Philippians 2 verses 1-13 Paul’s Prescription for Christian Love and Unity

Have you ever faced opposition while on your Christian walk of faith? If so, you’re not alone. Opposition to the Christian way of doing things has existed since Christianity began. In the passage from Philippians 2:1-13, Paul is trying to deal with a rift that has occurred within the church at Philippi. He argues that the people of God have an incentive to come together for hope and comfort.

Paul emphasizes three characteristics of love: Harmony, humility and helpfulness. The church at Philippi needed to submit to Christ’s will and serve others. They, like all believers, needed to come together and agree in doctrine and creed, but not at the cost of the truth. Each believer has a responsibility for unity. Each believer has to take ownership of his or her own spirit and disposition. Ambition and conflict are empty works of the flesh. Christ has taught us how to submit to one another out of love instead of fear. We are to care for the interests of others more than we care about our own interests. There is a hurting world full of hurting people. They need our help, even if it is only a hug or a sympathetic ear. We are to do so with humility. When we serve Jesus with humility, he will lift us up and exalt us just like he was exalted and lifted up. When we care for others as much as we care about ourselves, mutual service causes disunity to vanish.

Jesus is the perfect example of Christian unity. Paul tells the story of the crucifixion from Jesus’ viewpoint so that his followers can see that the price of unity was Jesus’ death on the cross. Jesus gave up his deity and heavenly position to become a servant. If he could waive his rights, so can we as Christians. He did this because he cared more about the human condition than he cared about his own benefit. Christ showed his humility by pouring out his life both literally and figuratively for us. He submitted himself to God’s authority, especially during his anguish in the Garden of Gethsemane the night before he died. When he returns, everyone will submit humbly to his authority-believers in joy, unbelievers in sorrow and remorse.

Not everyone has heard of Jesus, and that’s sad. Today, knowledge of the Bible has been steadily declining. Some people think that Jesus was just a religious leader. Some people think that he was a prophet, and others think that he was a good person, but as believers we know the truth. Jesus was God in the flesh. He gave up his position in heaven to take the form of a humble human in order to save us. Paul invites us to turn away from worldly influences and focus on Jesus’ example of humility. We are to persevere in faith in the face of opposition.

Why would he become a human and give up his life for us? The answer is simple. He did that because he loved us and wanted to give us our lives back. God puts Jesus in our lives through his living word-the Bible. He calls us his own through baptism. He forgives us and lives in us through the Eucharist. He is with us always. Jesus still reaches out to us today. He calls on us to trust him He tells us that we are still precious to him. He’s more than a hero-he’s our Lord and Saviour.

Christ didn’t see his godly position and authority as something to be kept for his own benefit. He was willing to sacrifice them so that he could be the sacrifice that was needed to save humankind. That was hard for the people to accept in Old Testament times, and it’s still hard for us to accept today. Christ left his heavenly position, but he was exalted by his resurrection and ascension. His exaltation will culminate with his Second Coming, when he will judge all the people and separate the saved from the unsaved. Jesus’ name and reputation create his power. That power will cause everyone to pay homage to him when he returns. The people will submit to his power and honour him. When they honour Jesus, they will honour God the Father. Jesus’ power exceeds earthly powers. Nothing is too difficult for him. No prayer is too hard for him to answer. His humble powers restored our broken relationship with God. There was a cost-his life-but to Jesus the cost was worth it.

Jesus is unique. He can’t be imitated. Instead, we must recognize the gifts God has given us, and we must think about each other in the same way that we think about Jesus. We have to look at situations with a mind that is informed by Christ and filled with his Spirit. We can do this because Jesus stirs our hearts, minds, emotions and wills. His name has spiritual power and can’t be mentioned in a neutral way. People either accept him or reject him.

There are some denominations, usually ones that are more fundamental or strict in nature, that claim that the only way we can be lifted up by Jesus is if we follow the denomination’s rules and traditions. This leads to prejudice. When people of different denominations fail to love and understand each other, they fail to show Christian love, and our Christian witness is marred. Instead of focusing on theological differences, Christian denominations need to focus on the basics of the Gospel. The way we treat others affects everyone. If they see us being mean, they will likely copy our behaviour. If they see us loving others, they will hopefully copy the same behaviour.

Our one motive must be to follow him. God wants to walk with us during our journey through life. He will strengthen us during that journey. He will strengthen us when we face hard times and bring us joy through the blessings he will give us. He pays attention to us even if we ignore him, and even when we pray to him. God is at work in the ordinary, mundane things. God is working in our lives right now just like he worked in the lives of the first disciples and his first followers.

Being Christ-like is caused not by imitation but by inhabitation. We allow Christ to live through us through the choices we make. We choose to follow Jesus in all situations and trust God’s Holy Spirit to give us the power, strength, love, faith and wisdom to do it. These gifts are always available for the asking because the Holy Spirit lives in us.

Jesus put our needs before his own, and he calls on us to do the same. Jesus calls on us to be servants, which means that we have to give up our right to be in charge. When we give up that right, we experience great freedom. We become available and vulnerable. We lose our fear of being taken advantage of. True humility is one of the most costly and life-enhancing of all Christian virtues and a powerful part of a spiritually solid believer. That’s why Paul encourages us to imitate Christ and the humility that characterized his life of service. We are to engage the world with three expectations in mind:

  1. Unity. We are to engage the world together as Christians.
  2. Respect. We are to respect other people even if we can’t stand them.
  3. Regard. We must strive to understand and respond to the needs of other people.

A minister was sitting on an airplane when a family of three came aboard. They had purchased their tickets late and could not get seats in the same row. The flight attendant assured them that there were several empty seats, so surely someone would be willing to change seats with them.

In front of the minister were two empty seats, middle and window, and on the other side in the same row the middle and aisle seats were open. The family asked the gentleman sitting in the aisle seat in a courteous manner if he would be willing to move from the right side aisle seat to the left side aisle seat. He refused. He wasn’t even courteous enough to answer verbally. He just stared straight ahead as he shook his head firmly.

There are three stages to the service path for Christians. The first stage is charity. Charity is our emotional response to human need. We want to give something to alleviate the immediate problem. Charity can literally mean the difference between life and death. It is not insignificant. All of us can participate in this work of charity through our willingness to give.

The second stage is advocacy. Advocacy emerges from charity. In this stage of service we work and speak on behalf of others with the goal of changing social and political conditions so that the long term needs of the people can better be met. Advocacy is, by definition, a more controversial stage along the service path. Mother Teresa couldn’t help but move from the work of charity to the poorest of the poor to becoming an international advocate for children—the born and unborn—and women. If God is calling you to participate in the work of advocacy, you’ll not believe the impact it will have for those in need.

And the third stage is justice. We work for justice when we strive to change systems and processes that create the conditions for poverty or limit self-determination. Justice work naturally progresses from charity and advocacy. Justice means standing with the poor, with those in need.

When we focus our attention on Jesus’ humble sacrifice, we see human pride and sin. It’s only when we depend on God that we receive salvation. God calls us to humility each and every day. He calls on us to live out the love and life of Christ to a watching, hurting world around us.

Bibliography

  1. Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible, NKJV (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013)
  2. Pastor Gregory Seltz, “A Hero? No, a Saviour!” Retrieved from www.lhm.org
  3. Exegesis for Philippians 2:5-11. Retrieved from www.lectionary.org
  4. Pastor Bobby Schuller, “There is No Name.” Retrieved from www.hourofpower.org
  5. Jim Burns, “Responding with Love.” Retrieved from www.homewoed.org
  6. Dannah Gresh, “Am I a Mean Girl?” Retrieved from www.proverbs31.org
  7. Pastor D. Geedvadhus, “Humility.” Retrieved from www.lhm.org
  8. The Rev. Dr. Michael Foss, “A Passion for Christ’s World.” Retrieved from www.day1.org
  9. Charles R. Swindoll, “Sharing 101.” Retrieved from www.insightforliving.ca
  10. Dave Branon, “Winners and Losers.” Retrieved from www.rbc.org
  11. Stephen Davey, “Invisibly Involved.” Retrieved from Christianity.com@crosswalkmail.com
  12. Pastor Rick Warren, “Allow Christ to Live Through You.” Retrieved from www.purposedriven.com
  13. Dunnam, M.D. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 31: Galatians/Ephesians/Philippians/Colossians/Philemon (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1982)

Philippians 2:21-30 Our Love for Jesus Will Set Us Free

Finn’s shoulders slumped as he dropped his bike on the lawn and joined his dad in the garage. “What’s wrong, Finn?” Dad asked as he worked on sanding a chair he had recently made.

“I just visited Grandma,” Finn replied. He sighed and picked up a piece of sandpaper to help. “I don’t understand her, Dad.”

“What don’t you understand?”

“Well, I know the doctors can’t cure her disease–and she knows it too–but she actually seems happy about it.” Finn started to help Dad sand an arm of the chair. “She just keeps talking about heaven and how great it’s going to be and how she can’t wait to see Jesus–stuff like that.”

Dad nodded thoughtfully. After a minute he put down his sandpaper and looked at Finn. “Do you remember the old apartment we used to live in?”

Finn stopped working too. “Sure I do! It was a mess. The pipes leaked and the paint was chipping. The floorboards were all rough and rotting.”

“How did you feel when you found out we were going to move?” asked Dad.

“I was so glad!” Finn said, and he started sanding again. “That place was just falling apart, and we really couldn’t live there anymore.”

Dad nodded. “That’s kind of what it’s like for Grandma. She’s stuck inside a body that’s falling apart. In heaven, she won’t be in pain at all anymore. Even better, she’ll get to be with Jesus. One day, when He resurrects all Christians and restores the whole world, she’ll have a body that will never get sick or die. That’s a lot to look forward to.”

“Yeah.” Finn scuffed his toe on the garage floor. “I just hate to think of her being gone. I’ll really miss her!”

“I know. I will too,” Dad said. “Grandma’s death will be hard for us because we love her and will miss her, but it won’t be hard for her at all. She’ll finally be home with Jesus, and she’ll be with Grandpa and other people who’ve already gone to heaven. So even while it makes us sad, we can be happy for her.”

Finn nodded. “When I feel sad, I’ll remember that.”

In Philippians 1:21-30, Paul is caught between his desires and his duty. He is in the ultimate win/win situation in which he sees life and death as equally valuable. If he continues to live, he will come to know, love, and serve the Lord more fully and witness to more people. If he dies, he will completely, finally, and perfectly know Christ.

Paul seems flippant about death, but he is making a point. He is glorifying Christ and crediting Him with the meaning of life. Paul is not condoning suffering of any kind, not does he attribute it to God’s will. His goal is for us to see that our suffering for professing Christ as Lord is proof of the certainty of our future hope of a life with Christ. Most of us don’t suffer for the gospel, but Paul’s instructions to live our lives in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ still stands. Our devotion to Christ must govern all other loyalties, regardless of the consequences. We must live our lives in ways that are worthy of the gospel. The main reason to remain in this world is to bring others to Christ and to build up believers to do the same. While there is still ministry to do on earth, heaven can wait.

Paul’s confidence is shining brightly. His hope has not wavered despite being in prison in Rome. He is looking forward to the day when he will be with Christ, as all Christians should be.  Paul has come to the point where the earthly distinctions of life and death will mean little. The passage for our earthly life into our eternal life will be like going to sleep. When we fall asleep in death, we will wake up in heaven. Before this can happen, we have to be worthy of the gospel. This means that we have to accept Christ as our Saviour, but it also means that in every area of our life our conduct must be worthy of the Gospel.

