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God Can! (Judges 3)

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    Today, we’re going to continue looking at Judges to see what surprising things this part of God’s Word has in store for us. We’re continuing to look at this pattern that the ancient Israelites got into that is expanded upon in the book of Judges where the people would sin, cry out to God because of the consequences of their sin, God would raise up a judge (a leader) to deliver them, the people would repent and serve the Lord, and then have a time of peace before returning back to sin. We’ve learned that God calls us to obedience, just as He has always called His people to live in obedience to Him, to worship Him only, to serve Him with our lives, and He does let us suffer the consequences when we don’t do that, yes. But, even when we break the covenant relationship with God, He is still faithful. He is still good. He still follows through with His promises, and He provided a way for His people to be delivered from the consequences of their sins, just as He provided a way for us to be delivered from our sins through the shed blood of Christ! We’ve seen God work through grace, even and especially when the people didn’t deserve it.
    So Judges 3 holds three interesting stories for us today about 3 judges God raised up to deliver His people. I want to look a little at the details of these judges stories, but I mostly one to focus on one important aspect of what happened through two of these judges as they were empowered by God to deliver His people.
    Let’s jump right in!
    The first judge we meet in the book of Judges is Othniel. We read about his story in Judges 3:9-14. As we saw last week, the people turned their hearts from the Lord and served Baal and Asheroth after Joshua died.
    We’re told in Judges 3:8, that a Mesopotamian king was allowed to enslave the Israelites for eight years. This king’s name was Cushan-Rishathaim. There’s something that’s actually really funny about the book of Judges, as dark and violent and disturbing as it can be, there’s also a tone of irony and mocking in the book of Judges that adds some levity to the book.
    I find this interestingly timely right now, with the state of semi-panic that our world is in right now, one of the responses that we’ve had to the uncertainty of the spread of coronavirus is to make fun of the panic and to try to make light of how crazy things feel right now.
    When the book of Judges was written down, we find that the Israelite people did the same thing. They tried to make light of their situation by making fun of the oppressive leaders and kings that took over the nation.
    This king, this Mesopotamian king that was the first to enslave the people during this time, we’re told that his name was Cushan-Rishathaim. Now, Cushan was a name, for sure, but Rishathaim actually seems to be a sort of nickname that the people gave him, which means double-wickedness. So, the people called him Cushan the doubly wicked. Even though they were being subjugated by him, they still found ways to make fun of this foreign king, to mock him.
    So the Israelite people were slaves to this doubly wicked king for 8 years before they cried out to God because of their oppression. We know that God’s response was to raise up a judge to deliver them; Othniel was his name. Othniel, we’re told was Caleb’s younger brother. So we need to understand that he probably grew up with first-hand knowledge of all that God had done during Joshua’s conquest of the Promised Land. He probably knew a lot about what God had done for His people. He was an appropriate choice to be the first judge.
    Let’s look briefly at the second judge in Judges 3:15-30. Though the people were delivered by Othniel and lived in peace for 40 years, after Othniel died, they turned back to their worship of Baal. They were once again allowed to suffer the consequences of their sin, and the country was taken over by the Moabites led by King Eglon.
    Now, just like we saw with Cushan-Rishathaim, with the people making fun of the king to try to bring some levity to their situation, they did the same thing with King Eglon, so we know it’s not coincidental. Eglon’s name is similar to Hebrew words for “calf” or “heifer” which in turn comes from a root word that means “be round”. This is an appropriate name for him, and I want you to see why.
    Look at the description of King Eglon in verse 17, “Now Eglon was a very fat man.” He was so large in fact, that when he is killed by the second judge, Ehud, by a dagger or a sword, his fat completely closes in around the entire weapon. He was a very large man.
    Now, his name may have actually been Eglon, but, it’s just as likely that the Israelites, in an attempt to make light of their situation, gave him the name Eglon as a way of making fun of him, just as they did with Cushan-Rishathaim. They were making fun of his largeness.
    We’re told a few things about this second judge as well, whose name was Ehud. We’re told that he was from the tribe of Benjamin, and we’re told he was left-handed. We know that he made the sword or dagger that he used to kill King Eglon, and we know that his left-handedness had a big role to play in his calling as judge.
    But, I want to go back to Othniel, the first judge for a moment. I want us to look at Judges 3:9-10, “When the sons of Israel cried to the Lord, the Lord raised up a deliverer for the sons of Israel to deliver them, Othniel the son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother. The Spirit of the Lord came upon him, and he judged Israel. When he went out to war, the Lord gave Cushan-rishathaim king of Mesopotamia into his hand, so that he prevailed over Cushan-rishathaim.”
    There’s something very significant about what is said here, particularly verse 10 when we’re told that the Spirit of the Lord came upon Othniel. Now, we know that this means that the Holy Spirit was with Othniel, came over him, into him, was working in him in some way, but we have to be careful to not compare this to what New Testament believers experienced on the Day of Pentecost. This is not a guaranteed indwelling of the Holy Spirit, this is not a guarantee of the gifts of the Spirit or of the fruit of the Spirit. This is simply the Spirit of the Lord coming upon one person, the person God has chosen to be the judge to deliver His people, and enabling that person to act on what God wants them to do. That looked differently for each judge.
    For the first judge, Othniel, all we’re told in verse 10 is that he prevailed over Cushan-rishathaim. We don’t know the details of that story. We can try to imagine and use our “sanctified imaginations”, if you will. We can probably correctly assume that the Mesopotamian king was strong in some way, strong enough to oppress the Israelites. Maybe he had a great army, maybe he had very skilled fighters, maybe he was even a skilled fighter. We don’t know for sure, but we can also probably correctly assume that it would not have just been an easy thing to go and prevail over a king.
    If it was going to be an easy thing, then there would be no need for the Spirit of the Lord to come upon Othniel. If it was something he could have done in his own humanness, then God wouldn’t have needed to empower Othniel with the Spirit. The task of prevailing against Cushan, the doubly wicked, required supernatural, divine intervention. It was not possible, for whatever reason, by Othniel alone.
    That’s the point. The people were oppressed and enslaved and couldn’t pull themselves free of the wicked king’s oppression. They needed the help of the Lord, and He empowered Othniel to do something impossible. Humans alone couldn’t do it, but God can!
    The people had forty years of peace before the second king, the large king, King Eglon rose up and oppressed the Israelites. The people were slaves to him and his forces for eighteen years before they cried out to be delivered.
    God raised up the second judge, whom we’ve already sort of introduced, Ehud, the Benjamite, who was left-handed. Now, with this judge, we’re not told that the Spirit of the Lord came upon him. What we get is a longer detailed story of how he went before the very fat king and was able to slip past the guards with a weapon, get the king isolated, and then kill him and seal him off in his room, then escape without raising alarm.
    I do want us to read a few verses here, verses 16-26.
    (16-18) “Ehud made himself a sword which had two edges, a cubit in length, and he bound it on his right thigh under his cloak. He presented the tribute to Eglon king of Moab. Now Eglon was a very fat man. It came about when he had finished presenting the tribute, that he sent away the people who had carried the tribute.”
    This first step alone in Ehud’s plan would have been incredibly tricky and risky to carry out. He’s left-handed, so in order to be able to quickly pull his sword/dagger out to kill the king, he binds it to his right thigh. He conceals it under his cloak. Why? Because if he doesn’t he won’t get close to the king. If they find a weapon on him, they will kill him. However, those who were guarding the king would have been looking for weapons concealed on a person’s left side where it would be easier reached by someone who was right-handed. But Ehud is left-handed, so those who search him to let him get close to the king, don’t find his weapon. Coincidence, or divine intervention?
    He brings a tribute to King Eglon as ruse to get close to him, then he sends those who had helped bring the tribute away. So far, so good. He’s managed to keep his weapon concealed and get close to the king.
    (19-20) “But he himself turned back from the idols which were at Gilgal, and said, “I have a secret message for you, O king.” And he said, “Keep silence.” And all who attended him left him. Ehud came to him while he was sitting alone in his cool roof chamber. And Ehud said, “I have a message from God for you.” And he arose from his seat.”
    The judge, Ehud, tells the king he has a secret message for him, so the king, for some strange reason, sends all of those in the room out of the room. All of those who were attending on him, all those in his court, all those who were responsible for guarding him and keeping him safe…and he sent them all out of the room to hear this secret message from a member of the enemy country he was occupying and enslaving.
    Now, we know that King Eglon was a very fat man, but it seems to me that maybe he wasn’t very smart either! He let himself be alone in a room with someone he should’ve considered an enemy. Again, coincidence, or divine intervention?
    (21-23) “Ehud stretched out his left hand, took the sword from his right thigh and thrust it into his belly. The handle also went in after the blade, and the fat closed over the blade, for he did not draw the sword out of his belly; and the refuse came out. Then Ehud went out into the vestibule and shut the doors of the roof chamber behind him, and locked them.”
    When the king rose to hear this secret message from God, Ehud struck and killed the oppressive king. The details are disturbing and gross. But, as disturbing as this is, we have to view it for the near impossible task that it was, to get close enough to a king, alone, long enough to kill him without raising any suspicion. Again, coincidence, or divine intervention? The judge, Ehud, then left the dead king and locked the door behind him to delay the finding of the body.
    (24-26) “When he had gone out, his servants came and looked, and behold, the doors of the roof chamber were locked; and they said, “He is only relieving himself in the cool room.” They waited until they became anxious; but behold, he did not open the doors of the roof chamber. Therefore they took the key and opened them, and behold, their master had fallen to the floor dead. Now Ehud escaped while they were delaying, and he passed by the idols and escaped to Seirah.”
    The locking of the chamber door does indeed delay the finding of the dead king, and as a result Ehud is able to get away and if you read on, you see Ehud declaring to the Israelites that the Lord had given the Moabites, the enemy, into their hands, so they pursued them and struck them down and drove them out of the land and had 80 years of peace.
    We don’t once get the phrase “the Spirit of the Lord came upon Ehud”, but I think from the circumstances of this story, when we carefully consider all that happened and how impossible it would have been for an enemy to sneak a weapon into the king’s presence and convince the king to send everyone else out of the room, and kill the king and escape the home without raising suspicion, I would say that it is unlikely that any of this would have happened without the Spirit working in or through Ehud in some way. This was an impossible task, and I don’t think a mere human could’ve pulled it off…but God can!
    Look briefly at the third judge in this chapter in verse 31, “After him came Shamgar the son of Anath, who struck down six hundred Philistines with an oxgoad; and he also saved Israel.” He struck down SIX HUNDRED PHILISTINES WITH A HAND TOOL! That’s all an oxgoad is. It’s a long stick with a hook at one end, and with that he killed 600 people. Don’t tell me that wasn’t a Spirit empowered victory! Impossible by human standards…but God can!
    The point this morning through these stories of the three judges in Judges 3 is that God can do the impossible. He can do the improbable. He can work miracles. He can heal the sick. He can stem the spread of diseases. He can work to give us Resurrection Sunday together. Now, He might not, and that’s okay too, but in this time of just plain uncertainty, He must cling to the hope that we have that our God is capable of anything. That He is all powerful. That He is sovereign and still in control and none of this is out of His control.
    I want to encourage you this morning. I want you to understand that not only is God capable of handling the current events of our world, but just as importantly, He is capable of doing the impossible in you! He is capable of forgiving your sins. He is capable of freeing you from patterns of sin that hold you tight and won’t let go. He is capable of giving you a new life and a new purpose. He is capable of giving you hope. He is capable of empowering you to do the impossible in this world.

