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).

 

 

 

 

 

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!

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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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.

PRESSING ON – Philippians 3:12-16

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INTRODUCTION;

Most of us have probably read biographies – books that tell the story of another person’s life. Maybe we were curious, and hoped to discover what made that person great. In Philippians, chapter 3, the apostle Paul is giving us his own spiritual biography. In verses 1-11 Paul tells us about his past. Here, in verses 12-16, Paul describes his present spiritual journey. He compares it to a race, and he gives us the essentials for winning that race and one day receiving the reward that the Lord Jesus Christ has promised.

I. DISSATISFACTION (verse 12)

The first essential for winning the race is dissatisfaction. In verse 12 the apostle Paul says, “not that I have already attained it, or have become perfect”. Paul is not saying here that he is dissatisfied with Jesus Christ. In verse 8 he talked about “the surpassing value of knowing Christ”. But Paul is dissatisfied with his Christian life. Self-satisfaction is the death of progress. Dissatisfaction with past accomplishments is the mother of invention. Because man was dissatisfied with carrying and lifting loads on his shoulders, he invented the wheel and the lever. Because he was dissatisfied with walking, he invented vehicles to ride in. Many Christians are self-satisfied with their Christian lives because they compare their spiritual progress with that of other Christians, usually with those Christians who are not making as much progress as themselves. But Paul did not compare himself with others. He compared himself with himself and with Jesus Christ! In verse 12 Paul says that he had not arrived at perfection. One mark of spiritual maturity is realizing that we aren’t perfect. The process of becoming like the Lord Jesus Christ is much like riding a bicycle: either you keep moving forward, or you fall down!

II. DEVOTION (verse 13a)

The second essential for winning the race and receiving the prize is devotion. Paul says in verse 13, “but one thing I do”. “One thing” is a phrase that is very important in our Christian lives. “One thing you lack”, said Jesus to the rich young ruler. “One thing is needful”, He said to Martha. “One thing I know”, said the man who received his sight by the power of Jesus Christ. “One thing I have desired of the Lord” said the psalmist. Many Christians are too involved in many things, when the secret of progress in our lives is to concentrate on “one thing”. For example, the cheetah is the fastest land animal in the world. He lives on the plains of Africa, and when he’s hungry he chooses one specific animal in a herd of deer or antelope and goes after it. Ignoring others, this swift cat has been clocked at nearly 70 miles per hour in hot pursuit of its prey until he catches it.

The same kind of determination and single-mindedness has been shown by some people. One of them was a man named Howard Marvin. First, a numbness crept into his fingers. Then weakness progressed quickly through his body. Within hours he was becoming paralyzed. Howard had Guillain-Barre syndrome, a rare disease that causes paralysis and sometimes causes death. He lived, but he was left totally paralyzed. Recalling Howard’s attitude of mind in those months that followed, his son said, “Dad’s one goal was to survive”. When he was told that his best friend had died, he accepted it and put it out of his mind.” He cared very deeply about his friend, but he refused to use up any energy in grieving because he needed every ounce of strength just to get well. Howard Marvin is walking again. Did God do it? Howard would be quick to say “yes”. But without a single-minded, dogged determination, he might still be helpless.

The prize of becoming like the Lord Jesus Christ takes that same kind of devotion. Becoming like Christ is the one thing worth giving up everything else for.

III. FORGETTING THE PAST (verse 13b)

The third essential for running the race and receiving the prize is “forgetting the past”. In verse 13, the apostle Paul says, “forgetting what lies behind”. Sometimes Satan will remind us of our past sins, trying to convince us of our unworthiness to serve Christ. When you are under attack, it’s a good idea to thumb through your Bible and notice the many people who were failures, but who went on to do great things for God. Would the apostle Peter have preached that wonderful sermon on the day of Pentecost, when 3000 people responded to Christ, if Peter was continuing to dwell on his denial of Christ and refused to believe that all had been forgiven and forgotten? Would the apostle Paul have founded churches, written epistles, and traveled across the country if he had allowed the memories of his persecution of Christians to make him feel guilty and discouraged?

When we confess our sins, they are forgiven and God will never mention them again. The choice is ours. We can either brood over our past or “reach forward to what lies ahead”. We can’t change the past, but we can trust in God’s forgiveness and live for the future. The words “reaching forward” picture a runner leaning forward to touch the tape first and win the race. If you watched the 2012 Summer Olympic Games, you saw that happen many times.

