Soul Shift #2: Preparing Our Hearts For Prayer – A Survey of Mathew 6

SoulShiftI.  INTRO

Last week I made three points I would like to review…

  1. Prayer is not a method to get what we want from God, but the primary means of getting more of God Himself.  Through prayer, we want to find our delight, comfort, and joy primarily in God as He becomes the end goal of our lives.
  2. Often times when we endeavor to press into God, our circumstances will get harder before they get better.  This can be because God will begin to point-out and address areas in our lives that have become hindrances or barriers to our intimacy with God.
  3. Last Sunday I described those hindrances and barriers as (modern day) idols – or functional saviors.
    • They are all the earth-bound things we tend to turn to, to quiet the (legitimate) longings and/or pain that we have in our souls.
    • To unhook from some of those idols takes honesty, confession, repentance, surrender, and a heart that sincerely seeks to grow.

This morning you’ll need your Bibles open to Mathew 6; we will be looking at the whole chapter.  We are asking two questions today:

  1. How do we prepare our hearts for prayer?
  2. What is the fruit of a heart prepared for prayer?

II. BODY

In asking the question: How do we prepare our hearts for prayer? We must first take a careful look at Mat 6:1 – and particularly the words “your righteousness.”

  • NAS — “Beware of practicing your righteousness before men...”
  • NIV — “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others…”

In our study of prayer it is essential that we get started on the right foot.  The phrase our righteousness is foundational because EVERYTHING else is built on top of it.  If it’s really ‘your,’ or ‘our’ own righteousness – that we somehow earn our way into God’s presence, we will find ourselves turning away from the gospel and turning TO religion (or moralism).

If, however, it is God’s righteousness we will begin to generate a holy confidence and expectation to build a life of prayer.  See also 6:33 – “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and all these things shall be added unto you.”

**We don’t need to make bigger commitments about prayer, what we really need is to think and to believe truer thoughts about God — thoughts that are shaped by the gospel.  We are called to work, love, and pray FROM His righteousness, not FOR His righteousness.

With this in mind let’s look at four spiritual disciplines (or ‘means of grace’) we can participate with God in detaching from our various accumulated idolatrous affections and prepare our hearts to encounter God — and move from ‘ordinary prayer’ to ‘extraordinary prayer.’  They are:

  1. Giving
  2. Prayer
  3. Forgiveness
  4. Fasting

We’ll look briefly at one at a time:

1.  Giving (or Generosity) – (vs. 2-4, 19-21)

These verses boils down to two overlapping ideas:

  • Motive matters
  • Generosity prepares our heart to pray

2 Cor 8:9: 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. (This is a concise and powerful theological statement that summarizes the gospel)

2 Cor 8:9 is the cornerstone, the basis, for any theology of stewardship or generosity – identifying Jesus Christ as the most generous life ever lived

As Christians we face countless enemies to the welfare of our souls, be it pride, lust, bitterness, or envy.  But few are as powerful and relentless as greed.  Greed has been deified in our American culture…

What is the most effective counter-attack to this insidious force of greed?  Generosity.

No one ever started so rich and became as poor as the Lord Jesus Christ.  And no one ever started out so poor and have become so rich as those who have placed their faith and trust in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins.

Martin Luther spoke of a “great exchange,” or a transaction; our sin is charged to Jesus and Jesus’s righteousness is credited to us.

2.  Prayer – (vs. 6:5-8) We are to, first and foremost, pray privately and pray authentically.

Have you ever shaken your fist at God over His seeming lack of response to your prayers?

If so, you’ll be able to relate to the prophet Habakkuk, who lived about 650 years before Christ.

His book begins with this complaint: “How long, O Lord, must I call for help, but You do not listen?” (Hab.1:2a).

God was not offended by Habakkuk’s prayer.

Passionate, honest, gritty, and even angry prayers have been recorded throughout the Bible.

And Habakkuk certainly wasn’t the only one to complain. Moses, Gideon, and David, and Elijah all questioned God.

Job even cursed the day God made him and said, “I loathe my very life; therefore I will give free rein to my complaint and speak out in the bitterness of my soul. I will say to God, ‘Do not condemn me, but tell me what charges you have against me. Does it please you to oppress me, to spurn the work of your hands…?'” (Job 10:1-3).

When we get into the Lord’s Prayer we’ll see that it’s best to approach God with humility, deep respect, and honor.  Having said that, God can certainly take our intense emotions and questions.

2 Cor 4:17-18: For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, 18 while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.”

3.  Forgiveness – I find it interesting that the Lord’s Prayer speaks to the issue of forgiveness, but Matthew comes back to it in 6:14-15.

Mark Twain said that, “Forgiveness is the fragrance that the flower leaves on the heel of the one who crushed it.”

When we truly experience the forgiveness of our sins there is an inward transformation that awakens in us a desire to glorify, trust, and obey God.

