A Generous Life #2 (of 6) 2 Cor 8:1-7

I. INTRO

The title of our series – A Generous Life – is what’s referred to in literature as a double entendre, which means it can be understood in two ways. (Often one meaning of a double entendre is innocent and the other is risqué.  In the case of our series title both meanings are scandalously grace-filled – but neither is risqué .)

  1. The first way to understand it is what we spoke about last week – The life of Jesus was the most generous life ever lived. In his unpublished essay on the Trinity, Jonathon Edwards writes, “God is infinitely happy in the enjoyment of Himself, in perfectly beholding and infinitely loving, and rejoicing in, His own essence and perfection.”[1] Our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, left this “cocoon” of infinite perfection and with humility and generosity condescended into human history. And Philippians 2 tells us that, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. 8 Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (vs. 6-8).
  2. The second way to understand our series title is that you and I have access to a holy capacity to live a generous life.  We see this in 2 Cor 8:1,“the grace of God which has been given in the churches of Macedonia.” It was not born out of their own strength or power – it was God blessing and enabling them (and us) to become outrageously generous.

Today we will begin to work through 10 Principles of Generosity that are found in these two chapters.  (Found in last weeks notes here on the Southside blog – and in the study guides, which are also available for download here on at the blogsite, or there are hardcopies in the lobby.)  We will work through two principles per Sunday for the next five weeks.  (Gene will be here next week.)

Before we get to todays principles, I’d like to provide a little bit of background:

First of all, notice the geography…

Macedonia is to the north of Corinth.

A commentator describes Macedonia as, “a splendid tract of land, centered on the plains of the gulf of Thessalonica…Running up the great river valleys into the Balkan Mountains, it was famous for its timber and precious metals. The churches of Macedonia had been planted by Paul on his second missionary journey.[2]

I think it’s important to notice that Paul is seeking to motivate the Corinthians through a  bit of competition. In the south, Macedonia was referred to as the “barbaric North” and the Greeks and Macedonians had a lengthy history of political rivalry.

And Paul was probably writing 2 Corinthians from Macedonia.

Corinth was a prosperous double-ported Roman outpost and colony of approximately 200,000 people that sat on a narrow strip of land (isthmus) between the Aegean Sea with the Ionian Sea (within the larger Mediterranean Sea).

Corinth was cosmopolitan in nature, and not unexpectedly, Corinth became notorious for luxurious and debauched living.  Some commentators liken it to San Francisco during the California gold-rush days.

We know from Paul’s letters to the Corinthians that they were a pretty carnal church.  They took the grace of God for granted, tolerating immorality in their midst and some were also getting drunk at their gatherings.  One commentator states the Corinthians were, “undisciplined extremists…setting a poor example for their pagan neighbors. They also did not take kindly to [Paul’s] authority.”[3]

What we have in Corinth is a young church that was not yet disciplined – financially or otherwise, and Paul is seeking to teach them by showing them the example of the Macedonian churches. Churches that were so exemplary in their financial stewardship and generosity, that they are mentioned four times in the New Testament as exemplary churches.  They represented the kind of church that we here at SBF aspire to be.

Both the Macedonian churches and the church at Corinth were struggling under an economic recession that’s not totally unlike the one we are experiencing.  But the Macedonians were suffering far more painfully than those who lived in Corinth. The economic downturn hit them, apparently, much harder.

II. BODY

So in chapters 8-9 Paul has 10 principles for them. We’ll look at the first two today. 

Money is one of the ways that we show that we belong to Jesus and understand His life and message.  Throughout the course of the Gospels Jesus talks about money approximately 25% of the time.  In Mathew 6:21 and Luke 12:34, He says that where our treasure is, our heart is.  In other words, our hearts are reflected in our finances.  And Paul is saying that generosity reveals the grace of God.

So, the principles that we will look at today are:

  1. Generosity is a work of Gods grace. (2 Cor 8:1-6)
  2. Generosity is both a work of God’s grace and a choice. (2 Cor 8:7)

Let’s look at them one at a time…

1.  “Generosity is a work of Gods grace.” (2 Cor 8:1-6)

1 Now, brethren, we wish to make known to you the grace of God which has been given in the churches of Macedonia, 2 that in a great ordeal of affliction their abundance of joy and their deep poverty overflowed in the wealth of their liberality. 3 For I testify that according to their ability, and beyond their ability, they gave of their own accord, 4 begging us with much urging for the favor of participation in the support of the saints, 5 and this, not as we had expected, but they first gave themselves to the Lord and to us by the will of God. 6 So we urged Titus that as he had previously made a beginning, so he would also complete in you this gracious work as well.

I observed an equation in verse two.  It’s counter intuitive…

A great ordeal of affliction + abundance of joy + deep poverty = liberality.

This leads me to a hypothesis (or proposition):  Any circumstance that includes great affliction and deep poverty, wherein we place our joy and comfort in the gift of God’s grace through Jesus Christ, will result in liberality.

If we place our joy and comfort in the god of money, and that god was crucified through an economic downturn, and showed few signs of resurrection, we have no reason for joy and generous liberality.  

If, however, our God is Jesus, then, our source of joy and generous liberality is still alive and well. Where there’s root, there’s fruit…

John Piper sums up the spiritual dynamics of this text by saying: Grace comes down, Joy rises up, and Generosity flows out.

This brings us to our second principle of generosity…

2.  Generosity is both a work of God’s grace and a choice. (2 Cor 1:7)

7 But just as you abound in everything, in faith and utterance and knowledge and in all earnestness and in the love we inspired in you, see that you abound in this gracious work also.

First of all, this verse is a summary (or synopsis) of 1 Corinthians – with a loving admonishment to share the grace God has given, or imparted, to them (“see that you abound”).

“When poverty-stricken Macedonians beg Paul for the privilege of giving money to other poor saints…it is an extension of their joy in God…They are denying themselvesbut the joy of extending God’s grace to others is a far better reward than anything money could buy.[4]

Three important points:

  1. Grace initiates all giving that glorifies God, otherwise we would take pride and praise for our support of others.
  2. This grace alone is the root of genuine joy. Otherwise joy is misplaced and dissipates when circumstances turn bad.
  3. Grace-given joy is always other-oriented.  When our giving germinates in the soil of grace, it blooms in generous bounty to those in need. Such is the nature of true love.

What we find in our study of stewardship and generosity is that the seed-bed, the foundation of it all is grace.

The grace of God, first and foremost, is the power of God’s Holy Spirit that converts the soul. It is the activity, the moving, of God whereby God saves and justifies us through faith (see esp. Rom. 3:24; 5:15,17).

Therefore, grace is not something in which we merely believe; it is something we experience as well.

Grace, then, is a dynamic and experiential reality that empowers the human heart to look beyond its limitations and accomplish things that defy rational explanation.

Grace is the power that enables impoverished and suffering saints to give when, by all accounts, they should be the ones to get. Such was the operation of grace in the giving of these Macedonian believers.

If we attempt to live generous lives out of our own soul or self will, we cut off the very grace that was given through Jesus.  “Soul grace” (we’ll call it) actually denies the deity of Jesus.

III. CONCLUSION

There is a prosperity gospel that is preached in many churches throughout North America.  (It’s particularly said because this Americanized version of the gospel is being exported around the world.)  Those who claim that God wants His people to be materially rich have missed the whole point of the gospel.  Having said that, I believe there’s one area that they don’t go far enough in…

Their mantra is that, “we give to get – and we can never out-give God.”  Is there truth in that?  [Yes.]

What the gospel tells us, however, is that giving to get does not go far enough.  We are to give to get, to give again – and again, and again…

GRACE GIVING (Version 2)

(This is our initial attempt to generate a formal statement regarding SBF’s stance on the stewardship of finances.  Please read it and make any comments or ask any questions that would help you to better understand what the Bible teaches us about money.)

So what’s the deal with “tithing”? The word tithe simply means “one-tenth.” Under the Law of Moses in the Old Testament, the Israelites were required to give in such a way that it amounted to a little over 23% of their income. The first was 10% of all of their possessions (Lev. 27:30–33; Num. 18:20–21), which was given to the Levites for Temple Ministry. A second was taken from whatever produce was left after the first tithe was given. Jewish interpreters consider this to be a second giving requirement for feasts and sacrifices (Deut. 12:17–18; Lev. 27:30; Num. 18:21). Finally, another tithe was given once every three years to support the poor (Deut. 14:28–29). On top of these giving mandates were the voluntary freewill offerings given out of their own will and desire above and beyond their normal giving (Ex. 35:29; Lev. 22:23; Ezra 3:5).

When it comes to the New Testament teaching on giving, we begin with the understanding that the Mosaic Law no longer binds us (Rom. 6:14). This leads us to the question, “Should we still give according to the Old Testament system, or are we able to give less – or even more?”

Concerning this, Paul wrote, “He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work” (2 Cor. 9:6–8).

