This past Sunday we talked about what it means to be a follower of Christ by slowly unpacking Matthew 16:24-25 which reads:
Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.”
In this passage we focused on words like “desires” and “deny himself” and “take up his cross” in order to try to know exactly what following Jesus actually meant for His disciples then, and what it means for us today. We then spent some time in Matthew 10 going over the costs of following Jesus and the one specific aspect of discipleship He emphasized. And that, unfortunately for many in the church today, is evangelism.
I don’t know about you, but one of my biggest regrets as a Christian is the fact my prayer life is not what I know it could be. Statements like “pray without ceasing” (1 Tim. 5:17) have often led to guilt and self-condemnation because of my lack of doing just that. But my biggest blind spot as a Believer is probably my lack of witnessing or evangelism. In fact, almost everyone that I talk to wishes they had led more people to Christ. Do you feel the same?
The Scary World of Evangelism
Then we are faced with what Jesus said in Matthew 10:27 and the verses that follow. He said, “Whatever I tell you in the dark, speak in the light; and what you hear in the ear, preach on the housetops.” Ouch. This is a clear command from our Lord to tell others about Him or to practice evangelism. Even though we may claim, “Hey, that’s not my gift!” — Paul told Timothy to “do the work of an evangelist” (2 Tim. 4:5) even though Timothy may not have been called to be an evangelist. Timothy’s calling may have been to be a pastor or a teacher (Eph. 4:11), but Paul said in spite of his innate limitations, he was to perform the function of an evangelist to fulfill his ministry to the Lord. After all, God gave each of us the Holy Spirit in order to change us from who we think we are into what He knows we can be. And that also applies to our fear of telling others about Him.
The verse we are using to focus our prayer today is Ephesians 3:1-2, which reads:
For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for you Gentiles— if indeed you have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which was given to me for you – Ephesians 3:1-2.
And the word we want to focus on is, heard. Think about that for a moment.
To hear something is to be on the receiving end of a “giving and receiving” transaction. Someone must proclaim a message in order for someone else to hear that message. There’s both a pitching and a catching, to use a baseball analogy. In this passage, Paul is speaking to the Gentiles who “have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which was given to Paul for them” which means, by definition, someone must have spoken that truth in order for them to have “heard” the same truth. Someone must have gone out of their way, taken an interest in their lives, possibly suffered, as a Jew, some sort of societal sanction for talking to an unclean Gentile in order to tell them about the grace of God.
We see in the book of Romans, right after it says “Whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Rom. 10:13), there is a clear sequence in evangelism that demands a verbal proclamation of His truth. It follows, “How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?” (Rom. 10:14). Did you catch the second sentence in this verse and the pointed question it asks of each follower of Christ? How shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And who is to tell them about Jesus? Not just the hired holy man. Not just the paid professional. Not just the pastor, preacher or priest. No, the command is to each of us to “Whatever I tell you in the dark, speak in the light; and what you hear in the ear, preach on the housetops” (Matt. 10:27).
For me, since we are just a few days away from the end of a decade and the beginning of a new year, and since this is the customary accepted time for making resolutions, I can’t think of a better time to commit to the Lord that we can be counted among the ones who proudly proclaim His message so others can be blessed to hear. Which means, as uncomfortable as it may seem, we will commit to Him to open our mouths and actually be bold and overt when it comes to telling others about the love we have in Christ. This is not designed to bring guilt, but to help us fulfill the Great Commission and become faithful followers of Him.
The problem with much of the church today, and maybe even with you and me, is our love for Christ is not to the point where it naturally bubbles to the surface and we are irresistibly compelled to talk about Jesus. Maybe that’s because our relationship with Him is at arm’s length, more stoic than passionate. Or maybe it’s more like a work associate than an intimate family relationship with someone we love. And if so, that needs to change.