When we carry with us a deep appreciation for this grace-fueled transformation, we’ll have a heart that is more ready to forgive.  This doesn’t mean the process will be comfortable or easy, but it will mean that we can approach someone in need of forgiveness remembering that we are just as much in need of what you’re about to give to him or her.

4.  Fasting“I humbled my soul with fasting”  (Psalm 35:13b)

Isaiah 58:6-14

“Is this not the fast which I choose, To loosen the bonds of wickedness, To undo the bands of the yoke, And to let the oppressed go free And break every yoke? “Is it not to divide your bread with the hungry And bring the homeless poor into the house; When you see the naked, to cover him; And not to hide yourself from your own flesh? “Then your light will break out like the dawn, And your recovery will speedily spring forth; And your righteousness will go before you; The glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. “Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; You will cry, and He will say, ‘Here I am.’ If you remove the yoke from your midst, The pointing of the finger and speaking wickedness, 10 And if you give yourself to the hungry And satisfy the desire of the afflicted, Then your light will rise in darkness And your gloom will become like midday. 11 “And the Lord will continually guide you, And satisfy your desire in scorched places, And give strength to your bones; And you will be like a watered garden, And like a spring of water whose waters do not fail. 12 “Those from among you will rebuild the ancient ruins; You will raise up the age-old foundations; And you will be called the repairer of the breach, The restorer of the streets in which to dwell. 13 “If because of the sabbath, you turn your foot From doing your own pleasure on My holy day,
And call the sabbath a delight, the holy day of the Lord honorable, And honor it, desisting from your own ways, From seeking your own pleasure And speaking your own word, 14 Then you will take delight in the Lord, And I will make you ride on the heights of the earth; And I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father, For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

A simple definition for fasting would be voluntary abstinence of our appetites and our soulish longings for spiritual reasons.  The Bible speaks of it not as an option but as an expected and regularly practiced spiritual discipline. 

There are many different ways to fast. 

  • We can fast food and just drink water or juice
  • We can eat vegetables and/or fruit only (this has been called a “Daniel Fast,” see Daniel 1:8-17)
  • We can choose not to eat any sugar or carbohydrates
  • We can fast one or two meals a day
  • We can fast from sun-up to sun-down.
  • Paul encourages married couples to occasionally fast sexual intercourse, “that you may devote yourselves to prayer…” (1 Corinthians 7:5).
  • We can fast television or the internet and pray instead!

Before we fast it is important to seek the Lord regarding what would be appropriate.

What is the fruit of a heart prepared for prayer?

Preparing our hearts for prayer, learning how to pray, and leaning into prayer is the cure for anxiety.

Vs. 25-34 are not to be seen as admonitions to simply STOP BEING ANXIOUS!  They are telling us that as we make God the object and desire of our prayers; as we seek to find our comfort and joy IN HIM through:

  • Generosity
  • Prayer
  • Forgiveness
  • Fasting

These spiritual disciplines, or ‘means of grace’ lead us into the presence of God, which BECOMES the cure to our anxiety.  God is the goal of prayer, but the loss of anxiety – or peacefulness is the fruit.

CONCLUSION

Who are the two most important people who ever lived?

Certainly, Jesus.  The first One is easy, but who’s the second one?  Adam.

There are only two groups of people on the earth:

  • Those who are in Adam
  • Those who are in Christ.

If you are an active, intentional follower of Jesus Christ your past may help to EXPLAIN you but your past does not DEFINE you.[1]

To live our lives from a gospel-centered perspective is to live, and work, and love, and serve FROM our new identify ‘in Christ;’ not to live, and work, and serve FOR Christ’s – or anyone’s approval.

You idols do not define you – they may help to explain you, but they don’t define you.

Sometimes the most mature and appropriate thing to do is to take our focus off of our sins – even our besetting sins, and to focus on remembering what Christ has done.

When we encounter Christ through humbling our soul, we will find ourselves doing what Isaiah 30:22 says – “You will scatter your idols as an impure thing and say to them, ‘Be gone!’”

Take some time to reflect on what Christ has done… No one was ever so rich and became so poor as Jesus Christ – and if you are in Him, no one was ever so poor and became so rich as you.


[1] Mark Driscoll, Who Do You Think You Are? 2012.

The Upside Down Life #8 – Blessed Are Those Who Hunger and Thirst, Pt B

Hunger & Thirst For God’s Righteousness (Not Yours)

I. INTRO

Today we have something very important to consider.  If you’ve been around for the last year – or most of the last year, hopefully you have noticed that I have been harping about the gospel.

We’ve been saying that the Bible is NOT a disconnected set of stories each with a lesson on how to live our lives — but the Bible contains ONE single story – with three layers:

  • The first layer of every sub-story tells us what’s wrong with the human race and the world.
  • The second layer tells us what God has done to make it right.
  • And the third layer tells us how it will all end.

Good Bible exegesis (or analysis, or interpretation) will always look for these three layers in every sub-story of the Bible – from Genesis to Revelation.  Some are more specific to a particular layer, but the Bible only has one story.  If we SEE that the Bible begins to really come alive…

Over the course of the last year we have been considering what amounts to three aspects of God’s grace – we could describe them as past grace, present grace, and future grace.

