Jesus

A Friend's Reminder (Philemon 17-25)

Human beings naturally forget. We have developed techniques to increase and enhance our memory. The calendar, whether electronic or paper, helps us recall the important dates and events in our lives. The strength of the calendar is not in having a calendar, but using it to recall important details. The more we look at the calendar, the more we bring the calendar to our minds and therefore we remember. Reminders intentionally bring the important things to our minds so that we can remember them. We all have different techniques to remember. Whether you are Michael Scott trying to remember people’s names or a student creating an acronym to remember the parts of the circulatory system, we all use different reminders to remember important details of our lives. Regardless of the technique, the key is that we have reminders that force us to recall important details.

            God has built in a weekly reminder for his people to recall and remember what he has done for us. Every week we remind our hearts of God’s goodness through the fellowship of the saints, and the singing, praying, and the preaching of God’s Word. God wants us to remember, so he has given us reminders so that we would never forget what has done for us. He has given us two physical reminders in the Lord’s Supper and Baptism where we actually get to participate in symbols that portray God’s love for us in Christ. There are also reminders in the natural world. Each day the sun rises declaring his glory over the earth. Every night the sun sets showing our utter dependence upon him. Our world is full of reminders of God’s sovereign power.

            And yet, we are a forgetful people. Deuteronomy is full of references where God tells his people “take care, lest you forget.” Even the title “Deuteronomy” means “the law again”. The whole book is the retelling of the law so that the people would not forget. And with so many reminders, God’s people forget. The Apostle Peter summed up his ministry as one of reminding the people so they could recall the great works of God. 2 Peter 1:15, “And I will make every effort so that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things.” The job of parents and pastors is that when we are gone, those under our care will be able to recall the things of God. The Apostle Paul is nearing the end of his letter to his friend, Philemon, and wants to remind him of his responsibility in the gospel to forgive his repentant slave Onesimus. I pray that as we look closely at Paul’s reminder to Philemon that we would be reminded of our responsibility in the gospel to forgive our repentant brothers and sisters.     

Reminder of Partnership

            Paul ends his letter by reminding Philemon of their partnership in the gospel. The most important aspect of Paul and Philemon’s relationship was their partnership in the proclamation and the spread of the gospel. Verse 17, “So if you consider me your partner, receive him as you would receive me.” Paul reminds Philemon of their partnership in the gospel and then tells Philemon that Onesimus is one of us. Paul is saying that, “Onesimus holds the gospel as dear as we do Philemon. He is one of us.” And with that one sentence, Paul is bringing the crux of the whole letter to the forefront. Will Philemon act as a prosperous businessman or a partner in the gospel? What will be his main allegiance? What will be the driving force for his decisions?

            It would be very hard for Philemon to remain a partner in the gospel if he did not live for the gospel. Philemon has sacrificed his money, his time and his resources so that people will know more about Jesus. He has opened his home to the church so that people will hear and believe the gospel. The question is not what has Philemon has done, but what will he continue to do? As Christians we do not live in past, we live in the present. We do not ask “Did I obey Jesus yesterday,” but rather “Will I obey Jesus today?”

            It may be easier to pacify our consciences to think about all the things we have done in our life for the Lord, but God wants to know if we will remain with him? Will you abide with Christ? Paul again uses Greek word koinonia translated “partner” here. At very key points throughout this letter, Paul uses this word to highlight the importance of fellowship among believers. Christians are called into the fellowship of the Jesus Christ and the fellowship of the saints. How we interact and receive God’s people will be one of the greatest markers if we truly have fellowship with Jesus? If we have true fellowship or partnership with other believers, we should be confident that we have partnership with God. And if we do not have fellowship with others, how can we say we have fellowship with God?

            The first command used in this letter is the word receive. Paul says if you are my partner in the gospel than you must welcome in, take in, gather together and bring along your fellow partner Onesimus. There is no exclusion from the receiving of a repentant brother. All sinners who turn away from their sin and trust in Christ as their Savior should be received into the fellowship of the church. Onesimus was a thief. He had taken from Philemon, disrespected him and his family, but he had repented. Onesimus came to Christ. He too was a partner in the gospel therefore Paul uses the imperative to show there is only one option for a true partner in the gospel…to welcome the errant brother. Jesus says, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:14-15) Forgiveness is an essential mark for Christians. It is a non-negotiable. If you want to be one who has fellowship with Christ and his people, then receiving the repentant brother is essential.

            What sin is unforgivable? What action would restrict fellowship in the church? There are all sorts of horrific sins that we can imagine, but if someone truly repents, they, too, can be forgiven and restored to fellowship of the church. The church welcomes into fellowship repentant sinners. Friend, if you are in sin, as Christ’s ambassadors, we implore you to be reconciled to God. Turn from your sin and trust in Christ. Christian, if you are in sin, turn to Christ and be restored into fellowship of the saints.

Reminder of Payment

            Paul continues to charge Philemon to forgive Onesimus, but does something profound; he offers himself up for the sin of another. Verse 18, “If he has wronged you at all, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. I, Paul, write this with my own hand: I will repay it—to say nothing of your owing me even your own self. Yes, brother, I want some benefit from you in the Lord. Refresh my heart in Christ.” (Philemon 1:18-20) Most of Paul’s letters were written by someone else, so scholars believe that when he says, “I, Paul, write this with my own hand,” that would have been a contractual arrangement. The reader of the letter would have seen the handwriting change putting additional weight and force upon the reality of Paul’s statement.