The truth is, what we love, what’s in our heart, what is the center of our being, what brings us passion and love and joy, whatever that may be, we will naturally speak about. We can’t help it. It just bubbles to the top of every conversation. Evangelism should be the same way. It’s not to be something based on duty, it should be something that springs forth from love.
Time to Pray
As we begin praying today, ask yourself how many people have heard about the love of Christ from your lips. If that number is embarrassing or shameful, or something you’re not satisfied with, now is the time to ask the Holy Spirit to create in you a hunger to tell people about Him. Jesus prayed for you regarding that very desire. He said, “The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest” (Matt. 9:37-38). You and I can pray the same. Right now. Today. We can ask Him to help us become His laborers to bring in those He has chosen for harvest. And in doing so, we can bring glory to His name and do what a true follower of Jesus is called to do.
Pray this along with me and let’s see what amazing things our Lord can do in our lives and in the lives of others in the days to come.
The following is from Robertson McQuilkin in the book, Five Views of Sanctification. This was written as a defense of the Keswick view of sanctification and I find his words incredibly enlightening. In fact, I read this as the opening statement before my sermon on How to Surrender Your Life to the Lord that I preached this past Sunday.
I hope it proves to be a blessing to you.
Average is Not Normal
Average is not necessarily normal. For example, the average temperature of patients in a hospital may be 100 degrees, but such a temperature is not normal. The average score for a group of friends on the golf course may be 85 for the day, but par may be only 72. So it is with the Christian life. The average experience of church members is far different from New Testament norms for the Christian life.
The normal Christian is characterized by loving responses to ingratitude and indifference, even hostility, and is filled with joy in the midst of unhappy circumstances and with peace when everything goes wrong. The normal Christian overcomes in the battle with temptation, consistently obeys the laws of God, and grows in self-control, contentment, humility, and courage. Thought processes are so under the control of the Holy Spirit and instructed by Scripture that the normal Christian authentically reflects the attitudes and behavior of Jesus Christ. God has first place in life, and the welfare of others takes precedence over personal desires. The normal Christian has power not only for godly living but for effective service in the church. Above all, he or she has the joy of constant companionship with the Lord.
But what is the average Christian experience? Church members typically think and behave very much like morally upright non-Christians. They are decent enough, but there is nothing supernatural about them. Their behavior is quite explainable in terms of heredity, early environment, and present circumstances. They yield to temptation more often than not, lusting when their body demands it, coveting what they do not have, and taking credit for their accomplishments. The touchstone for their choices is self-interest, and though they have a love for God and others, it does not control their life. There is little change for the better; in fact, most church members do not expect much improvement and are little concerned by that prospect. Scripture is not exciting, prayer is perfunctory, and service in the church demonstrates little touch of the supernatural. Above all, their life seems to have an empty core, for it does not center around a constant, personal companionship with the Lord.
Remember these truths as you go to worship this Sunday. And, for the honor of Christ, please be different than you have in the past. After all, as the mantra goes, “If things are going to change, you’ve got to change.”
So change and let’s leave Laodicea behind.
Yesterday we were introduced to the Greek word “mystery” mustḗrion and how its use in the New Testament is different than what it means in contemporary English. For us today, mystery means something not known or unknowable. But in the Greek, where it is used in these passages, it means something that is known or knowable but not to everyone. It is knowledge or truth that is known only to those who it was meant to be revealed. Not to everyone, but to the elect.
But there is more we can learn about this mystery.
When Paul speaks of both Jews and Gentiles being created into one new people, the church, he is revealing something given to him “by revelation” (Eph. 3:3) that will allow us to understand his “knowledge in the mystery of Christ” (Eph. 3:4). And this revealed knowledge has been, in other ages, hidden from “the sons of men” but is now “revealed by the Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets” (Eph. 3:5) and, as such, it is now being communicated to us.
What is this incredible mystery? You got it. That “the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ through the gospel” (Eph. 3:6).
