A LESSON ON COMPASSION (Part II) – Jonah, chapters 3 and 4

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The book of Jonah, chapter 2, ended with the description of the great fish spitting up Jonah onto the dry land at God’s command.     God caused this to happen because of what Jonah said at the end of his prayer of thanksgiving.  To put it in today’s language, Jonah was saying, “I’ll do what you command”  and “You can save whomever you choose.”  Let’s see what happens in chapters 3 and 4.

III.  JONAH’S PREACHING AT NINEVEH (Chapter 3)

We find God repeating His initial command to Jonah in chapter 3, verses 1 and 2, and this time Jonah obeys God’s command and walks through the city over a period of three days crying out and saying, “Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown.”  The result was that the people believed in God and repented of their sins.  They demonstrated their repentance by proclaiming a fast and putting on sackcloth.  That would be like wearing a large burlap sack over your bare body.  Can you imagine how much that would itch and irritate your skin.  Even the king of Nineveh took off his royal robes and put on sackcloth and sat on the ashes.  He also issued a decree, beginning in verse 7 saying, “. . . Do not let man, beast, herd, or flock taste a thing.  Do not let them eat or drink water.  But both man and beast must be clothed in sackcloth; and let men call on God earnestly that each may turn from his wicked way and the violence which is in his hands.  Who knows, God may turn and relent, and withdraw His burning anger so that we shall not perish?”

It doesn’t say how long they did this.  It may have been for days, or weeks, or even the full 40 days.  They were appealing to God’s mercy and they found that God is a merciful God.  In verse 10 it says, “When God saw their deeds, that they turned from their wicked way, then God relented concerning the calamity which He had declared He would bring upon them.  And He did not do it.”

II.  JONAH’S DISCONTENT AND CORRECTION (Chapter 4)

There must have been great rejoicing in the city of Nineveh.  But one person wasn’t rejoicing.  He was angry.  And that person was the prophet Jonah.  Was Jonah mad because his prophesy didn’t come true?  Was he embarrassed?  No.  The real reason why Jonah fled from the Lord, and why he was angry with God is found in 4:2-3.  Jonah was willing to die for the sailors.  He thanked God for sparing his own life.  But Jonah didn’t want God to spare Nineveh because they were a very wicked people; they weren’t Jewish, and Nineveh was the capitol of the nation of Assyria.  The prophet Isaiah had already prophesied that Assyria was going to someday destroy the nation of Israel  and take the remainder of the people back to Assyria as captives.  This prophecy is found in Isaiah 7:17-20 and following.  In Jonah 4:2 he even accuses God of being “gracious, compassionate, slow to anger and abundant in loving-kindness”, as if those were God’s faults or weaknesses!

Jonah is so angry that he asks God to take his life.  He would rather die than have God spare the lives of the people of Nineveh, and God questions his anger.  Jonah leaves the city and builds a booth “outside” the city; waiting to see if God will come to His senses  and decide that these people don’t deserve to be spared.  While Jonah sleeps God causes a gourd plant to sprout out of the ground overnight and grow big enough to provide shade for Jonah.  This makes Jonah very happy!  He must have been thinking, “God has finally come to His senses and has agreed with me that these people don’t deserve to live!”  But then God causes a worm to destroy the vine, and Jonah becomes very angry again.  There is an important lesson here.  God is in control.  He caused the storm.  He caused the fish to swallow Jonah and later spit him out.  He caused the vine to grow up overnight, and He caused the worm to kill the vine.  Everyone and everything obeyed God except the preacher.  The storm, the dice, the sailors, the fish, the Ninevites, the east wind, the gourd plant, the worm!  Everyone and everything except . . .  Jonah!  Sometimes God allows us to suffer the consequences of our actions so that we might know that He is in control.