1. God was clearly at work through all three of the judges we’ve looked at today. How many other stories can you think of in the Bible where God worked supernaturally through humans to accomplish the “impossible”?

2. What “impossible” things do you need to pray about? Things God can do that you can’t. Be specific and write them down. Are you facing financial difficulties? Are you struggling with sin or an addiction? Are you battling dark thoughts? After you’ve identified the impossible in your life, pray this week for God to do the impossible!

By Grace! (Judges 2)

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    Today we’ll start going deeper into the book of Judges to see what happens, what God does, when the Israelite people don’t do what He’s asked them to do. We saw last week through Judges 1 that God desires for His people to be obedient to Him, and He wants us to set an example, not only to other Christians, but to the world as well, and we can’t do that if we’re not obedient to Him.
    We’re going to dive into Judges 2, particularly the last half of the chapter. We’re going to look at the sin that the Israelites chose over and over again, and how God handled that, and also, what that means for us.
    Let’s look at Judges 2:10-13, “All that generation also were gathered to their fathers; and there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord, nor yet the work which He had. Then the sons of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord and served the Baals, and they forsook the Lord, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt, and followed other gods from among the gods of the peoples who were around them, and bowed themselves down to them; thus they provoked the Lord to anger. So they forsook the Lord and served Baal and the Ashtaroth.”
    This was the consequence of the tribe of Judah, and many other tribes, not driving out the Canaanites from the land completely. The people mingled with the Canaanites, and married them, and started to learn about the Canaanite gods and serve their gods. Within just a few years, those who lived under Joshua’s leadership died, and a new generation rose up that didn’t know the Lord.
    Now, there was a lot involved in that process of forgetting God. Not driving out the people was part of that process. So was the peoples neglecting to teach their children about who the Lord was and what He had done for the people. Most people couldn’t read, most people couldn’t write, most people weren’t educated in any real sense of the word, so knowledge about the Lord, who He is, what He’s done, was passed primarily through parents to their children. If that wasn’t done, then it would be that much easier for there to be a generation that no longer knew the character of the God they were supposed to serve.
    The people instead started serving and worshiping Baal. Baal was the Canaanite god, sort of their chief god. Baal was thought to be the god of rain, the god of the land and its fertility, the god of the sun. So, what the Canaanites believed was that if they worshiped Baal, and his consort goddess, Ashtoreth, then the two of them together would send rain onto the land and the land would produce fruit and grains and the people would be provided for.
    Unfortunately, the worship of Baal and Ashtoreth required practices that the Lord had condemned: human sacrifice, child sacrifice, and temple prostitution. So, when God’s people forgot the Lord, and instead started worshiping Baal and Ashtoreth, we have to understand that they were involved in these practices that God had condemned. Obviously that’s a problem, but not just because of these practices.
    Remember Moses and the burning bush? Remember when Moses asked the Lord who He is, and God told Him, “I Am”. In Hebrew, the name that God gave to Moses was “Jehovah”, and when He gave Moses that name, He was reminding Moses of what He had promised to Abraham. It was a covenant to be His God, to be faithful to Abraham, to make Abraham into a great nation that would be a blessing to all. God, Jehovah, was reminding Moses that God is the God of the covenant. There is a covenant between the Lord and His people.
    This covenant relationship between God and His people is a bond like a marriage. That’s your first blank if you’re following along in your bulletin this morning. The covenant relationship between God and His people is a bond like a marriage. It is an agreement between two parties to love one another and care for one another, but most importantly to be faithful to one another.
    I want you to read a bit ahead and look at Judges 2:17, “Yet they did not listen to their judges, for they played the harlot after other gods and bowed themselves down to them. They turned aside quickly from the way in which their fathers had walked in obeying the commandments of the Lord; they did not do as their fathers.”
    The word choice here, that the people, the Israelites “played the harlot after other gods”, reflects what their choice to worship other gods did to their covenant relationship with the Lord. On the part of the people, they broke that covenant, they broke the covenant relationship. Now, God didn’t break His part of the covenant, the people did. But, when they did that, and here’s your next blanks, to break that bond is an act of spiritual infidelity. The people effectively cheated on the Lord.
    Now I want you to look at Numbers 25:3-5, “So Israel joined themselves to Baal of Peor, and the Lord was angry against Israel. The Lord said to Moses, “Take all the leaders of the people and execute them in broad daylight before the Lord, so that the fierce anger of the Lord may turn away from Israel.” So Moses said to the judges of Israel, “Each of you slay his men who have joined themselves to Baal of Peor.”
    This was how Baal worship had been handled previously. The Lord took worship of other gods very seriously, to the point that when His people had previously worshiped Baal, the Lord ordered Moses to have them executed! Baal worship, and really any worship of any other god, false god, or idol, was severely condemned by God throughout the entire history of God’s people.
    His just nature demands that evil be dealt with harshly. His just nature demands that sin be dealt with by the death of the person who sinned. This is what we normally expect to see in the Old Testament, is God’s just nature.
    But, I want you to look at what God’s actual response was. Judges 2:16-18, “Then the Lord raised up judges who delivered them from the hands of those who plundered them. Yet they did not listen to their judges, for they played the harlot after other gods and bowed themselves down to them. They turned aside quickly from the way in which their fathers had walked in obeying the commandments of the Lord; they did not do as their fathers. When the Lord raised up judges for them, the Lord was with the judge and delivered them from the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge; for the Lord was moved to pity by their groaning because of those who oppressed and afflicted them.”
    Because the Israelites didn’t drive out the Canaanites from the land, and because the people worshiped Baal and Ashtoreth, God let them be oppressed by the Canaanites. God didn’t cause the people to be oppressed, He just allowed for the natural consequences of their actions to happen. Then the people would cry out because of their oppression, and God’s response was to raise up judges, leaders, to deliver the people from their oppression.
    We’ll look at a few of these judges over the next few weeks, but there is a pattern with each of these judges. Every time God would raise up a judge to deliver the people, the people would follow the Lord during that time, but as soon as the judge would die, the people would go back to worshiping Baal and Ashtoreth, back to breaking the covenant relationship with the Lord.
    And still, God would raise up a judge to deliver them from the consequences of their choices. Why? They broke the covenant. They would continue to break the covenant over and over again. Why would God, a just God who demands justice and righteousness, provide deliverance for a people who break their covenant with Him again and again?
    Look closely at verse 18 again, “When the Lord raised up judges for them, the Lord was with the judge and delivered them from the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge; for the Lord was moved to pity by their groaning because of those who oppressed and afflicted them.”
    Here’s your next blank, “the Lord was moved to pity by their groaning.” God demands justice and righteousness and payment for sins, yes, but more than anything, He loves His people. He loves them enough to let them experience the consequences of their sin, but He also loves them enough to deliver them when they don’t deserve to be delivered.
    This isn’t just a New Testament idea, that God loves His people. We certainly see it expressed very clearly in the New Testament, especially when we consider passages like John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” Or Romans 8:38-39, “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
    We see this concept displayed continuously in the Old Testament as well though, and this passage proves that. That word that we read in verse 18, “pity”, is translated elsewhere as compassion, or a desire to comfort. So, what is happening here, is the same thing that happened in Exodus when the people were oppressed and crying out to the Lord and God had compassion on them and a desire to comfort them and so He made a way for them to be delivered.
    The people got themselves into trouble, and when they were suffering under the weight of the consequences of their sins, they cried out to God, and because of His love for them, He took compassion toward them and desired to comfort them through the consequences of their own sin.
    Why did God do this? Not because He had to. Not because He was obligated to the people, because the people had already broken the covenant. He did this because He loves His people. He did this because regardless of how much His people disappointed Him, His love could not be separated from them. He did this because as much as He is a just God, He is also a loving God and a merciful God.
    The pattern that we see here, is that even in the midst of disobedience and sin, is that God provided a way for deliverance. This is something we see over and over again throughout the entire Bible, as God’s response to humanity’s sin.
    Continue this pattern on into the New Testament, and we see the greatest example of God providing a way for deliverance even, no, especially, when the people don’t deserve it. What we see in the story of the cross in the gospels is the same thing we see here in Judges 2, that even in the midst of disobedience and sin, God provides salvation by grace! That’s your last blank this morning. Grace is when God gives us what we don’t deserve. He showers us with blessings that we have no business having! The best being that He provided a sacrifice for our sins when we didn’t deserve it.
    All of this story in Judges highlights the sin of the people, yes, it highlights their disobedience, yes it highlights the consequences of sin, but most importantly it highlights the grace of God. It shows how amazing His grace is, that He would provide deliverance for His people, even when we don’t deserve it.
    We’ll close today’s message with a few questions to consider and answer this week:

1. Read Ephesians 2:1-10 this week. How does the pattern we see in Judges (sin, crying out to God, repentance, deliverance, peace) show the salvation by grace through faith that Paul talks about in Ephesians?

2. Many times, we look at the Old Testament and choose to only see a harsh God who inflicts judgment and punishment on His people when they stray even a little. How does this passage in Judges 2 prove that this is not the whole story?

3. Have you seen proof of God’s abundant grace in your life concerning past sins? How did that deepen your trust and faith in Him? If you’re currently struggling with disobedience or sin, how can you rely on His grace more to bring you back into a rightful relationship with Him?