As Christians who are no longer under the Law, we give because of the grace that God has given us. In 2 Corinthians 8, Paul commends the believers in Macedonia for what is often referred to as “grace giving.” Paul describes the qualities of this benevolence as being generous (2 Cor. 8:2), willful (2 Cor. 8:3), directed by God (2 Cor. 8:5), shared (2 Cor. 8:6), active (2 Cor. 8:7), and motivated by love (2 Cor. 8:8). This kind of giving should not be done out of a “legalistic” mentality, but as the Lord leads you to give (2 Cor. 8:8).

It may be concluded that the Old Testament tithing system set a standard for giving, and that while we are no longer required under the Law to give, we are under grace—and our giving is to reflect this. We are not under compulsion to give; rather, we are to give cheerfully and prayerfully as God leads us. New Testament teaching places our giving in the category of an aspect of worship unto the Lord, which is why churches (usually) receive these tithes and offerings as a part of our corporate worship gatherings on Sundays. Additionally, many churches also make the option available to give privately via online debit cards, as that is now how many people handle their “crops.”


[1] An Unpublished Essay on the Trinity.

[2] Edwin A. Judge:1982.

[4] Desiring God: 104.

A Generous Life #1 (of 6) 2 Cor 8:9

I. INTRO

Summit #1 is next Sat (01/14).  We are holding our first of three summits.  I want to invite everyone 13 years of age and older to come and participate in this process.

If you’re new to the church it’s a great time to jump in to help shape what SBF will become in the next season of fruitful ministry.  (My role is as a facilitator and coach – your role is to shape the future through prayerful dialogue with God and one another.)

Today we begin a 6-week series on A Generous Life.  (There are study guides available in the lobby and also available for download here at our blogsite.)  Why a series on A Generous Life?

The answer is both simple and profoundJesus Christ lived the most generous life ever lived.

The whole Bible – both the OT and NT, was written to point to Jesus.

We call this a Christ-centered, or gospel-centered view of the Bible.

Again, the whole Bible was written with God’s redemption through Jesus Christ in view.  The OT points to the coming of Jesus and the NT extols the coming of Jesus.  We want to see Jesus and worship Jesus in every text of Scripture.

Because of the generosity of Jesus Christ one of the gospel graces is generosity – and there is a connection between generosity and stewardship.  So this series will be about becoming generous stewards of God’s grace.  But the last thing we want to say is that Jesus lived a generous life and now you should too.

No, we want to explore the generosity of Jesus.  What we really want – and need – is to enter into His generosity.  It is the generosity of Jesus, by grace through faith, that changes us and empowers us to be generous.

Our passage for today, which was read, is 2 Cor 8:9.  This will be our foundational passage for the series.  Our aim is to engage in a gospel transformation of the soul in and through the sacrifice and provision of Jesus Christ.

Here’s the way pastor and author John Piper says it: “Seeing and savoring the supremacy of Christ frees us from the slavery of sin for the sacrifices of love.”

Living in and for the gospel is counterintuitive[1]…here is how pastor and author Tim Keller has said it: “Christ wins our salvation through losing, achieves power through weakness and service, comes to wealth via giving it all away.  And those who receive His salvation are not the strong and accomplished but those who admit they are weak and lost.”[2]

Each of us has three primary areas of stewardship in Christ: We’ll refer to them as our time, our talents, and our treasure.  There are other areas of stewardship that we are responsible for as well:  We are responsible for our primary relationships, our bodies, our sexuality, and to care for creation.

Again, it’s not about what we should do – the renegade Catholic priest, who initiated the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther speaks about a great exchange… “Learn Christ and Him crucified. Learn to sing to Him and, despairing of yourself, say, ‘Lord Jesus, You are my righteousness, just as I am Your sin. You have taken upon Yourself what is mine and have given me what is Yours.’”[3]

“For our sake [the Father] made [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21 ESV)

An overview of 2 Cor…

In 2 Cor 8-9 Paul is seeking to mobilize the Corinthian congregation to participate in an offering for the church members in Jerusalem…

You will notice that Paul never uses the word money, in 2 Cor 8-9, instead he calls it “grace,”  “generosity,” “blessing,” or “partnership.” He speaks of the “grace of giving” as one of the highest Christian virtues.

With this series we are not aiming at your wallet, we are aiming at your heart.

This series is NOT intended to ask you to give more – it’s intended to show you how.

Paul had quite a rocky relationship with the church at Corinth.  There were actually (at least) four letters that were written.  What has been canonized as Scripture are letters #2 and #4.  (#3 was, apparently, a letter of severe rebuke.)

Chapters 8 and 9 of this epistle concern the offering for the poor saints at Jerusalem.  It took between 8-10 years to accomplish; involved thousands of miles of travel; at least 10 collectors involved. An earthquake, crop failures, and persecution contributed to their needs at Jerusalem church.

II. BODY

With that in mind let’s dive into our passage for today – just one verse – 2 Cor 8:9, which is the foundational passage for our series on Generosity… For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich.

Today we want to ask and consider four questions:

  1. Do you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ?
  2. How was Jesus rich?
  3. How did He become poor?
  4. How do we become rich?

Let’s look at them one at a time…

1.  Do you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ?

What does it mean to know?

Ginōskōa knowledge grounded on personal experience.[4]

Paul is confident that the Corinthian church understood (i.e., was well-taught) in the area of the gospel of grace.  This is where the North American Church struggles today…

What is grace?  There are 10 ten occurrences of the word “grace” (charis) in chapters 8-9.

While there many facets of grace.  This morning I’d like to look at three types of grace:

A.  Common Grace refers to the grace of God that is common to all humankind. It is “common” because its benefits are experienced by the whole human race without distinction between one person and another. It is “grace” because it is undeserved and sovereignly bestowed by God. Mat 5:45b – [God] causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”  The fact that you’re breathing this morning is an effect of common grace.

B.  Saving Grace, or justifying grace, redemptive grace – or regenerating grace is a momentary action of God to bring about salvation into a previously unregenerated person – it’s an act of quickening the spiritually dead.  In John 3 Jesus had a conversation with a Pharisee named Nicodemus and told him – “…unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 1 Peter 1:3“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”

C.  Sanctifying Grace – Think of saving grace as birth (or regeneration) and sanctifying grace as growth.

Sanctification says the Westminster Shorter Catechism (Q.35), is “the work of God’s free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole [person] after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness.”

The concept is not of sin being totally eradicated, but of a divinely wrought [or, shaped] character change freeing us from sinful habits and forming in us Christlike affections, dispositions, and virtues (J.I. Packer).[5]

With saving grace, God implants desires that were not there before: desire for God, for holiness, for worship; desire to pray, love, serve, honor, and please God; desire to show love and bring benefit to others. With sanctifying grace the Holy Spirit, “is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Phil 2:13).

Here now is my favorite definition of grace – “All that God is, lavishly poured into you.”

U2 song Grace –

Grace
She takes the blame
She covers the shame
Removes the stain
It could be her name

Grace
It’s a name for a girl
It’s also a thought that changed the world
And when she walks on the street
You can hear the strings
Grace finds goodness in everything

2.  How was Jesus rich?

Jesus preexisted in the context of a Holy Trinity — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

This Godhead – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have dwelled together in infinite relational harmony for all eternity. Their mutual love is pure, infinite, and perfect.  Their love is never stained by conflict, or competition, or polluted by self-centeredness.

Authors and theologians, dating back to the 7th century (including C.S. Lewis and Tim Keller), have suggested that the Trinitarian relationship is like a dance, with each member deferring to and delighting in the other.[6]

3.  How did He become poor?

Jesus condescended to become a human.  One theologian said, “This humiliation had the effect of restoring the true human nature without degrading the divine nature…Majesty stepped into the mess.” [7]

Eugene Peterson in his paraphrase (called The Message) writes, “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood. We saw the glory with our own eyes, the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son, Generous inside and out, true from start to finish” (John 1:14).

Jesus gave up the comforts and joys of Triune eternal companionship to enter into the messiness of living with sinful, broken humanity—the hypocrisy, violence, corruption, sickness, and greed. Jesus came to share a new vision, with new power for living with humility, compassion, mercy, and generosity.

Philippians 2:6-9 says “Jesus, 6 who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. 8 Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

4.  How do we become rich?

We become rich by being invited into the dance…

(Farewell Discourse) John 17:19-21 – 19 “For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth. 20 “I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; 21 that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me.”

Here’s how one theologian sums up 2 Cor 8:9: “If this love of Christ, so magnanimous [generous] in its motive and so self-sacrificing in its execution, is an active force in the believer’s heart, how unnecessary, the apostle implies, any command to practice giving ought to be. What, without that love, might seem a cold moral duty has been transformed by it into a joyous privilege.”[8]

III. CONCLUSION

So 2 Cor 8:9, is the foundational passage for our series on Generosity/Stewardship… For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich.

