life, forgiveness, God’s presence, and access to God in prayer?  Remember that the English word, “thankfulness” meant “thinkfulness”.  When you think about what God has done for you, be thankful!

RIGHT LIVING – Philippians 4:9

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INTRODUCTION:

In Philippians 4:8 we learned about right thinking.  And it takes right thinking and right attitudes to produce right living.  In verse 9, Paul challenges the members of the church in Philippi to respond to the four ways that his life has been an example for them to follow.  Let’s take a look at what Paul wants them to gain from his life.

I.  WHAT YOU HAVE “LEARNED”.

Paul had spent time in Philippi where he gave personal instruction and discipling to the Philippians.  The Greek word, “emathete”, is related to the noun “mathetes” which means learner or disciple.  A  “mathetes” was one who attached himself to another person in order to gain knowledge and experience.  It would be somewhat similar to an apprenticeship today.  In first century Judaism the rabbis had disciples who studied under them.  The disciple left his home and moved in with his teacher and served his teacher.  The disciple was expected, not only to learn all that his rabbi knew, but also to become like his teacher in character and piety.

The apostle Paul had been a pharisee himself.  In Acts 22:3 he tells the Jewish leaders that he had studied under the pharisee Gamaliel.  In Acts 5:34 Gamaliel is described as “a pharisee . . . a teacher of the Law, respected by all the people.”  In the Greek culture also, discipleship was not so much formal training as it was fellowship with the teacher.  They lived with their teacher just as Jesus’ disciples lived with Him.  Disciples were the main means of perpetuating teaching in the ancient world, since many of the great teachers wrote no books.

II.  WHAT YOU HAVE “RECEIVED”.

The Greek word, “paralambano”, means to “take with oneself”, “to make it one’s own”.  Receiving should always accompany learning truth.  The Philippians not only understood it clearly, but also gave assent to it, and by so doing, they became responsible to live it out. This receiving of the Word of God is seen in the church at Thessalonica.  Paul writes in I Thessalonians 2:13, “For this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received the word of God’s message, you accepted it not only as the word of men but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe.”  It is one thing to learn a truth, but it is even better to receive that truth and make your own.

III.  WHAT YOU HAVE “HEARD”.

Paul is saying “what you have heard firsthand from my preaching, teaching, and conversations with you”.  He is also  saying, “what you have heard from others concerning me”.  Paul is speaking about his reputation.  They had heard from many other sources about Paul’s imprisonment, how he got there, and the way God was using him.

IV.  WHAT YOU HAVE “SEEN IN ME”.

Paul is talking about firsthand knowledge of him:  their personal observations of Paul while they were with him in Philippi.   Paul is saying, “do as I taught you”, and he is also saying, “do as you heard of me doing and saw me doing”.

Mahatma Ghandi was the man who led the country of India to independence in the early to mid 1900’s.  He also inspired movements for non-violence, civil rights, and freedom around the world.  Dr. Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela, the former President of South Africa, were followers of his philosophy of non-violent resistance.  As far as we can know, Gandhi never became a Christian.  When he was asked to put his message into one simple sentence, he replied:  “My life is my message”.

Personal example is an essential element of effective teaching.  The teacher must demonstrate in action the faith he expresses in words.  Remember that before the completion of the New Testament scriptures, the lives of the apostles furnished the main source of divine truth.  As Paul told them earlier in Philippians 3:17, “Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us”.

THE EXHORTATION:

Paul concludes by exhorting them to “practice these things”.  Make them a way of life. Dr. Dwight Pentecost summarizes the purpose of truth very clearly in these words:  “Truth is communicated to a person through the channel of his mind, and truth is grasped by the mind. But unless that which is received by the mind is loved by the heart and translated into action by the will, the truth has not done its proper work.  Truth is designed to possess the total person.  Truth is not designed simply to teach the mind;  truth is communicated  so the heart might respond in obedience to the truth.  Blessing comes on the believer as he translates into action the truth that his mind has received.  Maturity in the Christian life is not measured by what a man knows but by what he does.”  He concludes his explanation by saying:  “Let that be indelibly impressed upon your mind.”