  • Past grace is what the Bible calls JUSTIFICATION.
  • Present grace is what the Bible calls SANCTIFICATION.
  • Future grace is what the Bible calls GLORIFICATION.

So, we could say the believing Christian has been justified by grace, is being sanctified by grace, and will be glorified by grace.  Our past, our present, and our future are all wrapped-up in God’s grace.

We are justified, sanctified, and glorified by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.

We have spent most of the last year preaching and teaching about present grace the grace for sanctification, believing that most of us “get” grace for salvation but not grace for sanctification.

In my preparing for this message/sermon today I have come to believe that not only have we had a faulty belief (or understanding) of present grace (sanctification), but that we may also have a faulty belief about past grace – or justification.

Let me throw a pop-quiz at you – and then I’ll pray and we’ll jump into the sermon for today: Does God want you to try and be good?

At the risk of making some of you mad I will say – if your answer is “yes” there’s a good chance you’re still stuck in moralism. (Moralism is the anti-gospel, relegating change to will power and behavior modification techniques.)

If your answer is a genuine, heartfelt “no” then you may be on your way to understanding sanctifying grace – and what we will be talking about today – God’s imputed righteousness.

With that said I’d like to pray for our time together this morning and then we’ll begin…Eph 1:18-20:

18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might 20 which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places.”  Amen

We’ll begin with a review and then move toward a greater understanding of God’s Righteousness.

Our series is The Upside Down Life and we are taking our time moving through the introduction of what theologians believe is the greatest, most profound sermon ever given – The Sermon On the Mount, which is found in Matthew chapters 5-7.  (It’s really just an overview.)

Jesus opens the sermon with 8 distinctive markings of the Christian and the Christian life – that we have come to describe as the Beatitudes.

There is a stanza in the famous Robert Frost poem titled The Road Not Taken that helps us to understand what Jesus was saying.  While I don’t think this is what Frost had in mind, it DOES help us to reflect on our lives…

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”

Why would we take the road less traveled? Is the Christian life a hard road?  Yes, because in this inaugural sermon Jesus jumps below the surface and into the question of motive – why we do what we do.

To walk this road is to encounter Truth (with a capital T).  It’s the Truth about God – for God IS Truth.  AND it’s the truth about us.

Now the good news is – the gospel tells us that Jesus Christ has made a way, a road for us to walk along — with Him.  And the Beatitudes describe this less traveled way…

The road begins with admitting our spiritual poverty.  To truly/honestly acknowledge and admit our spiritual poverty leads us into a place of mourning and repentance, which, in-turn, renders in us a meekness wherein we become humble learners (or true disciples).  And as humble learners a holy craving, or longing erupts in us to know and be known by God.

Matthew 5:6 declares: Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” (The Beatitudes – and the SOTM ARE a road less traveled…

Here’s how King David said it in Psalm 42:1-2: “As the deer pants for the water brooks, So my soul pants for You, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God; When can I go and meet with God?” (NIV)

The series is titled The Upside Down Life because the gospel-way is so counter-intuitive to the human condition – we are hard-wired in our fallen nature toward self-determination and legalism.

Last week Gene began to break down for us what it means to hunger and thirst for God – he said, first and foremost, that righteousness is not a product but a Person.

Gene likened the first three Beatitudes to a spiritual rototilling of the soul.

Gene likened a hunger and thirst for righteousness to a consuming desire for Jesus – as we become aware of hunger pangs for heaven.

Humility opens the door to holiness and happiness.

Gene encouraged us to re/discover our great Evangelical tradition of deeper encounters…

  • John WesleyHoliness not as achieving sinless perfection but as having one’s heart fully fixed on God. (His “heart was strangely warmed.”)
  • Bernard of Clairvaux – “To Thee our inmost spirit cries…[for that] which only Thou canst fill…”
  • Blaise Pascal’s “Night of Fire” in 1654 – 2 hours of “Joy, joy, joy, tears of joy.”
  • D. L. Moody’s experience with God: “…I can only say that God revealed himself to me, and I had such an experience of His love that I had to ask Him to stay His hand.”

And I would add Sarah Edwards (d. 1758), wife of Puritan pastor and theologian Jonathan Edwards, to Gene’s list.  She had such an encounter with God such that she felt her soul “being filled to all the fullness of God.” As her husband was to describe it, God had filled Sarah with “joy unspeakable and full of glory” (1 Peter 1:8).  Most of us have wrongly determined that that kind of joy is reserved for heaven.  It’s not.  There are both a momentary and a residential joy that are available to us – no matter what our circumstances are.

Today, I’d like to zero in on the word righteousness in Matt 5:6: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness – for they shall be satisfied.”

Here’s the BIG IDEA: The doctrine of righteousness is a part of the larger doctrine of justification (or, grace for the past).