We will build our series on this verse…

Over the next 5 weeks we will consider 10 Principles of Generosity (two per Sunday):

  1. Generosity is a work of Gods grace (2 Cor 8:1-6)
  2. Generosity is both a work of God’s grace and a choice (2 Cor 8:7)
  3. Generosity points us to the sacrifice of Christ (2 Cor 8:8-9)
  4. Generosity is measured proportionally (2 Cor 8:10-12)
  5. Generosity enables a holy equality (2 Cor 8:13-15)
  6. Generosity necessitates godly stewardship (2 Cor 8:16-24)
  7. Generosity begets generosity (2 Cor 9:1-5)
  8. Generosity is about sowing and reaping (2 Cor 9:6-12)
  9. Generosity is an evidence that someone is an active, intentional follower of Christ 
(2 Cor 9:13-14)
  10. Generosity promotes the worship of Jesus as God (2 Cor 9:15)

Finally, I want to share with you my verse for the year…Proverbs 1:23:

“Turn to my reproof, Behold, I will pour out my spirit on you; I will make my words known to you.”

I am willing to ask for the Lord’s reproof in my life, so that He will pour out His Spirit on me and make His words known to me.  My prayer is that, as a church, Southside will do the same…


[1] I.e., contrary to what we expect.

[2] Gospel Christianity, Redeemer Pres NYC 2003.

[3] Treatise on Christian Liberty (The Freedom of a Christian), AE, Vo. 31.

[4] It’s also a Jewish idiom (not slang, but a stylistic expression) for sexual intercourse between a man and a woman.

[5] J.I. Packer. Concise Theology.

[6] See Tim Keller, The Reason for God, pgs 214-222. See also C.S. Lewis Mere Christianity pg. pg. 152. The idea of the relationship of the Trinity as dance may also be traced back to a 7th century theologian named John of Damascus who described the Trinity as Perichoresis (the same word we get our English word “choreography” from).

[7] Douglas McCready. He Came Down From Heaven: The Preexistence of Christ and Christian Faith, IVP Academic 2005: 81.

[8] R.V.G. Tasker. 2 Corinthians, Tyndale NT Commentary, Eerdmans 1958: 116.

1 John 5:14-21 (#14) Finale!

I.  INTRO

We’re landing the plane today in our 1 John series – His Light, Our Delight

A week ago Wed I was on a plane from DC to Manchester.  Before we took off the Captain came on and told us the flight was going to be bumpy – and it was…

As we close out 1 John (and as we prepare our hearts for Christmas) I would like to begin our study today be reminding us of the human condition…And I should warn you that it may get a bit turbulent as we prepare to land the plane.

Last June reTURN/CRM conducted a diagnostic here at SBF.  (A 1-page version is available in the lobby.)  Well, Scripture has also conducted a diagnostic of the human heart and I would like to let the Word of God speak to us this morning regarding what has gone wrong with humanity.  It takes a humble courage to embrace the truth about ourselves…

Here is my thesis: We simply cannot fix what’s wrong with us.  With all of our advances in science, technology, and clinical therapies the human heart remains as Jeremiah said 17:9: “more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; Who can understand it?”

  • Ps 14:3 – They have all turned aside, together they have become corrupt;
    There is no one who does good, not even one.
  • Prov 20:9 – Who can say, “I have cleansed my heart, I am pure from my sin”?
  • Rom 3:9-12 — What then? Are we [Jews] better than they? Not at all; for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin; 10 as it is written,  “THERE IS NONE RIGHTEOUS, NOT EVEN ONE; 11 THERE IS NONE WHO UNDERSTANDS, THERE IS NONE WHO SEEKS FOR GOD; 12 ALL HAVE TURNED ASIDE, TOGETHER THEY HAVE BECOME USELESS; THERE IS NONE WHO DOES GOOD, THERE IS NOT EVEN ONE.”  All of us have one singular thing in common…our base commonality is that we are sinners incapable of righteousness.
  • Rom 3:23 – For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
  • Eph 2:1-3 – And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, 2 in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. 3 Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath…”

The NT authors invite us to bear in mind that God’s commands for us to be holy and love our neighbor, etc. are not there to show our ability, but to reveal our inability and to remind us of our continual dependence on the grace of God to do in us and through us what we cannot do (accomplish) on our own.

Before we move into our text for this morning I am going to say something very difficult to you.  I will say it because I love you and I want to be able to say at the end of my time here that, I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God” (Acts 20:27).

The core issue with you and me is not that we sometimes DO the wrong things, the problem is we were born with something very wrong inside of us.  We are born in a corrupted state of being.  We were born with a sin infection.

If your default mode is that you’re basically a good person who occasionally does bad things then you have not understood the Bible – or the Gospel.

The greatest hindrance to your joy and happiness is you.  (Merry Christmas!)

Here is what I want to say as we move into our text for this morning:  There is good news…The gateway for ever increasing joy for you and for me is an understanding that surly we were brought forth into a state of inequity that surely we have a bent toward rebellion.  Our joy and delight begin with embracing our depravity.  The way to a sure hope is to embrace hopelessness…it seems counter-intuitive to us.  Another way to say it is – the unlikely route to joy is repentance (Dan Allender, The Wounded Heart).

Eph 2:4-5 – But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our [sin], made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)…”

Whether from the pen of Moses, Paul, or other biblical authors, “But God” appears in various forms hundreds of times in the Bible. To understand these two words as they are used in Scripture is to understand the gospel. James Montgomery Boice wrote, “May I put it quite simply? If you understand those two words—but God’—they will save your soul. If you recall them daily and live by them, they will transform your life completely.” “But God” marks God’s relentless, merciful interventions in human history. It teaches us that God does not wait for us to bring ourselves to him, but that he acts first to bring about our good. Without the “But God” statements in the Bible, the world would be completely lost in sin and under judgment.

God’s response to our rebellion is nothing short of spectacular, which takes us into our passage for today…

II.  BODY

There are three main points in these final eight verses.  In our remaining time, I’d like to go back and walk through them, viewing them in the light of the biblical truth – that we were brought forth in a state of rebellion and iniquity – and our only hope is God’s mercy and grace, which transforms us from the inside out.

1.  Verses 14-17 – God loves (or longs) to give us what we pray for

This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. 15 And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him. 16 If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask and God will for him give life to those who commit sin not leading to death. There is a sin leading to death; I do not say that he should make request for this. 17 All unrighteousness is sin, and there is a sin not leading to death.

So, the big picture assertion, or promise here is that God loves, or longs to provide what we pray for.  John is saying that if we know that He hears us, then we know we have the answer (assurance).  But did you notice a couple of elephants hanging around in those verses?

The elephants are found in verses 14 & 16: (v.14) IF we ask anything according to His will… and v. 16: There is a sin leading to death

Elephant #1 – V. 14 — This can be a troubling qualification because Scripture doesn’t speak a lot to the problem of unanswered prayer, though it does give us at least three clues, which I want to pass on to you…

  • 1 Peter 3:7 teaches that strained interpersonal relationships, especially between husband and wife, hinder prayer:  “Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.”
  • James 4:3 teaches that prayers aimed at merely enhancing our own private pleasure will go unheardYou ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.
  • 1 John 3:22 implies that if we are actively, willfully disobedient to God’s commandments, our prayers won’t be answered“and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him.” (The first work of obedience is to listen.)

Elephant #2 – V. 16 – There is a sin leading to death.” This verse has provoked widespread discussion.

This is where the Catholics affirm their concept of mortal[1] vs. venial sins.

However, it seems clear that the one who sins unto death is not a Christian (although s/he my think they are).  Here is what most scholars believe is the most likely interpretation: This is the sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.

It is the deliberate, open-eyed rejection of known truth. Ascribing the mighty works of Jesus to the devil.  (John may have been referencing Christopher Hitchens types of their day…)

The Pharisees committed this sin.  And there are those whom John refers to earlier in 1 John as antichrists would also fall into this category.  They were children of the devil, not children of God (3:19).  Such sin, Jesus said would never be forgiven – in this life, or in the life to come.

  • Mark 3:29“but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin.”
  • Mat 12:31-32“Therefore I say to you, any sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven people, but blasphemy against the Spirit shall not be forgiven. 32 Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come.” 

2.  Three Affirmations (“We knows”) John Stott calls them three clear, candid, bold, dogmatic certainties — which summarize the truths that have been shared in the earlier parts of the letter.

  • 1st Affirmation – (v. 18) – We know that no one who is born of God sins; but He [Jesus] who was born of God keeps him, and the evil one does not touch him.
    • The phrase “born of God” literally means “begotten” and indicates a new birth.
    • New birth results in new behavior.  John Stott writes, “Sin and the child of God are incompatible.  They may occasionally meet; [but] they cannot live together in harmony.”[2] (Besetting sins?)
    • If we have Christ, we have the power for deliverance from sin.
    • This is what we are praying when we say in the Lord’s Prayer: “deliver us from evil” (Mat 6:13b).
  • 2nd Affirmation – (v. 19) – We know that we are of God, and that the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.”
    • God remains the source of our spiritual life and being.
    • We should not attribute to the “evil one” too much power.  The word “lies” indicates that the “whole world” is but unconsciously asleep in the embrace of Satan.
    • John draws a very clear and dogmatic line here: We are either 1) awake and “of God” (or in God), or 2) we are slumbering in the arms of Satan.  There is no third category.
  • 3rd Affirmation – (v. 20) – We know that the Son of God has come, and has given us understanding so that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life.
    • This final affirmation is the most fundamental.  Both redemption and revelation belong to God.
    • The gospel is not concerned merely with the truth that God has given us certain things, but that He has come. (“O come, O come Emmanuel – and ransom captive Israel…”)
    • And notice that the Christian is in Christ — sharing His very life.
    • John has told us that Jesus is light (1:5), He is love (4:8), and he is concluding his epistle by saying that Jesus is the only true source of life itself (see also Jn 5:26).