Paul addresses four areas that Christians should tend to as they live in this world:

  1. Their conduct-acting worthy of the kingdom of heaven to which they rightly belong as citizen of God’s household.
  2. Their consistency-maintaining integrity and their testimony in spite of persecution and trial.
  3. Their cooperation-remembering to strive together, like athletes against a common foe.
  4. Their courage-facing persecution and enduring pain for the sake of Christ.

Paul urged his supporters at Philippi to keep steadfast in the face of opposition, and he urges us to keep steadfast as well. Paul criticized those who opposed him, but he rejoiced in the knowledge that however it happens, the Gospel will go forth. He urged the Philippians to have the same attitude, and he urges us to have the same attitude today. We are to rejoice in the Gospel and not split the church into factions.

The word “conduct” comes from the Greek word that means “citizenship.” In Greek society before conquest by Rome, the city was the largest political unit, and citizens belonged to a city in the same way that people today belong to their country. Christians are to live, not by distancing themselves from the culture in which they have been placed, but by serving as ambassadors of their true citizenship.

Are our convictions strong? Are they influenced by our environment, our friends, or our social standards? Are we part of a church that is driven by a passion for the Gospel and lost souls? If not, what are we doing to inject that passion into our lives? Do we and the church speak about social and political issues?

Our manner of life in Christ can be summed up in four statements:

  1. The gospel is simple, so we should be simple and plain in our habits, manner, speech, and dress.
  2. The gospel is fearless. It boldly proclaims the truth whether people like it or not. We must also be fearless, faithful, and unflinching.
  3. The gospel is gentle, and we must also be gentle in our words and deeds.
  4. The gospel is very loving. We must be compassionate toward the evilest of people.

The Greek word translated as “terrified” describes inward fear caused by an outward stimulus. This is an appropriate warning for the little band of Christians living in Philippi during a violent time in history. No one wants to suffer but suffering on behalf of Christ and His gospel is different. Many in the early church viewed martyrdom as a high calling and spiritual gift through which God would be made known. As someone wrote, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.”

The cross is a way of life for Christians. That way of life includes suffering and persecution. Paul remembered Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:10-11: “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven. Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake.” If we accept Christ, we must be willing to suffer for Christ. The call to suffer for Christ is a favour and an honour.

Even though we may not be imprisoned for the cause of Christ, and we don’t hear much of the martyrs today, there is an important meaning in this passage from the letter to the Philippians. Because of the love Paul received from the cross, he was also able to love, in spite of the cost. It costs to love, in any time, in any place. The costs may not be chains or death, but they are no less real. It costs to take into our homes a young pregnant woman who has been disowned by her parents and needs love and care. It costs to turn our homes into places of hospitality for wanderers, misplaced, unsettled persons, to give up our privacy and the comfort of routine for a season, so someone might have space and time in their life journey to convalesce and think in settings of love and acceptance. It costs to be “on call” for prayer, listening, and counseling as we seek to minister to people both within and outside of our churches.

Evangelist Bill Fay ran into singer John Denver at an airport one day. He walked over and introduced himself and told him he had a message for him. Several years earlier, Fay led John Denver’s father to Christ, and the father made Fay promise to share Jesus with his son John.

Fay took John through the Gospel, and John understood every verse, but he accepted none of it. He wanted nothing to do with his father’s faith, so Fay asked him, “John, when did you make up your mind that Jesus Christ would never become your Lord and Saviour?” John Denver could remember the time and place. He said a Sunday School teacher told him that Jesus Christ was the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and he just didn’t believe it.

Don’t get frustrated when it feels like you’re not getting anywhere sharing the Gospel with the lost. Belief in Christ is something that is granted to people-it can’t be manufactured. We must trust God to work in His way and in His timing in the lives of the lost.

Lifting the light of Christ will mean facing opposition, but it will also mean living a life of integrity and joy. The more we surrender to Jesus, the happier we will be and the more fearlessly we will stand firm in the face of any trial. It will motivate us and excite us. We will heed Paul’s call, and we will be like Roman soldiers. Paul issued the challenge to stand fast in many other letters. The image refers to the way Roman soldiers would lock their shields together, plant their feet, and present a solid, unified wall of resolution against the enemy. Even in our darkest moments, we can hold on to the promise of permanent joy in God’s company.

Our refusal to show any sign of distress or concern will be evidence to the enemy that his defeat is imminent. If we react with fearful emotions and begin speaking fearful words, we will become prey to the enemy and will be easy to devour. The enemy doesn’t know what we are thinking until it comes out of our mouths. During troubled times we have to put guards on our thoughts and our words.

Paul’s call for genuine unity of heart and mind is based on four things:

  1. The necessity of oneness to win the spiritual battle for the faith.
  2. The love of others in the fellowship.
  3. Genuine humility and self-sacrifice.
  4. The example of Jesus, who proved that sacrifice produces eternal glory.

Life is about Jesus being our Lord and Saviour. We live in Him, and through Him for others. Death can’t even get in the way of Him blessing us with life and salvation, because He gives us eternal life.

Bibliography

  1. Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible: New Kings James Version (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013; pp. 1657-1658)
  2. Melissa Montgomery, “A Better Place.” Retrieved from info@keysforkids.org
  3. Dunnam, M.D. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 31: Galatians/Ephesians/Philippians/Colossians/Philemon (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1982; pp. 267-268)
  4. Stanley, C.F.: The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible: New King James Version (Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles; 2005)
  5. MacArthur, J.F. Jr.: The MacArthur Study Bible: New American Standard Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers; 2006)
  6. Pastor Ken Klaus, “Life on God’s Terms.” Retrieved from www.lhm.org
  7. Mary Luti, “Visiting.” Retrieved from dailydevotional@ucc.org
  8. Michael Youssef, Ph.D.,” Sweet Surrender.” Retrieved from mydevotional@ltw.org
  9. Dr. Jack Graham, “Giving God Your Best.” retrieved from www.powerppoint.org
  10. “Where Does Faith Come From?” Retrieved from Crosswalk@crosswalkmail.com
  11. Randy Kilgore, “Every Moment Matters.” Retrieved from donotreply@emakl.rbc.org
  12. Allister Begg, “Be Worthy.” Retrieved from newsletters@truthforlife.org
  13. Vikki Burke, “Defeating Fear.” Retrieved from administrator@dennisburkeministries.org
  14. Troy Troftgruben, “Commentary on Philippians 1:21-30.” Retrieved from www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3431
  15.  

Matthew 20:1-16 The First Will Be Last and the Last Will Be First…in God’s Kingdom

What is the difference between fairness and justice?

How many of us have felt that someone treated us unfairly? Has someone favoured another person over us? All of us have endured some hurt when our dreams are dashed or ambitions denied. Preferred treatment can lay the foundation for bitter memories. Does our ill treatment serve a greater good? Do others in need benefit? Sometimes we endure unequal treatment in the name of justice. In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus presented the Kingdom as one of justice, not necessarily of fairness. According to Jesus, the faithful, even those who practiced faith all life long, did not earn the Kingdom. God gave His children the Kingdom as a gift.

Jesus told the parable in Matthew 20:1-16 to illustrate His point that “the first will be last, and the last first”.  The landowner hired workers at 9:00 am, 12 noon, 3:00 pm and finally at 5:00 pm. The group hired at the end of the day would have included the sort of workers nobody wanted to hire. The owner promised all the labourers the same wage.

The parable would have had significance in the early church whose members were Jewish Christians. To them the “late arrivals,” the Gentiles, deserved a lesser place in the kingdom. After all, they were not the first invited, as were God’s chosen people. Judging from the heated epistles, like Galatians and the accounts in Acts, the conflict between the two groups could get quite intense.

It also runs contrary to how the world works today. We’re used to being rewarded in proportion to our service. We would be happy to grant the apostles a larger share than we would expect for ourselves if we could expect more than a lesser disciple might receive. We feel for the all-day workers, who received the same pay as the one-hour workers. Is that fair? Don’t they deserve more? Shouldn’t the master treat them better?

We don’t want to be on par.  We want to be on top! We don’t want mercy (what God gives freely) but justice (what we have earned). If God distributes rewards fairly, we who worked all day will get more than those who arrived at the last hour. We will receive what we have earned plus a generous bonus. The irony, of course, is that the little bit we have earned is of no consequence when compared to God’s grace.

The generosity of the landowner in this case shifts our thinking away from what a person can achieve or offer to the way in which a person and their very life is valued by the landowner. This parable calls into question the way our world operates and how it devaluates people and exploits many who work long hours in appalling conditions so those in wealthier countries can have cheap products.

This parable reveals important truths about God’s grace. No matter how many hours they worked, all workers were paid the same wage—the wage that was promised. The workers hired first represent Israel, the recipients of God’s covenant promises. Those hired last, at the end of the day, represent the Gentiles, who were offered the same salvation available to the Jews through faith in Christ.

Jesus repeated His parable from Matthew 19:30 and added that “many are called, but few chosen.” His meaning is essentially the same in both cases; namely, that God lavishes His grace on those He chooses, and those who receive it are blessed beyond anything they can ever hope to earn.

If Christians are just and pay their lawful debts and injure no one, the world has no right to complain if they give the rest of their property to the poor, or devote it to send the gospel to the world, or release a prisoner. It is their own. They have a right to do with it as they please. They are accountable only to God. The world has no right to interfere.

This parable is about the kingdom of God. It presents the nature of God’s grace. Grace is God’s graciousness. He extends his love and mercy to everyone. Not everyone responds alike to His goodness. Some compare and evaluate their own “goodness” and thereby fail to understand God’s graciousness.

The points of the parable are:

  1. The calling to service is in direct relation to the need.
  2. The reward for service is a gracious meeting of our needs.
  3. The integrity of service will respect the integrity of grace in meeting needs equally.

God can and does distribute His gifts and His goodness as He wills. Grace can’t be earned or deserved. God is completely free to parcel out His favour however He chooses.

When we’re envious, we’re in a battle with God. We doubt God’s goodness in our lives. We resent His decision to bless others. We accuse Him of being unfair. We don’t believe He has our best interests at heart. We accuse Him of playing favourites. God has a good reason why we don’t have what we want. He knows us better than we know ourselves.

There are two main reasons to never compare ourselves to anyone else:

  1. We’re unique. God made each one of us special.
  2. If we do start comparing, it’s always going to lead to either envy or pride.

We can easily get trapped by our own patterns of counting and assessing and evaluating that we can miss God’s generosity. We can learn to overcome comparison obsession by focusing on the life God has given to us. As we take time to thank God for everyday blessings, we change our thinking and begin to believe deep down that God is good.

We dare not judge God’s love by our poor standards, nor should we think that once we are in heaven we can choose to go to hell. We should admit that no one deserves to receive freely anything from God. It is His grace that brings salvation. Our work is only a poor “thank you” for what we have received from His mercy and grace.

The generosity of the landowner shifts our thinking away from what a person can achieve or offer to the way in which a person and their very life is valued by God. God wants to give value and opportunity to even the weakest within the faith community. The good news is not just for the privileged few but for all. God will return and seek us out to join the labour as many times as it takes.

It isn’t the amount of faith we have, or when we come to faith, that matters. The object of our faith matters. Constantly comparing ourselves to others robs us of the joy of working for God, who made each of us His treasure. God’s gift of grace is free and undeserved. Each of us is given the grace that is sufficient for us to live our Christian faith. Our response is to rejoice and be glad.

Those who only find Christ later in their lives are the ones who have missed out, for life in Christ is rich and meaningful. To find forgiveness and fullness and meaning and purpose is to find freedom, which is what Jesus intends for all of us. Following Jesus and His way is the way of freedom. Following the ways of the world are the ways of bondage and meaninglessness. Like the workers hired later in the day, the landowner found them “…standing idle…with no purpose.”

