If You Aren’t Fishing, You Aren’t Following

Fisher of Men 1How many of you have ever gone fishing? As Christians, Jesus calls us to be fishers of men.

As I read the Bible, especially the Book of Acts, it is clear to me that God desires His Church would grow. His desire is not that the church would stagnate, it is not that the church would plateau, it is not that the church would decline.

Please turn with me in your Bibles to Mark 1:14-20.

14 After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 15 “The time has come,” He said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”

16 As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, He saw Simon and His brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen.17 “Come, follow Me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for men.” 18 At once they left their nets and followed Him.

19 When He had gone a little farther, He saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. 20 Without delay He called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed Him.

We know from John’s gospel that this was not Jesus’ first encounter with these four men. Several months before, Jesus had already met them; and they had come to trust Him (John 1:35–49). This was not their initial call to faith and salvation; it was an initial call to discipleship.

Notice, Jesus said, “I will send you out to fish for men” (v. 17). He did not invite them to become spectators. Rather, He wanted them to join Him in proclaiming the Good News that the Kingdom of God is now at hand.

Jesus did not invent the term “fishers of men.” In that day, it was a common description of philosophers and other teachers who “captured men’s minds” through teaching and persuasion. They would “bait the hook” with their teachings and “catch” disciples.

So I ask you: Are you a fisher of men?

It has often been said the church is but one generation away from extinction – the point being that personal evangelism is God’s appointed remedy. Indeed, the church is in trouble. There is little urgency anymore to win the lost to Christ. There is no panic to redeem the souls of lost people. What happened to all the stories of people’s lives being changed, as they were in the book of Acts, where people joined the church every day (Acts 2:41-47)? Few people are changing anymore. They’re certainly not being saved every day. They are still just as disconnected, lost, and confused as they ever were.

As modern day disciples, Jesus calls us to be fishers of men. There has never been a more important time in history than now to help people understand the great things God is doing. He is gathering a people to Himself for His glory and honor, and He wants us to declare that message to the world.

Therefore, I want to share with you four fishing tips that will help you as you fish for men:

1. Good Fishermen Go Where The Fish Are Located

I once saw a funny picture about a guy fishing in a large pothole in the middle of the road. There was water in the hole, but he picked the wrong place to fish because there weren’t any fish there. You and I will never catch fish until we’re willing to leave our homes and go where the fish are.

The reason many fishermen have an empty net or hook is because they do not go where the fish are. Too many people try to fish by sitting in the boat with no pole and no net and expect the fish to come to them.

But it doesn’t work that way. We have to go to the fish.

People without Christ are not knocking down the doors of the church to get in. We have to go out after them. That’s why the Great Commission begins with the word, “GO.”

Let’s turn a few pages back in our Bibles to Matthew 28:18-20.

Jesus came to His disciples and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.

Jesus told His disciples to make more disciples as they preach, teach, and baptize. Today, Jesus is still commanding the church to make disciples for His Kingdom. His commission is worldwide and we are to go – whether it is next door or to another country – and make disciples. This is not an option, but a command to all who call Jesus “Lord.”

Lots of things never get done, but the Great Commission cannot be one of them! It is no secret that making disciples is the mission of the church. When we fail to make disciples the church fails to grow. Jesus began with a handful of disciples and turned the world upside down!  He wants us to follow His example.

Christianity is a missionary faith. The very nature of God demands this, for God is love and God is not willing that any should perish (2 Peter 3:9). Our Lord’s death on the cross was for the whole world. If we are the children of God and share His nature, then we will want to tell the good news to the lost world.

The term “disciples” was the most popular name for the early believers. Being a disciple meant more than simply being a convert or a church member. Apprentice might be an equivalent term. A disciple attached himself to a teacher, identified with him, learned from him, and lived with him. He learned, not simply by listening, but also by doing. Our Lord called twelve disciples and taught them, so they might be able to teach others (Mark 3:13).

A disciple, then, is one who has believed on Jesus Christ and expressed this faith by being baptized. He remains in the fellowship of believers, so that he might be taught the truths of the faith (Acts 2:41–47). He is then able to go out and win others and teach them. This was the pattern of the New Testament church (2 Tim. 2:1–2).

However, in many respects, we have departed from this pattern. In most churches, the congregation pays the pastor to preach, win the lost, and build up the saved—while the church members sit on the sidelines and simply function as spectators. How much faster our churches would grow, and how much stronger and happier our members would be, if each of us were discipling another believer. The only way a local church can “be fruitful and multiply” is with a systematic discipleship program. This is the responsibility of every believer and not just a small group who have been called to “Go.”

Jesus had opened the minds of His disciples to understand the Scriptures (Luke 24:44–45). They knew what He wanted them to teach their converts. It is not enough to win people to the Savior; we must also teach them the Word of God. The Great Commission includes the careful discipling of new believers. Jesus is not satisfied with any hasty profession of faith. We are not called simply to evoke decisions, but to make disciples. And that is an altogether different assignment.

Making disciples involves Christian training. That is why I believe many activities at church need to be geared towards Bible study, at every level. There is to be basic Bible study, designed to help people understand the basic claims of Christ and to help them come to faith in Him. And there is to be more intense Bible study as well, which is designed to help Christians grow, mature, and develop deeper in the faith.

One of the reasons why children and youth are so vital to the life of the church is because they are ripe for the harvest. They have not become “set in their ways”. We need to focus on sharing the Gospel, especially with young people. Statistics show that 19 out of every 20 people who come to Christ do so before they reach the age of 24. Young people are especially receptive to the Gospel.

God wants His house to be full. We’re not talking about the church house, but the household of faith. There are thousands of people who are not yet in the Family of God, and God wants us to go after them and tell them the Good News about salvation in Christ.

2. Good Fishermen Understand How Fish Behave

One of my favorite episodes of the “Andy Griffith Show” is about fishing. It was one of the earlier episodes. Opie was a little boy and Aunt Bee came to visit on a trial basis. She was trying desperately to fit in, so Opie would like her. She agreed to go fishing with Andy and Opie. She didn’t know much about fishing because she was holding her bait a few feet above the surface of the water. When Opie pointed it out, Andy was quick to give an answer that saved Aunt Bee any embarrassment. He explained to Opie that Aunt Bee was such a good fisherman that she was fishing for “flying fish.” That satisfied Opie, but it was obvious Aunt Bee did not understand how fish act.

If you and I are going to reach people for Christ, we must understand their world. We need to study their culture without buying into it. You don’t have to become a fish to understand how a fish acts. You don’t have to become a lost person to understand them either.

That means we should intentionally make friends with people who don’t know Jesus. The sad truth is the longer a person follows Christ the fewer friends they have who need Jesus. That’s only natural. We want to hang around other Christians. We want to be with those of like-mind and like-faith.

But Jesus was a friend of sinners. He spent time eating and fellowship with the worst of the worst. The Jewish leaders criticized Him for eating with sinners, but Jesus responded that only sick people need a doctor. The Jewish leaders were sick; they just wouldn’t admit it.

We must never forget Jesus wasn’t really talking about catching fish. He was actually talking about capturing people who are lost and bringing them into a saving relationship with Him. It’s not politically correct to talk about unbelievers dying and going to hell. But Jesus Himself said He came to seek and to save that which was lost.

One of the most difficult questions many Christians fear being asked by a lost person is this: “What about all those people who never heard about Jesus? What about those people who have never had a chance? How can God send them to hell?” But these questions arise from a faulty understanding of why people go to hell. People don’t go to hell because God wants them to, they go to hell because they deserve to. All of us are sinners and the wages of sin is death (Rom. 3:23).

But the good news of the Gospel is that Jesus died for our sins! He acted as our Substitute. He paid the penalty for our sins, so we could be forgiven in Him (Rom. 6:23). This is a free gift from God that has been extended to you and me… if we choose to accept it.

3. Good Fishermen Use a Variety of Strategies

Many things have changed in the two thousand years since Jesus ascended into heaven, but don’t be fooled by all the changes in our world. The most prominent things have stayed the same: people are still born with a sinful nature, they still rebel against God, and they are still helpless to save themselves. The message that God loves us and sent His Son, Jesus, to save us has not changed. It is timeless and applies to everyone. The methods we employ to share it may have changed, the language we use to communicate it may have changed, the customs surrounding our worship and singing may have changed, but the message is still the same.

When most people think of evangelism, they think about Billy Graham. For more than sixty years, he preached huge crusades around the world. He shared the Gospel with more people than any person in history. He spoke to millions of people! When it comes to fishing for men, Billy Graham has cast a huge net and has caught thousands of fish for Jesus.

That intimidates most of us and we say, “I’m no Billy Graham.” That’s ok. No two people are alike, so there is no single approach to evangelism that will work for each us. Different people need different approaches. The same strategy won’t work for everyone.

That’s exactly what the Apostle Paul meant when he wrote in 1 Corinthians 9, “I have become all things to all men, so that by all possible means I might save some” (v. 22). It is unfortunate that the phrase “all things to all men” has been used and abused by the world and made to mean what Paul did not intend for it to mean. Paul was not a chameleon who changed his message with each new situation. Nor was Paul a compromiser who adjusted his message to please his audience. He was an ambassador, not a politician!

Not all of us may be able to discuss the finer points of theology, but like the blind man, we can say, “I once was blind, but now I see.”

4. Good Fishermen Are Patient If They Don’t Catch Fish Immediately

If they don’t catch fish after the first few tries, they don’t load up and go home. They may move to another spot or try different bait, but they’re going to keep on fishing.

When you’re fishing, patience isn’t just a virtue; it’s a necessity. Not too many fish are going to jump into your boat. A fish is easily spooked and will try to get away. A person without Jesus may often resist and even resent your attempt to share Christ with them. That’s okay. Love them anyway. Keep showing them God’s love. Keep praying for them. God’s grace can still change that person’s heart into one that is open and receptive to Him.

I’m not going to ask if you’ve ever led a person to Christ. Instead, a better question is, “Have you ever initiated a spiritual conversation with someone?” If you don’t ever go fishing, for sure, you’ll never catch fish.

Sometimes you might go fishing and you don’t catch a thing, but it’s still called fishing because you went to where the fish are and you wet your hook. You tried. God won’t ask you how many fish you’ve caught. He’s more interested in how many times you’ve gone fishing. He judges us on our obedience. Our job is to share the Gospel, whether anyone accepts Christ or not. The results are up to God. I once saw a sign in front of a church that said: “Fishers of men. You catch ‘em and Jesus will clean them.”

While speaking in London, evangelist D. L. Moody was approached by a British companion who wanted to know the secret of Moody’s success in leading people to Christ. Moody directed the man to his hotel window and asked, “What do you see?” The man looked down on the square and reported a view of crowded streets.  Moody suggested he look again. This time the man mentioned seeing people – men, women, and children. Moody then directed him to look a third time. The man became frustrated that he was not seeing what Moody wanted him to see. Finally, the great evangelist came to the window with watery eyes and said, “I see people going to hell without Jesus. Until you see people like that, you will not lead them to Christ.”

What kind of witness are you?  When God calls you into account someday, for the stewardship of the gospel, when He asks you to tell Him how you handled the most precious and powerful gift He ever placed in the hands of humanity, what will you say?

If we are to be conformed to the image of Christ, if we are going to advance and mature in the faith, we must have a heart for the lost.

Beloved, remember who you are in Christ. You are a fisher of men!

*I preached the above message this past Sunday at Calvary Baptist Church.



Christ and the Churches: Part 5 (Revelation 3:14-22)

LukewarmToday, we are looking at Christ’s seventh and final message to the churches. This message from our Lord is certainly relevant to the church today!

Laodicea, the Lukewarm Church (Rev. 3:14–22)

Jesus is the truth and speaks the truth. He is “the faithful and true Witness.” The Lord was about to tell this church the truth about its spiritual condition; unfortunately, they would not believe His diagnosis.

“Why is it that new Christians create problems in the church?” a member once asked me.

“They don’t create problems,” I replied. “They reveal them. The problems have always been there, but we’ve gotten used to them. New Christians are like children in the home: they tell the truth about things!”

The Laodicean church was blind to its own needs and unwilling to face the truth. Yet honesty is the beginning of true blessing as we admit what we are, confess our sins, and receive from God all we need. If we want God’s best for our lives and churches, we must be honest with God and let God be honest with us.

The church at Laodicea had become lukewarm. The believers did not stand for anything; indifference led to idleness. By neglecting to do anything for Christ the church had become hardened and self-satisfied, and it was destroying itself. Christ would discipline this lukewarm church unless it turned from its indifference toward Him. The Lord demonstrated four areas of need in the church at Laodicea:

1. They had lost their vigor (vv. 16–17)

Some believers falsely assume that numerous material possessions are a sign of God’s spiritual blessing. Laodicea was a wealthy city and the church was also wealthy. But what the Laodiceans could see and buy had become more valuable to them than what is unseen and eternal. Wealth, luxury, and comfort can make people feel confident, satisfied, and complacent. But no matter how much money you and I possess or how much money we make, we have nothing if we do not have a vital relationship with Christ.

In the Christian life, there are three “spiritual temperatures”: a burning heart, on fire for God (Luke 24:32); a cold heart (Matt. 24:12); and a lukewarm heart (Rev. 3:16). The lukewarm Christian is comfortable, complacent, and does not realize his need. The church at Laodicea was lukewarm, like many people today.

We enjoy a beverage that is either hot or cold, but one that is lukewarm is flat and stale. That’s why the waitress keeps adding hot coffee or fresh iced water to our cups and glasses. Unless something is added from the outside the system decays and dies. Without adding fuel the hot water in the boiler becomes cool; without electricity the cold air in the freezer becomes warm. According to the second law of thermodynamics, a “closed system” will moderate itself, so no more energy is being produced.

The church cannot be a “closed system.” Jesus said, “Without Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). The Laodicean church was independent, self-satisfied, and secure. “We have need of nothing!” But all the while, their spiritual power had been decaying; their material wealth and glowing statistics were nothing more than grave-clothes hiding a rotting corpse. Their Lord was outside the church, trying to get in (Rev. 3:20).

2. They had lost their values (vv. 17–18a)

In contrast to the church at Smyrna, who thought itself poor when it was really rich (Rev. 2:9), the Laodiceans boasted they were rich, when in fact they were poor. Perhaps we have here a hint of why this church declined spiritually: they had become proud of their ministry and had begun to measure things by human standards instead of by spiritual values. They were, in the eyes of the Lord, “wretched, miserable, and poor.”

Laodicea was a wealthy city and a banking center. Perhaps some of the spirit of the marketplace crept into the church, so their values became twisted. Why is it that so many church bulletins and letterheads show pictures of buildings? Are these the things that are most important to us? The board at the Laodicean church could proudly show you the latest annual report with its impressive statistics, yet Jesus said He was about to vomit them out of His mouth!

The solution? Pay the price to get true “gold refined in the fire.” This suggests the church needed some persecution; they were too comfortable (1 Peter 1:7). Nothing makes God’s people examine their priorities faster than suffering!

3. They had lost their vision (v. 18b)

The Laodiceans were “blind.” They could not see reality. They were living in a fool’s paradise, proud of a church that was about to be rejected. The Apostle Peter teaches when a believer is not growing in the Lord, his spiritual vision is affected (2 Peter 1:5–9). “Diet” has bearing on the condition of one’s eyes, in a spiritual sense as well as a physical one.

These people could not see themselves as they really were. Nor could they see their Lord as He stood outside the door of the church. Nor could they see the open doors of opportunity. They were so wrapped up in building their own kingdom that they had become lukewarm in their concern for a lost world.

What was the solution? Apply the “heavenly eye salve.” The city of Laodicea was noted for its eye salve, but the kind of medication the saints needed was not available in the pharmacy. The eye is one of the body’s most sensitive areas and only the Great Physician can “operate” on it, making it what it ought to be. As He did with the man whose account is told in John 9, He might even irritate before He illuminates! But we must submit to His treatment and then maintain good spiritual “health habits,” so our vision grows keener.

4. They had lost their garments (vv. 17–22)

These Christians thought they were clothed in splendor when they were really naked! To be naked means to be defeated and humiliated (2 Sam. 10:4; Isa. 20:1–4). The Laodiceans could go to the marketplace and purchase fine woolen garments, but that would not meet their real need. They needed the white garments of God’s righteousness and grace. According to Revelation 19:8, we should be clothed in “fine linen, clean and white,” and this symbolizes “the righteous acts of the saints.” Salvation means Christ’s righteousness is imputed to us, put to our account; but sanctification means His righteousness is imparted to us, made a part of our character and conduct.

There is no divine commendation given to this church. Of course, the Laodiceans were busy commending themselves! They thought they were glorifying God, when in reality they were disgracing His name just as though they had been walking around naked. The Lord closed this letter with three special statements:

a) Explanation: “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten” (Rev. 3:19a). He still loved these lukewarm saints, even though their love for Him had grown cold. He planned to chasten them as proof of His love (Prov. 3:11–12; Heb. 12:5–6). God permits churches to go through times of trial so they might become what He wants them to become.

b) Exhortation: “Be zealous therefore, and repent” (Rev. 3:19b). The church at Laodicea had to repent of their pride and humble themselves before the Lord. They had to “stir up that inner fire” (2 Tim. 1:6) and cultivate a burning heart.

c) Invitation: “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with Me. To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with Me on My throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with My Father on His throne. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (Rev. 3:20–22). We often use these verses to lead lost people to Christ, but the basic application is to the believer. The Lord was outside the Laodicean church! He spoke to the individual—“if any man”—and not to the whole congregation. He appealed to a small remnant in Sardis (Rev. 3:4–5) and now He appeals to the individual. God can do great things in a church, even through one dedicated individual.

Christ was not impatient. He “knocks” through circumstances and He calls through His Word. What is He appealing? For fellowship and communion. He is appealing for the people’s desire to abide in Him. The Laodiceans were an independent church that had need of nothing, but they were not abiding in Christ and drawing their power from Him. They had a “successful program,” but it was not fruit that comes from abiding in Christ (John 15:1–8). It is only through communion with Christ that we find true victory and become overcomers.

As we have seen in this 5-part message the letters to the seven churches are God’s X rays, given to us so we might examine our own lives and ministries. Judgment is going to come to this world, but it first begins at God’s house (1 Peter 4:17). In these letters, we find encouragement as well as rebuke.

May the Lord help us to hear what the Spirit is saying today to the church and to the individuals in the churches!

Christ and the Churches: Part 4 (Revelation 3:7-13)

Keeper of the KeysWe are still listening to what the Holy Spirit has to say to the churches. This message from Christ certainly applies to the church today!

Philadelphia, the Faithful Church (Rev. 3:7–13)

As most people know, Philadelphia means “love of the brethren.” Certainly, brotherly love is an important mark of the Christian. We are “taught of God to love one another” (1 Thes. 4:9), but it is not enough to love God and our fellow believers; we must also love a lost world and seek to reach unbelievers with the Good News of the Cross. This church had a vision to reach a lost world and God set before them an open door.

Jesus Christ presented Himself to the church as “He that is holy.” Jesus Christ is holy in His character, His words, His actions, and His purposes. As the Holy One, He is uniquely set apart from everything else and nothing can be compared to Him. He is also the One who is “true”—that is, genuine. He is the original, not a copy; the authentic God and not a manufactured one. There were hundreds of false gods and goddesses in those days (1 Cor. 8:5–6), but only Jesus Christ could rightfully claim to be the true God. It is worth noting that when the martyrs in heaven addressed the Lord, they called Him “holy and true” (Rev. 6:10). Their argument was because He was holy, He had to judge sin and because He was true, He had to vindicate His people who had been wickedly slain.

Not only is He holy and true, but He has the authority to open and close doors. The background of this imagery is Isaiah 22:15–25. Assyria had invaded Judah (as Isaiah had warned), but the Jewish leaders were trusting Egypt, not God, to deliver the nation. One of the treacherous leaders was a man named Shebna who had used his office, not for the good of the people, but for his own private gain. God saw to it that Shebna was removed from office and that a faithful man, Eliakim, was put in his place and given the keys of authority. Eliakim was a picture of Jesus Christ, a dependable administrator of the affairs of God’s people.

In the New Testament, an “open door” speaks of opportunity for ministry (Acts 14:27; 1 Cor. 16:9; 2 Cor. 2:12; Col. 4:3). Christ is the Lord of the harvest and the Head of the church, and it is He who determines where and when His people will serve (Acts 16:6–10). He gave the church at Philadelphia a great opportunity for ministry.

But could they take advantage of it? There were at least two obstacles to overcome. The first was their own lack of strength (Rev. 3:8). Apparently, this was not a large or a strong church; however, it was a faithful one. They were true to God’s Word and unafraid to bear His name. Revelation 3:10 suggests they had endured some special testing and had proved faithful. It is not the size or strength of a church that determines its ministry, but faith in the call and command of the Lord. God’s commandments are God’s enablements. If Jesus Christ gave them an open door, then He would see to it that they were able to walk through it!

The second obstacle they had to overcome was the opposition of the Jews in the city (Rev. 3:9). Of course, this was really the opposition of Satan, for we do not battle against flesh and blood (Eph. 6:12). These people may have been Jews in the flesh, but they were not “true Israel” in the New Testament sense (Rom. 2:17–29). Jewish people certainly have a great heritage, but it is no guarantee of salvation (Matt. 3:7–12; John 8:33).

How were these Jews opposing the church at Philadelphia? For one thing, by excluding Jewish believers from the synagogue. Another weapon was probably false accusation, for this is the way the unbelieving Jews often attacked Paul. Satan is the accuser and he uses even religious people to assist him (Rev. 12:10). It is not easy to witness for Christ when the leading people in the community are spreading lies about you. The church at Smyrna faced the same kind of opposition (Rev. 2:9).

The believers in Philadelphia were in a similar situation to that of Paul when he wrote 1 Corinthians 16:9—there were both opportunities and obstacles! Unbelief sees the obstacles; faith sees the opportunities! Since the Lord holds the keys, He is in control of the outcome! Nobody can close the doors as long as He keeps them open. Fear, unbelief, and delay have caused the church to miss many God-given opportunities.

The Savior gave three wonderful and encouraging promises to this church. First, He would take care of their enemies (Rev. 3:9). One day, these people would have to acknowledge the Christians were right! (Isa. 60:14; Phil. 2:10–11) If we take care of God’s work, He will take care of our battles.

Second, He would keep them from Tribulation (Rev. 3:10). This is surely a reference to the time of Tribulation John described in Revelation 6–19, “the time of Jacob’s trouble.” This is not speaking about some local trial because it involves “them that dwell on the earth” (Rev. 6:10; 8:13; 11:10; 12:12; 13:8, 12, 14; 14:6; 17:2, 8). The immediate reference would be to the official Roman persecutions that would come, but the ultimate reference is to the Tribulation that will encompass the earth before Jesus Christ returns to establish His kingdom. In many Bible scholars’ understanding, Revelation 3:10 is a promise that the church will not go through the Tribulation, but will be taken to heaven before it begins (1 Thes. 4:13–5:11).

The third promise to the Philadelphians is God would honor them (Rev. 3:12). The symbolism in this verse would be especially meaningful to people who lived in constant danger of earthquakes: the stability of the pillar, no need to go out or to flee, a heavenly city that nothing could destroy. Ancient cities often honored great leaders by erecting pillars with their names inscribed on them. God’s pillars are not made of stone because there is no temple in the heavenly city (Rev. 21:22). His pillars are faithful people who bear His name for His glory (Gal. 2:9).

In a very real sense the church today is like the Philadelphian church. God has set before us many open doors of opportunity. If He opens the doors, we must work; if He shuts the doors, we must wait. Above all, we must be faithful to Him and see the opportunities, not the obstacles. If we miss our opportunities, we lose our rewards (crowns) and this means being ashamed before Him when He comes (1 John 2:28).

In Part 5, we will look at Christ’s message to the church at Laodicea, the lukewarm church.

Christ and the Churches: Part 3 (Revelation 3:1-6)

Wake upChurches are people and human nature has not changed. As we continue our study, we must not look on these letters as ancient relics. On the contrary, they are mirrors in which we see ourselves!

Sardis, the Feeble Church (Rev. 3:1–6)

Sad to say the city at that time was but a shadow of its former splendor and the church, unfortunately, had become like the city—it was alive in name only. The message to Sardis is a warning to all “great churches” that are living on past glory. Dr. Vance Havner has frequently reminded us that spiritual ministries often go through four stages: a man, a movement, a machine, and then a monument. Sardis was at the “monument” stage.

But there was still hope! There was hope because Christ was the Head of the church and He was able to bring new life. He described Himself as the one possessing the seven Spirits and the seven stars. There is only one Holy Spirit (Eph. 4:4), but the number seven demonstrates fullness and completeness. The Holy Spirit gives life to the church and life is exactly what the people at Sardis needed. The sevenfold Spirit of God is pictured as seven burning lamps (Rev. 4:5) and as seven all-seeing eyes (Rev. 5:6).

All of the church’s man-made programs can never bring life, any more than a circus can resurrect a corpse. The church was born when the Spirit of God descended on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2) and its life comes from the Spirit. When the Spirit is grieved the church begins to lose life and power. When sin is confessed and church members get right with God and with each other, then the Spirit infuses new life—revival!

Christ also controls the seven stars, the messengers of the churches (Rev. 1:20), referring most likely to the pastors. Sometimes, it is a pastor’s fault that a church is dying and the Lord of the church must remove the star and put another in his place.