THE PROMISE:

The apostle Paul ends this verse with a promise:  “the God of peace will be with you”.  This is a favorite saying of the apostle Paul.  He uses it at or near the end of many of his letters, for example, Romans, II Corinthians, and I and II Thessalonians.   Peace comes as a result of following the pattern of Christ:  having right attitudes, right thoughts, and right actions.  When we follow these instructions Paul says that “the God of peace will be with you”.  And if He is with us, we have no reason for worry, and our lives can be filled with joy, right?  Dr. Vernon Grounds, the president of Denver Conservative Baptist Seminary for many years, gave this exhortation:  “Pray, then, that like Paul we may live out our lives before the watching world”.

DEALING WITH WORRY – Philippians 4:1-7

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If anybody had an excuse for worrying, it was the apostle Paul. He had friends in Philippi who were disagreeing with each other, and he couldn’t be there to help them. There were also problems at the church in Rome. Paul also faced the possibility of his own death. Paul had many reasons to worry, but he did not! Instead, he takes time in his letter to explain the ways to have victory over worry. What is worry? The Greek word translated “anxious” or “careful” in verse 6 means “to be pulled in different directions”. Our hopes pull us in one direction; our fears pull us in the opposite direction; and we are being pulled apart! Worry can give us headaches, neck pain, ulcers, even back pain. It can affect our thinking about circumstances, people, and things. It is the greatest thief of joy. Telling others to quit worrying doesn’t work, does it? In the passage of Scripture we’re studying today, Philippians 4:1-7, the apostle Paul gives us part of the solution to worry.

I. AN EXPRESSION OF LOVE AND CONCERN (verse 1)

First of all, in verse l Paul lets the members of the church at Philippi know how special they are to him, and how concerned he is about their spiritual growth and victory in their daily lives.

II. THE IMPORTANCE OF HARMONY (verses 2-3)

Then in verse 2 Paul challenges two specific women to live in harmony. Euodia and Syntyche were not on speaking terms. They were both believers and members of the Philippian church, but they had a difference of opinion and the quarrel between them had become so serious that it reached the ears of Paul in his prison quarters in Rome. It grieved Paul greatly, and he pleads with them to resolve their differences and get along as Christians. If you have something against another Christian, you cannot solve it by not speaking to him or her. The very opposite is true. You should go to that other person and seek to get back into fellowship. If you refuse to speak, you injure yourself more than anyone else. This reminds me of a story of a certain farmer who lived on one side of a mountain, and he went to see his neighbor who lived on the other side of the mountain. Leaning on a rail fence, he watched his friend plowing with a mule. Finally he said, “I don’t want to butt in, but you could save yourself a lot of work by saying “gee” and “haw” instead of jerking on those lines to guide your mule.” The old timer mopped his brow with his red handkerchief and replied, “Yep, I know that; but this here mule kicked me six years ago and I ain’t spoken to him since!” This may sound foolish but the kick in the pants by a mule is no more foolish than many of our “spats” over little things. If you are not speaking to another brother or sister in Christ, what are you gaining by continuing to feud? Start with a smile, and follow it up with a gentle, kind remark, and then, forgetting your hurt feelings, be friends again!

In verse 3 Paul must be speaking to Epaphroditus, the man who brought Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi. Paul asks him as well as Clement and the other church leaders to help these women resolve their differences. Instead of worrying, Paul went to work and did something about it, delegating the responsibility for meeting this need to others he trusted and respected.

III. THE IMPORTANCE OF REJOICING (verses 4 and 5)

Verses 4 and 5 focus on the importance of rejoicing. The apostle Paul says in verse 4, “Rejoice in the Lord always”. “Always? But if you only knew what I am facing!” Yes, but what about the apostle Paul? He had been beaten repeatedly, stoned once, shipwrecked three times, and was often falsely accused by his enemies. But he didn’t complain or give up. He knew the secret of joy, and without boasting he could point to himself as an example for believers to follow.