3.  The Concluding ExhortationGuard [NIV, KJ: keep] yourself from idols (5:21).

At first glance this concluding, or final, exhortation might seem a bit odd…

(And the NIV & KJ translations also make it a bit confusing[3]…There is a “keeping” (v.18) accomplished by Christ – and there is a “guarding” that we are responsible for.  The NIV & KJ translate the words the same, but they are different…)

  • Keeping (tēreō) – Expresses watchful care and is suggestive of present possession.  As in, Jesus Christ will – and is keeping us.
  • Guarding (phylassō) – A helpful synonym for this v.21 word may be: beware.  So, the NASB translation is a little clearer here.  “Guard yourselves, or beware, of idols.”  In other words, have a working knowledge or understanding (with accountability) of the areas where you attempt find comfort and joy in ways other than Jesus Christ.
  • So, God keeps – and our responsibility, through sanctifying grace, is to be on guard, or to beware of idolatry creeping into our lives.  In Christ we are empowered to find our joy, our comfort, our delight in Him.

One of the best definitions for idolatry is when we “make good things ultimate things” (Keller, Counterfeit Gods).  Another excellent descriptor is from Jerry Bridges book  Bookends of the Christian Life where he describes idols as our “functional saviors.”

Sometimes our surface sins are only symptoms of a deeper problem. Underneath every external sin is a heart idol—a false god that has eclipsed the true God in our thoughts or affections.  Some scholars would say we don’t really have a sin problem, we have a worship problem.  In this context all sin is idolatry.  And every time we choose sin we have chosen to find our comfort, joy, or delight in something (or someone) other than God.

III.  CONCLUSION

To sum-up: in our His Light, Our Delight study John leans in to an associated group of churches undergoing conflict to (re-) mold their concept of God and life within the church. By carefully describing salvation and its fruit in a Christian’s life, John brilliantly defines what a Christian is by clarifying the borders of our faith with the elements of light, truth, and love.  John, an eyewitness to the ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus –  as well as His most intimate earthly friend, enables us to discern where we are in our lives and carefully sets our focus on where we could and can be as we press in to wholeheartedly love God and one another.

A baseline for truth is seeking to understand the clearest concept of God, Jesus Christ, and humanity.  Love is the way we imitate Christ in sacrificially relating to one other.  His light is the reflection of holiness stemming from Christ dwelling in us through the sanctifying grace of the Holy Spirit – causing us to delight in what He has done.  We wouldn’t want a Christianity without these three elements as John has defined them.  It would no longer be what Jesus Christ taught and revealed to us.  Because of this, we are exhorted to surrender to God’s transforming love and to love one another in ways that are consistent with how Jesus Christ revealed Himself to us.


[1] From a Catholic perception a mortal sin is a grave sin that ruptures our link to God’s saving grace.

[2] Stott, John. The Letters of John, Tyndale NT Commentaries Vol. 19, IVP Accademic 1964 & 1988: 192.

[3] We know that no one who is born of God sins; but He [Jesus] who was born of God keeps him, and the evil one does not touch him.

1 John 5:6-13 (#13)

I.  INTRO – Assurance of Eternal Life

Review:

Where we are as a church – and where we’re headed.  We’ll start at 30,000 feet and then land in our 1 John passage for today.

As a church we are “rebooting” theologically.  What does that mean?

First of all, it does NOT mean we are changing our doctrinal statement.

What it DOES mean is that we intend to be Christ-centered, or gospel-centered, in all our preaching and teaching.[1]  There are two basic reasons for this:

  1. Not only is the gospel of Jesus Christ necessary for our salvation, but the gospel is also essential for our growth (or sanctification) in Christ.[2]
  2. (How does that happen?) A Christ-centered, or gospel-centered approach will focus more on what Christ has done, than on what we should do.

We believe that the Westminster Assembly got it right in 1646 with the Westminster Shorter Confession of Faith when they determined the “chief end of [humankind] is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”  Or, as John Piper has said, “to glorify God BY enjoying Him forever.”

Where we’re headed (See the bulletin insert):

3 Summits scheduled 6-weeks apart to reaffirm values, mission, and vision in preparation for calling a permanent pastor.

The first one is Sat, Jan 14th from 9am-1pm.  A working lunch and childcare will be provided.

If you’re 13+, we’d like for you to be there.  Sign-ups start today.

Sign-up sheet – or email Beth in the office.

**The more we accomplish in the next 6-7 months, the higher caliber pastor we will attract to SBF.

Next week in the bulletin we will provide you with a calendar of the significant events for Jan-Jun of 2012.  This will include:

  1. The 3 Summits
  2. At least 3 Concerts of Prayer where we will gather as a congregation – both to learn more about prayer and to pray.  These will also include extended times of worship.
  3. And regular Sunday morning updates to keep everyone informed on what is happening (twice a month).

In Sept we embarked on a study of 1 John.  Today marks our 13th week.

Why study 1st John?  As we have been saying – the gospel of John was written that we might believe while 1 John we written that we might know.

Assurance is the key theme of 1 John.  There are two parts to this assurance:

1.  The first is an objective assurance that Jesus (and Christianity) are true.  Jesus claimed to be God.

  • Jn 14:9 – Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.
  • Jn 10:33 – We’re stoning you “for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.”
  • Mark 14:61b-62   [61b] – “Again the high priest asked him, ‘Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?’  [62] ‘I am,’ said Jesus.”
  •  Luke 22:66-70  [66] – “At daybreak the council of the elders of the people, both the chief priests and teachers of the law, met together, and Jesus was led before them…[70] They all asked, ‘Are you then the Son of God?’  He replied, ‘You are right in saying I am.’”
  • In 1 John 1:1 he reminds his readers that he was an eye-witness of Jesus – he beheld Him with his eyes and touched Him with his hands and refers to Jesus as “the Word of Life.”
  • Jesus was either a liar, a lunatic, or He was telling the truth (trillema).  John is asserting in this letter that Jesus and Christianity are true (objective assurance).

2.  The second aspect of assurance John is speaking to is the subjective assurance of our own standing in Christ.

To use John’s language of what it means to be a Christian…

  • To have been born of God
  • To know God
  • To live in God
  • To enjoy an intimate personal communion with Him – which John says, is eternal life.

On Thur we sent out an eNEWS that quoted 19th century British theologian and pastor J.C. Ryle, who said:

Another way to describe assurance is assured hope.

  • A person may have saving faith in Christ, and yet never enjoy an assured hope.
  • To believe and have a glimmering hope of acceptance is one thing, to have delight and joy and peace in our believing — and to abound in hope, is quite another!
  • S/He that has faith does well.  But s/he that has assurance does far better — sees more, feels more, knows more, enjoys more.[3]

Last week (Gene) taught from 1 Jn 4:17-5:5 and made three excellent points:

  1. (vs. 4:17-18) Being perfected in love is a process.
  2. (vs. 4:19-21) People are in your life for a purpose (i.e., conflict can be redemptive).
  3. (vs. 5:1-5) Passion for God’s presence prepares the heart to obey.

Today we will look at the most difficult passage in 1 John – 5:6-13…

II.  BODY

John draws some very clear lines in this passage (as he has throughout the letter): v.12 – “S/He who has the Son has the life; s/he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life.” John is saying that it is infinitely important for us to know if we have the Son. (We would do well to remember Ryle’s point: A person may have saving faith in Christ, and yet never enjoy assurance.)

Then in v.13 John writes, “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, in order that you may know that you have eternal life.” (2-fold assurance)

There are two words I’d like to look at more closely today from v.13, asking the questions, 1) What does it mean to believe? And 2) What does it mean to know?

1.  What does it mean to believe?

  • The Greek word is the verb pisteuō (from the same root as the word for faith) and occurs about 250 times in the NT. Matthew uses the word 10 times, Mark 10, Luke 9, John’s Gospel 99 times – and 9 times in 1 John.
  • Now I have both bad news and good news for you…
    • The bad news is that not all belief is saving belief.
    • Look with me at John 2:23-25: Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name, observing His signs which He was doing. 24 But Jesus, on His part, was not entrusting Himself to them, for He knew all men, 25 and because He did not need anyone to testify concerning man, for He Himself knew what was in man.
    • There is evidently a belief that does not save us.
    • James 2:19 – …the demons also believe…
    • Paul exhorts the church in Corinth to, “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith” (2 Cor 13:5).
    • This is the kind of examination that John is referring to in 1 John 5:12-13.