The problem in the Sardis church was not heresy, but spiritual death. The church was infested with sin. Its deeds were evil and its clothes soiled. The Lord has no words of commendation for this church, which looked so good on the outside, but was so corrupt on the inside. Nor is there any mention of opposition or persecution. The church would have been better off had there been some suffering because it had grown comfortable and content, and was living on its past reputation. There was reputation without reality, form without force. Like the city itself the church at Sardis gloried in past splendor, but ignored present decay.

In fact, even what they did have was about to die! Why? Because the believers had gone to sleep. It is when the church’s leaders and members get accustomed to their blessings and complacent about their ministry that the enemy finds his way in.

The assembly in Sardis was not aggressive in its witness to the city. There was no persecution because there was no invasion of the enemy’s territory. No friction usually means no motion! The unsaved in Sardis saw the church as a respectable group of people who were neither dangerous nor desirable. They were decent people with a dying witness and a decaying ministry.

Our Lord’s counsel to the church began with, “Be watchful! Wake up!” (Rom. 13:11) The people were asleep! The first step toward renewal in a dying church is honest awareness that something is wrong. When an organism is alive, there is growth, repair, reproduction, and power; if these elements are lacking in a church, then that church is either dying or already dead.

The Lord warned the Ephesian saints He would come and remove their lampstand if they did not repent (Rev. 2:5). He warned the church at Pergamos He would come and make war with the sword of the Spirit (Rev. 2:16). If the believers at Sardis did not follow His orders, He would come as a thief, when they least expected Him; and this would mean judgment.

However, a remnant of dedicated people often exists in even a dying church. The Christians at Sardis had life, even though it was feeble. They were working, even though their works were not all they could have been. The Lord admonished them to strengthen what remained and not to give up because the church was weak. Where there is life, there is hope!

What was different about this dedicated remnant? They had not defiled their garments (Rev. 3:4). The remnant in the church at Sardis had not compromised with the pagan society around them, nor had they grown comfortable and complacent. It was this devoted spiritual remnant that held the future of the church’s ministry.

“Wake up! Be watchful! Repent! Remember the Word you have received and obey it!” This is the formula for revival. It is good to guard our spiritual heritage, but we must not embalm it. It is not enough to be true to the faith and have a great history. That faith must produce life and works.

Is there a warning here that a true believer might lose his salvation? I don’t think so. Revelation 13:8 and 17:8 suggest the names of the saved are written in the Book of Life from the foundation of the world—that is, before they had done anything good or bad. By God’s grace, they have been chosen in Christ before the beginning of time (Eph. 1:4; Matt. 25:34). They are enrolled in heaven because they have been born again (Heb. 12:23) and no matter how disobedient a child may be, he or she cannot be “unborn.”

The warning here is that we not grow comfortable in our churches, lest we find ourselves slowly dying. The encouragement is that no church is beyond hope as long as there is a remnant in it, willing to strengthen the things that remain.

In Part 4, we will look at Christ’s message to the church at Philadelphia, the faithful church.

Christ and the Churches: Part 2 (Revelation 2:12-29)

compromised churchWe are still listening to what Christ has to say to the churches because these messages belong to our day as well as to the first century.

III. Pergamos, the Compromising Church (Rev. 2:12–17)

1. Approval (v. 13)

Like their brothers and sisters in Smyrna the believers in Pergamos had suffered persecution, and one of their men had died for the faith. Pergamum was called the city “where Satan has his throne.” Surrounded by worship of Satan and the Roman emperor as god the church at Pergamos refused to renounce their faith, even when Satan worshippers martyred one of their members. In spite of intense suffering, this church had remained true to God. They refused to drop incense on the altar and say, “Caesar is Lord.”

The Lord’s description of Himself (“He who has the sharp, double-edged sword,” Rev. 2:12) would surely encourage the people. It was more important the church fear Christ’s sword than the Roman sword (Rev. 2:16). Just as the Romans used their swords for authority and judgment, Jesus’ “sharp, double-edge sword” represented God’s ultimate authority and judgment.

2. Accusation (vv. 14–15)

Despite their courageous stand against persecution the believers in Pergamos were not faultless before the Lord. Satan had not been able to destroy them by coming as the roaring lion (1 Peter 5:8), but he was making inroads as the deceiving serpent. A group of compromising people had infiltrated the church fellowship, and Jesus Christ hated their doctrines and their practices.

These infiltrators are called “Nicolaitans,” whom we met already at Ephesus (Rev. 2:6). The name means “to rule the people.” What they taught is called “the doctrine of Balaam” (Rev. 2:14). The Hebrew name Balaam means “lord of the people” and is synonymous with Nicolaitans. Sadly, this group of professed believers “lorded it over” the people and led them astray.

Understanding the story of Balaam helps us interpret this insidious group more accurately (Num. 22–25). Balaam was a true prophet who prostituted his gifts in order to earn money from King Balak, who hired him to curse the people of Israel. God prevented Balaam from actually cursing the nation—in fact, God turned the curses into blessings—but Balak still got his money’s worth. How? By following Balaam’s advice and making friends with Israel, and then inviting the Jews to worship and feast at the pagan altars.

“If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” was their philosophy. The Jewish men fell right into the trap and many of them became “good neighbors.” They ate meat from idolatrous altars and committed fornication as part of heathen religious rites. Twenty-four thousand people died because of this disobedient act of compromise (Num. 25:1–9).

The Lord accused the Christians in Pergamos of sinning, of committing “spiritual fornication” by saying, “Caesar is Lord.” Of course, this compromise made them welcome in the Roman society and protected them from Roman persecution, but it cost them their testimony and their crown. A group in that church said, “There is nothing wrong with being friendly to Rome. What harm is there in putting a pinch of incense on the altar and affirming your loyalty to Caesar?” Antipas refused to compromise and was martyred; but others took the “easy way” and cooperated with Rome.

Believers today also face the temptation to achieve personal advancement by ungodly compromise. The name Pergamos means “married,” reminding us each local church is “engaged to Christ” and must be kept pure (2 Cor 11:1–4). We will see later in Revelation that this present world system is pictured as a defiled harlot, while the church is presented as a pure bride. The congregation or the individual Christian that compromises with the world just to avoid suffering or achieve success is committing “spiritual adultery” and being unfaithful to the Lord.

3. Admonition (vv. 16–17)

Antipas had felt the sword of Rome, but the church at Pergamos would feel the sword of Christ—the Word (Heb. 4:12)—if they did not repent. This is not a reference to our Lord’s return, but to a present judgment that comes to a church when it is disobedient to the Word of God. The Lord had presented Himself as a “sharp, doubled edged sword” (Rev. 2:12), so the church could not have been ignorant of its danger. As with the previous churches the closing appeal is to the individual: “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says” (Rev. 2:17).

corrupt churchIV. Thyatira, the Corrupt Church (Rev. 2:18–29)

The longest message was sent to the church in the smallest city! Thyatira was a military town as well as a commercial center with many trade groups. Wherever societies were found, idolatry and immorality—the two great enemies of the early church—were almost always present too.

The city boasted a special temple to Apollo, the “sun god,” which explains why the Lord introduced Himself as “the Son of God” (the only time in Revelation this title is used). John had to deliver a message of severe warning and judgment to this congregation, which explains the description of the Lord’s eyes and feet.

1. Approval (v. 19)

The believers in Thyatira were commended for growing in good deeds. They were involved in sacrificial ministry for the sake of others. What’s more, their works were increasing and characterized by faith, love, and patience; so the church was not guilty of mere “religious activity.”

2. Accusation (vv. 20–23)

The Lord found much to expose and condemn in the assembly at Thyatira. No amount of loving and sacrificial works can compensate for tolerance of evil. The church was permitting a false prophetess to influence the people and lead them into compromise. It is not likely this woman was actually called “Jezebel,” since such an infamous name would not be given to a child. The name is symbolic: Jezebel was the idolatrous queen who enticed Israel to add Baal worship to their religious ceremonies (1 Kings 16–19). The seductive teaching of Jezebel was similar to the “doctrine of Balaam” which the Lord condemned in the church of Pergamos (Rev. 2:14). She taught believers how to compromise with the Roman religion and the practices of the society, so Christians would not lose their jobs or their lives.

It is interesting to contrast the churches at Ephesus and Thyatira. The Ephesian church was weakening in its love, yet faithful to judge false teachers; while the people in the assembly at Thyatira were growing in their love, but too tolerant of false doctrine. Both extremes must be avoided in the church. “Speaking the truth in love” is the biblical balance (Eph. 4:15). Unloving orthodoxy and loving compromise are both hateful to God.

Not only was the church at Thyatira tolerant of evil, but it was proud and unwilling to repent. The Lord gave the false prophetess time to repent, yet she refused. Now He was giving her followers opportunity to repent. His eyes of fire had searched out their thoughts and motives, and He would make no mistake.

In fact, the Lord threatened to use this assembly as a solemn example to “all the churches” not to tolerate evil. Jezebel and her children (followers) would be sentenced to tribulation and death! Idolatry and compromise are, in the Bible, pictured as fornication and unfaithfulness to the marriage vows (Jer. 3:6; Hosea 9:1). Jezebel’s bed of sin would become a bed of sickness! To kill with death means “to kill with pestilence.” God would judge the false prophetess and her followers once and for all.

3. Admonition (vv. 24–29)

Not everyone in the assembly was unfaithful to the Lord and He had a special word for them. They had separated themselves from the false doctrine and compromising practices of Jezebel and her followers, which Christ denounces as “the depths of Satan” (note the contrast in 1 Cor. 2:10). The Lord had no special demands to make; He simply wanted them to hold fast in their resistance to evil. “Until I come” refers to Christ’s return for His people, at which time He will reward them for their faithfulness (Rev. 3:3; 16:15; 22:7, 17, 20). This is the first mention in Revelation of the Lord’s coming for the church, the event we commonly call the Rapture (1 Thes. 4:13–18). In contrast, the reference in Revelation 1:7 is to Christ’s return to earth in judgment, to defeat His enemies and establish His kingdom (Rev. 19:11).

The believers in Thyatira are promised authority over the nations, which probably refers to the fact God’s people will live and reign with Christ (Rev. 20:4). When the Lord sets up His kingdom on earth, it will be a righteous kingdom with perfect justice. He will rule with a rod of iron (Ps. 2:8–9). Rebellious men will be like clay pots, easily broken to pieces!

As we review these first four messages to the churches, we can see the dangers that still exist for the people of God today. Like Ephesus, we can be zealous and orthodox, but at the same time lose our devotion to Christ. Like Thyatira, our love can be increasing, yet lacking in the kind of discernment that is necessary to keep the church pure (Phil. 1:9–11). Like Pergamos and Thyatira, we may be so tolerant of evil that we grieve the Lord and invite His judgment.

Would we have selected Smyrna as the most spiritual church of the four? Probably not, yet the Lord did! We need to remind ourselves not to judge God’s people by wrong standards because only the Lord can see the heart (1 Cor. 4:5).

God’s exhortation to these churches (except Smyrna) is, “Repent!” It is not only lost sinners who need to repent, but also disobedient Christians. If we do not repent and deal with sin in our lives and in our assemblies the Lord may judge us and remove our lamp stand (Rev. 2:5). How tragic it is when a local church gradually abandons the faith and loses its witness for Christ! “Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches!”

In Part 3, we will look at Christ’s message to the next church.

Christ and the Churches: Part 1 (Revelation 2:1-11)

7ChurchesIf you have ever moved to a new community and had to select a new church home, you know how difficult it is to examine and evaluate a church and its ministry. Imposing buildings may house dying or dead congregations, while modest structures might belong to vibrant assemblies on the march for the Lord. The church we think is “rich” may turn out to be poor in God’s sight (Rev. 3:17), while the “poor” church is actually rich (Rev. 2:9).

Only the Head of the church, Jesus Christ, can accurately inspect each church and know its true condition because He sees the internals, not only the externals (Rev. 2:23b). In these special messages to the seven churches in Asia Minor the Lord gave each assembly an “X ray” of its condition. They are commended for their strengths and warned about their flaws. But He intended for all the churches to read these messages and benefit from them. (Note the plural “churches” in Rev. 2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22.)

The Lord was also speaking to individuals, and this is where you and I come in. “Whoever has ears, let them hear.” Churches are made up of individuals and it is individuals who determine the spiritual life of the assembly. Before Christ judges the world, He must judge His own people (Ezek. 9:6; 1 Peter 4:17). A purified church need never fear the attacks of Satan or men. As we go over these messages, we must apply them personally as we examine our own hearts.

First LoveI. Ephesus, the Loveless Church (Rev. 2:1–7)

The Ephesian assembly had enjoyed some “stellar” leadership—Paul, Timothy, and the Apostle John himself—but the Lord reminded them He was in control of the ministry, placing the “stars” where He pleased. How easy it is for a church to become proud and forget pastors and teachers are God’s gifts (Eph. 4:11) who may be taken away at any time. Some churches need to be cautioned to worship the Lord and not their pastor!

1. Approval (vv. 2–3, 6)

This was a serving church, busy doing the works of the Lord. No doubt their weekly schedule was filled with activities. It was also a sacrificing church, for the word labor means “toil to the point of exhaustion.” The Ephesian Christians paid a price to serve the Lord. They were a steadfast assembly, for the word perseverance carries the meaning of “endurance under trial.” They kept going when the going was tough.

The Ephesian church was a separated people, for they carefully examined the visiting ministers (2 John 7–11) to see if they were genuine. Paul had warned the Ephesian elders that false teachers would come in from the outside, and even arise from within the church (Acts 20:28–31) and John had instructed them to “try the spirits” (1 John 4:1–6). Indeed, Satan has his false ministers, and the church must be constantly alert to detect them and reject them (2 Cor. 11:1–4, 12–15).

The Christians at Ephesus separated themselves not only from false doctrine, but also from false deeds. Jesus commended the church for hating the wicked practices of the Nicolaitans. This was a sect who “lorded it over” the church and robbed the people of their liberty in Christ (3 John 9–11). They initiated what we know today as “clergy” and “laity,” a false division that is taught nowhere in the New Testament. All God’s people are “kings and priests” (1 Peter 2:9; Rev. 1:6), and have equal access to the Father through the blood of Christ (Heb. 10:19). We will meet this dangerous sect again when we study the message to the church at Pergamos.

The believers at Ephesus were a suffering people who patiently bore their burdens and toiled without fainting. And they did all of this for His name’s sake! As we examine this congregation up until this point, you may conclude they are just about perfect. However, the One among the lamp stands saw into their hearts and He had a different diagnosis.

2. Accusation (v. 4)

This busy, separated, sacrificing church really suffered from “heart trouble”—they had abandoned their first love! They displayed “works … labor … and patience”, but these qualities were not motivated by a love for Christ (compare with 1 Thes. 1:3). What we do for the Lord is important, but so is our motive for doing it!

What is this “first love” they had forsaken? It is the devotion to Christ that so often characterizes the new believer: fervent, personal, uninhibited, excited, and openly displayed. It is the “honeymoon love” of the husband and wife (Jer. 2:1–2). While it is true that mature married love deepens and grows richer, it is also true that it should never lose the excitement and wonder of those “honeymoon days.” When a husband and wife begin to take each other for granted and life becomes routine, then the marriage is in danger.

Just think of it: it is possible to serve, sacrifice, and suffer “for My name’s sake” and yet not really love Jesus Christ! The Ephesian believers were so busy maintaining their separation that they were neglecting adoration. Labor is no substitute for love; neither is purity a substitute for passion. The church must have both if it is to please Him. But the Ephesian church had fallen and was not living up to its heavenly position in Christ (Rev. 2:5). It is only as we love Christ fervently that we can serve Him faithfully.

3. Admonition (vv. 5–7)

Our “first love” can be restored only if we follow the three instructions Christ gave. First, we must remember (literally “keep on remembering”) what we have lost and cultivate a desire to regain that close communion once again. Then, we must repent—change our minds—and confess our sins to the Lord (1 John 1:9). Third, we must repeat the things we did at first, which suggests restoring the original fellowship that was broken by our sin and neglect. For the believer, this means prayer, Bible reading and meditation, obedient service, and worship.

In spite of the privileges the church of Ephesus had enjoyed, it was in danger of losing its light! The church that loses its love will soon lose its light, no matter how doctrinally sound it may be. “I will come” is not referring to the Lord’s return, but to His coming judgment then and there. The glorious city of Ephesus is today a heap of stones and no light is shining there.

Revelation 2:7 makes it clear that individual believers within the church may be true to the Lord, no matter what the majority is doing. In these seven messages the “overcomers” are not a “spiritual elite,” but rather the true believers whose faith has given them victory (1 John 5:4–5). Sinful man was banned from the tree of life (Gen. 3:22–24), but in Christ we have eternal abundant life (John 3:16; 10:10). We enjoy this blessing now and we will enjoy it in greater measure in eternity (Rev. 22:1–5).

The church of Ephesus was the “loveless church,” made up of careless believers who neglected their love for Christ. Are we guilty of the same neglect?

Smyrna Church Persecuted 2.8-11II. Smyrna, the Persecuted Church (Rev. 2:8–11)

The name Smyrna means “bitter” and is related to the word myrrh. The Christians at Smyrna were experiencing the bitterness of suffering, but their faithful testimony was like myrrh or sweet perfume to God.  The assembly at Smyrna was persecuted for the faith, which explains why the Lord emphasized His death and resurrection as He opened His message. No matter what experiences God’s people may have, their Lord identifies with them.

1. Approval (v. 9)

The church at Smyrna was not having an easy time of it! The church in this city struggled against two hostile forces: a Jewish population strongly opposed to Christianity, and a non-Jewish population that was loyal to Rome and supported emperor worship. The members were persecuted because they refused to compromise and worship the emperor. Smyrna was an important center of the Roman imperial cult, and anyone refusing to acknowledge Caesar as Lord would certainly be excluded from the society.

The believers in Smyrna suffered affliction and poverty. The word affliction means “pressure” or “crushing weight.” It resembles the persecution of God’s people in Egyptian slavery (Exod. 3:9; 4:31) and their exile in Babylon (Deut. 4:25–31; 28:47–68). As a result of affliction, these Christians were reduced to unemployment and poverty. The word used here for poverty means “abject poverty, possessing absolutely nothing.”

But they were rich! What a comfort it was for the Christians at Smyrna to know that Christ knew all about their sufferings: “I know your afflictions and your poverty—yet you are rich!” They lived for eternal values that would never change, riches that could never be taken away. “As poor, yet making rich” (2 Cor. 6:10; 8:9). Their suffering for Christ only increased their riches.

2. Admonition (vv. 10–11)

No words of accusation were given to the congregation in Smyrna! They may not have enjoyed the approval of men, but they certainly received the praise of God. Jesus commended the church for its faith in suffering and gave solemn words of admonition as they faced increased suffering: “Don’t be afraid!” More suffering was in store for the Smyrnians at the hands of the devil. The word devil means “slanderer,” “accuser,” or “adversary.” In the Old Testament the devil is like a public prosecutor (Job 1–2; Zech. 3). In the New Testament, he is the source of all falsehood and deception. God is allowing Satan to test the faith of Christians, providing the opportunity for them to show their commitment to suffer for Christ.

Jesus assured the church He knew the devil’s plans and He was in complete control of the situation. Some of the believers would be imprisoned and tried as traitors to Rome, yet their tribulation would not be long. Their affliction was to last only for “ten days.” In the Bible, ten days signifies “a brief time” (Gen. 24:55; Acts 25:6). The important thing was faithfulness, standing true to Christ no matter what the government might threaten to do.

The Lord reinforced the promise given by James (James 1:12) and assured His people there was nothing to fear. The “crown of life” was the winner’s crown awarded at the annual athletic games. Smyrna was a key participant in the games, so this promise would be especially meaningful to believers living there. Because they had trusted Him, they were overcomers—victors in the race of faith (Heb. 12:1–3)—and, as overcomers, they had nothing to fear. Even if they were martyred, they would be ushered into glory, wearing crowns! They would never face the awful judgment of the second death, which is the lake of fire (Rev. 20:14; 21:8).

It costs to be a dedicated Christian, in some places more than others. As end-time pressures increase, persecution will also increase; and God’s people need to be ready (1 Peter 4:12). The world may call us “poor Christians,” but in God’s sight we are rich!

In Part 2, we will look at Christ’s message to the next two churches.

A Very Special Book of Prophecy (Revelation)

Revelation-Series3Today, we are starting a new series in the Book of Revelation. Over the centuries, prophecies have come and gone; yet the Book of Revelation is still with us today. I can recall reading it as a child and wondering what it was all about. Even today, with many years of concentrated study behind me, I am still fascinated by its message and mysteries.

Through graphic pictures, we learn Jesus is coming again, evil will be judged, and the dead will be raised to judgment, resulting in either eternal life or eternal destruction. God tells us how He is going to complete His great work and usher in His eternal kingdom. In Revelation 1, we are introduced to this book and given the data essential for appreciating and understanding this prophecy:

I. The Title (Rev. 1:1a)

The word translated “revelation” simply means “unveiling.” It gives us our English word apocalypse, which is today a synonym for chaos and catastrophe. But the original use of the word simply means “to uncover, to reveal, to make manifest.” In this book the Holy Spirit pulls back the curtain and gives us the privilege of seeing the glorified Christ in heaven and the fulfillment of His sovereign purposes in the world.

In other words, Revelation is an open book in which God reveals His plans and purposes. When Daniel finished writing his prophecy, he was instructed to “shut up the words, and seal the book” (Dan. 12:4); but John was given opposite instructions: “Seal not the sayings of the prophecy of this book” (Rev. 22:10). Why? Ever since Calvary, the Resurrection, and the coming of the Holy Spirit, God has ushered in the “last days” (Heb. 1:1–2). “The time is at hand” (Rev. 1:3; 22:10).

John’s prophecy is primarily the revelation of Jesus Christ, not the revelation of future events. We must not divorce the Person from the prophecy, for without the Person there could be no fulfillment of the prophecy. In Revelation 1–3, Christ is seen as the exalted Priest-King ministering to the churches. In Revelation 4–5, He is seen in heaven as the glorified Lamb of God, reigning on the throne. In Revelation 6–18, Christ is the Judge of all the earth; and in Revelation 19, He returns to earth as the conquering King of kings. The book closes with the heavenly Bridegroom ushering His bride, the church, into the glorious heavenly city. Whatever you do as we study this book, get to know your Savior better.

II. The Author (Rev. 1:1b–2, 4a)

The Holy Spirit inspired the Apostle John to write the Book of Revelation. He wrote it about AD 95, during the reign of the Roman emperor Titus Flavius Domitian. The emperor had demanded he be worshiped as “Lord and God,” and the refusal of Christians to obey his edict led to severe persecution. It was Domitian who sent John to the Isle of Patmos, a Roman penal colony off the coast of Asia Minor.

During Christ’s earthly ministry, John and his brother James asked Jesus for special places of honor by His throne. The Lord told them they would have to merit their thrones by sharing in His suffering. James was the first apostle martyred (Acts 12:1–2); John was the last of the Apostles to die, but he suffered on Patmos before his death (Matt. 20:20–23).

How did the Lord convey the contents of this book to His servant? The Father gave the revelation to the Son and the Son shared it with the apostle, using “His angel” as intermediary. Sometimes Christ Himself conveyed information to John (Rev. 1:10); sometimes it was an elder (Rev. 7:13); sometimes a “voice from heaven” told John what to say and do (Rev. 10:4); and often it was an angel (Rev. 17:1; 19:9–10). The important things is no matter what the various means of communication were the book came from God to John and it was all inspired by the Holy Spirit.

As we study Revelation, expect to encounter a great deal of symbolism, much of it related to the Old Testament. Why did John use symbolism? For one thing, this kind of “spiritual code” is understood only by those who know Christ personally. If any Roman officers had tried to use Revelation as evidence against Christians the book would have been a puzzle and an enigma to them. John was able to draw on the great “images” in God’s revelation and assemble them into an exciting drama that has encouraged persecuted and suffering saints for centuries.

There is another reason why John used symbolism: symbols not only convey information, but impart values and arouse emotions. John could have written, “A dictator will rule the world,” but instead he described a beast. The symbol says much more than the mere title of “dictator.” Instead of explaining a world system, John simply introduced “Babylon the Great” and contrasted the “harlot” with the “bride.” The very name “Babylon” would convey deep spiritual truth to readers who knew the Old Testament.

III. The Readers (Rev. 1:3–4)

While the book was originally sent to seven actual local churches in Asia Minor, John makes it clear that any believer may read and profit from it. In fact, God promised a special blessing to the one who would read the book and obey its message.

John did not send this book of prophecy to the assemblies in order to satisfy their curiosity about the future. God’s people were going through intense persecution and they needed encouragement. As they heard this book, its message would give them strength and hope. But even more, its message would help them examine their own lives (and each local assembly) to determine those areas needing correction. They were not only to hear the Word, but they were to keep it—that is, guard it as a treasure and practice what it said. The blessing would come, not just by hearing, but by doing (James 1:22–25).

The special messages to each of the seven churches are given in Revelation 2–3. Some see in these seven churches a “panorama of church history,” from apostolic times (Ephesus) to the apostate days of the twentieth century (Laodicea). While these churches may illustrate various stages in the history of the church, that was probably not the main reason why these particular assemblies were selected. Instead, these letters remind us the exalted Head of the church knows what is going on in each assembly and our relationship to Him, and His Word determines the life and ministry of the local body.

Keep in mind the churches in Asia Minor were facing persecution and it was important they be rightly related to the Lord and to each other. They are pictured as seven separate lamp stands, each giving light in a dark world (Phil. 2:15; Matt. 5:14–16). The darker the day the greater the light must shine; unfortunately situations existed in at least five of these assemblies that required correction if their lights were to shine brightly. As we read Revelation 2–3, note the Lord always reminded them of who He is and encouraged them to be “overcomers.”