The kingdom of heaven image from Jesus comes as a comfort and as a warning. A comfort, because the invitation is always there for each of us. It is never too late for us to turn to God. It is a warning because there will indeed be those who are welcomed into God’s family after we are. Our task is to love them and welcome them just as God does. We are not to feel haughty and more important because we were there first. We must meet them with great joy for their faith.

When God pours out His love and favour toward us, we don’t have to worry. If we take the time to look we will see that God has filled our cup. When God’s favour is extended to those of whom we disapprove, it’s time for us to begin looking at the world the way God looks at the world. We are all equal in God’s eyes.

The story about the workers in the vineyard is about forgiveness. When God forgives our sins, he forgives them all. A brand-new Christian is as welcome to God as the person who has known God for a long, long time. It’s not about fairness. It is about forgiveness. It is about a big and welcoming God who doesn’t make us feel like second class citizens. God takes outsiders and makes them insiders. He treats us not according to our standards but according to His. The measuring stick he uses is generosity.

When God pours out His love and favour towards someone else, we don’t have to worry. If we just take the time to look, we will see that God has filled our cup to the brim too. When God’s favour is extended to those of whom we disapprove, it’s time for us to grow up and begin looking at the world the way that God looks at the world. 

The question for today is this: “Is God fair?” Of course, he is! But do you know what else? The Bible tells us that he is more than fair. The Bible tells us that “God is love.” Does God love us because we love him?” No, the Bible says, “This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins.” That’s not fair—that’s love.

If we got what was fair, none of us would get to heaven. We can rejoice in the knowledge that God doesn’t give us what is fair. He gives us his love and grace, despite what we deserve!

Bibliography

  1. Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible, New King James Version (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013, pp. 1316-1317)
  2. Barnes’ Notes on the New testament. Part of Wordsearch 11 Bible software package.
  3. Augsberger, M.S. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 24: Matthew (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1982; p. 18)
  4. Stanley, C.F.: The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible, New King James Version (Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles; 2005)
  5. Pastor Rick Warren, “When You Envy, You’re in a Battle with God.” Retrieved from connect@newsletter.purposedriven.com
  6. Pastor Rick Warren, “Get to Know Others so You Won’t Envy Them.” Retrieved from connect@newsletter.purposedriven.com
  7. Marvin Williams, “Comparison Obsession.” Retrieved from www.rbc.org
  8. Rev. Park Ju-Young, “Workers in the Vineyard.” Retrieved from www.lhm.org
  9. Thomas Skeats, O.P., “God’s Generosity.” Retrieved from www.torch.op.org
  10. Jude Siciliano, O.P., “First Impressions, 25th Sunday (A).” Retrieved from www.preacherexchange.org
  11. Richard Niell Donovan, “Exegesis for Matthew 20:1-6.” Retrieved from www.lectionary.org
  12. “Justice in the Kingdom.” Retrieved from www.wordsunday.com
  13. Rick Morley, “Crazy Talk Grace.” Retrieved form www.rickmorley.com
  14. “Is God Fair?” Retrieved from www.Sermons4Kids.com

Matthew 20:1-16 God’s Version of Labour Relations

The story is told of an Englishman, a Frenchman and a Russian who discovered a bottle with a genie inside.  One of them rubbed the bottle and freed the genie, who generously offered to grant one wish to each of the three.  The Englishman went first and wished that he would be granted a peerage and daily access to the throne.  His wish was immediately granted.  The Frenchman came next and wished that all the beautiful women in the world would suddenly fall at his feet in adoration.  His wish was immediately granted. 

The Russian came last.  Of the three, he was poorest.  Of the three, his needs were greatest.  The genie invited him to take his time and to think of the one thing that would give him the greatest pleasure in life.  At that, his face lit up and he said, “That’s easy.  I wish that my neighbor’s potato crop might fail.”

The parable of the workers and the vineyard is like that.  It proves that the old adage that “the first will be last and the last will be first.” Those who came at the first of the day had their needs met, but they could not focus on that positive aspect of their lives.  Instead, their focus was on their neighbour who, though less deserving, also had his/her needs met.  Instead of finding joy in their own circumstances, those who came at the first of the day found outrage at the apparent unfairness of the situation.  They did not want more for themselves.  They wanted less for their neighbor.

The parable is about a landowner who helps others. It’s about a landowner who sweeps up lost and idle people and gives them a purpose. The landowner hired workers at different times during the day, but he paid all of them the same wage regardless of the number of hours they worked. The workers who were hired first represented God’s chosen people of Israel, the recipients of God’s covenant promises. The workers hired last represented the Gentiles. They were offered the same salvation as the Jews through faith in Christ. They were part of the remnant Paul refers to in Romans 11:1-2, 29-32.

At first glance, this parable seems unfair. After all, it doesn’t seem fair to us that the workers who were hired at the end of the day received the same pay as the workers who were hired first thing in the morning. We must remember though that what is unfair to us is fair to God and vice versa. That’s because God’s kingdom does not work in the same way as our worldly kingdom. The parable is the story of God’s grace and how he gives his grace to anyone he chooses. Those who receive it are blessed beyond anything they can earn or imagine. In God’s eyes, there is no difference between a lifelong Christian and a person who becomes a Christian on his or her deathbed.

Jesus had a bitter message for Christians, especially their leaders. The followers of Jesus would sacrifice a sense of fairness for the Kingdom. Those who grew in the faith would feel lonely. Those who grew in ministry would feel abandoned. God does not have favorites in the Kingdom. But he does have the saved community where the most senior and the neophyte shared equally in God’s very life. Indeed, the first would be last and the last would be first.

We are conditioned to judge value and estimate worth on the basis of compassion and merit. This is how the world operates, but that is not how God operates. God’s world is an economy of grace, and gratitude is the capital. God is free to do what is necessary to work out his will in our lives and in the history of the world. We are to wait upon God, and while we are waiting on God we are to praise him just like Paul and Silas did when they were in jail in Acts 16:25-40.

Our capacity for gratitude is directly related to our capacity to see and experience grace. The first workers in the parable were ungrateful because they saw the landowner’s method of rewarding his workers as unfair. They could not see and experience his grace. Likewise, sometimes we can’t fully see and experience God’s grace because we don’t always show gratitude. Sometimes we look at a deathbed convert and think that it was not fair for God to forgive him because we have been faithful Christians for a long time. When God forgives us, he breaks into our world of reward and punishment.

We can improve our capacity for grace and gratitude by being a blessing to others and giving blessings to others. If we want more gratitude in our lives, we have to be more aware of the spirit of grace in our lives. The more we experience grace, the more we will be filled with gratitude and the more likely we will be to affirm and bless others.

There is a story of a man who faced surgery several years ago, and it happened suddenly. He didn’t have time to emotionally prepare for the surgery. He went to the doctor who sent him directly to the hospital and in hours, he had open heart surgery. This man was grateful for his surgery, his successful life and the extra years that had been given to him. But he also said that he was sad that he was not able to express his love to his children before that critical moment of surgery. He had wanted to tell his children but he didn’t. There wasn’t time. Months passed; years passed; a decade passed. One day, he was at his doctor’s office only to discover that he needed surgery again. Only, this time, he had two days to prepare. He had each child, now adults, come into his hospital room and talk privately with him. He wanted each child, now an adult, to know that he felt this past decade of life were extra years that had been given to him by God. Not only the past ten years, but his whole life had been a gift of God, that they, his children, had been a total gift of God. That God had given him his children, his wife, his family, his work, his faith in Christ. That God had given him an abundant life and that God would give him eternal life as well. He wanted his kids to know how he felt. He wanted to tell his children these things ten years ago, and now he had a second chance to do it. And so he told them, each of them, one by one. It was very emotional, and his wife left the room because she couldn’t handle it.

This man expressed what God wants. Deep down inside, all people have this attitude that life is a gift. Life itself, the abundant life, eternal life, it is all a gift. It is not that God owes us anything.

No matter how badly we mess up, God loves us so much as he ever has or ever will. God’s heart is a giving, self-sacrificing, forgiving heart. God’s heart can turn us into people who rejoice over the good fortunes of other peoples-regardless of our own circumstances. God’s heart injected in us allows us to see what God’s Kingdom is all about. It turns the world’s rules upside-down. In God’s Kingdom:

  1. Greatness is not measured by who ends up on top of the heap.
  2. Being rich does not mean having material possessions.
  3. Getting even with people who wrong us is out.

God is always available to anyone who reaches out to him wherever they reach out to him and whenever they reach out to him. Any time is the right time in God’s eyes. God’s grace never runs out. It is limitless because God is sovereign and just.

The workers who were hired last represent the outcasts of society. These workers were hired last because no one else wanted them. Likewise, the outcasts of our society are not wanted. They stand outside of society, but God invites them and all of his people to be on the inside of his kingdom. God looks for us just like the landowner sought out the workers. In the parable, it would have been undignified for the workers to go looking for a job. They had to be found and asked so that their honour could be kept. True selfless acts are rare in our world, but they inspire us to show the same grace, faith and love to others. Those of us who were called first and early in life are called on to understand our sin-filled world and join Jesus in inviting the lost ones-the poor, the lame, the latecomers, the unimportant-instead of complaining.

God’s gift to us is the gift of eternal life with him. It doesn’t matter to God how long we have been with him in faith. God chooses to invite us to spend eternity with him. We can choose to accept or reject his invitation. If we choose to accept him, we choose to reject the attitudes and behaviours that God does not like. If we think that good works are the key to getting into heaven, we are blinded by our sense of our own goodness and we can’t see the goodness of God’s grace-hence the reference to the blind eye in Matthew 20:15.

If we start asking ourselves who deserves to be forgiven, we soon find out that the answer is no one. No matter how hard we work, we can’t be “good enough.” The good news of the Gospel is that what can’t be obtained by good works, Christ gives to us as a gift of grace. God forgives us and frees us from the mistakes of the past. We are all put on a new and level horizon. No one is higher than anyone else. We sit at the round table. The ground is level at the foot of the cross. Why climb the stairway to heaven when God takes us right to the top floor in an elevator?

Bibliography

  1. Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible, NKJV (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013)
  2. Chuck Queen, “Living with Gratitude.” Retrieved from www.day1.org
  3. Rev. Dr. Luke Bouman, “A Question of Fairness.” Retrieved from www.treeoflifelutheran.org
  4. The Rev. Edward Markquart, “Wages and Gifts.” Retrieved from www.sermonsfromseattle.com
  5. The Rev. Dr. Michael Foss, “The Generosity of God.” Retrieved from www.day1.org
  6. Gracia Grindal, “Your God is Too Nice.” Retrieved from www.religion-online.org
  7. Exegesis for Matthew 20:1-16. Retrieved from www.lectionary.org

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Matthew 18:21-35 Forgive…Again…Again…and Again

When it comes to forgiveness, how much is enough? How much do we need to forgive? How often should we be doing all we can to wash away the stains which weaken the bonds between us, which take their toll on our own sense of well-being — our very own peace, not to mention the peace between us?

People come in all different sizes, shapes, and colors, but they have one thing in common—they all make mistakes! We make a lot of mistakes. That is why God sent Jesus to die on the cross — to erase our mistakes. When we do something wrong, we can ask God to forgive us and because of Jesus, He will erase our mistakes and we can start over again, and again, and again.

The parable of the king and the man is designed to show one great truth-the duty of forgiving our brethren, and the great evil of not forgiving someone when we are offended. It also teaches us the following lessons:

  1. Our sins are great.
  2. God freely forgives them.
  3. The offences committed against us by others are small.
  4. We should, therefore, most freely forgive them.
  5. If we don’t, God will be justly angry with us and punish us. God will forgive if we do not.