IV. DETERMINATION (verse 13b)

The fourth essential for running the race and receiving the prize is “determination”. The apostle Paul says in verse 14, “I press on toward the goal”. The point that Paul is trying to make is that we are not to give up, in spite of obstacles that may cross our paths. The Christian life is like a steeple chase, which is a long foot race that has many hurdles to jump over and many large puddles of water to slosh through. You may have watched that race during the Summer Olympics. Many of the racers fall at least once, but they immediately get up and continue running in spite of the aches and pains because they are determined to run the race to its completion.

A man by the name of Johnson Oatman wrote a song about this verse of Scripture. The first stanza of his song goes like this: “I’m pressing on the upward way, New heights I’m gaining ev’ry day; Still praying as I onward bound, ‘Lord, plant my feet on higher ground’.”

The famous preacher Charles Simeon said that whenever he looked at the portrait of Henry Martyn, these words came to his mind: “Don’t trifle … don’t trifle!” In other words, “Don’t waste your time on unimportant or trivial things”. Martyn had graduated from Cambridge University with honors in both mathematics and the classics, and had the makings of a brilliant career. But he chose to serve the Lord in India. He was almost 25 when he arrived there, and at the age of 31 he died. Yet in those six years he translated the New Testament into three languages – Hindustani, Arabic, and Persian. Only eternity will reveal how much his work meant to other missionaries, and how many people were saved because of it. It is said that Martyn’s picture still hangs in a hall at Cambridge where students go to pray, and that his penetrating gaze still seems to say, “Don’t trifle … don’t trifle!”

V. DISCIPLINE (verses 15 and 16)

The fifth and last essential Paul gives for running the Christian race is “discipline”. This means remembering and obeying the spiritual rules given in the Word of God. It is not enough to run hard and win the race. The runner must also obey the rules. In the Greek Olympic games, the judges were strict about this. Breaking any of the rules disqualified the athlete. He did not lose his citizenship (though he disgraced it), but he did lose his privilege to participate and win a prize.

One of the greatest athletes ever to come out of the Unites States was Jim Thorpe. At the 1912 Olympic games in Stockholm, Sweden, he won the pentathlon and the decathlon, and undoubtedly was the hero of the games. But the next year officials found that Thorpe had played semiprofessional baseball, and therefore had forfeited his amateur standing. This meant that he had to return his gold medals and his trophy, and that his Olympic achievements were erased from the record books. It was a high price to pay for breaking the rules.

One day each Christian will stand before the judgment seat of Christ. The Greek word for “judgment seat” is “bema”, the very same word used to describe the place where the Olympic judges gave out the prizes! If we have disciplined ourselves to obey the rules and to follow the example of Christ, we will receive our rewards.

Let’s run our race with joy, just as our Lord Jesus ran His race during His life on earth. Hebrews 12:1-3 says, “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance, and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you may not grow weary and lose heart.”

TRUE RIGHTEOUSNESS – Philippians 3:1-11

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Circumstances and people can rob us of joy, can’t they? But so can things. And it is this thief that Paul deals with in chapter three. It’s easy for us to get wrapped up in things, isn’t it? And not only the things we can see and touch, but also things like reputation, fame and achievement. Jesus warns us in Luke 12:15 that our lives do not consist in the abundance of things we possess. Quantity is no guarantee of quality. Many people who have the things money can buy have lost the things money cannot buy.

The key word in our passage of scripture for today, Philippians 3:1-11, is the word “count”. It means “to evaluate”, to “examine carefully”. Many people today are slaves of “things” because they’ve never sat down and seriously considered the values that control their decisions and actions, and this has robbed them of real joy. In the case of the apostle Paul, the “things” he was living for before he knew Christ seemed to be very noble: a righteous life, obedience to the Law of Moses, and the defense of the religion of his ancestors – the Jewish religion. But none of these satisfied him or made him feel acceptable to God. Paul had high enough morals to keep him out of trouble, but he didn’t have enough righteousness to get him into heaven! It was not bad things that kept Paul away from Jesus – it was good things! Paul had to lose his “religion” to find salvation. In this passage of Scripture we’re studying today, Paul explains that there are only two kinds of righteousness: righteousness based on works and righteousness based on faith, and only faith righteousness is acceptable to God.