A second lesson is found in 4:10-11.  Jonah lacked God’s compassion for people.  There’s a little bit of Jonah in all of us sometimes, isn’t there?  Sometimes more than a “little bit”?  It is the Jewish custom on the annual celebration of the Day of Atonement to read from the book of Jonah.  And at the end of the reading all would say, “We are Jonah!”

If you don’t know Jesus Christ as your personal Savior and Lord, the book of Jonah is saying that God loves you and wants to show you mercy, no matter how sinful you have been.  God wants to receive you into His family if you are ready to turn from your sins and let the Lord Jesus Christ take control of your life.  The Controller of the universe gives you the freedom to give Him control over your life, and you can do that right now.

If you are a Christian, the book of Jonah is saying that people are precious because God considers them to be precious.  God wants us to lay aside our prejudices and let Him fill our hearts with His compassion for the sinning and suffering people we meet.  Do you remember that person I asked you to bring to mind at the beginning of this message?  What are you and I going to do this week to reach out by the power of God’s love to that person we’ve been avoiding?

I’m closing this message by reading a portion from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.  The Lord Jesus says it better than anyone else.  The passage of Scripture is Matthew 5:43-48.  The Lord Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor, and hate your enemy.’  But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you in order that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.  For if you love those who love you, what reward have you?  Do not even the tax-gatherers do the same?  And if you greet your brothers only, what do you do more than others?  Do not even the Gentiles do the same?  Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

SURVEY OF THE EPISTLE OF JAMES

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INTRODUCTION:

If we were asked the question, “Which book of the New Testament was written first”, I imagine that many of us might guess that it was one of the gospels since they talk about the birth, life, and death of the Lord Jesus Christ.  I was personally surprised when I learned that the first book of the New Testament was the epistle of James, in all probability.  It was written possibly as early as 45 A.D., and as late as 50 A.D.  That’s approximately fifteen to twenty years after the ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ.

It is important to realize that the arrangement of the books in the New Testament is a topical arrangement rather than a chronological one.  If the books were arranged chronologically by the dates that they were written, James would probably appear first.  It’s interesting that, in the book of James, the name of the Lord Jesus Christ only appears twice.  His cross is never mentioned, nor is His resurrection.  The Holy Spirit is not mentioned either.  James is not a doctrinal book but a practical book, encouraging us to live our Christian faith.

I.  THE AUTHOR

Who was the author of the book of James?  Obviously it was James, but which James?  There are five men in the New Testament who are called by that name:  James, the father of the apostle Judas;  James, the son of Zebedee;  James, the son of Cleophas;  James the Less;  and James, the brother of the Lord Jesus Christ and the son of Mary and Joseph.  It is generally agreed that James, the brother of the Lord Jesus, was the author of the book.

The Scriptures tell us that during the time Jesus was growing up to adulthood, and even during His earthly ministry, His brothers did not believe that He was the Messiah.  In fact, Jesus experienced opposition from them at times.  And yet we find that James was a leader in the church in Jerusalem after the Lord’s ascension into heaven.  We are left to conclude that it was after the death, burial and resurrection of Christ that James came to the realization that Jesus was the true Messiah.  After Jesus Christ rose from the dead, He appeared to various groups.  I Corinthians 15:7 states, “after that, He appeared to James;  then to all the apostles.”  It was probably after Jesus appearance to James after His resurrection that James placed his faith in Jesus Christ as his Savior and Lord.

Since James was not a believer in Jesus as the Christ during His earthly ministry, James was not one of the twelve apostles.  But after he became a Christian, James became one of the leaders in the church at Jerusalem.  He is mentioned as one of the speakers at the council in Jerusalem in Acts 15, and his suggestion was accepted by the whole assembly.

III.  THE EPISTLE OF JAMES

The epistle of James has been called the “Proverbs of the New Testament” because James goes from one topic to another.  The epistle is also very practical, and very convicting.  In the 108 verses of this short letter, there are 54 commands.  That means that half the verses are commands.  Someone has described James’ style as “a string of pearls”.  In a string of pearls there is a basic relationship of one pearl to the other, and yet each pearl is unique and different.