Rabbinic tradition taught that a brother could be forgiven three times for the same offense, but not four times. Peter, trying to be a better-than-superior law keeper, doubled that and added one-seven times. He did not expect Jesus’ response, which is not congratulations but a correction. Whether the phrase should be rendered “seventy times seven” or seventy-seven is not important; Jesus teaches us that believers in Christ have been forgiven far more than they will ever be asked to forgive. They must cultivate a spirit of forgiveness, not a habit of counting offenses.

Peter knew the power of forgiveness. He made many mistakes during his time with Jesus, the biggest of which was denying Jesus three times on the night of Jesus’ crucifixion. Each time Jesus forgave him. Peter still didn’t get the fact that because we are all sinners, real, enduring, reconciling forgiveness is beyond our control. It must be a gift received from God to be a gift unleashed and shared for others.

We are not to limit our forgiveness to any fixed number of times. As often as someone hurts us and asks for forgiveness, we are to forgive them. It is their duty to ask for forgiveness, and it is our duty to forgive.

Under Hebrew law, a debtor and his family could be sold into slavery until the debt was paid. Jesus isn’t giving us a lesson in economics or philanthropy. He points out that there is something more than a debt that has been paid. It’s the eternal mercy of God overcoming our sin debt. When we receive God’s love and forgiveness, it changes things. It’s the power and blessing of God, received by faith that is to be put to good use in our lives and in our relationships.

The king’s act of mercy represents God’s mercy to us. We have sinned. We owe more to God than we can pay. Instead of casting us off, God has mercy on us. When we ask for forgiveness, He forgives us.

The story of the man who refused to forgive someone who owed him money was used by Jesus to teach us that the offences which our fellow men commit against us are very small and insignificant compared to our offences against God. Because we have been the recipients of God’s mercy, who are we to suddenly demand justice from others? God’s compassion calls for us to do the same toward others. Anything less is hypocritical.

God expects His children to take on His likeness. If they do not resemble Him in their willingness to forgive, they prove they are not His children. God is rich in mercy and grace, but He is also holy and just, so those who refuse to forgive should not imagine that God would welcome their unforgiving hearts into His kingdom.

The nature of forgiveness is a profound aspect of reconciling grace. Forgiveness is hard. It means that the forgiving person as the innocent one resolves his/her own wrath over the guilty one and lets the guilty one go free. Forgiveness benefits us and frees us for the option of living.

Forgiveness reveals a deep awareness of sin. We can’t change the facts. Forgiveness costs the innocent one, for he resolves the problem in love. Forgiveness conditions us to forgive others for we are forever accountable for our privilege of freedom.

Refusing to forgive inflicts inner turmoil on us. If we refuse to forgive, God will refuse to forgive us. It isn’t worth the misery. We are to forgive as we have been forgiven. We are encouraged to release the poison of all that bitterness. We are encouraged to let it out before God and declare the sincere desire to be free.

Holding on to our anger is not good for our physical health either. Research shows that holding on to anger increases our chances of a heart attack, cancer, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and other illnesses. On the other hand, forgiveness boosts our self-esteem and lowers our blood pressure and heart rate. Forgiveness also helps us sleep better at night and boosts a positive change in our attitude.

Forgiveness is the gift that keeps on giving when our giving gives out. It’s the power of the Lord’s Prayer unleashed in our lives in the relationships that we hold dear. Do we want to live with the junk of past hurts? No. If we want to give every day a chance, Jesus says that we must get rid of the trash. We are to give others the grace we have been given. When there is no possibility for an ongoing relationship, especially when the one who has wronged us is unreachable or dead, forgiveness can free us from bitterness and the desire for revenge.

When we sincerely confess our sin, we admit to ourselves that we have hurt someone else. To ask for forgiveness repeatedly is to admit that we do not have the ability or power to change that truth in us. If we need to ask forgiveness from someone, it will help us if we ask God to give us humble hearts and a spirit willing to change. If we are being asked to forgive, it will help us if we ask God to help us to look to Him to help restore the person back in our heart without bitterness.

There are three reasons why we need to forgive:

  1. Because God forgives us
  2. Because resentment leads to self-torture
  3. Because we need forgiveness every day.

Every time we remember the hurt we have received, we make an intentional choice to say, “God, that person really hurt me, and it still hurts. Because I want to be filled with love and not resentment, I am choosing to give up my right to get even and wish bad on that person. I am choosing to bless those who hurt me. God, I pray you’ll bless their life—not because they deserve it. They don’t. I don’t deserve your blessing either, God. But I pray that you’d show grace to them like you’ve shown to me.”

Forgiveness is something that we need every day. We must ask for forgiveness. We must accept forgiveness from God and from others. We must offer forgiveness. It must be continual. It must be enough, and it must be employed.

Forgiveness is not a matter of social grace or necessity. Forgiveness is integral to the Christian lifestyle. As God always forgives sinners, the sinner should always forgive others. This is the most precious gift in the world. We squander this gift so easily when our selfish hearts shut Him out. When we realize our fault and return to Him, He forgives us and renews His life in us. Forgiveness lies at the heart of our faith in God and our love of one another. Forgiveness, which we receive from God, is what God expects from us in our dealings with each other.

The enduring gift of forgiveness began at the cross. Jesus paid the price for our sins. God forgave our sin debt because Jesus paid it for us. We owe our lives to a Holy God because of our sins and failures, but God took the payment of Jesus’ life in our place. Because of God’s great love for us in Christ, He forgives us. He lets us go in His peace. He releases us from the burden of debt and allows us to live in His freedom.

The story of Ruth Bell Graham and Jim Bakker is a story of forgiveness. Many of you might remember evangelist Jim Bakker’s public disgrace. During his darkest days, Jim Bakker found friends in evangelist Billy Graham and his wife Ruth. Billy visited Jim in prison several times. The first Sunday after Jim was released from prison, Ruth hosted him at her own church. She publicly showed her support for him by sitting with him. She showed God’s love. The language of love is always the language of forgiveness. Love is not love unless it is essentially the spirit of forgiveness.

On Ruth’s tombstone at the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte, North Carolina, is an inscription that she requested herself. It reads, “End of construction. Thank You for your patience.” She lived in an area of North Carolina where construction work was always going on. At the end of every construction zone was a sign with that message on it. She said once that it is a wonderful image for the Christian life. “A work under construction until we go to be with God” she said. We are also works under construction. We need the patience of others to the very end. In return, we must freely give and receive the extravagant forgiveness that Jesus commands.

Bibliography

  1. Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible, New King James Version (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013, pp. 1314-1315)
  2. Augsberger, M.S. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 24: Matthew (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1982; p. 18)
  3. Dr. Neil Anderson, “The Cost of Forgiveness.” Retrieved from Crosswalk@crosswalkmail.com
  4. Charles R. Swindoll, “When You Are Offended, Part 1.” Retrieved from eministries@insightforliving.ca
  5. Charles R. Swindoll, “When You Are Offended, Part 2.” Retrieved from eministries@insightforliving.ca
  6. Rev. Gregory Seltz, “Forgiveness, the Gift That Keeps On Giving.” Retrieved from lh_min@lhm.org
  7. Max Lucado, “Taking Out the trash.” Retrieved from Crosswalk@crosswalkmail.com
  8. “The Voice of the Lord for Tammuz 26.” Retrieved from listserv@lists.studylight.org
  9. “A Humble Heart and Willing Spirit.” Retrieved from info@dailydisciples.org
  10. Pastor Rick Warren, “How Often Should You Forgive?” Retrieved from connect@newsletter.purposedriven.com
  11. Doug Fields, “Finding Freedom in Forgiveness.” Retrieved from www.homeword.com
  12. Pastor Rick Warren, “Why Should You Forgive?” Retrieved from connect@newsletter.purposedriven.com
  13. Charles R. Swindoll, “Be Forgetful.” Retrieved from eministries@insightforliving.ca
  14. Daniel B. Clendenin, Ph.D., “Accepting One Another: The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant.” Retrieved from www.journeywithjesus.net
  15. Karl Jacobson, “Commentary on Matthew 18:21-35.” Retrieved from www.workingpreacher.org
  16. Pastor Edward Markquart, “Pockets of Poison: The Need for Forgiveness.” Retrieved from www.sermonsfromseattle.com
  17. The Rev. Dr. Robert M. Zanicky, PCUSA, “The Freeing of Forgiveness.” Retrieved from www.day1.org
  18. “Over and Over Again.” Retrieved from www.Sermons4KIds.com
  19. The Rev. Janet Hunt, “Forgiving ‘Seventy-Seven’ Times.” Retrieved from www.dancingwiththeword.com
  20. Daniel Clendenin, Ph.D., “Never Judge, Always Forgive.” Retrieved from www.journeywithjesus.net

Matthew 18:15-20 Conflict Resolution God’s Way

This passage from Matthew 18:15-20 was intended to give the early church guidance about how to deal with conflict and broken relationships. The first step toward reconciliation involves listening. Sometimes what we hear is not actually what was said. A good example is gossip. Several different stories or rumours often result from one story or incident. True listening means going to the other person. In other words, we are to take the first step. This is often painful, but it is necessary if there is to be any hope of reconciliation, forgiveness and peace. If a relationship is important to us, sooner or later we will need to swallow our pride.

If one-on-one efforts fail to resolve the problem, the next step is to involve two or three outsiders. Unfortunately, most people do this step first, and not in the way it was intended. People are often dragged into disputes as the parties involved look for allies. I saw this in a job I had a few years ago. Several of my co-workers tried to drag me into disputes that they are having with other co-workers or management. I told them politely that I was not going to get involved. There are times, however, where it is not possible or even desirable for the two conflicting parties to meet one on one, and therefore this second step actually has to be carried out first. Examples of situations where this is necessary include situations where the conflict is serious or sensitive in nature.

If the involvement of two or three outsiders fails, the next step involves taking the dispute to the entire church, usually through the governing body, but sometimes through a congregational meeting. This body has the final solution that can be used as a last resort-exclusion from the congregation by means of suspension or expulsion. Unfortunately, denominations such as the Mormons or the Jehovah’s Witnesses have used this to justify their policy of shunning former members. This is not what Jesus meant when he told the church to treat outsiders like tax collectors or Gentiles. After all, Matthew was a tax collector, and Jesus certainly didn’t treat him harshly!

We must remember that Jesus was the friend of tax collectors and sinners. His entire ministry revolved around bringing outsiders into the kingdom by reconciling them to God. He is doing the same thing today because we are all outsiders. All of us are outsiders of God’s kingdom because we are all sinners. Even if we have done nothing wrong in our lives, we are still sinners because we are tainted by the original sin of Adam and Eve.

While it appears that the church is forcing the offender outside its circle, it is, in reality, only acknowledging publicly that the offender has already placed himself or herself outside its circle. Jesus promises that God will support the church in this vital function. If the church doesn’t order its life, who will? If the church doesn’t deal with people in its midst that threaten its existence and mission, who will? The hope is that the offender will be motivated to take steps to regain membership in the fold. While the church regards the offender as a Gentile or tax collector, Matthew’s church regards Gentiles and tax collectors as a mission field.

Reconciliation is the key to healing rifts and conflicts. Is it possible? Yes. Icy conditions don’t provide a very good growth for new growth-spiritual and otherwise. In the words of a Jesuit martyr, “The natural world is for everyone, without borders. God’s table is a common table, big enough for everyone, each with a seat, so that each one can come to the table to eat”. The sacrifice of Jesus on the cross changes our concept of the role of violence in God’s protection of us; that is, violence is not a tool of our protection but rather our protection absorbs and transcends violence.

