Mini series by Nigel Beynon on Matthew 8.
Looking at different problems in our world – and Jesus’ answer to them. This week: Evil.Read More
Mini series by Nigel Beynon on Matthew 8.
Looking at different problems in our world – and Jesus’ answer to them. This week: Evil.Read More
Mini series by Nigel Beynon on Matthew 8.
Looking at different problems in our world – and Jesus’ answer to them. This week: Natural disasters.Read More
Mini series by Nigel Beynon on Matthew 8.
Looking at different problems in our world – and Jesus’ answer to them. This week: how to make the world better.Read More
Mini series by Nigel Beynon on Matthew 8.
Looking at different problems in our world – and Jesus’ answer to them. This week: Suffering.Read More
In these weeks leading up to the feast of Christmas we’re thinking about the wonder of the Incarnation of God. Our creator entered our world ..as a child. The eternal God became a human being and came among us.
But Why? Why did he come?
Well It’s no mystery, Jesus often tells us in the gospels why he has come
And right at the end of the passage we just had read he tells us, I have come NOT to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.
Now the words Sinner and repent are a bit of a trigger for lots of people these days and probably rightly so. “Who’d want to go to church? They just tell you how bad and shameful you are and how you need to stop it and do better! Nah I’m alright, thanks. There’s nothing wrong with me. Nothing needs changing. I’m not a sinner”
It’s gutting that we’ve let people think that we’re about heaping shame and blame because Jesus is the opposite. Bursting with grace and love and new life. Jesus has come but not for the alright, he’s come for sinners. To bring new life. Jesus is the friend of sinners.
Jesus calls us … You see this in the whole of chapter 5 of Luke’s gospel. Where Jesus, like a commander, (the first thing we see about him) starts recruiting people for his mission.
[Famous Posters WW1 Lord Kitchener - - secretary of state for war. huge walrus moustache, pointing finger out of the poster. Your country needs you!]
Jesus walks around with total authority, the Commander in Chief, saying to people “I want YOU.” But Jesus doesn’t do his recruitment in the city, at the top university among the urban elites.. No.. Have a look
First, it’s fishermen from v1
there’s Simon, unschooled, rough, insecure. An establishment outsider He’ll be ‘the rock’ says Jesus. The leader on which everything is built! He follows Jesus, along with both his business partners James and John. The fisher folk.
Next verse 12 – a leper. In the day, a total spiritual outsider. ringing a bell and crying out “unclean”, they’d expel him from the cities. Total spiritual outsider.
Jesus says “I want you.”
Next it’s a a paralytic Verse 18: A physical outsider. Remember, we’re in first century Middle East. No social services, no disability allowance. Life goes on without this guy and he has to look on from his mat. And Jesus says: ‘I see you. I’ll have you.’
3 unemployed fishermen, a leper and a paralytic.
Who’s next? we arrive at todays passage:
After this, Jesus went out and saw a tax collector by the name of Levi sitting at his tax booth. “Follow me,” Jesus said to him.
Oh No.. No, no, no, Jesus. The fishermen thing was surprising, the leper addition was a nice touch. ‘Like what you did with the paralytic. this whole rag-tag outfit, rough around the edges, that’s refreshing, let’s go with that. But a tax collector? No!
Because in the first century a tax collector was a total scumbag. Forget your experience with the inland revenue – this was a completely different league. 1st century tax-collectors worked for the enemy – the Romans. They were Rome’s go-betweens. The Jewish face of the Roman oppression. Tax collectors brought their own people under Roman domination, and stole shed loads of money off them in the process. Think of World War Two and how the French felt about collaborators with the Nazis. That’s Levi. In bed with the enemy, getting rich off the misery of his own people. And many people would have walked up to Levi and said “I’ve got two words for you mate.” But Jesus’ two words were very different. ‘Follow me.’
Jesus, what are you doing? It’s all very well helping out the establishment outsider and the spiritual outsider and the physical outsider, that’s nice. But this social outsider, this man we all HATE and who IS HATEFUL. This scumbag. This abuser? This sinner? Jesus, are you really FOR sinners like that??
I mean when i said earlier ‘Jesus is the friend of sinners’ .. don’t we think of sinners as you know rough diamonds, a bit of a rogue not child abusers and wife beaters, not scumbags like Levi - to whom Jesus says, I want you.
Jesus really is the friend of sinners. And I mean sinners. And if we’re not ok with that, we’re not ok with Jesus. As we’ll see…
Well how will Levi respond to this summons?
What would Levi do? (what does anyone do when jesus begins to call you for the first time to follow him?) On the one hand Levi had the life he knew, a life where he called the shots, a life that was financially secure. On the other hand there was Jesus – a life with Him. A life where Jesus called the shots.
Now there’s no guarantee here for Levi about the kind of future Jesus will bring him. If you want Jesus, there’s no guarantee in this life of career, health, wealth, success, fame, prosperity.
In fact following Jesus might mean losing your job. That’s what happened to Levi. It’s what happened to Peter, James and John. Jesus might pull the plug on all sorts of plans you’ve had – He’s the Commander!
There’s only one guarantee for the followers of Jesus. If you follow Jesus, the one thing you’ll definitely get is Jesus.
But if we’ve got our heads screwed on right, He’s the one thing we want.
He’s what Levi wanted: Verse 28: ‘Levi got up, left everything and followed Him.’
This is remarkable. Nothing else had made Levi give up the tax collecting game. (nothing else will make us give up anything) Not his parents’ pleas, not his friends’ urgings, not the public taunts. But two words from Jesus change the man. Levi gives up everything. Why? To be with Jesus. That’s enough to change a life.
It changes Levi’s life. Instantly. Think of the change. It’s stunning.
You know where the name Levi comes from? Levi was the name of the tribe of priests in the Old Testament. So Levi’s parents would have named him Levi with high hopes that he’d be a Levite – that he’d be a priest. The priests were God’s go-betweens. Levi was meant to be the human face of a loving LORD. He’s meant to bring people under the LORD’s influence.
But through his sin and greed, it’s all got so twisted. As a tax-collector, he became Rome’s go-between. He was the Jewish face of a tyrannical empire, bringing people under Rome’s influence. His sin had made him the opposite of who he’s meant to be.
But now, following Jesus, he’s freed to become his true self. Because what does Levi do when he follows Jesus? Verse 29:
Then Levi held a great banquet for Jesus at his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them.
Here’s what Levi does. He throws a massive dinner party, invites his co-workers and friends and he brings them in to meet Jesus. You know what’s happened to Levi? He’s become a true Levite. Now he’s doing what he was born to do – he’s a go-between, drawing people under the influence of the LORD Jesus. This is what is meant by the call to repentance - not stop it! do better! but come and turn around to become the person you were always meant to be.
Levi becomes who he’s meant to be, when he follows Jesus. That’s the experience of millions down through history. Jesus doesn’t come into our lives to stifle and repress us. He comes to release us from the junk that holds us back and to free us into who we’re meant to be!
And Jesus calls out again, today, in this room, “Follow me. I’ve come to liberate you from that junk and to free you into who you’re meant to be.”
Don’t think that the Commander is a kill-joy. Whatever He asks you to give up, it’s only to release you. Look at Him at this banquet. Does He look like a kill-joy? He is the life and soul of the party. He is the life and soul of every party He’s at, and He is at a LOT of parties.
You see He’s not just the Commander. Second thing. He’s also the Host.
When Jesus came He was accused of being a party-animal. (Luke 7:34) All the religious types grumbled that He was always eating and drinking with friends. [Who’s the greatest party host you know? Who organises just the best nights? You want to be there because they are just a joy to hang out with.] Jesus refused to cut down on the dinner parties, because He’s the ultimate Host.
Lord Hailsham – the former Lord Chancellor – became a Christian when He saw this joyful side to Jesus. He wrote:
“The first thing we [should] learn about [Jesus] is that we should have been absolutely entranced by His company. Jesus was irresistibly attractive as a man… What they crucified was a young man, vital, full of life and the joy of it, the Lord of life itself, and even more the Lord of laughter. Someone so utterly attractive that people followed Him for the sheer fun of it…”
Why did Levi leave everything? One answer is – for the sheer fun of it. If Jesus came into this room physically and said “Come follow me” would you follow? We’d follow in a flash, and with great joy. Just TO BE WITH JESUS! That’s why we follow Him, because we love to be near Him.
Hailsham continues “…[We need] to recapture the vision of this glorious and happy man whose mere presence filled His companions with delight…”
Jesus the life and soul of the party. Do you see Jesus like that? Unless you see the attractiveness of Jesus you won’t follow Him, no matter how commanding He happens to be. But He’s not just the Commander, He’s also the Host.
And as the Host, Jesus invites us all to a Feast to end all feasts.
Jesus promises that when He returns at his second advent He will host a cosmic party. On that day we will celebrate creation renewed, death swallowed up, disease abolished, evil destroyed, sin cleansed, tears wiped away and an eternity of joy with Jesus, the Host of the Banquet. We will eat, we will laugh, we will dance. And you’re all. You’re all invited. It costs you NOTHING. It cost HIM EVERYTHING.
For there was another meal Jesus hosted. We re-enact it every week in church. The night before Jesus died He broke bread and said “My body will be broken like bread to bring you the ultimate feast.” He poured out wine and said “My blood will be poured out like wine to bring you the ultimate banquet.” And on that cross Jesus was torn apart and poured out because it was the only way to bring sinners like us to the feast. The Host really wants us at the party. It cost Him EVERYTHING to invite us. But He offers us a place for free.
But there’s one kind of person Jesus does NOT call to His Banquet. Only one. This feast is for establishment outsiders, it’s for spiritual outsiders, it’s for physical outsiders, it’s for social outsiders. It’s for sinners. Anyone can come if they own up to being a SINNER. But there’s one kind of person who cannot come (because they will not come): the righteous. The I’m alright, thank you very much
Look with me at v30: But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who belonged to their sect complained to his disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and`sinners’?” Jesus answered them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”
You see the Pharisees and the teachers of the law were the opposite of the outsiders. They were the ‘holier than thou’ religious types. They were the insiders; the cream of the crop. And they’ve been looking on as the Commander has been recruiting for His Kingdom and picking ALL THE WRONG PEOPLE.
They are so mad about it that in v30 they gate-grash a party uninvited and then start complaining about the guest list. They’re incensed. “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?!”
Jesus replies, Because I’m a Doctor.
Commander, Host and now finally - Jesus is a doctor.
Now, I’m a bloke, so I never go to the doctor. I complain about every little cough and cold like its bubonic plague, but I don’t go to the doctor. If I ever do, I like to save up all my little niggles and sicknesses so when I go I have a decent list of ailments. Why? Because you don’t want to go to a doctor when you’re healthy.
No-one sits down with their doctor and says, ‘I’m a picture of perfect health, I thought you’d be impressed.’ They won’t be impressed, you’re wasting their time. Doctors are for sick people. And Jesus is for sinners. Only for sinners.
Look at verse 31 again: Jesus answered them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have come not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”
So are you a sinner? Or do you claim to be righteous like these Pharisees? Is it possible that you might be spiritually unwell or do you have just a perfect bill of health?
A doctor can’t help you if you claim to be well. And Jesus can’t help you if you claim to be righteous.
And the bible is clear that no-one is actually righteous. But tragically, there are millions who fake it. And the Doctor passes them by.
Because Jesus is for sinners. Only for sinners.
Where are you today? Not the person next to you. What do you make of Jesus?
perhaps you think, “I couldn’t follow Jesus, I’m too bad for Jesus.” But that’s like saying “I’m too sick for the doctor.” No-one is too bad to follow Jesus. Badness is your qualification.
The real problem is people thinking they’re too good. Is that you? You will not put yourself in the same boat as a Levi. You will not admit to REAL spiritual sickness. But Jesus has only come for those who know their NEED and who come clean. Drop the act. Be a sinner. Come to Christ. The commander, the host, the doctor.
And what does this say to us about our church?
Does being a christian mean that you’re good and godly and morally pure? Is church a club for the righteous where we show the world how good we are and invite them to join if they can make the grade too? And then we look down on each other when we mess up and spoil the picture of a perfect family..
Listen to Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s words about righteous people in a pious church from his remarkable little book Life Together: “The pious fellowship permits no-one to be a sinner. So everyone must conceal his sin from himself and from the fellowship. We dare not be sinners. Many Christians are unthinkably horrified when a real sinner is discovered among the righteous. So we remain alone with our sin living in lies and hypocrisy. When the fact is we are sinners.”
Church is not a hotel for the righteous, church is a hospital for sinners.
And hospitals are places where all kinds of mess comes into the open and it’s a place where people are getting healed. I’m not saying that we air all of our dirty laundry in public but i am saying that we expect and allow each other to be struggling and we each have some people who we’re brutally open with and by so doing we do not remain alone in our sin, living in lies and hypocrisy..
I have come not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance..
Jesus commands us to follow him. To leave all behind in order to have him. And he is all you need.
Jesus welcomes us as the host of the great banquet. To join him at the table. To enjoy his wonderful company
Jesus calls you to your bed on shacklewell ward, St Barnabas Hospital and he says ‘do you want to be well?’ come to him and let him bear your sin and heal your life and set you free to be the person you were made to be.
I have come that they might have life and have it to the full
For the next few weeks leading up to and during the feast of Christmas. We will be thinking about the wonder of the Incarnation of God.
Our faint suspicions that human life is precious and significant are answered with emphatic affirmatives as the God whom the universe cannot contain chose to be contained by human flesh. The Maker became a man. Jesus Christ.
Of course the great question is why? why did God come? what was the reason for this divine visitation? And in these sermons we’ll get the answers direct from the lips of Jesus himself – stating the reasons why he has come. And today’s explanation is there in v10: ‘The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy, I have come that they might have life and have it to the full.’
Life to the full – that’s what we all want don’t we? Who wouldn’t want that? But the idea that we would find that life in Jesus Christ, in Christianity, in Church! Our culture tends to think the very opposite to this verse.
Gary Ross’s 1998 film Pleasantville set in the 1950s begins in black and white. Life in Pleasantville is almost perfect but rather dull. It is only with the liberation of sexuality and art that black and white turns to living colour. It’s a film about revolution about change. But implicitly it’s saying that the old Christian values are by their very nature limiting, they will impoverish you, enfeeble you. They will rob you of life to the full.
Those of us who are Christians can be troubled by this. Jesus says he’s come to bring fullness of life but we say I don’t know if I experience this fullness of life. The Christian life can feel dull. We’re tempted to look elsewhere.
However Pleasantville is honest about the fact that the new freedoms to pursue happiness purely for myself bring very negative consequences. The search for life is still on.
Perhaps our biggest problem is that we don’t really know what fullness of life is. We assume it is to do with excitement, pleasure, fulfillment. Jesus will tell us in this passage that it is to do with Care, forgiveness and relationship..
John chapter 10 is Jesus’ last public address in John’s gospel. He’s making huge claims for himself. He likens himself to a Good Shepherd. He also likens himself to the gate of a sheep-fold. It maybe he’s mixing two metaphors or it may have been the custom for Shepherds then to lie in front of the opening to the sheepfold. So being both Shepherd and Gate. Whatever the case – Jesus is making tremendous claims for himself.
By calling himself a Shepherd. His listeners would have understood him as claiming to be a leader, or even a King. Following on from King David who was taken from tending sheep as a young boy to become Israel’s greatest King. So the leaders and Kings in Israel’s history were called Shepherds. Jesus says he is a Good Shepherd. More than thet he is The Good Shepherd
Jesus is the True King
That’s his claim. It’s a claim to uniqueness. Jesus contrasts himself with others – False shepherds: thieves and robbers v1,v7 – who destroy the sheep; strangers v5 and hired hands v12 – who don’t care for and fail to protect the sheep. Jesus, on the other hand, is, vv2-4: the recognized owner of the sheep fold; the sheep know him and trust him; he leads them v9 to pasture and…. he will lay down his life v11, v15 for the sheep!
The context here is important. Jesus is speaking v1 to the Pharisees, the religious leaders of his day. According to the previous chapter Jesus has just restored the sight of a man who was blind from birth: he is the good shepherd. And the Pharisees, who are supposed to be shepherds of the people, are spitting mad with jealousy– insulting the man, throwing him out of the synagogue and calling Jesus a sinner!
Now many generations before Jesus came, through the prophet Ezekiel God had rebuked unfaithful leaders: Ezekiel 34:2 Woe to the shepherds of Israel who only take care of themselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? ...you clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals.. You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured ...You have ruled them harshly and brutally.
The leaders of Israel in Ezekiel’s day, perhaps like the Pharisees Jesus speaks to, were less like Shepherds more like butchers! Thieves that steal and kill. But listen to this: then and there through Ezekiel God promised that there would be a day when corrupt leadership would be taken away and a true Shepherd would come. Here’s what God said, Ezekiel 34:
I myself will tend my sheep and make them lie down declares the Sovereign Lord. I will search for the lost and bring back the strays, I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak.
I will come says God. Jesus is more than a great leader, a great King. He is God who has come. The True Shepherd. The True King. ‘I have come that they might have life and have it to the full.’
The life thatour God Jesus has come to bring is his Shepherd care.
Today in our City there is a great hunger for the care of our souls. The great promises of affluence and pleasure have let us down and left us empty and vulnerable. Our leaders – political and religious – are under more scrutiny than ever before.
If we are outside of Jesus Christ. If we do not hear his voice and follow him then we remain dependent on mere human leaders. Who at best are weak, at worst are corrupt.
The experience of Christians is not that the Good Shepherd necessarily removes all our difficulties or heals all our ills. But that his presence and care in the midst of the brokenness gives assurance and hope and even joy. Just as he promised - He finds us in our lostness and gives us a home, he brings us back when we stray, he binds our injuries and strengthens our weaknesses.
The life Jesus has come to bring begins with his Shepherd Care. He is the True King.