The promise of Jesus Christ’s coming should be to all Christians at all times a motivation for obedience and consecration (Rev. 1:3, 7; 2:5, 25; 3:3, 11; 22:7, 12, 20; 1 John 1:1–3). No believer should study this prophecy merely to satisfy his or her curiosity. When Daniel and John received God’s revelations of the future, both fell down as dead men (Dan. 10:7–10; Rev. 1:17). They were overwhelmed! We need to approach this book the same way: as wonderers and worshipers, not as academic students.

IV. The Theme (Rev. 1:7–8)

The overriding theme of the Book of Revelation is the return of Jesus Christ to defeat all evil and to establish His reign. It is definitely a book of victory and His people are seen as “overcomers” (Rev. 2:7, 11, 17, 26; 3:5, 12, 21; 11:7; 12:11; 15:2; 21:7). In his first epistle, John also called God’s people “overcomers” (1 John 2:13–14; 4:4; 5:4–5). Through eyes of unbelief, Jesus Christ and His church are defeated in this world; but through eyes of faith, Jesus and His people are the true victors.

“Behold, He is coming in the clouds…” This describes our Lord’s return to the earth and is amplified in Revelation 19:11. This is not the same as His return in the air to catch away His people (1 Thes. 4:13–18; 1 Cor. 15:51). When Jesus comes to catch away (rapture) His church, He will come “as a thief” (Rev. 3:3; 16:15) and only those who are born again will see Him (1 John 3:1–3). But the event described here will be witnessed by the whole world and especially by a repentant nation of Israel (Dan. 7:13; Zech. 12:10–12). It will be public, not secret (Matt. 24:30–31) and will climax the Tribulation period described in Revelation 6–19.

Godly Bible students have not always agreed as to the order of events leading up to the establishment of God’s eternal kingdom (Rev. 21–22). I personally believe the next event on God’s calendar is the Rapture, when Christ will return in the air and take His church to glory. Christ’s promise to the church in Revelation 3:10–11 indicates the church will not go through the Tribulation and this is further supported by Paul in 1 Thessalonians 1:10; 5:9–10. It is also significant to me there is no mention of the word church between Revelation 3:22 and 22:16.

After the church is raptured the events depicted in Revelation 6–19 will occur: the Tribulation (the wrath of God), the rise of the “man of sin,” the destruction of the man-made world government, and then Christ will return to the earth to set up His kingdom.

V. The Occasion (Rev. 1:9–18)

This book was born out of John’s profound spiritual experience while exiled on Patmos.

1. What John Heard (Rev. 1:9–11)

On the Lord’s Day, John heard a trumpet-like voice behind him. It was Jesus Christ speaking! As far as we know the apostle had not heard his Lord’s voice since Christ had returned to heaven more than sixty years before. The Lord commissioned John to write this book and to send it to the seven churches He had selected. Later, John would hear another trumpet-like voice, summoning him to heaven (Rev. 4:1). (Some students relate this to 1 Thes. 4:13–18 and see John’s “rapture” as a picture of the rapture of the church.)

 2. What John Saw (Rev. 1:12–16)

He saw a vision of the glorified Christ. Revelation 1:20 makes it clear we must not interpret this vision literally, for it is made up of symbols. The seven lamp stands represent the seven churches that would receive the book. Each local church is the bearer of God’s light in this dark world. Compare this vision with Daniel’s (Dan. 7:9–14).

Christ’s garments are those of a Judge-King, One with honor and authority. The white hair symbolizes His eternality, “the Ancient of Days” (Dan. 7:9, 13, 22). His eyes see all (Rev. 19:12; Heb. 4:12), enabling Him to judge righteously. His feet of burning brass also suggest judgment, since the brazen altar was the place where the fire consumed the sin offering. The Lord had come to judge the churches and He would also judge the evil world system.

The Lord’s shining countenance reminds us of His transfiguration (Matt. 17:2) and also the prophecy of Malachi 4:2 (“the Sun of righteousness will arise”). The sun is a familiar image of God in the Old Testament (Ps. 84:11), reminding us not only of blessing, but of judgment. The sun can burn as well as bless!

This vision of Christ was totally different in appearance from the Savior John knew “in the flesh” when He was ministering on earth. He was not the “gentle Jewish carpenter” that sentimentalists like to sing about. He is the risen, glorified, exalted Son of God, the Priest-King who has the authority to judge all men, beginning with His own people (1 Peter 4:17).

 3. What John Did (Rev. 1:17–18)

He fell at the Lord’s feet as though he were dead! And this is the apostle who leaned on Jesus’ breast! (John 13:23) A vision of the exalted Christ can only produce awe and fear (Dan. 10:7–9). We need this attitude of respect today when so many believers speak and act with undue familiarity toward God. John’s response illustrates what Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:16: “From now on, we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer.” John no longer “nestled” next to the Lord’s heart, relating to Him as he had done before.

The Lord reassured John by touching him and speaking to him (Dan. 8:18; 9:21; 10:10, 16, 18). “Fear not!” is a great encouragement for any child of God. We need not fear life because our Lord is “The Living One.” We need not fear death because He died and is alive, having conquered death. And we need not fear eternity because Jesus holds the keys of Hades and of death. The One with the keys is the One who has authority.

At the very beginning of this book, Jesus presented Himself to His people in majestic glory. What the church needs today is a new awareness of Christ and His glory. We need to see Him “high and lifted up” (Isa. 6:1). There is a dangerous absence of awe and worship in our assemblies today. We are boasting about standing on our own feet, instead of breaking and falling at His feet.

VI. The Outline (Rev. 1:19)

To the best of my knowledge the Book of Revelation is the only book in the Bible that contains an inspired outline of the contents. “The things you have seen” refer to the vision in Revelation 1. “The things which are” refer to Revelation 2–3, the special messages to the seven churches. “The things which will take place after this” covers the events described in Revelation 4–22. We can summarize the basic characteristics of this remarkable book as follows:

1. It is a Christ-Centered Book

While all Scripture speaks of the Savior the Book of Revelation especially magnifies the greatness and glory of Jesus Christ. The book is, after all, the revelation of Jesus Christ and not simply the revelation of future events.

 2. It is an “Open” Book

John was told not to seal the book (Rev. 22:10) because God’s people need the message it contains. Revelation can be understood, despite the fact it contains mysteries that may never be comprehended until we meet at the throne of God. John sent the book to the seven churches of Asia Minor with the expectation that, when it was read aloud by the messengers the listening saints would understand enough of its truths so as to be greatly encouraged in their own difficult situations.

3. It is a Book Filled with Symbols

Biblical symbols are timeless in their message and limitless in their content. For instance, the symbol of “Babylon” originates in Genesis 10–11 and its meaning grows as you trace it through Scripture, climaxing with Revelation 17–18. The same is true of the symbols of “the Lamb” and “the bride.” It is exciting to seek to penetrate deeper into the rich meanings that are conveyed by these symbols.

4. It is a Book of Prophecy

This is definitely stated in Revelation 1:3; 22:7, 10, 18–19; note also 10:11. The letters to the seven churches of Asia Minor dealt with immediate needs in those assemblies, needs that are still with us in churches today; but the rest of the book is devoted almost entirely to prophetic revelations. It was by seeing the victorious Christ presented that the persecuted Christians found encouragement for their difficult task of witnessing. When you have assurance for the future, you have stability in the present. John himself was suffering under the hand of Rome (Rev. 1:9), so the book was born out of affliction.

5. It is a Book with a Blessing

There are seven “beatitudes” in Revelation (1:3; 14:13; 16:15; 19:9; 20:6; 22:7, 14). It is not enough simply to hear (or read) the book; we must respond to its message from the heart. We must take the message personally and say a believing “Amen!” to what it says. (Note the many “Amens” in the book: Rev. 1:6–7, 18; 3:14; 5:14; 7:12; 19:4; 22:20–21.)

6. It is a Relevant Book

What John wrote about would “shortly come to pass” (Rev. 1:1) because “the time is at hand” (Rev. 1:3). (Note also Rev. 22:7, 10, 12, 20.) The word shortly does not mean “soon” or “immediately,” but “quickly, swiftly.” God does not measure time as we do (2 Peter 3:1–10). No one knows when our Lord will return; but when He begins to open the seals of the scroll (Rev. 6:1), events will occur with speed and without interruption.

7. It is a Majestic Book

Revelation is the book of “the throne,” for the word throne is found forty-six times throughout. This book magnifies the sovereignty of God. Christ is presented in His glory and dominion!

8. It is a Universal Book

John saw nations and peoples (Rev. 10:11; 11:9; 17:15) as part of God’s program. He also saw the throne room of heaven and heard voices from the ends of the universe!

9. It is a Climactic Book

Revelation is the climax of the Bible. All that began in Genesis will be completed and fulfilled in keeping with God’s sovereign will. He is “Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending” (Rev. 1:8). What God starts, He finishes!

But before visiting the throne room of heaven, we must pause to listen to “the Man among the lamp stands” as He reveals the personal needs in our churches and in our own hearts. “Whoever has ears, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches!” (Rev. 3:22)

The Door to Heaven is Narrow (Luke 13:22-30)

TheDoor_Main_WideScreen-1024x576This is a message that will tell you how you can go to heaven when you die. There are two doors after death: destruction or delight, and we choose which door we will pass through while we are alive; either the narrow door to heaven or the wide door to hell. Many of you are already believers and know you are going to heaven, so you may wonder why I’m speaking on this topic. The Bible makes it clear that many people think they are going to heaven, but they are mistaken. So it’s good to occasionally clear our minds of all of our preconceived notions and consider how a person can go to heaven. Heaven can only be entered through a narrow door. Have you found heaven’s narrow door? Let’s read about it in Luke 13:22-30.

Then Jesus went through the towns and villages, teaching as He made His way to Jerusalem. Someone asked Him, “Lord are only a few people going to be saved?” He said to them, “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to. Once the owner of the house gets up and closes the door, you will stand outside knocking and pleading, ‘Sir, open the door for us.’ But He will answer, “I don’t know you or where you come from.’ Then you will say, ‘We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.’ But he will reply, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from. Away from me, all you evildoers!” There will be weeping there, and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and all the prophets in the Kingdom of God, but you yourselves thrown out. People will come from east and west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast in the Kingdom of God. Indeed, there are those who are last who will be first, and first who will be last.”

If we want to enter heaven, there are four important truths we need to understand:

1. There is Only One Door to Heaven and it is Narrow

These words of Jesus are not politically correct in our age of religious pluralism. If Jesus came to America preaching this message today, He would be labeled a radical and would probably be arrested. In fact, that’s exactly why the Jews arrested Him and executed Him 2,000 years ago.

To say there is only one way to heaven is an unpopular stance today. Most people think there are many ways to get to heaven. They think it doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you are “sincere.” Well, those Palestinian suicide bombers are sincere in their beliefs, and they are wrong. You can be sincere – and be sincerely wrong.

A man told me he thought getting to heaven was like flying in an airplane. I could fly American Airlines, he could fly Delta, and somebody else could fly Northwest airlines, but we’d all get to the same destination. “Doesn’t that sound logical?” he asked.

I told him it sounded logical, but when you get on an airliner, you could never be 100% certain it would arrive at the intended destination; it could be diverted by weather, hijacked, have mechanical problems, or even crash. I told him I am booked to fly on Jesus Airlines and it’s the only one in the universe with a 100% on time arrival record! For Jesus (or any of us) to insist there is just one way to heaven seems too narrow-minded in this age of enlightenment. But look at His words again in verse 24: “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to.” Jesus didn’t speak of different doors or different airliners. He didn’t say “enter through one of the narrow doors.” He spoke of the narrow door.

Other Scriptures confirm there is only one way to heaven. In John 14:6, Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”  Now, let me misquote this verse the way most folks believe. They think Jesus said, “I am one of the ways, part of the truth, and one kind of life. No one comes to the Father unless they are religious, good, kind, and sincere in whatever it is they believe.” But Jesus didn’t say He was one of the ways or even the best way; He said He is the only way.

For five decades, Billy Graham has been filling stadiums around the world preaching Jesus is the only way to heaven. He always has a banner with John 14:6 placed in a prominent place. As you can imagine, many people think his position is too narrow-minded. Several years ago, after he conducted a crusade in Australia, a woman wrote a letter of complaint to the newspaper. Her words are typical of many who do not appreciate our insistence that Jesus is the only way to heaven. She wrote, “After hearing Billy Graham on the air and viewing him on television, I am heartily sick of the type of religion that insists my soul (and everyone else’s) needs saving–whatever that means. I have never felt that I was lost. Nor do I feel that I wallow in the mire of sin, although his preaching insists I do. Give me practical religion that teaches gentleness and kindness and acknowledges no barriers of color or creed, that remembers the aged and teaches children about goodness and not about sin. If, in order to save my soul, I must accept such a philosophy as I have recently heard preached, I prefer to remain forever damned.”

Sadly, Jesus confirmed that millions of people share her attitude. He pointed out that only a small percentage of the entire population are going to be saved and He was dogmatic about it!

What’s wrong with being dogmatic about some things? If you go in for surgery, you wouldn’t want your surgeon to say to you the night before the surgery, “I don’t want to be dogmatic about the way to do this surgery. I think I’ll try a different approach this time. I may try going in from the other side for a change. After all, there’s more than one way to skin a cat.” You’d say, “But I’m not a cat and I don’t want to be skinned! Do the surgery the way you were taught to do it!” How far do you think the surgeon would get if he did it the wrong way?

We can’t bend God’s rules either. The people in this passage were at the door; they were even knocking on the door. But almost getting into the door won’t get us into heaven. When it comes to our eternal salvation there is only one door. What is it?

2. Heaven’s Door is Knowing God by Knowing Jesus

A few years ago, I conducted a survey. One of the questions on the survey was: “In your personal opinion, what do you understand it takes for a person to go to heaven?” As you can imagine, I got a variety of interesting answers. Everybody has an opinion. The most common incorrect answer to the question of how to get into heaven was: “Do good or be good.” Wrong. Access to eternal life in heaven can only be gained when we have a personal relationship with God.

In verse 25, Jesus describes people who will be pounding on heaven’s door after it is shut. They will be hollering, “Let me in! Open the door! I went to church; I even went to Sunday School! I gave my money to the church. I even worked for You! Hey, let me in!” Notice the reply of the Master of the house. He says, “I don’t know you.” It’s all about knowing God. Do you know Jesus Christ? Does He know you? He said in John 10:27, “My sheep hear My voice; I know them and they follow Me.” Do you recognize God’s voice when you hear it? Do you know Jesus and does He know you?

All of us in this room know about President Obama. Maybe you’ve met him or shaken his hand, but do you really know him? Have you visited with him enough that you are known by him? The same can be said about Jesus. Everyone here knows about Jesus, but some of you might have had casual contact with Him. Others of us have met Him and we know Him intimately because we talk with Him regularly (by the way, it’s easier to gain access to Jesus than it is to President Obama, so feel free to get to know Him).

Eternal life is knowing Jesus. Let me call your attention to the verse that best defines what eternal life is: “Now this is eternal life: that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom You have sent” (John 17:3). Eternal life is knowing God. That’s the door to heaven and it is the only way to get into heaven.

I love to read fables because they are like the parables of Jesus. Many of them teach practical lessons that can be applied to spiritual truth. There’s an old Russian fable about a cat and a fox. The fox bragged to the cat about how clever he was. He claimed he had hundreds of ways of escaping from the hunters who chased him. He could hide in a hole, or backtrack in a creek, or lie flat in tall grass. He was proud of his big bag of tricks. The cat replied she only had one way of escape, but that seemed to work.

At that moment, they heard the sounds of the hounds coming toward them. The cat scampered up the tree and hid herself among the leaves. She said to the fox, “This is my plan. What are you going to do?” The fox first thought of one plan, then of another. While he was debating the best plan the hounds came closer. At last, in his confusion, the fox was caught by the hounds and soon killed by the hunters. The cat witnessed the whole scene and provides the moral of the story: “Better to have one safe way than a hundred by which you cannot be sure.”

God is Spirit and no man can see Him without dying. That’s why Jesus came to this planet. God took on human flesh and became one of us, so we can relate to Him. Jesus said, “I am the door; whoever enters through Me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture” (John 10:9). The narrow door into heaven is Jesus Himself. There is no other way to get to heaven than by trusting in Jesus as your Savior and Lord.

Maybe you have heard of the name, “Ivan the Terrible.” He was crowned the first Czar or Caesar of Russia in 1547. He was cruel and ruthless. He gouged out the eyes of the architects who built the beautiful St. Basil’s Cathedral, so they would never be able to build anything more beautiful. He had seven wives and abused them all. He even killed his own son in a fit of anger. There were many reasons why people called him “terrible.”

When he died in 1584 the leaders of the church followed his strange instructions. They shaved his head and dressed him in a Monk’s robe. Ivan the Terrible knew he was such a wicked man that he was hoping God would mistake him for a monk and let him into heaven. But you can’t get into heaven by disguising yourself as someone and hoping God will mistake you for him or her. There is only one door and that door is Jesus.

3. There are Only Two Doors Leading to Eternity – Choose Your Door

Each of us faces these doors. Behind one is eternal life and delight. Behind the other is death and destruction. There is no mystery involved in these doors. The doors are clearly marked and Jesus tells us what is behind each door. Beginning in verse 28, Jesus describes the fate of those who don’t enter through the narrow door. He says there will be “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” That means there will be hopeless sorrow and unending pain. It makes me shiver in revulsion just thinking about it. Jesus said these people will “see Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and the prophets.” One of the worst parts of hell is the ability to realize others are in heaven and you aren’t. What a terrible place hell will be. In his epic, Inferno, Dante described hell as having different levels and circles of torment. He created minute details you never find in Scripture, but he got it right in one respect. He inscribed over the gate to hell these words: “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.”

Then Jesus contrasts that awful scene with the delightful glories of heaven. People from all four points of the compass, from all over the planet will gather for a feast! The Kingdom of God is like a feast, not a funeral. So, how do you get to enjoy the party and miss the pain? Choose the right door. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus lets us know there are actually two doors that lead to two totally different destinies. He said, “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it” (Matthew 7:13-14).

Consider the two doors. The one leading to destruction and hell is wide, and easy to find. Jesus said most of the world is on the pathway that leads to that door. But the door that leads to the delight of eternal life is narrow and only a few find it. God loves us so much He has made a way for us to know Him and to spend eternity with Him. But He also loves us so much that He has honored us by giving us the capacity to choose.

4. Heaven’s Door is Open Now, But Someday it Will be Shut

I can tell you on this very day, God’s door of grace is still wide open. But in verse 25, Jesus says one day the Master of the house will get up and close the door: “Once the owner of the house gets up and closes the door, you will stand outside knocking and pleading, ‘Sir, open the door for us.’ But he will answer, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from.” The door could close for you today. You could die today and that would close the door. Or, Jesus could return today and that would close the door of grace as well. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know things are heating up to a new level in Israel. All of that is a clear indication we are in the season of the return of Christ. So, if you haven’t trusted Jesus yet, do it today. Christian, if there is someone you know and love who hasn’t walked through God’s narrow door yet, don’t let another day pass by without lovingly urging them to trust Jesus alone for their salvation.

You can choose to enter heaven’s door today. Jesus said it’s a narrow door. Think about that for a minute. It’s so narrow only one person can walk through it at one time. In other words, you can’t walk through heaven’s door holding someone else’s hand. I thank God my parents raised me in church and sent me to Christian school, but when it came time for me to give my life to Jesus, I walked through that door all by myself. Some of you think because your grandfather was a preacher or your mother was a godly saint that you can walk through the door with them, but you can’t. The narrow door to heaven says, “One person at a time.”

Do you know what else it means because it’s a narrow door? It’s so narrow you can’t bring a bunch of excess baggage with you. In fact, you’ve got to unload all your “stuff” before you walk through it. I read once about a hiker who got trapped in a cave. He found a small opening to escape, but he couldn’t squeeze through with his backpack. So, he removed his backpack, and then his canteen, and then his jacket before he could slip through the opening. When you walk through the narrow door of heaven, you’ve got to leave your backpack of sinful habits and sinful attitudes behind. As the old song says, “Nothing in my hand I bring, Only to your cross I cling.”

Have you discovered heaven’s narrow door? Jesus is inviting you to come to Him today. Is there a need in your life? Does there seem to be an unquenchable thirst in your soul you haven’t been able to satisfy by anything this world offers? On the last page of the Bible, God extends an invitation to all of us. He says, “Is anyone thirsty? Come! All who will, come and drink. Drink freely of the Water of Life!” (Revelation 22:17).

The Bible speaks about another kind of door: it’s the door to your heart. And the way you walk through heaven’s door is by asking Jesus to come into the door of your heart. The most famous painting of the 19th century is by English artist Holman Hunt and is called “The Light of the World.” It’s a dark picture because it is night, symbolizing that the night has come and the day of salvation is almost over. Jesus is wearing a crown of thorns and standing at a door with a lantern in His hand. He is knocking on the door and His message is hard to miss. Jesus says, “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with Me” (Revelation 3:20). Art critics looked at the painting and pointed out that Holman Hunt made a mistake–there was no latch on the door. His reply silenced the critics. He said the door of our heart only has a doorknob on the inside. We are the only ones who can open our hearts to Jesus.

Right now, Jesus is standing at the door of your heart. He’s knocking. Do you hear His voice? Will you open your heart to Him? When you do that, you will have found Heaven’s narrow door.

Faithfulness to the Master: Part 2 (Luke 12:45-48)

ignorance-is-no-excusePreviously, we looked at the marks of a good servant. Today, we will consider the mistakes of a bad servant. If Jesus came today, what kind of servant would He find you to be?


In the parable, there was another servant who was left in charge to manage some of the Master’s resources, but he makes a terrible miscalculation. In verse 45, the servant says, “My master is taking a long time in coming.” Sometimes Christian servants make the same mistake as well. They act as if Jesus isn’t returning soon.

Some people who claim to be Christians aren’t living lives that are pleasing to the Lord. They act as if this life is all there is. When you tell them Jesus is going to return and they’d better get ready, they just laugh it off. They say, “Live it up! Just have fun, this life is all there is!” That’s bad advice to follow! There are three things in this text that give away the marks of a bad servant:

1. He Hurts Others

This servant began to beat and mistreat the other servants. There’s always someone out there waiting to beat up on you. Two boys were arguing in the school playground. One of them said, “My dad can beat up your dad!” The other kid said, “Big deal. My MOM can beat up my dad!”

A true servant cares about the needs and feelings of others, but a bad servant thinks only about himself. There are some people who go through life leaving a trail of bloody relationships behind them. They make bad decisions and it ends up hurting many other folks. If you believe Jesus could return at any moment, you will treat others with kindness. But if you think He’s not coming back, you won’t have the same regard and care for others.

2. He Hurts Self

Verse 45 says the bad servant ate, drank, and even got drunk. Now, there’s nothing wrong with eating, but the word here infers that he overate. He was a glutton. He had no personal discipline and no self-control. He abused his body by overeating and getting drunk. It’s a sad picture of a lazy, undisciplined servant who does things harmful to his own body.

Sometimes, you’ll hear someone say something brilliant like, “Well, it’s my body. I can do with it what I desire! If I want to do drugs or get drunk that’s MY choice because it’s MY body!” Wrong. If you claim to be a Christian, your body belongs to God. Paul wrote, “Don’t you know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, which is in you? You are not your own, you were bought at a price. Therefore, honor God with your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).

3. He Forgets There Will Be a Payday–Someday

Just picture that lazy, abusive servant sitting around drunk, having a great time. Suddenly and unexpectedly the Master returns. What a shock! Look at verse 46. Jesus said the Master would take immediate action. He would “cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the unbelievers.” A lot of people who claim to know Jesus and claim to be His servant are really deceiving themselves. Even though they have a job within the Master’s house, their behavior gives them away. They aren’t true servants or true believers. They think everything is fine, until it’s time for a true accounting. There will be a payday–someday.

You may be cruising along in your life thinking everything is fine, but one day the Expert Accountant will judge every one of us. You may be able to fool people, but you can’t fool God. You will be held accountable before God. Are you incredibly nervous about facing a Holy God who does not tolerate sin, but is full of mercy and forgiveness?

There are two lessons we can learn from what Jesus said in verses 47 and 48:

a) Direct Disobedience Receives the Harshest Punishment

Jesus said the servant who had been informed of the Master’s will and refused to obey would be beaten with many blows. The principle is simple: the more truth you have been exposed to the greater your responsibility to obey that truth.

But what about the servant who didn’t know what he was supposed to do? Would he be excused? No. He would be punished, too, but with fewer blows. The principle can be stated this way:

b) Ignorance is No Excuse!

Suppose you are stopped by a policeman and informed you were going 55 in a 25 mph zone. You could say, “But officer, I didn’t know this was a 25 mph speed zone, I never saw the sign.” Is he going to say, “Oh, then that’s okay, no problem, just take it easy?” Don’t bet on it. He’ll more likely say, “Ignorance of the law is no excuse.” God is the same way.

Jesus is coming back. Are you ready to meet Him? Are you a wise, faithful servant? Or are you disobeying the Master? Maybe, you think you will stand before God and plead ignorance saying, “But God, I didn’t know I had to turn from my sins and put my faith in Jesus!”

Here’s His message to you today: the more you’ve been given the more God expects of you! You’ve been blessed with the truth of God’s Word, so He expects you to obey. God has given you many opportunities to follow Him. Are you being obedient to the truth you’ve received? Are you ready for Jesus to return?