The process of reconciliation is made easier by the knowledge that God is with us if we come together in his name during the process. God is with us whenever two or three are gathered together in his name. God sustains us even when there is no hope. When we turn to the deepest centre of our hearts, we will find God and hope will spring forth. Reconciliation without God is not true reconciliation. It is merely peacemaking. When a believing community works to settle disputes, Christ is in our midst working to achieve the same goal. He is the ultimate peacekeeper and peacemaker. He is the role model for peacekeeping forces in trouble spots worldwide. Just like Christ laid down his life to reconcile us to God, peacekeepers are prepared to lay down their lives to bring peace and reconciliation to warring parties.

Matthew’s purpose was to make everything in the early church perfect. After all, he was a tax collector, and we all know how modern-day tax collectors like to have everything perfect and in order, especially when they want our hard-earned tax dollars! Matthew and Jesus wanted to restore order among believers. That’s why Matthew included these words from Jesus in his gospel. That does NOT mean that they went to the extremes the Pharisees did by making up rules to cover every potential situation. On the contrary, Jesus liked to keep things simple. That’s why he replaced the Ten Commandments with the two Great Commandments-“Love God and love people”. Reconciliation is easier to do if we keep these two Great Commandments in mind.

Although reconciliation is a desirable goal, there are times when it is not possible or desirable. For example, at the time I’m preaching this sermon, it will be only a few days until the world marks the anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. No one in his or her right mind would want to forgive or reconcile with Osama bin Laden and his colleagues after they committed mass murder.  

Jesus isn’t interested in who is right or who is wrong. He only cares about getting a broken relationship fixed. Our concerns about who is right and who is wrong often lead to giving up on relationships with others. Our natural response is to wage war with the other person, but that’s not part of the blueprint God has for our lives-and that blueprint is the Bible. God’s blueprint for our lives includes having conflicting parties sit down face to face and reconcile. The process of reconciliation is helped by prayer. When we are involved in conflict, we need to seek direction in prayer. If an outcome or resolution is reached through prayer, it will be accepted by God. Living a Christian life within a community of faith is not easy and demands some maturity from us. We have to determine how to love one another. It is more than being nice. Real love in our world requires informed thought and tough choices.

Matthew 18:15-20 is not meant to be taken as permission for those in authority to harm others or abuse their power. It is about listening, accountability and a larger vision of God’s kingdom. It is about being accountable to others for the power we hold. It is about using the power of God’s kingdom to care for the least and most vulnerable.

As I mentioned earlier, the process of reconciliation is helped by prayer. For example, Corrie ten Boom worked to save several Jews from the Nazis in Holland during World War II. She was arrested and taken to the infamous Ravensbruck concentration camp. She later wrote of her experiences in the famous book, “The Hiding Place”. She often thought back over the horrors of the Ravensbruck concentration camp. How could she ever forgive the former Nazis who had been her jailers? Where were love, acceptance, and forgiveness in a horror camp where more than 95,000 women died? How could she ever forget the horrible cruelty of the guards and the smoke constantly coming from the chimney of the crematorium?

Then in 1947 Corrie was speaking in a church in Munich, and when the meeting was over she saw one of the cruelest male guards of Ravensbruck coming forward to speak to her. He had his hand outstretched. “I have become a Christian,” he explained. “I know that God has forgiven me for the cruel things I did, but I would like to hear it from your lips as well. Fraulein, will you forgive me?”

A conflict raged in Corrie’s heart. The Spirit of God urged her to forgive. The spirit of bitterness and coldness urged her to turn away. “Jesus, help me,” she prayed. Then she knew what she must do. “I can lift my hand,” she thought to herself. “I can do that much.”

As their hands met it was as if warmth and healing broke forth with tears and joy. “I forgive you, brother, with all my heart,” she said. Later Corrie testified that “it was the power of the Holy Spirit” who had poured the love of God into her heart that day. This is the only way true forgiveness can take place. We turn our hurt over to God. We ask God for the ability to forgive.

The Holy Spirit lives in each and every one of us, but Jesus promises to be with us in a unique and special way when we gather in His name for worship, service and mutual encouragement. He is in our midst when we work together to right wrongs. Forgiveness and justice should characterize the Christian community. If it does, others will recognize something unique about the church and might even recognize Christ alive and active in our midst doing what isn’t “do-able” without him.

Some of you might have heard of a country song entitled, “Anyway.” It reminds us of how we are to treat each other as Christians, and it also sums up how and why Jesus wants us to resolve conflicts. I’d like to share some of its words as I close my message.

People are illogical, unreasonable and self-centered,
Love them anyway.
If you are good, people will accuse you of ulterior motives,
Do good anyway.
Honesty and frankness will make you vulnerable,
Be honest and frank anyway.
People really need help, but may attack you if you help them,
Help them anyway.
In the final analysis, it’s between you and God,
It was never between you and them anyway.

The late Jack Layton, former leader of the New Democratic Party in Canada, put it another way in the last letter that he wrote to Canadians before he died. He wrote, “My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving and optimistic, and we’ll change the world”. If we remember his words and the words of Jesus, especially when we are in conflict with our fellow man, we will change the world. Loving our neighbour fulfills any and every other divine command, for genuine love does no harm to its neighbour.

Bibliography

  1. Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible, NASV
  2. Jude Siciliano, OP, “First Impressions, 23rd Sunday (A)”. Retrieved from www.preacherexchange.org
  3. Phil Wise, “Heartlight Daily Verse-Matthew 18:15”. Retrieved from www.crosswalkmail.com
  4. Dr. Randy L. Hyde, “Two or Three”. Retrieved from www.sermonwriter.com
  5. Pastor Steven Molin, “Blueprint for Living”. Retrieved from www.sermonwriter.com
  6. The Rev. John Bedingfield, “Resolving Conflict”. Retrieved from www.sermonwriter.com
  7. Exegesis for Matthew 18:15-20. Retrieved from www.sermonwriter.com
  8. Barnes’ Notes on the New Testament. Part of Lessonmaker Bible software package
  9. Matthew Henry Concise Commentary. Part of Lessonmaker Bible software package
  10. Wycliffe Bible Commentary. Part of Lessonmaker Bible software package
  11. ESV Study Bible. Part of Lessonmaker Bible software package
  12. King Duncan, “On Picking Your Battles”. Retrieved from www.esermons.com
  13. Clayton Schmit, “Lectionary for September 7, 2008”. Retrieved from www.workingpreacher.org/preaching_print.aspx?commentary_id=136
  14.  Deanne Langle, “A Careful Road”. Retrieved from www.religion-online.org/showarticle.asp?title=3263
  15. Abingdon Commentary. Retrieved from www.esermons.com
  16. Dr. J. Howard Olds, “Radical Love is Reconciling”. Retrieved from www.esermons.com
  17. Kristen Swenson, “Shaping Heaven”. Retrieved from http://christiancentury.org/blogs/archive/2008-09/shaping-heaven?print
  18. Glen L. Borrenson, “A Protecting Grace”. Retrieved from www.esermons.com
  19. King Duncan, “Building Relationships”. Retrieved from www.esermons.com
  20. Michael L. Sherer, “For Christ’s Sake, What’s Going On?” Retrieved from www.esermons.com
  21. King Duncan, “Set Free Through Forgiveness!” Retrieved from www.esermons.com
  22. Roland McGregor, “A Brotherhood and Protective Order”. Retrieved from mcgregorpage@intenex.net
  23. “Jack Layton’s Last Letter to Canadians”. Retrieved from www.cbc.ca/news/politics/story/2011/08/22/pol-layton-last-letter.html
  24. Daniel Clendenin, PhD, “Between Resistance and Submission: A Question from Dietrich Bonhoeffer”. Retrieved from www.journeywithjesus.net/index.shtml?view=print
  25.  

Exodus 3:1-15 God and Moses Plan to Rescue the Hebrews, Part 2

“We had a story about Moses in church school today,” said Kelly as the family sat down at the table for dinner. “We learned that God talked to Moses from a burning bush and told him what he was supposed to do. Our teacher says God still speaks to people.”

Kevin jabbed his fork into a potato. “Maybe, but not through anything as interesting as a burning bush,” he said. “I’d like to see one of those–and I don’t mean the kind that has red leaves in the fall! I mean one that’s really on fire.”

“Yeah!” agreed Kelly. “Imagine one of Mom’s best bushes on fire and God speaking to us out of it!”

Mom smiled. “Make it a bush way at the back of the yard, will you?” she said. “We don’t want to burn the house down!”

“You know, it doesn’t require a real burning bush for God to speak to us,” said Dad. “That bush was just what caught Moses’ attention. It was when he took the trouble to check it out that God spoke to him. If we’re open to what God wants for us, He can catch our attention and speak to us through a lot of different situations or people.”

“I suppose so,” admitted Kevin, “but I still think it would be cool to have a burning bush.”

“Maybe you have one,” said Dad. “What about Jon’s wheelchair?” Jon, the son of their new neighbors, had been in a bad accident the year before and was confined to a wheelchair.

Kevin looked surprised. “What do you mean?” he asked. “How is Jon’s wheelchair like a burning bush?”

“Maybe that’s your call to attention,” suggested Dad. “Jon is often on his front porch when you go to play with your friends, and I’ve seen him watching you with a hopeful look in his eyes,” explained Dad. “Maybe God wants you to go over and talk with him. You could even wheel him down to the park to watch your games. Maybe if you do that, God will speak to you through him. You might even end up with a new friend! What do you think?”

Kevin smiled. “I guess it’s worth a shot!”

When Moses saw the burning bush, he saw that God was in the plan. What Moses heard was the voice of God Himself. The appearance of the Lord was the first instance of direct revelation to Moses. After 80 years, Moses was now ready to fulfill the Lord’s calling. No other leader in biblical times had such a lengthy training period. Times of preparation are never wasted: God knows that, properly prepared, His servants can do more in 40 years than they could do in 120 unprepared.

God appears in the ordinary. This is one of many ways in which He gets our attention. He uses positive events such as the birth of a child, and He also uses tragedies. God does not cause tragedies, but He uses them to get our attention. He has to get our attention before He can present Himself to us. When He gets our attention, we stand on holy ground. When we stand on holy ground, we have to remove the dirt from our lives. That dirt is called sin.

Sometimes it is only on the far side of the wilderness where God can get our attention. Sometimes it is when we feel alone, abandoned, and forgotten that our ears are pricked to hear. Isolation is often God’s place of invitation. God doesn’t speak and ask our advice regarding His plan. He makes declarations. He speaks, and that is that.

God meets us where we are. We are not always where we should be, but God adapts and accommodates us. Moses was not where he should have been, but the sight of the burning bush and God’s call brought Moses out of obscurity and isolation and sent Moses back to Egypt to lead the Israelites.

The burning bush represents God’s presence. The fact that the bush was not consumed means that we can know God’s presence eternally. For these divine moments, the area near the bush was the Lord’s house because of the Lord’s presence. The resulting command to “take your sandals off your feet” reflects this. The phrase “I have come down to deliver them” was meant for Israel, but they also point to the future incarnation of Jesus.

When He spoke from the burning bush, God called Moses by name. God became personal to Moses. God sees and knows. God identified Himself so that Moses would know that he was not meeting an unknown God. God often speaks to us through unusual circumstances such as a burning bush that is not consumed. When we find ourselves in the midst of confusing times that we do not understand, we should slow down and listen, because God might be trying to tell us something.