Jesus is the dying King
Several times in the passage Jesus says that he will lay down his life for the sheep. v11, v15 vv17-18
Normally the death of a Palestinian Shepherd meant disaster for the sheep. Much more so the death of a King meant disaster for the people! - You never knew what was going to happen. You would do everything to preserve the life of a King. God save the King. Long to reign over us!
But Jesus says the chief reason that he has come is in order to die. Look at v18 No one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. The death of JC is absolutely central: ¼ of the gospel of Luke, 1/3 of Matthew and Mark and ½ of the gospel of John is taken up with the last week of the life of Jesus, culminating in his death. Why is it so important?
This very specific phrase that Jesus uses ‘to lay down his life’ carries the idea of a sacrifice. Jesus’s death is a sacrifice. In the words of John the Baptist back in chapter 1 – Jesus is ‘the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.’
In the OT sacrificial system on the holiest day in the calendar – the day of atonement. The High Priest, the representative of the whole people would lay his hand upon the head of a spotless lamb bound on the altar and then the lamb would be slain.
It was a graphic illustration that because of their impure hearts and thoughts and lives, before a holy God the people deserved to die. And yet God would make provision for their sins to be transferred onto the head of the lamb - slain in their stead..
Now of course – as the NT book of Hebrews says, the death of lambs wasn’t what paid for the sins of the people. These were all pictures pointing forward to the once for all saving sacrifice that was to come. The true lamb of God, the perfect man Jesus Christ – who lays down his life to take away the sins of the world. Who lays down his life – that we might never lose ours but have life and have it to the full.
So you see that the life Jesus has come to bring is not only his Shepherd care but the provision of his death. Forgiveness. Salvation, life. He removes the judgement of God that hung over us. He takes it upon himself and deals with it for us. This is the life that we all need. Outside of faith in Jesus Christ, God’s judgement still hangs over us.
See, sometimes life is found in the place you least expect to find it.
HMS Titanic was the ultimate ship. Sailing with her was the ultimate experience life had to offer. She was vast, fast and unsinkable. She carried the richest passengers dining in her sumptuous restaurants; dancing in her ornate ballroom; reclinig in the lavish cabin suites. Yet when the end of that great ship so prematurely came, none of those things – the chandeliers and the sherry – could offer life. When the end came life could only be found in one unexpected place – in the life boats. The unsightly boats that had been reduced in number because they cluttered the polished decks and were largely ignored and considered unnecessary! Sometimes life is found in the place you least expect to find it.
Jesus says, ‘I have come that they might have life and have it to the full.
3. Jesus is the Personal King
Christianity is the only religion in the world that is based on a friendship with its founder; rooted not in practices or rules but in relationship.
I became a Christian aged 12 – I had been invited to a number of meetings where i heard the Bible preached. It was like nothing i had ever heard before, because i knew in my heart that God was speaking to me, that he somehow knew me, that he was calling me through what i was hearing about Jesus. Extraordinary thing. I recognized his voice. I was being drawn into relationship.
We know don’t we that Relationship, knowing another and being known is rooted in communication. We speak to and listen to one another. Jesus says v3 The sheep listen to [the good Shepherd’s] voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice.
Jesus has come inorder to draw people like you and me into relationship. And what a relationship!!! Look at v14 – it’s one of the most amazing verses in the Bible: I am the good shepherd; i know my sheep and my sheep know me – just as the Father knows me and I know the Father.
Sometimes Fiona and I will have a hug. (Often when we need to make up for something) We’ll have a hug in the kitchen. And then we’ll feel a little person. It might be Hannah or Becca or Zac or all 3 - squeezing in. There’s always room for then to get into the middle of our hug.
Jesus says an extraordinary thing in verse 14: That he draws us into a personal relationship a knowing of him and a being known that is just as deep and real as that shared between the Father and the Son. Isn’t that extraordinary?? In fact – to be in relationship with Jesus is to be drawn into the loving eternal embrace of the Father and the Son; into the very life of God;
Listen to what Jesus says in his prayer to God the Father in John chapter 17 This is eternal life (abundant life, life to the full) that they might know you the only true God and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.
Jesus says I have come that they might have life and have it to the full
And this is what he meant – personal relationship with the only true God through Jesus, the Son. Wow!
So – this is the abundant life that we are invited into. If you are a Christian this is what you have received. Not – excitement, fulfillment and fun. Something profoundly deeper – the life of the Good Shepherd himself: his care; his salvation, his welcome into the divine life of God! Let us ponder on these things to enjoy the life that we have received.
1 Thessalonians 2:17 – 3:13
Following Jesus Christ is about a life long journey that we pray Franklin is beginning today. It is a journey of growing faithfulness and likeness to Jesus right up to the end of our lives.
We likened it last week to running a marathon. It’s hard, you hit mental and emotional brick walls, temptations to give up. But if you give up you cannot say that you’ve run the marathon. You might have trained, you might have got a place, you might have started, you might have got your face on TV but unless you finish the race…
Following Christ, DISCIPLESHIP, is what life is all about. It’s about the pain and the beauty of becoming more like him, more free, more able to be loved and love for him. And it’s a fight to the end of our lives.
For that to happen we need support and strengthening and for that God brings Christian friends together during our lives, - until reunited together we will meet Jesus face to face.
Discipleship - beginning, running, and helping others run this race of the Christian life to the very end is the greatest adventure of our lives. The highest calling, the deepest necessity and the greatest privilege.
We’re going to see
1. The Goal of Discipleship
2. The Concerns of Discipleship
3. The Rewards of Discipleship –
1. The Goal of Discipleship vv17-20 The glory of jesus
What was going on here?
The history book of Acts chapter 17 tells us that Paul and his friend Silas had been in this Greek city Thessalonica and had preached about Jesus in the synagogue to the Jews and God fearing Greeks. This was a costly thing to do. 2:2 We had previously suffered and been insulted in Philippi, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in spite of strong opposition.
Do you dare, ever, to tell the gospel?
In Philippi according to Acts 16. Paul and Silas had been stripped, beaten severely and thrown into prison. The cost of preaching Jesus was written in whip marks on their backs and in their bruised and swollen faces. Paul and Silas must have looked like boxers after a fight.
And sure enough in Thessalonica also (Acts 17 tells us) as some began to become Christians, others responded with anger and hostility, dragging the new converts before the courts, forming a mob hunting Paul and Silas, who had to be smuggled out of the city.
We were torn away from you. Paul says 2:17, he’d never have gone unless his very life was at risk. we dared to tell you his gospel in spite of strong opposition.
About 15 years ago i had the privilege of working in a bible college in New Delhi. Delhi bible institute taught 6 month residential boot camps for grass roots rural non english speaking non educated church planters. These were the guys who were being sent back to their hindu villages as the only christian. In their training they were not just taught to explain the gospel of Jesus, They were also taught how to jump from a 2nd storey window and other survival techniques by a dude who had been a freedom fighter before he became a christian. A third of the world church today live with the intimidating threat of imprisonment, torture, even death if they will dare to preach Christ.
For us in the West it is less costly to preach Christ. But there are insults, derision, sidelining and as the law closes in we are entering darker days. How will we fare? Remain faithful or go silent?
A couple of questions beg for an answer:
First: Why is the Christian church above all other groups and institutions persecuted? Because it is more than any other.
I mean if Christians are so weak and deluded, the church of such marginal importance – why persecute them? – why seek to silence them? – why bother?
Maybe the christian church is not marginal after all??
The bible’s answer is of course - Human sinfulness rejecting God’s truth, rejecting God’s rule. Paul reminds the new Thessalonian Christians 3:4 when we were with you we kept telling you that we would be persecuted. And it turned out that way, as you well know. Christians should not be surprised to be persecuted we follow the LORD of ALL who himself was crucified. Sometimes i think, in our englishness, we misinterpret peoples’ offence as us doing something wrong by preaching the gospel. Whereas that’s an indication that we’re probably doing something right. You’re going to lose friends if you’re a disciple of Jesus. You’re going to be persecuted. Which brings you to our second question:
why in the face of such strong opposition would you risk all to tell people about Jesus? Well this gets us to the goal of discipleship and right to the heart of the meaning of life.
Paul wasn’t put off by suffering he wanted to get back to the Thessalonians v17 out of our intense longing we made every effort to see you – certainly I Paul did again and again – but Satan stopped us. For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ when he comes? Is it not you? Indeed you are our glory and our joy?
Paul risks his life to go on telling people about Jesus because there is a goal we are headed towards. This life is not all there is. We’re about to enter the season of advent where we remenber that One day the Lord Jesus Christ – the creator of the world will come, not in the manner that he came before, hiding his glory, a baby born to die for us on a cross. No look over the page 4v16 The Lord himself will come down from heaven with a loud command, with the voice of the Archangel and the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.
It’s very difficult to conceive of this. But Jesus will be come and the dead reconsitiuted raised to meet him and welcome him to his new creation.
This life as we know it is not all there is. This life is just the title page for an eternal story that only begins when Jesus comes to be with us FOREVER. a title page with one exhortation live this life now for Jesus Christ - forgiven and loved and empowered to change and love others.
The promotion of the saving gospel is violently opposed. So if we seek to share the gospel we will suffer. But if we understand that this world is not all there is, if we have seen that Jesus is coming, and that that is going to be wonderful that we will glory together with indescribable joy in his loving presence. If that fills our vision for each other as it filled Paul’s, then we will be in an adventure, we will labour and dare to tell this message whatever is thrown at us. The goal of discipleship - the glory of Jesus..
The second thing we see in the great adventure of discipleship.
The concern of discipleship – Faith is fragile
Many people had become Christians in Thessalonica in a short space of time. A church had been established of keen new believers so You might have thought that Paul and Silas had joyfully skipped away from Thessalonica, chuffed to bits. Job well done..
Not at all…
Far from content, Paul was deeply concerned. – he hadn’t wanted to leave - we were torn away from you. He’d wanted to get back to them as soon as danger passed, out of our intense longing, we made every effort to see you. we wanted to come to you…
A rousing success? More like an unfinished task.
Paul, like a parent who has had to leave the baby in the house all on its own. Needs to get back…
When my sister got married she and her husband went away on honeymoon and they didn’t come back for 3 years! Travelling… 90s One time when they were somewhere in SE Asia ..correspondence just stopped - hadn’t heard anything for days and weeks - my parents became worried, then very worried, then frantic – phoning embassies and airlines. Holding out for some news. At times like that the rest of life goes on hold. Until finally when they could stand it no longer, to great relief, news came.
Far from content Paul is like the frantic parent waiting for news. He couldn’t go to Thessalonica - it would put too many lives in danger. But When we could stand it no longer, (he says 3:1 ) We sent Timothy to strengthen and encourage you. We sent v5 to find out about your faith. And Timothy’s return with good news of the Thessalonians, has Paul almost weeping with relief… v8 Now we really live meaning - now we can breathe again - return to living since you are standing firm in the Lord.
Why all the drama, and trauma?
Imagine a parent going away on holiday and leaving her toddler with freedom of the house and a few microwave meals to fend for itself. He would last a matter of days. Without support babies die.
Without support Christians die, and will die forever.
Paul had warned the Thessalonians about the trials and persecutions that are destined for those who take up the adventure of faith – but how would they fare? Paul feared he had had to leave the Thessalonians far too prematurely.
I was afraid v5 that in some way the tempter might have tempted you and our efforts might have been useless.
Here is Satan again, God’s enemy – bending all of his efforts to stop people from finishing the Christian life. Remember the Christian life is all about finishing the journey. Completing the race. Faithful to Jesus when he comes! No wonder Paul is so glad to hear they are standing firm. He’d feared they were lost forever.
This is why Paul was so anxious to get back to the Thessalonians. Why when he could stand it no longer he risks sending his right hand man Timothy to strengthen and encourage you in your faith. The concern of Discipleship – we all need support and encouragement Because Faith is fragile.
And his concern continues.. standing firm doesn’t mean standing still. The only way to avoid sliding back is to keep moving on - there’s always more to learn, more to know, more to experience of God – look at v10 night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you again and supply what is lacking in your faith and Paul prays in v13 for their strengthening.
Here’s the concern of discipleship. This is why we have church, why we have splinter groups. Because without support, strengthening and encouraging - without maturing - Christians leave the journey. They wander off into sin. Lost forever. Gritty stuff. The stakes are so high.
How do we support, strengthen and encourage each other?
How does Paul support, strengthen and encourage the Thessalonians?
He told us in 2 v8 that his love laboured to share the gospel – God’s message and to share his life as well. Those two things
God’s word, the gospel is what strengthens us.
When Paul is frantic for the Thessalonians he sends them Bible teacher, in fact his best trained Bible teacher, and beloved friend Timothy our brother and God’s fellow worker in spreading the gospel.
One of the best things we can do is find training so that we can better teach the gospel – God’s word to ourselves and each other. And as we seek our new leader - oh that God would send us one of his best.
But it’s also relationships that strengthen us. Shared lives. We need to know each other and love each other and pray for each other.
To open up our lives homestly to one another so that the gospel can take root.
This is the concern of discipleship – that we all make it there to forever glory with Jesus together..
The Rewards of Discipleship.
You could say there are two rivals in life. That look quite similar but are very different. There’s glamour and there’s glory.
Glamour looks like happiness, feeling good, achieving things, having things that give you pleasure. A lot of people live for glamour.
Glory is different. Ever Experienced Glory! Pure.. Glory is a great victory usually born out of great struggle, sometimes darkness. It’s the great comeback. It sometimes looks like weakness but the result is joy. Glory!!
The life of Christian discipleship is a life of Glory!!
God is a god of love and community and if you get involved him you’re going to be pushed into relationships, you can changed for deeper relationship and that hurts and It hurts to get involved in people and their problems. It is a labour of love, And yet here’s Paul exhausted after sleepless nights of worry, knees sore after endless prayers. When Timothy tears in with the good news - Christians growing in Thessalonica - gritty faith and earnest love.
And Paul is like punching the air v8 Now we really live since you are standing firm in the Lord, How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you.
Here’s just some of the payback you see. the rewards of discipleship. Life and Joy. It’s one of the constants of the Christian life that as you give you receive.
Now we really live. See Paul was like one of those extreme sports dudes. Looking for life to the max. Paul had that glint in his eyes. But he didn’t go looking for a mountain to board down or a bridge to bungee jump off. Paul went looking for people to invest God’s grace in them. Paul made and matured disciples people who would live forever. When the city of London, stock exchange, our careers, dream homes and cars and possessions are long gone. We will stand in the presence of Jesus - and Paul says his great joy, the fulfilment of hope, his ultimate crown of glory will be that in the grace and mercy of God those people in whom Paul invested himself will be there with him - and Paul can say these are my trophies - these are who I invested my life in.
what is my hope, my joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ when he comes? Is it not you? Indeed you are our glory and our joy.
What are our priorities? What are we investing in? Paul would say forget your small ambitions. Give up the glamorous and go for the glorious. Really live. Make and Mature disciples.
My last weeks at SBD
my 2 favourite chapters in the bible 1 Thess 2 and 3
On this armisitice day we’re reminded that life is war. The christian life. Life in Christ. The life we are all made to live. Is a war. It’s a fight to overcome. To mature, to grow to remain
It’s a war and it’s a race
Like a marathon. They say that somewhere after the 12th mile into the 26 and a bit miles of the Marathon. Most runners hit ‘the wall’
Pain starts - Brain starts to tell you to stop running. ‘This is no fun, give up, this isn’t what you were led to expect. You begin to get angry with the people who encouraged you to run the race – they conned you, they just wanted your charity money. They’re using you. Give up – you’ve run far enough, you’ve done really well. Have a rest now..
Of course the thing is, if you drop out you cannot say ‘I have run the London Marathon…’ You haven’t – you may have been selected to run the Marathon, you may have stood around at the start and crossed the start line with thousands of others, you may have got your face on TV running the Marathon, but it’s all irrelevant, it doesn’t matter whether you ran 5 miles or 25 miles – if you didn’t finish the race…. It means nothing unless you finish.
And Marathon runners who know that, train their brains to fight the attacks so that they will endure to the finish line.
The Christian Life is a race. Christian faith is not like taking out a life insurance policy – you know, put it in a drawer, forget about it until you need it. No, it is life long, day by day, hour by hour faithfulness to Jesus and his words. It’s a marathon to be run right up to the finishing tape of our lives, never giving up, never denying Jesus..
If you drop out you cannot say, I have run the race of the Christian life. You haven’t - you may have started, you may have been baptised, you may have led a homegroup, you might have led a church – but if you don’t finish the race – it means nothing. It’s Life long.
Of course people do drop out of the Christian race – because any race of endurance is painful. The Christian way is a narrow path of Suffering. Never let anyone tell you otherwise.
Trouble and Persecution says Jesus. Christianity mocked ridiculed, discriminated against, physical suffering – prison. You will be distracted, Jesus says, the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth – and when the pain starts the brain starts to tell you to stop running – this is no fun, this isn’t what you were led to expect. You begin to get angry with the people who encouraged you to run the race – they conned you. They’re using you. Give up – you’ve run far enough, you’ve done really well. Have a rest now..
These temptations to give up on the Christians life are orchestrated says Paul in chapter 3v5 by the devil himself. He is behind all the opposition, all the lies and deceptions. Hating Christians – he wants us to disown Christ. Give up…Go on. You’ve done enough.
But No. The race is only run when it is finished.
Christian Marathon runners must train their brains to withstand pain to fight the attacks so they will endure to the finish line.
This is what Paul, i believe, is doing with the young Thessalonian Christians here in chapter 2 of his letter to them. Keep On he says to this fledgling church plant who are in the furnace of a culture hostile to the Christian gospel – just as ours is increasingly. He gives to the Thessalonians 3 points of reference to look back to that will help them to fight the lies that are assaulting them and look forward and endure:
1. Remember God’s Gospel
2. Remember Deep relationships
3. Remember changed lives
These are crucial pointers for endurance for the Thessalonians may they be so to us.