Paul offers up himself to pay for Onesimus’s crimes. Friend, this is exactly what Jesus Christ does for us. We are the ones who have sinned and rebelled against God. We are the ones who have robbed God of his glory by living for ourselves and our agendas. We are the ones who deserve to pay. We are guilty. And yet, Jesus steps forward and stands before the father saying, “If they have wronged you at all or owe you anything, charge that to my account.” Jesus paid the full price for our sin on the cross. He died in our place. He became our substitute paying for our crimes. And upon his death, God raised Jesus from the dead accepting his sacrifice on our behalf. So now we have hope because Jesus gave himself up for us. Paul is acting in the way of Christ. He is laying his life down for Onesimus.

Christian, are you willing to act like Paul here? Are you willing to pay the price for someone else’s sins? There is a story of a good king who cared well for his people. He was kind and fair and always did his best to provide for his people. One day, one of his men informed him that someone stole food from the palace. He gathered the whole town together and pleaded with them for the person to confess, saying, “I have always provided for your needs. If you needed anything all you had to do is ask and I would have provided it for you. But because I am a just king, anyone caught stealing will receive 10 lashes.” A week went by and someone stole from the treasury again. The good king again pleaded with this people to not steal, but bring their request to him again pleading with them to confess. He increased the lashes to twenty for the one caught stealing. A week went by and a servant came to the king and saying, “The thief has been caught, but it is your own mother.” Pain gripped the king’s heart. What was he to do? He promised that anyone caught stealing had to be punished.

      The day arrived when his mother was to be punished. The whole town was wondering what the king was going to do. Would he let his mother go free or would he have her punished? His mother was walked into the center of the town and tied to a pole. The guard looked at the king and the king nodded his head for him to begin. The guard looked on in shock, but right before the first lash was struck, the king yelled, “Stop.” The king walked over to his mother wrapped his arms around her and said, “Now you may begin.” The guard began to whip the back of the king to pay for his mother’s crime. Friend, this is what Christ has done for us. He was beaten in our place. He was whipped that we might go free. And this is exactly what Paul is doing for Onesimus.

      Paul is asking to credit Onesimus’s thief to Paul. Would you be willing to do the same? Would you be willing to pay someone else’s debt? Why would Paul do that? Because he knows how he was forgiven. Paul writes of himself, “formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” (1 Timothy 1:13-15) Never forget that you have been forgiven, for this is what Paul reminds Philemon of, saying, “your owing me even your own self.” Paul reminded Philemon of how he came to Christ under Paul’s ministry and encourages him to repay him be welcoming Onesimus.

Philemon should forgive Onesimus, but that does not make it easy to forgive. Forgiveness is not easy. Forgiveness is supernatural. We need divine help to forgive. Would you readily forgive someone who stole $20 from you? What about $20,000? Forgiveness is hard, but worth it, for we have been forgiven of a great debt. Here this story from Jesus,

“Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.” (Matthew 18:23-35)

Friend, we forgive because we have been forgiven.

Reminder of Preparation

Paul adds another reminder to Philemon as he closes this letter. Paul tells Philemon to prepare for his coming. Philemon would eventually have to look his dear friend Paul in the face and explain how he handled Onesimus. It may be subtle, but knowing that Philemon would have to confront Paul most likely encouraged Philemon’s obedience. This was not a threat, but a reality. Philemon would be held accountable for his decision to forgive Onesimus. Paul was confident based on Philemon’s character and partnership with the gospel, but this is no slam dunk case of forgiveness. Philemon would eventually have to explain his decision to an elder brother in Christ and a dear friend.

            In this way Paul is modeling how one day we are going to stand before God. As Philemon had to prepare for Paul’s coming, we have to prepare for the Lord’s coming. Have you ever had projects around the house that needed to get done, but you never quite had the motivation to complete? Then you discover your in-laws are coming in town for a visit in a month so you scramble to finish all the unfinished projects in preparation for their coming. When anybody of importance comes to your home, you want to be prepared for their arrival. Friend, this is how we should be for Lord’s return. We should be prepared for the coming of the King. We are going to be held accountable for the decisions in this life. Philemon will be held accountable for his forgiveness as we will be held accountable for our own. Are you prepared for the coming of the King?

Reminder of Perseverance

            Let me encourage you to pay attention to the names Paul highlights as he closes this letter. Verse 23, “Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends greetings to you, and so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, my fellow workers. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.” (Philemon 1:23-25) We have the benefit of the hindsight. We can look at these names and know if they persevered in their faith.

Did Philemon forgive Onesimus? We cannot be sure for the New Testament does not explicitly tell us, but we can assume since the letter was preserved that he did. Church tradition states that Philemon eventually would become the pastor of Colossae, and along with his wife Apphia, was martyred for the Gospel. He persevered until the end.

A man named Onesimus eventually became the pastor of Ephesus a couple of decades later. We cannot be sure this was the same Onesimus, but we know that this Onesimus also laid his life down for the gospel dying for his faith. This Onesimus persevered until the end. 

Paul, the peacemaker, would also lose his life for the gospel being beheaded during his last Roman imprisonment, but blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called children of God. Paul persevered to the end.

Luke would go on to write half the New Testament and according to tradition died at the age of 84. Luke persevered to the end.

Mark, the author of the gospel that bears his name, was reconciled to Paul. He was with Paul and Barnabas during their first missionary journey only to leave and return home. On the second trip, Mark wanted to rejoin the mission and Paul refused. The disagreement became so sharp that Barnabas and Paul split company and went in opposite directions. We know that Paul reconciled and forgave Mark at the end of his life as he wrote in 2 Tim 4:11 that Mark was, “very useful to me in ministry,” asking Timothy to bring Mark to him. Mark would eventually travel to Alexandria and became the pastor there before also being martyred for his faith. Mark persevered to the end.