In 1859 a French tightrope walker named Charles Blondin, became the first person to cross 160 feet above Niagara Falls on a tightrope.  He walked several times – back and forth. The large crowd gathered and a buzz of excitement ran along both sides of the riverbank. The crowd “Oooohed!” and “Aaaaahed!” as Blondin carefully walked across one dangerous step after another.  One trip across he was blindfolded and pushing a wheel-barrow. Upon reaching the other side, it’s said that the crowd’s applause was louder than the roar of the falls! Blondin suddenly stopped and addressed his audience: “Do you believe I can carry a person across in this wheelbarrow?” The crowd enthusiastically shouted, “Yes, yes, yes. You are the greatest tightrope walker in the world. You can do anything!” “Okay,” said Blondin, “Who will get in the wheelbarrow??”  No-one did!

    • To merely give intellectual assent does NOT save us.
  • So, what’s the good news?  The good news is that there is a belief that does save.
    • To “believe” means the active acceptance of the message about Jesus.
    • This means there is a surrender, or active ongoing submission to Jesus…
    • This is the kind of belief, or faith, that 1 Jn 5:5 is speaking about: “Who is the one who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” (He who gets in the wheelbarrow.)

2.  What does it mean to know? (1 Jn 5:13 John writes, “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, in order that you may know that you have eternal life.”)

  • The Greek word is echō.  It speaks of a joining – like a marriage.
  • This question takes us back to 1 Jn 5:7-8: “For there are three that testify: 8 the Spirit and the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement.”
  • These are the verses that have confounded biblical scholars… Theologians refer to this verse as the “Johannine Comma.” And most commentators agree that it is some form of Trinitarian reference.  Matthew Henry, the 18th century devotional commentator, simply refers to this verse as, “a trinity of heavenly witnesses.”

Let’s consider each one:

  1. The (Holy) Spirit testifies.
  • Turn to Roms 8.  This chapter is about life in the power of the HS.
  • Let’s begin in v.15 For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!” 16 The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.
  • Here’s a test/quiz to see if you know…
    • What grip does fear have on your life?
    • When you suffer, do you turn TO God, or AWAY from God?  Do you turn TO God’s people, or turn AWAY from God’s people?
    • Prov 18:1 – “S/He who separates himself seeks his own desire, he quarrels against all sound wisdom.”

2.  What is the “water and the blood”?

  • Some scholars think the water is a reference to the birth of Jesus and the blood is a reference to His death on the cross.
  • Look at John 19:34-35: “But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out. 35 And he [John] who has seen has testified, and his testimony is true; and he knows that he is telling the truth, so that you also may believe.”
    • Jesus suffered from hypovolemic shock (low blood volume) during his beatings – and when he fell while carrying the cross…
    • This hypovolemic shock causes fluid to gather in the sack around the heart and around the lungs.
  • Others have speculated that the water and blood are references to the sacraments of baptism and communion.

III.  CONCLUSION

  1. What’s the bottom line?  Is your belief a saving belief?  Have you gotten in the wheelbarrow?  This is the objective response that John is looking for.
  2. To use Paul’s language from Romans 8:15-16, is there a “spirit of adoption” resident in your heart?  Has, “the Spirit Himself testified with your spirit that you are a child of God”?  This is the subjective response that John is looking for.

This is how the gospel works for our sanctification…We are well aware of our depravity AND we have a growing witness and testimony of our Heavenly Father’s sovereign call ON our lives and transforming presence IN our lives.


[1] Someone has said, “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.”

[2] Justification (declared righteousness) and Sanctification (growing in righteousness), the process of sanctification must flow out of the reality of justification.

[3] Adapted from the essay Faith and Assurance by J. C. Ryle.

Believing the Gospel Is the Work of Sanctification

by Tullian Tchividjian

When it comes to measuring spiritual growth and progress, our natural instincts revolve almost exclusively around behavioral improvement.

“Only the ‘toxin’ of God’s grace can reverse the way we typically think about Christian growth.”

For example, when we read passages like Colossians 3:5–17, where Paul exhorts the Colossian church to “put on the new self” he uses many behavioral examples: put to death “sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.” He goes on and exhorts them to put away “anger, wrath, malice, slander” and so on. In v.12 he switches gears and lists a whole lot of things for us to put on: “kindness, humility, meekness, and patience,” just to name a few.

But what’s at the root of this good and bad fruit? What produces both the bad and good behavior Paul addresses here?

A Matter of Belief

Every temptation to sin is a temptation, in the moment, to disbelieve the gospel–the temptation to secure for ourselves in that moment something we think we need in order to be happy, something we don’t yet have: meaning freedom, validation, and so on. Bad behavior happens when we fail to believe that everything we need, in Christ we already have; it happens when we fail to believe in the rich provisional resources that are already ours in the gospel. Conversely, good behavior happens when we daily rest in and receive Christ’s “It is finished” into new and deeper parts of our being every day.

Colossians 3:5–17 provides an illustration of what takes place on the outside when something deeper happens (or doesn’t happen) on the inside.

Going Backward for Progress

In Philippians 2:12, when Paul tells us to “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,” he’s making it clear we’ve got work to do—but what exactly is the work? Get better? Try harder? Clean up your act? Pray more? Get more involved in church? Read the Bible longer? Clearly, it’s not a matter of whether or not effort is needed. The real issue is: Where are we focusing our efforts? Are we working hard to perform? Or are we working hard to rest in Christ’s performance for us?

He goes on to explain: “For it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (2:13). God works his work in you—which is the work already accomplished by Christ. Our hard work, therefore, means coming to a greater understanding of his work. In his Lectures on Romans, Martin Luther wrote, “To progress is always to begin again.” Real spiritual progress, in other words, requires a daily going backwards.

The Work of Belief

Christian growth does not happen by working hard to get something you don’t have. Rather, Christian growth happens by working hard to daily swim in the reality of what you do have. Believing again and again the gospel of God’s free, justifying grace every day is the hard work we’re called to.

This means that real change happens only as we continuously rediscover the gospel. The progress of the Christian life is “not our movement toward the goal; it’s the movement of the goal on us.”

Sanctification involves God’s attack on our unbelief—our self-centered refusal to believe that God’s approval of us in Christ is full and final. It happens as we daily receive and rest in our unconditional justification. As G. C. Berkouwer said, “The heart of sanctification is the life which feeds on justification.”

Growth in Grace

2 Peter 3:18 succinctly describes growth by saying, “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” Growth always happens “in grace.” The truest measure of our growth is not our behavior, it’s our grasp of grace — a grasp which involves coming to deeper and deeper terms with the unconditionality of God’s love.

It’s also growth in “the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” This doesn’t simply mean learning facts about Jesus. It means growing in our love for Christ because of what he has already earned and secured for us and then living in a more vital awareness of that grace. Our main problem in the Christian life is not that we don’t try hard enough to be good, but that we haven’t believed the gospel and received its finished reality into all parts of our life.

Take the Focus Away from You

Gerhard Forde insightfully (and transparently) calls into question the ways in which we typically think about sanctification and spiritual progress when he writes:

Am I making progress? If I am really honest, it seems to me that the question is odd, even a little ridiculous. As I get older and death draws nearer, I don’t seem to be getting better. I get a little more impatient, a little more anxious about having perhaps missed what this life has to offer, a little slower, harder to move, a little more sedentary and set in my ways. Am I making progress? Well, maybe it seems as though I sin less, but that may only be because I’m getting tired! It’s just too hard to keep indulging the lusts of youth. Is that sanctification? I wouldn’t think so! One should not, I expect, mistake encroaching senility for sanctification! But can it be, perhaps, that it is precisely the unconditional gift of grace that helps me to see and admit all that? I hope so. The grace of God should lead us to see the truth about ourselves, and to gain a certain lucidity, a certain humor, a certain down-to-earthness.

Remember, the Apostle Paul referred to himself as the chief of sinners at the end of his life. It was his ability to freely admit that which demonstrated his spiritual maturity—he had nothing to prove or protect because it wasn’t about him!

“Our main problem in the Christian life is not that we don’t try hard enough to be good, but that we haven’t believed the gospel and received its finished reality into all parts of our life.”

The more I focus on my need to get better, the worse I actually get. I become neurotic and self-absorbed. Preoccupation with my performance over Christ’s performance for me makes me increasingly self-centered and morbidly introspective. After all, Peter only began to sink when he took his eyes off Jesus and focused on how he was doing. As my friend Rod Rosenbladt wrote to me recently, “Anytime our natural incurvitas (fixture on self) is rattled, shaken, turned from itself to that man’s blood, to that man’s cross, then the devil take the hindmost!”

It Truly Is Finished

By all means work! But the hard work is not what you think it is; the hard work is washing your hands of you and resting in Christ’s finished work for you. Progress in obedience happens when our hearts realize God’s love for us does not depend on our progress in obedience.

This is a partial repost from Tullian Tchividjian’s blog Rethinking Progress. To read it in full click here.