While James was still an unbeliever, he must have paid attention to what Jesus taught because his letter is very much like Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.  We’ll see this comparison more clearly as we study the book of James in detail over the next several months.

The book of James has been misunderstood and condemned by many because of its emphasis on good works.  Martin Luther called the epistle of James an “epistle of straw” that ought to be burned.  He and several other leaders of the Protestant Reformation felt that the Epistle of James should be removed from the Bible because of its emphasis on good works.  But they misunderstood  its meaning.  The epistle of James is saying that “genuine faith produces genuine works”.  Or, to put it another way, “the person who has genuinely found the Way, walks in it”.

The problems that James discusses have a common cause:  spiritual immaturity.  The Christians mentioned in his epistle were not growing spiritually.  Spiritual maturity is one of the greatest needs in our churches today.  The five chapters of James suggest five marks of a mature Christian.  In chapter one, a mature Christian is patient in trials and temptations.  In chapter two, a mature Christian practices the truth.  In chapter three, a mature Christian has power over his tongue.  And in chapter four, a mature Christian is prayerful in the midst of troubles.

Christian maturity is something we must work at constantly.  So, don’t give up, because mature Christians are happy, useful Christians, Christians who help to encourage and build up others.  As we study this epistle of James together, with God’s enabling we will learn together and mature together, and our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ will become even more evident to those around us.

PRACTICING HUMILITY – Philippians 2:12-18

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The apostle Paul has presented the Lord Jesus Christ as the great example of humility. But how do we go about practicing it? How can we hope to be as humble as our Lord?

Paul isn’t asking us to “reach for the stars” by giving us a goal that is so awesome and difficult that it’s frustrating and hopeless. He is telling us that a humble, submissive attitude and lifestyle are a process, and that God wants to give us everything necessary to develop them in our lives.

I. ENCOURAGEMENT TO GROW (verses 12 and 13)

Paul begins by encouraging us to grow. The words “work out your salvation” in verse 12 don’t mean “work for your salvation”. The Greek word translated “work out” means to “work to full completion”. The word was used in Paul”s day for “working a mine shaft”, getting all the precious ore out of the mine that you possibly can. It was also used for “working a field” so that you could get the greatest possible harvest. God wants us to become Christlike. There will be problems along the way, but God wants to help us “work them out”. Our lives have tremendous potential. He wants to help us get all we can get out of our lives. God is a God of variety. No two flowers are exactly alike, no two snowflakes are the same, and no two fingerprints are identical. All of us are called to be like Christ, but we must also be ourselves.

II. ENCOURAGEMENT TO BE WITNESSES (verses 14-16)

In verses 14 and 15, Paul compares the life of the believer with the lives of those who live in the world. Many people think that Christians are always negative and fighting against something. That’s sad because we should be known as positive people who promote what is good and right. One newspaper columnist stated that he wondered if we Christians are really loving our enemies and praying for those who persecute us. Are we feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and visiting those in prison? Jesus told us to do these things in Matthew chapter 5 in His Sermon on the Mount.

If we went through life each day without complaining, how would that affect others around us? They would enjoy being around us, wouldn’t they? We would be an encouragement to them and God would be able to shine through our lives. Two small children were seated on an airplane and they weren’t happy about it. Their cries of complaint filled the cabin of the airplane. Just before takeoff, a flight attendant stopped next to them and said with a big smile, “What is all that squawking up here?” After charming the fussy 3-year-old and his younger sister for a few minutes, the flight attendant bent down and whispered very seriously, “I must remind you, this is a non-squawking flight”. The little ones became unbelievably quiet. That made everybody feel better. It’s a long journey when you have to sit in the squawking section. I’m sure that God would like to remind us every morning that He wants this day to a non-squawking day.