Moses was reluctant to take on the role that God asked of him, but Moses was the ideal person for that role. His dual identity as both an Egyptian and an Israelite made him the perfect person to confront Pharaoh for the sake of the Israelites. In spite of his reluctance and his youthful, misguided interventions, Moses was driven by a deep sense of injustice and a desire to intervene for the victimized and the mistreated. Moses and God were on the same wavelength.

God must break through several hard, exterior barriers in our lives before He can renovate our souls and use us. His persistent goal is to break through to the inner person. What are those layers that God has to break through and how does He break through to that hidden part? He finds pride, and He uses the sandpaper of obscurity to remove it. He finds us gripped by fear and He uses the passing of time to remove that fear. He encounters the barrier of resentment and breaks it down with solitude. He penetrates our inner person, and He brings discomfort and hardship to buff away that last layer of resistance.

Moses typified human response when God calls someone to do what seems beyond them, yet the success of any divine mission is never dependent on human abilities. The Lord’s words- “I will certainly be with you”- were intended to focus Moses on the true source of his future success.

So why did God ask Moses to free the Hebrews from slavery? There are three reasons:

  1. God hates injustice, oppression and sin. He saw and heard the misery of His people.
  2. God works to undo wrongs.
  3. He puts humanity to work.

God has to engage in spiritual warfare. When He asks us to do something, we often have to engage in spiritual warfare as well.

It’s one thing to be concerned and pray for someone from outside their circumstances; it’s another thing altogether to get involved in those circumstances as part of the answer. When we pray, God wants us to have an attitude of availability if He calls us to get involved.

When God said, “I am who I am,” He declared his eternal, unchanging, uncreated self-existence. The identification of the Lord as “God of your fathers” is enormously important: Moses and the Hebrew people needed to know that this was no “new god”-the Deliverer of Israel ever is and ever will be. Because of the covenant God created with Abraham, God was with the Hebrews, and He is with us. In return, He wants us to identify with Him. That’s why He says, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”

God is eternal. His resources don’t run out. His power doesn’t run out. He doesn’t need to rest. His gifts are limitless. His omnipresence reminds us that we are always being addressed and confronted by God. We are always on holy ground. Every so often we stop, take off our sandals and bathe ourselves in the constancy of divine revelation. If we are too busy to notice these God moments, we fail to see the beauty, wonder and love right where we are. Spiritual formation is about taking time to pause, notice, open, yield and stretch, and then respond to the holiness everywhere.

In Exodus 3:7-10, we see a picture of a redeeming God and redemption that is complete. God’s plan was to deliver His children from bondage so they could worship Him and be established as His chosen people. God did not forget the promise He made to Abraham and confirmed with Isaac and Jacob. God always hears the cries of His people, and He always remembers His covenant.

When he answered God’s call, Moses made several excuses. First. he said that he was not capable. The youthful confidence he had when he killed an Egyptian who was attacking a fellow Israelite was gone. The enormity of the task and the responsibility overwhelmed him. Was it genuine humility or a lack of faith in God’s ability and wisdom? The best promise God could give, He gave to Moses: “I will certainly be with you.”

The second excuse Moses gave was that he did not know God’s name. What would he tell the Israelites if they asked the name of the god he claimed to represent? In ancient times every god had a name, and people believed it was necessary to know the name of the god in order to approach him. A god’s name also revealed something of his character. Did Moses accept those beliefs, or was he concerned that the people had forgotten the God of their ancestors?

We know how Moses felt. We don’t think that we know enough, or that we have experienced enough, or that we feel deeply enough. We don’t think that we have anything to say. God’s answer to Moses’ excuse is the same answer He gives us. God created His personal name: “I AM WHO I AM.”

Community can do that to us. It carries us into uncomfortable experiences and walks alongside us, encouraging and challenging us along the way. And through the challenge and support, we grow. Being part of a community that challenges us may not be high on our priority list but being challenged is one of the only ways we grow. Growing is what God calls us to do.

We are qualified to do God’s work not because of our own talents, abilities, or training, but because God is with us. He does not call the equipped. He equips the called. If He is not with us, no amount of skill or experience will make us qualified. He isn’t impressed with us. He checks out our humility, our sensitivity and our availability.

God knows our needs and answers prayers in the manner that will help us serve His will, and often surprises us. There are many things God could give us to help us through life’s challenges. The best gift is Himself.

We don’t need a miraculous bush to hear God. When God gets our attention, it is up to us to respond. All we have to do is leave behind the cares of the world. We have to forget our “to do” lists. We don’t have to let the world make us feel guilty for spending time with God. We don’t have to listen to lies that tell us that we should be doing something more productive, something that matters. Nothing matters more than spending time with God.

God needed Moses. God needs people. We are God’s hands and feet. God sent Moses as His emissary and revelation. Divine power is real, but it is always connected to human openness and decision making. Would God have been able to free the Israelites without Moses’ commitment? We are not stronger than God, but our efforts can be the tipping point in a lively, interdependent universe.

This is a story of meeting God on God’s own terms. If we are going to know someone, we won’t know him/her until we experience him/her. When this happens, we have a spiritual experience. It transforms our lives. To know God, we have to go with God. Faith is a full contact, participation sport. We can’t just sit back and expect to really know God. We have to get into the game take a risk, try something marvelous, reach for something we thought unachievable, and step out onto the winding road the end of which we can’t see.

God depends on us to remind other people of the message of God’s love. It is by the Holy Spirit of God working through us that we can share the message of God’s love with one another and with those who don’t know God’s love. At this moment in our lives, what might God be calling us to do for His greater purpose? What new plans has He placed on our paths?

Bibliography

  1. Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible: New Kings James Version (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013; pp. 76-78)
  2. “Your Burning Bush.” Retrieved from keys@lists.keysforkids.org
  3. Dunnam, M.D. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 2: Exodus (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1987; pp. 54-70)
  4. Stanley, C.F.: The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible: New King James Version (Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles; 2005)
  5. MacArthur, J.F. Jr.: The MacArthur Study Bible: New American Standard Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers; 2006)
  6. Lucado, M.: The Lucado Life Lessons Study Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson; 2020; pp. 75-78)
  7. Sarah Young, “Holy Ground.” Retrieved from Christianity.com@crosswalkmail.com
  8. Alan Wright, “Spiritual Experience (Part 1).” Retrieved from www.sharingthelight.org
  9. Leslie Koh, “Are You There?” Retrieved from donotreply@email.rbc.org
  10. Baptist Bible Hour, “Day 9: Theme.” Retrieved from Oneplace@crosswalkmail.com
  11. Ruth Reilly-Smith, “God’s Retirement Plan.” Retrieved from donotreply@email.rbc.org
  12. www.insightforliving.ca
  1. Charles R. Swindoll, “Moses-I’m Here.” Retrieved from www.insightforliving.ca
  2. Sharon Jaynes, “When You Wonder if God is Concerned About You.” Retrieved from Crosswalk@crosswalkmail.com
  3. Charles R. Swindoll, “Moses-Hard of Hearing.” Retrieved from www.insightforliving.ca
  4. John North,” Exodus 3:9-12.” Retrieved from Christianity.com@crosswalkmail.com
  5. Amy Merrill Willis, “Commentary on Exodus 3:1-15.” Retrieved from www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=973
  6. David Lose, “Get Off the Couch and Into the Game.” Retrieved from www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=1600
  7. Bruce Epperly, “The Adventurous Lectionary-The Thirteenth Sunday of Pentecost-August 30, 2020.” Retrieved from www.patheos.com

Matthew 16:21-28 Take Up My Cross and Follow Me

In the famous words of the late American news commentator Paul Harvey, Matthew 16:21-28 is “the rest of the story”. It is a continuation from Matthew 16:13-20, in which Peter acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God. Now Jesus is telling his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem to complete his God-given mission to save the world by dying on the cross.

Naturally this comes as a shock to the disciples. After all, why would God send someone to do something as ungodlike as dying? And if dying was necessary, why couldn’t it be done on the battlefield instead of on a cross. It’s no wonder Peter rebukes Jesus. After all, here he was-a fisherman who believed Jesus, but who could not understand the true purpose of Jesus’ mission. He, like many of the Jews, thought that the Messiah would be a military ruler who would drive out the Romans and restore Israel to the glory days of the reign of King David.

Jesus told his disciples that he was going to lead them into battle-and they should not expect to come away unscathed. In fact, they should not be surprised if they died on the battlefield. They would be facing the forces of evil, and those forces were strong enough to wreak havoc. God would win the ultimate battle against evil, but in the meantime his disciples could expect the fight of their lives. It is a fight we are still involved in today.

Peter rebuked Jesus because he took seriously his new role as the rock on which the church was built. He took his role so seriously that he thought he had a responsibility to make sure that Jesus’ ministry would be successful. He thought it was his duty to rebuke Jesus, but Jesus put him in his place. His place was behind Jesus as a follower-a role we also have to play.

Peter, like Satan, tried to deflect Jesus from the way of God, and Satan tries to deflect us from God’s way today. Satan has lots of traps to put in our path, and because he is smart, he knows that the best time to trap us often comes after some great victory. In Peter’s case, it was just after Jesus told him that he was going to be the rock that the church would be built on. Peter wanted Jesus to follow the wide, smooth road of a worldly life that leads to death and sin. Jesus knew he had to travel on the narrow, rough road of life with God, and it is the same road we as Christians have to travel today.

Jesus wasted no time in dealing with Satan, and neither should we. Peter fell for the enemy’s temptations of allowing his thoughts to turn inward to himself and his desires for the nation of Israel. So Jesus moved quickly to put an end to Peter’s wrong way of thinking. We must never allow the thoughts of pride or sin to linger. We must keep our focus set on God and ask Him to reveal His perfect will to us. He knows the plan and outcome of our lives. We can trust him fully because He knows exactly what the future holds for us.

Jesus knew the road he would have to travel would lead to self-denial and the cross, and he urges his followers to be prepared to pay the price and suffer the consequences if they want to follow the same road of life. We as his followers have to sacrifice our own interests in favour of serving Christ. Our personal goals and interests have to take on a secondary importance if we want to receive eternal life. When we do, we will fulfill God’s purpose of giving life. Jesus often motivated his disciples to love and good works by reminding them that He would return one day in great glory to reward all His faithful servants for whatever they had accomplished in His name.

This concept isn’t east to understand. Spiritual growth takes place slowly. It takes a lifetime, and even as we reach the end of that journey, our understanding is far from perfect. For example, Jesus repeatedly told his disciples about the suffering that awaited him in Jerusalem, but they did not understand until after the Resurrection. The Holy Spirit had not yet come, and their eyes and minds were blinded to the eternal things of the Lord. However, after they saw the resurrected Christ, they knew He was the Saviour. God’s Word always bears fruit at the right time.

We take up the cross of Jesus any time we suffer in some way for identifying with Him and His cause. “Cross bearing” does not always include affliction or persecution in general. It may mean denying what we deeply desire in order to do the will of God. When we obey Him, we position ourselves for great blessing. We can take up our crosses and know that the Lord will bear them with us.

When Jesus said that those who want to save their lives will lose them and vice versa, he was right. Our world is full of examples of people who have sold their souls by using sex, drugs, money, careers, possessions or alcohol to find happiness in life, only to be disappointed. Whatever a person is or becomes in his outward life, the particular quality of his or her soul will be the deciding factor in how he or she lives and how others experience him or her. With God, though, there is another way. Through his life, suffering, death on the cross and resurrection, Jesus saves us by showing us the way to a life of God’s forgiveness, love and grace-given with no conditions and no strings attached. God provides for us the chance to live a life with a full range of the possibilities potentially present everywhere.