1. Remember. God’s Gospel. v1-6a
The first wave of attack, and this is always the case is an attack against the gospel the message of Christianity that the apostle Paul preached. Paul’s answer is: Remember it’s God’s gospel. What you’ve heard, it’s from God – don’t give up on it.
Have a look at v1 You know brothers that our visit to you was not a failure. We had previously suffered and been insulted in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in spite of strong opposition. For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives nor are we trying to trick you. On the contrary we speak as men approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel.
Remember – it’s God’s gospel.
Acts 17 tells us that in Thessalonica Paul had preached Jesus, in the Jewish synagogue – appealing from the scriptures that Jesus was the Messiah – Saviour and Lord. Some Jews became Christians, some prominent women and loads of God fearing Greeks. All left the synagogue to start a church. And Luke tells us the Jews were jealous – they started a riot and Paul and Silas had to be smuggled away out of the city. Leaving this church of baby Christians behind!
And now it’s obvious that these Jealous Jews – fuelled remember by God’s enemy the devil – are attacking the young church. Firstly by attacking the message of Christianity that Paul had taught.
Look at V3 the appeal we make, writes Paul does not spring from error or impure motives nor are we trying to trick you.
3 attacks it seems were being made on Paul’s teaching. Error, impure motives, deception
It’s error! Who is this Paul and his teaching - he’s just made this stuff up out of his head. He’s just an ordinary bloke!
It’s an attack still being made today. Theologians rubbishing Paul seeps into our churches and Christians say ‘I’ll listen to Jesus but why should I listen to Paul?’
The other 2 accusation are attacks on Paul himself – impure motives, and deception – ‘He’s tricked you, and now he’s disappeared – you’ve been conned. Brainwashed. Face it and give up.’
And again, The devil still uses this trick today, when the Christian life is hurting we start thinking, ‘what am I doing in this? How did I just become a Christian so fast? Did they just tell me what I needed to hear? Have I been conned?’
Well what answer does Paul give to these confusing attacks?
He says to the Thessalonians, he says to us.
Remember. It’s God’s Gospel.
It’s God’s Gospel. I didn’t make it up.
It’s God’s Gospel. I didn’t flatter you or wear a mask or try to please you. The reason you became a Christian so fast is because this is God’s gospel. God speaking - it’s powerful.
Have a look at Paul saying these things. V3-6a
The Apostles who wrote the NT are so important - men approved by God to be entrusted with the teaching of God’s gospel. The NT affirms their credentials again and again – particularly those of Paul. Paul speaks here of the weightiness of his task before God, who tests our hearts.
Notice that preaching God’s gospel and pleasing or flattering people are completely opposed. Sometimes preachers avoid the true Christian message because it is not that pleasant and flattering rather it challenges human pride. They think if I preach that no-one will want to become a Christian. But the evidence that Paul’s message is God’s gospel is that with no frills, no special offers it brings people to radical life changing relationship with the living God through Jesus Christ.
Remember the Christian message you’ve heard. It’s God’s Gospel. Next time NT Christianity is getting bad mouthed. And you’re under attack thinking perhaps they’re right why do I believe this outdated stuff and maybe I would be better off without the burden of…
STOP – are you about to drop out of the race? Never drop out of the race. Remember. It’s God’s gospel.
2. Remember Deep Relationships
The second wave of attack. And it’s a familiar ploy of the evil one. Is an attack on Christian relationships. Our relationships, particularly those between a church leader and their church are crucial and are often attacked to make churches give up. So Paul says Remember. Deep relationships. Remember.
The Jews had attacked Paul’s teaching as human lies. Now it seems they were saying he didn’t care for the Thessalonian Christians.
Paul begins the chapter with the words you know brothers that our visit to you was not a failure.
Look at v6b As apostles of Christ we could have been a burden to you, but we were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children. We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us.
Paul and Silas had been in Thessalonica only a matter of weeks before opposition meant they had to leave in a hurry and they hadn’t been back. It seems that the Jealous Jews are using Paul’s sharp exit and continued absence as evidence that Paul just doesn’t care about his so called Christian brothers and sisters. He was just here for what he could get out of you. Now he’s abandoned you. It’s all Bible bash and bye bye. Give up this Christian rubbish!
Again I wonder if you recognise this attack? Why you getting involved in that Church? They’re just after your money. They’re weird. Normally easy to ignore but when the Christian life starts hurting, you find yourself asking – yeah, what am I doing here?? They’re making all these demands on me, I just want to be my own person.
If Satan can sow distrust, can prise Christians away from each other, and from church leaders, then he can get Christians to give up – drop out of the race.
Well what’s Paul’s answer to this attack?
He says to Thessalonians Remember Deep relationships.
You get the impression that Paul is kind of beside himself here with this accusation that he doesn’t care. Nothing hurts a church leader more than that accusation. Later in v17 he says don’t ever think we just walked away. We were torn away from you he says and ever since we have wanted to get back to you.
Look at v6b As apostles of Christ we could have been a burden to you, but we were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children. We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us.
Surely you remember brothers our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you. You are witnesses and so is God of how holy righteous and blameless we were among you who believed. For you know that we dealt with you as a Father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God who calls you into his Kingdom.
How does a new mother care for her new born child? With gentleness – with real care. How is a Father with his children? – brimming with pride – encouraging and urging. How is a friend with her closest companions - it’s just a delight to share her life with them.
This is the depth of relationship. These are the bonds of love that God puts in his church. Aren’t they? Don’t you know this?
No matter how imperfectly I have managed to express it. I have felt this maternal and paternal care for you Saint Barnabas Dalston. I care for you.
When you do things, sometimes just being who you are – my heart bursts. I’m so proud of you. I want to see you grow. This has never been a job to me. It’s been hard but it’s been a delight to share my life with you – because you are such a wonderful church – so dear to me.
Many of you will understand this. Because you receive this love and you give it within the church family. This is what church is. Deep relationships. Of course those relationships make us vulnerable to pain, when we are torn away from one another, but God will have it no other way.
And here’s the point Remember - Deep relationships assure us of the truth of the gospel.
You know says Paul..
Next time Christianity is being discredited because the church is full of hypocrites and Bible bashers and weirdos, and you’re under attack thinking yeah I’d be better off without the burden of…
STOP – are you about to drop out of the race? Never drop out of the race. Remember. Deep relationships..
Remember Changed lives..verses 13-16
The final attack is an attack on the Thessalonians themselves. Call yourselves Christians – you’re no different. Nothings changed!
Recognise this one – ever have this lie buzzing round your head?
You’re not a Christian anyway, nothings happened. Give up. Give up.
Paul says – rubbish Remember changed lives.
V13 we also thank God continually because when you received the word of God, which you heard from us you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is the word of God which is at work in you who believe. For you brothers became imitators of the churches in Judea, which are in Christ Jesus: You suffered from your own countrymen the same things those churches suffered from the Jews.
Paul says You are different people. You may not always feel it. But you are. You definitely received the gospel and that word of God is at work in you. And do you know what the evidence is that you are going on as Christians? The evidence is that you are enduring in the face of suffering. You’re still here in church – even though you’re suffering. That’s evidence enough that you’re running the race. Enduring. Your life has changed. You are running the race Well keep going.
My sister Helen running the Marathon> her husband Dave ran the last 15 miles with her.
When the issue of money and giving is raised in the context of the Christian Faith a particular picture often comes to mind. Perhaps of the money grabbing TV evangelists. I heard of one such who had wires connected to the seats in his church. ‘Stand up if you’re willing to give $100 to God, he shouted’ as he said this, he pressed a button and electricity surged through the seats. There was a tremendous response, but later the sidesman found three dead Scotsmen clinging to their pews!
The picture Saint Paul paints here is quite different from this. He writes to thank this group of Christians at Philippi that who have generously sent him money via Epaphroditus. In A purple passage which includes two of the most wonderful promises in the Bible he outlines the threefold blessing of generous giving. He doesn’t have to bully us or guilt trip us to give generously. Giving, he says is a blessing! It’s such a great thing ..get involved. The first part of the threefold blessing:
1. Generous giving brings blessing to others.
Paul thanks the Philiipians for making him so happy. He writes 10 I rejoice greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it.’
Then, In the next verses he, Paul, reveals his attitude to money.
On the one hand, he writes, that in some ways he does not need the money. ’11 I am not saying this because I am in need’
why has he no need? Because, he tells us, he has learned something very important. Before he was a Christian Paul tells us in Ro 7:8 that he used to be envious of others and to covet others wealth and possesions. Now he has v11 ‘learned to be content whatever the circumstances.’
Look at what he says: v12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.’
Martin luther, the craft beer drinking german monk and architect of the protestant reformation once said, ‘contentment is a rare bird, but it sings sweetly in the breast.’ Who doesn’t want to be deeply content?
What is the secret of contentment? Many think that the secret is to have everything they want. They say to themselves if only I had a better house, a bigger car, more money then I would be content.’ Others think the secret lies in human relationships or in looking beautiful.
But experience tells us that these thing do not bring contentment, in fact on the contrary they can make us more unsettled and thirsty, we tend to need more amd more of the same. John D rockerfeller, founder of the standard oil company, who made 100s of millions of dollar's was once asked, ‘how much money does it take to make a man happy? To which He answered ‘just a little bit more.’
Paul has learned to be content in any and every situation. He’s not saying there is anything wrong with having food and posessions, but these cannot be the primary source of our contentment. that is to make these things idols, gods - to look to them, uncertain, fragile created things for our life. That’s very foolish. We’re destined to be disappointed to remain discontented.
For Paul the secret of real contentment is the transforming friendship of Jesus Christ. He writes, ‘13 I can do everything through him who gives me strength.’ See, He’s learned to live not on his outer resources, but on his inner resources. Knowing Jesus. Trusting Jesus. The person who has learned this secret is truly rich. Jeremiah Burrows. The rare jewel of Christian contentment. Benjamin Franklin, the American statesman, once said, ‘content makes poor men rich; discontent makes Rich men poor.’ Paul was always rich because, in Christ, he had found the secret of contentment. For this reason he was able to write to the Philippians that in some ways he just did not need their money.
However, in some ways he did need the money. He writes: 14 Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles. 15 Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me(NB) in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only; 16 for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid more than once when I was in need.
Paul had ‘troubles’ v14 and had been ‘in need’ v16. The Philippians had shared in his troubles and had generously sent him money again and again. The word used for ‘share’ is a word derived from the Greek word koinonia which means fellowship, communion close relationship,. Its a favourite expression for the marital relationship as the most intimate between human beings. Sharing is a vital part of life with those with whom we have a close relationship.
In the NT the church is likened to a family. a close family. Christians are brothers and sisters. Amd In the church, sharing should take place spontaneously or in planned ways in order to meet all its needs. Everyone’s involved so that the entire burden does not fall on a few, and so that the needs of the less well off can be met. This is the way of bringing blessing to individuals who, like Paul, are in need, and blessing to the church which has its needs met also.
Very expensive city. Pressure of housing pushes some of our members out from being to live here. How do we act as a sharing fellowship? Are there ways in which we as a church can bear each other’s burdens? bless and provide for one another?
Generous giving brings blessing to others.
2. Generous giving brings blessing to the lives of those who give
Paul does not want the Philippians to think that he's only asking them for money. In fact, he's more concerned that they should be blessed.
All through the passage, Paul uses technical banking and accounting terms. In verse 15 where he speaks about this matter of giving and receiving literally he’s speaking about credit and debit, income and outgoings, the two sides of an accountants ledger. In v17 he writes about profit and interest. The word ‘credited’ was a word used in banking for financial growth. Finally, in v18 when he says, ‘I have received full payment’ he uses another commercial term, apparently meaning to ‘receive a sum in full and give a receipt for it’
Put in commercial terms, Paul is saying that giving is an investment of Capital. Elsewhere (2 cor 9) to speak about generous giving Paul uses the picture of a farmer sowing seed: ‘remember this who ever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and who ever sows generously will also reap generously.’. Giving is planting seed. The farmer knows he is investing for the future, for he knows that he will reap far more than he has sown.
Generous giving brings blessing to the lives of those who give
Hudson Taylor founded the china inland mission in the 19th C. Thousands became christians through him and it’s said that the he laid the foundations for the current revival of christian faith in china where millions are turning to Jesus. At the age of 27 he was preparing for one of his earliest trips to china he was working v hard and living a very frugal life. He ate a bowl of porridge in the morning and a bowl of gruel on alternate nights. He was asked to go and pray for a very poor family where the mother was dying. He was appalled by their poverty. the only money he had was his weeks wages of half a crown. as he prayed for them he agonised about how much he could spare to give them. Every proprtion he settled on felt too little. In the end he gave all he had. and returned home penniless but joyful. that night he reminded God of proverbs 19v17 ‘he that gives to the poor lends to the lord’ he asked the lord to not let the loan be a long one and he slept soundly. The following day an unexpected letter arrived - a pair of gloves and half a sovereign! a 400% return on his loan in the space of 12 hours! The incident was a turning point in his life. he came back to it again and again. Learning to trust God in small things prepares us for the serious trials of life.
Now God doesn’t promise to make us financially rich when we give. He absolutely doesn’t. But this spiritual principle applies to everything in life. Whatever we give to God, he multiplies, Whether it is our time, home, gifts, ambitions, or money. The return on our investment is not usually financial, (though we can trust God to provide for our needs as we will see). Rather, as we invest in people we receive the blessing of seeing lives changed, people coming into the kingdom of God, the hungry being fed, and naked clothed, drug addicts set free, marriages restored and the sick healed. Everytime we hear a report back from a work in which we have invested, we are reaping the reward for our investment. For the most part we will have to wait til heaven to see the harvest, but we get occasional glimpses of It here and now, as a foretaste.
The NT principle is that if we want treasure in heaven, we have to send it on in advance. What will the reward in heaven be for using our wealth generously? I don't know, but I suspect we will see the faces of those we have unknowingly helped. we will hear them, say I became a xian as a result of your gift, or my marriage was restored, or, I was healed. Not only will we see their faces, but we will see the face of Jesus. We get a foretaste of this now,which is why in giving generously it is not only the recipients who are blessed: we also are blessed. In fact it’s more blessed to give than to receive.
3. Generous giving brings blessing to God
Paul now turns from the commercial world of banking to the language of the Temple. He writes that such a mundane matter as a material gift is first of all v18 a fragrant offering. This language is borrowed from the old Testament offerings of incense in worship in the temple. It means literally the odour of a sweet smell. It's also the expression used for Christ's offering of himself for us on the cross (eph 5:2) speaks of something very beautiful, an act of great love. That’s what our giving is before God. (the perfume on his feet, the widows mite)
Secondly, generous giving is v18 ‘an acceptable sacrifice.’ Now we don’t bring sacrifices to God in order to appease him or earn his favour. No, the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross was ‘a full, perfect and sufficient sacrifice.’ We cannot add to something which is already full perfect and sufficient. no, our sacrifice is a repsone, it’s about Thanksgiving and praise, and part of that should be a generosity in our giving. Sacrifices are not easy to give. There is a cost: it is hard to give; It goes against the grain, we go without something else when we give away and Yet again there is blessing here because it is an act which, more than anything else, liberates us from the hold money might otherwise have on our lives.
Thirdly, Paul says that generous giving is ‘pleasing to God.’ It is an extraordinary and wonderful assertion of the new Testament generally - and in particular of Paul in this passage - that what we do here can please God. If we give Generously, God is pleased.
We were praying this last wednesday for the plight of christians and other religious minorities in iraq and syria. sometimes we feel powerless in such complex situations but we can pray, we can put pressure on our government to respond with compassion and generosrity and we do can give. (CofE website)
Throughout the new Testament we're encouraged to give generously
1 co 16v2 giving should be planned and regular and proportionate to our income
‘on the first day of the week each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income’.
Many Christians believe it is right to give a tenth of their income away to their church to those in need on the basis of matthew 23:23). I don;t know …These are guidelines, generosity is the only rule in the new testament. As we give generously, Paul says v19 ‘My God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.’
My God - see how personal God is. He’s our God. You can trust him. He will meet your needs. Many Christians who give, say, 10% of their income, have found the 90 % left more than covers what the hundred percent did before they started giving. God promises to meet all your needs. Which must include our material needs (though not necessarily all our material wants). Our needs will be met ‘according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.’ Not merely from his wealth, but in a manner that befits his wealth. We cannot out give God.
which brings me to the last thing to say..
our generosity stems from god’s generosity to us. it is no coincidence that the book of philippians ends as it began with grace. That’s the theme of this letter. Grace is one of the most important words in the NT. It summarises the essence of Christianity. It describes all the riches of God’s freely given, undeserved love for us made possible through the sacrificial gift of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Through Jesus, God makes us his own, gifts us everything that is Jesus’ - eternal life, adoption, the security of his love. In Christ you are given more than you could ever have wanted and therfore out of that abundance of riches we are to generously give.
aged 13 art exam. the party. roast chicken and a lot of carpet. Help!
didn’t need just help, didn’t need good advice .. i needed salvation. i needed her to sit down and do the exam in my place. I needed a saviour!]
What is life really all about: is it about a stairway or is it about a saviour?
Is life a stairway TO heaven and you’ve got to climb?
Or is it about a Saviour FROM heaven and how He has come down?
Every human religion is about a stairway and you have to climb it. Karma in Hinduism, the Eightfold Path in Buddhism, the 5 Pillars of Islam – it’s all about US making a journey towards spiritual improvement.
And even if you’re not at all religious, life is still about getting ahead, getting on top, climbing the greasy pole. being all you can be, proving yourself.
Whether religious or completely non-religious, the whole world is looking for a stamp of approval that says “YOU’RE ALRIGHT. YOU CAN HOLD YOUR HEAD UP HIGH.” To put it in Bible terms, we all want to be declared “RIGHTEOUS” – to be declared “IN THE RIGHT” with those that matter.