Let’s look at the first promise: fellow heirs. Being a “fellow heir” means the Gentiles are now heirs with Israel and equal beneficiaries of all of God’s blessings a person receives, and will receive, in salvation. There is no longer any distinction in the eyes of God. Both groups, Jews and Gentiles, are now melded into one body by the new birth and “fellow heirs” of all that God has for His children. Can you imagine what that must be?
And again, since most of us are Gentiles, this mystery is the key to unlock our “acceptance in the Beloved” (Eph. 1:6). And now, since it has been revealed to us, it should bring us to our knees in praise to our Father who planned our reconciliation from the beginning.
One more point before we go to the Lord in prayer. In the Old Testament, there were many clues to this mystery. We see one in God’s promise given to Abraham in Genesis 12:3 where God says, “I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” The phrase “all the families of the earth” would naturally include both Jews and Gentiles. But for centuries the Jews believed this could only be accomplished by Gentiles first becoming Jewish proselytes. In other words, a Gentile could approach God, but only after first becoming a Jew. This led to arrogance and a perceived Jewish monopoly on God’s grace. But that wasn’t God’s plan. He had something much better, a mystery to them but now a truth revealed to us.
Time to Pray
It addition to thanking God for allowing you, as a Gentile, into His Kingdom with full standing as a son, you might also want to think about other mysteries of His character He wants to reveal to you. God’s wisdom is inexhaustible and I personally believe one of our greatest joys will be spending much of eternity learning more about Him. Are there things about God you don’t know? Are they a mystery to you? If so, that means these mysteries are knowable and known to those He chooses to reveal them. And that person, according to Scripture, is you.
Remember, the only difference between the intimacy we have with the Lord compared with the spiritual lives of Paul, James and John, Peter, or even Billy Graham, is the time we spend with the Lord compared to the time they spent with Him. Nothing more. God does not show partiality and He does not like one of His children more than another (Acts 10:34). So the only thing holding us back from the relationship with God we always thought possible, but just seemed out of reach, is the time we spend with Him. And that is something that can change. Right now. Today.
This Sunday morning we will be looking at what it means to surrender your life to the Lord. But, more than just trying to understand what the concept of total surrender means, we will ask the “how” questions in order to learn specifically how to submit and surrender and receive the promise such actions hold. We will take a step-by-step approach to this all-important subject and, hopefully, learn some tools we can apply to other promises in the Scriptures.
I am looking forward to seeing you tomorrow.
Today, as we begin to pray, we will look at one last blessing from Ephesians 2:19 that involves our inclusion in “the household of God.” Our verse for today reads:
Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God – Ephesians 2:19.
As always, before we can understand what the verse means, we have to understand exactly what the text is saying. We do that by defining our key terms in order to see what the meaning of the word was when it was written, and not necessarily what it means today. After all, language is constantly in a state of flux and changes with each generation. For example, 50 years ago the word “mouse” meant only one thing to everyone, a furry rodent. But today our primary thought when we hear that word is of a computer mouse. You can see the importance of discovering the original meaning of the text and not making it say what we want it to say. So let’s define our words.
The Greek word translated “household” is oikeíos and means “belonging or standing in relation to the household.” Or, more literally, “belonging to a household.” The blessing for each of us as revealed in this verse once again drives home the point we are now God’s family, His children, and as such, members of His household, the “household of God” (Eph. 2:19). Which raises just a few questions and some encouraging answers.
The Household of God
First, how does someone become a member of a household? There are basically two ways. One, you can be born into a household or family as a son or daughter. Or two, you can be chosen to be included in the household by adoption as a son or daughter. For us as believers, both ways apply.
Jesus, when talking with Nicodemus, introduced the reality of being “born again” into the Kingdom of God. Jesus said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). He then went on to describe what this process of the new birth was all about by saying it is supernatural, spiritual, and has nothing to do with natural, physical birth. But Jesus also stated emphatically the new birth is the only way to enter the Kingdom of God. It is a non-negotiable, unyielding requirement. Jesus said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:5). Did you catch the non-negotiable term in His statement? It is the word, cannot.