Partial Obedience? (Judges 1)

Listen to Part 1 Here          Listen to Part 2 Here

    Today, we pick back up where we left off in the Old Testament some four months ago. I’m glad we went through a series on discipleship. I see that the Spirit led us to that, and used that time to refresh our vision and our desire to radically follow Christ and help others to do the same. But, I’m excited for us to get back to the Old Testament as well, so as a church we have an overview about the entire Bible.
    Today, we’ll start Judges 1 and once again pick up the story of God’s people. To recap so far, God called Abraham out of his own country to go to a land that God would give him. He blessed his life, and because of Abraham’s faith, God promised to Abraham descendants that would be so numerous they would be like the stars in the sky. God blessed Abraham with a son, Isaac, and Isaac was blessed with two sons, Esau and Jacob. Jacob, through deceitful means stole Esau’s birthright and blessing. Jacob was then blessed with many sons, among whom was Joseph. Despite Joseph’s bragging ways about dreams God had given him, God used Joseph in great ways, and during Joseph’s life, God’s people found themselves living in Egypt.
    At first, things were favorable for them, they were given the choicest land to raise their flocks, and had the favor of Pharaoh because of how God had used Joseph to save Egypt and Israel. Things went well for them. Then, a Pharaoh came into power that didn’t know about Joseph and all he had done for the Egyptians.
    God’s people were abused and mistreated and enslaved. They cried out to God and God raised up Moses to go in and deliver His people from slavery. Moses confronted Pharaoh several times and eventually the Israelites left Egypt to go to the land God had promised Abraham. God gave them a code of commandments to live by, and we had an interesting episode where the people made a golden calf because they thought God had forgotten about them.
    But, they got to the Promised Land and it was amazing, but there were already a mighty people living there and the leaders of the tribes were afraid and told the rest of the people that they wouldn’t be victorious, even though God had already told them He would give them the land! So, God told them they wouldn’t enter the land, and they wandered around the wilderness for forty years.
    Finally, through the leadership of Joshua, after 40 years, the people got to go into the Promised Land and they went in, just as God said they would, and they drove out the Canaanites who were living in the land and took the land.
    So, that leaves us at the book of Judges. Let’s open with a video about the book of Judges. (Video Handout Here)
    The book of Judges starts with Joshua’s death. Unlike when Moses passed away and left Joshua as his successor to lead Israel, when Joshua passed away, he didn’t name anyone as the leader to lead the people. Let’s look at Judges 1:1, “After the death of Joshua, the Israelites asked the Lord, “Who of us is to go up first to fight against the Canaanites?”
    Joshua passed away and left no leader. Obviously this presents a problem, especially in this time in history, people groups without a leader became more susceptible to attacks from other people groups. Without a leader, there’s no one to cast a vision for the people, no one to organize the people. People groups at this time needed a leader to survive.
    Not only did they not have a leader, but they had no direction as a people. They had a little bit of an issue too, because although Joshua had driven the Canaanites out of the cities, there were still pockets of Canaanites in the Promised Land, and after Joshua died, these groups began to rise up against the Israelites because they had no leader. And with no leader, they had no one to give them direction on how they should go against the Canaanites.
    But…what does verse 1 say? Joshua died, and the nation was uncertain of their future, but the Israelites asked the Lord.
    See, when we closed the book of Joshua, Joshua charged them to not forget Who they served. He reminded them about all that God had done for them throughout the years, and urged them to choose who they would serve. They hadn’t forgotten that charge, and so, even though they were facing uncertain and confusing times as a nation, they knew exactly who to go to. They went and asked the Lord.
    Judges 1 gives us sort of a preview of what’s going to happen throughout the bulk of the book of Judges, and what I want to focus on this morning is this pattern that the people fall into.
    It starts with the tribe of Judah. See, in Joshua 15, God had chosen the tribe of Judah to go into the Promised Land and be the first to obtain their inheritance. Of all the tribes, God had started to single out the tribe of Judah for special consideration. Maybe because the man Judah had spared Joseph’s life when his other brothers wanted to kill Joseph, Judah suggested they simply sell him into slavery.
    When Jacob was near death, he called all of his sons to him and he blessed them, and his blessing for Judah was that from Judah’s line, Judah’s ancestors, would come kings who would rule over the nation of Israel until all nations became obedient to one king from Judah. This was a prophecy about King David in some ways, but ultimately, it’s about Christ coming from the line of Judah.
    So, we need to understand that this is what God had in store for the tribe of Judah when He began to set the tribe of Judah as the leader for the nation of Israel in the book of Judges. God had planned for the Messiah to come from that tribe.
    Look at Judges 1:2, “The Lord answered, “Judah shall go up; I have given the land into their hands.” Look at verse 19, “Now the Lord was with Judah, and they took possession of the hill country; but they could not drive out the inhabitants of the valley because they had iron chariots.”
    See how, when the people were without a leader, without a direction, and they asked God what they should do, He told them that it would be the tribe of Judah that He would work through. In fact, verse 19 even says that the Lord was with Judah. That’s your first blank as well, the LORD was with Judah.
    Just like when Moses led the people to the Promised Land and God told them to go and take the land, He told them He would be with them. He told them He had already delivered the people into their hands. The same is true here, God was with the men of Judah, the tribe of Judah, and because He was with them, they could go into the land with confidence and drive the remaining Canaanites from the land. All they had to do was do what God had asked them to do.
    Now, what was that? What was it God asked them to do? Look at verse 2 again, “The Lord answered, “Judah shall go up; I have given the land into their hands.” He wanted them to take the land from the Canaanites still living in the land. They were meant to drive the Canaanites out from the land entirely so they didn’t come back, and so the Israelite people didn’t co-mingle with the Canaanites and turn to idol worship. That was the most important thing, is that God didn’t want His people worshiping other gods.
    The command was take the land. What did Judah do? Verse 19, “Now the Lord was with Judah, and they took possession of the hill country; but they could not drive out the inhabitants of the valley because they had iron chariots.”
    Here’s your next blank in your bulletin if you’re following along, they took the mountain, but not the VALLEY. This is unusual because, in ancient times, if you wanted to build a city that was strong and well-protected, a city that could stand against invaders, you built it on a hill, a plateau, in the mountains. This way, you could use the landscape to help defend the city. So if you were attacking an enemy, it would be wiser to attack the valley, where the people were spread out and defenseless, than to attack the mountains where the people were protected and fortified.
    At first, the men, the tribe of Judah, knowing that God was with them, He was on their side, and He had already given the land to them, with that confidence, they attack a mountain fortification, and they take it. They attack the hardest place to attack and they are victorious.
    But then, for some reason, they looked at the people of the valley, and their iron chariots, and they were afraid, maybe? They forgot God was on their side, maybe? But they don’t drive the people out of the valley, and they don’t completely follow through with what God had told them to do.
    This sets off a chain of events that you can read about in Judges 1:21-36, but I’m going to sum up for you. Judah didn’t completely obey what God had told them, and then this happens:
    The sons of Benjamin did not drive the people out.
    Manasseh did not take possession of the land.
    Ephraim did not drive out the Canaanites.
    Zebulun did not drive out the inhabitants.
    Asher did not drive out the inhabitants.
    Naphtali did not drive out the inhabitants.
    Do you see the pattern? Judah, the tribe that the Messiah is supposed to come from, the tribe God chose to work through to finally get rid of all the Canaanites in the Promised Land, decided for whatever reason, not to be completely obedient to God, and they set off a whole chain of events as six of the other tribes followed their lead.
    This sets the stage for disaster, as the people do just what God didn’t want them to do, they co-mingle with the Canaanites and they choose not to serve the Lord and to worship the false gods of the Canaanites.
    And the tribe of Judah doesn’t recover its special position amongst the tribes until David becomes king.
    All of this starts the cycle of idol worship and sin that takes centuries to break. All of it starts here, with partial obedience.
    We know how this turns out for the Israelites, but what about us? Do we ever only partially obey God? Have you ever thought, “Well, I might not be perfect, but at least I don’t do this or that…” or “At least I’m not as bad as so and so?” The point is that partial obedience is still disobedience.
    Whatever it is that God has asked us to do, or asked you to do, to not do it completely, or to only do it partially, isn’t mostly obedience, it’s disobedience. The point isn’t to be better than someone, or not be as bad as someone else. The point is to do what God has asked of us.
    The thing that we need to pull away from what happens with Judah and ultimately the nation of Israel, is that not only is partial obedience disobedience, but also, that when we aren’t obedient to what God has asked us to do, it doesn’t just affect you, it affects everyone around you. Just like we saw with Judah and the tribes that followed Judah’s example, when we’re not completely obedient to the Lord, we set a poor example for other Christians to follow.
    Our questions for this week are designed to help you dig into this message even more, and to examine areas of your life where you might be living in disobedience to what God has asked you to do by being only partially obedient:

1. God was with Judah and the whole nation of Israel, yet they chose not to operate in His power and favor. Can you think of ways that you choose not to operate in His power when He has promised to be with you?

2. Judah was given a great charge, but due to their partial obedience, they led much of the nation astray. What are some areas of your life that need to be surrendered to complete obedience? Be specific. Do you see how God might use your obedience as an example to others?

Come, Let Us Reason Together Part 2 (1 Timothy 2:12)