Epaphras, a fellow prisoner with Paul, was most likely the pastor of Colossae. Tradition says he was released from his imprisonment only later to be arrested and martyred for his faith. Epaphras persevered to the end. Aristarchus mentioned here and in Acts endured persecution for the gospel. He later became the pastor in modern-day Syria and he too was martyred for the gospel. Aristarchus persevered to the end.

Do you see a trend here? These men held the gospel so dear that they would rather face death than deny the gospel. In persevering to the end, they persevered in forgiveness. They chose to die rather than to withhold the forgiveness of the gospel.

There is one more name on the list that should serve as a warning to us all. Demas, once a partner in the gospel laboring for the forgiveness of the saints, is said to have fallen in love with this world deserting Paul and the gospel. His love did not persevere. It has been said of the two thieves at Calvary, “One was saved that none might despair, but only one that none might presume.”

We have been studying the story of another thief who was reconciled to God by Calvary. Onesimus is a reminder of God’s offer of forgiveness. Philemon is a reminder of one who extended forgiveness. Paul is a reminder of one who encourages forgiveness. Demas is a reminder of one who walked away from forgiveness. What do you need to be reminded of today? We all need reminders to persevere in the gospel. And I pray that this short letter has reminded you of the beauty, the power and glory of the forgiveness of Jesus Christ and would remind you to persevere until the end. 

Disappearing Parts (1 Cor. 12:21-22)

The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable. 

~1 Corinthians 12:21-22

Beloved,

This fall, 

Back to the Future 

celebrates its 30

th

 anniversary. In that film, Marty McFly monitors a family snapshot while revisiting his parents’ past of  the 1950s. His siblings gradually vanish in the image, a sign Marty has seriously altered time. At the flick’s climax, Marty’s own arm starts to fade, making it impossible for Marty to play his guitar during the Enchantment under the Sea dance.

What if, like Marty’s, our limbs suddenly disappeared?  Imagine if our right hand faded every third week, or our left leg vanished twice a month. We might function, but what a struggle! Also, our body would have no choice but to compensate for those missing parts.  A man can survive without a leg, but would he flourish?

How difficult is it, then, for people or groups to function when participants are absent?   What if they’re missing like McFly’s arm and fingers? What’s the impact on the church and the lost that the church is to serve?

The church is called the body of Christ. “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.” (1 Corinthians 12:12) As individual parts, we make up the whole body of the church. We’re distinctive, functioning uniquely but we’re one in the body. Some of us are hands while others are eyes. Some are feet. Some are ears. All of the parts of the body are indispensable. They’re essential for us to flourish as a whole.  We cannot say to one another, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, we should say, “I need you for we are not the same without you!” The church cannot function well if its individual parts just disappear.

God’s children are vital to church life. Do you know how indispensable every member is? God gives gifts to his church. God calls individual members to be part of the whole body of Christ. Are you a dependable part? Or are you a disappearing member?

We need you! We need each other! Every person that’s a part of the body of Christ is needed to participate and activate in order to have a well-functioning church. Are you playing your part?  God has placed you in the church body for a reason. We need all our eyes, all our fingers, and all our legs to do all God has called us to do. Make our church gatherings a priority for we need you!!

A Friend's Appeal (Philemon 1:8-16)

            In 1905, Thedore “Teddy” Roosevelt, became the first sitting president to visit the post-Civil War South. Roosevelt was raised in New York and the impact of the Civil War had a drastic impact on his life. His father sided with the Union while his mother, Georgia born and bred, leaned towards the confederacy. Teddy’s Uncle James Roosevelt was a prominent leader in the Confederate army. Growing up as a child during the Civil War helped shape Teddy’s future bravado in dealing with foreign affairs, but not for the reason many may think. Teddy Roosevelt had a deep respect for his father. In his 1913, autobiography, Roosevelt wrote,

My father … was the best man I ever knew. He combined strength and courage with gentleness, tenderness, and great unselfishness. He would not tolerate in us children selfishness or cruelty, idleness, cowardice, or untruthfulness.

[1]

His sister Corinne later recounted how Teddy said that he never made a serious decision for the country without first thinking what step his father would have taken. Although he dearly loved his father, there was one thing for which he probably never forgave him.

            His father, Thedore Roosevelt Senior, was a wealthy businessman and paid $300 for someone to take his place in the Union Army. It was a common practice of the day and Roosevelt Sr. was probably convinced by his wife, Mattie, not to fight in the conflict against her family and to risk losing his life, leaving her distraught. Regardless of the reasons for Roosevelt’s decision not to fight, it deeply affected young Teddy. His sister Bamie wrote that Teddy, “felt that [father] had done a wrong thing in not having put every other feeling aside to join the fighting forces.” And his sister Corrinne added that he was determined to build a strong military reputation for himself to compensate, “for an unspoken disappointment in his father´s course in 1861.

[2]

” It would not be a stretch to say that Teddy’s unforgiveness of his father’s decision shaped his political life. One act of unforgiveness changed the direction of Teddy Roosevelt’s life.

            I wonder how many of us are like Teddy Roosevelt.  We may be appear well-adjusted and successful, but in reality are driven to make a name for ourselves because of our own unforgiveness. Maybe our lives have been controlled and shaped because we have been unable to forgive or maybe because we feel unforgiven? Are there people in your life you have not forgiven? I heard a story this past week of a man whose whole life was shaped by his anger towards God. He lost a child and for years could not forgive God for allowing it to happen. Friends, forgiveness, or the lack there of, will have a dramatic impact on the direction of your life.