Faithfulness to the Master: Part 1 (Luke 12:40-48)

TimeTalentTr2012_jpgJesus has entrusted us, as His servants, to do His work and be obedient to the truth we’ve received. In Luke 12:40-48, He is telling us we are all to be managers of important resources. Some people do a good job and others are poor spiritual managers. In verse 35, Jesus begins warning His disciples to be ready for His return. Then, in verse 40, He says,

You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”

Peter asked, “Lord, are you telling this parable to us, or to everyone?”

The Lord answered, “Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom the master puts in charge of his servants to give them their food allowance at the proper time? It will be good for that servant whom the master finds doing so when he returns. Truly I tell you, he will put him in charge of all his possessions. But suppose the servant says to himself, ‘My master is taking a long time in coming,’ and he then begins to beat the other servants, both men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk. The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the unbelievers.

“The servant who knows the master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what the master wants will be beaten with many blows. But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.

In this parable, Jesus is the Master who has returned to heaven, but one day He is coming again. We are the servants who have been entrusted by Him to do His work. Jesus is coming back, and if He came today, what kind of servant would He find you to be?


In verse 42, Jesus asks, “Who is the faithful and wise manager?” He then proceeds to answer His own question. Look at the qualities of a faithful and wise servant:

1. He is a Good Manager of God’s Resources

The Master has left each servant with some resources and left him in charge of a certain job. If you are a believer, Jesus has done the same for you. Everything good in your life has come as a gift from God. But it’s not yours to own; it’s only yours to manage. You may disagree and say, “That’s not so! I own a piece of property, my name is on the deed, and I paid for it. That’s why they call it REAL estate and it’s mine to do with as I please!” Okay, if you think you own it, then I want to see you come back in a thousand years and claim it. You don’t own it; you are only allowed to “manage” it for a few years, like the previous “owner” and the “owner” before that! The question the Master will ask you when He returns is, “Have you been a good manager of the resources I gave you?” Here are three areas for you to consider if you are being a good manager:

a) Your Time

God is going to give many of us around 70 or 80 years of time in this world. The Bible says in Ephesians 5:16 we should be “redeeming the time because the days are evil.” When the Lord asks you how well you managed the time He gave you, how will you reply?

What if every morning when you woke up, you found $1,440 cash in your pocket or purse? The only condition is if you don’t spend it all that day, you lose whatever money is left over. Do you think you would have any trouble spending $1,440? I imagine you would be careful to spend almost all of it every day! For some of you, it would only last a couple of hours in a nice store. Wouldn’t it be fun to try?

In reality, God does that for you every single day of your life. Now, He doesn’t give you dollars; He gives you something more valuable than that: time. Every day, God gives us 1,440 minutes. Are you spending them wisely? Are you being faithful to the Master in how you invest your time or are you wasting your time on things that don’t really matter in light of eternity?

In this life, there are only two things we deal with that are eternal: The Word of God and the souls of people. Think about it; the best way to spend your God-given time is by investing it in the Word of God or in the souls of people. Are you a good manager of your time or are you involved in so many frivolous sideshows you can’t focus on the main thing?

b) Your Talents

God gave you natural abilities at your physical birth and He gave you at least one spiritual gift at your spiritual birth. Are you using your abilities to serve the Lord or to serve your own interests?

Some of you think there’s nothing you can do for the Lord. You are so shy you’d be afraid to lead a prayer in the nursery! But God has given you some special abilities. Each Christian is totally unique within the Body of Christ. You have a special “shape” nobody else has; that’s why you are needed. When you consider your unique talents and abilities, there is nobody else like you in our church. That’s why God is going to hold you accountable.

I started preaching when I was 15 years old. My first sermon was at a small church, but I preached the message as if there were thousands there. I memorized parts of a Billy Graham sermon he had preached in a stadium. At the end of message, I got so carried away I said, “In just a moment, I’m going to give the invitation. Hundreds are going to come forward in this holy moment!”

God may not have called you to preach, but He has put you in charge of something. Are you being a faithful, wise, manager?

c) Your Treasure

God has given everyone of us some financial or material resources. Remember, it all belongs to God, but He has allowed us to manage some of it for a while. The Master is coming back. Will He find you’ve been a wise manager or will you be a mis-manager?

2. A Good Servant is given Greater Responsibilities

Jesus said the Master will give that good servant a greater responsibility. There is a very important managerial principle at stake here. Jesus expressed it in Luke 16:10: “Whoever can be trusted with very little, can be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.”

This is true in business just like it’s true in spiritual life. I read once about a group of executives who were discussing promoting a certain worker to a place of much greater responsibility and much greater salary. They took a break for lunch and one of the executives just happened to be eating lunch at the same cafeteria where the worker was in line. The worker didn’t know his boss was in line behind him and he didn’t know he was being considered for a promotion. This was one of those cafeterias where you had to pay a few cents extra if you wanted small pats of butter for your bread. This particular worker took two or three pats of butter and slid them under the edge of his plate, obviously trying to hide them, so he wouldn’t have to pay for them. The executive watched as he reached the cashier, and the cashier never saw the butter and the worker never volunteered the information. After lunch the executive informed the rest of the group the man wasn’t their choice for a promotion. He said, “If he will steal a few cents from a cafeteria, he’ll steal more than that from our company.”

Jesus said if you are faithful in the small things, He’ll give you greater responsibility. There have been plenty of times when I’ve failed the Lord, but I’ve tried to always be faithful to my calling to preach. I have served at several churches and regardless of the congregation’s size, I’ve proclaimed God’s Word as if it was the greatest privilege on earth–and I think it is. You may not be called to preach like me, but if you are faithful to manage the gifts and resources God has given you, He will open up greater opportunities for you.

I wish I could end this message here, but in the text, Jesus also points out that some servants are irresponsible managers. They are bad servants. In Part 2, we will look at the mistakes of a bad servant.

Lessons from a Blind Beggar (Luke 18:35-43)

lead-me-to-the-cross-1None of us have ever seen Jesus with our physical eyes and we are blind until we come to Him, but Jesus is able to hear your cry from the roar of the crowd. He is listening for your voice, and will stop and respond to you. In this message, we are going to examine an encounter a blind beggar had with Jesus. Let’s read about it in Luke 18:35-43:

As Jesus approached Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard the crowd going by, he asked what was happening. They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.” He called out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Those who led the way rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus stopped and ordered the man to be brought to Him. When he came near, Jesus asked him, “What do you want Me to do for you?” “Lord, I want to see,” he replied. Jesus said to him, “Receive your sight, your faith has healed you.” Immediately, he received his sight and followed Jesus, praising God. When all the people saw it, they also praised God.

We know from Mark 10 the blind man’s name was Bartimaeus. For the sake of simplicity, I’ll call him Blind Bart. He can teach us a great deal about how we can relate to God. Our problem may not be physical blindness, but we need the same thing Bart asked for–mercy. Let’s study his story and learn five important things about the Christian life:

1. Faith is Hearing and Believing Even When You Can’t See

Bart was not only blind, he was a beggar. Most blind people today lead productive lives, but in Jesus’ time, blind people couldn’t work. Medical help was not available for their problems and people tended to ignore their obligation to care for the needy (Lev. 25:35-38). There was no Americans with Disabilities Act, so blindness was a terrible handicap. Everyday Bart sat beside the road holding out his hand pleading for money. Beggars had little hope of escaping their degrading way of life, but this blind beggar took hope in the Messiah.

Bart couldn’t see, but as with many blind people, he probably had a keen sense of hearing. On the day described in our text, he could tell from the sounds of the crowd something unusual was happening. He turned and asked someone, “What’s going on?” Over the mumble of the mob, he heard, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.” No doubt, Bart had heard of Jesus. Perhaps he heard about how Jesus healed people, even restored sight to the blind! Even though he couldn’t see Jesus, based on what he had heard, he believed. He didn’t just believe Jesus was in his city: he believed Jesus had the power to change his life. He cried out, “Jesus! Son of David, have mercy on me!” The term “Son of David” was one reserved for the coming Messiah, the King. It was a title of Divine power. Blind Bart was confessing Jesus was more than a mere teacher–He was the King!

Faith is the first step you and I must take to receive mercy from God. Faith is not just believing God exists; it is acting on that belief. It is staking your entire eternity on the offer God has extended for you to have a personal relationship with Him.

Like Bart, I have never seen Jesus with my physical eyes, but I’ve heard about Him and I believe in Him. Faith is not just believing facts about Jesus; it is trusting Him with your life. I don’t just believe He was born in Bethlehem and died on a cross 33 years later; I believe He has changed my life. I don’t just believe in the fact of the resurrection; I believe Jesus is alive and living in me!

Like Bart, we are blind until we come to Jesus. There is someone who wants to keep you blind to the truth about God. The Bible calls him the god of this age, which is another title for the devil: “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4).

Satan wants to keep you from seeing the truth about Jesus. It’s not easy to believe without seeing, but that’s what faith is. Perhaps you are like millions of other people who say they would believe if they could see some reliable proof. Their motto is, “I’ll believe it when I see it!”

But to believe in God because you saw something is not faith–it’s simply sight. The Bible says, “We walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7). By faith, Blind Bart called out to Jesus for help. Even though you’ve never seen Jesus, when you hear and believe, you’ll call out for mercy, too.

2. You Must Resist People Who Hinder Your Spiritual Progress

When Bart cried out to Jesus the people surrounding him didn’t say, “Good for you, Bart! Jesus can help you. Call out louder.” Instead of helping him, they rebuked him and told him to shut up! You’ll find when you are bold enough to cry out to Jesus, not everyone is going to be excited for you. In fact, there will be some people who will rebuke you and discourage you. When you start getting serious about seeking Jesus the voice of the crowd will try and “boo” you down. Our popular culture wants to mold you into being a clone of everyone else–wear the right labels, listen to the right music, and speak the same language everyone else uses. Our culture tells us it’s okay to be a little religious, but if you become a radical follower of Jesus, you won’t fit in with the pop culture anymore. They will ridicule you and call you a weird religious fanatic.

When you diligently seek to follow Jesus, you’ll face opposition and criticism. Paul wrote, “A great door for effective service has opened to me and there are many who oppose me” (1 Corinthians 16:9). Sometimes those who oppose your spiritual progress are members of your family–or even people claiming to be Christians.

When these people try to hinder you, do what Bart did–resist them. Don’t let them intimidate you into silence. When they told Bart to be quiet, he wouldn’t be silenced. Verse 39 tells us, “he shouted all the more.” He shouted, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” He yelled so loudly everyone got quiet. Some of you want to shout “amen” or “glory,” but you are afraid of what the crowd may think. Bart didn’t listen to the crowd, he just shouted to the Lord!

3. Jesus is Never Too Busy to Pause and Help You

Verse 40 says Jesus stood still and instructed the people to bring the blind man to Him. (By the way, He is still instructing us to bring people to Him.) At this point, Jesus was headed for Jerusalem to die for the sins of the world. Within the next few days, He would face betrayal, arrest, torture, and crucifixion. He was a man on a Mission, yet He paused to answer the cry of one blind beggar.

Surely, there were hundreds of voices in the crowd that day calling out to Jesus, but He was able to distinguish Bart’s cry for mercy from the roar of the crowd. Jesus is still listening for the one voice among the murmur of the crowd. When you call out for Him, He will stop and respond to you.

You may think that in the larger scheme of the entire universe you aren’t very important. But the fact is you are of such importance to God, that when you call out to Him, He pauses to help you! The awesome God who keeps the entire universe running will stop and answer your cry for help as if He had nothing else to do. God isn’t distracted by the millions of other voices. He always has time for you.

On the way to the cross, Jesus paused and helped Bart; and whatever else He is doing today, He will pause and help you too. The Bible says, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1). Jesus always meets us at our point of desperation. But it’s not desperation alone because you can be desperate and never call on God for help. People all around you at work, school, and perhaps in your family may hinder you from crying out to God, but keep shouting even louder like Bart did!

4. You Must Admit Your Need in Order to be Changed

At first, I was surprised by the question Jesus asked Bart in verse 41. He said, “What do you want Me to do for you?” At first, I thought, “What a funny question. Jesus knows Bart is blind!” But then I recalled Jesus asked a similar question to the paralyzed man who lay everyday at the Pool of Bethesda. Jesus asked him, “Do you want to get well?” (John 5:6). Bart had a pretty simple life. He had grown accustomed to sitting beside the road and accepting handouts. After all, some people like the attention they get from their suffering. It would be like asking someone today who is physically able to work, “Do you really want to get off welfare?”

They say, “Beggars can’t be choosers,” but Jesus gave Bart a choice. He asked him because He wanted Bart to admit his point of need and to confess he believed Jesus could change his life. And that is exactly what Bart did. He expressed his need and demonstrated his belief in the power of Jesus. He cried out, “Lord, I want to see!” The best prayers are simple and specific.

Jesus stands before you today and asks, “What do you want Me to do for you?” You can’t pray specifically until you are willing to admit your point of need. God can’t help you until you say, “Lord, I’m addicted to alcohol! I want to stay sober!” Or “Lord, I’ve got a pornography problem, I want to be pure!” Or “Lord, I’ve got a problem with anger, bitterness, and gossip. I want to be changed!”

5. When You See the Face of Jesus, You’ll Follow Him Anywhere

Without touching him, Blind Bart received his sight. Jesus said, “I see your faith and that’s enough!” We have several accounts of Jesus healing blind people and He used a variety of methods. Jesus healed one blind man by touching him. For another man, Jesus touched him once and his sight was blurred, then He touched him again. Still, with another man, Jesus spit in the dirt, made clay, patted it on the eyes of the man, and told him to go wash it off in the pool of Siloam. That’s a great lesson about how Jesus changes people in a variety of ways. Don’t ever insist someone else has to have exactly the same experience you’ve had. That’s how different churches and denominations get started–people start insisting there is only one way God does things. Someone once said, “If those four blind men were here today, we’d have four churches by Friday: The Word of Faith Church, The Once-Touched Church, The Twice-Touched Church, and the Spit-in-the-Eye Church!”

When Bart opened his eyes, the first thing He saw was the face of Jesus. The last sentence in Chapter 18 says Bart followed Jesus. Jesus was headed for Jerusalem and a cross–and Bart followed Him. I wouldn’t be surprised if we get to heaven and find he was a part of the 120 disciples who were praying in an upper room on the Day of Pentecost.

Here’s the lesson: When you see the face of Jesus, you’ll follow Him, too. You may be thinking, “Wait! I thought faith is believing without seeing! And now you say I need to see the face of Jesus? Make up your mind!”

You can see Him with eyes of faith. When you cry out to Jesus and trust Him to change you, you WILL see Him. His light will shine into the darkness of your heart. You don’t need physical eyesight to see Jesus. In fact, people who are physically blind can often see spiritual truths more clearly than those of us who have sight. Fanny Crosby was blind, yet she was one of the most prolific hymn writers in America history. She wrote over 8,500 poems and hymns. Imagine a stack of 15 hymn books piled on top of each other–it would take that many to contain all the songs Fanny Crosby wrote. Some of her more familiar hymns include, “To God Be the Glory,” “Blessed Assurance,” and “Jesus Keep Me Near the Cross.” Fanny Crosby could see things most of us can’t. She had wonderful insight because of her blindness. She glimpsed at the glory and greatness of God, and she looked forward to the time when she would see Jesus face-to-face.

The title of this message is “Lessons from a Blind Beggar.” Even before he was healed, Bart saw at least two important things. First, he saw his need: do you? Next, he saw an opportunity passing in front of him. The bystanders told him, “Jesus is passing by.” This is a powerful example of how great opportunities pass in front of us. Bart was faced with a split-second decision. If he remained still and silent, his opportunity for healing would be gone. Perhaps he thought, “There’s a crowd here today, maybe I’ll catch Jesus the next time He comes through Jericho.”

Some of you here right now need to do business with Jesus and you are hesitating, “Oh, I’ll do it after the first of the year.” What Bart didn’t know was Jesus never passed through Jericho again. He went straight from Jericho to the cross. Jesus is passing by right now, what are you going to do?

This encounter teaches us about the critical importance of seizing the opportunity. Today, you have the opportunity to cry out for mercy. Will you do it?

Today, Jesus is passing by. You may not have another opportunity like this one. I encourage you to call out to Him, “Jesus, have mercy on me!” If you’ll do that, I can promise you, on the authority of God’s Word, that “whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved!” (Romans 10:13)

* Read more in my book, Back to the Basics: A Guide for Christian Living.

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What Makes Heaven Rejoice? Part 2 (Luke 15:1-10)

Found CoinLuke 15 contains three parables about lost items. In each story, extreme measures are taken to seek the lost; when each is found, there is great rejoicing. These stories are pictures of how God seeks us and the joy heaven experiences when we are found. In Part 1, we examined the first parable Jesus told about a lost sheep and the shepherd who goes out to rescue it. Today, we will look at the second parable.

II. THE LOST COIN: God has Gone to Extreme Measures to Rescue You

In this second parable, it’s not a lamb that has wandered off on its own; it’s a coin that has been accidentally lost. Jewish brides often wore a headdress of ten coins strung across their foreheads. So the coin had great sentimental value because it was part of her wedding vows. That’s why she literally turned her house upside down to find it.

The woman is so intent on finding the lost coin that she does two important things: First, she “lights” a lamp and second she “sweeps” up the dirt on her floor. In our lost condition, we are represented by the lost coin and Jesus is the one searching to find us. There is an important application we can make from these two details of light and sweeping.

1. Jesus Lives to Give You Light

The first thing the woman did was light a lamp to help here see clearly. There is a joke about a man looking for some lost money under the street light at night. A policeman started helping him look. After a few moments the policeman asked the man, “Exactly where did you lose the money?” The man replied, “Oh, I lost it half way down the block.” The policeman said, “Then why are you searching here?” The man said, “Because the light is so much better!”

It does help to have light when you are looking for something. Before Jesus finds us, we are lost in the darkness of sin. Jesus came into this world to provide the light of truth. Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows Me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).

In the Bible, there is a connection between light and truth. God gives every person a measure of light or truth about Himself–even if they don’t have a Bible. They can look at creation and understand Someone superior and intelligent designed it all. They can look within and understand that every person is born with a sense of right and wrong (so there must be a moral absolute in the universe). Everybody has some light. If you walk toward the light, God gives you more and more light about Jesus. If you walk away from the light the Bible says in Romans 1 that your understanding becomes darkened.

2. Jesus Died to Sweep Out Your Dirt

The lost coin was somewhere on the floor, and the best way to find it was to take a broom and sweep up all the dirt. In the process of cleaning every square inch of the floor the woman found the coin. There’s a great lesson here as well. In addition to giving you light, Jesus desires to cleanse your life of all the dirt and filth accumulated there. He died on the cross so your sins could be forgiven. “And the blood of Jesus, His Son, purifies us from all sin” (1 John 1:7). The Bible says there is cleansing power in the blood of Jesus. Before you can be found, you need the light of the Lord and the cleansing power of the Lord.

In all of these parables the single theme that emerges is

III. The Joy of Salvation: Heaven Rejoices Over Every Changed Life

The jubilant shepherd called his friends and they rejoiced over the little lamb that was lost and is now found. The woman was so overjoyed when she recovered her lost coin she plans a party to celebrate it. Jesus said there is joy in the presence of God’s angels over one sinner who repents. Let me share with you two reason why heaven rejoices over a single person who repents:

1. The Happiest Experience of Life is to be Rescued by God

Remember the saddest experience of life is to be spiritually lost, but to be found and rescued by God is the most joyous experience. I believe we should be more excited about our own salvation. You cannot lose your salvation, but sadly, many people have lost the joy of their salvation. Do you have a sense of this inexpressible and glorious joy? When Jesus is in your heart, there will be this sense of joy. Jesus said, “I have spoken these things to you, so that My joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete” (John 15:11). I sometimes encounter professed Christians who are negative and pessimistic about everything. I want to say to them, “If you really have Jesus’ joy in your heart, then you should notify your face!”

2. We Should Celebrate What Heaven Celebrates!

What is it in life that really gets you excited? What would give you the greatest joy that you could imagine? What would it take for you to grin and jump around and dance a jig and shout, “Whoo! Hoo! Yippee!?” I wonder if anything could move some people to that kind of joy. Some people are so straight-laced, a stick of dynamite couldn’t move them! But what would it take to really get you fired up? For some, it would be winning the lottery, or getting a hole-in-one, or hearing the doctor say the words, “cancer free.” It might be different for different people. But for those of us who claim to love Jesus, I submit to you we should celebrate what heaven celebrates. There is joy in the presence of angels when one sinner repents, so there should be joy among believers when a person repents.

In these parables, Jesus is teaching us God is like a shepherd who goes searching for one little lost lamb, and when He finds him, God celebrates! God is also like the woman who turns her house upside down to find the one lost coin, and when God finds that lost person, there is a party. Our God is personally interested in every lost lamb, every lost coin, and every wayward son. He is interested in the secretary in your office, the student in the classroom, the executive in the boardroom, and the drunkard on the street. He wants every lost person to be found.

You will never fully celebrate your salvation or the salvation of anyone else until you understand how wretched and miserable it is to be totally lost without Christ. “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound; that saved a wretch like me! I once was lost; but now I’m found; was blind, but now I see!”

Have you ever admitted you were a “wretch” before Jesus found you? Do you realize how miserable and depraved you were before you repented and accepted God’s love? You’ll never truly celebrate and appreciate God’s grace until you realize how terrible it is to be lost.

If you are lost today, you can be found. God is seeking and searching for you. He loves you so much that Jesus came and died on the cross for your sins. Will you repent? To repent simply means to change your mind and to change your behavior. Change your mind about Jesus and Who He is and what He can do for you. Accept His grace, mercy, and forgiveness. Change your behavior and start living as He wants you to live. When you turn to Him, there is joy in the presence of angels!

What Makes Heaven Rejoice? Part 1 (Luke 15:1-10)

Parable of Lost SheepLuke 15 may be one of the greatest chapters in the entire Bible. It contains three parables about things that were lost and then found. These stories are pictures of how God seeks us and the joy heaven experiences when we are found. Let’s begin reading in verse 1:

Now the tax collectors and “sinners” were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

There were two different groups present in Jesus’ audience: the religious leaders and the sinners. The Pharisees and teachers of the law had become the enemies of Jesus by this time. They followed Him around looking for a reason to condemn Him. These religious fanatics were so scrupulous in their observance of the law; they would never sit down and eat with “sinners” like tax collectors and common men. The words of Jesus made the religious crowd very angry and they were going to eventually crucify Him in the name of their religion.

But the Bible says the common people heard Jesus gladly–they rejoiced in His words! We need to be on guard constantly so we don’t become so self-righteous that we begin to exclude people who aren’t just like us. When we do, we become exactly like those Pharisees. Look at their criticism of Jesus: “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” My response to that is, “Thank God He welcomes sinners or else I would never have a chance to know Him!” Their criticism was actually a compliment!

If you are here today and you feel you aren’t good enough, that you have failed and blown it too many times to approach God, let me remind you that Jesus welcomes sinners! Jesus didn’t share the scruples of the religious leaders, so He was always hanging out with the outcasts and rejected people. Because Jesus welcomed sinners, we need to welcome sinners, too! Look at verses 3-10:

Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. The he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent. Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Does she not light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.

What is it that makes heaven happy? Jesus reports there is great rejoicing in heaven when one person turns from their sins and puts their faith in Jesus Christ. The world may be impressed when we build a huge building, but I don’t believe heaven celebrates too much when a building is built. The world may be impressed with our multitude of programs and ministries, but Jesus never said there was joy in the presence of angels over 4,000 people gathering for Bible Study. He did say, not once, not twice, but three times there is great joy in heaven when one person turns to God and receives His forgiveness. Let’s take a closer look at these parables and discover why heaven gets so happy when a person turns to Christ. In both of these parables, there was something lost that was found.

I. THE LOST LAMB: God Loves You as an Individual

In the first parable, a little lamb is lost and the Shepherd leaves the others to go out and find the individual lamb. We are the lost lamb and Jesus is the Shepherd. This leads to two observations:

1. The Saddest Experience of Life is To Be Lost

In the parable, God is the Shepherd and the lost lamb represents us: “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him [Jesus] the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6). There are three words starting with “D” that describe sheep: dumb, defenseless, and directionless. You won’t see any trained sheep acts at the circus–they are too dumb. Almost all animals have either claws, sharp teeth, quills, a hard shell, or speed to escape predators, but not a lamb; they have no defenses. Sheep get lost easily, too. Pigeons, cats, and dogs can often find their way back home, but sheep are clueless about how to find their own way back home. In many respects, we are the same way in our ability to rescue ourselves from our lost condition. We are dumb, defenseless, and directionless. Like sheep, we all have a tendency to stray away from God. We are prone to wander.

It can be unnerving to be lost. How many of you have ever been in a strange building or city and gotten lost? It can be a distressing experience! In this passage, Jesus used the word “lost” to speak of the spiritual condition of being eternally lost. The word L-O-S-T is one of the scariest four lettered words in the human language. A lost soul is the most tragic condition in life. There was a time, as a young adult, when I was very wealthy, but because of some unwise investments, I lost it all. It’s terrible to lose a fortune, but that’s nothing compared to the tragedy of a lost soul.