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    Since January, we’ve been talking about making disciples: making better disciples of ourselves and then taking what we have learned and grown through ourselves, and moving out of the comfort of the church to go and make disciples of all nations. We’ve learned that we, each and every one of us, are responsible for making disciples, teaching them, and being a part of their spiritual growth.
    Last week, we specifically looked at things we need to make sure to consider when we read God’s Word, things that when we do them, help us really get the most out of the Bible in a way that doesn’t go against what it actually says. We want to grow through God’s Word, and we know that the best way to do that is to thoroughly studying what the Bible says, taking into consideration many contexts and tools that help us dig in. We looked at seven different considerations last week.
    So, this week, as the last week of our series on being and making disciples of Christ, we’re going to look at a passage that is often debated, misunderstood, and taken out of context, and we’re going to apply the considerations we learned about last week to this passage and see if it helps us understand the passage a little more.
    I want you to turn to 1 Timothy 2:12, “But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet.” Obviously, this can and has brought much confusion to the church since Paul penned his letter to Timothy nearly 2,000 years ago. Entire doctrines of beliefs about the church and the way it should work have been built off this one verse and one more that is similar. Because it has the possibility of dividing the church, we have to take a closer look at this passage, and we’re going to look at our seven considerations from last week to do that.
    The first consideration for studying Scripture is to consider the context. We learned last week that it’s not wise to try to understand one verse independently of all the verses and chapters that surround it. So, we need to first look at the whole of what surrounds this verse.
    1 Timothy is a letter that was written by Paul to sort of help guide Timothy through some issues that he was facing as he pastored the church that Paul helped establish in Ephesus. The thing with Paul’s letters though, is that he almost always opens his letters with two things: first, a greeting to the church or person he’s writing to; and second, the purpose of why he was writing the letter. This can be really helpful for us when it comes to understanding a passage in one of Paul’s letters, because what we can do is look back to the opening of Paul’s letter to see why he wrote the letter.
    1 Timothy 1:3-7 gives us the purpose of Paul’s letter to Timothy, “As I urged you upon my departure for Macedonia, remain on at Ephesus so that you may instruct certain men not to teach strange doctrines, nor to pay attention to myths and endless genealogies, which give rise to mere speculation rather than furthering the administration of God which is by faith. But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. For some men, straying from these things, have turned aside to fruitless discussion, wanting to be teachers of the Law, even though they do not understand either what they are saying or the matters about which they make confident assertions.”
    In the simplest way I can put it, and there are blanks in your bulletins to fill along with this, 1 Timothy is about how to deal with FALSE teachers spreading HERESY throughout the church in Ephesus. So, what we have to do then, is read 1 Timothy with that understanding. Every part of 1 Timothy that we read we should go back to this point, and ask ourselves, “Okay, what does this have to do with false teachers in the church?”
    I want us to do that with our key verse, “But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet.” We should ask ourselves, “What does this have to do with false teachers in the church?” And try to start answering that question.
    When I’m studying passages like this, particularly in Paul’s letters, and I’m trying to understand a passage through the context, I like to start writing down possible answers to the question of what the passage has to do with the purpose of the letter.
    So for this passage, I would say, “Well, what does this have to do with false teachers in the church?”
    Maybe, women, for some reason in this church, were teaching or saying things that weren’t true.
    Maybe, these women were leading people astray.
    Maybe, some women were being contentious and disruptive by how they were teaching.
    When we start to try to figure out how a passage fits into its proper context and what it has to do with the reason the author wrote it, we start to see it in a different way.
    The second consideration for this passage is to know the difference between interpretation and application. Interpretation is what the passage actually means, and application is how the meaning affects how we live our lives every day.
    Now, we haven’t fleshed out an interpretation yet, but even still, we can start to look at how different interpretations might be applied. One possible interpretation is that Paul intended that no woman should teach a man or have authority over a man, under any circumstances. How is that applied? It might seem pretty cut and dry, but if we look at this application closer, we start to see some issues.
    At what age does a boy become a man? For the Jews is was age 12, but that was a cultural decision. For us, we’d say that age is 18, or maybe even 21. These are movable conditions though, so the application of this potential interpretation is sticky at best.
    What about in the home? Do women no longer have any authority over her male children when they turn 12? 18? What sort of chaos does that set a mother up for when dad isn’t home? What about single mothers?
    How does this interpretation fit with other places in Paul’s letters? Is there contradiction or agreement? What does this mean for Jesus’s commands to all His disciples to make disciples and teach them? These are questions we have to ask.
    The other interpretation of this passage is that Paul did not intend to discredit all women from teaching or preaching or having authority, as long as we understand certain contexts and conditions that should be met first. How is that applied? Well, in that interpretation we’d find that men and women become equally responsible and capable of fulfilling Jesus’s words to everyone to go and make disciples and teaching them to obey Christ.
    We also find with this application that it agrees with many other places in Paul’s letters, like Galatians 3:28, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
    So, we have to consider the way each interpretation changes the way we would apply this passage to our lives.
    The third consideration is to find the plain meaning. We talked last week about how this simply means that we just read it and take it at face value, if we can. This is one of those passages where that might seem like a simple thing to do. But, remember that we’re looking at the whole context.
    Let’s look a little further into the passage. Look at verses 13-15, “For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve. And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression. But women will be preserved through the bearing of children if they continue in faith and love and sanctity with self-restraint.”
    A simple reading of these verses might suggest that Adam took no part in being deceived by Satan, despite what Genesis 3 clearly says. A simple reading of these verses might also suggest that women are saved in part through childbirth, which is clearly a contradiction to the rest of the message of the New Testament. What about women who stay single, as Paul recommends? Are they not to be saved? What about women who can’t have children? Are they not to be saved? Clearly, this entire section of Paul’s letter to Timothy needs to be more closely examined, and unfortunately, a simple, plain meaning reading doesn’t work well here. So, and here’s your next blank, sometimes, you must DIG a little DEEPER to find the meaning.
    The next consideration is to take the Bible literally. What is the over all truth that is taught? We know we need to dig deeper for this passage. One of the questions we should try to answer is what Paul indicates about women ministering to men in other places in his writings.
    In Romans 16:1, Paul wrote this, “I commend to you our sister Phoebe, who is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea;” Now, a little digging into who Phoebe was will yield that the church in Cenchrea met primarily in her home. We also know from other places in Scripture, and from other historical documents, that those who held or hosted churches in their homes, were usually the ones who were teaching or preaching those who gathered. It’s most likely, that Pheobe was the teacher or preacher for the church at Cenchrea. In fact, in another place, Paul calls her a deaconess, charged with the duty of teaching the Word of God.
    In 1 Corinthians 1:11, Paul says, “For I have been informed concerning you, my brothers, by Chloe’s people, that there are quarrels among you.” Chloe was another women who led a group of the Corinthian church in her home, much like Phoebe. Unlike some in the Corinthian church, she was reported to be faithful to the charge given to the church.
    Or Romans 16:3, when Paul says this, “Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus,” Now, I’ll ask you to research Prisca, or Priscilla in one of your questions this week, but for now just know that what we see from her from Scripture is that she and her husband Aquila were fellow apostles along with Paul, and they worked hard to spread the gospel. You’ll even see that she, along with her husband, together, working as a team, corrected some false doctrine of one of their brothers in Christ.
    What about Colossians 4:15 when Paul says, “Greet the brothers who are in Laodicea and also Nympha and the church that is in her house.” Much like Phoebe and Chloe, Nympha was likely responsible for teaching and preaching the Word of God to the church that gathered in her home.
    Back to Romans 16:7, “Greet Andronicus and Junia, my fellow Jews who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was.” Junia was a female apostle who at one point was imprisoned with Paul for preaching the gospel!
    Contrary to what Paul wrote to Timothy in one verse, Paul generally had high praise for the women who preached and taught God’s Word, sometimes even right along side him! We have to take these passages literally too.
    So, we’d be wise to keep going and to next consider the grammatical context. Paul says, “But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet.”
    I said last week that we need to look at the who. Who is doing the action? Who is involved? Who is being addressed, etc? We already know Paul wrote the letter. We already know he wrote it to Timothy. Is there any other “who” in this verse?
    We have Paul, the “I” in this verse. We have “a man” which in the Greek is plural and meant to indicate that Paul is talking about all men. And we have “a woman” which in the Greek is singular and indicates that Paul was talking about one woman. Hmm.
    Then we should ask, “What woman, Paul?” He doesn’t specifically say, but we do need to consider the grammar here. He’s not encompassing all women with what he said, he was singling someone out. One particular woman. That’s a bit different, isn’t it?
    On to the “what”. What is being done here, what is the action? The action is teaching or having authority over men. This has to be considered along with the how. How is the action being done? The answer is that it’s not, at least it shouldn’t be. The woman, Paul is saying, he would not let teach or have authority over men.
    I want to point out one more interesting thing about the grammar here, how the words are being used. The word we translate as authority comes from the Greek “authentein”. It is the only time in the entire Bible that this word appears. What that means is that we can’t check this word against Paul’s other letters to see how he uses it in other contexts. What that means is that we don’t actually have an accurate picture of how to translate this word from Paul, who wrote it. The closest we have is other texts, not the Bible, that were written around the same time that use the word “authentein” to mean these things: doer of a massacre, author of crimes, perpetrators of sacrilege, supporter of violent actions, murderer of oneself, sole power, perpetrator of slaughter, murderer, slayer, slayer of oneself, authority, perpetrator of evil, and one who murders by his own hand.
    So, maybe we have incorrectly translated this word when we translate it into English? The point is, we can’t know for sure because it’s the only time this word appears in the Bible. We call this a hapax legomenon. It means it only is used once. Language is very complex, and it’s foolish to build an entire church doctrine based on one word that appears one time in the Bible.
    We want to also consider the historical context. Here’s what we know about what was happening historically in and around the church in Ephesus. We know that there was a negative cultural attitude toward women in general. Women were lesser than men. Women were meant to serve men, many times in a very demeaning way. Women had no rights, couldn’t vote, couldn’t hold property, couldn’t go to some public places.
    Women couldn’t be educated, or at least not educated past a certain age. So, women didn’t have knowledge about how to read or write. They couldn’t go to the synagogues and listen to the rabbi so the only spiritual knowledge that they would have about the Bible would be what their husbands or brothers or fathers or maybe even sons taught to them.
    In Ephesus, the temple to the goddess Diana was very popular, and there’s some evidence that a handful of women came out of temple service to the goddess Diana to the church in Ephesus. It’s possible that what they learned as temple servants to a false god wasn’t completely unlearned when they became Christians and then those false doctrines and heresies spread.
    This is even more likely when we know that it’s highly unlikely that these former temple servants were educated in any way. We even know that there was a female heretical teacher at Thyatira, which was just 30 miles away from Ephesus.
    We also have to consider, that in addition to the women Paul mentioned who did preach and teach the Word of God to men, there are many other women named in the New Testament who did the same work for the Lord: women like Lydia; the mother of John Mark; Tabitha, and even Mary Magdalene. What about the Old Testament? Miriam-Moses’s sister, Deborah-a judge over Israel, Huldah-a prophet of God who taught king Josiah in God’s ways, Esther, Ruth, Abigail, all of whom taught and had authority over men in some way.
    So, the last thing we want to do is to let go of our baggage. Maybe you’ve never had an issue with women teaching and preaching, which is good for me, but you’ve always wondered about how this passage fits into the Biblical story. Maybe you grew up in a tradition where women weren’t even allowed to speak in service at all. Set all that aside. What is really being said here? Did Paul really mean to say that no women could preach and teach to men? Or just one woman in particular because she was spreading false doctrines and heresies? Does authority really mean in a position over, or have we mistranslated this and taken it to mean something it doesn’t and built an entire doctrine based off a misinterpretation? What of all the women Paul commends for their teaching of God’s Word to men? Let go of your baggage and hear what the Spirit is saying.
    This are the questions I want you to answer this week:

1. Look at Acts 18:24-28. Study a little about Priscilla (Prisca), what other passages in the New Testament does she appear in? What did Paul have to say about this woman? What does verse 26 say about her role when it came to correcting Apollos?

2. Have you ever found yourself guilty of building a doctrine (belief) based on one verse, one word, rather than considering all the contexts involved in a passage? If so, what beliefs come to mind?

3. What kind of baggage do you need to let go of when it comes to this passage of Scripture? Cultural influences? Society influences? Tradition? Personal biases? Be specific, and ask the Spirit to relieve you of this baggage and lead you into a deeper understanding of God’s Word and His ways through this passage.