            The Apostle Paul knew that, which is why he penned this brief letter to his friend, Philemon. Paul loved Philemon dearly and wanted him to forgive for his own good, for the good of the church and for the glory of God. I pray as we look at Paul’s friendly appeal for forgiveness that you would be challenged to pursue forgiveness with the people in your life.

Appealing for

Love

’s Sake

            Paul begins this plea by not appealing to his status as an apostle, but rather on the basis of love. Philemon 8-9, “Accordingly, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do what is required, yet for love's sake I prefer to appeal to you—I, Paul, an old man and now a prisoner also for Christ Jesus.” Paul was not afraid to command Philemon to obey his words. There are times throughout Paul’s letters that he uses his position as an apostle to command obedience, but here he appeals on the basis of love. He wants Philemon to make the right decision for the right reason. God cares why we do what we do. If Paul commanded Philemon, Philemon could have begrudgingly obeyed, but that would not be complete reconciliation. As we will see, Paul wants Philemon to be fully reconciled with Onesimus.

            Paul is giving Philemon an opportunity to show him love as well. He writes, “I, Paul, an old man and now a prisoner also for Christ Jesus.” These words would have been weighty for Philemon. The impression is that he does not have a lot of time left on the earth. He is an old man facing the end of this life stuck in a Roman prison. Philemon’s love for Paul should encourage him to honor Paul’s request. I know of many stories within this church when a father looked at his child and said, “Take care of your mother when I am gone.” The love that a child has for their father motivates the child to care well for their mother. Paul is appealing to Philemon’s love for him as an old man who has labored well for the gospel even to the point of imprisonment.

            This is instructive for us because we also should want people to love others from the heart rather than out of mere duty. We obey the Lord out of love. It is a joy and a privilege to be able to obey God. We should not obey begrudgingly, but should delight in honoring our Master and our Savior. We cannot make anyone do anything. We cannot control a man’s will. We, therefore, should not try to constrain a man’s will by force, but appeal on the basis of love: love for one’s fellow man, love for one’s fellow brother or sister in Christ and love for our Savior. The basis of our Christian obedience is love. We love God and others, because He first loved us. When we were sinners deserving of wrath, God gave us mercy in Christ. Love should be the motivation for the entire Christian life.

Appealing for a

Son

’s Sake

            Paul appeals on the basis of love for someone he loves and who has become like a son to him. The English translations of the text change the word order to make it sound more like we speak today, but the original Greek places Onesimus’s name at the end so it would read, “I appeal to you for my child, whose father I became in my imprisonment – Onesimus.” It appears that Paul kept Onesimus’s name out of the letter until he had sufficiently appealed to Philemon. You can almost imagine a collective sigh or gasp among the people when his name is mentioned. It is like the buildup of the NFL Draft when the commissioner walks to the podium and says, “With the first pick of the NFL Draft the Carolina Panthers select out of the University of Manitoba, Onesimus Smith.” Sounds of shock and disbelief would most likely fill the room. With the calling of Onesimus’s name, things just got a lot more interesting.

            Remember the congregation would be listening to this letter and they would have known the back story of Onesimus. Onesimus was one of Philemon’s slaves who appeared to have stolen from Philemon (we see that alluded to in verse 18). We do not have exact details on why Philemon left, but we can assume that he left because he desired a reconciliation with his master. There was a law in the 1

st

century Roman Empire that a slave could appeal to a friend of their master if they believed they were being mistreated. The Apostle Paul would have been well-known to Philemon as he would have heard his name often during their church meetings in the house. It appears that Onesimus left Philemon’s house in search of Paul, for if he was looking to escape with Philemon’s money or goods, he would have pulled a Jonah and gone in the opposite direction of Paul. Although it is possible that Onesimus randomly and by Divine coincidence ended up in the same prison cell as Paul in Rome with God orchestrating his steps. It is possible, but unlikely. Onesimus went in search of Paul so Paul could help bring about an earthly reconciliation with Philemon.

            Onesimus met Paul and was reconciled to God. Paul says that Onesimus became my child clearly referring to him becoming a child in the faith. Onesimus wanted reconciliation with Philemon only to discover his reconciliation with God. Friend, before we move on, have you been reconciled with God? Do you know of your need to be reconciled to God? The Bible says that everyone has stolen from the Lord. We all have robbed him of His glory and therefore deserve to be punished for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Isaiah 42:8, “I am the Lord; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols.” God has to rightly punish those who steal his glory. It is a matter of His justice. And yet, God meets the demands of our thievery by sending his Son to die between two thieves on dark Friday afternoon. Jesus called out on the cross, “It is finished,” and gave up his spirit. He paid for our sin in full. And we know God accepted that payment for our sin by raising Jesus from the dead. Jesus now sits at the right hand of the Majesty on High ready to forgive anyone who would turn from their sins and trust in Christ alone for salvation.

            Friend, Onesimus was a thief, but he was a forgiven thief. Jesus paid for this theft on the cross so Onesimus could be a free man. So Onesimus, a slave, had to go to prison to find freedom. Friend, you can find freedom from your sin today by trusting in Christ. Let me appeal to you as a friend: for love’s sake come to Christ. Come to Christ and experience freedom.