Think of justification as one coin with two sides…

  • One side is God’s MERCY and FORGIVENESS.
  • One the other side is IMPUTED (credit) RIGHTEOUSNESS and GRACE (for sanctification).

If you’ve been going to church for a while now – you’ve probably heard a definition for justification that goes something like this:  Justification means “just as if I’d never sinned.”

Now that’s a nice play on words but it’s woefully shallow and certainly an incomplete definition.  Because it only deals with one side of the coin.

Let’s see if we can understand a little better this essential concept of imputed righteousness…

II. BODY

What is righteousness?  Righteousness is a validating performance record that opens doors (Tim Keller).

  • Job? Resume…
  • Grad school? Academic record Grades…

We tend to believe it’s the same with God – that we are to, somehow, build a resume of a moral performance record to make it into heaven.

Jesus comes along, and with the other NT writers, tells us about an absolutely unheard of spirituality, an unimaginable approach to God. Where God provides us with an unblemished record—absolutely free of charge. Not just a good record, or even a great record – but a divine righteousness – a perfect record that comes to us as a gift! 

When we have this it’s the end of our personal struggle for validation, for worth, or worthiness, and acceptability.

Apart from the Christian gospel there is no other religion or belief system that offers anything like this. 

The gospel is God developing a perfect righteousness and He offers it to us – and by THAT righteousness alone we are accepted. 

Roms 3:21: But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify.”

Free Justification – Forgiveness AND Imputed Righteousness are essential to understanding the gospel.  Tim Keller likens it to the table in a grand banquet room…  Free Justification IS the table.  No table, no dinner…

Why is free justification so important?  Because it affects our assurance of salvation.

We begin to understand Free Justification as we consider the difference between IMPARTED righteousness and IMPUTED righteousness.  I’ll give you a brief overview of both and what IMPUTED righteousness accomplishes and then we’ll pick it up again next week…

Many churches – including the Catholic Church teach IMPARTED righteousness.

This actually can be defined as THE single issue that brought about the Protestant Reformation.  Martin Luther saw this afresh in his study of the first five chapters of the book of Romans.

So, what IS Imparted Righteousness?

  • The word, “impart” means to “to give.” We could also describe it as  “infused” righteousness.
  • Imparted righteousness thus declares that Christ’s righteousness is given to, or infused within – so that the believer actually becomes righteous.  (This is NOT what the bible teaches.)

Paul is not writing that we are transformed into people who possess righteousness, but rather that we have been united to Christ

And because of our union with Him (the emphasis of Romans 5), we have that which He possesses, that is, we have HIS righteousness.

Imputed Righteousness – The word “impute” means “ascribe” or “credit.” Imputed righteousness carries the theological weight of being “counted” or “considered” or “reckoned” righteous.

Within the first 12 verses of Romans 4 (this is where Martin Luther saw this) you will notice the number of times the word “credited” (in both the NIV and NASV Bibles) is used.  This word distinguishes the means of faith by which both Abraham and all other believers are justified before God.

Paul is not writing that we are transformed into people who possess righteousness, but rather that we have been united to Christ (i.e., the 30 “in Him” passages of Paul’s letters), that “in Him” — because of our union with Him (the emphasis of Romans 5), we have that which He possesses, that is, righteousness.

III. CONCLUSION — What imputed righteousness accomplishes:

  1. In God’s eyes Jesus’ perfect record is imputed to us.
  2. We are treated as if we had lived the perfect life that Jesus lived.
  3. We are given the love that Jesus deserved (through His obedience).
  4. We have the same access to the Father that Jesus did.
  5. The best news is that all of this comes not from us doing anything (i.e., works) at all, but simply by faith.

A Generous Life #6 (of 6) 2 Corinthians 9:8-15

The Grace of God Is The Source of All True Generosity (2Cor 9:8-15)

I. INTRO

Today we will be considering the final 8 verses of 2 Cor 9 (8-15). Before we get there, I’d like to review the two most power-packed verses in the chapters we’ve been studying (2 Cor 8-9): 2 Cor 8:9 and 2 Cor 9:7

2 Cor 8:9 is the cornerstone, the basis, for any theology of stewardship or generosity – identifying Jesus Christ as the most generous life ever lived…

As Christians we face countless enemies to the welfare of our souls, be it pride, lust, bitterness, or envy. But few are as powerful and relentless as greed.  Greed has been deified  in our American culture…

What is the most effective counter-attack to this insidious force of greed? 2 Cor 8:9 is the key, the cornerstone – indeed the whole foundation – that holds the power to liberate our hearts from the grip of greed and release in us, and through us, the joy of generous giving:

2 Cor 8:9: 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. (This is a concise and powerful theological statement that summarizes the gospel – a Christology.)

No one ever started so rich and became as poor as the Lord Jesus Christ.  And no one ever started out so poor and have become so rich as those who have placed their faith and trust in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins.

Here is how Paul states it in Gal 2:20: I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.”