And the whole world thinks it knows HOW you get that verdict: You climb the staircase. YOU pull yourself up by your bootstraps and do it yourself.
But there’s one significant exception to the rule. Christians are different – or at least we should be. Christians are the one group of people on the face of the planet who believe in a Saviour. No-one else believes in a Saviour the way Christians do. We believe that Jesus Christ – the Perfect Son of God – He ALONE deserves to be called Righteous. He has always thrilled the heart of His Father God even before the world began and when He came to live a life in our world, He lived the Righteous Life so exceptionally. Compared to Jesus none of us measure up. We fall far short of Jesus and His matchless glory. BUT, this is the thing: Jesus is not a STANDARD who we have to now LIVE UP to. NO – He is our Saviour who has COME DOWN to SHARE His righteousness WITH US!
The whole direction of travel is different for the Christian. We don’t work up to righteousness. Righteousness has come down to us because Jesus: the Righteous One, is heaven’s Gift.
Look at the last 10 words of verse 9. Paul writes that in Jesus, there is:
a righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.
Here is everything the world tries to live up to. And Paul says, it’s come DOWN, as a Gift.
Baptism pictures the giving of this gift to us. By faith, simple trust, in Christ Jesus My Lord we are joined to Jesus who died for our sin and went down into the watery grave - our sins are crucified with Christ. And then just as Jesus the righteous was raised - we have been raised to life and are clothed in his righteousness. He comes down to give every drop of his blood to lift us UP.
See how Paul puts it in verse 9. Now that you have gained Christ, you are...
found in him, not having a righteousness of [your] own that comes from [obeying] the law, but [a righteousness] which is through faith in Christ
It’s not about a staircase it’s ALL about our Saviour, Jesus. It’s not about climbing, it’s about receiving.
all of us, even Christians, even though we’re meant to believe in a Saviour, we slip into Staircase Religion. It’s our pride you see. We desperately want to do it ourselves. But that’s death. We were made to depend on God, that’s what makes us truly human. Truly strong. full of life. THIS passage will call us out of the death of Staircase Religion and back to Security in our Saviour. And when we refocus on HIM, EVERYTHING changes. Let’s see in our passage the 3 things it changes according to Paul.
Firstly, it changes our mood. Verse 1:
Finally, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord!
In this short letter, Paul talks about joy or rejoicing 14 times. This is often called the letter of joy. And repeatedly Paul commands us to rejoice.
How do you feel about being commanded to change your mood?
We actually do it all the time when you think about it.
“Have a nice day.” And what if I don’t?
“Enjoy your meal.” Well, I’ll eat it, but whether I ENJOY it is largely up to your chef.
Actually we know what we mean by those ones the one that really grates is: “Cheer up. It might never happen” Dont’ you hate that becuase maybe whatever mihght never happen is happening..
But you know, when Paul commands - rejoice! He’s not being like the idiot who says Cheer up. It might never happen. Because it’s happening for him. He writes from a hell hole prison in Rome knowing that at any moment he might be executed. Paul doesn’t say cheer up. Praise the Lord anyway. Rejoice in your circumstances. He says rejoice in the lord.
There’s nothing joyful about his circumstances. There may well be nothing joyful about yours. But Paul rejoices IN THE LORD. Paul knows Jesus and he knows the Jesus who COMES DOWN INTO OUR PIT to be with us, to be for us, and one day soon to bring us out. He rejoices because, first and foremost, he doesn’t think of himself as in prison. First and foremost he thinks of himself as IN the LORD – In Jesus. And in JESUS he can rejoice.
Ca you? Can you rejoice? Can i? Even in terrible circumstances? We will never be able to rejoice if we’re climbing the staircase. If you think life is about getting ahead, then suffering comes and knocks you off course, it takes you down a peg or two, it’s a dead loss. If you’re on the staircase you can only rejoice when you’re on top, never when you’re suffering. But if you have a Saviour – who meets you IN the pit – then it doesn’t matter how low suffering brings you, Jesus is there. His love goes deeper still.
If we know nothing of rejoicing in suffering, maybe it’s because we’ve started to buy into the staircase vision of life. Look again to Jesus: With our Saviour, even a dungeon can be a place of praise.
So with Jesus as Saviour, it changes our MOOD. Secondly, it changes our MESSAGE.
From verse 2, Paul starts talking about false teaching that was threatening the Philippian church. Essentially the message of these false teachers was Staircase Religion. They held the Bible in their hands but their message is basically self-help, self-improvement, self-realisation – “You’ve got Jesus but there’s stuff that you need to DO TOO.
And Paul can’t STAND this message because it is the opposite of the message of the SAVIOUR. It downgrades Jesus’ total glory. So from verse 2 he uses the strongest language against these false teachers:
“Watch out for those dogs, those men who do evil, those mutilators of the flesh.
It seems these preachers called themselves “The Circumcision” strange name… But they called themselves the Circumcision dudes because they preached that the gateway to ‘TRUE CHRISTIANITY’ was to come to Jesus and then obey the Old Testament Law. which included being circumcised.
You know if you heard these guys preach you would probably be impressed by their religious seriousness, by their commitment to holiness. But it’s Staircase Religion – it’s ANTI our Saviour Christ. So Paul is so harsh with them in verse 2. He calls them dogs. It’s a brutal accusation, because these Jewish/Christian preachers would have thought of non-Jewish people as unclean dogs. Paul says, No the circumcision sect – they are the unclean ones, they are outside of the true people of God. What’s more, they lift up “goodness” in their preaching but really – by distracting people from their Saviour – they are ‘evildoers’ says Paul v2. And while they preach circumcision, all they end up doing is mutilating the flesh.!! Eww
No, says Paul v3 to these ordinary Christians, it is WE who are the circumcision.
Simply by trusting in Jesus ALONE, we are the true children of Abraham, the true people of God…
we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh.
That’s the heart of it you see? The big question is always, Where are you putting your confidence in life? Are we trusting our own powers and performances: that’s what “flesh” means here. Are we putting our hope in ourselves?
When you listen to any ‘Christian’ message, hear a sermon online, or read a christian book, that’s the question to ask. Is this message telling you to put confidence in yourself? Or to put confidence in Jesus? Is this message pointing you to your own righteousness or to Christ’s righteousness GIVEN to you? Christ the saviour changes your mood, your message and finally your …
From verse 4, Paul tells us about his past experiences of Staircase Religion and boy oh boy - he was the stair master.
4 … I myself have reasons for such confidence. If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: [let me list off 7 steps I ascended in my day, says Paul] 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless.
You could not get more spiritually successful than Paul. He had everything: right nation, culture, religion, pedigree, upbringing. And he doesn’t just rely on his circumstances, he lives right too. He had joined the “Pharisees” – an ultra-conservative religious grouping. Their name means “Those who keep themselves separate.” That was Paul, a cut above. But he wasn’t just morally pure, he was also zealous (v6). He was consumed by religious devotion. And if you tried to dig for dirt on Paul you would not find any. According to outward legal requirements, Paul had been 100% faultless.
And back in the day Paul would have taken immense pride in his many spiritual credentials.
And we can be tempted to do the same.
My baptism, my church, as for zeal, i never missed a prayer gathering as for righteousness, i’m reading the bible in a year don’t you know.
Look praying is good, reading the bible is good, caring for your churches theology is good but you don’t want to be doing things for you and to be seen by others as a means of self justification, of stair climbing! That can’t be your motivation!
What does Paul think of all that stair climbing that once motivated him so?
7 But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ
Here Paul weighs up everything he’s ever been proud of in his life on one side of the scales. And then on the other side of the scales he puts Christ. And when he puts Christ into the equation, everything else he had ever trusted is seen as a dead loss. He had tried to climb higher and higher. But now he looks back and he says to himself: I wasn’t standing on anything solid. I was standing on a dung heap (that’s what the word ‘rubbish’ means in verse 8). i was standing on Crap. All those things might have been fine in themselves but I trusted in them as steps to climb – and that makes them dung.
But CHRIST. He is so different. You see CHRIST is not one more step up towards heaven. He’s not a helper who gets you up the staircase. Christ is the abolition of the staircase. Because Christ comes down and joins us in the pit. And He embraces ANYONE who is honest enough to say “I’m helpless, I need rescue.” Anyone who gives up on the stair-climbing and says “Jesus, I know I can’t do it, I want YOU” – instantly that person GAINS CHRIST. And HE is what really matters.
Do you see how obsessed Paul is with CHRIST in these verses?
Verse 7 – Paul loses everything for the sake of Christ
Verse 8 – he describes the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ.
End of verse 8 – he wants to gain Christ
Verse 9 – we wants to be found IN Christ.
Also verse 9 – he has faith in Christ.
And verse 10 – he wants to know Christ.
He is Christ obsessed. When you’re climbing the staircase, you don’t really love Jesus. Even if you’re a Christian, if you’re on the staircase, Jesus isn’t EVERYTHING to you. He’s a Helper on your way to heaven. If you’re on the Staircase, the Christian life is about abstract duties to perform and doctrines to believe. Is that how our Christianity feels sometimes? Is that our MOTVIATION? Things to do, things to believe but it’s not personal?
Do we KNOW Jesus? Is our motivation, verse 10: I want to KNOW CHRIST?
Cos Christianity is not a lifestyle, a regime, a hobby, a philosophy, it’s not a staircase to climb – it’s JESUS, the Saviour who has come DOWN. And He’s come down in Person.
And you are meant to know Him? Maybe you’re not a Christian, but you realise your whole life you’ve wanted to know whether you’re ok. Right in the eyes of those that matter. you’ve wanted to know whether ‘God’ might ever accept you. Let me assure you – if you’re trying to lift yourself up towards Him it will never work. JESUS has come DOWN. But He’s come down as a pure Gift. If you want to leave off, climbing the stairs your way. If you want to admit, “Jesus, I’m in the pit and I can’t get out. Jesus I want you.” You know what? He’s yours. On the cross He gave Himself for you with every drop of His blood. And right now I’m extending that offer – God gives you Jesus, will you have Him? To know Him, to Know His surpassing greatness, His worth, His love. Call out now and say Jesus “I want to know you.”
And maybe you’re a Christian and you realise that – like all of us, your mood is less than joyful, the messages you like to hear are all about confidence in the flesh, your motivation is all about raising yourself up. Maybe you’ve gotten sucked into the Stairclimbing Religion. Maybe the person of Jesus HIMSELF has been stripped out of your Christianity, and it’s all become very abstract. Do you want to forget that rubbish and know Jesus?
Again, let me declare you you to myself: He’s yours. With every drop of His blood, He is yours. And the whole of your life, and the whole of eternity is not about lifting yourself up towards Him, but knowing the depths of His love towards YOU.
John 9:1-41 Part I
Introduction: how can I see?
I don’t know if you remember those 3-D posters that were popular some time ago. They were just paper with a pattern on it – but if you squinted and looked at it in a certain way you saw – well to be honest I never found out what you saw, because I couldn’t do it. People told me you saw a dinosaur or something. For me – it was never more than expensive wrapping paper. Some people could see it – some couldn’t. And it seemed a bit arbitrary who could and couldn’t.
I wonder if you ever felt like that about Christianity. Some people can see Jesus – they look at the Bible and they are convinced and believe. But others look at Jesus – but they don’t get it - they don’t believe.
Now why is that? Why do we – or don’t we believe? How does someone come to believe? Or not believe?
Well John 9 gives us some answers to those sorts of questions. We’re going to spend two weeks in this chapter and tonight we’re thinking – how do we come to believe in Jesus? Next week we’ll think about the opposite - why people don’t believe – for now – how do we come to believe?
Let’s start with what I’ve called the sign, the sign that Jesus is the light of the world.
The Sign: Jesus is the light of the world, 9v1-7
This isn’t the main point here, but it’s worth pausing on this. The disciples assume the reason we suffer is because we do things wrong – and God punishes us for that. So when they meet this man who was born blind – the question is – is he blind because of his parent’s sin – or his own sin?
However, Jesus says – v3 READ.
So Jesus is clear that your suffering is not caused by your particular wrong doing.
The Bible does link our sin and suffering but only in a general way. Suffering has come because humanity as a whole have rejected God. That has led to this world going wrong and suffering is part of that. But that is only a general connection – Jesus says here we don’t individually suffer in direct proportion to our individual sin. If you want to sum it up we can say suffering comes from sin in general – not from sin in particular.
Now let’s get back to the main flow here - why is this man born blind? Well v3-5 READ.
Now when Jesus says - I am the light of the world - he is making an enormous claim because in the Bible light and darkness are big metaphors - full of meaning.
Darkness is a picture of God’s anger or punishment. Being in darkness means being cut off from God – having him against you and suffering his judgement.
Light on the other hand means the opposite – light means – knowing God and living with God and enjoying God.
And the Bible & Jesus himself, are clear that because of how we have treated God – left to ourselves, we are in the dark – we face God’s punishment.
But through the Bible God promises an answer - he promises to send a rescuer to help us. And he describes this rescuer as – the light. At Christmas we’ll have a reading from Isaiah 9 ‘the people walking in darkness have seen a great light’. It’s a promise of one who will rescue us.
So when Jesus says – I am the light of the world – he’s saying – I’m that rescuer God promised. I’m the one who can take you from darkness and bring you to know God.
So it’s a huge claim. But he doesn’t just talk big, he then acts big as well. He backs up his claim with action.
It’s put very quickly – but this is an amazing miracle. He was born blind. Blind all his life. And with a simple mud recipe Jesus makes him see.
John calls miracles like these – signs – because they are signs, pointers, to who Jesus is.
It’s not hard to get the significance of this sign - he heals someone physically in the dark – to demonstrate he can rescue people in the dark with God. He brings someone into the light to show he’s the light of the world.
We’ll come back to that – lets now go onto what I’m going to call - the reality. We’ve looked at the sign – that Jesus is the light of the world. Next we get the reality of that sign – as Jesus brings this man into the light with God.
The Reality: Jesus can bring us into the light, 9v8-39
After this miracle we get a series of conversations with the blind man.
I’m sorry to call him the blind man – I realise he can now see – and so it’s rather perverse to call him blind. But you know who I mean.
I want us to see in these conversations how the blind man gradually comes to see who Jesus is. Let’s walk through it.
“The man they call Jesus”, v11
First of all the crowd say v10 – how were your eyes opened? V11 READ.
At this stage that’s what he thinks of Jesus – he is the man they call Jesus.
“He is a prophet”, v17
Then they take him to the Pharisees – they ask how he can see – he repeats the story. Now they aren’t happy because technically Jesus has worked on the Sabbath by making mud. But they can’t deny the miracle. They ask - v17 READ. He’s making progress.
The Pharisees doubt whether he was ever really blind – so they get his parents to check and v20 READ.
“This man is from God”, v33
But the Pharisees still aren’t happy so v26 – they ask again - what did he do?
Well at this point the blind man starts to get cheeky – v27 READ.
The Pharisees insist – v29 READ.
That makes the man come to this conclusion v30-33 READ.
Man – prophet – from God.
“Lord, I believe”, v38
Then we read v35-38 READ.
This is like someone standing in front our 3-D posters and saying – hold on – I can see a vague shape – it’s an animal, ah – it’s a dinosaur.
He goes from man, to prophet, to ‘from God’, to I believe, and worships.
In other words, he comes to see who Jesus is – spiritually he comes into the light.
Our question is – how does it happen? How does he come to see?
I think we can see two things going on. First of all, there is a,
Rational, logical, evidential argument
We saw these conversations get the evidence clear. They check his identity, confirm with his parents - this man was definitely born blind.
And it’s obvious he can definitely now see – no one is disputing that.
So the evidence is clear – this man was definitely blind – and now definitely sees.
And then from that – flows a logical argument. We see it most when the Pharisees say they don’t know where Jesus comes from…so the blind man replies – v30-33 READ.
You can hear the blind man thinking out loud? As the Pharisees keep saying Jesus is a nobody –that makes him think about it. Hold on – if he opened my eyes – he can’t be a nobody. Only the creator – God - can do this sort of thing – so he must be from God…
A while ago I was with my book group - some friends who aren’t Christians and we were talking about the novel “The Life of Pi”. Don’t know if you’ve come across it. In many ways it’s a good read. But – it also annoyed me – because it suggests that every religion is equally true, so choose the one you like the most.
Now that’s a big topic we’re not getting into – but what really annoyed me was that it didn’t allow for the fact that there might be evidence for a religion. That possibility just wasn’t entertained.
And so at one point, I said this – and then a little nervously said, “I’m a Christian because the evidence has convinced me it’s true.”
One bloke looked at me and frowned and said – ‘what evidence?’ And everyone laughed – at such a ridiculous idea.
But there is evidence. Like this healing. Now, it’s not absolute proof Jesus is God – but as the blind man reasons – it’s at least a sign that Jesus has the power of a creator – the power of God.
I know there are other questions to ask - is this a reliable account? Can we trust John to write the truth? That sort of thing. And that’s not for now. But there are answers to those questions – and it all builds up to evidence to believe.
Often people think becoming a Christian is a leap in the dark. Like my friends in my book group laughed at the idea of evidence. Sometimes faith is defined as believing something you know isn’t true. It’s blind faith.
For this man, it was very the opposite of that – he dwells on the evidence and is kind of compelled – to realise Jesus must be from God. For him it is logic and rational thought and evidence that brings him to believe.
However, there is a second comment we’ve got to make. How did this man come to believe? At one level it was rational evidence. At another level it was,
Miraculous, Jesus-given sight, 9v39
In v39 - Jesus gives us a comment on what has happened, READ.
That is Jesus’ explanation on what has happened to the blind man. It’s that he has come into the world to bring the blind to see.
So how did this man come to believe in Jesus – Jesus’ answer is – I brought him to see. Just like Jesus did the miracle of physically opening his eyes – he did the miracle of spiritually opening his eyes and bringing him to believe.