I have friends and family who suffer (and in some cases have died) from various health problems. They once had been strong and healthy, but then they were disabled. It’s terrible when someone loses his health, but not nearly as terrible as a lost soul. You can lose your mind, but it’s not as tragic as a lost soul. Death will heal the loss of a fortune, or a loss of health, or a loss of a mind, but a lost soul is for eternity. We are all like a lost lamb at one time in our lives. Jesus can never find you until you admit you are a lost sinner. The bad news is without Christ, we are lost. But the good news is

2. Jesus Searches for Us in Order To Save Us

The shepherd had 100 sheep and he began to count them, “…97, 98, 99, Whoa! I’m missing one!” Then the Shepherd does something surprising. He leaves the other 99 sheep and sets off to find the single lost lamb. Remember, that’s what God is like. Most people think “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one.” But Jesus never said anything like that. God is more concerned with the individual than with the group. God deals with us as individuals, not as groups. He cannot save the crowd, but He will save every individual in the crowd who will accept His love and forgiveness. You don’t get saved by hanging around other saved people–that’s called salvation by association–it doesn’t work that way. You have to have a personal encounter with the Shepherd yourself.

Now, many folks think the shepherd is foolish to leave the 99 sheep in order to search for one lamb. What’s the big deal if one is lost? You still have 99 sheep–it’s only a 1% loss! But with God, every individual matters. If the shepherd had 10,000 sheep and one was lost, he would have still left the 9,999 and gone after the one. Why? Because it is the character of our God to love the individual and to seek the lost. If you were the only person on earth who was lost and needed a Savior, Jesus would have still come to earth and died on a cross for your sins. That’s why Jesus came to earth.

The bad news is without God you are lost. But the good news is Jesus loves you so much He died on the cross. Jesus said, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost” (Luke 19:10). It is the nature of God to seek the lost. In the other religions of the world, man is seeking and searching for God; but in the Christian faith, it is God who comes seeking and searching for you!

Notice what happened when the shepherd found the lost lamb. He didn’t scold the lamb or take a whip and drive the lamb back to the flock. Instead, the shepherd picked up the lamb and carried him on his shoulder all the way back home. To me, that communicates salvation is something Jesus does for us, not something we do for Him. He does it all. He carries us home. Won’t you let the Shepherd pick you up today and carry you home?

In Part 2, we will look at the second parable Jesus told about a lost coin and the woman who searched frantically for it.

5 Portraits of a Real Disciple (Luke 14:25-35)

Discipleship 3Jesus was getting closer and closer to the cross. People who wanted to see a miracle or get a free meal from Him were mobbing Him. The crowd following Jesus knew who He was, but they would soon be gone. The crowd was about to become much smaller because Jesus started setting forth the cost of discipleship and it’s not a popular message. It requires total commitment. Today, the majority of people who express an interest in Jesus represent the crowd–they are not committed to Jesus and do not experience a deep level of intimacy with Him. In Luke 14:25-35, Jesus provided five vivid images and used each one to teach a lesson about discipleship:

1. A Family: Love Jesus Supremely

The first image Jesus used was a family. Are you surprised Jesus said to be a disciple you must hate your family? I read about a pastor who entitled his sermon, “How to hate your wife.” You may be asking yourself, “Doesn’t Jesus talk elsewhere about loving everyone, including our enemies?” Yes, but the Greek word for “hate” means something totally different than our English word for “hate.” In Greek the word “hate” means to prefer above. Jesus often used figures of speech to give His words a greater impact. He used metaphors, similes, and parables. And here, He simply employed hyperbole. Hyperbole is an intentional exaggeration to emphasize a point. My wife uses hyperbole all the time when she says something like, “I’ve told you a million times to put the seat down.” I know it really isn’t a million times, so don’t get upset because Jesus used hyperbole.

To be a real disciple, we must love Jesus more than we love anyone else–even family members. Our love for Jesus should be so powerful that in comparison, it seems as if we hate everyone else. It is also true that sometimes our love for Jesus will alienate us from others, even our family. If you truly follow the Lord, you won’t have to look for people to ridicule you and oppose you, they will find you–and they may be your family members. Jesus said, “All men will hate you because of Me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved… Anyone who loves his father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me” (Matthew 10:22, 37). Friend, when God calls you, you will have to make some difficult decisions, and sometimes your family will not jump up and down and rejoice over your choices. That’s the first portrait of a real disciple.

2. A Cross: Live Like a Dead Person

The second image Jesus used was a cross. A real disciple is someone who carries his cross. Many Christians are confused about what it means to carry a cross. I’ve had someone say to me, “I have migraine headaches, but I guess it’s just the cross I must bear.” Or I had someone take off his shoe one time and show me his ugly big toe. He said, “I have an in-grown toenail, but I guess it’s just the cross I must bear.” I always wanted to say, “Why don’t you have that nasty thing worked on by a doctor?” The cross is NOT a headache or an ingrown toenail.

The true message of the cross is death. In Jesus’ time the cross was a horrible, agonizing, and tortuous mode of execution. It was the electric chair, lethal injection, and noose of His day. In the time of Jesus, when you saw someone carrying a cross, it meant only one thing–they were as good as dead. Jesus’ audience was well aware of what it meant to carry a cross. When the Romans led a criminal to his execution site, he was forced to carry the cross on which he would die. This showed his submission to Rome and warned observers they had better submit too. Jesus spoke this teaching to get the crowd thinking about their enthusiasm for Him. He encouraged those who were superficial either to go deeper or to turn back. Following Christ means total submission to Him–perhaps even to the point of death.

But today, the image of the cross has lost its horror. How many of you are either wearing a cross or have a cross on your Bible? How nice. The cross has become benign–a piece of harmless jewelry. What if stores began to sell miniature models of an electric chair or made a little syringe of poison and started offering it as jewelry to wear? Can you imagine someone walking up to you saying, “I love your electric chair hanging from your neck, where did you get it?” Or “I love your lethal injection syringe, where did you get it?”

Paul understood what it meant to carry a cross. Here are two dynamite verses from the book of Galatians: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me…” (Galatians 2:20) and “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires” (Galatians 5:24). That means there is nothing the world has to offer that interests you–it’s as if the world is dead to you and you are dead to the world. For a disciple carrying a cross, the world can’t offer a thing he wants. In many ways, a dead man is set free. You and I won’t be truly liberated until we understand what it is to be crucified with Christ. That’s the second portrait of a real disciple.

3. A Tower: Consider the Value of a Good Finish

The third image Jesus used was a tower. Jesus presented the image of a man who plans on building a tower. Before he begins the construction, he must “count the cost” to see if he has enough resources to finish the job. When a builder doesn’t count the cost or estimates it inaccurately, his building may be left half completed. Jesus is talking about the cost of commitment.

Will your Christian life be only half built and then abandoned because you did not count the cost of total commitment to Jesus? What are those costs? Christians may face loss of social status or wealth. They may have to give up control over their money, their time, and their career. They may be hated, separated from their family, and even put to death. Following Christ does not mean a trouble-free life. We must carefully count the cost of becoming Christ’s disciples, so we will know what we are getting into and won’t be tempted later to turn back.

Actually, it may be better to think in terms of the value instead of the cost. A good finish as a disciple is the key. A lot of backslidden Christians may go to heaven when they die, but they won’t be finishing well. Jesus spoke about the man “who was not able to finish” (v. 29). Jesus says everyone will look at the uncompleted project and ridicule the one who didn’t finish it. I’m haunted by those words–I don’t want to become a spiritual dropout.

The older I get the more I realize there can never be any “coasting” in the Christian life. There is no such thing as spiritual retirement. The pages of the Bible are littered with great men and women who didn’t finish well. Noah and his family were saved from the flood, but poor Noah ended as a drunken man who got naked. Solomon was the wisest man in all of history, but he didn’t finish well–his many wives turned his heart away from God.

Are you going to finish well? I know some folks who used to be faithful servants, real disciples, but they have dropped out. Oh, they still attend church sometimes and I suppose they’ll go to heaven when they die, but unless something changes they aren’t going to finish strong.

The good news is none of us are finished yet. It doesn’t matter what has happened in the past, we can still finish well. The finish line is still ahead. Are you sitting down on the track? Are you going to barely drag yourself across the finish line? Or are you going to summon God’s strength, so you can sprint across the finish line? It doesn’t matter how well you start if you fail to finish. A real disciple finishes strong.

4. A War: Surrender to the Stronger King

In the fourth image Jesus used, He described two kings. One was outnumbered, so he wisely approached the stronger king and made peace before the battle ever began. You and I are one of the kings and God is the other. Guess which one we are? Because we can never win against God, we must surrender to Him. In Jesus’ time, a surrendering king could be made into a slave of the opposing king, so it required great humility to bow down and ask for terms of peace. It takes humility to surrender to Jesus. You cannot be a disciple unless you are willing to give up control of your life to Him. And that’s hard to do. None of us wants to give up.

I once read about a lifeguard on a beach who saw a drowning man. He walked into the surf but didn’t go out to rescue him. People gathered on the beach and yelled and screamed at the lifeguard to go out and rescue the drowning man. The lifeguard waded a little deeper, and kept his eye on the drowning man, but the yells and screams of the onlookers didn’t motivate him to swim out. Just when it seemed the man was going down for the last time the lifeguard swam out with strong strokes, and grabbed the man and brought him back to shore. After some spitting and coughing the man was conscious. But rather than hailing him as a hero the onlookers were angry at the lifeguard and said, “You coward! You saw he was drowning. Why didn’t you go out sooner?”

The lifeguard patiently explained, “You can see that he is much bigger and stronger than I am.” If I had gone out sooner, he was thrashing and kicked so violently that he would have probably drowned both of us. As long as he was trying to save himself, I couldn’t save him. But when he got tired and gave up, then I knew I could save him.”

That’s a great lesson about salvation. As long as you think you are strong enough to save yourself, you won’t surrender to Jesus. It’s only when you give up and realize you are hopelessly lost that Jesus can come and rescue you. Have you ever come to a place in your life where you have surrendered everything you have and everything you are to Jesus? Real discipleship is coming to Jesus and saying, “Jesus, I give up control of my life to You.”

One of the reasons the book of Psalms speaks of lifting your hands in praise is because the lifting of hands has always been a gesture of surrender. Even today the police will say, “Put your hands up!” Have you surrendered to Jesus? I didn’t ask you if you were a Christian. For me, I have found I need to surrender to Jesus often. Maybe you need to do what I do.

5. Salt: Stay Pure to Preserve Goodness

The fifth image Jesus used was salt. Salt was very valuable during Jesus’ time. Roman soldiers were paid with salt rations. The greatest value of salt was in its use as a preservative. Since they didn’t have any way to refrigerate meat, salt would be applied to fresh meat to prevent the meat from rotting. The salt created a chemical reaction that slowed down the process of decay and preserved the goodness of the meat. That’s why Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again?” (Matthew 5:13).

The problem Jesus identified is that some people have lost their saltiness. We live in a nation suffering from moral decay at an alarming rate. Our society is getting more rotten by the day. Sadly, many believers live such impure lives that they have lost their sense of saltiness in a rotting world. When we allow impure thoughts and impure behavior to become mixed in our personality, we lose our saltiness. Many Christians blend into the world and avoid the cost of standing up for Christ. But Jesus said if Christians lose their distinctive saltiness, they become worthless. Just as salt flavors and preserves food, we are to preserve the good in the world. Being “salty” is not easy, but if we fail in this function, we fail to represent Christ to the world. How salty are you?

We should be dangerous disciples in this world, but too many believers are harmless to the devil’s work. Too many Christians are like the dog a friend of mine told me about. One day, he walked into an old country store and saw a sign just inside that read: “DANGER! BEWARE OF DOG!” My friend looked around cautiously, but all he saw was an old hound curled up on the floor, sound asleep. He said to the owner, “That dog doesn’t look dangerous to me.” The owner said, “Well, folks kept tripping over him, so that’s why I put up the sign.”

Are you a real disciple? Do you love Jesus more than anyone else, even your family? Are you a dead man walking, carrying your cross? Are you committed to finishing strong for Jesus? Are you constantly surrendering everything you have to Him? Are you willing to stay pure, so you can be salt in a rotting world? Jesus is looking for a few good men and women: the humble, the pure, the dead, the committed. Will you decide today to move from being a casual bystander in the crowd and make being a fully devoted follower of Jesus your goal?

The Truth about God: Part 3 (Luke 20:9-19)

truthWhat is God really like? Jesus tells a parable in Luke 20:9-19, which reveals four foundational aspects of the nature of God. In Part 1, we saw God is good. In Part 2, we saw God is patient and loving. Now, in the conclusion of this message, we will look at the final truth we learn about God from this parable. You may be shocked to discover the truth!

4. God is holy – He will punish sin

After Jesus spoke of the tenants killing the owner’s son, He paused and asked, “What will the owner of the vineyard do then?” Before the listeners had a chance to respond, He answered His own question. He said, “He will come and kill them and give the vineyard to someone else” (vv. 15-16).

Don’t confuse love with syrupy sentimentality. Because God is holy, He cannot tolerate sin. Years ago, school teachers used to paddle students if they misbehaved. I remember hearing a story about one teacher who had a big paddle he kept in his desk drawer. He had the word “patience” written on his paddle. Whenever someone misbehaved, he would pull the paddle out and say, “You’re getting close to the end of my patience.” He always warned a student before he executed judgment. If the warning was ignored, the student got a paddling. He would say, “You’ve reached the end of my patience, now the end of my patience is going to reach you.”

On the other hand, whenever the students had a substitute teacher, they could misbehave because substitute teachers seldom punished kids. Some people think God is like some half-witted, permissive substitute teacher who looks at the world of misbehaving sinners and says, “Now, now boys and girls, please sit down and be quiet.” No, God is holy and like the owner of the vineyard, there will be a day of judgment for those who reject His Son.

In the book of Revelation, there is a great deal written about God’s ultimate judgment against those who reject His love. In the middle of these future judgments, an angel says to God, “You are just in these judgments, O Holy One,You who are and who were;for they have shed the blood of Your holy people and Your prophets, and You have given them blood to drink as they deserve” (Rev. 16:5). Because God is Holy, He will punish sin; and because God is Holy, He is right and just in His judgments.

Jesus infuriated the Jewish leaders because He claimed to be the “stone which the builders rejected.” The Jews were on the verge of rejecting God’s chief cornerstone – they would crucify Him. But God was going to exalt Jesus by raising Him from the dead.

A few months after the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, Peter and John were arrested for healing a paralyzed man. They were summoned before the same Jewish council who sentenced Jesus to die. Instead of pleading for mercy, Peter used the opportunity to repeat these words of Jesus right in their faces: “Know this, you and all the people of Israel: it is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. Jesus is the ‘stone you builders rejected, which has become the capstone.’ Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:10-12).

What is God really like? He is good, He is patient, and He is loving. But He is also holy and today you and I must consider Jesus’ warning: If you reject God’s Son, you will receive God’s judgment.

Imagine, for a moment, you committed a capital crime and were convicted and sentenced to receive the death penalty. You are on death row and the date of your execution is approaching. Just a few hours before you are scheduled to receive a lethal injection the prison warden enters your cell and says, “I have good news for you! The governor has decided to grant you a full and free pardon. Here, this is a copy of your pardon.” Then imagine you look at the warden, and laugh and say, “I don’t believe you. Besides, I’m guilty. No thanks.” Then you tear up the pardon and toss it back in the warden’s face. You would be a fool not to accept such an offer. The only recourse for the warden would be to carry out your execution.

It is also true that if you receive God’s Son, you will receive God’s forgiveness. Each of us stands guilty before the Lord. The good news is God has offered you a full and free pardon. Jesus Christ has already taken our punishment and all we have to do is accept God’s free gift of forgiveness. You and I would be fools not to accept such an offer. The Bible says, “The fool has said in his heart there is no God” (Psalm 53:1).

Will you receive His Son today? The Bible says, “To all who received Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12).

The Truth about God: Part 2 (Luke 20:9-19)

repentanceWhat is God really like? Jesus tells a parable in Luke 20:9-19, which reveals four foundational aspects of the nature of God. In Part 1, we saw God is good. Now, we will consider two more truths about God we learn from this parable:

2. God is patient – He sends us many messengers

In the parable, the owner, who represents God, sent a servant to the vineyard when the grapes were ready to harvest. The tenants were like share-croppers. The owner did not demand all of the grapes, just a portion of them. But the tenants rejected the servant, beat him up, and kicked him out. The essence of sin is declaring independence from your Creator – refusing to acknowledge God’s ownership of this world and rejecting His claim on your life. Sin always begins with an attitude that says, “I don’t need God. I’m the master of my fate, the captain of my soul.”

The tenants insulted the owner by rejecting his servant. What would you do if you were the landlord of a rental house and you sent an employee to collect the rent and instead of paying, the renter beat up your employee and said, “This is MY house! I’m not paying a dime!” God would have been legally and morally justified to instantly reclaim the vineyard from sinful mankind and punish us immediately. But at this point in the parable, we learn the truth about God: He is not only good, He is patient. Instead of punishing the farmers, he sends another servant, and then another – and they are all rejected.

In the Old Testament, God sent many prophets to Israel to warn them of the dangers of rejecting God. Most of the prophets were abused and scorned. Elijah was threatened by a wicked queen, Jeremiah was thrown into a pit to die, and Amos was ridiculed. The messages of the prophets were never valued until years after they died. Someone once said prophets, poets, and pigs have one thing in common: they aren’t truly appreciated until they’re dead.

God owns this world and He owns your life. Have you rejected His claim? If you have, you should be thankful God is patient. He keeps on sending you messengers to patiently request you surrender to Him what is rightfully His. God has promised He will punish sin. You may think you are getting away with your sin, but God is just being patient with you. The Bible says, “The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). He is giving you another chance right now as you read these words. Patience is not weakness or unconcern; patience is strength under control.

In the 19th century, before radio or television, people in America found entertainment by listening to orators. One of the most infamous was a gifted atheist by the name of Robert Ingersol. He traveled around the country delivering eloquent speeches on the irrationality of believing in God. One of his most dramatic methods was to stand on stage and shake his fist toward heaven and say, “If there is a God, I dare Him to strike me dead in 10 seconds!” Then he slowly counted to ten. Women fainted and God-fearing people rushed for the exits, fully expecting God to send a fireball and consume Robert Ingersol. Of course, nothing happened. After completing his count, Ingersol challenged anyone in the audience to refute his logic. It is reported in one small Midwestern town an old, godly woman laughed out loud and said, “Mr. Ingersol, do you think you can exhaust God’s wonderful patience in just 10 seconds?” God is patient, but as we will see, His patience will run out one day.

3. God is loving – He sent His only Son

In the parable, after his servants had been rejected and abused, the owner takes an unprecedented, astonishing step – he sent his son. Jesus called him “the beloved son.” In Mark’s version of the story, the owner sends his “only son.” The words “beloved son” are the same words heard when Jesus was baptized. A voice from heaven said, “This is My Beloved Son” (Mt. 3:17; Mk. 1:11).

I was reading my Bible the other day and came across an amazing verse. When I read it, I was blown away. It is probably the most important statement about God found in the Bible. I want to share it with you in case you have never read it. It says, “For God so loved the world that He gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Can you comprehend that? There is only one God and He has only one Son, and He loves us so much He sent His only Son to reconcile our differences with Him. What did we do? Did we run out to meet God’s Son and fall at His feet in surrender? No, like the tenants in the parable, we crucified the Son of God.

This parable not only highlights the truth about the character of God, it reveals the shocking truth about the utter wickedness of the human heart. The tenants of the vineyard did not kill the owner’s son in the spontaneous heat of emotion; they made a calculated decision. They thought by killing the son, they could claim ownership of the vineyard.

That’s what so amazing about God’s love. We are sinners by nature and by choice, but God still loves us, in spite of our sin. He loves us enough that He sent His only Son to die for us. The Bible says, “God demonstrated His love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

How can a person resist that kind of love? God has written thousands of letters to us – and each one of them says, “I love you.” The reason some people don’t understand the Bible is because they try to study it like they study other literature, such as Shakespeare or Milton. Instead, the Bible is one long love letter. On every page, God is expressing His love to you.

The owner of the vineyard was good, patient, and loving, but he couldn’t allow the wickedness of the tenants to go unnoticed or unpunished.

In Part 3, we will look at the final truth about God. You may be shocked to discover the truth!

The Truth about God: Part 1 (Luke 20:9-19)

when-jesus-calls-your-nameMost of us are familiar with product warning labels. A warning label is designed to protect us from harm. If there was a warning label attached to the passage of Scripture we are looking at today, it would read: WARNING – IF YOU REJECT GOD’S SON YOU WILL RECEIVE GOD’S JUDGEMENT.

On the Sunday before His crucifixion, Jesus was welcomed by the cheers of the people. As He entered Jerusalem, He paused and sobbed bitter tears over how the people of Israel had rejected Him. Over the next few days, He taught openly in the temple courts. The religious leaders tried unsuccessfully to entrap Him with trick questions. In the midst of these questions, Jesus shared a parable that contained a scathing indictment against the failure of the Jewish people to accept Him (Read Luke 20:9-19):

A man planted a vineyard, rented it to some farmers and went away for a long time. At harvest time he sent a servant to the tenants so they would give him some of the fruit of the vineyard. But the tenants beat him and sent him away empty-handed. He sent another servant, but that one also they beat and treated shamefully and sent away empty-handed. He sent still a third, and they wounded him and threw him out.

Then the owner of the vineyard said, ‘What shall I do? I will send my son, whom I love; perhaps they will respect him.’

But when the tenants saw him, they talked the matter over. ‘This is the heir,’ they said. ‘Let’s kill him and the inheritance will be ours.’ So they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.

What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them? He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others.”

When the people heard this, they said, “God forbid!”

Jesus looked directly at them and asked, “Then what is the meaning of that which is written: ‘The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone’? Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces; anyone on whom it falls will be crushed.”

The teachers of the law and the chief priests looked for a way to arrest Him immediately because they knew He had spoken this parable against them. But they were afraid of the people.

When Jesus finished telling this parable the people were so shocked, they cried out, “May it never be so!” They were astonished because Jesus disrupted their nice, neat understanding of the God of Israel. Their view of God had become so skewed they thought God existed for the sake of Israel, not Israel for God.

Over 90 percent of Americans claim to believe in God, but what kind of God do they trust? For some, He is the nice, neat God they salute for an hour a week on Sunday and then live the rest of their lives as if He doesn’t exist. For others, their religious rules and rituals have become a substitute for actually knowing God. Jesus Christ visited planet earth 2,000 years ago to teach us what God is really like. In this parable, He reveals four foundational aspects of the nature of God. You may be shocked to learn the truth!

1. God is good – He has placed us in this world to tend it

Like the owner of the vineyard, God created this world. He is the owner of this vineyard called Earth. He has placed us here to manage it. We don’t own anything, we’re just the tenants. “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it” (Psalm 24:1).

A good place to learn about the nature of God is in the book of Genesis. The first three words in the Hebrew Bible are, “Bershith bara Elohim,” which means, “in the beginning God created.” The Bible really doesn’t go into detail about how God created the universe, it simply says, “In the beginning God created” (Genesis 1:1).

Sadly, most Americans have been taught the universe just came into existence by chance rather than by creation. Most schools teach billions of years ago there was a big bang somewhere in space and the spark of life was ignited. Then, through the process of natural selection, this tiny cell of proto-life evolved.

But the Bible says God created the heavens and the earth. You don’t have to commit intellectual suicide to believe there is a higher being, who planned and created this world. The first two chapters of Genesis were not written to teach us about the exact process of creation, they were written to teach us about the God of Creation. From the beginning, we see He is a good God.

During creation, God was like a master painter. He created something, stepped back, and said, “That’s good.” In Genesis 1, the phrase “and God saw that it was good” is repeated six times. When He finished, “God saw all He had made and it was very good” (Genesis 1:31).

When He created Adam, God saw he was alone and said, “It is not good for man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18). God’s nature is to create and seek good. When He sees something that is not good, He corrects it. That’s why God gave Adam a wife; He knew she would be good for him.

God is good and everything good in our lives comes from Him (James 1:17).Things may not look too good in your world right now. Some people think for things to be good, there must be the absence of problems or pain. They argue, “If God is good, then how could He allow this war to happen? If God is good, why do bad things happen?” Look at the parable again. The bad things that happened in the vineyard were not caused by the owner; the tenants messed up a good thing. That’s what has happened in our world today. We live in a fallen, sinful world and our sin has messed it up. When someone complains to me that life isn’t fair, I sometimes say, “You’re right, life isn’t fair – but God is good.”

God really is good and He’s good all the time! I can stand here all day and tell you God is good, but you’ll never know for sure until you get to know Him for yourself and you experience His goodness. “Taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 24:8). When you experience the living God of the Bible, not a religion, you’ll say like Andy Griffith used to say, “umm umm good!”

In Part 2, we will look at two more truths about God we learn from this parable.

Jesus, the Unwelcomed Lover (Luke 13:31-35)

red-love-rejectionHave you ever had your love rejected? It hurts when someone rejects your love, whether you are 13, 23, or 73 years old. Oh, the pain of rejected love!

In today’s passage, I want you to see how Jesus’ love is often unwelcomed and rejected. But before we read our text, let me review the context and setting. Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem to be crucified (v. 22). The opposition against Him was growing stronger and more vocal. The common people loved Him and heard Him gladly, but the religious crowd hated Him because He exposed their hypocrisy and wickedness. Let’s pick up with Luke 13:31-35:

At that time some Pharisees came to Jesus and said to Him, “Leave this place and go somewhere else. Herod wants to kill You.”

He replied, “Go tell that fox, ‘I will keep on driving out demons and healing people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.’ In any case, I must press on today and tomorrow and the next day—for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem!

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. Look, your house is left to you desolate. I tell you, you will not see Me again until you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.”