I. RIGHTEOUSNESS BASED ON WORKS (verses 1-6)

In verse 1 Paul says, “Finally my brethren”. It doesn’t mean that Paul is about to end his letter, because he keeps on going. The word “finally” means “for the rest” or “for what remains”. Paul is changing his topic. He has warned the believers at Philippi before, but now he warns them again. “Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of the false circumcision”. We have to go back to the beginning of the church to find out what Paul means. From the beginning, the gospel came “to the Jew first”. The first seven chapters of the book of Acts deal only with Jewish believers or Gentiles who had become Jewish converts. In Acts 8 the message went to the Samaritans, but this did not cause too much of a problem since the Samaritans were at least partly Jewish. But when Peter went to the Gentiles in Acts 10, this caused an uproar. Peter said that it was God who had directed him to preach to the Gentiles, and the problem seemed to be solved, but not for long. These strict Jewish believers told the apostle Paul that it was necessary for the Gentiles to obey the Jewish rules before they could be saved. They followed Paul wherever he went and tried to steal his converts and his churches. Paul uses three terms to describe them. He calls them “dogs” because they were following on Paul’s heels, viciously “barking” their false teachings. Secondly, Paul called them “evil workers” because these men taught that the sinner must be saved by doing the good works of the Law of Moses. Thirdly, Paul called them “the false circumcision” because they taught that circumcision was necessary for people to be saved. In contrast to these false Christians, Paul says in verse 3 that the true Christian is one who is directed by the Holy Spirit, boasts only in Jesus Christ, and puts no confidence in his sinful flesh.

In verses 4-6 Paul uses himself as an example. He was born into a pure Hebrew family, and was circumcised on the eighth day as required by Jewish law. He was descended from the tribe of Benjamin, the favorite and most faithful of all the tribes. Paul spoke the Hebrew language, and was a Pharisee, the strictest and most devout leaders of the Jewish nation. He was also a persecutor of the church, and was morally blameless. Paul had everything going for him.

II. RIGHTEOUSNESS BASED ON FAITH (verses 7-11)

But when Paul met Jesus Christ on the Damascus Road in Acts 9, Paul believed and became a child of God. After this happened, Paul lost some things, but he gained much more than he lost. He recounts this here in verses 7-11. What did Paul lose? Verse 7 says that he lost his reputation as a Jewish scholar and religious leader. He also lost his religious achievements and his Jewish friends.

But what did Paul gain? Verse 8 tells us that Paul gained a personal, intimate knowledge of Jesus Christ. Verse 9 tells us that Paul gained the righteousness of Christ. When Paul trusted in Jesus Christ as his Savior and Lord, God put Christ’s righteousness into Paul’s account, and Paul’s sins were placed in Christ’s account. His sins were paid for in full by the blood of Christ on the cross. In verses 10 and 11, Paul experienced the fellowship of Christ in His suffering, death, and resurrection. This was Paul’s desire, his goal, and a source of strength and joy.

Paul gained far more than he lost. The things he had lost were like garbage in comparison to gaining Christ. No wonder Paul had joy! His life did not depend on the cheap “things” of the world but on the eternal values found in Christ.

When God asks us to surrender something of temporal worth, He does so for the purpose of replacing it with a prize of eternal value. Are you willing to trust Him and obey Him? Is the Lord calling you to sacrifice something you treasure in order to give you something of lasting worth? People who live for “things” are never really happy because they must constantly protect their earthly treasures and worry about whether they will lose their value.

Can you say, along with the apostle Paul, that to have Christ, and know His resurrection power in your life, is your greatest joy? And can we agree that the things we left behind have become so unimportant that we consider them “but garbage”? Consider and reflect on these words written by the missionary Jim Elliot before he was killed because of his faith in Jesus Christ: “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose”.

TIMOTHY AND EPAPHRODITUS – Philippians 2:19-30

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A newspaper reporter in San Bernardino, California arranged for a man to lie in the gutter on a busy street. Hundreds of people passed by the man but not one stopped to help him or even show sympathy. Newspapers across the country several years ago told how 38 people watched a man stalk a young lady and finally attack her, and none of the spectators even picked up a phone to call the police.

Even in the apostle Paul’s day, concern for one another was not popular. The Christians in Rome were not very interested in the needs and problems at Philippi. Paul could not find one person among them who was willing to go to Philippi. Times have not changed much, have they?

Paul is still discussing humility and concern for the needs of others. He has given the example of the Lord Jesus Christ. He has also talked about his own experience and his own concern for others. Now Paul introduces us to two of his helpers in the ministry, Timothy and Epaphroditus, and he does this for a reason. He knows that the people reading his letter would think, “It’s impossible for us to follow examples like Christ and Paul. After all, Jesus was the Son of God, and Paul was an apostle who has had great spiritual experiences”. Therefore Paul introduces them to two ordinary Christians.