Come, Let Us Reason Together Part 1

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    One of the most common things I’ve heard from Christians when we talk about the Bible is that they just don’t know how to study the Bible, really study it. Hopefully we read it daily for devotion, and we should. If His Word is meant to be our daily bread, like we talked about last week, then we should be devouring it every single day. It should be what we crave and desire because it leads us to a relationship with God and helps us know Him and ourselves better. Because it is the means of communication that God has given us to know Him better, it means we should approach Scripture not only with the understanding that it is the Word of God, but with a desire to know everything that there is to know about what it says.
    In Matthew 22:37, Jesus says to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” Have you ever thought that studying the Bible is a part of loving the Lord with all your mind? Because…it is!  God invites us to know Him, to come and reason with Him, and He has given us His Word to do that. What that means though, is that He desires for us to not just read it, but to dig into it, to study it, to think about it logically, to pull it apart and dissect it so we can get all the richness that He has put into His Word.
    Last week we talked about wrongful approaches to God’s Word, and reasons why God gave us His Word. Today, I want to talk about how to study God’s Word. I want us to work together to know how exactly to get the most out of Scripture so we understand what God is trying to communicate to us and what that means for us as Christ followers.
    Today, I want to go through 7 things we should strive to do and remember when we study the Bible so we can get as much out of it as we possibly can.
    Let’s look for a moment at Philippians 4:13. This is a verse that many people are familiar with, and many probably even know by heart. “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” Some translations say, “I can do all things through Christ Jesus who gives me strength.”
    We often see this verse attached to encouraging messages when we face difficult times. I’ve heard this verse used to encourage someone who was dealing with the consequence of their own sin, and they were told that they could endure the consequence because Christ would give them strength. It’s not untrue, but it grossly took this verse out of context.
    I’ve also seen this verse attached to encouragement for Christian athletes. Things like: I can be the best gymnast because Christ gives me strength; or I can run this race because of Him who strengthens me. Again, not necessarily untrue, but again, it grossly takes this verse out of context.
    See, context is important, and extremely so. If you’re studying the Bible and you want to make sure you get as much out of God’s Word as you can, you have to understand the context of what is being said. That means that more often than not, you can’t take one verse and understand the one verse all by itself. You have to read what comes before and after, usually for several verses, though sometimes for a whole chapter or more to truly understand what the context is.
    For example, the verse that I’ve read from Philippians 4 is amidst a conversation about the concern that the Philippian church had for Paul. They had shown him a tremendous amount of care. He was in prison facing death, and had been beaten and stoned. He tells them that he speaks from a place of contentment though, despite his circumstances. He had lived with plenty before, but he had also lived with just the bare essentials, and he had learned to be content, that he could do all things through Christ who gives him strength. That’s the context. This verse isn’t about sports, or many other things that we try to make it about. It’s about having strength in Christ to endure the changing nature of life, the up and down waves that we face day to day as Christ followers.
    But, if we don’t take the context into consideration, it’s easy to misunderstand what God’s Word is saying to us. We have to look at the context of any passage.
    The second thing I want you to consider is to know the difference between interpretation and application.
    Interpretation is what the text means, what was intended by the writers. Application is how we apply the interpretation to our lives. What does God want us to do with what He has said?
    Here’s the danger we can sometimes fall into as Christians: we’re in a Bible study group and everyone goes around and takes turns talking about what a certain passage means to them. Now, it’s okay for a passage to mean something special to us, that’s how it should be with God’s Word. We should cherish it and desire to know Him more through His Word. But we must be careful to make sure that when we look at how to apply His Word to our lives, we first know what it means.
    Look at Matthew 22:39 for an example, “The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Loving our neighbor might look differently for each of us. Maybe for one person, you go out of your way to help your actual neighbor move. Maybe for another person, you’re prompted to bring an encouraging note to a co-worker who is going through a difficult time. The action of loving our neighbors may be applied in different ways with different people to different people in different situations. But, the meaning of the passage is the same: God calls us to love others in the same way that we love ourselves. The meaning doesn’t change just because we love differently than another person.
    The same is true for all the Bible. The intended meaning doesn’t change just because we might apply it differently, and it’s important for us to keep that in mind.
    The third thing I want you to consider about studying the Bible is to find the plain meaning. We bring a lot to the table when we study the Bible. We bring our own preconceived notions and ideas, we bring our own biases, and our own experiences. We must be careful not to let these things shadow our study of Scripture. Remember the second consideration, that the interpretation of any passage doesn’t change just because we apply it in different ways.
    If we seek to find the plain meaning of Scripture, it will serve us well. For example, in Luke 12:33, Jesus tells His disciples, “Sell your possessions and give to charity; make yourselves money belts which do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near nor moth destroys.”
    We can sometimes be tempted to look at passages like this and say, “Surely Jesus doesn’t intend for me to sell my possessions and give to charity? That must mean…xyz…”
    But if we look at what the rest of the passage says, and we weigh that against Jesus’s words as a whole, we see that He actually does advocate for you to hold loosely to earthly possessions, He does say that we should sell what we have to give to those in need. The plain meaning for this passage and many others is the correct meaning. Now, again, how we apply that might look differently for different people, but that doesn’t negate what the passage means.
    Look at Romans 8:8 for another example. “and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” The plain meaning here is that those who live by the things of the flesh can’t please God. That might look differently for different people: for some it may be rage, for some pride, for others lust. But the plain meaning is that those who live by those things will find themselves incapable of being in a right relationship with God.
    The fourth point to consider when we study God’s Word is to take the Bible literally. This can sometimes be difficult to do, because the Bible isn’t always literal. Just think about the parables that Jesus gave to His disciples. Those aren’t literal, they’re metaphors and analogies told to teach us important truths about the Kingdom of God. So, we can’t take the metaphors and analogies themselves as literal truth, but we would be wise to take the truths they teach literally.
    Let’s look at another example in John 10:9, “I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.” Obviously Jesus doesn’t mean that He is actually a door. He means that He is the only way to salvation, the only way to heaven. He means that if a person wants to be saved, wants to go to heaven, then they must do so through the means that Christ has provided: forgiveness through His shed blood on the cross.
    We are wise to understand the truth of what Jesus is saying. He is saying that there is no other way to heaven and eternal salvation except through Him. We need to take the truth of what He is saying literally.
    This, of course is not always an easy thing to do, especially when we’re dealing with the book of Revelation and the end times. However, we still should approach such passages with the understanding that what is being said is God’s Word and it is true, regardless of what that truth is.
    The fifth point I want us to remember when we study God’s Word is to consider the grammatical context. Think about the way that the words are being used. Answer a few key questions:
    Who is doing the action described?
    What action is being done?
    How are the person and the action described?
    When is this taking place?
When you start to answer those questions, we can often find that difficult passages become easier to break down and understand. Rather than skipping over difficult passages, we start to see that every part of God’s Word holds something for us, if we take the time and the effort to try to break it down, pull it apart, examine it, think about it, and try to understand what is being said.
    The sixth thing I want us to consider, and potentially one of the most important, is that we need to consider the historical context. I want us to look at Jeremiah 29:11 for this consideration: “For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.”
    How many of you have ever read that verse and it has brought you hope and encouragement? Probably a good many of us. What would you say though, if I told you that that promise was not for you? It’s not for me? It’s not for any of us?! It was a promise given to the Israelites to hold on to when they were carried away into exile in Babylon for 70 years. It was God assuring them that He didn’t intend to destroy them, that He had planned for them a hope and a future.
    Now, that doesn’t mean that God doesn’t have a plan for us! That doesn’t mean that He doesn’t want to give us a future and a hope! And there are plenty of places throughout the Bible that affirm that message to us, but Jeremiah 29:11 is not one of them. Looking at this passage helps us understand that if we don’t understand what was happening historically for any passage, we run the very real risk of grossly misinterpreting and misunderstanding and therefore misapplying God’s Word.
    The final point I want you to remember when you’re studying God’s Word is to let go of your baggage. I said before that we come to God’s Word with our own experiences, our struggles and our pain, and our own hang-ups and misunderstandings, our own preconceived ideas and notions, our own biases. And that’s okay to bring that to God’s Word, He knows that we are always going to look at His Word through our own human filters and understandings. But, we need to be careful not to read things into Scripture that aren’t there simply because of our baggage.
    I want you to learn to let go of your baggage when it comes to reading and studying God’s Word, and let the Bible speak for itself. We need to let go of our assumptions, and ask the Holy Spirit to speak through His Word so we can experience true transformation of heart and mind.
    With that, I want to end with our three questions:

1. Think about the way you tend to study the Bible. Would you say that you make an effort to seek out what the Bible is actually saying? Do you pay attention to the context? If so, how has this helped you? If not, how do you think this might change the way you read the Bible?

2. In your own words, explain why paying attention to the grammatical and historical context is important. How should these ideas shape your study of the Bible?

3. What would it mean for you to read the Bible with an awareness of your own baggage and a willingness to get rid of those assumptions for the sake of understanding God’s truth more clearly?

God's Word (1 Peter 2:2-3)