In these words, you can almost feel the depth of love and compassion Jesus had for His people. That’s the same kind of love He has for you today. Let’s learn three important things about Jesus’ love:

1. Jesus is a fearless lover

The Pharisees warned Jesus that Herod was out to kill Him, so He had better leave town by sundown. He was no friend of the Pharisees, so this warning was probably a scare tactic intended to spook Jesus.

Herod Antipas was a powerful governor who had the authority to execute anyone he desired. A few months earlier, he had beheaded John the Baptist at the request of his cunning stepdaughter, who was also his niece. Herod had nightmares that Jesus was actually John come back from the dead.

Jesus’ reply is priceless. He makes a joke of Herod. He says, “You tell that fox…” (v. 32). That’s an example of Hebrew humor. He was offering a caricature of Herod as a sneaky, cunning, predatory animal—actually pretty funny if you knew anything about Herod! He was more animal-like in his passions than human.

This response reveals Jesus’ courage. He is a fearless lover. He indicated He was going to keep on doing what He had been doing and Herod would not slow Him down. He had a job to do and He had a goal to accomplish. In verse 32, Jesus said, “I WILL reach my goal.” His goal was to redeem sinful mankind—and He knew He would have to die as the sacrificial Lamb to provide forgiveness. Nothing would cause Him to detour from the destination of the cross. Jesus was not afraid of Herod because He knew He already had a date with death and it wouldn’t be at the hands of Herod. Jesus did not die some martyr’s death over which He had no control. They did not execute Him; He willingly laid down His life. He makes that clear by what He said in John 10:17-18: “The reason My Father loves Me is that I lay down My life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of My own accord.” Revelation 13:8 says Jesus is the Lamb of God who was “slain from the creation of the world.” The cross was not an afterthought of God. It was not “Plan B” because Adam and Eve sinned. It was not a contingency plan—it was always God’s plan.

In a few days, Jesus was going to carry a literal cross from Pilate’s fort to a hill outside Jerusalem. But Jesus was already carrying that cross in His mind and heart. At the beginning of His ministry, Jesus knew He would die and rise again. He said, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up again” (John 2:19). That’s why He was a fearless lover.

Human nature always wants to “detour from the difficult” instead of staying the course. Human nature says, “Get out of that bad marriage” or “Don’t submit to that difficult boss.” But there is a cross for all of us who would follow Jesus and we must be fearless in carrying it.

Jesus laughed and said, “You tell that fox…” On the surface, it seems as if Herod was the old fox who was being laughed at, but on a different level, I think Jesus was also laughing at the fox of death, the death Herod had the power to inflict. Jesus laughed at death.

Here’s the personal application for each of us: when we belong to God, we don’t have to fear any fox! When we are carrying the cross of Jesus, we have already died to self. You can’t scare a dead man. When we’re carrying the cross, it’s a liberating experience because we don’t have to be afraid of anybody or anything.

When the ship captain delivered the first missionaries to the wild jungle, he said, “I don’t know why you are going to those savages because they will kill you.” The missionary replied, “They can’t kill us because we have already died.”

The Bible says, “Perfect love casts out all fear” (1 John 4:18). That’s why Jesus wasn’t afraid. He possessed a perfect love for us. Jesus laughed in the face of the fear of death. You and I don’t have to be afraid either. When we are carrying the cross of Christ, we can laugh at any threat. I love the comment about the “Proverbs 31 woman.” The Bible says a godly woman is able to “laugh at the days to come” (Prov. 31:25). When you are carrying the cross, you can face any threat of the future and laugh at it. That’s what Jesus did – He made a joke about Herod and his deathly threat.

What are you afraid of today? Death? Financial ruin? Terrorist attack? Disease? When you truly belong to God there is nothing in this life that can rob you of your joy and your promise of eternal life. Some people go through this life whining and complaining and moaning and groaning that life isn’t fair. Hey, this life isn’t fair, but this life isn’t all there is! So get over it and get under the cross! Start living a life under the cross where you can laugh at the things that ought to scare you. Jesus is a fearless lover and what a lesson for all of us!

2. Jesus is a protective lover

This passage could be called Animal Planet because Jesus makes references to two different animals. He compared Herod and death to a fox, and He compared Himself to a mother hen. Look at verse 34 again. Jesus says, “Oh Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!” Can you hear the depth of passion and heartache in that cry? There are many pictures in the Bible that describe God’s nature and character: He is a rock, the door, a shepherd, the light… and there are many others. God’s character is so multi-faceted that none of these images fully communicate the richness of His nature. Each one gives us a small insight into how He wants to relate to us.

Have you ever thought of God as a mother hen? Jesus was standing over Jerusalem with His arms of love outstretched, but the Jews were unwilling to accept His love. Jerusalem will never have peace until they acknowledge the Prince of Peace. Now, I must admit, I have never raised chickens, and maybe some of you have, so you may know more about chickens than I do. But we can learn something about God by understanding a mother hen.

A hen constantly calls her chicks. Maybe you have been around a chicken yard and heard them clucking, and thought they were clucking just to hear themselves cluck. But each hen has a distinctive cluck and clucks constantly, so her chicks can find her. Her chicks recognize her call. Jesus is constantly calling us to Himself as well. He says, “Come to Me all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). If we are wise, we will recognize and respond to the call of Jesus.

A hen calls them to feed. In every chicken yard there is a clearly established “pecking order.” The most dominant chickens get the first chance at food. As you can imagine, little chicks are pretty far down the pecking order. That’s why we are told to “stay right in the center” of God’s love. Like those little chicks Jesus spoke of, we should stay under the protective wings of God. We should be like a little child running to a parent with our arms outstretched and open—and get into the zone of His blessing and grace. Some of you are Christians and God loves you, but you have left the shelter of His love. Today, you can come back to Him and get back into the center of His love.

3. Jesus is a rejected lover

Verse 34 contains five of the saddest words in the Universe. Jesus said, “but you were not willing.” Jesus loves us so much He died for our sins. There is a heaven and a hell, and if a person lives their entire life rejecting His love, they will spend eternity in hell. I suspect He will say to each person who goes to hell, “I wanted to protect you and shelter you like a hen protects her chicks… but you were not willing.”

I can understand how Jesus’ heart was broken because His Jewish brothers and sisters rejected Him. The Bible says, “He came to that which was His own, but his own did not receive Him” (John 1:11). When I was in the eighth grade, there was a girl who rejected my love—and the result was only a minor broken heart. But the consequences of rejecting Jesus’ love are much more severe. Any person who rejects God’s love will experience spiritual desolation. When I think of the word “desolate,” I imagine a dry, barren desert where there is no shade and no water. I’ve known people, and perhaps you are one of them, who are experiencing spiritual desolation. There are no springs of living water bubbling up in their personalities. There is no fruit, no joy, no peace—only barrenness and desolation. Are you there?

The most amazing thing Jesus said in this passage is that we have the power to choose. Those last four words in verse 34 are some of the most powerful words in the universe. Jesus says to us, “I will love you and shelter you like a mother hen protects her chicks if you are willing.” You have the power to choose. When you choose to change the direction of your life, that’s called repentance. Have you ever repented and accepted Jesus’ love?

Today, Jesus invites you to run under His wings of safety and warmth. Some of you are Christians who left the circle of His love. He never stopped loving you, but you have vacated that zone of blessing. Will you move back to a position of obedience, so He can bless you? Others of you need to accept His love for the first time. Will you do that? If you choose not to receive His offer of love, for you He is still Jesus, the unwelcomed lover.

5 Reasons Why People Doubt Their Salvation

doubtI am confident of this: that He who started a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6).

The Bible teaches not only does Jesus save us, but He keeps us in the faith. It teaches God not only gives eternal life, but will preserve us in that life. It is not life until we sin again, it is not life until we feel differently, it is not life until times get tough and our faith grows weak, it is eternal life which will never end. Scripture is filled with the assurance that our salvation is secure.

Many people, however, tend to doubt their salvation. Here are five reasons why:

1. They have a faulty understanding of how they are saved.

If a person thinks he is saved by good works, then it stands to reason he would think his salvation could be lost by bad works. This is the problem with many people today. They feel they can lose their salvation. They say, “If I could earn it, I could lose it. If I could deserve it, I could desert it.” But this is incorrect. The truth of the matter is since we cannot earn it, since it is a gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast, then we did not deserve it in the first place.

This is why a proper theological understanding of salvation is important. God chose to save us, not based on our merits or what we deserved. Rather, He chose to save us in spite of who we are and contrary to what we deserved. Salvation is based on His goodness and grace, not on our merit. When we get a proper understanding of that, when we get a clear picture of how bad our sins are and how great God’s grace is, it will give us a new and deeper appreciation for our salvation.

2. They do not have a biblical understanding of perseverance.

Instead of realizing what God has said and trusting He will be faithful to His Word, many people have based their beliefs on what someone has told them, how they feel, on faulty interpretation, or something other than the revelation in God’s Word. This is the fundamental problem with all doctrinal error, that people have not rightly divided the Word of God and have based their belief on a view which is not biblical.

Many people base their beliefs on experience. They might say something like this: “I knew a person who was a great Christian for many years, but then one day he decided to walk away from the faith and leave God behind. He just laid down his salvation and abandoned God.” Scripture gives insight into such cases: “They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us” (1 John 2:19). If we are truly saved, we will persevere in our salvation to the end.

3. They are ignorant of God’s promises in His Word.

The level of biblical illiteracy today is astonishing. Many professing Christians know more about their favorite sports teams than they do the doctrines of the faith. It is no wonder why so many of us are so easily led astray by every wind of doctrine which blows across the ecclesiological landscape.

The antidote for this is simple: get grounded and rooted in the Word of God, and learn what it says about who God is. God’s Word tells us He gives eternal life: “Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know you have eternal life” (1 John 5:12-13).

4. They are out of fellowship with God and do not sense His presence.

There are many Christians today who experience doubts about their salvation for no other reason than they are out of fellowship with God. Our salvation is all about relationship. It is about walking and talking, breathing and being; it is about practicing the presence of God in our lives. But many Christians have allowed sin to remain in their lives, unconfessed and unaddressed. They have grieved the Holy Spirit of God and are no longer sensitive to His presence in their lives, nor are they aware of His movement around them. It is little wonder why people in such a state doubt their salvation.

The solution for this is simple: Get right with God. “My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an Advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:1-2).

5. They are not saved and sense they are lost because they really are.

One of the reasons people doubt their salvation is simply because they are not saved. They may have knowledge of the church. They may have knowledge of Scripture. They may have grown up in a Christian home, surrounded by Christian friends and family, but at the end of the day, they cannot say they have ever experienced a transformation of their life, the kind of transformation which only Jesus can bring when He gives a person a new heart and a new mind.

It is to this end that Paul tells the Christians at Corinth: “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test?” (2 Corinthians 13:5). The reason many people will go to hell from a church pew is because they never gave themselves a spiritual examination. They never stopped to consider whether or not they were really saved. If you are truly saved, you should know it. God does not want you to be paralyzed by fear or doubts, which are ungrounded or unfounded.

The solution is clear: know what God’s Word says about your salvation. Stand on the truth that it is Jesus who saves you and not anything you have done. Ground yourself in good doctrine. Remember your salvation is a reflection and an extension of God’s character. Let Him show you if there is any sin in your life and stop for a moment to examine yourself spiritually to see if you are truly in the faith: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

* If you enjoyed this, I encourage you to read more in my book, Back to the Basics: A Guide for Christian Living.

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Effective Prayer (James 5:13–20)

Effective PrayerThe gift of speech is a marvelous blessing, if it is used to the glory of God. Prayer is certainly a high and holy privilege. As God’s children, we can come freely and boldly to His throne and share with Him our needs! The mature Christian is prayerful in the troubles of life. Instead of complaining about his situation, he talks to God about it, and God hears and answers his prayers. Perhaps one of the greatest weaknesses in the average church today is in the area of prayer. The reason for this weakness may be traced to insensitivity. James encourages us to pray by describing four situations in which God answers prayer:

1. Prayer for the Suffering (5:13)

As God’s people go through life, they often must endure difficult circumstances that are not the result of sin or the chastening of God. Suffering should elicit prayer. The greatest assistance any believer can offer another is faithful prayer. Prayer is clear evidence of care. Prayer is the “hotline” to the One who can provide for any need no matter how complex or impossible it may seem. To share in prayer, a believer must have sensitivity to someone’s needs, engage in diligent supplication for those needs, and recognize the significance of those needs.

What should we do when we find ourselves in such trying circumstances? We must not grumble and criticize those who are having an easier time of it; nor should we blame the Lord. We should pray, asking God for the wisdom we need to understand the situation and use it to His glory. Prayer can remove affliction, if that is God’s will, but prayer can also give us the grace we need to endure troubles and use them to accomplish God’s perfect will (Read: Turning Trials into Triumphs).

2. Prayer for the Sick (5:14–16)

A great deal of misunderstanding has resulted from these verses. Some teach that full physical health is always just a prayer away, but James was not giving a blanket formula for healing the sick in these verses.

The heart of the problem lies in just what James meant when he referred to the “sick.” What did he mean? He was not referring to physical illness, but rather weak faith. James wrote to those who had grown weary, who had become weak both morally and spiritually in the midst of suffering. These are the ones who “should call” for the help of “the elders of the church.”

The church leaders were instructed to encourage the timid and help the weak. The “prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well [restore him from discouragement and spiritual defeat] and the Lord will raise him up.” That the restoration is spiritual, not physical, is further clarified by the assurance, “if he has sinned, he will be forgiven.”

Many physically ill Christians have called on elders to pray for them and to anoint them with oil, but a sizable percentage of them have remained sick. This fact suggests the passage may have been mistakenly understood as physical restoration rather than spiritual restoration. Those who claim God heals every case, and it is not His will for His children to be sick are denying both Scripture and experience. But where we have the inner conviction from the Word and the Spirit that it is God’s will to heal, then we can pray “the prayer of faith” and expect God to work (Read: My Testimony).

The conclusion is clear: “therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other.” A mutual concern for one another is the way to combat discouragement and downfall. The cure is in personal confession and prayerful concern. The healing is not bodily healing, but healing of the soul.

3. Prayer for the Nation (5:17–18)

When wicked King Ahab and Queen Jezebel led Israel away from the Lord and into the worship of Baal, God punished the nation by holding back the rain they needed (1 Kings 17–18). For three and one half years the earth was dry and unable to produce the crops so necessary for life.

Then Elijah challenged the priests of Baal on Mt. Carmel. All day long the priests cried out to their god, but no answer came. Elijah prayed once and fire came from heaven to consume the sacrifice. He had proven Jehovah is the true God.

But the nation still needed rain. Elijah went to the top of Mt. Carmel and fell down before the Lord in prayer. “He prayed earnestly [persistently].” He continued to pray for rain until his servant reported “a cloud the size of a man’s hand.” There was a great rain and the nation was saved.

Too many times, we fail to get what God promises because we stop praying. It is true we are not heard “for our much praying” (Matt. 6:7); but there is a difference between vain repetitions and true believing persistence in prayer.

Elijah prayed for his nation and God answered his prayer. We need to pray for our nation today, that God will bring conviction and revival, and “showers of blessing” will come to the land.

4. Prayer for the Wandering (5:19–20)

These verses deal with our ministry to a fellow believer who wanders from the truth and gets into sin. Those who have lost their way are the “sick ones” in the church family.

To wander suggests a gradual moving away from the will of God. The Old Testament term for this is “backsliding.” Sad to say, we see this tragedy occurring in our churches regularly. Sometimes a brother is “overtaken in a fault” (Gal. 6:1); but usually the sin is the result of slow, gradual spiritual decline.

Believers have a responsibility to fellow-believers who stray. The wandering one needs to be turned back to the Lord and brought back to the fold. A wandering believer cannot move ahead again on the path toward spiritual maturity until he or she is restored. James urges fellow-believers to get in their way, head them off, and turn them back. The rescue action is of great significance!

Many of us must admit when we see a Christian straying, we have a tendency to excuse ourselves from responsibility by saying, “It’s none of my business.” Or we think our responsibility begins and ends with praying for the backslidden. But James instructs us to lovingly confront them with their straying and tenderly call them back to the Lord.

If we are going to help a wandering brother or sister, we must have an attitude of love, for “love will cover over a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8). This does not mean love “sweeps the dirt under the carpet.” Where there is love, there must also be truth (“speaking the truth in love,” says Paul in Eph. 4:15); and where there is truth, there is honest confession of sin and cleansing from God. Love not only helps the offender to face his sins and deal with them, but love also assures the offender that those sins, once forgiven, are remembered no more.

* This brings us to the end our series in James. I hope and pray you have enjoyed and benefitted from this study as much as I have.

The Power of Patience: Part 2 (James 5:7-12)

Job2James knew his readers needed patience. They were facing persecution because of their faith. In Part 1, we saw two examples of patient endurance: the farmer and the prophets. Today, we will look at the third example.

Job (James 5:11)

As you know, we count as blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.

You cannot persevere unless there is a trial in your life. There can be no victories without battles; there can be no peaks without valleys. If we want the blessing, we must be prepared to carry the burden and fight the battle.

I once heard a young Christian pray, “Lord, please teach me the deep truths of Your Word! I want to be lifted up to the heavens to hear and see the wonderful things that are there!” It was a sincere prayer, but the young man did not realize what he was praying. Paul went to the “third heaven” and learned things too marvelous for words; and as a result, God had to give Paul a thorn in the flesh to keep him humble (2 Cor. 12:1–10). God has to balance privileges with responsibilities, blessings with burdens, or else you and I will become spoiled, pampered children.

When do “blessings” come? In the midst of trials we may experience God’s blessings, as did the three Hebrew children in the fiery furnace (Dan. 3); but James taught there is a blessing after we have endured. His example was Job.

The Book of Job is a long book and the chapters are filled with speeches that, to the Western mind, seem long and tedious. In the first three chapters is Job’s distress: he loses his wealth, his family (except for his wife, who told him to commit suicide), and his health. In chapters 4–31, we read Job’s defense, as he debates with his three friends and answers their false accusations. Chapters 38–42 present Job’s deliverance: first God humbles Job, and then He honors Job and gives him twice as much as he had before.

In studying the experience of Job, it is important to remember Job did not know what was going on “behind the scenes” between God and Satan. Job’s friends accused him of being a sinner and a hypocrite. “There must be some terrible sin in your life,” they argued, “or God would never have permitted this suffering.” Job disagreed with them and maintained his innocence (but not perfection) during the entire conversation. The friends were wrong: God had no cause against Job (Job 2:3) and in the end, God rebuked the friends for telling lies about Job (Job 42:7).

It is difficult to find a greater example of suffering than Job. Circumstances were against him. He lost his wealth and his health. He also lost his beloved children. His wife was against him, for she said, “Curse God and die” (Job 2:9). His friends were against him, for they accused him of being a hypocrite, deserving of the judgment of God. It even seemed like God was against him! When Job cried out for answers to his questions, there was no reply from heaven.

Yet, Job endured. Satan predicted Job would get impatient with God and abandon his faith, but that did not happen. While it is true Job questioned God’s will, he did not forsake his faith in the Lord. “Though He slay me, I will hope in Him. Nevertheless, I will defend my ways before Him” (Job 13:15). Job was so sure of God’s perfections that he persisted in arguing with Him, even though he did not understand all God was doing. That is endurance.

God made a covenant with Israel that He would bless them if they would obey His Laws (Deut. 11). This led to the idea that, if you were wealthy and comfortable, you were blessed of God; but if you were suffering and poor, you were cursed of God. When Jesus said it is difficult for a rich man to enter heaven the disciples were shocked. “Who, then, can be saved?” they asked (Matt. 19:23–26). “The rich are especially blessed of God,” they were saying. “If they can’t make it, nobody can!” Sad to say, many people have that same erroneous idea today.

The Book of Job refutes that idea, for Job was a righteous man and yet he suffered. God found no evil in him and even Satan could not find any. Job’s friends could not prove their accusations. Job teaches us God has higher purposes in suffering than the punishing of sin. Job’s experience paved the way for Jesus, the perfect Son of God who suffered, not for His own sins, but for the sins of the world.

In Job’s case, what was “the end purpose of the Lord”? To reveal Himself as full of pity and tender mercy. Certainly, there were other results from Job’s experience, for God never wastes the sufferings of His saints. Job met God in a new and deeper way (Job 42:1–6), and, after that, he received greater blessings from the Lord.

“But if God is so merciful,” someone may argue, “why didn’t He protect Job from all that suffering to begin with?” To be sure, there are mysteries to God’s working that our finite minds cannot fathom; but this we know: God was glorified and Job was purified through this difficult experience. If there is nothing to endure, you cannot learn endurance.

What did Job’s story mean to the believers James wrote to and what does it mean to us today? It means that some of the trials of life are caused directly by satanic opposition. God permits Satan to try His children, but He always limits the extent of the enemy’s power (Job 1:12; 2:6). When you find yourself in the fire, remember God keeps His gracious hand on the thermostat! “But He knows the way I take; when He has tested me, I will come forth as gold” (Job 23:10).

Satan wants us to get impatient with God, for an impatient Christian is a powerful weapon in the devil’s hands. You will recall from our study of James 1 that Moses’ impatience robbed him of a trip to the Holy Land; Abraham’s impatience led to the birth of Ishmael, the enemy of the Jews; and Peter’s impatience almost made him a murderer. When Satan attacks us, it is easy for us to get impatient, and run ahead of God and lose God’s blessing as a result.

What is the answer? “My grace is sufficient for you!” (2 Cor. 12:7–9) Paul’s thorn in the flesh was a “messenger of Satan.” Paul could have fought it, given up under it, or tried to deny the thorn existed; but he did not. Instead, he trusted God for the grace he needed and he turned Satan’s weapon into a tool for the building up of his own spiritual life.

When you find yourself in the furnace, go to the throne of grace and receive from the Lord all the grace you need to endure (Heb. 4:14–16). Remind yourself the Lord has a gracious purpose in all of this suffering, and He will work out His purposes in His time and for His glory. You are not a robot caught in the jaws of fate. You are a loving child of God, privileged to be a part of a wonderful plan. There is a difference!

“Be patient, for the coming of the Lord is near!”

The Power of Patience: Part 1 (James 5:7–12)

PlantJames is still addressing the suffering saints when he writes, “Be patient.” This is his counsel at the beginning of his letter (1:1–5) and is still his counsel at the end of his letter. He knows God is not going to right all the wrongs in this world until Jesus returns, so we must patiently endure—and expect.

Three times James reminds us of the coming of the Lord (5:7–9). This is the “blessed hope” of the Christian (Titus 2:13). We do not expect to have everything easy and comfortable in this present life. “In the world you will have tribulation” (John 16:33). Paul told his converts, “We must go through much tribulation to enter into the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). We must patiently endure hardships and heartaches until Jesus returns.

But the question we must answer is: How can we as Christians experience this kind of patient endurance as we wait for the Lord to return? To answer that question, James gave three encouraging examples of patient endurance.

The Farmer (James 5:7–9)

Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near. Don’t grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!

If a man is impatient, then he had better not become a farmer. No crop appears overnight (except perhaps a crop of weeds) and no farmer has control over the weather. Too much rain can cause the crop to rot, too much sun can burn it up, and an early frost can kill the crop. How long-suffering the farmer must be with the weather! He must also have patience with the seed because it takes time for plants to grow. He has to wait many weeks for his seed to produce fruit.

Why does he willingly wait so long? Because the fruit is “precious” (v. 7). The harvest is worth waiting for. “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (Gal. 6:9).

James pictures the Christian as a “spiritual farmer” looking for a spiritual harvest. Our hearts are the soil and the “seed is the Word of God” (Luke 8:11). There are seasons to the spiritual life just as there are seasons to the soil. Sometimes, our hearts become cold and “wintry,” and the Lord has to “plow them up” before He can plant the seed (Jer. 4:3). He sends the sunshine and the rains of His goodness to water and nurture the seeds planted; but we must be patient to wait for the harvest.

Here, then, is a secret of endurance when the going is tough: God is producing a harvest in our lives. He wants the “fruit of the Spirit” to grow (Gal. 5:22–23), and the only way He can do it is through trials and troubles. Instead of growing impatient with God and with ourselves, we must yield to the Lord and permit the fruit to grow. We are “spiritual farmers” looking for a harvest.

You can enjoy this kind of harvest only if your heart is established (James 5:8). The ministry of the Word of God and prayer are important if the heart is going to be established. Paul sent Timothy to Thessalonica to establish the young Christians in their faith (1 Thes. 3:1–3); and Paul also prayed for them that they might be established (1 Thes. 3:10–13). A heart that is not established cannot bear fruit.

Keep in mind the farmer does not stand around doing nothing: he is constantly at work as he looks toward the harvest. James does not tell these suffering believers to put on white robes, climb a hill, and wait for Jesus to return. “Keep working and waiting” was his admonition. “Blessed is that servant whom the Lord finds doing so when He returns” (Luke 12:43).

Nor does the farmer get into fights with his neighbors. One of the usual marks of farmers is their willingness to help one another. Nobody on the farm has time or energy for disputes with the neighbors. James must have had this in mind when he added, “Don’t grumble against each other, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged” (v. 9). Impatience with God often leads to impatience with God’s people and this is a sin we must avoid. If we start using the sickles on each other, we will miss the harvest!

The Prophets (James 5:10)

Brothers and sisters, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.

A Jewish congregation would understand this simple reference James made to the Old Testament prophets. These men were well known for suffering wrong when they had done no wrong. They were harshly treated for faithfully declaring the Word of God. James alluded to such prophets to urge his readers to be patient when they themselves were suffering for doing good. In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus also used the prophets as an example of victory over persecution (Matt. 5:10–12).