What Paul is saying in 2 Cor 8:9 and in Gal 2:20 (and all throughout his writings, which make up much of the NT, is that IN CHRIST, we have access to an alternative life force: “and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.”

Martin Luther spoke of a “great exchange,” which refers to the way Christ’s sinless life and sacrificial death works to benefit the sinners that are united to him by faith: our sin is charged to Jesus and Jesus’ righteousness is credited to us. In essence it’s a transaction, an exchange: our sin for his righteousness.

2 Cor 9:7… “Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”

In v.7 we encounter a concise pattern for generous stewardship. There are six parameters:

  1. Universal (“Each one must do…”)
  2. Personal (“just as he has purposed in his heart”). (Many commentators say that if Paul had believed that we should begin our giving with a tithe, he would have reiterated that here…)
  3. Choice/Resolve (“as he has purposed“; the verb means: to choose or to make up your own mind about something.)  In the end only you and God will know if you’re sowing sparingly or bountifully.
  4. “Not Grudgingly,” or, without regret. Lit., “not out of sorrow.”
  5. “Not Under Compulsion. No force – psychological or otherwise; no manipulation, no moralism.
  6. Cheerful. The Greek word translated “cheerful” is hilaron, from which we get out English word “hilarious.”  This means that we find our joy, our delight, our pleasure in the generosity of Jesus Christ and we give out of a worshipful, joyful heart – as we remember what Jesus Christ has done.

II. BODY

There are two primary points for today:

  1. Vs. 8-12 The Promise of Abundance
  2. Vs. 13-15 The Results of Christian Stewardship

Let’s look at them individually…

1.  9:8-12: The promise to supply abundantly those who give generously.

Notice Paul’s “string of universals” in v. 8[1]“God is able to make all grace abound to you, that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed.”

Do you see them? All, always, all, everything, and every. That is a staggering promise for us as believers — and for your family, and for us as a church—simply staggering.

It’s quite similar to the promise of Jesus in Matthew 6:33: “Seek first the kingdom of God and [the gift of] his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”

Now, notice the word righteousness in vs. 9 and 10: “His righteousness abides forever,” and then in v.10 Paul speaks of “the harvest of your righteousness.” This is speaking of the great exchange: Christ’s righteousness becomes ours…

Notice also in v.10 that God does not stop with merely“multiplying our seed” (this is where the Prosperity Gospel folks fall short); but God will “multiply your seed for sowing (9:10).  The goal is not to merely multiply our own resources, but to sow that we might be generous beyond ourselves.  We do not “give to get.”  We give to get, to give again – and again, and again, and again…

In v.11 we see another use of more ‘universals’…”You will be enriched in everything (why?) “for all liberality producing thanksgiving to God (9:11). And not just our own thanksgiving, but the thanksgiving (to God) of those who are the recipients of our exchanged generosity.

2.  9:13-15: The results of generous Christian giving.

In v.13a – Our generosity brings glory (honor, worship, and praise) to God.

In v.13b – Our generosity functions as evidence, or proof, of the authenticity of our faith. “They [the recipients] will glorify God for your obedience to your confession of the gospel of Christ – and your liberality…”

In v.14 we see our generosity serves to increase and intensify affection and fellowship among Christians – and sparks gratitude for the grace of God.  (There are 39 verses in chapters 8-9. The word grace is used 10 times…)

In v. 15. “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!” We close our series by asking, “What is God’s ‘indescribable gift’?

Is it “the surpassing grace of God” in the Corinthians, mentioned in v. 14 (cf. 8:1)? Or is it God’s gracious gift of Jesus (8:9) who, though rich, impoverished himself to make us rich?  Which is it?

The answer is… both! Jesus Christ is THE Divine Gift which inspires ALL gifts.

And now, as we wind down our study of these two chapters in 2 Corinthians, a brief summary of the 10 principles of Christian stewardship is in order:

  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)

III. CONCLUSION

If we were to break down the population of the world into only 100 people, it would play out like this:

  • There would be 51 women and 49 men.
  • 70 people would be of a faith other than Christianity.
  • There would be 70 people of color; 30 would be white.
  • 80 would live in substandard housing (i.e. no running water or electricity, etc.)
  • 50 would be malnourished, living off of perhaps one small meal a day.
  • 70 would be illiterate and unable to read.
  • Fewer than 6 would live in the U.S., but those 6 would possess half the world’s wealth. (Even with the financial challenges that we face today, it doesn’t seem so bad when we consider there are approximately 6.6 billion people in the world today and close to half of that (over 3 billion) live on less than $2 a day!

To personalize this, go to http://www.globalrichlist.com/

I did and found out that, according to our household income, Linda and I are in the top .66% of the richest people in the world.

The website noted that if we donated just one hour’s salary

We could buy:

  • 25 fruit trees for farmers in Honduras to grow and sell fruit at their local market, and…
  • A First Aid kit for a village in Haiti.

$73 could purchase a new mobile health clinic to care for AIDS orphans in Uganda.