            We know that Onesimus truly believed because of the change that happened in his life. Onesimus literally means useful. It was a common name of a slave so Paul is using a play on words in verse 11, “Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is useful to you and to me.” Something happen to Onesimus when he heard the gospel. He believed and his life was changed. He was serving Paul in the same manner Philemon was known for serving Paul; with love. Roman prisons were awful during the 1

st

century. Our prisons today require three meals a day for every prison. A Roman prison did not offer food or blankets to its prisoners. If they did not have someone on the outside to care for their needs, they would starve or freeze to death. So Onesimus is one who is no longer stealing, but giving back to those in need. Reminiscent of Ephesians 4:28, “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.” Onesimus was changed.

            Paul desired to keep Onesimus with him, but preferred rather to send him back to Philemon. Verse 12-13, “I am sending him back to you, sending my very heart. I would have been glad to keep him with me, in order that he might serve me on your behalf during my imprisonment for the gospel.” (Philemon 1:12-13) First notice, how Paul speaks of Onesimus, “sending my very heart.” Have you ever led someone to the Lord or watched someone grow tremendously before your eyes? Have you seen someone grow and development from immaturity to maturity? If you have, you probably know what Paul is talking about here. Paul dearly loves Onesimus as he dearly loves Philemon. He has seen them both come to Christ and grow in their love for Jesus and his people. Paul notes that the care he has received from Onesimus is similar to the service he would have received from Philemon himself.

            Isn’t it remarkable that a wealthy businessman and a slave have become equal through the cross? The cross is the great equalizer. The cross does not value the wealthy over slaves, but all can be useful in the kingdom. This equality makes Christianity revolutionary. Mrs. Lavinia Bartlett was a lay teacher at the historic Metropolitan Tabernacle in London. She began her ministry with 3 prostitutes that she met on the street. After six months her class grew to over 600 people. Women with social and moral problems were repenting of their sins and coming to Christ. After 16 years of labor, Lavinia Bartlett died leaving scores of her students in her wake. Her faithful teaching led countless women to the mission field and to become teachers. Metropolitan Tabernacle was known for their young gifted preacher, Charles Spurgeon, but the women were drawn to the humble wisdom of Mrs. Bartlett. Over a thousand people attended her funeral showing their appreciation of her influence on their lives. Mrs. Bartlett did not look at people’s worldly value, but their value in God’s kingdom. Man looks at outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart. Are you seeing people like Paul saw Onesimus or how Mrs. Bartlett saw those prostitutes? Are you seeing people through the lense of the cross?

Appealing for the

Spirit

’s Sake

            Paul wanted to keep Onesimus, but instead sent him back to Philemon. This may appear strange in our understanding of slavery. If one escaped from slavery, why would they be sent back their master? Is Paul affirming slavery? Paul did not outright oppose slavery, but he undermined its practice. The reputation of Christians among the world was that of insubordinate rebels. Christians were characterized as those who stir up trouble in towns and bring social unrest, seen repeatedly in the book of Acts. Paul wanted Christians to honor the government so that there could be a great spread of the gospel of Christ. Paul encouraged slaves to submit to earthly masters so that they could adorn the doctrine of God our Savior. And yet, although Paul did not directly oppose the institution of slavery, he undermined it in this letter to Philemon.

            Paul sent Onesimus back to Philemon so that Philemon could act out of his own accord by the Holy Spirit. “I would have been glad to keep him with me, in order that he might serve me on your behalf during my imprisonment for the gospel, but I preferred to do nothing without your consent in order that your goodness might not be by compulsion but of your own accord. (Philemon 1:13-14) Paul wanted Philemon’s goodness directed towards Onesimus to be done freely without compulsion. The goodness shown from Philemon would have been a sign of the Spirit’s power at work in his life. Only the power of God can change someone’s heart to extend true mercy and grace to someone that does not deserve. Onesimus was a thief and a useless one at that. How could Philemon welcome him back? He could only do it by the power of the Holy Spirit. “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.” (1 John 4:7) Those who are born by the Spirit of God love one another.

            Paul was giving Philemon an opportunity to show the goodness of his conversion freely asking him to love a repentant brother in Christ. Onesimus is no longer a bondservant, but a brother in Christ. Do you view conflict and reconciliation as an opportunity or trial? I think most people view conflict as something that is only negative, but conflict in the church always comes with an opportunity. Peter makes this point in his first epistle in that how we experience trials now prove our faith in Christ, “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 1:6-7) Philemon is given an opportunity to show his faith in how he handles this conflict with Onesimus, and the church has been given the opportunity to witness a display of the Spirit’s power. By keeping Onesimus with him, Paul would have robbed the church of sweetness of seeing true reconciliation.

            Paul is giving Philemon a chance to show what really matters in his life. What matters more: his runaway slave or his repentant brother? How about you? What matters most in your life? Maybe the conflict in your life is giving you an opportunity for you to learn what really matters in your life and to show that to the watching world. Friend, if you have the Spirit of God, then you have the power of love! I appeal to you to be reconciled to those in your life so that you can display the manifold wisdom of God displayed and the power of the Holy Spirit.

Appealing for

Sovereignty

’s Sake

There are always things happening that we do not understand. Although we may not always understand, we can trust that God is moving in ways far greater than we can imagine. We do not always know the why, but we do know that God is working for our good, for He works all things for the good those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. Paul doesn’t give a definitive reason on why Onesimus stole from him, but he gives him a “perhaps.” Paul writes, “For this perhaps is why he was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, no longer as a bondservant but more than a bondservant, as a beloved brother—especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord. (Philemon 1:15-16) Paul reminds Philemon to have an eternal perspective. Forgiveness has eternal ramifications. Paul encouraged Philemon to look past what he lost in Onesimus’s sin, but rather what he gained in his repentance. Philemon may have lost Onesimus’s labor temporarily, he may have lost the money Onesimus stole temporarily, so that he could have him back forever. Do you see how Paul is encouraging him to think with an eternal perspective? How many times do we need this reminder?