Now at this point you might want to say – but Nigel, you’ve just said it’s a rational process. Now you are saying it’s a miracle. How can it be both?
Well let me try and illustrate it. Do you remember having to go for an eye test at school? After you’ve had the letters getting smaller and smaller, you’re shown a card a bit like this - with a circle of red dots on it. But in the middle – is a number 5 in green dots.
And you are asked – what number do you see? Most people say – 5.
But some people look and say - I can’t see a number. Just dots.
Because that is how it is if you’re colour blind. You can’t distinguish red from green.
The number is there – but they can’t see it.
Now imagine we could wave a wand and take away that person’s colour blindness. And they then said – it’s obvious, it’s 5.
Would we then say – well that’s irrational? What a lucky stab in the dark?
Not at all – in fact – we’d say the opposite - they can now see properly – and they can see what was there all the time.
And it’s the same with us and Jesus. The evidence for him is there – but we have a problem with our sight. We are Jesus-blind. As I said at the start Bible describes us in the dark - blind to God and Jesus.
And so we need him to work a miracle in us – to take away our Jesus-blindness. And so then we can look at him and say – oh it’s obvious – Jesus is God.
But the fact we need a miracle doesn’t make this illogical – or a blind guess. In fact it’s the opposite – this miracle brings us to see clearly. It brings us to think more clearly and logically than we ever have before. So as Jesus enables us – we can look at the evidence and say – of course – Jesus is the rescuer I need.
And that is the miracle Jesus has come to do. He says – I am the light of the world. I have come to bring the blind to see.
How do we come to believe? Two answers here - rational reflection on the evidence. But that only works as Jesus enables us to see what that all means and see who he is.
Let’s finish by thinking what this means for us in practice. I want to suggest two things.
First of all – if tonight we can see who Jesus is – if we believe in him – to some extent anyway. We should have a delighted, amazed, gratitude.
How do you think the blind man felt each morning when woke up and opened his eyes? Blind all your life – then you wake up and see your parent’s faces. Sees his home, friends – the sun, a bird, a tree. He must have been – wow – this is amazing. There is a whole world I was missing - now I can live.
Well if we can see Jesus – I think we should feel something of that. I know it feels different to the blind man – it’s not a physical thing - we might have grown up as Christians so feels like we’ve always seen Jesus and that sort of thing. But at some point, we were blind to Jesus. He meant nothing to us. Life was about us or whatever we choose to live for. But now – we see who he is – he’s our God and rescuer – and we can live now with him – life making sense with him at the centre. That’s amazing – we should have delight, amazed gratitude.
But as I say that we might be thinking – it often doesn’t feel like that. I’m not that amazed. Or to be honest – I struggle to believe in Jesus – if you like, I don’t see very well. Or maybe we simply don’t believe in Jesus so of course we don’t feel this.
Well for all of us – wherever we are on that spectrum - we need to both look at Jesus – and pray we see Jesus. They must go together.
We need to look at Jesus. Read the Bible, listen to talks from the Bible, be exposed to Jesus, think about him, learn, talk, use your mind, engage, think. We look.
But at the same time we must pray to see. Lord I’m blind – please open my eyes to Jesus, and who he is.
And it’s both. Both look at Jesus and pray we see Jesus.
It’s not – I’ll just look and investigate and think, and work Jesus out on my own. We’re blind. So on our own we won’t see him.
But equally we don’t just pray - open my eyes – and then do nothing. Expecting God to zap us into stronger belief. We have to look – Jesus has given us the Bible, given us signs pointing to him, so we can look at him, and learn and think and know.
We must do both – look at Jesus, pray to see Jesus.
If we’re not a Christian I know this is a big ask. I’m saying look at Jesus in the Bible and as you do that – pray God will open your eyes. That’s asking a lot. If you’re up for that - you can start your prayer – God, if you’re there – apparently I need your help to see – so would you do that.
If we do believe in Jesus to whatever degree - we do the same. Sundays, splinter group, on our own – we look at Jesus in the Bible, give ourselves to that. And as we look we pray – please open my eyes – that I would see how wonderful Jesus is, how gracious, how trustworthy, how patient, how serving, how powerful, how just and right and good. How valuable, how important, how worth it he is. Please help me truly see him.
How do we come to believe in Jesus? How do we grow in Jesus?
Look at Jesus – and pray to see Jesus.
Letter of encouragement to the church plant in Philippi. if you’re off on holiday to Northern Greece you can see the city’s extensive ancient ruins. At the time of Paul’s writing of this letter from prison in Rome (1:7), Philippi was a bustling, strategic, cosmopolitan centre - the fledgling church was a very diverse but tiny minority. Pressure from an unbelieveing society was causing a little bit of discouragement and disagreement within. They needed encouragement. The church always needs encouragement.
And here in 2:19-30. Paul updates the Philippians on some plans he has to send a couple of his co-workers to them to encourage them and bring them news and teach them. But what this little section does is it gives us a lovely insight into two of Paul’s friendships. The Apostle Paul often gets bad press. He is seen, wrongly, as overly intellectutal and dry, sometimes harsh and judgemental. But little insights, like these into the real Paul correct that wrong impression showing us a warm, vibrant, deeply loving man. A great friend who made great friendships.
That’s something that we don’t always find easy to do. Sometimes we can have many ‘friends’ but only the beginnings of friendships. So, We’re given a vision here, i believe, for something that God wants to enable for us. Friendship
The two friends of Paul who we meet here are Timothy and Epaphroditus
Timothy is well known in the NT. He was one of Paul’s closest co-workers. Two of the letters in the NT are addressed to him! Many of the letters of Paul were co authored by Timothy. Timothy was from Lystra a market town in the Roman province of Lycaonia in south central modern-day Turkey. His mum and grandmother were Jewish, his Dad was Greek and he was raised as a Greek even though his mum and granny, we’re told, instructed him in the Jewish faith. Tim had become a Christian through Paul and they had become very close friends. Paul recognised Timothy’s gifts and brought him onto his church planting team. Paul was older than Timothy and he describes their friendship doesn’t he v22 as being like that of a father and a son.
Epaphroditus is the other friend here. They must have shortened his name surely? Paph; Ep; Ditus? I”d definitely have called him Paph so let’s stick with that.
We don’t know so much about Paph. He doesn’t feature in the rest of the NT. He was from Philippi, part of the church there and was sent to Paul in prison in Rome with stuff to care for Paul’s needs. Cash basically. But Paul clearly used Paph on his team too. in 2:25, he calls him "my brother and fellow-worker and fellow-soldier.”
It seems he got seriously ill when he was with Paul and nearly died. We’ll come back to that.
So this little section speaks to us about friendship. That’s our theme. 3 things
The importance of friendship
The heart of friendship
The power for friendship
The importance of friendship
Friendship is at the heart of Christianity;
Friendship is at the heart of what it means to be human.
Friendship is so important..
Genesis 1 and 2 God creates the world, animals, people. There’s this cadence; repeated refrain, “It was good, It was good, It was good. And then you get to chapter 2:18 and suddenly the cadence is broken. “It is not good…” Something in paradise is not good?
And we’re told what it is..
It is not good… for man to be alone …
In paradise man had all things, a perfect relationship with God and yet this was not enough. it was not all food, there was an absence, a further need. the need for deep loving human relationships.
Now the solution to loneliness in Genesis is a marriage. But human friendship which is also vital in marriage is the bigger solution. Jesus, himself never married but he chose disciples - friends to be with him. 3 of the 12 became particularly close friends. And Jesus had a best friend - John. Jesus demonstates that marriage is not the heart of the solution to aloneness friendship is. Interestingly there will be no marriage in the New Creation - marriage is a temporary sign. But there will be the continued development of friendship eternally.. including friendship between people who were married!
So in eden God answers human aloneness with friendship. But there’s a question.
Was there then a flaw in paradise,
could we eveb say was there a flaw (heaven forbid) in God (!)
if humanity is needy in this way?
Not at all.
God was always going to make lots of human beings.
always going to create friendship..
Always going to create this human need for the other.
Because …. this human need comes from our being made in the image of God who is in himself a community of friendship.
when God makes human beings for the first time Ge 1v28 he makes this strange declaration.
God says ‘Let us make man in our own image.”
Let us? Our Image? What is this?
It’s an early indication.. that the rest of the Bible backs up and reveals …That God himself is not alone. A Monad. He is not a lonely God. He is.., Triune. Three in One. Three persons, God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit = One God. God is a Tri-unity. God is Trinity. And therefore God is relational, God is loving IN HIMSELF. Which means that Friendship is part of the very essence of God. Friendship is at the heart of the universe. The eternal friendship of the divine persons , loving one another, taking joy in one another, serving one another, Laughing with one another.
If human beings are made in the image of God then it is never as we are alone that we bear his image. It is as we love, take joy in, serve others that we reflect the image of Our creator. Friendship is fundamental to who we are.
So here’s a warning and a comfort.
Warning. This is Dalston
In a transient place where people are busily pursuing their thing - their art ,their business, their career, family. Friendships … can get trampled on, can get neglected.
Romantic intimacy. Sex, Marriage gets elevated. Friendship which is eternally gets forrgotten And friendships can become something you use to get on… contacts and networks. intimacy can be lost.
Here’s the warning. You could gain everything. You could build your own garden of eden. But even if you had paradise it won’t be enough without friends. It is not good to be alone.
You cannot escape your design.
Never sacrifice relationships for status, achievement, wealth. That’s the warning.
Now the Comfort.
If you are someone who feels lonely, needy, weak, dependent, you feel you need friends. If you’re like that… It’s because you’re like God. It’s not a sign of weakness, not a sign of your imperfection but of your perfection. If you’re self sufficient you don’t need others - you’re not like God.
This is your design.
The importance of friendship
2. The heart of friendship
3 things we see here that make friendship
look at what Paul says about Tim and Paph and their gift of friendship
19 I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, that I also may be cheered when I receive news about you. 20 I have no one else like him, who will show genuine concern for your welfare. 21 For everyone looks out for their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. 22 But you know that Timothy has proved himself, because as a son with his father he has served with me in the work of the gospel.
Tim takes genuine interest in others, he doesn’t look out for his own interests.. and that leads to commitment, loyalty and active service. Committed love
Paph is similar in this selfless attitude..
25 But I think it is necessary to send back to you Epaphroditus, my brother, co-worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger, whom you sent to take care of my needs. 26 For he longs for all of you and is distressed because you heard he was ill.
Don’t you love that? He was ill… he almost died. And what distressed him most was not that he was dying but that others were worried and distressed about him!!
Covenant friendship. Constant, loyal, Committed to the other
Sometimes our hearts stop us from entering into these kinds of friendships. This kind of closeness. We’ve been hurt and our hearts are closed. We struggle to receive love and to trust and if that’s the case. Expect God to pursue to heal your heart and your relationships with him, with others. Because he is determined to restore his image in your true humanity to you.
And sometimes our modern culture stands in the way of these kinds of relationships.
Throughout history in all cultures. You’ve had consumer relationships - the marketplace, business, give and take. And you’ve had covenantal relationships or commitment - marriage, the family, the church, the local community.
But every commentator you read agrees that something has happened in western culture in the last 50 years and that is that the model of the marketplace, consumer relationships has spread out… and has become the basis for conducting all relationships.
marriage relationships, religious relationships, civic relationships, friendship relationships..
They’re all done now on a market basis. All done on a cost benefit analysis. If I’m getting my needs met I’m happy to stay in the relationship. If I’m not.. I want to get out of the relationship (actually or psychologically).
This is our culture. Don’t you feel it?
The idolization of the self. the exaltation of My rights, My happiness means relationships are Consumer items. And so we know more people than ever before. linked in with networks and contacts, hundreds of facebook buddies, and the invitation of internet relations with virtual strangers. all feeding our ego.
The problem is of course … that consumer relationships are not really relationships at all. Not friends.
And while we are all being transformed into the image of our culture we are emptier than ever. We long for friends, for constancy. It’s what we’re designed for. We need friends. real friends.
Covenant friendship stands in stark contrast to the values of our present culture.
Yet we desperately need it.
How can we become covenant friends?
Let’s just look at the other 2 things at the heart of friendship and we’ll get to that - the power for friendship..
We’ve seen that at the heart of friendship is covenant love
but also common passion
you know the literal original meaning of the word - sympathy.. is not care or temderness as we use it - but common passion - sim - patico.. similar pathos - common passion. CS Lewis - 4 loves says the essence of friendship is the exclamation ‘you too?!’ It might be a shared love of industrial techno, a shared concern for a cause. Common passion is the essence, the heartbeat of a friendship. ‘We picture lovers face to face” says Lewis, “But Friends.. side by side: Their eyes look ahead.”
And of course there is no greater sympathy, common passion than a love for God and a longing for his honour.
See this with Paul and Timothy and Paph and the Philippian Christians..
22 But you know that Timothy has proved himself, because as a son with his father he has served with me in the work of the gospel.
25 …Epaphroditus, my brother, co-worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger, whom you sent to take care of my needs.
Find ways to serve Jesus alongside one another and friendship will deepen..
This is where Paph gets the spotlight
brother…. co-worker and fellow soldier..
27 … he was ill, and almost died. But God had mercy on him, and not on him only but also on me, to spare me sorrow upon sorrow. 28 Therefore I am all the more eager to send him, so that when you see him again you may be glad and I may have less anxiety. 29 So then, welcome him in the Lord with great joy, and honor people like him, 30 because he almost died for the work of Christ. He risked his life to make up for the help you yourselves could not give me.
You know Paph’s long name suggests that his parents devoted him to the service of Aphrodite, the goddess of love and also the patron of gambling. Plutarch tells us that the highest cast of the dice is called ‘Epaphroditus’. His name may mean ‘one blessed with gambling luck.’
Well Paph certainly had brought the reckless courage of a gambler to the only person who is worth staking your life on - Jesus christ. The expression used in v30 could be literally translated ‘He gambled his life’. He almost died for the work of Christ.. Courageous endeavour
Friendship involves this
How can you and I be a friend like this?
Covenant love.. Common Passion.. Courageous endeavour
Friendship is so important - what we were made for. But it’s difficult …costly.. because it’s worth so much.
how do you become that kind of a friend?
What’s the power for friendship?
Here’s the thing.
You can only become that kind of friend if you are befriended with that kind of friendship by the greatest friend of all.
If you are loved with a constancy and commitment and costliness by one who comes alongside..
As you encounter that love, experience that friendship .. it fills you up with everything you need to not have to go out consuming from others .. you’re full, you’re freed up to love and serve others..
where do you receive that kind of friendship? where did Timothy and Paph get it?
Well you don’t have to look very far..
Timothy looked to the interests of others before his own, Paph did the same - covenant love..
But we’ve already heard that expression earlier in the passage..
Timothy and Paph stood alongside Paul in the work of the gospel - common passion
But we read ealrlier about a friend who came to stand alongside all humanity who took our burdens as his own
Timothy and Paph almost died for the sake of others
But we read earlier of a friend who did die for us
Jesus Christ is many things: Glorious Creator, Awesome Lord but he is also your friend.
A friend who sticks closer than a brother. The best friend you could ever have.
Jesus says to his disciples i no longer call you servants. because servants don’t know their master’s business. You are my friends says Jesus.. And greater love has no man than this than he lay down his life for his friends.
This week - silent retreat - meditating on the Bible, spending time with Jesus and it’s his friendship that struck me afresh. i was helped by some medieval art depicting Jesus as the friend alongside us. I don’t know what you think about depictions of God in art - of course there are dangers - but these images helped me. (look at them afterwards). 2 of them are stone carvings from Chartres cathedral depicting God creating Adam, the third is an icon of a French Abbot with Jesus standing next to him. In each image, Jesus has his hands on the shoulder of his friend and they look outwards together. Except in the icon the Abbot is looking out but with the eye closest to Jesus he’s just having a half glance - he cannot not. He looks to his friend..
And that’s what we need to do. Jesus is always alongside us. By his Spirit. His hand on your shoulder. You look out together. He’s not going anywhere. He loves you so much. He delights in you. Rest in his presence, hear his words. Pray and listen to his voice. And filled with his love - go and make friends..
Letter of encouragement to the church plant in Philippi. You can see the city’s ancient ruins in modern Greece. At the time of Paul’s writing of this letter from prison in Rome (1:7), Philippi was a bustling, strategic, cosmopolitan centre - the fledgling church (you can read about its founder members in Acts 16) was a very diverse but tiny minority. Pressure from an unbelieveing society was causing a little bit of discouragement and disagreement within. They needed encouragement. The church always needs encouragement.
And in our passage this week, Paul encourages the church to, despite everything, BE OUTGOING.
Would you see yourself as an outgoing person? Paul says that the Christian church is always outgoing. No matter what the range of personalities within all of whuch are vital. If you become a Christian you become part of a people, the church. And that people are an outgoing people!
See it in the text.
Paul says in v12 that we are to WORK OUT our salvation
in v15, that we are to SHINE OUT like stars in the night sky
as we v16 HOLD OUT the word of life
finally in v17 we’re to follow Paul who’s life was being POURED OUT for others
do you see this OUTGOINGness?
Now, if they’re our action points we’ll come back to them in more detail.
But this idea of moving out towards others as examples - stars shining out; as messengers - holding out the word of life, the message of the bible; as servants - pouring out yourself for others…
this idea of being commissioned by God to be OUTGOING for the sake of others raises a whole host of immediate questions and, frankly, immediate fears.
consider for a start the sheer level of need in our world, the tragedies this week. the sheer level of need in our local area. UPA with some of the highest levels of deprivation in the country. even a stones throw circumference from this building. the gaping level of need in people’s lives is enormous. what are the boundaries and limits? if we are to pour out our lives for these people - how long before we’re all completely empty?
or consider the sheer numbers of people who have no knowledge of Jesus Christ. We’re told that our city is more secular than it has ever been. Census stats, Hackney - 50%+ no religion. Hordes on London Fields on a hot weekend. How do we hold out the word of life to them? And If we don’t hold out the word of life to them - does it mean death for them? That feels like an enormous burden to bear. We can be paralysed by the sheer overwhelming size of the responsibility. We’re out of our depth..