$2400 could purchase schooling for an entire generation of school children in an Angolan village.


[1] Barnett: 439.

A Generous Life #5 (of 6) 2 Cor 9:1-7

Reciprocity Reconstructed – 2 Cor 9:1-7

 I. INTRO

Where are we headed today?  The BIG IDEA is reciprocity reconstructed.

I would like to begin, however, with a review of our foundational verse in this series – and in this section (chapters 7-8): 2 Cor 8:9.

Then we’ll define, deconstruct and then reconstruct this concept of reciprocity – and then use that concept to help us unpack the three key verses in our passage today (primarily vs. 6,7, & 8).

Part of the teaching today will be a critique of the so-called Prosperity Gospel, sometimes referred to as Health & Wealth or Name It And Claim It.  Sadly, this message has seeped into the Evangelical landscape of North American Christianity.  And what’s even sadder is that it is being exported to third-world countries through infected missionaries and ministries.  But more about that in a few minutes…

Let’s begin by going back to our foundational verse for this series: 2 Cor 8:9, which identifies Jesus Christ as the most generous life ever lived…

2 Cor 8:9: 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.

This is a rich (no pun intended :)) theological statement, which anchors this section on practical Christian stewardship. It identifies the ultimate example of (self) giving – how and why Jesus so fully and completely gave Himself (Christology).

This verse invites us to ask and answer three questions:

1. How rich was He?  No one ever started so rich as the Lord Jesus Christ.

Ps 50:12b: “For the world is Mine, and all it contains.”

2. How poor did He become? No one ever became as poor as the Lord Jesus Christ.

2 Cor 5:21: “For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.”

3. How rich do we become? No one ever started out so poor and have become so rich as those who have placed their faith and trust in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins.

Eph 1:3 – Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.” [no need for a second blessing]

Our “riches” in Christ include: Justification, forgiveness, sanctification, the Holy Spirit, partakers of the divine nature, new heart, new will, new creation, imperishable inheritance — the inheritance is Him.  We’ve been invited into the Trinitarian dance…

OK, with Paul’s lesson of Christology, let’s consider Reciprocity Reconstructed.  What does reciprocity mean? (Definition, Deconstruction, Reconstruction)

Definition: rec·i·proc·i·ty [res-uh-pros-i-tee] noun

A reciprocal state or relation.

Reciprocation; or mutual exchange.

Deconstruction: The word reciprocity has been adulterated by the (so called) Prosperity Gospel movement (i.e., “word of faith,” “positive confession,” “health & wealth gospel,” etc.) claims the Bible teaches financial (& physical) blessing is the will of God for Christians. Their doctrine teaches that:

  • Faith,
  • Positive speech, and
  • Donations to Christian ministries

Will always increase material wealth and physical health.  At the root of this “false” doctrine is their belief that God’s promise of dominion to Israel applies to Christians today.

Paul clearly warns against the desire to be rich. And by implication, he warns against ministries who stir up – and teach the desire to be rich.

1 Timothy 6:9-10: “Those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.”

Reconstruction: The reciprocity of the gospel exchanges my sin for Christ’s righteousness. Martin Luther calls it, “the great exchange”…

Luther says, “This is that mystery which is rich in divine grace to sinners: wherein by a wonderful exchange our sins are no longer ours but Christ’s, and the righteousness of Christ not Christ’s but ours. He has emptied Himself of His righteousness that He might clothe us with it and fill us with it; and He has taken our evils upon Himself that He might deliver us from them.”

So, the Health & Wealth folks have cheapened the concept of reciprocity – and made it about materialism.  Kind of an Americanized brand of Christianity…

II. BODY – now let’s take these concepts and move into our passage for today…I’ll give a cursory view of the first five verses and then we’ll unpack vs. 6,7, & 8.

The ministry of giving in Corinth – 9:1-5:

  • Paul’s reminding them of their initial commitment to give – vv. 1-2.  Paul’s comment that the Corinthians’ initial zeal to give stirred up “most” (v.2) of the Macedonians is a healthy dose of realism.
  • In other words, not all the believers in Macedonia gave generously with joy in the midst of their poverty and affliction (cf. 8:1-5).
  • In vs. 3-5 we see Paul’s purpose in sending Titus –
    • Paul’s initial excitement has been somewhat tempered. Titus has come from Corinth with the discouraging report that the collection has, basically, been put “on the back burner.”
    • Paul expresses some disappointment here these verses.  Paul views stewardship and living out the generosity of Jesus as an important component of discipleship.  Paul had hoped they were farther along.
  • He is also attempting to prolong the friendly competition between the Macedonians and the Corinthians.

Verses 6-11 help us to understand and apply the principle of reciprocity in Christian giving…

In v.6 we encounter the illustration of “sowing” and “reaping”

Now I’m not a farmer (I could kill an artificial plant!), but in farming, what may initially appear to be a loss (“sowing”) – in due time, it will produce a gain (“reaping”). As one sows, so one reaps.