Jesus saves us by his death, by overcoming once and for all the power of sin. Sin no longer has a death grip over us. Christ makes it clear that God will forgive the sin that we confess and from which we repent in the sincere desire to renew our lives. Christ makes us realize that we are the most precious creatures in creation-creatures worth dying for.

As Jesus said, death lurks in the darkness of life. Whatever we hope to find outside of God’s plan proves elusive and temporary. Only by walking with Christ on the path of goodness will we find the security and contentment we are seeking. If our lives are more important to us than our faith, our lives will be over.  If our faith is more important to us than our lives, we will be rewarded with eternal life. Our Christian life involves sacrifice because Jesus must come first in our lives. We are to be like Jesus-selfless and obedient, even to the point of death to self and life in Christ. Matthew 25:31-46 tells us that we will be judged according to our deeds of mercy to the needy. We are saved by grace through faith, but Jesus makes it clear that our faith must be shown in good deeds.

Our crosses might not lead to death, but they can lead to other forms of persecution. For example, I subscribe to a Christian news service called ASSIST News. It regularly publish stories about persecution of Christians throughout the world, especially in Third World countries. Here are some recent headlines:

  1. “Landlord Evicts Church”
  2. “Egypt’s Double Standard Shown in Difference Between Muslim and Christian Abduction Cases”
  3. “0.1 Million Pakistani Christians Living Under Constant Death Threats’
  4. “A Christian Man Booked in an Engineered Blasphemy Case”
  5. “A Cry from Abidjan”
  6. “Afghan Christian Refugees Under Threat”
  7. “Prayer Sought for Students, Missionary Attacked While Sharing the Gospel

Here in our little corner of the world, our persecution might not be as severe. It could be in the form of rejection by friends or family. Our careers might be affected. All of these are a small price that we must be prepared to pay as we take up the cross of Christ on the road of life-just like Christ and Simon of Cyrene had to carry the cross to Golgotha.

What that will require will depend on our calling. We can discern that calling through prayer, reading the Bible and keeping our eyes and hearts open to see the challenges Christ sends our way. The cross that Jesus commands us to carry is the cross of submissive obedience to His will, even when it includes suffering and hardship and things we don’t want to do. It is a willingness to totally, absolutely, irrevocably and finally yield our lives to Him because we want what He wants more than what we want. When we take up our cross and follow Jesus, we will bring life to those he calls us to serve. In return, he will give us abundant, eternal life.

Sacrifice and self-denial are synonymous with following Christ. That is why the Prosperity Doctrine is so disturbing. That doctrine essentially says that God will bless your life, finances, business and so on if only you believe in Him. While God has called us to the abundant life in John 10:10 and the prosperity of the soul in Psalm 25:12-13, if God chooses to bless us materially, it will only be as a bi-product of putting His kingdom ahead of our own selfish interests.

The church also needs the challenge of the cross today. The church as the body of Christ and his followers also has a cross to bear as it fulfills Christ’s mission. It involves making decisions that will not please everyone, such as decisions made regarding the blessing of same-sex civil unions. Do today’s churches offer a faith strong enough that it can command a sacrifice? Can a church in today’s “me first” culture ask its people to sacrifice something for the sake of the gospel?

The pain and suffering of the cross and the spending of self for Him are a part of the Christian life. The life of self-denial and sacrifice of which Jesus spoke has been real enough for those who would follow him throughout the last 2,000 years. It has filled the meditations of saints and martyrs as well as offering rich metaphors for sacred poetry and hymns of the church.

Today we are reminded that our confession of faith has consequences and shows itself not only in public worship, but through our words and deeds in our daily lives. Peter’s story reminds us that it is not one incident alone that makes a life. Though we fall again and again, it is the getting up that marks the true child of God. So, we offer our lives in surrender to Christ’s purpose. The waters of our baptism still bubble up inside us and enable us to confess with Peter that Jesus is the Son of God. They also constantly renew in us the willing spirit that says, “Yes” to our own taking up the cross to follow Christ.

Bibliography

  1. Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible, NASV
  2. Exegesis for Matthew 16:21-28. Retrieved from www.sermonwriter.com
  3. Dr. Jack Graham, “Understanding the Cost of Being a Follower of Christ”. Retrieved from www.crosswalkmail.com
  4. J. Randal Matheny, “Spiritual Aspirin”. Retrieved from www.forthright.net
  5. Anne Graham Lotz, “Dying to Self”. Retrieved from www.angelministries.org
  6. Anne Graham Lotz, “The Cross of Obedience”. Retrieved from www.angelministries.org
  7. Dr. Charles F. Stanley, “Making Changes to Fulfill God’s Plan”. Retrieved from www.crosswalkmail.com
  8. Dr. Charles F. Stanley, “The Narrow Road”. Retrieved from www.crosswalkmail.com
  9. T.M. Moore, “The Primacy of the Lord”. Retrieved from www.colsoncenter.org
  10. Jude Siciliano, OP, “First Impressions: 22nd Sunday (A)”. Retrieved from www.preacherexchange.org
  11. Dr. Ray Pritchard, “How Good Christians Sometimes Do Devil’s Work”. Retrieved from www.keepbelieving.com
  12. Barnes’ Notes on the New Testament. Part of Lessonmaker Bible software program.
  13. Matthew Henry Concise Commentary. Part of Lessonmaker Bible software program.
  14. Wycliffe Bible Commentary. Part of Lessonmaker Bible software program.
  15. Notes from Peter Anthony’s Bible Study on the Gospel of Matthew
  16. “Proper Seventeen: Sunday between August 28th and September 3rd Inclusive”. Retrieved from www.ministrymatters.com/library/
  17. The Rev. Ken Kesselus, “August 31, 2008-Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 17-Year A (RCL)”. Retrieved from www.episcopalchurch.org/sermons_that_work_99908_ENG_HTM.htm
  18. Dr. Mickey Anders, “Look Good on Wood”. Retrieved from www.sermonwriter.com
  19. John Shearman’s Lectionary Resource, Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost, Aug. 28, 2011. Retrieved from http://lectionary.seemslikegod,org/aarchives/eleventh-sunday-after-pentecost-august -28-2011

Romans 12:9-21 Our Christian Legacy

Have you ever thought about the legacy you want to leave behind when you die? I’m not talking about a physical legacy such as the things you own. I’m talking about how you want people to remember you. The type of legacy you leave behind will depend on the kind of life you lead on earth. Do you want to leave a legacy that is based on the world, its possessions and its sinful nature, or do you want to leave a legacy that is based on a life of service to God and that is pleasing to God? God has put together a checklist for a legacy that is pleasing to him. The most important item on that checklist is Christian love. In Romans 12:12-16 Paul teaches us how to show love in practical ways. 

The most important qualities of genuine love are sincerity and discernment. If there is no sincerity, love becomes manipulation, competition and pretense. There is no room for this because love and truth go hand in hand. Love clings to what is good.

Love is characterized by devoted affection. It is to be characterized by the warm affection that is shared by family members. In our case, it is the warm affection we have for all of God’s people. Sometimes this can be difficult, but we must make the effort because our family bonds can’t be broken.

Love is also characterized by honour. This includes letting someone else have his or her own way in matters that are nonessential. We must listen carefully when other people speak, even if and when they disagree with us. We must treat other peoples’ feelings with respect and dignity.

We must also have enthusiasm and passion. It is a passion for doing well by others. It is a boiling passion to love and serve God. This passion can’t be contained. This does not mean that we have to show the same enthusiasm that is shown in charismatic churches such as the Pentecostal church or the Salvation Army.

Love is also patient, especially as explained in 1 Corinthians 13 (also known as “the love chapter”). This can be hard to do in times of trial and difficulties. It means fulfilling obligations and receiving blessings when we are discouraged. We can press on when we devote ourselves to prayer.

Generosity is also a part of love. Love means sharing what we have with the less fortunate. Love means sharing in the suffering of our fellow human beings even when our own circumstances are different. The resources we have been given by God can be the means of blessing or cursing, the instruments of good and evil. The determining factor is whether we regard our resources as personal possessions to be used as we desire or as gracious gifts from God to be used for his glory and man’s benefit.

Closely tied with generosity is hospitality. The original meaning of the word “hospitality” is “loving strangers”. It means showing love to those who are different from us in race, nationality, creed or belief. Love takes the initiative and actively looks for opportunities. A good example is the hospitality many people here in the Maritimes showed during the immediate aftermath of 9/11. When thousands of airplanes had to land at the nearest airport when American airspace was shut down after the World Trade Centre in New York was attacked, Maritimers opened their homes and hearts  to stranded passengers by providing food, clothing, shelter and day trips. The same hospitality was shown after the crash of Swissair Flight 111 when people provided food for searchers and comfort to visiting relatives of the passengers.

Also tied in with hospitality and generosity is graciousness. It is the most difficult aspect of love to carry out. Graciousness means returning good for evil. Grace in response to evil is a unique characteristic of a godly person, and grace can only come from God.

True love also means showing compassion, sympathy and empathy. It celebrates joy when fellow believers celebrate joy and grieves when fellow believers grieve or die. Compassion says, “I will do anything I can to stop your hurt.” Jesus was repeatedly moved by compassion. He was willing to do whatever he could to stop others from hurting, including going to the cross. He was willing to die to stop our hurt by giving us a way to receive God’s grace and eternal life.

True love is also characterized by an emphasis on satisfying another person’s need for approval. We are to facilitate another person’s victory. We are to rejoice in hope in the assurance that by doing so, our lives will count both now and for eternity.

Love must always be shown with humility. Paul warns the Gentiles in Romans 11:1-2, 29-32 not to be full of pride, and here in Romans 12:9-21 he repeats the same warning to all of us. Paul urges us to think like other Christians, but not to blindly go along with the group. We are to be for the same things even if our viewpoints and approaches are different. In other words, we are to try to find common ground without sacrificing God’s truth. We are to seek out and serve the outcasts of society. Most of the time love must be tender, compassionate and understanding but there are times when love must be tough, firm and unbending, especially when we are speaking the truth of God’s word.

Part of love is forgiveness. It allows God’s love to flow cleanly and clearly. It is the antidote to the bitterness, anger and resentment that come from our tendency to hurt each other. Paul’s warning to bless those who persecute us are an echo of what Jesus says in Matthew 5:44-“Love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you.” Jesus says the same thing in Luke 6:28-“Bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” Paul hints that to love others genuinely is to love as Jesus loved. 

Love is hard to show when we have been wronged. It’s only natural for us to seek revenge, but we must remember that God will ultimately punish those who have wronged us unless they repent and turn to him. For example, many of us want to curse those who have wronged us, and I don’t mean cursing as in casting spells or using black magic. Instead, we curse them with words

, including words that take God’s name in vain. We must remember that God does not have a last name that is spelled D-A-M-N. We must speak well of those who have wronged us. We must bless them, which is contrary to our human nature. We have to look beyond our hurt to see what good we can do for the offender. Our behaviour must be guided by a godly character and not by a worldly character that seeks revenge. We are to set aside our revenge so that God can use his own brand of revenge to bring the offender to repentance.

There are times when it is not practical or possible not to take revenge. When we are confronted by an evil that is extremely dangerous, we have no choice but to respond with vengeance. If we do not fight evil, we allow lawlessness, tyranny and oppression to gain a foothold. For example, what would have happened if Nazi Germany had not been fought and defeated? What would have happened if NATO had not intervened during the civil war in Yugoslavia? What will likely happen if democratic countries do not stand up and oppose Russian support of the rebels in Ukraine? The most extreme forms of evil must be fought decisively, but they must be fought with a spirit of love and concern for the victims of evil.