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    Jesus gave us a command that we’ve been examining. He told us to “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
    Today I want to focus on the first part of verse 20, that we are meant to teach the disciples we make to observe all that Jesus commanded.  Have you ever heard the saying that you can’t teach what you don’t know? It’s true. But, the good thing about this command to us, to teach others about Jesus’ commands, is that we’re not expected to be experts about the Bible in order to be able to teach it! We teach what we know, and as we teach, we ourselves grow.
    Hebrews 11:3 says, “By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible.“
    This is just one example that we have from the Bible where we’re told that God made everything exist just by speaking. Just by saying a few words. In the Creation account in Genesis, He says, let there be light, and there’s light. He says, let there be land, and there’s land. He said let there be fish and animals and birds, and there were fish and animals and birds.
    John 1:3 tells us that nothing which has been created could exist unless He had spoken it into existence.
    John 6:63 says that His Spirit is what gives life to every living thing.
    Deuteronomy 8:3 tells us that we cannot exist on bread alone, but rather that we rely on every word that comes from the mouth of God to sustain our life.
    Matthew 24:35 says that His words will never pass away, they will never fade.
    Acts 12:24 says that just through the power of God’s word, the church was multiplied and increased.
    Hebrews 4:12 tells us that God’s word has the power to pierce our soul and spirit and to judge the intentions and thoughts of our hearts.
    Do you see how powerful the words of God are? His words create and sustain everything that we see, even you and I. His words are eternal, just like Him. His words make things grow. His word judges our hearts. His words have tremendous power that we just can’t fully grasp or understand.
    What this means for us, is that when we pick up this book, the Bible, and we open its pages to read what is written within, we are reading the very words of God: words that when spoken by Him have the power to create, to give life, to grow things, to judge hearts and souls. When we read these words, we’re not just reading words that some guy scratched out on a piece of parchment. These words are God-breathed, inspired, given to us to teach us all that He has said to us.
    I want you to look at 1 Peter 2:2-3, “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.”
    The spiritual milk that Peter is talking about, the thing that is supposed to make us grow up in our salvation, the thing that we’re supposed to crave, some translations say desire, when we come to the Lord and we have tasted His goodness, is the Word of God. His Word. Scripture. The Bible. We’re supposed to crave it.
    By His Word alone we live and breath and have our being.
    His Word is a vital part of growing up in our salvation. Without it, we can’t hope to mature in our faith. We know we should study God’s Word. We know we should read the Bible. We hopefully know how important it is to our health as Christ’s disciples.
    I read a very good point the other day, that the Word of God is meant to be our daily bread, not cake for special occasions only.
    Unfortunately, many of us, actually, probably all of us, at some point in our walk with Christ has approached the life-giving Word of God for the wrong reasons.
    I want you this morning to closely examine those motives. As we go through a few wrong motivations for studying God’s Word, I want you to honestly reflect on your own motivations.
    We can sometimes come to God’s Word out of guilt. We know we should be reading the Bible, we know it should be our daily bread. Psalm 1 says that the man who meditates on the Word of the Lord day and night is blessed. We know we should be spending time with Him this way, so we come to Him, we approach His Word out of guilt.
    But that’s the opposite of what God desires for us. Remember, Peter told us that we should crave God’s Word. God desires for us to want to spend time with Him through His Word. He desires for us to want to grow in our knowledge of Him.
    Psalm 119 gives us a lot of great insight into the heart of a person who greatly desires to know God through His Word, not out of guilt, but out of love. Psalm 119:16 says, “I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word.” Verses 47-48 say, “for I delight in your commands because I love them. I reach out for your commands, which I love, that I may meditate on your decrees.” Verse 72 says, “The law from your mouth is more precious to me than thousands of pieces of silver and gold.” Verses 97-98 say, “Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long. Your commands are always with me,”
    Pray that if you find yourself coming to God’s Word out of guilt, that He gives you a desire for His Word, that you might hunger and thirst for it because of your love for the Lord.
    We can also sometimes come to God’s Word out of a desire to gain status in the church. This might seem silly, but if you think hard enough, I’m sure you can probably think of someone you’ve known who was known for what they knew about the Bible, and they were prideful about it.
    Now, it’s not wrong to know the Bible. It’s not wrong to want to know the Bible more, it’s what we should want, we should desire to know what it says, to be able to recall what it says during our times of need when we need God’s guidance. But, we want to be careful never to approach God’s Word simply to gain more knowledge, or to be a prideful “expert” in the Word. After all, this is what one of Jesus’ chief complaints against the Pharisees was, was that they knew the Law, they knew God’s Word backward and forward, but they never allowed God’s Word to change them and to lead them to a deeper relationship with God.
    This is what we want to avoid. Reading God’s Word isn’t just about gaining more knowledge. Studying God’s Word isn’t about how much more you know than anyone at church. Knowing God’s Word isn’t so you can pridefully boast about how much you know.
    Pray that if you have been tempted to come to God’s Word just for the sake of knowing more, out of pride and a desire to sort of “show off”, that He would bring you rather to a place where you desire to read His Word because it teaches you more about His great love for you.
    We can also sometimes come to God’s Word just for teaching material. This is especially true if you teach a Bible study, or have to give a devotion of some sort for a group in the church that meets. While we do know that all of Scripture is God-breathed and useful for teaching, among other things, we want to be sure that this is not the only reason we study His Word.
    I do hope that we examine our hearts this morning, and examine our motivations for why we study the Bible. And if you find any wrong motivation, then I want us to consider this as well: the question, why did God give us the Bible? In finding an answer to this question, we can better understand why Peter says we should desire God’s Word like pure spiritual food.
    So, why did God give us the Bible? God gave us His Word to teach us about Himself. You can write that in your bulletins if you’re taking notes this morning. Through God’s Word, we learn about Him.
    Genesis begins with a God who existed and spoke everything into existence. Revelation ends with God reigning over all of His creation for all eternity. But in the in-between, we learn about His goodness, His kindness, His power, justice, mercy, grace, anger, faithfulness, holiness, and everything else we can learn about Him through what He has revealed in His Word.
    The main point of everything we’ve been talking about and learning for the last two months has been about becoming better disciples of Christ. If we’re going to do that, then we need to read the only book that tells us about the one we’re trying to follow.
    God gave us the Bible to teach us about ourselves and the world we live in. You can write that down in your bulletin as well. The Bible is full of explanations about the world, because the God who inspired the Bible to be written created the world.
    The Bible is also full of wisdom for individuals. It teaches us about rightful responses to our emotions. It teaches us about human nature and how that nature fits into God’s plan. So, as we study the Bible, we should be seeking to understand God better, we should be seeking to understand His world better, and we should be seeking to understand ourselves better.
    God also gave us the Bible to enable us to live Godly lives. You can write that down. 2 Peter 1:3 says that God’s “divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us to His own glory and excellence.” When we study God’s word, one of our greatest motivators should be so that we are equipped and enabled to live Godly lives that please the Lord.
    Remember what Paul said, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Tim. 3:16-17).
    God gave us His Word so we would be made complete! When we read it and study it and meditate on it, it’s meant to pierce our thoughts and hearts and expose who we really are. So, if you find that when you read the Bible, you aren’t changing, then I would suggest a different approach to reading the Bible. Read and ask yourself, “What does this mean for me? How should what I’ve just read affect me? What can I do to allow God’s Spirit to change me so my life reflects Christ better?”
    God gave us His Word to lead us to a relationship with Him. You can write that down, too. He wants us to know Him. His Word invites us to come and reason with Him, that means He wants us to logically think about what He has written to us. He wants us to have a relationship with Him. Think of it this way: every relationship requires communication, right? In a relationship we express our thoughts, emotions, concerns, and hopes and through that expression, we strengthen the relationship. Why would it be any different with God? The Bible is God’s way that He has chosen to express to us His thoughts, His emotions, His concerns, His hope, so if we neglect that, then we miss the communication He’s trying to use to have a relationship with us.
    God’s Word is alive and active. How many times have you read a passage and it may not have meant much to you the first 100 times you read it, but when you read it that 101st time, all of a sudden it comes alive and speaks to you and changes you? That’s because God’s Spirit is using that passage to actively communicate something to you that He wants you to know! Isn’t that neat? God’s Spirit is speaking to you!
    God gave us the Bible to exalt Jesus. You can write that down. All of Scripture points to Christ Jesus as our Savior. All of the events we read about in Biblical history point to His Son. Through God’s Word, we learn that it is only possible to have a relationship with God through His Son. Through the Bible, we read about God’s redemptive plan for all of humanity! Through His Word we’re told about the coming judgment and return of Christ. All of this with the goal of exalting Christ Jesus to the glory of God!
    Finally, God gave us the Bible to prepare us for our earthly, God-given mission. You can write that down, too. We’ve talked about this extensively the last two months, that we were not put on this earth and saved by faith in Christ Jesus just for ourselves. We are saved to speak salvation to others so they might be saved as well. 2 Corinthians 5:20 says that we are God’s ambassadors for Christ! We are a part of His redemptive plan, not just because He saves us, but because He desires for us to partner with Him to see others come to His Son.
    So, what this means is that when we read Scripture, we should view it as our marching orders. It says “go”, we go. It says “stay”, we stay. It says “pray”, we pray. It says “love”, we love. It says “kneel”, we kneel.
    Before I ask our questions, I want us to just consider all that we’ve heard. That the Bible is literally God’s words to us, the very same word that spoke things into creation and sustain life, He has seen fit to give to us. So, we want to be careful of our motives for reading this book, this Word of God. We want to make sure we understand why He gave us His Word so we approach reading His Word with the right heart. When we read His Word, we are meeting with Him and He is speaking to us. So prepare yourself to meet with God!
    Here’s the questions I want you to consider and answer this week:

1. Take a minute to think about your past experience with studying the Bible. Which of the wrong motivations from the message are you guilty of? Can you think of any others?

2. Take a minute to think through why God gave us the Bible. How should these things affect the way you think about studying the Bible?

3. Read 1 Peter 2:1-2. What would your life look like if you desired the Word as Peter described? How do you tend to respond to the Bible’s teaching? Would you say that you approach it humbly with a desire to change? How do you need to adjust your approach to studying the Bible?

Spend some time in prayer this week. Ask God to purify your heart of any wrong motives for studying His Word. Ask Him to lead you to a deeper longing for His Word.

Lighthouse (Matthew 5:14-16)

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    Go and make disciples of all nations. That’s what we want to do, that’s our mission that we’ve been diving into the last few weeks. We know it’s a call we’re all called to, regardless of our spiritual gifts and talents. We also know that we’re not supposed to do it alone, we’re supposed to do it as a committed member of the local body of Christ: the church.
    We have a responsibility to challenge one another, love one another, and to serve one another. When we each do our part, it makes a vibrant church capable of standing against the gates of hell.
    But, we don’t do this just to build up the body. We aren’t just supposed to be a healthy church and leave it at that.
    This is one of the things Jesus said about why He came: “The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:10). Our call is much the same, we build one another up and grow in love, but we don’t do this for ourselves, we do it for the sake of the lost! I like this point that Francis Chan makes, “A church that fails to look at the world around it is no church at all.”
    I want us to look closely at Matthew 5:14-16 this morning. These words are Jesus’ words, and it’s what He told to His disciples, not just the twelve that followed Him during His earthly ministry, but anyone who would be His disciple.
    “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”
    As a church, our focus cannot be inward all the time. Sometimes, yes, we must look inward to fix things that aren’t right, but if the focus stays inward for too long, we run the risk of dying. We have the light of the world living in us, amongst us: Christ Jesus, and so, He says that since that is true, we are the light of the world.
    We live in a very dark world, there is no question about it. Anxiety, depression, anger, rage, lust, hatred, pride; all of these just permeate our world in increasing measure each and every day. But, we have the light that can do away with all of these things! We are supposed to shine that light, in the same way that a city on a hill can’t be hidden, neither can a light be hidden in the darkness. Jesus told us to let our light shine so our good works can be seen by all men so they will glorify God!
    We live in a dark world, but we can choose to either be a lighthouse or a bomb shelter. We can choose to shine the light of hope through a relationship with Christ, or we can hunker down and think only about ourselves and feel protected in our little bubbles. The choice is ours, but if we choose to be a bomb shelter instead of a lighthouse, we’re going to die.
    I think the right choice is fairly obvious: we must choose to be a lighthouse. What does that look like? How can we each do our parts to be a lighthouse?
    First, be known by your love. Are you known by your love? If you asked people that you interact with at work, would they say you are a loving person? If you asked the people you interact with online, would they say you are a loving person? If you asked your family who see you at your most vulnerable, would they say you are a loving person? Are you known by your love?
    John 13:34-35 says this, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”
    If we want to shine our light, and let others see the light of Christ in a way that leads them toward Him, we must love one another. Every thing that we do, every activity we do, should be a manifestation of love: preaching, teaching, encouraging, rebuking, serving, studying, suffering, praying, every thing we do should flow from a heart of love for one another because we understand that each and every person is made in the image of God, and each and every person is loved deeply enough by Him that He sacrificed His only Son for them!
    Imagine you’re one of the disciples, and you’ve just spent the last three years following Jesus around Jerusalem and the surrounding areas. You’ve seen Him multiply fish and bread to feed a crowd of thousands. You’ve seen Him turn water to wine. You’ve seen Him walk on the waves of the water. You’ve seen Him calm an angry storm with just a few words. You’ve seen Him cleanse diseases. You’ve seen Him heal a broken body. You’ve seen Him raise someone from the dead. You’ve seen Him drive out demons! That would change you, right?
    Galatians 5:22-23 gives a good idea of what love looks like in action. It’s the fruit of the Spirit, but since we know God is love, it makes sense that what the Spirit creates in us is love in action: it is joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle, and practices self-control.
    What this means and what Jesus was saying to His disciples was that if they really were going to follow Him, really be His disciples, then what they had seen Him do and what they had done with Him needed to change them in a way that was visible to every person they met. If it didn’t, then He called to question the level of their dedication.
    We must be known by our love.
    Second, live in community. If we want to be a lighthouse to shine the light of Christ into the darkness, we must live in community.
    John 17:20-23 says, “I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me. The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me.”
    One of Jesus’s greatest desires for those who would follow Him, He says, is that we would be one, in the same way that He and the Father are one, that we would be in Him and we would be one with one another.
    I want you to consider what this means for us. Jesus desires for us, the church, those who follow Him, to be one as He and the Father are one. They were inseparable. They were of one mind. They had everything in common.
    This is the kind of community and unity the early church showed as well. I often come back to Acts 2 to talk about the model for how we should be living as the body of Christ. Acts 2:44-47 gives us this picture of the early church, “And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.”
    This is the community, the unity, Christ desires for His church. Why? The goal of living in this type of unity is so that the world may know that God sent Christ and loved them. I want you to write that in your bulletins this morning. He wants us to live in community and unity in the church so those that are not yet a part of the body of Christ can see that God did indeed Christ to save them from their sins because He loves them!
    Live in community.
    Third, be a priest. If we want to be a lighthouse and not a bomb shelter, showing Christ to others instead of holing up, we need to be priests.
    1 Peter 2:9 says to us, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light;”
    Biblically, priests had a few responsibilities: they proclaimed God to the people, they sacrificed for the sins of the people, and they ministered to the spiritual needs of the people.
    We are called to do the same as priests, each and every one of us. We are called to proclaim God, to tell people about who He is and what He has done. We are called to tell others about the great love He has for us, a love so great that it sent His Son to the cross to die for their sins. We are called to speak about His blessings on our lives and about the joy we have in Him.
    Proclaim the Lord!!
    We are called to sacrifice ourselves to Him. We are called to offer ourselves as a living sacrifice, completely devoted and given up for Him and for His sake to be used by Him in any way that He can.
    We are called to minister to the spiritual needs of others. We are called to point others to their need for a Savior, and then we’re meant to point them to that Savior. We’re called to pray with people. We’re called to love them with the love of Christ. We’re called to encourage them. We’re called to call sin out. We’re called to extend God’s grace and mercy toward those who fall short of the glory of God.
    For some reason, which escapes me sometimes when I look at the failure of humans in general, but for some reason, God has chosen to make the church, the body of Christ, His mouthpiece, His hands, and His feet. He has chosen to work through us to bring people to Christ. I want to tell you something really cool: Our church is essential to God’s ongoing plan of redemption, so you, as a part of our church, your role in the church is a part of that plan!
    Be a priest!
    Be known by your love, live in community, and be a priest. In this way, we can shine our light for all to see so they will see Christ living in us.
    So that leaves us with our three questions:

1. What steps can you take to be an example of love in our church? Whether you are a “leader” in the church or not, how can you lead others in being more loving?