            Beloved, we do not always know the plan and purposes of God. God’s ways are higher than our ways and His thoughts are higher than our thoughts. Paul cannot give Philemon the exact reason for the conflict with Onesimus, but he says that “perhaps” something far greater than you can imagine is going on. Friend, can I encourage you to dwell on the “perhaps” in your life? No one can give you the exact reason why you are dealing with relational conflict, financial problems, marital strife or physical pain, but “perhaps” God is using your struggles for eternal purposes. Perhaps you may be suffering temporal loss so that you can receive eternal rewards. Jesus Christ suffered temporal loss as he gave up his spirit that dark Friday afternoon. And yet, looking back we know his temporal loss brought eternal gains. His temporary death led to eternal life. His temporary pain led to eternal payment. His temporary struggle led to eternal salvation for all who would trust in Him.

            Friend, you may be struggling today, but perhaps God is using your temporary pain to bring eternal pleasure. As Spurgeon said, “God is too good to be unkind. He is too wise to be confused. If I cannot trace His hand, I can always trust His heart.” God is good and He is moving in ways we cannot imagine. Let me encourage you to trust God’s heart. We will face temporary trials, but God promises an eternal resurrection. Perhaps God wants you to view your struggle today in light of the God’s promise of tomorrow. Charles Bridges writes, “That which should distinguish the suffering of believers from unbelievers is the confidence that our suffering is under the control of an all-powerful and all-loving God. Our suffering has meaning and purpose in God's eternal plan, and He brings or allows to come into our lives only that which is for His glory and our good

[1]

.” Our pain is not pointless, but under the sovereign power of Almighty God. Will you look at your pain through the “perhaps” lenses of God’s sovereign all controlling power? We do not live in the temporary, but set our hearts on the eternal. Jesus did not come to solve our temporary problems, but to give us His eternal presence.

            Following South Africa’s Apartheid, Bishop Demond Tutu established the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. During the Commission’s hearing, both blacks and whites testified to their crimes of murder and torture. The crimes recounted were horrific and heart-wrenching to hear. Two of those people who came to share their stories were Mrs. Calata and her daughter. One writer recounts her testimony,

Mrs. Calata's husband had been an advocate for black South Africans in rural communities. Because of his work, he'd been arrested, detained, and tortured by the police numerous times. But one day he disappeared. On the front page of the newspaper, Mrs. Calata saw a photograph of her husband's car on fire. She cried so loudly during the hearing, describing the autopsy's report about his torture, that the commission had to be adjourned.

[2]

When they reconvened, her daughter testified. It had been years since her father’s murder and she had become a young woman. She pleaded with the commission to find her father’s killer, but not for the reason you may think. She said, “We want to forgive, but we don't know whom to forgive.” Rather than seek out vengeance and revenge, Mrs. Calata and her daughter were looking to forgive.

            Paul wanted Philemon to do the same. He appealed to him as a friend not to look for vengeance, but to extend mercy. He wanted him to do what God had done for him in Christ. An eternal perspective, which brings our minds to the reality that one day we are going to stand before God to give an account for our own forgiveness and how we have forgiven others, should lead us to look for an opportunity to forgive. Paul appealed to Philemon and I appeal to you. Will you look not to vengeance but to show mercy? Will you choose to follow Christ? Will you forgive?

[1]

Jerry Bridges

,

Trusting God: Even When Life Hurts

[2]

http://www.preachingtoday.com/illustrations/2009/september/1092109.html accessed 8.9.2015 7:49

am 

[1]

http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2008/nov/13/theodore-roosevelts-divided-house/?page=all

accessed 8.6.2015 9:12 am

[2]

Ibid.

Ken Kryvoruka

[3]

Jerry Bridges

,

Trusting God: Even When Life Hurts

[4]

http://www.preachingtoday.com/illustrations/2009/september/1092109.html accessed 8.9.2015 7:49

am 

The Wisdom of Knowledge (Proverbs 2:1-15)

            On May 11

th

, 1849 Mr. S. Shufelt left New York City aboard the Panama heading for the beautiful San Francisco Bay in search of gold. A year earlier, James Wilson Marshall discovered gold in a river near present-day Sacramento. His discovery of the gold had spread across the country sparking the Great California gold rush of the 1850s. S. Shufelt was one of 200 men who left their families and friends in search for gold on the other coast. Mr. Shufelt departed New York City leaving behind his wife and a newborn child. He told his cousin of his motivation for leaving, no doubt similar to many who made the same voyage. He said, “I have left those that I love as my own life behind and risked everything and endured many hardships to get here. I want to make enough to live easier and do some good with, before I return.

[1]

” On his hunt for gold, Shufelt endured hunger, natural disaster, the death of friends and came very near death himself.

            History has not recorded whether Shufelt struck it rich or made enough to live easy and do good, or if he ever made it back to his wife and newborn child. What we do know was that he was willing to endure a three month difficult voyage at sea and many hardships to pursue gold. Regardless of whether we appreciate his motivation for going, we cannot fault his determination and willingness to suffer to accomplish his goal. Shufelt left those he loved and risked everything for gold. Proverbs 16:16, “How much better to get wisdom than gold! To get understanding is to be chosen rather than silver.” Men, like Shufelt, have endured extreme hardship and risked everything for gold. How much more should we pursue wisdom over gold?