Paul does not condemn any actions we take to protect ourselves against physical attacks. For example, if someone breaks into our homes we are not to say, “Here, help yourselves!” We are to call the police, have the offender arrested and press charges. Paul’s aim is to teach us how we are to respond to verbal attacks, slander, lawsuits or dirty politics at work, school or other places.

So how can we respond to issues that make us angry such as oppression, injustice, deception, manipulation and violence? We can’t simply turn a blind eye. In fact, Paul says in Romans 12:9 that we are to hate evil. That means that we are to do everything within our power to fight evil, but at the same time we are not to repay evil for evil. We are to repay evil with good, as mentioned in Romans 12:21. This is easy to say but difficult to do in practice.

When we respond to evil, we must respect what is honourable in the sight of all men. We must be careful in both our proper conduct and appearances. For example, Billy Graham had a policy of not being alone behind closed doors with any woman other than his late wife Ruth.  It was one of many rules he and his associates followed for the sake of their reputations. There are also rules in my Diocese that govern how members of the clergy are to interact with other people.  The more visible our position, the more careful we must be.

How should we respond when we meet difficult people? Here are four methods that Jesus used:

  1. Realize that we can’t please everyone.
  2. Learn to say “no” to unrealistic expectations.
  3. Never retaliate.
  4. Pray for them

Paul’s comments on the issue of vengeance are a mission statement for God’s master plan of salvation. He will overcome the world’s evil with his goodness and grace. He will transform the world and bring it back under his righteousness. If we return evil with good, we show our faith in God by playing a role in his pan for the world. Sometimes we feel we are alone in this task. After all, it’s rare to find other believers coming to help us when we are attacked. It is at times like this when we must remember the question Paul asks in Romans 8:31-“If God is for us, who can be against us?” To paraphrase a popular saying, with friends like God, who needs enemies? We can withstand attacks when we have faith in Jesus. We are to overcome evil with good.

Paul’s letter to the Romans offers advice and direction on how we as Christians are to live our lives. Our old habits and rules don’t apply any more. Our new Christian life takes some getting used to because it goes against our human nature. It calls on us to tame our egos and show Christian love to others.  In our world where trying to get ahead of one another seems to be the rule, God asks us to consider a new reality: to love genuinely and reciprocally, to clutch that which is good and to compete to show the most integrity. When we show the characteristics of true love, we show our faith in God. We also set a good example for other people to follow. When we die, not only will we go to heaven, but those we leave behind will remember and cherish the great legacy we have left behind, and that is because it is the type of legacy that we will want to leave behind-a legacy of Christian love.

Bibliography

  1. Swindoll, Charles R.: Swindoll’s New Testament Insights on Romans (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan; 2010)
  2. Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible, NKJV (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013)
  3. Pastor Rick Warren, “How Can We Love Difficult People?” Retrieved from www.newsletter.purposedriven.com
  4. ESV Study Bible. Part of Wordsearch 10 Bible software package.
  5. Briscoe, D.S. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 29: Romans (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1982)
  6. Pastor Rick Warren, “Your Friends Need You to Share in Their Pain” Retrieved from www.newsletter.purposedriven.com
  7. Pastor Rick McDaniel, “Have Passion.” Retrieved from Oneplace@crosswalkmail.com
  8. Kelly McFadden, “The Family of Believers.” Retrieved from www.homeword.com
  9. Sheri Rose Shepherd, “His Presence Every Day-The Bait of Anger.” Retrieved from Biblegateway@e.biblegateway.com
  10. Bayless Conley, “When Peace Isn’t Possible.” Retrieved from Christianity.com@crosswalkmail.com
  11. David Zanstra, “Revenge is wrong.” Retrieved from www.thisistoday.net
  12. Exegesis for Romans 12:9-21. Retrieved from www.lectionary.org
  13. Elizabeth Shively, “Commentary on Romans 12:9-21.” Retrieved from www.workingpreacher.org
  14. Mark Reasoner, “Commentary on Romans 12:9-21.” Retrieved from www.workingpreacher.org

Exodus 1:8-2:10 God and Moses Rescure the Hebrews, Part 1

There are few things that bring more happiness than the birth of a new baby. For weeks before the baby is born, the preparations are made. The parents make sure the baby will have everything it needs. They buy clothes, baby bottles, little blankets to keep the baby warm, soft, fuzzy pajamas for the baby to sleep in. After the baby is born, care is taken to make sure that the baby has everything it needs to grow into a strong and healthy child. Good parents will do everything they can to keep their baby safe.

The birth of a child is a miracle. It is the result of the uniting of male and female to create life. The birth of a child causes us to contemplate the mystery of it all and rejoice when its full impact hits us. There are special cases where the miracle is so profound that we know that God is involved. The case of the birth of Moses, which we read about in Exodus 1:8-2:10, is a good example. God worked through Moses’ mother and Pharaoh’s daughter to save Moses’ life so that He could work through Moses to save his people eighty years later.

The essence of the Christian faith is not certainty but trust, and we see that throughout this passage. There are three things that are certain in life-death, taxes and change. Change calls us to trust God. He is constant in His love and in His self-giving.

The Israelites were wise to remember this. A new Pharaoh came to power, and he did not know Joseph. He did not see the heirs of Joseph, whose shrewd policies saved Egypt in the midst of a terrible famine, and whose family came to live among the Egyptians in peace in the land of Goshen. He was afraid of the Hebrews, so he persecuted them. Three unsuccessful methods were used to limit the exploding population growth of the Hebrews:

  1. Working the Hebrews to exhaustion.
  2. Commanding the Hebrew midwives to commit infanticide.
  3. Selective annihilation, with baby boys being cast into the River Nile while baby girls were spared.

Unfortunately for Pharaoh, he did not know that God was on the side of the Hebrews. The Hebrews had a purpose and destiny that could not be stopped. They were part of God’s larger, more important plan-a plan that was more important than Pharaoh’s. God will have the final word, in spite of Pharaoh’s belief that he is in control. God will bring down the powerful from their thrones and lift up the lowly. This text is resonant today in our congregations, our nations and our world. Issues of race and politics, religion and politics, gender and power, the war on terror, the inequities of our global economy, mission and hospitality to the stranger and all manner of suffering and bondage threaten us and our churches.

Speaking of God, where was  He? He isn’t mentioned in this story until Exodus 1:17, which speaks of the midwives’ fear of God. The story of the oppression of the Israelites was well underway. God’s first explicit action does not come until Exodus 1:20, and He remains in the background as abuse and oppression grow. It is through God’s providence that the Hebrews were fruitful and prolific, which was something God promised to Abraham and Sarah. This same source of blessing and promise of multiplication has become Pharaoh’s fear and the Hebrews’ oppression. The more God multiplies the Israelites, the more Pharaoh opposes them with abuse and death.

This passage is part of the larger story of the relationship between God and His people. The Hebrews will learn who God is, and they will learn that their identity is rooted in belonging to God. God will refer to them many times as “my people.” He will claim the,  hear their cries and deliver them. In Exodus 5:2, Pharaoh will ask, “Who is God, that I should heed Him and let Israel go? I do not know the Lord, and I will not let Israel go.” Pharaoh and the Israelites will need some convincing about who this God is and to whom the Israelites belong.

The Hebrew population multiplied during their long years of ease. Conflict and oppression took them out of their comfort zone. They were willing to risk a bold Exodus for freedom. Life’s sorrows and burdens give us a perspective that nothing else will. As long as we are happy and content, we will never move along in life. We need to be detached from everything we depend on and trust so that we can depend on God.

The snatching of victory from the jaws of unlikelihood is something God does regularly. He did it through Joseph. He did it through Moses so the Israelites could have a new life. He did it through Jesus so that we who were dead to sin could have a chance for a new life.

Shiprah and Puah-possibly leaders of the guild of midwives-refused to commit infanticide, fearing the real King more than their earthly ruler. These women were likely Egyptians who came to faith in Yahweh and were included in Israel. That is, Yahweh provided households for them.

When one Is faced with committing a great evil, it is permissible (even praiseworthy) to avoid it by committing a lesser evil, especially since some sins are worse than others. In this story, genocide is worse than lying. God sustained and blessed the Hebrew midwives in their commitment. He used them to do His work. They could depend on His power-a power that no one and nothing can defeat.

The word “ark” (in this case, a floating basket) alludes to Noah and, as in his day, served here as a vessel of divine deliverance. The basket was placed among the reeds by the bank of the Nile where the current was slight, so it would not wash out to sea. It was also placed where the women of the palace would see it when they came to dip in the waters of the Nile as part of their religious ritual.

The daughter of Pharaoh knew immediately that this child was a Hebrew because he was circumcised. Her adoption of Moses as her son, along with the selection of Moses’ own mother as his wet nurse, are two ways that God preserved the infant. The word “Moses” in Egyptian most likely means “born”,” but the Hebrew equivalent means “to be drawn out.” God would later use Moses to draw His people “from the water.”

Moses was saved by an individual act of kindness. Today, we must go beyond kindness to create compassionate institutions and compassionate communities. We must do everything we can to ensure the safety and flourishing of people who are at risk.

The key to getting through tough times is to trust God. We can’t just want to trust Him. Trust takes time, and that includes time with Him. Until we are ready to trust, obey and follow Him, we are not ready to be used by God, no matter how good our credentials or our intentions are.

Moses’ early life was part of the preparation for the work God had for his life. God has tasks for each of us to accomplish, and for these tasks we do not have to rely on our own strength and abilities. God has arranged things and handled all of the details so that we will be ready when He calls. Our responsibility is to trust Him rather than our own strength. We can always trust His wisdom and love to both know and do what is best.

This story may have taken place 3,500 years ago, but it’s familiar. All we have to do is look at the carnage that lies in fear’s wake. Fear brings down buildings, causes wars, and dominates legislative processes. One word about employment statistics or credit ratings sends investors fleeing and economies reeling. Fear also dominates our daily lives. How much of our energy goes into protecting, insuring and risk-managing? How often does fear dictate our parenting, our time-management, and even our churches, especially in light of the current COVID-19 pandemic? We would be well-advised to heed the words of Franklin Roosevelt when he said during the Great Depression that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself!”

Bibliography

  1. Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible: New Kings James Version (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013; pp. 76-77)
  2. Dunnam, M.D. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 2: Exodus (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1987, pp. 28-42)
  3. T.M. Moore, “Which Sins Are Worse?” Retrieved from noreply@ailbe.org
  4. T.M. Moore, “Where is God?” Retrieved from noreply@ailbe.org
  5. Dr. Ed Young, “Good Intentions.” retrieved from ministry@winningwalk.org
  6. Dr. Paul Chappell, “God Has Already Made the Arrangements.” Retrieved from daily@dailyintheword.org
  7. Thea Lunk, “Floating Moses.” Retrieved from today@thisistoday.net
  8. “Snatching Victory from the Jaws of Unlikelihood.” Retrieved from http://churchintheworld.com
  9. John Holbert, “Pharaoh Goes Bonkers, or the Stupidity of a Tyrant: Reflections on Exodus 1:8-2:10.” Retrieved from www.patheos.com/progressive-christian/pharaoh-goes-bonkers-john-holbert-08-18-2014.html
  10. Amy Merrill Willis, “Commentary on Exodus 1:8-2:10.” Retrieved from www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=972
  11. Rick Morley, “Fear Versus Compassion.” Retrieved from www.rickmorley.com/archives/721?utm_source=rss&utm_campaign=fear-versus-compassion-genesis-18-210
  12. Dennis Olson, “Commentary on Exodus 1:8-2:10.” Retrieved from www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=131
  13. Cameron R.B. Howard, “Commentary on Exodus 1:8-2:10.” Retrieved from www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2169