The Great Commandment Pt 2 – Matthew 22:39

Love Your Neighbor as Yourself

I.   INTRO/REVIEW

A.   We have been looking at what the Bible refers to as the Great Commandment, which is for us, important preliminary vision passage because it synthesizes so much of the Scripture into two VERY straightforward commands.

B.    (It is quite important for us to understand that when the NT authors declare God’s commands for us to be holy and to love our neighbor, etc. These commands are not there to show our ability, but to reveal our inability – and to remind us of our continual dependence on the grace of God to do in us and through us what we cannot do on our own.)

C.    Matthew 22:33-40 (NAS): “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And He said to him, “ ‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.” (Notice the order – and notice that Jesus was asked to answer with one commandment, but He gave them two…)

D.   We have multiplied this passage into two messages…

  1. Last week: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind – this is the great and foremost commandment.” (Click here to read that post.)
  2. Review of last week: How do we love God?
  • Come alive to God.
  • Find your true joy and delight in the message of the Gospel – and the Person of Jesus Christ.
  •  Come to grips with the idolatry that grips ALL of our lives.

(i)    Idolatry is not just a failure to obey God; it is setting our heart and affections on something, or someone other than God.

(ii)  This cannot be remedied by repenting that you have an idol – or by engaging willpower to try and live differently.

(iii) If we uproot our idols (through repentance) but fail to plant the love of God (or, delight in God) in its place, the idol will grow back – like mowing a weed.  Repentance and rejoicing must go together.

E.  This week: (v. 39)“You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  And here’s the questions we’re asking as we unpack these verses…

  • What is God’s heart/vision for Southside Bible Fellowship?
  • And for you?

II.  BODY

A.   The life-changing context of this commandment:

 ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’ 40 On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”

  1. The overwhelming commandment to “neighbor love.”  Who is my neighbor?  This passage retold in Luke 10 – and is followed by Jesus unpacking the Good Samaritan and Mary and Martha.
  2. John Piper: This is a staggering commandment. If this is what it means, then something unbelievably powerful and reconstructing will have to happen in our souls.  It seems to demand that I tear the skin off my body and wrap it around another person so that I feel that I am that other person; and all the longings that I have for my own safety, health, success, and happiness I now feel for that other person as though s/he were me.

B.    Loving God is invisible. It is an internal passion of the soul. But it comes to expression when we love others.  (Similar to James 2:18: “I will show you my faith by my works.”)

  1. Idolatry and pride are at the root of our sinfulness.  Pride is the desire for our own happiness apart from God and apart from the happiness of others in God.
  2. Pride is the pursuit of happiness anywhere but in the glory of God and the good of other people.

C.   So, Jesus says, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  How do we get there from here? Four points (adapted from John Piper):

1.     Understand that our self-love is a creation of God.

  • Jesus says in effect: I start with your inborn, deep, defining human trait—your love for yourself.  It’s a given.  Jesus is saying, I don’t command it — I assume it.
  • We all have a powerful instinct of self-preservation and self-fulfillment. We all want to be happy, to live and love with satisfaction, we want enough food, we want enough clothes, we want a place to live, we want protection from violence, we want meaningful or important work, we want sincere and meaningful friendships, and we want our lives to count!  All this is self-love.
  • Self-love is the deep longing to diminish pain and to increase joy. That’s what Jesus starts with when he says, “as yourself.”
  • This is common to all people. We don’t have to learn it, it comes with our humanity. Our Father created it. These longings are natural…

2.     Make your self-seeking the measure of your self-giving.

  • When Jesus says, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” the word “as” is very radical: That’s a BIG word: It means: If you are energetic in pursing your own happiness, be AS energetic in pursuing the happiness of your neighbor. If you are creative in pursuing your own happiness, be AS creative in pursuing the happiness of your neighbor. If you are persevering in pursuing your own happiness, be AS persevering in pursuing the happiness of your neighbor.
  • In other words, Jesus is not just saying: seek for your neighbor the same things you seek for yourself, but also seek them in the same way—with the same zeal, energy, creativity, and perseverance. The same life and death commitment when you are in danger.  Make your own self-seeking the measure of your self-giving.
  • Here’s where this gets difficult: We feel that if we take Jesus seriously, we will not just have to love others “as we love ourselves,” but we will have to love others “instead of loving ourselves.”
  • See the handout: “Developing Practical Skills to Love Well”… (This handout should be in the foyer at SBF.)

3.     It’s the first commandment that makes the second doable.

  • This is why the first commandment is the first commandment.
  • If we try to accomplish the 2nd Commandment without FULLY engaging the 1st it will become the suicide of our own happiness.
  • The 1st commandment is the basis of the 2nd commandment. The 2nd  commandment is a visible expression of the 1st commandment.

4.     Make God the focus of your self-seeking.

  • Take all your self-love—all your longing for joy, hope, love, security, fulfillment, and significance—take all that, and take it to God, until He satisfies your heart, soul, and mind.
  • What you will find is that this is not a canceling out of self-love. This is a fulfillment and transformation of self-love. Self-love is the desire for life and satisfaction rather than frustration and death.
  • God says, “Come to me, and I will give you fullness of joy. I will satisfy your heart, soul, and mind with My glory. This is the first and great commandment…
  • And with that great discovery—that God is the never-ending fountain of our joy—the way we love others will be forever changed.
  • Our quest for joy and happiness becomes a life-long quest for God. And He can be be found [only] in the Person Jesus Christ.  (I wish “all paths” led to God, but they do not…)

III. CONCLUSION

A.   As we bring this to a close, we can say that our ultimate GOAL is to love God with all of our heart, soul, and strength – and the FRUIT is that we will splash His love onto people.

B.    God’s word for us this morning is that we embrace these commandments with tremendous focus and authenticity during this season of learning to express the redemptive love of God in and through SBF.

C.    Let these verses deeply touch and challenge your soul – and remake your priorities.

D.   Get alone with God and deal with Him about these things. Let’s not assume that we fully know what love is – or that love has the proper centrality in our lives.

E.    God is saying:  All of Scripture, all God’s plans for history, hang on these two great purposes: that 1) he be loved with all our heart, and 2) that we love each other as we love ourselves.

F.    A closing verse:  Gal 6:10 – “So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.”

“Seeking the welfare” of the city of Manchester…

Below is an excellent quote from Howard Snyder that helps us to distinguish between church and kingdom.  We have started to learn the difference at Southside…

Basically kingdom ministry is the goal and and church becomes the fruit, or receptacle, of kingdom ministry.  What is kingdom ministry?  One of the most basic of definitions is: speaking the words and doing the works of Jesus.  Jesus spoke truth at all times, and His words emanated from a heart filled with of deep compassion, empathy, and unconditional love.  The works of Jesus include loving, serving, feeding, prayer for healing, washing feet, speaking the truth in love, a sensitivity to the heart of the Father, etc.  Someone has humorously stated that, “Jesus came to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”

Here’s what Paul told the Corinthians:

“For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church?”  1 Corinthians 5:12

Our goal and motivation with outsiders is to speak and act in such a way as to point them to a loving Creator God who is alive and available for an intimate relationship.  (Who wouldn’t want that!?!?)  Notice there is judgement for those of us inside the church.  The Greek word is krinō and it basically means “to call into question” (see also Acts 23:6, 24:21).  There is accountability for our actions as members of God’s Church.

Kingdom is a gospel word — along with grace and cross.  It’s when we hold these three gospel words in appropriate tension that we engage the appropriate biblical expression of the Gospel (e.g. kingdom and grace without the cross will lead us into pluralistic liberalism, kingdom and cross without grace will lead us into moralistic legalism).

With all this in mind consider Snyder’s words:

“The church gets in trouble whenever it thinks it is in the church business rather than the kingdom business. In the church business, people are concerned with church activities, religious behavior in spiritual things. In the kingdom business, people are concerned with kingdom activities, all human behavior and everything God has made, visible and invisible. Kingdom people see human affairs as saturated with scriptural meaning and kingdom significance. Kingdom people seek first the kingdom of God and its justice; church people often put church work above concerns of justice, mercy and truth. Church people think about how to get people into the church; Kingdom people think about how to get the church into the world. Church people worry that the world might change the church; Kingdom people work to see the church change the world… If the church has one great need, it is this: to be set free for the kingdom of God, to be liberated from itself as it has become in order to be itself as God intends.”[1]

Southside: Lets “go ye…” to Manchester.

If you haven’t already, grab one of those Missional Prayer Guides in the foyer and fill it out (it’s pretty self-explanatory), place it in your Bible, and pull it out a few times a week to pray acquaintances, friends, and family across the page (right to left).  And don’t forget to use a pencil…


[1] Howard A. Snyder. Liberating the Church, The Ecology of Church and Kingdom, Inter-Varsity Press 1983:11.