What encouragements do we receive from their example? For one thing, they were in the will of God, yet they suffered. They were preaching “in the name of the Lord,” yet they were persecuted. Satan tells the faithful Christian his suffering is the result of sin or unfaithfulness; yet his suffering might well be because of faithfulness! “Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted,” (2 Tim. 3:12). We must never think obedience automatically produces ease and pleasure. Our Lord was obedient and it led to death!

The prophets encourage us by reminding us God cares when we go through sufferings for His sake. Elijah announced to wicked King Ahab there would be a drought in the land for three and one half years; and Elijah himself had to suffer in that drought. But God cared for him and God gave him victory over the evil priests of Baal. It has been said, “The will of God will never lead you where the grace of God cannot keep you.”

Many of the prophets had to endure great trials and sufferings, not only at the hands of unbelievers, but at the hands of professed believers. Jeremiah was arrested as a traitor and even thrown into an abandoned well to die. God fed Jeremiah and protected him throughout the terrible siege of Jerusalem, even though at times it looked as though the prophet was going to be killed. Both Ezekiel and Daniel had their share of hardships, but the Lord delivered them.

Why is it that those who “speak in the name of the Lord” often must endure difficult trials? It is so their lives might back up their messages. The impact of a faithful, godly life carries much power. We need to remind ourselves our patience in times of suffering is a testimony to others around us.

This example James used from the Old Testament prophets ought to encourage us to spend more time in the Bible, getting acquainted with these heroes of the faith. “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Rom. 15:4). The better we know the Bible the more God can encourage us in the difficult experiences of life. The important thing is that, like the farmer, we keep working and, like the prophets, we keep witnessing, no matter how trying our circumstances may be.

In Part 2, we will look at the third example of patient endurance: Job.

Money Talks (James 5:1-6)

Money“If money talks,” said a popular comedian, “all it ever says to me is good-bye!”

But money was not saying “good-bye” to the men James addressed in this section of his letter. These men were rich and their riches were sinful. They were using their wealth for selfish purposes and were persecuting the poor in the process.

James sounded a warning to the rich oppressors. We can divide his exhortation into two parts:

The heavy price tag attached to misused wealth (James 5:1–3)

Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries which are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments have become moth-eaten. Your gold and your silver have rusted; and their rust will be a witness against you and will consume your flesh like fire. It is in the last days you have stored up your treasure!

Misused wealth leads to miseries! James could see those miseries coming towards his readers and described the consequences of misusing riches.

Riches will vanish (vv. 2-3a)

It is a great mistake to think there is security in wealth. Paul wrote, “Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches” (1 Tim. 6:17). Riches are uncertain. The money market fluctuates from hour to hour and so does the stock market. Add to this the fact that life is brief and we cannot take wealth with us, and you can see how foolish it is to live for the things of this world.

Misused riches erode character (v. 3)

“Their corrosion … will eat your flesh like fire.” This is a present judgment: the poison of wealth has infected them and they are being eaten alive.

Of itself, money is not sinful; it is neutral. But “the love of money is the root of all evil” (1 Tim. 6:10). Abraham was a rich man, but he maintained his faith and character. When Lot became rich, it ruined his character and ultimately ruined his family. “If riches increase, do not set your heart upon them” (Ps. 62:10).

Judgment is certain (vv. 3, 5)

James not only saw a present judgment (their wealth decaying, their character eroding), but also a future judgment before God. Jesus Christ will be the Judge (James 5:9) and His judgment will be righteous.

Misused wealth will cause pain in the future. Those who make riches the primary thing in this life and live without regard to God will be keenly aware of their folly. Their memory of living for wealth when they could have lived for God will bite and burn like fire!

They will realize they have “stored up treasure in the last days.” In eternity, they will see they accumulated wealth as if they would live forever, but all the while they were living the last days of their lives. They were speeding towards eternity while they were amassing their riches.

The Day of Judgment is a serious thing. The lost will stand before Christ at the Great White Throne (Rev. 20:11–15). The saved will stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ (Rom. 14:10–12; 2 Cor. 5:9–10). God will not judge our sins, because they have already been judged on the cross; but He will judge our works and our ministry. If we have been faithful in serving and glorifying Him, we will receive a reward; if we have been unfaithful, we will lose our reward but not our salvation (1 Cor. 3:1–15).

The loss of a precious opportunity (v. 3)

“The last days” indicates James believed the coming of the Lord was near (see James 5:8–9). We must “make the most of every opportunity” (Eph. 5:16) and work while it is day (John 9:4). Think of all the good that could have been accomplished with that hoarded wealth. There were poor people in that congregation who could have been helped (James 2:1–6). There were workers who deserved their wages. Sad to say, in a just few years after this letter was written the Jewish nation was defeated and scattered, and Jerusalem destroyed.

It is possible to be “poor in this world” (James 2:5) and yet rich in the next world. It is also possible to be “rich in this world” (1 Tim. 6:17) and poor in the next world. The return of Jesus Christ will make some people poor and others rich, depending on the spiritual condition of their hearts. “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matt. 6:21).

Manifestations of misused wealth (James 5:3–6)

It is in the last days that you have stored up your treasure! Behold, the pay of the laborers who mowed your fields, and which has been withheld by you, cries out against you; and the outcry of those who did the harvesting has reached the ears of the Lord. You have lived luxuriously on the earth and led a life of wanton pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. You have condemned and put to death the righteous man; he does not resist you.

Hoarding (v. 3)

James warns his readers they have “stored up treasure.” Hoarding takes place when we continue to accumulate above and beyond that which is necessary. What a tragedy it is to see people “store up treasures for the last days” instead of “laying up treasures in heaven.”

What did Jesus mean by “laying up treasures in heaven”? Did He mean we should “sell everything and give to the poor” as He instructed the rich young ruler? I think not. He spoke that way to the rich ruler because greed was the young man’s besetting sin and Jesus wanted to expose it. To lay up treasures in heaven means to use all we have as stewards of God’s wealth. You and I may possess many things, but we do not own them. God is the Owner of everything and we are His stewards.

The Bible does not discourage saving or even investing, but it does condemn hoarding. What we possess and use are merely things apart from the will of God. When we yield to His will and use what He gives us to serve Him, then things become treasures and we are investing in eternity. What we do on earth is recorded in heaven, and God keeps the books and pays the interest.

Depriving workers of their rightful wages (v. 4)

The Law consistently condemns fraudulent treatment of workers (Lev. 19:13; Deut. 24:14–15). The rich would certainly not have been hurt by paying the wages they owed. They had plenty from which to pay! But the workers, who lived from day to day and from hand to mouth, were hurt tremendously by not getting paid.

James depicts the seriousness of the matter in terms of two cries going up to God. The first is the cry of the unpaid wages. James pictures them sitting there in the bank and crying out to God because they have not been sent to those to whom they should have gone. The second is the cry of the workers themselves. It is the cry of anguish, as they sit down with their families to eat a crust of bread or nothing at all when they could have been eating a decent meal.

Wallowing in luxury and self-indulgence (v. 5)

There is a great difference between enjoying what God has given us (1 Tim. 6:17) and living extravagantly on what we have withheld from others. Even if what we have has been earned lawfully and in the will of God, we must not waste it on selfish living. There are too many needs to be met.

Luxury has a way of ruining character. It is a form of self-indulgence. If you match self-indulgence with wealth the result is sin; but if you match character with wealth, you can produce much good. The rich man Jesus described in Luke 16:19–31 would have felt right at home with the rich men James wrote to!

Murdering the innocent (v. 6)

We are not to picture any of James’s readers going out with swords to hack people to death. James has something far more subtle in mind—but just as deadly! James is referring to judicial “murder”—primarily referring to taking away the means of making a living.

The rich controlled the courts. “Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court?” (James 2:6). The poor could not oppose them because they had no way to use the system and thus were helpless.

James’ words about murdering the just who do not resist make us think about the Lord Jesus Christ. Although He was just in every way, He was murdered. Although He certainly had the power to resist, He did not. He willingly submitted to unjust treatment, so He could provide eternal salvation for sinners.

Yes, money talks. What will it say to you at the last judgment?

To Think About and Discuss:

  • What are some of the indications that people have become obsessed with material things in the world around us? in the church?

3 Attitudes Toward the Will of God: Part 2 (James 4:13–17)

trust-and-obeyIn Part 1, we looked at the first two attitudes toward God’s will: ignoring and disobeying. Today, we will look at the final attitude.

Obeying God’s Will (James 4:15)

Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”

“My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to finish His work” (John 4:34). Paul often referred to the will of God as he shared his plans with his friends (Rom. 1:10; 15:32; 1 Cor. 4:19; 16:7). Paul did not consider the will of God a chain that shackled him; rather, it was a key that opened doors and set him free.

God’s will for our lives is comparable to the laws He has built in the universe, with this exception: those laws are general, but the will He has planned for our lives is specifically designed for us. No two lives are planned according to the same pattern.

To be sure, there are some things that must be true of all Christians. It is God’s will we yield ourselves to Him (2 Cor. 8:5). It is God’s will we avoid sexual immorality (1 Thes. 4:3). All Christians should rejoice, pray, and thank God (1 Thes. 5:16–18). Every commandment in the Bible addressed to believers is part of the will of God and must be obeyed. But God does not call each of us to the same work in life, or to exercise the same gifts and ministry. The will of God is “tailor-made” for each of us!

It is important we have the right attitude toward the will of God. Some people think God’s will is a cold, impersonal machine. God starts it going and it is up to us to keep it functioning smoothly. If we disobey Him in some way the machine grinds to a halt and we are out of God’s will for the rest of our lives.

God’s will is not a cold, impersonal machine. You do not determine God’s will in some mechanical way, like getting a soft drink out of a vending machine. The will of God is a living relationship between God and the believer. This relationship is not destroyed when the believer disobeys, for the Father still deals with His child, even if He must chasten.

Rather than looking at the will of God as a cold, impersonal machine, I prefer to see it as a warm, growing, living body. If something goes wrong with my body, I don’t die: the other parts of the body compensate for it until I get that organ working properly again. There is pain; there is also weakness; but there is not necessarily death.

When you and I get out of God’s will, it is not the end of everything. We suffer, to be sure; but when God cannot rule, He overrules. Just as the body compensates for the malfunctioning of one part, so God adjusts things to bring us back into His will. You see this illustrated clearly in the lives of Abraham and Jonah.

The believer’s relationship to the will of God is a growing experience. First, we should know His will (Acts 22:14). The will of God is not difficult to discover. If we are willing to obey, He is willing to reveal (John 7:17). It has been said that “obedience is the organ of spiritual knowledge.” This is true. God does not reveal His will to the curious or the careless, but to those who are ready and willing to obey Him.

But we must not stop with merely knowing some of God’s will. God wants us to be “filled with the knowledge of His will and all wisdom and spiritual understanding” (Col. 1:9). It is wrong to want to know God’s will about some matters and ignore His will in other matters. Everything in our lives is important to God and He has a plan for each detail.

God wants us to understand His will (Eph. 5:17). This is where spiritual wisdom comes in. A child can know the will of his father, but he may not understand his will. The child knows the “what,” but not the “why.” As the “friends” of Jesus Christ, we have the privilege of knowing why God does what He does (John 15:15). “He made known His ways to Moses, His deeds to the people of Israel” (Ps. 103:7). The Israelites knew what God was doing, but Moses understood why He was doing it.

We must also prove God’s will (Rom. 12:2). The Greek verb means “to prove by experience.” We learn to determine the will of God by working at it. The more we obey the easier it is to discover what God wants us to do. It is something like learning to swim or play an instrument. You eventually “get the feel” of what you are doing and it becomes second nature to you.

People who keep asking, “How do I determine God’s will for my life?” may be announcing to everybody they have never really tried to do God’s will. You start with the thing you know you ought to do and you do that. Then God opens the way for the next step. You prove by experience what the will of God is. We learn both from successes and failures. “Take My yoke upon you and learn of Me” (Matt. 11:29). The yoke suggests doing things together, putting into practice what God has taught you.

Finally, we must do God’s will from the heart (Eph. 6:6). Jonah knew the will of God and (after a spanking) did the will of God; but he did not do it from his heart. Jonah 4 indicates the angry prophet did not love the Lord, nor did he love the people of Nineveh. He merely did God’s will to keep from getting another spanking!

What Paul said about giving can also be applied to living: “not grudgingly or of necessity, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor. 9:7). Grudgingly means “reluctantly, painfully.” Some people get absolutely no joy out of doing God’s will. Of necessity means “under compulsion.” They obey because they have to, not because they want to. Their heart is not in it.

The secret of a happy life is to delight in duty. When duty becomes delight, then burdens become blessings. “Your statutes have been my songs in my pilgrimage” (Ps. 119:54). When we love God, then His statutes become songs and we enjoy serving Him. When we serve God grudgingly or because we have to, we may accomplish His work, but we ourselves will miss the blessing. It will be toil, not ministry. But when we do God’s will from the heart, we are enriched, no matter how difficult the task might have been.

We must never think a failure in knowing or doing God’s will permanently affects our relationship with the Lord. We can confess our sins and receive His forgiveness (1 John 1:9). We can learn from the mistakes. The important thing is a heart that loves God and wants to sincerely do His will and glorify His name.

What are the benefits of doing the will of God? For one thing, we enjoy a deeper fellowship with Jesus Christ (Mark 3:35). We have the privilege of knowing God’s truth (John 7:17) and seeing our prayers answered (1 John 5:14–15). There is an eternal quality to the life and works of the one who does the will of God (1 John 2:15–17). Certainly, there is the expectation of reward at the return of Jesus Christ (Matt. 25:34).

Which of these three attitudes do you have toward the will of God? Do you totally ignore God’s will as you make your daily plans and decisions? Do you know God’s will, yet refuse to obey it? Each attitude is wrong, and can only bring sorrow and ruin to the life of the person who holds it.

But the Christian who knows, loves, and obeys the will of God will enjoy God’s blessing. His life may not be easier, but it will be holier and happier. His very food will be the will of God (John 4:34); it will be the joy and delight of his heart (Ps. 40:8).

3 Attitudes Toward the Will of God: Part 1 (James 4:13–17)

arroganceJames began chapter 4 talking about war with God and he ends it talking about the will of God. The two themes are actually related: when a believer is out of the will of God, he becomes a troublemaker and not a peacemaker.

Lot moved into Sodom and brought trouble to his family. David committed adultery and brought trouble to his family and his kingdom. Jonah disobeyed God and almost sent a shipload of heathen sailors into a watery grave. In each case, there was a wrong attitude toward the will of God.

That God would have a plan for each of our lives is an obvious truth. He is a God of wisdom and knows what ought to happen and when it should occur. As a God of love, He desires the very best for His children. Too many Christians look on the will of God as bitter medicine they must take, instead of seeing it as the gracious evidence of the love of God.

“I would give my life to the Lord, but I’m afraid,” a perplexed teenager told me at a youth conference.

“What are you afraid of?” I asked.

“I’m afraid God will ask me to do something dangerous!”

“The dangerous life is not in the will of God,” I replied, “but out of the will of God. The safest place in the world is right where God wants you.”

In this section of his letter, James pointed out three attitudes toward the will of God (of course, only one of them is the correct one, the one that every Christian ought to cultivate).

Ignoring God’s Will (James 4:13–14, 16)

Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes… As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil.

James was addressing the wealthy merchants in the assembly. There is no evidence they sought the will of God or prayed about their decisions; rather, they boasted about their plans. They measured success in life by how many times they got their own way and accomplished what they had planned. They were basically saying to God, “We know what You want us to do, but we are not going to do it. We know more about this than You do!”

James presented four arguments that reveal the foolishness of ignoring the will of God:

The complexity of life (v. 13). Think of all that is involved in life: today, tomorrow, buying, selling, gaining, losing, going here, going there. Life is made up of people and places, activities and goals, days and years; and each of us must make many crucial decisions day after day.

Apart from the will of God, life is a mystery. But when you know Jesus Christ as your Savior, and seek to do His will, then life starts to make sense. Even the physical world around you takes on new meaning. There is a simplicity and unity to your life that makes for poise and confidence. You are no longer living in a mysterious, threatening universe.

The uncertainty of life (v. 14a). These people were making plans for a whole year when they could not even see ahead into one day! Their attitude reminds us of the farmer in Jesus’ parable in Luke 12:16–21. The man had an abundant harvest; but his barns were too small, so he decided to build bigger barns and have greater security for the future. He said to himself, “I have plenty of grain laid up for many years. I will take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”

What was God’s reply to this man’s boasting? “You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you.” Life is not uncertain to God, but it is uncertain to us. Only when we are in His will can we be confident of tomorrow, for we know that He is leading us.

It is good to have goals, but goals will disappoint us if we leave God out of them. There is no point in making plans as if God does not exist because the future is in His hands. What would you like to be doing ten years from now? One year from now? Tomorrow? How will you react if God steps in and rearranges your plans? Plan ahead, but hold your plans loosely. Put God’s desires at the center of your planning; He will never disappoint you.

The brevity of life (v. 14b). This is one of the repeated themes of Scripture. To us, life seems long and we measure it in years; but in comparison to eternity, life is but a vapor. It is like the morning mist that lingers only in the early morning hours and vanishes when the sun rises. We count our years at each birthday, but God tells us to number our days (Ps. 90:12). We live one day at a time and those days rush by quickly the older we grow. Life is short no matter how many years we live. Don’t be deceived into thinking you have lots of remaining time to live for Christ, to enjoy your loved ones, or to do what you know you should.

Since life is so brief, we cannot afford merely to “spend our lives” and we certainly do not want to “waste our lives.” We must invest our lives in those things that are eternal. Live for God now! Then, no matter when your life ends, you will have fulfilled God’s plan for you.

God reveals His will in His Word, yet most people ignore the Bible. In the Bible, God gives precepts, principles, and promises that can guide us in every area of life. Knowing and obeying the Word of God is the surest way to success (Josh. 1:8; Ps. 1:3).

The frailty of man (v. 16). “As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil.” Man’s boasting only covers up man’s weakness. Man proposes, but God disposes. Man cannot control future events. He has neither the wisdom to see the future nor the power to control the future. For him to boast is sin; it is making himself a god. How foolish it is for people to ignore the will of God. It is like going through the dark jungle without a map or over the stormy sea without a compass.

Disobeying God’s Will (James 4:17)

If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.

We tend to think doing wrong is sin, but James tells us sin is also not doing right. (These two kinds of sins are sometimes called sins of commission and sins of omission.) These people know the will of God, but choose to disobey it. This attitude expresses even more pride than does the first: “It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them” (2 Peter 2:21).

Why do people who know the will of God deliberately disobey it? I have already suggested one reason: pride. Man likes to boast that he is the “master of his fate, the captain of his soul.” Man has accomplished so many marvelous things that he thinks he can do anything.

Another reason for disobedience is man’s ignorance of the nature of God’s will. He acts as though the will of God is something he can accept or reject. In reality, the will of God is not an option; it is an obligation. We cannot “take it or leave it.” Because He is the Creator and we are the creatures, we must obey Him. Because He is the Savior and Lord, and we are His children and servants, we must obey Him. To treat the will of God lightly is to invite the chastening of God in our lives.

Many people have the mistaken idea that the will of God is a formula for misery. Just the opposite is true! It is disobeying the Lord’s will that leads to misery. The Bible and human experience are both witnesses to this truth. Even if a disobedient Christian seems to escape difficulty in this life, what will he say when he faces the Lord? “The servant who knows the master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what the master wants will be beaten with many blows. But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows” (Luke 12:47–48).

What happens to Christians who deliberately disobey the known will of God? They are chastened by their loving Father until they submit (Heb. 12:5–11). If a professed believer is not chastened, it is evidence that he has never truly been born again, but is a counterfeit. God’s chastening is an evidence of His love, not His hatred. Just as we earthly fathers spank our children to help them learn respect and obedience, so our Heavenly Father chastens His own. Though chastening is hard to take, it has a comforting truth of sonship with it.

But there is also the danger of losing heavenly rewards. In 1 Corinthians 9:24–27, Paul compared the believer to a runner in the Greek races. In order to qualify for a crown, he had to obey the rules of the game. If any contestant was found to have disobeyed the rules, he was disqualified and humiliated. The word “disqualified” in 1 Corinthians 9:27 does not refer to the loss of salvation, but the loss of reward. Disobeying God’s will today may not seem a serious thing, but it will appear very serious when the Lord returns and examines our works (Col. 3:22–25).

Don’t count on your time. It is passing! Don’t count on your possessions. They will soon belong to someone else. Don’t count on your career. It will soon be over. But count on this: eternity is rapidly approaching and only those who have taken refuge in Jesus Christ can face it.

In Part 2, we will look at the third attitude toward God’s will.

At War with God (James 4:4–10)

fleshPreviously, we saw there are wars happening within ourselves and wars happening with each other. Today, we will discover the primary reason we are at war with ourselves and, consequently, with each other: we are at war with God. We will also discuss how this war can be stopped.

At War with God (James 4:4–10)

The root cause of every war, internal and external, is rebellion against God. At the beginning of Creation, mankind beheld perfect harmony, but sin came into the world and this led to conflict. Sin is lawlessness (1 John 3:4) and lawlessness is rebellion against God.

How does a believer declare war against God? By being friendly with God’s enemies. James names three enemies we must not fraternize with if we want to be at peace with God.

The world (v. 4). This means, of course, human society apart from God. The whole system of things in this society of ours is anti-Christ and anti-God. Abraham was the friend of God (James 2:23); Lot was the friend of the world. Lot ended up in a war and Abraham had to rescue him (Gen. 14).

Many pastors today are terrified at the thought of offending their people. But James did not concern himself with that. He called them “adulterers and adulteresses!” They were giving to someone else the love and devotion that belonged to God and God alone. Who was this rival lover? It was the world.

Dirty hands and defiled hearts! That’s the position many Christians are occupying these days. They go to places they ought not to go. They say things they ought not to say. They do things they ought not to do.

A Christian gets involved with the world gradually. First, there is “friendship with the world.” This results in being “spotted” by the world (James 1:27), so that areas of our lives meet with the approval of the world. Friendship leads to loving the world (1 John 2:15–17) and this makes it easy to conform to the world (Rom. 12:2). The sad result is being condemned with the world (1 Cor. 11:32) our souls saved “yet as by fire” (1 Cor. 3:11–15).

Friendship with the world is compared to adultery. The believer is “married to Christ” (Rom. 7:4) and ought to be faithful to Him. The Jewish Christians who read this letter would understand this picture of “spiritual adultery” because the Prophets Ezekiel, Jeremiah, and Hosea used it when rebuking Judah for her sins (Jer. 3:1–5; Ezek. 23; Hosea 1–2). By adopting the sinful ways of the other nations and by worshiping their gods the nation of Judah committed adultery against her God.

The world is the enemy of God and whoever wills to be a friend of the world cannot be the friend of God. Neither can he or she be if they live for the flesh, for this is the second enemy James named.

The flesh (vv. 1, 5). This refers to the old nature we inherited from Adam, that which is prone to sin. The flesh is not the body. The body is not sinful; the body is neutral. The Spirit may use the body to glorify God or the flesh may use the body to serve sin. When a sinner yields to Christ, he receives a new nature within him, but the old nature is neither removed nor reformed. For this reason, there is a battle within: “For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other so that you do not do what you want” (Gal. 5:17).

Living for the flesh means grieving the Holy Spirit of God who lives in us (v. 5). Just as the world is the enemy of God the Father, so the flesh is the enemy of God the Holy Spirit. There is a holy, loving jealousy that a husband and wife have over each other and rightly so. The Spirit within jealously guards our relationship to God and the Spirit is grieved when we sin against God’s love.

Living to please the old nature means to declare war against God. “The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so” (Rom. 8:7). To allow the flesh to control the mind is to lose the blessing of fellowship with God. Abraham had a spiritual mind; he walked with God and enjoyed peace. Lot had a carnal mind; he disobeyed God and experienced war. “The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace” (Rom. 8:6).

The devil (vv. 6–7). The world is in conflict with the Father; the flesh fights against the Holy Spirit; and the devil opposes the Son of God. Pride is Satan’s great sin and it is one of his chief weapons in his warfare against the saint and the Savior. God wants us to be humble; Satan wants us to be proud. “You will be like God,” Satan promised Eve and she believed him. A new Christian must not be put into places of spiritual leadership “lest being lifted up with pride he falls into the condemnation of the devil” (1 Tim. 3:6).

God wants us to depend on His grace, but the devil wants us to depend on ourselves. Satan is the author of all “do-it-yourself” spiritual enterprises. He enjoys inflating the ego and encouraging the believer to do it his own way. In spite of Jesus’ warnings about Satan’s plans, Peter fell into the snare, pulled out his sword, and tried to accomplish God’s will in his own way. What a mess he made of things!

One of the problems in our churches today is we have too many celebrities and not enough servants. Christian workers are promoted so much there is very little place left for God’s glory. Man has nothing to be proud of in himself. There dwells no good thing in us (Rom. 7:18); but when we trust Christ, He puts a “good thing” in us and makes us His children (2 Tim. 1:6, 14).

Here, then, are three enemies that want to turn us away from God: the world, the flesh, and the devil. These enemies are left over from our old life of sin (Eph. 2:1–3). Christ has delivered us from them, but they still attack us. How can we overcome them? How can we be the friends of God and the enemies of the world, the flesh, and the devil?