So, we need to ask what determines whether a gift is “sparing” or “bountiful”?  It is not determined by the quantity, but by:

  • The means of the giver (we learned from chapter 8 that giving is to be in proportion to our wealth (cf. 8:3,11,12; 1 Cor. 16:2); and
  • The heart (mind/mood) of the giver (it is possible to give a lot of money, but still be sowing “sparingly” (cf. 8:1-5; 9:5b).

In v.7 we encounter the pattern for generous stewardship. There are six parameters:

  1. Universal (“Let each one…”)
  2. Personal (“just as s/he has purposed in his heart”). Many commentators say that if Paul had believed that we should begin our giving with a tithe, he would have reiterated that here.
  3. Choice/Resolve (“as he has purposed;” this verb proaireomai, found only here in the NT, means: to choose deliberately or to make up your own mind about something.)  In the end only you and God will know if you are sowing sparingly or bountifully.
  4. “Not Grudgingly,” or, without regret. Lit., “not out of sorrow;” i.e., giving and then grieving over the fact that money is gone; thinking of all the things you could have purchased with the money.
  5.  “Not Under Compulsion. No force – psychological, guilt-driven, or otherwise.
  6. Cheerful. The Greek word translated “cheerful” is hilaron, from which we get out English word “hilarious.”  What does it mean to be a cheerful, or hilarious, giver?  It means that we find our joy, our delight, our pleasure in the generosity of Jesus Christ and we give out of a worshipful, joyful heart – as we remember what Jesus Christ has done.  Is it an act of faith?  Yes.  We sow and we wait…

III. CONCLUSION

What if the cheerfulness of responsive obedient giving is not there?

I’ll suggest three things[1]:

  1. Don’t say it doesn’t matter how you feel. Confess the sin of joylessness (yes, joylessness is a sin). Acknowledge the coldness of your heart.  (Money might be one of your root idols!)
  2. Pray earnestly that God would give to you, or restore, the joy of responsive obedience.
  3. Go ahead and do the outward dimension of your responsive obedience in the hope that the doing will rekindle the delight.

Paul envisions us joyfully and bountifully sowing in the light of God’s faithfulness — that we might give as a response to His joyful sacrifice and righteousness. (Heb 12:2: “For the joy set before Him He endured the cross.”)


[1] Adapted from John Piper, Desiring God: 248-249.

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.

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 1 – Matthew 22:33-40

I.  INTRO

A.   We are going to take the next couple of weeks and look at what the Bible refers to as the Great Commandment.  An important preliminary vision passage because it synthesizes so much of the Bible into two pretty straightforward commands.

B.    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.  Loving people id the outflow of loving God.)

C.    We will divide this passage up into two messages…

  1. This 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.”
  2. Next week: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

D.   Here are two important questions…

  1. What is God’s heart for Southside Bible Fellowship?  And for you?
  2. What is God’s VISION for us during this transition season?  Vision will focus us.  Vision will restrain us – Pro 29:18 (NAS): “Where there is no vision, the people are unrestrained…” 

II.   BODY

A.   “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” is a quote from Deut 6:5 and is:

1.     Part of the Shema Yisrael (Heb word for hear), vs. 4-9. The Shema is the central prayer in the Jewish prayer book and is usually the first section of Scripture that a Jewish child learns – as well as the prayer that is most often said each morning and evening by the Jewish people.

4 “Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one! 5 You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6 These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. 8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. 9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”

2.     Rabbi Julian Sinclair: Oneness, [or] unity, is the aspiration of love, and love emerges from a perception of unity. This insight is also expressed in the Shema: its first line declares God’s unity, and ends with the word “one.” Then follows the mitzvah [commandment] to love God. Love comes out of a sense of God’s unity pervading all things.

3.     In the Torah (the first 5 books of the Bible) there are 613 commandments (explicit and implicit).

4.     The 10 Commandments (Ex 20 & Deut 5) are understood to be the root commands — revealing God’s standard of holiness.  They also reveal our need for a Savior.

  • Gal 3:24Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith.”
  • The Law is like a dentists mirror – it can point out decay, but can’t do anything about it.

5.     In Deut 5 – the previous chapter, we find the second listing of the 10 Commandments (also in Ex 20).

  • The first two commandments speak to the issue of idolatry:  #1 is Deut 5:7 – “You shall have no other God’s before me.”
  • The 2nd Commandment states – Deut 5:8-10: “You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. 9 You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, and on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, 10 but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.”

6.     Theologians think that if someone were to be able to keep the first commandment the others would not be a problem – because they all have to do with idolatry.

7.     Martin Luther:  All those who do not at all times trust God and do not in all their works or sufferings, life and death, trust in His favor, grace, and good-will, but seek His favor in other things or in themselves, do not keep this [First] Commandment, and practice real idolatry.

8.     Tim Keller:  Sin isn’t only doing bad things, it is more fundamentally making good things into ultimate things. Sin is building your life and meaning on anything, even a very good thing, more than on God. Whatever we build our life on will drive us and enslave us. Sin is primarily idolatry.