I. TIMOTHY (verses 19-24)

The first person Paul talks to the Philippians about is Timothy. Timothy’s name means: “one who fears or honors God”. Paul probably met Timothy when he traveled to Lystra and Derbe on his first missionary journey because, in I Corinthians 4:17, Paul later called Timothy his “beloved and faithful child in the Lord”. Timothy’s mother was a Jew and his father was a Greek. In Paul’s second letter to Timothy, we learn that Timothy’s mother and grandmother became Christians before he did. Paul left him there, encouraging him to become a part of the church fellowship in Derbe and Lystra, and it was in that fellowship that Timothy grew spiritually and learned to serve the Lord. When Paul returned to that area a few years later, he was happy to discover that young Timothy was “well spoken of by the brethren who were in Lystra and Iconium”. We find this information in Acts 16:2. Paul saw in Timothy the qualities needed for missionary work and he asked Timothy to join him. In Philippians 2:22 Paul makes this wonderful statement about Timothy: “you know of his proven worth that he served with me in the furtherance of the Gospel like a child serving his father”. Timothy had the humble heart of a true servant of God.

A popular nightclub singer in Chicago many years ago visited a pastor and announced that he had been saved and wanted to serve the Lord. “What should I do next?”, he asked.

“Well, I’d suggest that you unite with a good church and start growing”, the pastor replied. “Is your wife a Christian?”

“No, she isn’t”, the musician replied. “I hope to win her. But do I have to wait? I mean, I’d like to do something right now.”

“No, you don’t have to wait to witness for the Lord”, explained the pastor. “Get busy in a church, and use your talents for Christ.”

“But you don’t know who I am!”, the man protested. I’m a big performer. I want to start my own organization, make records, and appear before big crowds!”

“If you go too far too fast”, warned the pastor, “you may hurt yourself and your testimony. The place to start winning people is right at home. God will open up places of service for you as He sees you are ready. Meanwhile, study the Bible and give yourself a chance to grow.”

The man did not take the pastor’s advice. Instead he set up a big organization and started off on his own. His “success” lasted less than a year. Not only did he lose his testimony because he was not strong enough to carry the heavy burdens, but his constant travelling destroyed his relationship with his wife and family. He disappeared from public ministry, a broken and bankrupt man.

“His branches went out farther than his roots were deep”, the pastor said. “When that happens, you eventually fall.”

Paul didn’t make that mistake with Timothy. He gave Timothy time to get his spiritual roots down deep, and then asked Timothy to work with him on his missionary journeys. Perhaps the greatest reward God gave to Timothy was to choose him to be Paul’s replacement while Paul was in prison in Rome. What an honor! Timothy became Paul’s substitute!

II.  EPAPHRODITUS (verses 25-30)

The other man that the apostle Paul mentions in this passage of Scripture is Epaphroditus. He was a Gentile who had become a Christian, and he was a member of the church at Philippi. Paul couldn’t say enough about this man. In chapter one, Paul calls Epaphroditus “my brother”, “my companion in labor”, and “my fellow-soldier”.

Epaphroditus was a balanced Christian. Like Timothy, Epaphroditus was concerned about both believers and non-believers. Balance is important in the Christian life. Some people emphasize “fellowship” so much that they forget the sharing of the Gospel message with the lost. Others are so involved in defending the Gospel that they neglect building fellowship with other Christians. It takes both to get the Lord’s work accomplished. Dr. H.A. Ironside, the great Bible teacher and preacher, used to tell the story about a group of believers who thought only of “fellowship”. They had little concern for reaching the lost or for defending the faith against its enemies. In front of their meeting place they hung a sign, which said: JESUS ONLY. But the wind blew away some of the letters, and the sign read US ONLY. It was a perfect description of a group of people who were not balanced Christians. Verse 25 tells us that Epaphroditus volunteered to make a dangerous trip to Rome in order to be with Paul and assist him while he was in prison. He also brought along with him a love offering from the church at Philippi. With Nero as emperor, Rome was a very dangerous place for Christians. In verses 26 and 27, Paul says that while Epaphroditus was visiting him, he became very sick and nearly died. Yet his greatest concern was not for himself but for the church in Philippi. He didn’t want them to be distressed about his illness. Epaphroditus knew the meaning of sacrifice and service, and Paul encourages the church at Philippi to honor him.

CONCLUSION:

In Hebrews 11:32-40, God’s Word tells us of many giants of the faith – some named, some anonymous. They are measured by their willingness to serve God and others. Their faithfulness makes them great. God is not looking for bigness or status. His giants are ordinary people who do their best at whatever God calls them to do because they love God.

So, in Philippians 2:19-30, we see in Paul, Timothy, and Epaphroditus, the secret of true contentment – the giving of themselves without feeling sorry for themselves. Do you want to be an encouraging Christian? Remember, the ultimate source of encouragement is not people, but God. Go to Him for fresh encouragement from fellowship with Him in His Word and in prayer; then go out and encourage others. Even if we have nothing else to give, we can always give encouragement. God is looking for ordinary people to do an extraordinary work for Him!