Jesus said without the new birth you cannot enter the Kingdom of God. Or, in other words, you cannot be saved or receive eternal life.
The Greek word translated cannot is a combination of two words. The first is ou which means “not, no, expressing direct and full negation both independently and absolutely.” The other word is dúnamai which means “to be able, to have power, by virtue of one’s own ability and resources.” So cannot in Greek means “not, no way, never” and “to be able or to have the power within oneself.” In essence, it ain’t gonna happen no matter how hard you try.
What Jesus was telling Nicodemus is the entrance into His Kingdom and into the “household of God” is not something we can do on our own. We are not able, we do not have the power or resources, and there is literally nothing we can do to join God’s family on our own. We have to be invited, called, accepted, changed, and “born again” by the Spirit (John 3:8).
There is so much more to unpack regarding “the household of God” and we will have to table much of that until tomorrow. But for today, praise Him for the fact your salvation was a gift given to you by a sovereign Father who chose to include you in His family (Eph. 1:4). He chose to not only adopt you as His child (Eph. 1:5), but also change you by the new birth into the likeness of His Son (Rom. 8:29). In fact, He predestined you before time began for that very purpose.
So this is your calling. This is what you were created for. You were destined to be “conformed to the image of His Son” (Rom. 8:29) so others will see Him when they see you. And rest assured, there is no higher calling than this.
Time to Pray
When you pray this morning, don’t pray as one who has no purpose or meaning in their life. Instead, pray as one who has, and who is right now, receiving an inheritance from the King and has been commissioned to bring the light of His Kingdom into a dark and foreboding world.
Spend some time today thanking Him for this wondrous calling and praise Him for how blessed you truly are!
And enjoy Him to the fullest today.
For a little Christmas cheer, I’ve listed below the latest actual pastor criticisms from church members. And a special thanks to Thom Rainer for these.
- “You didn’t send me a thank you note for my thank you note.” Thank you.
- “You are too happy!” I’ll make a point of being a total grump around you.
- “I will leave the church if you don’t put tissue seat covers in the bathrooms!” Please flush on the way out.
- “I would be happy to take your wife to the store to help her select some appropriate clothes.” Please do, but don’t return.
- “I guess I have to die to get you to wear a suit and tie to church again.” The pastor did so the next Sunday. He’s waiting on the member to hold up his end of the deal.
- “Every sermon you preach is better than the next one.” Thank you . . . no, wait.
- “Why do we have to follow something an apostle wrote 2,000 years ago?” Yep, that Bible is overrated.
- “The VBS hot dogs are too cheap.” What? We got them at LifeWay!
- “You don’t tell enough jokes when you preach.” Yes, I do. I mentioned your name in my last sermon.
- “You need to stop talking about making disciples.” Yes, that criticism came from an elder.
- “When you changed the name from Sunday school to small groups, you took Jesus and the Bible out of the church!” I agree. Read Hezekiah 4:11.
- “You didn’t give good advice about the family vacuum.” Now, that’s important.
- “I heard you are going to cancel Christmas.” Yes, I consulted with the Grinch.
- “I don’t like the color of your beard hair.” Thank you. I plan to dye it pink.
- “Your hair color is too dark for someone in your profession.” Don’t worry. The more I hear from you, the grayer it gets.
- “Just because it’s in the Bible, you don’t have to talk about it.” I try to be selective.
- “Your wife used the wrong spoon in the coleslaw at the church social.” Thank you. She has agreed to be in timeout from church for one year.
- “We need to throw out the guitar to the streets. The piano is the only instrument that belongs in the church.” Yep, that’s what the Apostle Paul said.
- “You ended a sentence with a preposition in your sermon.” What is this criticism good for?
- “Your pregnant wife is faking morning sickness.” I would be happy for you to watch her throw up.
You can read more of Thom’s church wisdom at his website, www.thomrainer.com.