2. What would it mean for your church to live as a compelling community—a group of people who demonstrate love, unity, and hope in such a way that the unbelieving world is compelled to find out what is going on?

3. Read 1 Peter 2:4-12. How should Peter’s description of our calling as the church affect the way we think about and interact with our surrounding community?


Holiness Unto the Lord (Mark 7:18-23)

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    Last week we talked about why it’s so important to be a part of the local church. We know that we need each other. We can’t follow Jesus alone. We weren’t meant to follow Jesus alone. We were meant to be a community, a family of believers that lifts one another up and encourages and prays for one another. We were meant to live in unity. But there’s a side to that that we often want to shirk away from in the church: accountability.
    We feel awkward holding people accountable. We have a hard time being vulnerable with one another like that. We feel strange asking a person about their struggles. Not because we don’t mean well, because we do. We have good intentions. We want to see people doing well. We want to give comfort and encouragement. We want to be the iron that sharpens iron. But many times we get so focused on finding a quick fix for the person, on providing a fast solution to their problems, that we forget what is often at the root of their issues.
    For example: a friend struggles with anger, so we find out what situations and circumstances make them angry and then try to keep the friend away from the things that provoke that anger. But the root of anger isn’t found in situations and circumstances, and ultimately, changing those circumstances isn’t going to make that friend less angry. Someday, somehow, something is going to happen that will trigger that anger in that person.
    So what do we do? What is the root of issues like this?
    Jesus dealt with something similar when He was confronted by the Pharisees. They accused Him of defiling Himself through outward circumstances, but Jesus responded to them by calling attention to the root of evil.
    I want us to turn to Mark 7:18-23 to look at His response.
    “Are you so dull?” he asked. “Don’t you see that nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them? For it doesn’t go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body.” (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean.) He went on: “What comes out of a person is what defiles them. For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person.”
    We don’t just want and need accountability from our brothers and sisters. What we really need is transformation. If you’re following along in your bulletin, you’ll see that’s the first blank: transformation. If what Jesus said is true, and we believe it is, then sin comes from a person’s heart, from what is hidden inside, and no amount of changing our external circumstances is going to fix it. We need transformation of the heart to make it happen, because the heart is where sin is rooted.
    This is exactly what God desires, as well. He knows that the root of sin lies in the heart, and that no outward changes of circumstances is going to make any difference. Consider what He told to the prophet Ezekiel, Ezekiel 36:26-27:
    “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.”
    He desires to give us a new heart, to make heart transformation truly possible. He desires to have His Spirit work in us to make it possible for us to live a life that is pleasing to Him.
    The great thing is that He gives us the power to transform. He gives us the power to no longer attack sin from the outside. He gives us the power to help our brothers and sisters move from changing outward circumstances to true life change.
    Romans 8:13 says, “For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.”
    Paul’s letters are full of words of encouragement to walk in the Spirit, to live by the Spirit, to let the power of the Spirit change us. The Holy Spirit is the one who transforms us.  Apart from the Spirit, nothing truly changes.
    Paul talks about two different types of fruit in Galatians 5, the fruit of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit. The fruit of the flesh are almost identical to what Jesus lists as the evil defilements that come from the heart. Paul gives the fruit of the Spirit as the opposite, but the point is that there can be no fruit of the Spirit without the Spirit. There can be no love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, or self-control unless the Spirit works those things into our hearts.
    Aside from the work of the Spirit, we see what Jesus talked about, that sin comes from within, and there’s no way to change it.
    Hebrews 4:12 also adds this, “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”
    The Word of God also has the power to transform, because through it, our thoughts and attitudes are shown for what they really are. Through the Word of God, we discover what sinful thoughts and actions are. The Word of God shines light on the darkness in our hearts, and once exposed, then the Spirit can do His Work of transformation.
    The Spirit often uses the Word of God to show us areas where He desires to transform us more. He uses the Word of God to convict us, and also to remind us that we are not called to use our freedom as Christians to continue to live in the flesh.
    Accountability is great. We need it. We need other brothers and sisters to walk beside us and help restore us to repentance when we sin. But we have to urge our brothers and sisters to allow heart transformation to take place through the power of the Spirit and the Word of God. Without that heart transformation, the sins and struggles that our brothers and sisters have, the sins we have, will never get any easier. We’ll never gain any ground. It will always be a struggle, always a fight against the self for control of our lives.
    It’s not enough to just encourage our brothers and sisters to change circumstances in their lives to avoid the things that lead them into sin. We have to encourage them, urge them, to allow heart transformation to take place so the sin isn’t even appealing anymore. We need holiness!
    So how do we, as the church, tasked with the responsibility of keeping one another accountable, move from just looking for a quick fix to our brothers and sisters struggles, to urging them to move toward true transformation?
    Let’s look at Galatians 5:16, “So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.”
    We urge others to let heart transformation happen by letting ourselves let heart transformation happen. We lead others to walk in the Spirit by walking in the Spirit. We can’t ask our brothers and sisters to do something we don’t do. We must be an example.
    This is one of the best ways to lead others to walk in the Spirit, and if we ourselves are walking in the Spirit, then we can easily explain to our brothers and sisters how possible it is to live in the Spirit.
    Look at Galatians 5:13 as well, “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.”
    Serve another humbly in love. Don’t use your freedom to indulge in the flesh, but serve one another humbly in love.
    What Paul means by this is that He is urging us to walk in the Spirit, yes, but to serve one another by leading them to do the same. As I’ve said before, this goes deeper than trying to find the quickest solution to fix our thoughts and actions that are rooted in sin.
    It means that when we know a friend struggles with anger, rather than just suggesting they avoid situations where they feel angry, we pray with them to surrender their heart of anger to the Spirit. We pray with them to ask the Spirit to remove the root of anger, and to replace it with patience and love. We encourage the brother or sister to daily surrender an attitude of anger.
    This takes longer than the quick fix, but is more permanent. This is how we serve one another, humbly in love.
    Finally, look at James 5:16, 19, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back,”
    We have to be brave enough and vulnerable enough to confess our sins to each other, so we can have that accountability we need, and so our brothers and sisters can help lead us to heart transformation by walking in the Spirit. Then, we must pray with those who have confessed their sins. We pray for them to completely surrender their lives, their hearts, to the control of the Spirit.
    We pray, and if a brother or sister wanders, we bring them back. This is how we are meant to live as the church. This is how we are meant to care for each other. This is how we are meant to encourage one another on toward good deeds.
1. Why do you think we tend to focus on the external circumstances and behavior when we try to help people change?

2. Why is it so important to get to the heart of the problem rather than just addressing the circumstances and behavior of ourselves and others?

3. How should the truth of the gospel and the power of the Holy Spirit affect the way we approach helping people change?

One Another

Listen Here!