Gospel-Shaped Power

By David Herring (June 26, 2011 @ Southside)

Acts 4:1-12 And as they were speaking to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple and the Sadducees came upon them, 2 greatly annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. 3 And they arrested them and put them in custody until the next day, for it was already evening. 4 But many of those who had heard the word believed, and the number of the men came to about five thousand. 5 On the next day their rulers and elders and scribes gathered together in Jerusalem, 6 with Annas the high priest and Caiaphas and John and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family. 7 And when they had set them in the midst, they inquired, “By what power or by what name did you do this?” 8 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders, 9 if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed, 10 let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by him this man is standing before you well. 11 This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. 12 And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

Acts 4:13-37 Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus. 14 But seeing the man who was healed standing beside them, they had nothing to say in opposition. 15 But when they had commanded them to leave the council, they conferred with one another, 16 saying, “What shall we do with these men? For that a notable sign has been performed through them is evident to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it. 17 But in order that it may spread no further among the people, let us warn them to speak no more to anyone in this name.” 18 So they called them and charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. 19 But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, 20 for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.” 21 And when they had further threatened them, they let them go, finding no way to punish them, because of the people, for all were praising God for what had happened. 22 For the man on whom this sign of healing was performed was more than forty years old. 23 When they were released, they went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and the elders had said to them. 24 And when they heard it, they lifted their voices together to God and said, “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, 25 who through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit, “‘Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples plot in vain? 26 The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord and against his Anointed’ — 27 for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28 to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. 29 And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, 30 while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” 31 And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness. 32 Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. 33 And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. 34 There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold 35 and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. 36 Thus Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas (which means son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus, 37 sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.

Acts – How does the Gospel get from Jerusalem to the rest of the world?

Our passage – the Gospel impacts Jerusalem on the day after Pentecost (5000 believe)

  1. Gospel silence is demanded
  2. Gospel boldness is requested
  3. Gospel power is displayed

Big Idea: The Gospel produces unnatural boldness and humility in believers.

1. Gospel silence is demanded – the Jewish authorities demand silence about the Gospel

4:13-22 Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus. 14 But seeing the man who was healed standing beside them, they had nothing to say in opposition. 15 But when they had commanded them to leave the council, they conferred with one another, 16 saying, “What shall we do with these men? For that a notable sign has been performed through them is evident to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it. 17 But in order that it may spread no further among the people, let us warn them to speak no more to anyone in this name.” 18 So they called them and charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. 19 But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, 20 for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.” 21 And when they had further threatened them, they let them go, finding no way to punish them, because of the people, for all were praising God for what had happened. 22 For the man on whom this sign of healing was performed was more than forty years old.

– The boldness of the disciples astonishes the authorities

4:13 “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus.”

They had made the connection between their boldness and the relationship with Jesus.

– The product of the miracle silences the authorities

4:14 “But seeing the man who was healed standing beside them, they had nothing to say in opposition.”

– Their astonishment and their silence evaporates when they have a council

– What evaporates their bewilderment? They consider the influence these men and this miracle will have on the rest of the people – perhaps these men have more power and will use their power to displace us.

4:16-17 “What shall we do with these men? For that a notable sign has been performed through them is evident to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it. 17 But in order that it may spread no further among the people, let us warn them to speak no more to anyone in this name.”

Their greed for power blinded them to the meaning the miracle and the Gospel behind it.

– Peter identifies the authority issue.

4:19-20 But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, 20 for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.”

-Why would they fear the spread of such a message? If people came to believe in this Jesus, then they would probably overthrow those who crucified Him

– Therefore, they use all the authority they have to forbid the spreading of the Gospel

4:18 “So they called them and charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus.”

2. Gospel boldness is requested The disciples pray for boldness to speak about the Gospel

4:23-31 When they were released, they went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and the elders had said to them. 24 And when they heard it, they lifted their voices together to God and said, “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, 25 who through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit, “‘Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples plot in vain? 26 The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord and against his Anointed’ — 27 for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28 to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. 29 And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, 30 while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” 31 And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness. 

– The disciples are released, so they go and report everything to their friends

-What is their response to this power move?  a bigger power move – prayer; although they have been threatened by the “temple” authorities, they appeal to the King who reigns in the true temple

– Notice the language of authority and power:

4:24-26 “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, 25 who through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit, “‘Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples plot in vain? 26 The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord and against his Anointed’

– They interpret this “power struggle” through Gospel lenses with this quote of Scripture

4:27-28 for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28 to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.

– Notice their theology of predestination and God’s sovereignty doesn’t stifle their praying or evangelizing, it emboldens them to request what He promises

4:29-30 And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, 30 while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”

They don’t pray for vengeance against the temple authorities, they pray for boldness in Gospel witness because they expect God to continue to be merciful (“while you stretch out your hand to heal”).

– God grants their request:

4:31 And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.

3. Gospel power is displayed – The power of the Gospel is displayed in the radical generosity of believers.

4:32-37 Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. 33 And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. 34 There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold 35 and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. 36 Thus Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas (which means son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus, 37 sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.

– Luke is doing 2 things in these 6 verses: summarizing and preparing us for the next development

– Now what would you expect after a moment like verse 4:31?  it seems like you would expect this next section to be exploding with more miracles, healings, and exorcisms

– What do you find instead? the miracle of generosity in believers

-Remember what they prayed for:

4:29-30 And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, 30 while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.

4:33 And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all.

– Their theology transforms their practice – we have something in common with everyone (our need of the Gospel)

– They met the urgent needs of their friends:

4:34 There was not a needy person among them

Religious authorities:

– Cowards (weasels)

– Selfish (prideful)

Believers:

– Courageous (lions)

– Generous (humble)

May God grant us the same courage and generosity because the Gospel produces unnatural boldness and humility in believers.

Discernment: Thinking God’s Thoughts after Him

By Sinclair Ferguson

Someone I knew recently expressed an opinion that surprised and in some ways disappointed me. I said to myself, “I thought he would have more discernment than that.”

The experience caused me to reflect on the importance of discernment, and the lack of it in our world. People do not see issues clearly and are easily misled because they do not think biblically. But, sadly, one cannot help reflecting on how true that is of ourselves, in the church community too.

Most readers of this article would want to distance themselves from what might be regarded as the lunatic fringe of contemporary Christianity. But there is more to discernment. True discernment means not only distinguishing the right from the wrong; it means distinguishing the primary from the secondary, the essential from the indifferent, the permanent from the transient, the good and the better from the best.

Thus discernment is like the physical senses; to some it is given as a special grace gift (1Cor. 12:10), but a measure of it is essential for us all, and must be constantly nourished. The Christian must take care to nourish his “sixth sense” of spiritual discernment. This is why the psalmist prays, “Teach me knowledge and good judgment” (Ps. 119:66).

1.     But what is discernment? In Scripture (as Ps.119:66 indicates) it is the ability to make discriminating judgments, to distinguish between, and recognize the moral implications of, different situations and courses of action. It includes, apparently, the ability to “weigh up” and assess the moral and spiritual status of individuals, groups and even movements. Thus, while warning us against judgmentalism, Jesus urges us to be discerning and discriminating, lest we cast our pearls before pigs (Matt. 7:1, 6).

The most remarkable example of such discernment is described in John 2:24-25: “Jesus would not entrust himself to them . . . for he knew what was in a man.” This is discernment without judgmentalism. It involved our Lord’s knowledge of God’s Word (he, supremely had prayed, “Teach me . . . good judgment, for I believe in your commands” [Ps. 119:66]) and his observation of God’s ways with men. Doubtless his discernment grew as he himself experienced conflict with, and victory over, temptation and measured what is by what ought to be.

Christ’s discernment penetrates to the deepest reaches of the heart, but it is of the same type as the discernment the Christian is to develop, for the only discernment we possess is that which we receive in union with Christ, by the Spirit, through God’s Word.

2.     Discernment is learning to “think God’s thoughts after him,” practically and spiritually; it means having a sense of how things look in God’s eyes, and seeing them in some measure “uncovered and laid bare.” 

How should this discernment affect the way we live?

  • It acts as a means of protection, guarding us from being deceived spiritually.
  • We are not blown away by the winds of teaching that make central an element of the gospel that is peripheral, or treat a particular application of Scripture as though it were Scripture’s central message.

3.     Discernment also acts as an instrument of healing, when exercised in grace. I have known a small number of people whose ability to offer a diagnosis of the spiritual needs of others has been remarkable. They have diagnosed others’ spiritual condition better than the people themselves could ever do. When exercised in love, discernment can be the healing knife in spiritual surgery.

Again, discernment can function as the key to Christian freedom. The zealous but undiscerning Christian becomes enslaved—to others, to his own uneducated conscience, to an unbiblical pattern of life. From such bondage, growth in discernment sets us free, enabling us to distinguish practices that may be helpful in some circumstances from those that are mandated in all circumstances.

In a different way, true discernment enables the freed Christian to recognize that the exercise of freedom in any given respect is not essential to the enjoyment of it.

4.     Finally, discernment serves as a catalyst to spiritual development: “The mocker seeds wisdom and finds none, but knowledge comes easily to the discerning” (Prov. 14:6). Why? Because the discerning Christian goes to the heart of the matter. He knows something about everything, namely that all things have their common fountain in God. Increase in knowledge therefore does not lead to increased frustration, but to a deeper recognition of the harmony of all God’s words and words.