James gave three instructions to follow if we would enjoy peace instead of war:

Submit to God (v. 7). This word is a military term that means “get into your proper rank.” When a buck private acts like the general, there is going to be trouble! Unconditional surrender is the only way to complete victory. If there is any area of the life kept back from God, there will always be battles. This explains why uncommitted Christians cannot live with themselves or with other people.

Is there anything more vexing than a child who refuses to submit to his or her parents? When told to do something, the child obstinately refuses. When told not to do something, he immediately does it! We all detest rebellion in children, especially when we see it coming from children who have exceptionally good parents. God is our heavenly Father, yet we often rebel against Him.

“Do not give the devil a foothold,” cautions Paul in Ephesians 4:27. Satan needs a foothold in our lives if he is going to fight against God and we give him that foothold. The way to resist the devil is to submit to God.

After King David committed adultery with Bathsheba and killed her husband, he hid his sins for almost a year. There was war between him and God, and David had declared it. Read Psalms 32 and 51 to discover the high price David paid to be at war with God. When he finally submitted to God, David experienced peace and joy. Submission is an act of the will; it is saying, “Not my will but Thine be done.”

Draw near to God (v. 8). How do we do this? By confessing our sins and asking for His cleansing. “Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” The Greek word translated purify means “make chaste.” This parallels the idea of “spiritual adultery” in James 4:4.

The more we are like God, the nearer we are to God. I may be sitting in my living room with my cat on my lap and my wife may be twenty feet away in the kitchen; yet I am nearer to my wife than to the cat because the cat is unlike me. We have little in common.

God graciously draws near to us when we deal with the sin in our lives, which keep Him at a distance. He will not share us with anyone else; He must have complete control. The double-minded Christian can never be close to God. Again, Abraham and Lot come to mind. Abraham “drew near” and talked to God about Sodom (Gen. 18:23) while Lot moved into Sodom and lost the blessing of God.

Humble yourselves before God (vv. 9–10). “Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord and He will lift you up.” Few verses of Scripture are looked upon with less favor than these. This is the day of lightness and frivolity, a day in which we prize laughter so much that we have turned it into an idol. We prize it so much that we regard as good anything that makes us laugh.

James is not calling for his readers to be joyless and miserable. But he is clearly telling them that our sins are not things we should be laughing about. James wants us to be happy Christians, but he also wants us to understand that any joy which co-exists with a worldly spirit and practice, and includes the assurance of being right with God, is a dangerous mirage. Gloom is not a Christian characteristic, but mourning over our sin is. Why should we mourn over our sins? Because (1) they defy the authority of the God who has made us; (2) they grievously impede the work of the Lord; (3) they rob us of true joy.

It is possible to submit outwardly and yet not be humbled inwardly. God hates the sin of pride (Prov. 6:16–17) and He will chasten the proud believer until he is humbled. We have a tendency to treat sin too lightly, but sin is serious. One mark of true humility is facing the seriousness of sin and dealing with our disobedience. “A broken and contrite heart You, God, will not despise” (Ps. 51:17).

Sometimes we hear a believer pray, “O Lord, humble me!” That is a dangerous thing to pray. Far better that we humble ourselves before God, confess our sins, weep over them, and turn from them. “These are the ones I look on with favor: those who are humble and contrite in spirit, and who tremble at My word” (Isa. 66:2). “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Ps. 34:18).

We have looked, then, at James’s prescription for getting back to where we as Christians should be. If we obey these three instructions, then God will draw near to us, cleanse us, and forgive us; and the wars will cease! We will not be at war with God, so we will not be at war with ourselves. This means we will not be at war with others either. “And the work of righteousness will be peace; its effect will be quietness and assurance forever” (Isa. 32:17).

At War with Ourselves and Each Other (James 4)

Kids-FightingWar is a fact of life, in spite of treaties, world peace organizations, and the threat of atomic bombs. Not only are there wars between nations, but there are wars of one kind or another on almost every level of life—even “interpersonal wars” among those in the church! James discussed this important theme of war and explained there are three wars going on in the world. He also told how these wars could be stopped.

At War with Each Other (James 4:1a, 11–12)

“What causes fights and quarrels among you?” Among Christians! Surely, brethren should live together in love and harmony, yet often they do not. Lot caused a quarrel with his Uncle Abraham (Gen. 13). Absalom created a war for his father David (2 Sam. 13–18). Even the disciples created problems for the Lord when they argued over who was the greatest in the kingdom (Luke 9:46–48).

When you examine some of the early churches, you discover they had their share of disagreements. The members of the Corinthian church were competing with each other in the public meetings and even suing each other in court (1 Cor. 6:1–8; 14:23–40). The Galatian believers were “biting and devouring” one another (Gal. 5:15). Paul had to admonish the Ephesians to cultivate spiritual unity (Eph. 4:1–16); and even his beloved church at Philippi had problems: two women could not get along with each other (Phil. 4:1–3).

James mentioned several different kinds of disagreements among the saints:

Class wars (2:1–9). Here is that age-long rivalry between the rich and the poor. The rich man gets the attention; the poor man is ignored. The rich man is honored; the poor man is disgraced. How tragic it is when local churches get their values confused and cater to the rich while they ignore or even reject the poor. If fellowship in a church depends on such external things as clothing and economic status, then the church is out of the will of God.

Employment wars (5:1–6). Again, it is the rich man who has the power to control and hurt the poor man. Laborers do not get their wages or they do not get their fair wages. In spite of our modern labor movement and federal legislation, there are still many people who cannot get a good job or whose income is less than adequate for the work they are doing.

Church fights (1:19–20; 3:13–18). Apparently, the believers James wrote to were at war with each other over positions in the church, many of them wanting to be teachers and leaders. When they studied the Word, the result was not edification, but strife and arguments. Each person thought his ideas were the only right ideas and his ways the only right ways. Selfish ambition ruled their meetings, not spiritual submission.

Personal wars (4:11–12). The saints were speaking evil of one another and judging one another. Here, again, we see the wrong use of the tongue. Christians are to speak “the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15); they are not to speak evil in a spirit of rivalry and criticism. If the truth about a brother is harmful, then we should cover it in love and not repeat it (1 Peter 4:8). If he has sinned, we should go to him personally and try to win him back (Matt. 18:15–19; Gal. 6:1–2).

James was not forbidding us to use discrimination or even to evaluate people. Christians need to have discernment (Phil. 1:9–10), but they must not act like God in passing judgment. We must first examine our own lives and then try to help others (Matt. 7:1–5). We never know all the facts in a case and we certainly never know the motives that are at work in men’s hearts. To speak evil of a brother and to judge him on the basis of partial evidence and (probably) unkind motives is to sin against him and against God. We are not called to be judges; God is the only Judge. He is patient and understanding; His judgments are just and holy; we can leave the matter with Him.

It is unfortunate the saints are at war with each other: leader against leader, church against church, fellowship against fellowship. The world watches these religious wars and says, “Behold, how they hate one another!” No wonder Jesus prayed, “That all of them may be one, Father, just as You are in Me and I am in You. May they also be in Us so that the world may believe You have sent Me” (John 17:21).

But, why are we at war with one another? We belong to the same family; we trust the same Savior; we are indwelt by the same Holy Spirit—and yet we fight one another. Why? James answered this question by explaining the second war that is going on.

At War with Ourselves (James 4:1b–3)

“What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?” (v. 1) The war in the heart is helping to cause the wars in the church! “For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice” (James 3:16).

The essence of sin is selfishness. Eve disobeyed God because she wanted to eat of the tree and become wise like God (Gen. 3). Abraham lied about his wife because he selfishly wanted to save his own life (Gen. 12:10–20). Achan caused defeat to Israel because he selfishly took some forbidden loot from the ruins of Jericho (Josh. 7). “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way” (Isa. 53:6).

Often, we veil our religious quarrels under the disguise of “spirituality.” We are like Miriam and Aaron who complained about Moses’ wife, but who really were envious of Moses’ authority (Num. 12). Or we imitate James and John who asked for special thrones in the kingdom, when what we really want is recognition today (Mark 10:35–45). In both of these instances the result of selfish desire was chastening and division among God’s people. Miriam’s sin halted the progress of Israel for a whole week!

Selfish desires are dangerous things. They lead to wrong actions (“you kill, fight, and war,” v. 2) and they even lead to wrong praying (“When you ask, you do not receive because you ask with wrong motives that you may spend what you get on your pleasures,” James 4:3). When our praying is wrong, our whole Christian life is wrong. It has well been said that the purpose of prayer is not to get man’s will done in heaven, but to get God’s will done on earth.

“Thou shalt not covet” is the last of God’s Ten Commandments, but its violation can make us break all of the other nine! Covetousness can make a person murder, tell lies, dishonor his parents, commit adultery, and in one way or another violate all of God’s moral law. Selfish living and selfish praying always lead to war. If there is war on the inside, there will ultimately be war on the outside.

People who are at war with themselves because of selfish desires are always unhappy people. They never enjoy life. Instead of being thankful for the blessings they do have, they complain about the blessings they do not have. They cannot get along with other people because they are always envying others for what they have and do. They are always looking for that “magic something” that will change their lives when the real problem is within their own hearts.

Sometimes, we use prayer as a cloak to hide our true desires. “But I prayed about it!” can be one of the biggest excuses a Christian can use. Instead of seeking God’s will, we tell God what He is supposed to do and we get angry at Him if He does not obey. This anger at God eventually spills over and we get angry at God’s people. More than one church split has been caused by saints who take out their frustrations with God on the members of the church. Many church or family problems would be solved if people would only look into their own hearts and see the battles raging there.

In my next article, we will discover the primary reason we are at war with ourselves and, consequently, with each other: we are at war with God.

Man’s Wisdom Vs. God’s Wisdom: Part 3 (James 3:13–18)

man reading bibleIn Part 1, we learned there is a “heavenly wisdom” that comes from God and a “man-made wisdom” that comes from the world. In Part 2, we saw the contrast between the operation of God’s wisdom and the operation of the world’s wisdom. Today, we will look at the result of God’s wisdom versus the result of the world’s wisdom.

Contrast in Outcomes (James 3:16, 18)

For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find confusion and every evil practice… Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.

Origin determines outcome. Worldly wisdom will produce worldly results; spiritual wisdom will give spiritual results.

Worldly wisdom produces trouble (v. 16). “Envy, selfish ambition [strife], confusion, and evil works.” It does not appear God was at work in that assembly (in chapter 4, James would deal with the “wars and fighting” among the believers). Wrong thinking produces wrong living. One reason the world is in such a mess is because men have refused to accept the wisdom of God.

The word translated “confusion” means “disorder that comes from instability.” It is related to “unstable” in James 1:8 and “unruly” in James 3:8. Read 2 Corinthians 12:20 and you will get a description of a church that is confused. Jesus used this word to describe the convulsions of the world in the last days (Luke 21:9).

Jealousy, competition, selfish ambition—all of these contribute to confusion. The Tower of Babel in Genesis 11 is a good illustration of this fact. From man’s point of view the building of the tower was a wise thing, but from God’s viewpoint the project was stupid and sinful. The result? Confusion. Even today, we use the word “babel” to mean “confusion.”

Confusion sets the stage for “every evil work” (3:16). Evil here means “worthless, of no account.” It reminds us of the “wood, hay, and stubble” of 1 Corinthians 3:12. A ministry operating in the wisdom of this world may appear to be great and successful, but in the Day of Judgment it will burn up. The church at Smyrna thought it was poor, but the Lord said it was rich; while the “rich church” at Laodicea was declared to be poor (Rev. 2:9; 3:14–22).

The most important thing we can do in our local churches is measure our ministries by the Word of God, not by the wisdom of men. The many battles among Christians, the church splits, the absence of purity and peace, all suggest that something is wrong. Perhaps that “something” is the absence of the wisdom of God.

God’s wisdom produces blessing (v. 18). There is a vast difference between man-made results and God-given fruit. Fruit is the product of life and fruit has in it the seeds for more fruit. We usually speak of the seed that is sown, but here it is the fruit that is sown. As we share the fruit of God with others, they are fed and satisfied, and they in turn bear fruit.

The Christian life is a life of sowing and reaping. For that matter, every life is a life of sowing and reaping, and we reap just what we sow. The Christian who obeys God’s wisdom sows righteousness, not sin; he sows peace, not war. The life we live enables the Lord to bring righteousness and peace into the lives of others.

What we are is what we live and what we live is what we sow. What we sow determines what we reap. If we live in God’s wisdom, we sow righteousness and peace, and we reap God’s blessing. If we live in man’s worldly wisdom, we sow sin and war, and we reap “confusion and every evil work.”

It is a serious thing to be a troublemaker in God’s family. One of the sins God hates is that of sowing “discord among brethren” (Prov. 6:16–19). Lot followed the world’s wisdom and brought trouble to the camp of Abraham, but Abraham followed God’s wisdom and brought peace. Lot’s decision led to “good-for-nothing works,” and everything he lived for went up in smoke at the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham’s decision, in the wisdom of God, led to blessings for his own household and ultimately for the whole world (Gen. 13). “Blessed are those who find wisdom, those who gain understanding” (Prov. 3:13).

Man’s Wisdom Vs. God’s Wisdom: Part 2 (James 3:13–18)

understandingIn Part 1, we saw there is a “heavenly wisdom” that comes from God and a “man-made wisdom” that comes from the world. Today, we will look at the contrast between the operation of God’s wisdom and the world’s wisdom.

Contrast in Operations (James 3:13–14, 17)

Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth.

The wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.

The wisdom from above, God’s wisdom, operates in a different way from the world’s wisdom. Since they originate from radically different sources, they must operate in opposite ways. What are the evidences of false wisdom?

Envy (v. 14a). This word carries the meaning of selfish ambition and zeal. It ties in with James 3:1, where James warned them not to be ambitious for spiritual offices. The wisdom of the world says, “Promote yourself. You’re just as good as the other candidates, maybe better! The wheel that squeaks the loudest gets the grease.” Sad to say, there is a great deal of selfish, carnal promotion among God’s people. Even the Apostles argued over who was the greatest in the kingdom.

It is easy to go on an ego trip under the guise of spiritual zeal. The Pharisees used their religious activities to promote the praise of men (Matt. 6:1–18). We ought to be zealous in the things of the Lord, but we must be sure our motives are right. The wisdom of this world exalts man and robs God of glory. In 1 Corinthians 1:17, Paul discussed the wisdom of God and the wisdom of this world, and he explained why God works as He does: “so that no one may boast before Him” (1 Cor. 1:29). He concluded the section with the admonition, “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord” (1 Cor. 1:31).

Is our zeal for the Lord spiritual or carnal? Do we rejoice when others succeed, or do we have secret envy and criticism? Do we feel burdened when others fail or are we glad? When the wisdom of the world gets into the church, there is a great deal of fleshly promotion and human glorification. Beware!

Selfish ambition (v. 14b). This word means “party spirit.” It was used by the Greeks to describe a politician out canvassing for votes. The world’s wisdom says, “Get all the support you can! Ask the people in the church if they are for you or against you!” Of course, this spirit of self-seeking only creates rivalry and division in the church. “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves” (Phil. 2:3).

Boasting (v. 14c). Pride loves to boast and nothing is prouder than the wisdom of men. There is a way to report blessings so that God gets the glory, but there is also an approach that gives men the praise. It is tragic to see mutual admiration societies among God’s people. When God’s wisdom is at work, there is a sense of humility and submission, and you want God to get all the glory. You have no desire to compare yourself with any other Christian because you see only Christ—and compared with Him, all of us still have a long way to go!

Deceit (v. 14d). “Do not lie against the truth.” The sequence is not difficult to understand. First, there is selfish ambition that leads to strife and boasting. In order to “win the election,” we must resort to boasting; and boasting usually involves lies! A man’s life is not read in his press releases; it is read by the Lord in his heart. “Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God” (1 Cor. 4:5). What a relief it is to turn to the evidences of true spiritual wisdom!

What are the evidences of God’s wisdom?

Humility or Meekness (v. 13). Meekness is not weakness; it is power under control. The meek person does not selfishly assert himself. The Greek word was used for a horse that had been broken so that his power was under control. The meek person seeks only the glory of God and does not cater to the praises of men. Meekness is a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:23); it cannot be manufactured by man. There is a false humility that some people mistake for meekness, but it is only counterfeit. Meekness is the right use of power and wisdom is the right use of knowledge. They go together. The truly wise person will show in his “daily life” (behavior) that he is a child of God. Attitude and action go together.

Purity (v. 17a). “First pure” indicates the importance of holiness. God is holy; therefore the wisdom from above is pure. The idea behind this word is “chaste, free from defilement.” James used it again in James 4:8—“purify your hearts” or “make chaste your hearts.” God’s wisdom leads to purity of life. Man’s wisdom may lead to sin. There is a spiritual purity that results in a chaste relationship with the Lord (2 Cor. 11:3); and there is a worldliness that makes the person a spiritual adulterer (James 4:4).

Peace (v. 17b). Man’s wisdom leads to competition, rivalry, and war (James 4:1–2); but God’s wisdom leads to peace. It is a peace based on holiness, not on compromise. God never has “peace at any price.” The peace of the church is not more important than the purity of the church. If the church is pure, devoted to God, then there will be peace. “The fruit of that righteousness will be peace; its effect will be quietness and confidence forever” (Isa. 32:17). The church can never have peace by sweeping sins under the rug and pretending they are not there. Man’s wisdom says, “Cover up sin! Keep things together!” God’s wisdom says, “Confess sin and My peace will keep things together!”

Gentleness (v. 17c). A pastor translated this “sweet reasonableness.” This carries the meaning of moderation without compromise, gentleness without weakness. The gentle person does not deliberately cause fights, but neither does he compromise the truth in order to keep peace. Abraham Lincoln has been described as a man of “velvet steel.” That is a good description of gentleness.

Submissive or Compliant (v. 17d). God’s wisdom makes the believer agreeable, and easy to live with and work with. Man’s wisdom makes a person hard and stubborn. The compliant person is willing to hear all sides of a question, but he does not compromise his own convictions. He can disagree without being disagreeable. He is “quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry” (James 1:19). Many people think that stubbornness is conviction and they must have their own way. When God’s wisdom is at work, there is a willingness to listen, think, pray, and obey whatever God reveals. “Yielding to persuasion” is another translation of this word.

Full of Mercy (v. 17e). To be “full” of something means to be “controlled by.” The person who follows God’s wisdom is controlled by mercy. “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36). God in His grace gives us what we do not deserve and in His mercy, He does not give us what we do deserve. Our Lord’s Parable of the Good Samaritan illustrates the meaning of mercy (Luke 10:25–37). For a Samaritan to care for a Jewish stranger was an act of mercy. He could gain nothing from it, except the blessing that comes from doing the will of God; and the victim could not pay him back. That is mercy.

Good fruits (v. 17f). People who are faithful are fruitful. God’s wisdom does not make a life empty; it makes it full. The Spirit produces fruit to the glory of God (John 15:1–16). The lawyer in Luke 10:25–37 was willing to discuss the subject of neighborliness, but he was unwilling to be a neighbor and help someone else. God’s wisdom is practical; it changes the life and produces good works to the glory of God.

Decisive (v. 17g). The word suggests singleness of mind and is the opposite of “wavering” (James 1:6). When you lean on the world’s wisdom, you are pressured from one side and then another to change your mind or take a new viewpoint. When you have God’s wisdom, you need not waver; you can be decisive and not be afraid. Wisdom from above brings strength from above.

Sincerity (v. 17h). The Greek word translated hypocrite in our New Testament means “one who wears a mask, an actor.” When man’s wisdom is at work, there may be insincerity and pretense. When God’s wisdom is at work, there is openness and honesty, “speaking the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15). Wherever you find God’s people pretending and hiding, you can be sure the wisdom of this world is governing their ministry. “Religious politics” is an abomination to God. “Faith is living without scheming.”

There is quite a contrast between the operation of God’s wisdom and the operation of the world’s wisdom. It would be profitable for church officers and leaders to evaluate their own lives and their ministries in light of what James has written. While the local church is an organization, it cannot depend on the “Madison Avenue” methods that make secular businesses succeed. God’s ways and God’s thoughts are far above us! “What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us” (1 Cor. 2:12).

In Part 3, we will look at the contrast in outcomes between God’s wisdom and the wisdom of the world.

Man’s Wisdom Vs. God’s Wisdom: Part 1 (James 3:13-18)

road_to_wisdomWisdom was an important thing to Jewish people. They realized it was not enough to have knowledge; you had to have wisdom to be able to use that knowledge correctly. All of us know people who are very intelligent, perhaps almost geniuses, and yet who seemingly are unable to carry out the simplest tasks of life. They can run computers, but they cannot manage their own lives! “Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore, get wisdom” (Prov. 4:7).

James continued to exhort the people in the assembly who wanted to be teachers of the Word (James 3:1). It is not enough simply to stand before the people and say words; you must have something to say. This is where spiritual wisdom comes in. Knowledge enables us to take things apart, but wisdom enables us to put things together and relate God’s truth to daily life. All of us have heard preachers and teachers who say many good things, but who somehow miss the heart of God’s message and fail to relate truth to everyday life. It is this kind of “knowledge without wisdom” that James is writing about. He is contrasting true wisdom and false wisdom in three different aspects.

Contrast in Origins (James 3:15, 17a)

Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, sensual, and demonic.

But the wisdom that comes from heaven is…

The true wisdom comes from above, but the false wisdom comes from below. In other words, there is a “heavenly wisdom” that comes from God, and there is a “man-made wisdom” that does not come from God. Whatever does not come from God is destined to fail, no matter how successful it may seem at the time.

The Bible contains many examples of the folly of man’s wisdom. The building of the Tower of Babel seemed like a wise enterprise, but it ended in failure and confusion (Gen. 11:1–9). It seemed wise for Abraham to go to Egypt when famine came to Canaan, but the results proved otherwise (Gen. 12:10–20). King Saul thought it was wise to put his own armor on young David for the boy’s battle with Goliath, but God’s plan was otherwise (1 Sam. 17:38). The disciples thought it was wise to dismiss the great crowd and let them find their own food; but Jesus took a few loaves and fish and fed the multitude. The Roman “experts” in Acts 27 thought it was wise to leave port and set sail for Rome, even though Paul disagreed; and the storm that followed proved Paul’s wisdom was better than their expert counsel. They lived to regret it, but they lived!

There is a “wisdom of this world” (1 Cor. 1:20–21). Do not confuse the world’s knowledge and the world’s wisdom. Certainly, there is a great deal of knowledge in this world, and we all benefit from it; but there is not much wisdom. Man unlocks the secrets of the universe, but he does not know what to do with them. Almost everything he discovers or devises turns against him. Over a century ago, Henry David Thoreau warned that we had “improved means to unimproved ends.”

The world by its wisdom knew not God, and in its wisdom rejects the very Gospel of God. “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor. 1:18). Any person enamored with the wisdom of this world ought to read the first two chapters of 1 Corinthians and notice how much Paul has to say about God’s wisdom and man’s wisdom. Man’s wisdom is foolishness to God (1 Cor. 1:20) and God’s wisdom is foolishness to man (1 Cor. 2:14). Man’s wisdom comes from reason, while God’s wisdom comes from revelation. Man’s worldly wisdom will come to nothing (1 Cor. 1:19), while God’s wisdom will endure forever.

This false wisdom has another source: it is “sensual,” that is, “natural.” The Greek word is psukikos, which comes from the Greek word psuke meaning “life” or “soul.” Our English word “psychology” is derived from it. In 1 Corinthians 2:14; 15:44, 46, psukikos is translated “natural,” referring to the opposite of “spiritual.” In Jude 19 it is translated “sensual.” The main idea is that man’s fallen nature is opposed to the new nature given by God.

This “wisdom that is from beneath” is also “demonic.” Beginning with Genesis 3, where Satan successfully deceived Eve and continuing through the entire Bible, there is a “wisdom of Satan” at work, fighting against the wisdom of God. Satan convinced Eve that she would be like God. He told her the tree would make her wise. Ever since that event people have continued to believe Satan’s lies and have tried to become their own gods (Rom. 1:18–25). Satan is cunning; he is the old serpent! He has wisdom that will confound and confuse you if you do not know the wisdom of God.

In contrast to the wisdom that is earthly, sensual, and demonic, James describes a “wisdom that is from above” (3:17). “Every good and perfect gift is from above” (James 1:17). The Christian looks up to heaven for all he needs. His citizenship is in heaven (Phil. 3:20), just as his Father is in heaven (Matt. 6:9). His treasures are in heaven, not on earth (Matt. 6:19). He was born from above (John 3:1–7) when he trusted Jesus Christ. The believer’s home is in heaven (John 14:1–6) and his hope is in heaven. He sets his affection and attention on things above, not on earthly things (Col. 3:1–4).

What is the Christian’s wisdom? Does he look to the philosophies of this world? No! To begin with, Jesus Christ is our wisdom (1 Cor. 1:24, 30). In Jesus Christ “are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:3). The first step toward true wisdom is the receiving of Jesus Christ as Savior.

The Word of God is also our wisdom. “I have taught you decrees and laws … Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations” (Deut. 4:5–6). The Scriptures are able to make us “wise for salvation” (2 Tim. 3:15).

James 1:5 indicates we find wisdom through believing prayer: “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God.” The Holy Spirit of God is “the Spirit of wisdom and revelation” (Eph. 1:17) and He directs us in the wisest paths as we trust His Word and pray.

The origin of true spiritual wisdom is God. To get your wisdom from any other source is to ask for trouble. There is no need to get the counterfeit wisdom of the world, the wisdom that caters to the flesh and accomplishes the work of the devil. Get your wisdom from God!

In Part 2, we will look at the contrast between the operation of God’s wisdom and the operation of the world’s wisdom.