9.     So, what are we saying? All 613 unchangeable commandments of the Torah can be summed-up in these two verses (or 6 words): Love God and love your neighbor. Every person on the planet has this built-in longing to deeply connect with God and people.  We were designed, created to be worshippers.  This, then, becomes the grand objective and passion of every human heart.  Augustine said it well:  “Our heart’s are restless until they find their rest in God.”

B.    Years ago Rick Warren said something that, I think, begins to put this into perspective: “A great commitment to the Great Commandment and the Great Commission will grow a great [Christian and a great] church.”

  1. A key and critical question is, how will this commitment be expressed?
  2. The Church (at least in N America) has placed an emphasis on the Great Commission without a sufficient understanding and practice of the Great Commandment.
  3. John Piper:  Passion for God in worship precedes the offer of God in evangelism because we cannot commend what we do not cherish.
  4. I believe this is THE most critical issue facing Southside Bible Fellowship during this season – duty or delight.

C.    So, if we are to “LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND” our question is – How do we get there from here?

1.     Come alive to God.  Ephesians 2:1-10 An explanation of the Gospel…

 1 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, even as the rest. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6 and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. 

2.     Find your true joy and delight in the message of the Gospel – and the Person of Jesus Christ.

  • My prayer for us as a community of believers: “That we would experience Jesus Christ, the sovereign, risen, living, Lord of the universe; and that He would continue to become THE source and content of our real hope and joy.”
  • One of the most important discoveries we will ever make is:  God is most glorified in you when you am most satisfied in Him (John Piper). This is to be the motor that drives our lives.  This concept, I believe, will be key to this transition season here at SBF.
  • Tragically most of us have been taught that duty, not delight, is the way to glorify God. But here is what the Great Commandment is instructing us to do: To delight in God is your duty!
  • John 15:11-12 (AMP) – “I have told you these things, that My joy and delight may be in you, and that your joy and gladness may be of full measure and complete and overflowing. This is My commandment: [or, out of that joy and delight] that you love one another [just] as I have loved you.”

3.     Come to grips with the idolatry that grips ALL of our lives.

a.     Tim Keller:[1] One of the main ways to read the Bible is as the ages-long struggle between true faith and idolatry. In the beginning, human beings were made [created] to worship and serve God, and to rule over all created things in God’s name (Gen 1:26­–28).

Rom 1:21–25 — Paul understands that original sin as an act of idolatry:

21 For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. 22 Professing to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.

 24 Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them. 25 For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.

b.     Instead of living for God, we began to live for ourselves, or our work, or for material goods. We reversed the original intended order. And when we began to worship and serve created things, paradoxically, the created things came to rule over us.

1 John 5:20-21“And 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. 21 Little children, [speaking to believers] guard yourselves from idols.”

c.     What is idolatry?

  • It exchanging the truth for a lie.
  • Putting our trust in other saviors – “momentary functional saviors,”
  •  “Exchanging God for pitiful substitutes.” (John Piper),
  • Whoever or whatever we give central value to,
  • Whatever controls us is our Lord.

d.     David Powlison writes in Seeing with New Eyes[2]: The most basic question which God poses to each human heart: “Has something or someone besides Jesus the Christ taken title to your heart’s functional trust, preoccupation, loyalty, service, fear, or delight?

e.     Here are some questions that will bring some of our idol systems to the surface:

  • What do I worry about the most?
  • What, do you really want, or expect out of life?
  • What do I use to comfort myself on a bad day?  Cope?  Release valves?
  • What preoccupies me?
  • A Puritan writer from the 17th century said: Our religion is what we do with our solitude (What do you daydream about?).
  • For what do you want to be known?
  • What prayer, unanswered, what make you seriously question God?

f.      Root idols vs. branch (surface) idols:  Lust, like rape, is hardly ever about sex – it’s about self-image, it’s about anxiety, it’s about fear.  These are some of the root idols that seek to control our lives – they are the sin behind the sin…

III.         CONCLUSION

A.   How do we replace our idols?[3]

B.    Idolatry is not just a failure to obey God; it is setting our heart and affections on something, or someone other than God. This cannot be remedied by repenting that you have an idol – or by engaging willpower to try and live differently.

C.    Here’s the final passage for today…

Colossians 3:1-3 (Put On the New Self)

1Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your mind on the things above [i.e., YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, SOUL, AND MIND], not on the things that are on earth. 3 For you have died [to sin, to idolatry] and your life is hidden with Christ in God.

D.   We are invited to rest in, appreciate, rejoice in what Jesus has done through his hideous death – and resurrection.

E.    Jesus must become more beautiful to your imagination, more attractive to your heart, than your idols.

F.    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.

G.   Repentance and rejoicing must go together.


[1] “Talking About Idolatry in a Postmodern Age.”

[2] Pgs. 132-40.

[3] Adapted from Counterfeit Gods by Tim Keller, pgs. 170-172.