This kind of problem happens in churches and among Christians also. A specialist was called in as a consultant by the board of a church that was having a lot of disagreement over a small issue. Two committees had given conflicting recommendations on how to redecorate the church building. One committee said that it should be painted white. The other committee insisted that yellow would make it look more attractive and up-to-date.
Both groups wouldn’t give in, and there were angry speeches and many harsh words. The specialist listened to their heated arguments until he finally said quietly, “Here’s my advice to you. Don’t paint it white; don’t paint it yellow; paint your church black! That would be an appropriate color for a church board that is having such a shameful quarrel!”
The members of the committees were put to shame. They now realized that their arguing and hateful comments had grieved the Holy Spirit. After some calm reflection and discussion, a peaceful agreement was reached.

In verses 15 and 16, Paul reminds us that we are God’s children and He wants us to shine as lights in this sinful world. Beatrice Tice tells of a tenement district in New York City where a boy in ragged clothes was seen with a small piece of broken mirror in his hand. Holding it high in the air he moved it slowly back and forth, watching the narrow slit of a window above him as he did so. “What are you doing?”, a man suddenly demanded as he shook the youngster roughly by the shoulder. “Like most boys in this neighborhood, you’re probably up to some mischief, aren’t you?” The boy looked up into the stern face of this man and said, “See that window up there? Well, I have a little brother who has a room on that floor. He’s a cripple. The only sunlight he ever sees is what I shine up to him with my mirror!” The man was ashamed that he had spoken to him so harshly, realizing that the boy was doing a kind deed by reflecting the sun’s rays to his lonesome brother in that dark tenement building.

We don’t have to be preachers or specially trained people to shine for Jesus. We can radiate His light to others by the thoughtful way we talk, live, and love. In verse 16 Paul tells us that if we follow these principles from God’s Word, then we’ll have the joy of knowing that our lives were not lived in vain, and our unselfish efforts will have eternal results.

III. A REASON TO REJOICE (verses 17 and 18)

In verses 17 and 18, the apostle Paul gives himself and the church at Philippi another reason to rejoice. Paul rejoices in spite of the fact that he is being “poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service of their faith.” Paul established the Philippian church, and their growing faith has been the result of his sacrificial love for them and service to them.

The “drink offering” or “libation” that Paul speaks of was not an offering that was offered by itself or separately. It was an offering of wine which was poured on or around another offering. The wine represented Paul’s blood. Paul was writing this letter in a prison cell in Rome, and he knew that very soon he would be put to death because of his faith in Jesus Christ. But the main sacrifice for which he was being poured out as a drink offering was the Philippian church’s’ testimony and service to God that would continue on after his death. This was the source of Paul’s joy as he writes this letter to them, and he wants them to share in this joy together with him. Joy comes in this life from sacrifice and service to God, and from looking forward to the day when we’re promoted to glory.

Is your life filled with that kind of joy?  If not, the Lord Jesus Christ is the only source of it.  If so, let the whole world around you know — the reason for the hope and joy that is in you.  (I Peter 3:15)

CONSTRUCTION SITE:  COMPLETED

Philippians: Background and Survey

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Jesus Christ was described in Scripture as “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.”  Yet He possessed a deep joy that was beyond anything the world could offer.  As He faced the cruel death on the cross at Mount Calvary, Jesus said to His followers, “These things I have spoken to you that My joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be made full.”  About thirty years after the death of Christ, the apostle Paul wrote a letter to the church at Philippi from his cell in a prison at Rome.  Yet his letter is filled with joy.

II.  HISTORICAL BACKGROUND:

Paul first came to the city of Philippi about ten years earlier while he was on his second missionary journey.  Philippi was named after Philip of Macedon, the father of Alexander the Great.  The city at that time had a population of close to half a million people.  Most of them were Greeks, with a small group of Jews and Romans.

The first converts to Christianity were Lydia, a dealer in crimson fabrics, and the town’s jailor.  The members of their families also became Christians.  The church at Philippi was the first church in Europe.  It has been referred to as the birthplace of European Christianity.  Most of the congregation were Greeks, along with some converted Jews.  By the time Paul wrote this epistle, the church at Philippi had grown and become well-organized.  It had both elders and deacons.