            When given a choice of gold or wisdom, the decision will be wisdom, hands down!!

Proverbs 8:10

, “Take my instruction instead of silver, and knowledge rather than choice gold,

for wisdom is better than jewels, and all that you may desire cannot compare with her.” (Proverbs 8:10-11) Proverbs 8:19, “My fruit is better than gold, even fine gold, and my yield than choice silver.” Beloved, there are so many things we can pursue with our lives, but there is nothing better than wisdom.

The blessings of wisdom will always pay back more than gold. We must pursue wisdom. Proverbs 1:7, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.” (Proverbs 1:7) Proverbs gives us practical advice on our money, relationships, parenting, communication and government. And yet this is not just practical advice, but wisdom given from the hand of Almighty God. Let us look at 4 aspects of our pursuit of knowledge.

The Wisdom of

Learning

Knowledge

            The beginning of our quest for knowledge is to first to realize our need for it. We need help, but we will never pursue wisdom unless we know we need it. As a dad, I have discovered one of the most frustrating times of my day is bed time. I love my children and I love having my children go to bed. Usually my wife and I look at each other right before the bed time routine begins and we know it is go time. And inevitably, my sweet little Olivia will say, “I can’t find Bla-Bla.” Bla- Bla, legally named Mr. Bubbles the Cat, is Olivia’s lovey and is the one of the most valuable things in our home. I have often joked that I would rather have someone steal my car than take Bla-Bla.  It is not uncommon to spend 10-15 minutes scouring the house, the garage, and the car in search of it. Why would we spend so much time searching for a stuffed animal? Because we see its value. We know that without it no one is going to get any rest. And because we deem it valuable we search for it.

            Do you see God’s wisdom as valuable? Solomon begins his second mini-sermon at the beginning of Proverbs 2 and I want you to listen how often he uses the word “if,”

My son,

if

you receive my words and treasure up my commandments with you, making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding; yes,

if

you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding,

if

you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the LORD and find the knowledge of God. (Proverbs 2:1-5)

All Christians want to understand the fear of the Lord and to find the knowledge of God, but that is conditioned on the promise of pursuing wisdom as for a hidden treasure (v.3).

            Do we view wisdom as Shufelt viewed gold or as I view Bla-Bla? Are we willing to earnestly and diligently pursue wisdom? There are two competing calls laid out in Proverbs, the call of the wise and the call of folly. The natural current of our world flows towards folly, so we have to be ever more diligent to swim upstream towards wisdom. There are so many resources available to set our hearts on wisdom. Podcasts, blogs, free seminary courses (biblicaltraining.org, sebts.edu, itunes University, etc.), but we cannot forsake the most basic and most powerful resource that God has given us: HIS WORD!!

            DL Moody was given a Bible by his mother which was inscribed with Matthew 6:33, “‘Seek first the Kingdom of God’ and with a warning, ‘this book will keep you from sin and sin will keep you from this book.’” Beloved, we must earnestly pursue God’s Word in our personal study, in our discipleship and for our church. Do you pray for the preaching of the Word? Do you come prepared to hear a Word from God? When was the last time you took a week and memorized a chapter in the Bible? Proverbs 2 was written so that it could be memorized with each verse beginning with one of the 22 letters of the Hebrew Alphabet. Saturate yourself with the Word of God.

            We will pursue God’s Word when we realize we need it. Dear friends, understand your desperate need for knowledge and give all that you have to attain it. Be like the man who finds a  a pearl of great price in a field and then sells all that he has purchase that field.

The Wisdom of

Listening

to Knowledge

            Life is more than listening, but it is not less than listening. Solomon continues to exhort his readers to listen to his words. Listening takes humility. Listening begins with a posture that says, “I need to hear what you have to say.” Of course the implication of listening is not merely hearing, but listening with the intent to obey. James says we should be quick to listen and slow to speak. He adds,

But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. (James 1:22-25)

We must listen to wisdom and then walk in that wisdom. We must obey.

            The great enemy of listening is busyness and the clutter of the mind. How hard is it to find solitude to simply hear and listen to God’s wisdom? Don Whitney writes in Spiritual Disciplines, “One of the greatest costs of technological advancement is a greater temptation to avoid quietness.

[2]

” Progress is not always good. As our society advances technologically, we have to be careful to guard our hearts and minds. Technology has given us access to much more time. It takes a fraction of the time to complete tasks today than it did years go. We don’t have to take a 3 month journey to get across the country, but a 6 hour flight. We do not have to wash our clothes or dishes by hands, but have machines that can do that for us. And yet with all the additional time technology can save us, we still find ourselves running crazy busy lives.

            Over the last several months as we have been studying Proverbs, I have seen two worlds in conflict. There is the way of wisdom and the way of folly. God wants us to be wise while the world wants us to be foolish. The wise listen, the foolish don’t. The wise obey, the foolish don’t. Our world is set up so that we don’t listen. We have to guard our listening time. “Cease to hear instruction, my son, and you will stray from the words of knowledge.” (Proverbs 19:27) One way you can guard yourselves from straying from words of knowledge is by setting aside time every day and every week to hear instruction from God’s Word. We take time to be alone with God in studying and meditating on His Word, but we also need time to corporately gather and hear God’s Word.