    I knew a kid once in school who used to say that he loved God, but didn’t go to church. I asked him why one day, and he told me that he didn’t feel like it was necessary to go to church to have a relationship with God. This is a common sentiment, maybe even some of us gathered here today believe.
    There’s a popular saying going around that I’ve seen that sort of echoes this idea. It says, “I believe churches are meant for praising God. But so are 2am car rides, showers, coffee shops, the gym, conversations with friends, strangers, etc. Don’t let a building confine your faith because we will never change the world by just going to church.”
    It’s partly true, this idea. We can and never will change the world for Christ just by going to church on Sundays. It’s not possible. And I do certainly and sincerely hope that we are all using any opportunity we can throughout the week to praise God, and to talk to others about our faith. But, what this idea gets wrong is the idea that the building is the church, and that you must come to a building to church in order to have faith. What is even more untrue about this idea, is that you don’t need the church to be a Christian.
    Nothing could be further from the truth.
    The building is not the church. You do not need to come to a building to have a church service. That’s because the church isn’t a building or an idea. The church is people. If you believe in Christ Jesus as your Lord and Savior, you are part of the church. You are part of the body of Christ.
    And while you don’t need the church to come to a relationship with Christ, you do need the church to maintain a solid relationship with Christ, because the church is people. The New Testament makes it very clear that the church plays a vital role in the life of the Christian. The church is mentioned 114 times in the New Testament. At least 90 of these times is in reference to the local gathering of believers, the local church, and the importance of the local church to the Christian life. There is a very heavy emphasis in the New Testament on the role of the body of Christ in the Christian life.
    Consider this: “The New Testament is full of commands to do this or that for ‘one another.’ Love one another, pray for one another, encourage one another, etc. So how can we teach people to ‘observe all that I have commanded’ if they have no one to love, pray for, or encourage? It’s impossible to ‘one another’ yourself.”
    Here’s the point I’m going to come back to over and over again this morning, WE CAN’T FOLLOW JESUS ALONE!
    We can’t and we shouldn’t!
    Today I want us to look at the importance of the church, us, the people, to the Christian walk. Why can’t we follow Jesus alone? Why do we need each other? Why do we need the church?
    Let’s start by looking at Galatians 6:1-5.
    “Brothers, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But each one must examine his own work, and then he will have reason for boasting in regard to himself alone, and not in regard to another. For each one will bear his own load.”
    We need accountability. We need people in our lives who care enough about us to gently tell us that when we’ve gotten caught up in our sin, it’s time to repent of our sin and seek to be reconciled to Christ. We need people in our lives who will help us bear our temptations so they don’t turn into sin. God calls the church to act in this way in the life of each believer.
    The writer of Hebrews tells us that it is important to not give up on meeting with one another, but rather we should use the time that we have when we gather to encourage one another so we don’t sin. We need each other to hold us accountable for the choices we make in life.
    James 5:16 tells us this, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.”
    James makes the point that the prayers of a righteous man are effective and can accomplish much, but the New Testament makes it clear over and over again that righteousness is only possible through the forgiveness of our sins in Christ Jesus. Accountability is so important because it encourages us to seek the forgiveness of our sins. James tells us that we must confess our sins to one another so we can be healed. We can’t follow Jesus alone. We need one another for accountability.
    We need one another to hear and learn the Word of God. 1 Timothy 5:17 says that it is the responsibility of leaders in the church to preach and teach the Word of God. Romans 10:17 says that faith comes by hearing the Word of God. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 tells us that all scripture is useful for teaching. In Acts 2, we’re told that when the early church, the body of believers first started meeting, they were devoted to the teachings of the apostles.
    We can and should read and learn the Word of God individually. That is an important part of our walk with Christ, but it is equally important to do this with other people. Those who are more mature in their faith than we are have important insight into God’s Word that often only comes from the experience of walking with Him for many years.
    Paul spoke many times in his letters to Timothy about the importance of mature Christians teaching younger Christians about faith and living the Christian life. We need these lessons to help us move toward maturity in Christ, so we need to hear the Word of God preached and we need to learn the Word of God with others and from others.
    Acts 2 gives the earliest example of what it looked like when the earliest body of believers, the earliest church, would gather. One of the most important things that they did when they gathered was to take communion with one another, to take the Lord’s supper together. It was something that Jesus commanded us to do, to remember His sacrifice, His resurrection, and to remember the fact that He was coming again.
    In 1 Corinthians 11:17-34, Paul criticized the Corinthian church for not taking communion together, but rather using their gatherings as an opportunity to leave people out and neglect the members of the body who were in need. He urged them to take communion together, and pointed out how important it was that they take communion any time they gathered because it promoted unity in the church.
    We can’t follow Jesus alone, and we can’t take communion alone. We need to do this with the body of believers to encourage unity in the church, to remind us all that we serve one God, one Savior, have one faith, and are empowered by one Spirit.
    We need one another for prayer and encouragement. Hebrews 10:24-25 says, “and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.”
    The body of believers has the responsibility of encouraging one another on to love and good deeds.
    Acts 2:42 tells us that the early church gatherings were times of prayer. They laid hands on one another and people were healed. 1 Timothy 2:1 says, “First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men,”
    We’ve seen before through our prayer services that the early church body did nothing without praying first.
    Prayer and encouragement were both vital parts of the early church. But we can’t do these things alone. We can’t follow Jesus alone.
    Finally, Acts 2:43-47 details how we are to care for other believers and share the gospel.
    “Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles. And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.”
    We need the church to care for us.
    I know, I know. We’re a society of individuals, we’re lone rangers, we don’t need anyone to care for us. Except for one day when we do. One day when life doesn’t go the way we think it should, one day when we lose someone close to us, one day when we lose a job, one day when the future is unknown and scary. Then we need people to care for us.
    That is the responsibility of the church, to care for one another. We fill in the gaps. We help one another when a need arises.
    And then, we share the gospel with others, not alone, as we talked about last week, but with others. We share the gospel not from a place of brokenness, but from a place of unity and wholeness, being prayed for, encouraged by, and held accountable to one another.
    We can’t follow Jesus alone. We need each other to live the Christian life the way that Christ intended us to. We need one another.
    In a minute, we’re going to take communion together, which we’ve seen is one of the important things that happens when the church gathers. Before we do that though, I want to challenge you again with a few questions. They’re in your bulletin, read them, think them over, take them home, answer them, and let the Spirit work in you to change areas that need to be changed.

1. Why do you think the New Testament places such a priority on Christians being committed members (or parts) of local churches? Is being a part of your church a priority for you? Why or why not?

2. Read Ephesians 4:1-16. How should this passage affect the way you view your responsibility to other Christians in the church?

3. Think about your life and church and identify a few opportunities that God has given you to minister to the people around you. Have you taken advantage of these opportunities? Why or why not?

The Heart of the Matter (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)

Listen Here!

    We talked last week about the call to be disciple makers, a call that extends to all of us, regardless of who we are. If we have believed in Jesus and accepted the forgiveness of sins through His blood, then we are to be disciple makers. We can be other things too, pastors, evangelists, missionaries, teachers, greeters, prayer warriors, but we all must be disciple makers.
    I told you a story too, about Jonny and I’s encounter with a cult and having coffee with some of the cult members. We know that if we make the decision to be obedient to God and to do what He has called us to do: make disciples; He is going to ask us to step out of our comfort zones and talk to some people we might not otherwise talk to.
    Today, we’re going to talk about the motivation to go and make disciples. Why do we go and make disciples? Yes, like we looked at last week, Jesus told us all to do that, but is that the reason we do it? Do we make disciples just to be obedient to God? That’s not a negative thing at all, and in fact, we should be obedient to God in every way, but is that the only reason we make disciples?
    I want to tell you today that it can’t be. It can’t be the only reason we make disciples, because if it is…then our motivations aren’t entirely where they should be.
    This morning we’re going to look at 1 Corinthians 13:1-3, and we’re going to talk about the heart of the disciple, us; what should be our intentions when we seek to make disciples.
    “If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.”
    Most of us have probably heard what comes next, that love is patient, kind, and is not jealous, that it isn’t arrogant or selfish.
    This chapter, appropriately given the nickname “The Love Chapter” is a popular one. It’s often read at weddings, or recited in the context of romantic love, but that’s actually not what Paul was talking about when he wrote this part of his letter at all.
    Now, that doesn’t mean that what he wrote isn’t applicable to that context. Paul’s words about the true nature of love are true whether we’re talking about marriage or friendship, or something else entirely.
    But, what Paul was speaking about was spiritual gifts, and the proper motivation behind using our spiritual gifts.
    Now, there’s quite a bit of back-story behind why Paul wrote this letter to the Corinthian church, but just know that the bottom-line is that many Corinthian believers were not using their spiritual gifts for the right reasons, so Paul felt it necessary to correct them. Paul wanted to make sure that they knew that if they were going to be doing God’s work in God’s name, they needed to have the right motivator.
    So, since we’re seeking to make disciples, to follow Jesus’s command, to do the works God has prepared for us in His name, we can take this passage in 1 Corinthians 13 as a guide for us. Listen again to what Paul says about the motivation behind doing God’s work in His name.
    “If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.”
    Knowing what the context is entirely changes what this passage means, doesn’t it? What Paul is saying is that you could speak in the actual tongues that angels speak in, but if your motivation is wrong, you’ll just be a noisy gong. A clanging cymbal. Paul said that it didn’t matter if you have the strongest faith of anyone on the earth, if your faith is so strong you can move the highest mountain, if your motivation is wrong, you’re nothing! Paul said that if you do all the charitable things, feed the poor, become a father to the fatherless, even if you become a martyr, you’ll gain absolutely nothing if your motivation is wrong.
    The motivation for why we do what we do is just as important as the actual act.
    In James 3:1-12, James talks about the power our speech has over people. He says that with our words, we have the power to either give life or destroy life. Our words come from what is within, so if our hearts are in the right place, then what comes out of our mouths reflects that. The opposite is true: if what is in our hearts is wrong, then the words we speak will be a reflection of that wrongness in our hearts.
    1 Samuel 16:7 says, “God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” That’s the first blank in your bulletin’s sermon notes this morning. The Lord looks at the HEART.
    The heart is where our motivation for making disciples comes from, and from that motivation comes our words and our actions, what we actually say and do. If the motivation is just because we want to be obedient to God, then that will come out in what we say to people and how we approach making disciples.
    Have you ever been approached by someone trying to sell you something? A car, a house, cleaning supplies, tupperware, kitchen gadgets, makeup? Anything really. They might start the conversation with small-talk, but they quickly move on to what they really want to talk about, which is making a sale. All of a sudden you just become a number. You realize that the person talking to you isn’t interested in you as a person, they just want to make a sale. You’re just dollar signs to them.
    If your only motivation to make disciples is to be obedient to God, the conversations you have with people you are trying to disciple will seem like they are not genuine. It’s going to seem to them like you’re just trying to make a sale. Again, it’s not bad to be obedient to God, we should be, but there’s another motivation that has to go along with obedience.
    That motivator is of course, love. Love is what must be the driving force behind our desire to make disciples.
    Love is remedy #1 in your bulletin’s sermon notes.
    If we go back to 1 Corinthians 13, when Paul goes on to tell us what love looks like, we start to understand what it means to truly let love be our motivator for making disciples.
    If we are making disciples out of love, we are going to be patient with them, even when we get frustrated, even when they get frustrated. Even when they ask questions that seem silly to us.
    If we are making disciples out of love, we are going to be kind. Even when we have to call out sin, it will be done in a kind way.
    If we are making disciples out of love, we will not be jealous.
    If we are making disciples out of love, we will not be proud or arrogant. Afterall, it isn’t our power or anything special about us that draws people, it’s God’s love that draws people.
    If we are making disciples out of love, we won’t act in an unwholesome way toward those we are discipling.
    If we are making disciples out of love, we will not seek what is best for ourselves, we will not be selfish, rather, we will be selfless, seeking what is God’s best for the other person, even if it means that we must sacrifice something.
    Do we see why love must be the motivator yet?
    Love changes the conversation. Love changes the things we do. Love lets us see people the way God sees them, as eternal souls longing to spend eternity with their Creator.
    1 John 3:14 says that if you have truly passed from death into life in Christ, it will be shown through your love for one another. So, the reverse of that, is that if you do not love others, John says, you live in death still.
    Love is even the motivator for our obedience to God. Even Jesus said as much, that those who love Him will obey Him. So, if we’re going to obey His command to go and make disciples, to baptize them, and to teach them to obey Him, then our driving force MUST, absolutely must, be love, if we don’t want to become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.
    There’s another thing that helps to keep us from becoming useless, a noisy gong, or a clanging cymbal. Remedy #2 in this morning’s bulletin sermon notes: Be an EXAMPLE. Be an example.
    Love is the motivator, it must be. But, how can we expect that our love will mean much of anything to anyone if we’re not living out that love? If we’re going to be lead disciples, leading others to be disciples, we have to let God’s love for us truly change us. We have to let His Word truly transform us.
    Hebrews 13:7 says, “Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith.” The writer of Hebrews tells us to imitate the faith of those who have led us, who have spoken the Word of God to us. He says that if their conduct is worthy, then we should imitate them.
    Students follow their teachers. They become like their teachers. Jesus said as much. Paul talked about making sure that he was imitating Christ as closely as possible so that those following him would also be following Christ. We know that if we set out to make disciples, those disciples will follow our example. So we need to make sure that the example we’re giving is one that comes from God’s love and points people to Christ.
    We must be a good example of what it means to truly follow Christ, not because we have to, not just because He told us to, but because we love Him, and because we love Him, we love His people.
    I want to close again with three questions to challenge you this week. I want you to take a bulletin home so you have these questions, and I want you to read them and really think over them, then answer them.

1. Up to this point, would you say that your desire to make disciples has been motivated by love? Why or why not?

2. In addition to praying fervently, what practical steps can you take to increase your love for people?

3. Would you say that your life is being transformed by the truth of God’s Word? Why or why not? What changes do you need to make in order to live the truths that you will be teaching other people?

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