How are we to do this? Our reaction could to be - What’s practical? Shouldn’t we just huddle together for energy and then on a few considered occasions - a social project, a mission week.. be outgoing? BE OUTGOING for a few hours a week or a few weeks a year?
And what about God?
Why does God place such heavy burdens upon us?
Why does he sit in heaven unmoved while we are the ones who are told to be outgoing?
Well this is where the encouragement comes in..
See, there are reasons why we are to be an outgoing people - constantly outgoing, not just occasionally, a MISSIONAL people, people on mission. There’s a reason why… that is also the means for how we are to be that people.
Notice the therefore in v12
Paul tells us in vv12-18 to be an OUTGOING PEOPLE
because in vv1-11 he has told us about our OUTGOING GOD
here’s the vital truth to learn: we are to be and we can be OUTGOING because Jesus has moved out towards us! we become outgoing because God is originally and eternally the outgoing one.
we’ve looked at vv1-11 recently but let’s remind ourselves. It’s one of the greatest sections in the whole Bible. Look at verse 6. Here we see the eternal nature of God on show. This is about Jesus Christ, the son of God, the eternal Creator making a decision in eternity. Notice how Jesus makes a decision before He was born. Jesus decided to get born. You and I don’t decide to get born do we, that’s not our decision, Jesus did. And if you could choose to be born, would you have chosen what Jesus chose? I don’t think so. Read with me from verse 6:
6 Christ Jesus, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, 7 but made himself …nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death--even death on a cross!
What does it mean to be outgoing?
Space exploration. Crossing the great divide in search of life on other planets. To boldly go where no man has gone before.
Or the King who longs to commune with his subjectes before a great war and so disguises himself as a commoner in order to walk among his people
Or the servant to the poor, who gives up her life to serve the suffering
What does it mean to be outgoing?
From eternity, Jesus Christ wills to pour Himself out. It is His eternal glory to GO OUT from Himself. First, crossing the great divide from heaven to earth. From the Divine to the human - He, the eternal God, becomes a single cell in Mary’s womb and is born as a wriggling helpless baby, laid in a feeding trough. Grows up, but not to be a King but a servant. He humbles Himself further and dies. God the Son dies! And not any old death – a godforsaken death on a cross. The eternal God pours Himself out. That’s what He’s like.
And do you notice in verse 10 that wonderful word again “Therefore.” Therefore – because He poured Himself out so completely, He is crowned as King. Because He is the greatest servant, so He is declared LORD.
Here is the deepest truth. I don’t know anything as profound or mind-blowing as this: When Jesus came and stooped and served and suffered and was shamed and bled and died that was NOT a departure from His divine glory. He wasn’t taking a day off from being God. THAT WAS THE EXPRESSION of His glory. The cross is the MOST GOD-LIKE THING IMAGINABLE. Because GOD’s life is a life of OUTGOING, OUTPOURING, SACRIFICIAL, LIFE-GIVING LOVE.
The Father sees Christ poured out to death… and Therefore (v9) God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name,
a name that one day ALL the world will confess.. vv10-11
One day when Jesus returns ALL will see him. and we will see His SCARS, the wounds of His crucifixion, the marks of his outgoing love and THAT will make every mouth spontaneously cry “You are Lord, You are Lord,”
Jesus will be worshipped by the whole world, not just because He is big but because He made Himself small.
Here’s the encouragement to be an OUTGOING, serving, missional people.
We don’t do mission because normally we’re inward looking and once in a while we turn our hand to being outgoing. And we don’t do mission because we have to do God’s job for Him. It’s not like He stays in heaven and we have to go out. NO!
Mission IS our ongoing life because mission is God’s outgoing life.
As Jesus says in John 20:21: “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” We stand in a torrent of sending love – from the Father to the Son, from the Son to us and out on into the world. We don’t become outgoing because every now and again we feel we ought to. We ARE an outgoing people because Christ has adopted us into HIS kind of outgoing life.
Jesus is the great missionary. And even though he has ascended to heaven Jesus continues to be outgoing! Jesus is ever going out, going out, going out.
The book of Acts in the NT tells the story of the explosion of Christianity, the growth of the early church after Jesus returned to heaven. The acts of the apostles. BUt the book is not really about the acts of the apostles, or the early church. Luke, having written his gospel begins this book by saying Acts 1v1 in my former book i wrote about all that Jesus began to do and teach before he was taken up into heaven’ Hear that - the gospels is just the beginning - implication = the book of Acts is the continuing acts of Jesus by his Holy Spirit who is in the world. the Spirit goes ahead of us. the outgoing God. If you want to be where Jesus is if you want fellowship with him, if you want to know Him who loved you to death.. go out and be with Him. We know Christ best as we join Him in HIS outgoing Life. So mission is our ongoing life because mission is God’s outgoing life.
Let’s look at the ways we work out, shine out, hold out and pour out.
First – work out. That’s verses 12 and 13:
12 Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed-- not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence-- continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.
Now a lot of rubbish gets talked about verse 12. People sometimes read it as though Paul says “work FOR your salvation.” But of course if Paul said we need to work “FOR” our salvation it would be a contradiction of everything he’s ever written. Paul’s doesn’t say work FOR your salvation, he says work OUT your salvation. Because, v13, God has worked it IN you. Do you see that? In v12 we work OUT, because in v13 God works IN. The Father has given us Christ. He’s said “Here have my Son, in Him is life and forgiveness and peace and a cosmic inheritance – have Him.” And we say thank you and are given the life of Christ. But what kind of life does Christ have? An outgoing life. A life of obedience, of suffering servant-hearted love. And you can’t have Christ worked into you without His life working out of you. Your salvation is an outgoing thing and it will out.
If you say “I am saved but I keep my salvation to myself” what do you say about verse 12? Because v12 says your salvation is to be worked OUT. Salvation IS a secure possession to be enjoyed forever. But it is NOT a private possession to be enjoyed by individuals. It’s designed to be worked out of you which is a fearful and trembling thing, but it’s also a divinely helped thing. God will help you to will and to act in this outgoing way. WORK OUT ..
The thing is it will make you stick out a mile. Look from v14 SHINE OUT:
14 Do everything without complaining or arguing, 15 so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe.
Stars attract the gaze only because they are different to the blackness of space around them. No-one goes space-gazing, we go star-gazing, because the light is what’s attractive not the darkness. And Paul says the Christian is to stick out. Not like a sore thumb, but like a star shining in the darkness.
And what is it that’s going to really stand out about Christians? They don’t complain or argue. Do you want to stick out in a godless crooked and depraved generation? – don’t complain, don’t argue. We never think of ourselves as complaining – we always think our grievances are legitimate. We never think of ourselves as argumentative – we’re just standing for the truth. Paul says, Please, please, please, think again. Are you complaining? Are you argumentative? If so … The lights go out when you complain or argue. All the distinctiveness is lost and you’ll be as dark as the surrounding world. Stand out, shine out.
And, v16, HOLD OUT
16 as you hold out the word of life--in order that I may boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labour for nothing.
What would someone else say about your words? How would they describe the kind of words you use? Always griping? Always moaning? Always making light of everything? Always talking about yourself? No, says Paul, hold out the word… of life!
Notice he doesn’t say “hold to certain values”. Or “hold up a certain world view.” He says hold out the word of life. We do need to put words to our Christian hope. The mission of the church is a word-y mission. It’s about delivering a message to a world that will meet Jesus. Social and creation care and political action and justice all encapsulate the gospel hope and yet spiritual life comes through hearing the word of Christ. The word of life. Look at who he is we say - the servant Lord of glory, trust him now, love him, bow the knee of your heart to him, live for him. And God grants life through that word. That’s our mission holding out the word of life. [find that difficult - open to question. amazed at the power of the word of life]
And then finally, POUR OUT
here’s how we do it – we do it like Paul, v17:
17 But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you. 18 So you too should be glad and rejoice with me.
Poured out like a drink offering. Every day, morning and evening at the temple, the priests would pour out a drink offering before the Lord. It was a grateful response to the Lord’s salvation. And Paul says “I AM a drink offering, poured out.”
Let me close with this... How do you think of life? Many people think of life like it’s a cup where we need to hold on to every drop we can. And we’re nervous in case we spill any of it. We might lose money, or comfort, or reputation, or personal space, or whatever. And so we move through life very carefully lest we spill a drop. Paul says “I pour it all out. It hasn’t been poured into me for me to hold onto it. It’s been worked into me so I can work it out, so I can shine it out, hold it out, pour it out.” Which means he’s free. He’s not scared of spilling any – he considers it all to be expended in Christ’s service. And while we tip-toe around, nervous and furtive Paul walks boldly through life pouring himself out.
The crucial importance of Unity.
What are you pursuing to make yourself happy? Career trajectory? Dream of a family?
Look at the apostle Paul. We know from reading the letter that he is in prison in Rome, he is chained up and facing possible execution. But incredibly he says (v..) that his joy is almost complete. He is almost full of joy. How wonderful. And, there is someting, he says, that would make his joy complete.. this is his immediate priority, his main prayer, this is what will give him happiness, satisfaction, peace. Not release from prison, Not relief of his circumstances.. that’s not what will complete his joy. The thing Paul longs for is deep unity in the church.. in Philipi and presumably everywhere. That’s Paul’s passion.
When you read the whole letter it doesn’t seem like there were huge fall outs, factions or warfare in the Philippian church plant. A bit of grumbling and arguing 2v14 A few disagreements 4v1, But Paul isn’t just looking to merely stop negative behaviour he’s longing to see deep authentic comm-unity.
Look at what he says in v2 ‘make my joy complete by being likeminded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.’ There’s a depth of relationship here that goes way beyond being part of the same club, or recognising a familiar face or knowing someone’s name. Paul is talking about a unity of minds and emotions and wills. Thinking together, loving one another deeply, pursuing a common purpose together..
We’ve been saying that this book Philippians constantly challenges us with the Question what is the life worth living? what’s primary? what’s best? what really counts? Well this is Paul’s absolute priority. His happiness hangs on this. It’s more important than his freedom.
What about you and I? If you are a christian. Is the deep relational unity of the church your supreme goal?
Why is it so important? Here’s why ..
[70th anniversary of DDay] Our daily news is scarred with the disunity of our world. At very scale, environmental, global, national, local, personal we encounter broken relationships.
But the message of Christianity is that through Jesus Christ God has put a plan in motion that will one day heal the disunity of the world completely. In his death on the cross, Jesus Christ bore the consequences of all our brokenness. Jesus resurrection is the absolute proof of a future hope for the entire world and the church is the beginnings of that future reality. The church - people who’ve been brought back into friendship with God. Imperfect as we are, we are the sign to the world of that future reality, unity. We are the advert, the sign post!
Look at how Paul seeks to persuade the Philippian church to be who they are.
v1 Therefore, if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit then make my joy complete by being ONE
it’s wonderful to share common interest or common history with friends - shared love of a particular kind of music or sport; shared memories. But these things do not come close to what it means to be part of the church - if you are united with Christ and so am I, If you’ve experienced his love and so have I, If his Holy Spirit dwells in you as he does in me. The you and I are inextricably bound up with one another. We are brothers and sisters.
God has a good plan for this world. One day he will put it right. He will bring harmony, peace, life. Now we may question God’s wisdom on this but the church is the foretaste of that future.
It’s the show home for the estate that is yet to be built. This is why Paul is so concerned that the church lives up to her calling.
Well how are we doing here in Dalston?
Do we love each other deeply? Do we even know each other deeply?
We need help to do this don’t we?
God knows that. Paul knows it. And that’s why for the rest of the passage he will talk about the pride that stands in the way and the humility that comes from Jesus.
3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves, 4 Each of you should look not only to your own interests but also to the interests of others.
It’s worth being aware at this point that our current cultural ethos of ‘expressive individualism’ is very negative about concepts of humility. low self esteem is the cause of all our social ills.
here is a place where the bible flys in the face of our culture by talking about the prison of pride and the freedom of humility..
The prison of Pride
let’s think first about pride. and we could talk for hours but we’ll limit ourselves to just a few ideas that arise out of the text.. rivalry, emptiness and self centredness.
Paul says ‘do nothing out of selfish ambition.’ The word carries the idea of rivalry or competitiveness and shows us how pride robs us of life. It is summed up in the brutal honesty of the american writer Gore Vidal who once said,
‘It is not enough to succeed, others must fail.
Whenever a friend succeeds a little something in me dies.’
Here’s CS Lewis: ‘Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next person.’
Many of you know that I used to be an actor. And people sometimes ask me ‘oh so do you enjoy going to the theatre?’ and I sometimes say, I don’t really because i find it too painful because I’d love to be doing what they’re doing. It’s struck me.. Isn’t that sad? - that pride robs me of that pleasure! - Rivalry
what about emptiness?
Paul’s second phrase, ‘vain conceit’.. alludes perhaps to the source of our prideful strivings. In the greek its a conflation of two words keno (from kenosis: to empty) and doxia meaning glory. So in the KJV this is translated ‘vain-glory’ - it could mean bringing glory to yourself - that’s pride. But it actually points to our human condition. We are glory empty. We’re hungry.. for honour, respect, assurance because we sense deeply that we are people of importance and yet we don’t feel it. We feel lost. We’re hungry but we’re empty and so we’re striving..
We’re like this, the Bible says because we were made to live forever but we have turned away from God and therefore we’re fading. We were made never to be forgotten, to stand in the presence of God and to get his favour. We were made to last. But turned away from God we know we’re, fading, dying, we’re going to be forgotten. And so we desperately look to everyone we can to get them to say ‘you’re good, you’re worthwhile, you’re important, you’re significant.’ There’s emptiness so We use people to bolster our fragile sense of self.
and that’s the last of our threefold characteristics - self centredness
The essence of pride is the self. self absorption, self importance even self pity. It’s a crucial insight that the pride that stands in the way of community can manifest itself in inferiority as much as superiority in low self esteem, fear and self pity as much as in arrogance and haughtiness. Because at the heart of pride is love of self. And the fearful person is just as absorbed in themselves as the self righteous person!
You know when you’re going about your daily life you’re not constantly aware of your body are you..? You don’t keep thinking - hey my elbow is so cool. or hey check out my knees the way they bend like that! You only become conscious of your body when something’s broken; not right. When you’ve broken your toe - you’re suddenly regularly aware, in a way that you were not before, of your toe. You’re painfully aware of it. That’s how it is with our bodies. The parts of our bodies only draw attention to themselves when there is something is wrong. What about our egos? Our sense of self? I’m constantly thinking about myself. Aren’t you? ‘How am i doing? How am i looking? I really like myself.. I really hate myself.. what does he think of me? I really wish I had that. why did she say that.? She hurt my feelings.’ The ego is constanly drawing attention to itself because there is something unbelievably wrong with it! the prison of pride
rivalry, emptiness, self importance
what’s the cure?
the freedom of humility
v3 in humility consider others better than yourselves, 4 Each of you should look not only to your own interests but also to the interests of others.
what is humility according to the Bible?
and how do you get it?
Well here’s what it isn’t?
Humility isn’t thinking less of yourself.. -‘everyone’s better than me.’ that’s not humility that’s just another form of pride.. self concern, self pity.
No - Humility is not thinking less of yourself. Humility is thinking of yourself less.. Humility is the freedom of self forgetfulness.
[wouldn’t you want to know the freedom of humility? pp34-5 keller]
Wouldn’t you want to be a person who considered others better than yourself, looked to the interests of others, with honour and love?
How do you get that? How do you get Humility?
Here’s Paul’s answer. vv5-11
Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus. And then Paul breaks into song. It’s a hymn - a hymn of praise to Jesus Christ..
Here’s what I think Paul is not doing here:
He’s not just telling us to follow Jesus example of humility. He’s not telling us to work on our humility. Because … You can’t! You can’t work on humility directly. If true humility is self forgetfulness as soon as you start thinking.. ‘now am i humble? i’d really like to be humble. Was i humble just then. yeah i think i was.. Doh!’ Humility is the shyest of virtues. You can’t talk to humility without it going away..
No, You can’t work on humility. It has to be a bi-product of something else.
The answer is you look away from yourself at another: Jesus Christ. And not to analyse and compare. This is not a list of Jesus’ qualities to imitate. Paul gives us a hymn of Jesus’ love to sing to our souls. It’s music to capture your heart. See that’s what we need - to have the emptiness of our hearts filled with true glory. The glory of Jesus Christ. We need to see him!
And there’s a word in v7 that captures Jesus glory. It’s that little phrase ‘he made himself nothing’ for us! You know what that word is? Kenosis. Sounds familiar “He emptied himself.’ That you and I might be filled.
I don’t know the tune - and i’d feel a bit embarassed singing a solo anyway so i’ll read it: Notice the into 3 great movements
Movement 1 vv6-7 The incarnation Jesus the eternal glorious God chose to become human
Movement 2 The atonenment v8 Jesus came to serve by suffering and dying on a cross
Movement 3 The exaltation vv9-11 In response to this glorious act of loving service God the father raised Jesus and exalted him to the highest place!
Here is the glory of Jesus you see. The glory of God - is in humility.
He emptied himself so we could be full.
He did this because incredibly in humility he considers us more important than himself.
He says of us ‘you to me are more valuable than all the jewells in the earth.’
When his love fills our hearts. We are set free from the desperate self centred search to fill our own emptiness. We are able to discover the freedom of humilty
the way up is down
the way to be truly rich is to become pure.
the way to become inflintely happy is to pursue the happiness of others
Philippians 1:11 and Acts 16:11-40
Beginning a series in the NT book of Philippians
A letter written about 60AD by Paul (the great apostle to the Gentiles) and Timothy, ‘servants of Christ Jesus.’ To the fledgling christian church in Philippi which Paul had planted in the city 10 years earlier..