We may not always feel like rejoicing, but we can and we must choose to rejoice. Even though circumstances may change, we have an unchanging God, and in Him we can always find cause for rejoicing. In verse 5 Paul says that we are to have a “forbearing spirit”. This means being satisfied with less than we feel we deserve in this life. Our joy is based on what God has for us in heaven, not on what we can get out of this life.

IV. THE IMPORTANCE OF PRAYER (verses 6 and 7 )

In verse 6 Paul is saying, “Don’t worry about anything but pray about everything”. The word “prayer” is a general word for making requests known to the Lord. It has the idea of adoration, devotion, and worship. Think about the goodness and majesty of God! We need time to remind ourselves in prayer that God is big enough to solve our problems. Too often we rush into God’s presence and hastily tell Him our needs, when we ought to approach His throne calmly and with deepest reverence and adoration.

The second form of prayer mentioned in verse 6 is supplication – sharing with God our needs and our problems, and confessing our sins to Him. Nothing is too small to bring before the Father’s throne. What a difference it would make in our day if we talked to God about every problem and concern. As the hymn writer said:
What a Friend we have in Jesus,
All our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry
Everything to God in prayer!

The last form of prayer mentioned here is thanksgiving. It’s not easy to have a thankful heart in every circumstance in life, is it? Yet the Scriptures say in I Thessalonians 5:18 and in other passages that we should give thanks in everything. There was a godly old preacher whose pastoral prayer was a source of great inspiration to the members of his congregation. Sunday after Sunday he would begin his prayer with praise and thanksgiving to God. Downhearted worshipers were often lifted by his positive spirit. One Lord’s Day, however, it seemed as if there was nothing that anyone could be happy about. The weather was cold and damp, only a few church members came to the service, and gloom was everywhere. The few who did show up that morning wondered what can the pastor be grateful for on a day like this? At the beginning of the service the pastor stood up and folded his hands in his usual manner. Then he began, “Thank you, Father, that every Lord’s Day morning is not like this one!”

Even if we can’t be grateful for what we receive, be grateful for what we escape. Yes, in everything God wants to hear us say, “Thank you, Father!”

The result is that the “peace of God” guards our hearts and our minds. This peace does not mean that the trials of life are gone, but it does mean that we have a confidence within us, regardless of circumstances, people, and things.

Daniel gives us a wonderful illustration of peace through prayer. When the king announced that none of his subjects was to pray to anyone except the king, Daniel “went to his room, opened his windows, and prayed as before”. You will find this story in Daniel 6:1-10. Note how Daniel prayed. He “prayed, and gave thanks” before his God in verse 10, and he made supplication in verse 11. Prayer – Supplication – thanksgiving. And the result was perfect peace in the midst of his difficulty. Daniel was able to spend the night with the lions in perfect peace, while the king in his palace could not sleep! We find this in verse 18.

Those who place themselves in the care of God experience the peace of God. Instead of being anxious about everything, you could be anxious about nothing. Instead of praying about little or nothing, you could be praying about everything. And, through prayer, your heavy load of worry would become God’s, and His gift of peace would become yours. You won’t find a better bargain than that in your Christian life!

If your life is filled with worry, and you have no peace with God and no evidence of lasting joy in your life, apply these principles of prayer to your life. Declare to God in prayer that He is a holy and righteous God who sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to pay the penalty for your sin. Acknowledge your own sinfulness; confess your sins to Him and ask for His forgiveness. Invite Jesus Christ to come into your life and be your Savior and Lord (Romans 10:9-13, 27-30). Thank Him for His presence and His power in your life. Spend time daily in the Bible and in prayer. Get involved in a Bible-teaching church, receiving encouragement from other Christians and serving your loving Lord with all your heart. And don’t forget to tell others about what Jesus Christ has done for you.