Philippians has been called Paul’s love letter to the church at Philippi.  It contains less correction and more praise than any other epistle.  Many Bible scholars have called it “the epistle of joy”.

III.  AN OUTLINE

Here is a simple outline to Paul’s letter to the Philippians:

Chapter l – The Joy of Christ Our Life

Chapter 2 – The Joy of Christ Our Example

Chapter 3 – The Joy of Christ Our Goal

Chapter 4 – The Joy of Christ Our Sufficiency

IV.  THIEVES OF JOY

The epistle of Paul to the Philippians talks about four thieves that can rob you and I of Joy:

1.  CIRCUMSTANCES

Most of us would have to agree that when things are “going our way”, we feel a lot happier, and we are much easier to live with.   Little Peggy said to her girlfriend one day, “Dad must have had an easy day at the office.  He didn’t squeal the tires when he pulled into the driveway, and he didn’t slam the door when he came into the house; and he even gave Mommy a kiss!”

But have you ever considered how few of the circumstances of life are really under our control?  We have no control over the weather or over the things people say and do.  The person whose happiness depends on ideal circumstances is going to be miserable most of the time.  And yet here is the apostle Paul in the worst of circumstances, writing a letter filled with joy.

2.  PEOPLE

A second thief that can rob us of joy is people.  A little girl jumped off the school bus as it stopped in front of her home and slammed her way through the front door.  She marched up the stairs with an angry look on her face, went into her room and again slammed the door.  All the time she was muttering under her breath, “People . . . people . . .people . . . PEOPLE!”  Her father went to her door and knocked softly.  “May I come in?”  She answered, “No!”  The father asked, “Why can’t I come in?”  She answered:  “Because you’re a people!”

All of us have lost our joy because of people, haven’t we?  Maybe it was because of the way they were, or what they said or did.  And no doubt we’ve helped make someone else unhappy.  It works both ways, doesn’t it?  But we have to live and work with people.  We can’t isolate ourselves and still live to glorify Christ.  The apostle Paul was in prison with some of the cruelist and most sinful people, yet he still had joy.

3.  THINGS

A third thief that robs us of joy is things.  A wealthy man was moving into his mansion, and his Quaker neighbor, who believed in simplicity of life, was watching the activities carefully.  The neighbor counted the chairs and tables, and the vast amount of knicknacks that were being carried into the house.  Finally, he said to the owner of the mansion:  “Neighbor, if thou dost need anything, come to see me and I will tell thee how to get along without it!”

Abraham Lincoln was walking down the street with his two sons, who were crying and fighting.  “What’s the matter with the boys?” a friend asked.  “The same thing that’s wrong with the whole world”, Lincoln replied.  “I have three walnuts and each of the boys wants two!”

Things!  What thieves they can be!  Yet Jesus said, “A man’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things which he possesses.  In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warned against laying up treasures on earth.  They aren’t safe, they don’t last, and they never satisfy.  Yet most people today think that joy comes from the things that they own.  Actually, things can rob us of the only joy that really exists.

4.  WORRY

The last thief that robs of joy is worry, and this is the worst thief of all.  How many people have been robbed of peace and fulfillment because of worry.  You can purchase “sleep” at the drug store, but you cannot purchase “rest”.  If the apostle Paul wanted to worry, he had plenty of reasons.  He was a prisoner facing possible execution.  He had no mission board supporting him and no Legal Aid Society defending him.  But in spite of these difficulties, Paul does not worry.  Instead, he writes a letter filled with joy, and tells us how to stop worrying.

Worry is actually wrong thinking and wrong feeling about circumstances, people, and things.  Philippians 4 tells us that we have God’s peace, God’s power, and God’s provision available to us.  With resources like these, why should we worry?