Paul’s church planting strategy always had an urban focus - Cities were and remain places of openness and influence. (the womb of culture). Philippi, though it is now a ruin in North Eastern Greece, in the ancient world was just such a stragegic city.
Its gold and silver mines - exhausted by the time of the Christian era, and it’s situation on the Egnatian way - the great highway which connected Rome with the East had made Philippi an important cultural and economic centre.
The city’s name came from the father of Alexander the Great, Philip II of Macedon who founded the city in 356BC. 200 years later the whole region had come under the rule of the Roman empire. And in 42BC, following military victories of Caesar Augustus close by, the city became a Roman colony endowing it’s populace with Roman citizenship. Roman war veterans settled in Philippi. It was an outpost of Rome and Empire in Northern Greece.
Philippians is a wonderful little letter. Many people’s favourite NT book. It is primarily a letter of Christ-centred encouragement. I encourage you to read it in one sitting this week. It’s so short but it includes some of the greatest lines in the Bible: ‘For to me, to live is Christ, to die is gain.’; ‘Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice.’; Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation ..present your requests to God. And the peace of God which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.’
At heart the letter begs a question:
Is there anything really worth living for? (and dying for?)
What really counts in life? What’s the best way to live? The most worthwhile?
Scientists tell us that it might be possible to prolong average life expectancy to 115 years old but will it be a life worth living?
What are you giving your life, your time and energy to?
Now, Read between the lines and you get the sense that this 10 year old church plant to whom Paul writes - they’re feeling pressure. The hard work of building a church community has taken it’s toll. There’s pressure within and without. From the outside there’s opposition (1:28) they live as a christian minority in an unbelieving city… and on the inside there’s unrest (4:2):complaint and hurts and disagreements. It feels like it’s just costing too much - this church lark.
But Paul writes to encourage.
To encourage them and any who would listen in that this IS the life worth living and rather than pulling away from God’s ways and God’s church .. to discover joy and to live for what really counts, the Philippians and we should press in to God’s ways and his church..
vv3-6 Be confident in the power of God
3 I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now,
Partnership in the gospel doesn’t refer to a shared love of a certain kind of music. The gospel is one of those rich bible expressions. It refers to the whole story of what God, in love, has done and is doing to repair this world and us through his son Jesus Christ who died for us and rose again. Paul and the Philippians and all Christians are partners in the gospel in the sense that we are called to share this story with others but also in the sense that we are recipients together of its blessings. We have come to know God through hearing the gospel, seeing its reality - the power of God.
The church at Philippi (like any church) was founded by an extraordinary display of God’s power. You can read all about it in Acts 16. There we read that Paul and his companion Silas had arrived in Philippi in AD52 following the prompting of a vision. On the first saturday they were there they went down to the river where there was a group or women praying. (They were probably gathered there because there were not the necessary ten Jewish men in Philippi to form a synagogue (lack of committed men in the church was a problem even then!)) As Paul shared the gospel, someone called Lydia, a rich merchant woman, an Asian from Thyatira, a spiritual seeker, became a christian and persuaded Paul to come and stay in her home. While he was staying there, he was followed around town by a girl. a greek, a native of the town, she’s a slave, spiritually she is out of control - lit. it says she is a pythonist, she is possessed with some kind of spirit through her involvement in the occult - she can tell fortunes (for real, not horroscopes). She follows Paul and Silas around mocking and Paul finally has enough and in an encounter of spiritual power he commands the spirit to come out of her. This young girl set free by Jesus is added to the fledgling church. The problem is that this young girl was a slave and her owners were furious that she had lost her supernatural powers. They seized Paul and Silas start a riot and Paul and Silas are flogged and thrown into prison.
In prison with their feet in stocks - which means they were being tortured - Paul and Silas prayed and sang hymns to God. Tortured and singing! Some of us have trouble singing because we’re still trying to digest lunch. Tortured but singing? Because they had seen God’s power to change the direction of Lydia’s life and bring her whole family to faith. They had seen God’s power to set free a girl afflicted by an evil spirit. Now they saw God’s power at work in another miraculous way: an earthquake shook the prison and every door flew open. The prison officer in charge. He’s a Roman, ex-military, working class, spiritually he’s probably disinterested and hardened, he’s killed people, he tortures people. - he’s about to kill himself, thinking all the prisoners have escaped, knowing he will face court martial for this. But Paul shouts out ‘wait! nobody’s going anywhere!’ And through this whole experience, this rough military guy’s heart is won for Christ and later his whole family are baptised.
This is how the church in Philipi was founded. It’s easy to forget the power of God so Paul reminds the Philippians.
It’s easy for us to forget God’s gracious power in the founding of our church - SBD. We started out with 40 adults and a dozen kids. In 8 years over 200 adults and 50 children have been part of the SBD story. a dozen people have come to faith one through the earthquake of terminal cancer one through a power encounter with Jesus; others through hearing the powerful message of the gospel week by week. It’s easy to forget the sacrificial generosity that has made this church possible. Remain and Be confident in the power of God.
3 I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
If God’s power can start a church in Philippi or Dalston, can kickstart faith in the souls of men and women then with Paul we can have confidence that what God has begun … he will complete..
‘The day of Christ Jesus’ refers to the day when Jesus will return. That’s the part of the story that is still to come: ’Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.’ Not this time as a baby come to save but as a King come to bring his eternal kingdom. The work God has begun in you, if you’re a Christian, is eternal life and He promises to complete that work. He will raise us to life, he will make all things well; We’re going to live forever.. Let it sink in. How then should we live? What counts? What’s worth living for? Live in the light of that day. In the light of an eternal future. Give yourself to the work of God’s gospel - God’s transforming power.
Of course, It’s not always easy to just do that. It’s an act of faith. In a moment we’ll see what is fundamental to helping us live in the light of the day of Christ.. But there’s a hint in the text.. God will bring to completion the work he has begun in you… Be confident in the power of God.
Second thing - if you want to give your life to what really matters..
2. Be joyful in Christian friendship
7 It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart and, whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me. 8 God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.
Paul writes this letter from prison in Rome. The imminent threat of execution hangs over him 1:20, 2:17. Paul is in chains… but his heart roams free. The apostle had probably only spent a matter of weeks or months establishing the church in Philippi, many of the newer Christians there he hasn’t even met - he knows them through others but the letter demonstrates this wonderful network of loving christian friendships..
Throughout the letter you have Paul praying for the Philippians, articulating his affection, They’re his joy and crown, he longs to see him. And we learn that the Philippians pray for Paul and have provided for his needs. Just turn to chapter 2 v19 and you see others who are part of this network of Christian friendship. 2:19 Paul wants to send Timothy to them soon so he, Paul, can get concrete news about them. v20 ‘I have no one else like him, who will show genuine care for your welfare. For everyone looks out for their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. But you know that Timothy has proved himself because as a son with his father he has served with me in the work of the gospel.” See all these relationships? Read on v25 here’s another guy: “I think it is necessary to send back to you Epaphroditus my brother, co-worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger whom you sent to care for my needs. For he longs for all of you and is distressed because you heard he was ill. Indeed he was ill and almost died but God had mercy on him, and not on him only but also on me, to spare me sorrow upon sorrow. Therefore I am all the more eager to send him so that when you see him again you may be glad and I may have less anxiety. So then welcome him in the Lord with great joy…”
Be joyful in Christian friendship.
Our shared faith - as Paul says ‘all of you share God’s grace with me’ and our shared mission - defending and confirming the gospel can bring about the most profound love and friendship. Many of you tell me about dear Christian friends. These are friendships that are not known in other spheres of life..
Christian friendships can be profound but they are not not straightforward; they are not a given. All relationships need work. In part, Paul is having to write to the Philippians to remind them to think right about and work at their Christian friendships 1:27, 2:2 Be united - ‘Be of one mind’ Don’t let bad feeling, or disagreement or bitterness get in the way..
You know the church is a bit like a human family in many respects - we are brothers and sisters - we are brought together by something more than just shared interests something that unites very different people. they say don’t they: ’you can choose your friends you can’t choose your family.’ This means that just as in families you can take one another for granted and make more effort with people outside the family than within. So it is with God’s church. It’s more effort - so we don’t bother. But then we miss out on the joy that could be ours.
Paul will urge us in this letter to put on our gospel glasses. Have a gospel perspective. sense the people sitting around you. That person you’re sitting next to is a child of God, their life purchased with the blood of Christ. There is no imagining what one day they will be. Honour one another. Give thanks for one another. Look to the interests of others before your own.
Paul will urge us into gospel partnership. you philippians might be a roman colony an outpost of Rome in the city of Philippi. But the church of JC - are citizens of heaven; an outpost of heaven in the earthly city. Have you forgotten your missionary call that is at the heart of christian friendship? do hard things together. pray for healing, pray for holiness, pray for your friends and then go out and be good news together.
brings us to third point..
how are we to be confident in God’s power? live for the day of Christ? how are we to be joyful in Christian friendships? look to the interests of others before ourselves?
3. Be prayerful in pursuing what really counts
Paul prays. So often we do not have because we do not ask. We find it hard to pray.
What does Paul pray for the Philippians? We should pray it for ourselves and one another..
First verse x he prays that our love would abound more and more. That our love for God and for one another and for everyone would grow. Good thing to pray. But notice that it’s not any kind of love it’s a love that is shaped by the knowledge and moral insight that comes from the gospel. It’s a wise love that comes about through reading the bible and through wise counsel with one another. Because this love isn’t just a feeling it needs to show itself forth in action, in the best way of living and using our gifts - which is why Paul says v10 that we need to be brought to a place where we can ‘discern or ‘approve of’ what is best..’ That is - brought to a place where we can see what counts, what’s the best way for me to live .. and have the will to put that into practice..
Notice that Paul refuses to give blanket commands for what the best kind of Christian life looks like. How many hours should you give to church, care of your neighbour, sharing the gospel with your friends. No, life is far more complex than that. We have different lives and commitments and time and situation gifts and capacities and personalities and so Paul simply prays that your love would abound in knowledge and depth of insight so that you will be able to approve and pursue what is best. The life worth living.
Do you see what this is saying?
Do you want to be pure and blameless for the day of Christ? They’re words that refer to an inner consistency and and an outward goodness of life. Do you want that? Do you want to be v11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ to the glory and praise of God?
Do you want your life to be lived to the glory of God?
If we want these things for ourselves, for one another, for our church then we have only to ask.
Be prayerful in pursuing what really counts..
We don’t know what a life worth living is? But God does. We should ask him.
We can’t manufacture love, wisdom, righteousness in our lives. But God can. We should ask him.
he will change our hearts..
why not pray this prayer this week?
Hello, my name is David and I’m a member of the congregation here at Saint Barnabas. A big welcome if you are new here. Today we are looking at the last of Jesus’ parables in the Gospel of Luke.
We have a lodger staying in our house at the moment. He’s called Nick. He’s Greek, 27 years old and works at RoofEast - a rooftop bar near the Olympic park in Stratford. I really like Nick. He high fives my boys Ben and Frank every morning. He’s kind and respectful and after each long shift into the early hours he’s careful not to wake us up as he creeps up the stairs.
Nick is waiting. Waiting for the paperwork on his visa to be sorted. His girlfriend is in America. His friends and business partners are in Texas – they are setting up a chain of Juice Bars there. And Nick is stuck here. Largely alone. Working long, long hours.
What keeps him going is the thought that soon, very soon, his visa will arrive and he will join his girlfriend and friends in Texas where they can start their new business. In the light of this his long hours, his loneliness has a purpose – the more he can earn now, the more he can finance his new business. He has a future hope and that transforms and gives a kind of grittiness to how he lives now.
The parable of the Ten Minas speaks of a future hope. A future reunion that can transform and give meaning to the way we live our lives now. JESUS waits for us all – you, me, everyone in Hackney, all the people of the world – either at the end of our lives or when he returns as King. What will he say to you? Because really it (life!) boils down to that. What will Jesus Christ the Saviour of the world say to me David James Cawston? Will the things I value be valued by Christ? Will the things I ignored and left undone prove to be the very things that Jesus most treasures? The parable presents a surprisingly hard-nosed picture of judgement. It is clear that our lives will be assessed and I’d like to suggest this judgement operates on two levels. That is going to form the structure for this short talk. First, we are going to look at Jesus’ Judgement of his SUBJECTS – that is Everyone, and Secondly, Jesus’ Judgement of his SERVANTS, that is Christians. 1. JESUS’ JUDGEMENT OF HIS SUBJECTS It is probably natural when reading this parable to focus on the central portion, verses 15-26, which speaks of the three servants, their relative success in multiplying their masters’ money, and his subsequent judgement of their work. However this narrative is bookended (at the start in verses 11-14 and at the end in verse 27) by more problematic and obscure but equally important information. And in order to understand this we need to quickly look at a couple of contextual points: First; Jesus is nearing Jerusalem when he tells this parable and his followers are expecting the kingdom of God to appear when he gets there. Verse 11 says ‘…he went on to tell them a parable, because he was near Jerusalem and the people thought that the kingdom of God was going to appear at once.’ Jesus’s followers thought that his arrival in Jerusalem would herald a great reckoning when the Roman oppressors would be defeated and the Jewish people’s freedom restored. Jesus told them this parable to indicate that the Kingdom would not come for some time and that he would be going away and returning in judgement, just like the King in the parable. Second; This narrative of a man of noble birth travelling to a distant country to be appointed king initially seems strange. When our Queen dies will Charles get the Eurostar to France to be crowned king? It seems ridiculous to us but it would have been normal to Jesus’ listeners as they lived in a country occupied by foreign rulers. Indeed just a few years before this parable was told King Herod’s successor Archilayus travelled to Rome to be crowned governor of Palestine. Verse 14 tells us that ‘his subjects hated him and sent a delegation after him to say, ‘We don’t want this man to be our king’ and the exact same thing happened with Archilayus. He was so reviled that the Jewish people lobbied against him in Rome.
These opening verses present us with an absent King who is rejected by a large number of his subjects and that of course is a picture of Christ who, as he tells this parable, is on his way to the cross. On his way to being crucified by his subjects. The Bible tells us that all of us say in our hearts along with the subjects in verse 14 ‘We don’t want this man to be our king’. We reject God’s rightful rule over our lives and we fall short of his holy standards. And the result? Well it is there, starkly, in verse 27: ‘But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be a king over them – bring them here and kill them in front of me’. That is the Judgement of Jesus. That if we reject him we face eternal separation from him. It’s a hard truth. I don’t know if you noticed the first few words of our passage? Verse 11 reads ‘while they were listening to this…’ That is it seems Jesus told the Parable of the Ten Minas whilst he was in the house of Zacchaeus. And that for me is helpful because the story of Zacchaeus is one that needs to be held in tension with the judgement in our parable. Zacchaeus, a man who betrayed his countrymen to work for the Romans as their chief tax collector and then betrayed them again by taking more from them than he should. He got richer as they got poorer. This is the man, reviled and full of sin, that Jesus sought out. He accepted him and ate with him. It’s a picture of grace and Christ’s offer to all. He says to you, me…everyone ‘I must stay at your house today’. Through my death for you on the cross I accept you, with all your sin which I have paid for. Our choice is to accept this free offer or reject it. You’ll notice that Zacchaeus’ change of behaviour – see there in verse 8 of chapter 19 he gives half his possessions to the poor and pays back those he has cheated four times the amount – comes in response to Christ’s saving love and grace. Some of you will know that we have a youth group here on Thursday evenings. TRU – The Room Upstairs. We have a short talk time and a few weeks ago one of the boys said this about life: ‘It’s like this’ he said ‘you have like a big chequebook and every good thing you do in your life gives you a little tick in a box on the chequebook and when you get to heaven you show this to Jesus and if you have enough ticks he will be pleased and let you into heaven’. It’s actually a very perceptive comment. I believed the same thing at his age but wouldn’t have been able to articulate it. Something in our hearts thinks we can earn our way into God’s good books. And there is the danger that a reading of the Parable of the Ten Minas perpetuates this myth. The first two servants win Christ’s approval but the third fails. The Bible is clear that no amount of good works can meet God’s holy and just standards. Each of us is fully and wholly dependent on God’s grace in Christ – so that no-one can boast. That is then the Judgement of Jesus. He holds out his offer of grace to all the Zacchaeus’s, all the sinners. Verse 27 of our parable makes the consequences of rejecting that offer clear.
So we’ve looked together at Jesus’ judgement of his subjects. Now let’s turn to JESUS’ JUDGEMENT OF HIS SERVANTS
Here in the form of the three servants we have Jesus’ judgement of Christians. We can broadly see the first two as one group – the ‘good’ servants and the third servant as the other - the ‘wicked’ servant. Let’s look at the ‘good’ servants first. What can we learn from them? You’ll remember my lodger Nick who I mentioned earlier. Nick who has a future hope (in Texas) that gives him meaning and hope and grit and determination in the present. Obviously his goal, whilst good, is not ultimate in the sense we are dealing with here. But I have to admit, my Christian life is not like that at present. As a follower of Jesus I know, deep down here, what is important to Christ, and what is not. I know what is of eternal worth and what is of the world. And yet so often the temporary things of this life crowd out Jesus’ voice. Prayer, worship, building up others, loving others, giving money, giving time, witness get replaced with ‘stuff’: TV, drink, ambition, laziness, lack of love, to name a few. I think this passage points to a few attributes and qualities that can help us be ‘good and faithful’ servants of Jesus.