How is such discernment to be obtained? We receive it as did Christ himself—by the anointing of the Spirit: through our understanding of God’s Word, by our experience of God’s grace and by the progressive unfolding to us of the true condition of our own hearts. That is why we should pray; “I am your servant, give me discernment” (Ps. 119:25).

Sinclair B. Ferguson is an associate professor of systematic theology at Westminster Theological Seminary. His many books include John Owen on the Christian Life.

The Gospel and the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-10)

This is a sermon I spoke at three services at Shiloh Community Church in Orleans MI last weekend (Palm Sunday).  I focused primarily on poor in spirit, mourning, and peacemaking

It’s Palm Sunday and we are remembering and celebrating the triumphal entry of The Servant King Jesus – arriving into Jerusalem to the praise and adulation of the multitude — and less than a week later, he is to be brutally and shamefully murdered…

  1. Next week is the high point of the Christian calendar as we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
  2. Jesus triumphed over death and hell and bridged the gap between our utter depravity and God’s standard of holiness. (To miss the mark by even a little is still to have missed the mark.)
  3. We call this sacrifice the Gospel – or Good News.

I believe it is Tim Keller who reminds us that the Gospel is not advice, it is news.  It is the ultimate Good News.  He suggests that weekend services are not primarily the place to give advice… Gospel-centered (or Christ-centered) change is rooted in remembrance. We are to remind one another of what Christ Jesus has done, not what we must do.

We cannot commend what we do not cherish.  -John Piper

The essence of Christian maturity is when the Gospel – or, what Christ has done — gets worked in – and then through our lives, which is what I’d like to spend our remaining time considering.

Turn to Matthew 5 where we will take a look at the Beatitudes.  While you’re turning, allow me to offer a few introductory thoughts.

What is Christian conversion? Christian conversion, or salvation, occurs when genuine repentance and sincere faith in Jesus intersect.

  1. These are not two separate actions – but one motion with two parts:
    • As we turn to Christ for salvation we turn away from the sin that we are asking Jesus Christ to forgive us from. (Rom 3:23 – All have sinned and fallen short of God’s standard.)
    • Neither repentance nor faith come first – they must come at the same time.
  2. They are two sides of the same coin.[1]

Contained in the Beatitudes are eight qualities that characterize the life of Jesus Christ, and therefore, through conversion, they begin to characterize our life in Jesus Christ.  Jesus calls us to follow him through life and to depend upon his strength and power.

The word beatitude comes from the Latin word meaning “blessed.”

  1. More specifically the word means exalted joy, or true happiness. (Joy is calm delight in even the most adverse circumstances.  Joy fueled Paul’s contentment.)
  2. With the beatitudes, Jesus dives into our innermost being probing the heart and raising the question of motive.
  3. What made Jesus a threat to everyone and the reason He was eventually killed was that in His encounters with people (particularly the religious leaders), He exposes what they were on the inside.  Some people find it liberating – others hate it.

The Beatitudes, I have come to see, are our surrendered response to the Gospel.  I view the Beatitudes as a step-by-step spiritual formation process that moves us toward spiritual depth and maturity.  This becomes cyclical as we grow deeper and deeper in our faith.  The Beatitudes become the outworking of the Gospel in and through our lives.

Matthew 5:3-10…

3“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

 4“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

 5“Blessed are the meek (gentle), for they shall inherit the earth.

 6“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

 7“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

 8“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

 9“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

 10“Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Following is an overview and how one unfolds into the next…The first two are foundational to the Gospel blossoming in and through our lives…

1.  Blessed are the poor in spirit…

a.  “You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope.  With less of you there is more of God and his rule.” (MSG)
b.  Another translation renders this verse, “Happy are those who know their need for God.” (JBP)
c.  What does it mean to be “poor in spirit”?  A desperateness of soul that is weary of living in it’s own strength and longs for God’s mercy and grace to come and refresh the soul.  In a word, it is DESPERATION.
d.  Consider the Prodigal Sons (Lk 15)…

2.  Blessed are those who mourn…

a.  I have a river of sin in my life – with 3 primary tributaries…

#1 – Original sin (Adam & Eve traded the presence of God for the knowledge of God – and that’s been our core tendency ever since…

#2 – Family of origin issues

#3 – My own dumb choices.

b.  As we are honest about the sin that has infected us there will be a transforming grief and accompanying repentance, that surfaces – not only for our own lives, but also for the injustice, greed, lust, and suffering that grips our world.

c.  I want to own my sin everyday.[2]

d.  This is counter intuitive (paradox – seeming contradiction).  We go down to go up; death precedes resurrection; we get to joy by traveling through grief.  Our soul wants to find a way around grief, but God says, “No, you must travel through grief – and the good news is, He says, “I’ll go with you and we will do it in My strength and power.”

e.  The way of the Gospel is a death and resurrection cycle…

f.  The gospel has the greatest potential to captivate us when we understand that we are more depraved than we ever realized and simultaneously more loved that we ever dared to imagine.

g.  I don’t mind inviting you to question your own salvation today.  If our default mode is, “I’m basically a good person…” then we simply have not understood the gospel.

3.  Blessed are the meek…

a.  Rick Warren would say, “Meekness is not weakness, but the power of your potential under Christ’s control.”

b.  The concept of meekness describes a horse that has been broken.  We can either surrender to Christ and invite the breaking, or remain the undisciplined and wild stallion.

c.  Grieving over sin and suffering grows meekness in us and delivers us into a humble learning posture (disciple means learner).

4.  Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness…Spiritual hunger and thirst is the growing desire to be empty of those things that don’t reflect God, and initiates a deep longing for wholeness in our lives.

5.  Blessed are the merciful…

a.  Mercy is entering into another persons feelings – attempting to see things from another person’s perspective – all with understanding AND acceptance…just like Jesus has done for us.

b.  As we receive God’s mercy we begin to give mercy – to ourselves and to others.

6.  Blessed are the pure in heart…

a.  Mercy cleanses our heart and restores purity to our lives.

b.  Did you know that your (spiritual and emotional) virginity CAN be restored?

2 Cor 11:2For I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy; for I betrothed you to one husband, so that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin.

7.  Blessed are the peacemakers…

a.  Purity gives way to a personal serenity and peacefulness.  Peace is not the absence of conflict, but the absence of anxiety in the midst of inevitable conflict – and when others encounter it, they want it too.

b.  Our Western concept of peace needs to be considered in the light of the ancient Hebrew concept of peace, which is SHALOM — and means more than our limited understanding of peace (i.e., the lack of conflict).

Biblical SHALOM speaks of a universal flourishing, wholeness and delight; a rich state of affairs in which natural needs are satisfied, natural gifts a fruitfully employed — all under the arc of God’s love. Shalom is the way things ought to be.

Neal Plantinga – “the webbing together of God, humans, and all creation in equity, fulfillment, and delight.”

c.  There is a difference between a peacemaker and a peacekeeper.

To be a peacemaker does not mean peace at any cost.

Peacekeeping creates a false peace.

Many of us live out our lives with this false peace and say nothing or do nothing to change it—in churches, homes, work places, and our marriages.

Examples:

(i)  A family member makes a scene at a family gathering.  It embarrasses you, the rest of the family, but you say nothing.  You keep the peace because to go there would unearth a lot of stuff that you just aren’t willing to deal with.

(ii) Your spouse makes insulting remarks to you or humiliates you publicly through critical tone of voice.  It grates on you.  But you keep silent because you want to keep the peace.

d.  We struggle with this false peace because the conventional wisdom of the day is that its better to keep the peace than to make the peace and there is a very real difference.

e.  Keeping this false peace insures that real issues, real concerns, and real problems are never dealt with.

f.  A façade, or veneer, of peace in that there is calm but the reality is the tension is still there.

g.  True peacemakers will challenge and disrupt the false peace.

h.  Jesus didn’t have a problem disrupting the false peace of his day.

i.  The whole history of redemption, climaxing in the death and resurrection of Jesus is God’s strategy to bring about a just and lasting peace between rebel man and himself and between man and man (Eph 2:14-22)

j.  Colossians 1:19-20 puts it like this,

“For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.”

k.  True peacemakers will give people the benefit of the doubt while graciously bringing up concerns

l.  But true peacemakers will deal with what is real.  FIRST IN THEIR OWN LIVES…

m.  True peacemakers will steward the conflict they find themselves in because God will often use conflict to develop things in our lives that are developed in no other way.

8.  Blessed are the persecuted… Living life from a kingdom of God perspective will place us in conflict with those that oppose it (often times it’s “religious” people!).

Without the knowledge of our extreme sin, the payment of the Cross seems trivial and does not electrify or transform.

But without the knowledge of Christ’s completely satisfying life and death, the knowledge of sin would crush us – or move us to deny and repress it. By walking the way of the Beatitudes we hold our depravity and the Cross in a healthy and dynamic tension that will lead to transformation and renewal.


[1] Wayne Gudem, Systematic Theology, p. 713.

[2] “None is righteous, no, not one.” Romans 3:10 (ESV)
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience.” Eph 2:1-2 (ESV)