First, there is a sense that what Jesus requires of us is to follow him in the small things. He says to the servant in verse 17 ‘…Because you have been trustworthy in a very small matter, take charge of ten cities.’ It reminded me of Jesus’ miracle the feeding of the 5,000 (see Luke 9) where he takes the meagre offering of a small child and turns it into a feast for thousands. Jesus is able to take our small offerings and turn them into great things. Things with eternal significance. A prayer, a kind word, dragging yourself to church, telling someone about your faith, singing a song of worship, giving money to someone in need, forgiving someone, bearing a friend’s burden. These are small things, not recognised as ‘great acts’ by the world but infinitely important to our Saviour Jesus.
Secondly, be thankful. Perhaps months or years after the master leaving the first servant was doing very well. She had invested here money in a field, established a farm, which had produced crops, sold for profit which funded the purchase of a further portion of land and so on. Three years down the line she was a wealthy farmer respected by her competititors who she began to realise were overcharging and cutting corners to up their profit. When the temptation came to follow suit she was brought to her senses by the distant memory of her master counting out his coins into her hand before he left. What would he think of her when he returned? Would he approve of her cheating and lying and stealing in order to maximise his money? So often we forget that our money, our talents, our possessions, our friends, our family, our time, even our faith are all counted out into our hands by our Heavenly Father. Everything we have is a gift from him and that realisation should, could transform the way we live. That is why turning to God in prayer each day and THANKING him for things is healthy. Grace before a meal reminds us that ultimately our food comes from Him. Turning to him in prayer amidst our personal successes and failures acknowledges that these things are in his control and come from him, not us. Jesus counts out into our open hands our time and talent and all that we have. We can live lives of thankful service in response.
One final point before we finish with the third servant. You will notice that he wrapped his mina in a piece of cloth and buried it. A safe option! In contrast the other two servants invest their mina. And as anyone knows any kind of business involves risk. Generally the greater the risk the greater the reward or loss. Is there something of that in the Christian life? In Luke 9:24 Jesus says: ‘For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it’. Serving God involves an element of risk. When we tell people that we are a Christian we risk our reputation. When we give our money back to God via the church or a charity or someone in need we risk our financial security. When we chose to invest everything in have in following Christ, if it turns out to be untrue we risk wating our life. Jesus calls us to risky living. Just like Noah building a great carcass of a boat on a plain that hadn’t seen water in decades sometimes our faith can seem a step too far. The parable assures us that it will not be in vain.
So, finally, what of the third servant? There are two quick questions I want to examine together: 1. Who does the servant represent? And 2. What is the servant’s motivation? How can we understand him? Let’s return to the text from verse 20: ‘Then another servant came and said, ‘Sir, here is your mina; I have kept it laid away in a piece of cloth. I was afraid of you, because you are a hard man. You take out what you did not put in and reap what you did not sow.’ His master replied, ‘I will judge you by your own words, you wicked servant! You knew, did you, that I am a hard man, taking out what I did not put in, and reaping what I did not sow?’ Why then didn’t you put my money on deposit, so that when I came back, I could have collected it with interest?’ Then he said to those standing by, ‘Take his mina away from him and give it to the one who has ten minas’.
There is some debate amongst Bible scholars as to the status of the third servant. Who does he represent? Is he like those, in the Parable of the Sower in Luke chapter 8, who are found among the path or rock or thorns? Those who hear and accept the Jesus’ message but for different reasons fall away and are not saved? Or alternatively is the third servant a Christian who is left with nothing as a result of her fruitless life but still saved by grace? I would tend towards the second view. It seems clear from a reading of verses 26 and verse 27 that the judgement and fate of the third servant is different from the subjects in verse 27. The servant has his mina taken from him. The subjects have their very lives taken from them. The servant is left with nothing but the implication is that he is still saved by grace. I was reminded of a passage in 1 Corinthians which speaks along similar lines. 1 Corinthians 3: 9-15:
‘If anyone builds on this foundation (Jesus Christ) using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. If it is burned up the builder will suffer loss, but yet will be saved – even though only as one escaping through the flames.’
And finally what is the servant’s motivation? Is the master overly harsh with him? What leads the servant to view his master as a hard man? Imagine you are this third servant. You are called into your master – ‘here is a portion of my wealth’ he tells you ‘invest it until I return’. You return home and ponder. Why would I spend my time and effort earning an absent boss money? Just bury it. And if he ever does come back – he probably won’t, most people hate him round here – I can return his money. In the meantime I can get on with my life. Making my own money. Keeping my own money. Spending and enjoying my own money.
Is it this which is behind the servant’s complaint that the master is ‘a hard man, taking out what he does not put in, reaping what he does not sow’? The third servant expects that if his master does return he will take back his money leaving him with nothing. All that time and effort wasted just to make someone else richer. In fact the master’s return reveals him to be kind, encouraging and extremely generous. The first and second servants are rewarded for their small acts of service with exponentially greater gifts of position, privilege and responsibility – the rule of ten and five whole cities respectively. The fate of the third servants is a stern warning to us to invest all that God has given us in his service. It won’t be wasted it will be rewarded. If we channel our time into our own agendas at the expense of God’s we will be left with nothing.
Jesus Christ is not a hard, severe judge but a kind gentle Saviour, waiting for us, ready to greet you and me with the words ‘well done, my good servant!’. Our small acts of service will be rewarded with such generosity that our breath will be taken away. This parable pleads with us not to waste our lives and regret it. CS Lewis in his book the Weight of Glory says: “It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
Invest your life in following Jesus and you will be richly rewarded! Let’s pray
I moved to London in 1996 to start university, and after my first year in halls of residence I moved to rent somewhere with some friends in the east end. One of my other friends at the same time, aged 19, bought a house in Bow, ex-council house, not lovely but quite big and a good location, and he lived there for a few years with friends. I remember thinking ‘wow, that seems a bit of a headache, having to be a landlord’, boilers breaking, medical students spilling beer or vomiting on the carpets. 3 years later when he qualified as a doctor, he bought another house, this time a Victorian terrace. The first one had cost him 70k, and the second 140k. He held onto them for 10yrs or so, and made an absolute fortune when he sold them. Both of them had gone up 7-8x in value – he was a millionaire, aged 25. It had been a very shrewd investment. At that point, I was wishing I’d done the same.
Well, in this parable called the ‘shrewd manager’, Jesus looks at what is a shrewd investment.
So in this parable we’ve got this dishonest manager who works for a very rich man. His role would have been to manage all his affairs, to invest his money, make positive returns, to run his household, to organise his staff, to sort out his pension – a bit like a Carson from Downton Abbey or an Alfred to Bruce Wayne (Batman)… But it transpires that this man has been lazy and wasteful (v.1 – he was ‘accused of wasting his possessions’) and the master finds out about this.
So v.2 the master calls him in, asks him to explain himself and gives him his marching orders, but with a 3-mth notice period ‘you cannot be my manager any longer’.
This is a very big deal in those days; it is likely that he would have lived with his master, so losing his job would also have made him homeless. There would have been no job seekers allowance, no benefits system. So the manager is clearly very anxious, v3. He says to himself 'what shall I do now?' I am in my 50s - I am not going to be able to dig for a living, I’ve got a bad back, and I certainly don’t want to start begging – that’d be way too humiliating, imagine my friends walking past – how awkward.
So he comes up with a cunning plan v.4 ‘I know what I’ll do so that when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses’.
In Black Adder, Baldrick, would often say these words ‘I have a cunning plan’, which was always entertaining as the cunning plan was usually so stupid…
And similarly what this manager decides to do is so outrageous, he calls in some of the people who owe his master money.
The first man comes in – you can picture how they are feeling, queueing up outside the managers office, perhaps fearful that they’ll be demanded to pay the debt in full, maybe thrown in prison if they can’t do it.
The first man owes 800 gallons of olive oil - that makes a lot of salad dressing, and that amount is thought to have cost around 3y wages for an average man – but to his surprise, the manager slashes the debt by 50% v.6 ‘take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it 400’. You can imagine him stifling a shriek of delight, as he quickly gets his chequebook out before the offer is withdrawn.
The second man comes in, he owes even more: a thousand bushels of wheat, that would have cost the equivalent of 9y salary. And again this man is given a huge discount – this time 20% off.
But as each of these men leave, the manager hands them his business card, ‘by the way, I’m looking for a job…’
Can you see what the manager is doing? He is following through with his plan in v.4, he is acting to make friends for himself: so that ‘people will welcome me into their houses’.
Now perhaps the thing that makes this parable slightly quirky and hard to relate to is the rather unexpected response of the Master in v.8 'the master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly’ – really, commended him? We would have expected the Master to be outraged. His dishonest lazy manager in the last few days of his work for him has ripped him off and lost him a lot more money.
I recently been watching the American drama The House of Cards, and it’s about a politician named Francis Underwood rise to power. His strategies to make it to the top are not very commendable – they include bribery, corruption, murder, blackmail… He is successful and his methods are effective, but as you watch, he’s so unpleasant, you’re unsure if you want him to succeed or not.
Similarly here, the hero of the story, the person we are called to emulate and copy in some way, is also not likeable… so why is Jesus telling this parable, what are we to learn from it?
I have 3 points that I think Jesus makes in the passage: a better perspective, better stewards, a better master.
The first point: ‘A better perspective’ v.8-9
But what is he commended for?
v.8: ‘The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly’ - what he is doing is using money in the present to secure his future after this job is finished. The parallel for us is to use our money and resources in this life to invest in our future; our eternal futures.
We get this from v.9 ‘I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings’
What he is commended for is that he puts money into something more valuable – friendships.
There are no investments, bonds, ISAs or money from property that will really last, Jesus spells this out in v.9: ‘when it is gone’, the only thing we can take with us into the new creation is people. Jesus is encouraging us to put our money towards things that will last forever, things might result in people coming to heaven.
One man who did this was John Laing. He was in the construction industry and when he died in 1978, his firm was one of the largest in the country – you’ve probably seen the signs on new buildings: Laing O’Rourke (it merged after his death). His firm built the M1 motorway and Sizewell nuclear power station.
When he was in his 20s, he made a vow that as his personal income increased, his standard of living would stay the same and it would be his giving which would increase.
He never talked about his giving but we know now that he helped to bankroll what we now call UCCF (a charity that works to make Jesus known in universities).
He also built churches, theological colleges, pastors homes - all for free.
He would drop into the UCCF offices each week, asking the same question:
'How many students have become Christians this week?'
When John Laing died in 1978 his firm was worth millions and millions
But his own estate was worth a paltry £381
He was investing in something far more worthwhile – he was investing his money to help secure people many people’s eternal homes.
So how are we to use our money and resources? Jesus is encouraging us to use them for things that will really last – that means using our money, our resources and our homes towards things that will develop relationships where we can share the good news of the gospel, maybe that involves opening up our homes to our friends, or eating out with people, being generous and kind with what we have, showing that we value them and time with them is important to us and worth investing in. It might also involve giving our money to organisations and charities that are working to make Jesus known in this country and around the world.
v.9: ‘use your worldly wealth to gain friends, so that when it is gone, you may be welcomed into eternal dwellings’
Can you imagine the welcome that John Laing received into heaven from all those he helped to bring to Christ through his generous giving. You probably wouldn’t hear many people talking about this sort of investment as ‘shrewd’ in today’s society, would you.
Jim Elliott, was an American missionary to South America, and he was killed by a tribe there that he was working with, he said: ‘He is no fool to give up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose’ rpt
The Cambridge dictionary’s definition of shrewdness is ‘the ability to judge people and situations well and make good decisions’. Surely this is shrewd business, to use our resources to invest in the eternal futures of those around us.
Have you ever tried to imagine the concept of eternity? I find it quite hard to get my head around – it will never end, everything we know here in this life is temporary and will come to an end. But imagine the new creation, eternity in paradise, a world of perfect friendships, love, never any sadness, crying or pain and we’ll be with our Lord, and this will continue for ever – would we consider this to be shrewd. When we are there, we will never for one moment regret giving generously of our time, resources and money to the eternal futures of other people.
What is the reason that we have this better perspective
Well, it is the Lord Jesus Christ -he embodies the message of verse 9
Here is the author of Creation, the eternal Son of God
All riches are his, all power belongs to him
And yet he gave up his home in heaven and lived and died among us. He clothed his power with weakness.
All so that we might become friends with God
And enjoy an eternal home with him
So that’s the first point, a better perspective – that’s the longest one.
-the second point, I’ve titled Better stewards v.10-12
So in this parable, the Master clearly represents God, and the manager represents people entrusted with God’s possessions.
The word for manager here is the Greek word: oikanamos, which means manager or steward. So the point Jesus makes is a reminder that we are stewards of God’s possessions.
I wonder whether we really believe this- if we really believe that everything we have is God’s, not ours.
If I’m honest, when there’s a sermon on money & giving, some of the emotions evoked would be those of guilt and discomfort, as I think about what more I can spare from my meagre bank balance?
I say to myself: ‘I earned this money, I worked very hard for it’
we need to remember…
Who gave us our jobs? Who gave us health so we can do our work? Who gave us our skills/intelligence? Who placed us in these circumstances? - you can be sure that you if we were born in S.Sudan, that we wouldn’t have the same level of wealth.
No, the point Jesus is making in this parable is that we are stewards of God’s possessions - everything we have belongs to god, and that he is entrusting these things to us for a time to see if we can be trustworthy and responsible with them.
see v.10 ‘whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, whoever is dishonest with little will be dishonest with much’
It’s almost as if this life is a test – can we be trusted to use well the things God has loaned us in the 70-80yrs that we have in this life (maybe less) – v.11 ‘if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches’ – true riches again is speaking about eternity in paradise.
So what does being trustworthy mean?
Well I think this covers our use of money both in terms of honesty and also using it responsibly:
- our honesty – we are to pay people what we owe them, not to swindle people, to be honest with our tax returns – this is a good witness, remember we are managing our masters goods here – we want to give him a good name.
A couple of years ago I was paid a consultancy fee for a day’s work in a private firm who were developing gastroenterology services, and I received a small fee for my work. A few months later I was paid large lump sums on 2 consecutive months – each time I informed them and paid it back – it transpired that they had another R Palmer working there (she had also been paid). Then it happened again two months later… now they were a very big firm, very successful, I don’t think they’d have missed the money, it would have been a drop in the ocean for them, it was very tempting just to see if they noticed… a big test on my honesty. I did pay it back – of course, I was secretly hoping that they’d be so impressed with my integrity, that they’d tell me to keep the cash – they didn’t!
So trustworthiness involves honesty, but also our responsible use of money – we are not to be wasteful – in some circles Christians view money as something evil just to get rid of (asceticism) – well, that’s not right (the manager in the parable was fired for being wasteful)
We are to be wise with money.
It is ok for us to try to earn as much as we can (through honest means), so that we can use it well – money is hugely important for church work.
When this church began we fundraised and raised >100k to develop the church hall, which can be used to serve our local community and to make Jesus known.
Many of you will know that this church is a second generation church plant from St Helens Bishopsgate, which is in the city of London, and has a number of very wealthy bankers in their congregation. Through their generosity, St Helens have planted 13 churches since 2001 to create vibrant bible-teaching churches all around London.
Gospel work is hugely expensive, spending on building and staff and wouldn’t be possible without Christians earning money and using it for eternal purposes.
That’s our second point, we are called to be better stewards, but we do need to beware – always the danger is that money can become our Master, our god, and this brings us onto our final point – ‘A better Master’
Look at v.13: ‘No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.’
Jesus speaks a lot about money in the NT, as it has such potential to tip over from being a good thing God gives us to use well, to something that controls and masters us. This is called idolatry.
Maybe you can recognise times when money can begin to master us.
Tim Keller writes about this in his book Counterfeit Gods:
He talks about there being ‘deep idols’ within our hearts, such as power, approval, comfort or control, which sit beneath the more concrete and visible ‘surface idols’, such as money, spouses, children, careers. He says ‘Some people want lots of money as a way to control their world and life. Such people usually don’t spend much money and live very modestly. They keep it all safely saved and invested, so they can feel completely secure in the world. Others want money for access to social circles and to make themselves beautiful and attractive. These people do spend money on themselves in lavish ways. Other people want money as it gives them so much power over others. In every case, money functions as an idol and yet, because of various deep idols, it results in very different patterns of behaviour’
Can you identify yourself in any of these patterns? I imagine all of us are prone to money becoming our idol at times.
Money is a terrible master – it dictates our status, our significance and our security.
It tells us our status is tied to our job
It tells us our significance is in our pay grade
It tells us our security is in our savings
- and we’ll for ever feel anxious as there will always be others in a better place than us
Steve Jobs was the CEO of Apple - one of the greatest innovators and businessmen of this age – he died in 2011 and some of his final words are quite striking:
“I reached the pinnacle of success in the business world. In others’ eyes, my life is an epitome of success.
However, aside from work, I have little joy. In the end, wealth is only a fact of life that I am accustomed to.
At this moment, lying on the sick bed and recalling my whole life, I realize that all the recognition and wealth that I took so much pride in, have paled and become meaningless in the face of impending death.
In the darkness, I look at the green lights from the life supporting machines and hear the humming mechanical sounds, I can feel the breath of death drawing closer…
Now I know, when we have accumulated sufficient wealth to last our lifetime, we should pursue other matters that are unrelated to wealth…
Should be something that is more important:
Perhaps relationships, perhaps art, perhaps a dream from younger days
Non-stop pursuing of wealth will only turn a person into a twisted being, just like me.
God gave us the senses to let us feel the love in everyone’s heart, not the illusions brought about by wealth.
The wealth I have won in my life I cannot bring with me.
Money is a terrible master.
But God is a good master. For those who are forgiven in Christ, he freely gives to us:
A status in his family: being loved children of God
A significance in his kingdom, being in relationship with our Maker and with one another
A security in heaven, which can never be lost
Lord, we thank you that through the death of your son that you have made us your children and secured for us a wonderful eternal future. We ask for your help, that for the years that you give us here in this world, that we’d be responsible and faithful stewards with the money and resources that you’ve entrusted to us, and keep us from ever allowing it become our master. Help us to be free to give generously in order to help bring others with us to our eternal home with you.