            How hard is it for you to focus during a sermon? It could be because you are tired from staying up too late. It also could be that our minds are so cluttered that it is hard for us to hear because there are so many things clouding our thoughts. I pray every week our corporate time together will give you time to think and contemplate the deep things of God.

            The concept of listening is vitally important for our evangelism and discipleship. We have to be creative enough to engage our neighbors in serious thought. If it is hard for Christians to slow down to hear and listen to God’s Word, how much more for our non-Christians friends? If we are going to reach people, we need to listen to them. We need to hear where they are and what they believe. And then, we need to help them hear God’s wisdom from the Bible. Over the past year the greatest tool for discipleship that I have seen is simply taking an hour once a week and reading the Bible with people and talking about it. The Bible is powerful. Do not underestimate it. Write down 2 names of people in your life that you could ask to read the Bible together with you. Pray over those names and consider if you are able to find time to read the Bible with them. Is there anything you could cut out of your schedule to make time? We should help our neighbors take time to hear God’s Word.

The Wisdom of

Looking

with Knowledge

            I pray this series through the Proverbs has made you more aware of the importance of God’s wisdom. God’s Word is relevant to every area of life. Proverbs teaches you how you show earn and spend your money. Proverbs teaches you who to befriend and how to invest in friendships. It provides practical instruction on how to raise your kids and love your spouse. And I pray as you see God’s Word applied to these different practical areas of life, you will be able to approach the world with God’s wisdom on your mind and will be able to more readily identify folly.

            The Apostle Paul gave himself to the proclamation of the Word. He lived to help others become mature in Christ. My prayer throughout this series has been that you would desire to take God’s wisdom and apply it to your life so that you would know Jesus Christ and make him known. Colossians 2:1-3,

For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face, that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God's mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

All the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are found in the person of Jesus Christ. To pursue wisdom is to pursue Jesus Christ.

As we face this world living out our daily lives, we should always be thinking how can I know Jesus and make Him known? Jesus Christ is the goal of life for all the world was created by him and for him. We live for the glory of Jesus Christ. Proverbs doesn’t just help us have better friendships and manage our money, but to display the glory of Jesus Christ through a life that has been transformed by His wisdom. Friends, we all have lived as fools. We all have followed our own way and experienced the harsh reality of our own sin. In the solitude of our own hearts, we know our consciences condemn us for our folly. But thanks be to God, that while we were fools, God sent Jesus Christ to die for us. Jesus willingly laid his life down to pay for our sin. And after he died for our sins, God raised him from the dead accepting the payment in full and publicly declaring his Lordship over death and the grave.

Jesus who knew no sin became sin so that we might become the righteousness of God. Jesus has promised righteousness to all who would repent of their sins and trust in Him. When we trust in Jesus Christ, in whom is hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, God declares us righteous, not because our good deeds, but because of His righteousness. So now we live as God’s righteous people, in our parenting and our finances, to display that righteousness to the world. Our lives are witnesses of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. We live resurrected lives. Our old lives are dead for we have been made alive with God in Christ.

This is my prayer that you would view the practical matters of your life as an opportunity to witness the resurrection power of Jesus Christ to the world. Therefore you have to approach this world on guard against the deceptive philosophy and empty knowledge of our world. Folly calls aloud, but we strive for wisdom so Christ would be exalted. After Paul encourages the church to find the wisdom in Christ, he continues,

I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments. For though I am absent in body, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the firmness of your faith in Christ. Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. (Colossians 2:4-8)

We must look at this world with the knowledge of God so that we will not be taken captive by seemingly plausible yet deceptive philosophy which is not of Christ.

      Beloved, we are easily deceived. This is why we have to pursue learning and listening to God’s wisdom. We need God’s Word. We need’s God’s people. Following God’s wisdom in the Proverbs will give most likely give you a better earthly life, but a better earthly life should never be our goal. Our goal should be to walk with Jesus Christ, rooted and established in him abounding in thanksgiving. We must be armed with the knowledge of Jesus Christ if we are going to heed wisdom’s call.

The Wisdom of

Loving

Knowledge

            We can guard our hearts by avoiding the deceptive philosophy of our world, but I do not think that is the most effective way to walk in wisdom. The most effective way is love and treasure wisdom above all else.

My son, if you receive my words and

treasure

up my commandments with you, making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding; yes, if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding, if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the LORD and find the knowledge of God. For the LORD gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding; he stores up sound wisdom for the upright; he is a shield to those who walk in integrity, guarding the paths of justice and watching over the way of his saints. Then you will understand righteousness and justice and equity, every good path; for

wisdom will come into your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul;

(Proverbs 2:1-10)

We do not just want to be wise, but we want to love wisdom. We want to delight ourselves in the Lord and have his knowledge be pleasant to our soul.

            Greek Mythology illustrates this well in how Odysseus and his men overcame the foolish call of the Sirens. Sirens would sing an irresistible song luring unsuspecting sailors to come aboard their island which would lead to their death. Circe warns Odysseus of the danger and encourages him to tie himself to the mast so he could not jump overboard and to have his men fill their ears with beeswax so they would not hear the song. Many of us try to overcome foolishness like Odysseus and his men. We want to avoid hearing the world and withdraw from society. This method may be effective, but I do not believe it is best.

            There was another adventurer who overcame the allure of the Siren’s foolish call. Orphesus did not plug his ears or tie himself to the mast, he simply played more beautiful music that drowned out the Siren’s song. Lady Wisdom is far more beautiful than folly’s call. She sings a “sweeter song” for she leads us to Christ

[3]

. The answer is not to run from the world, but to run to Christ. Delight yourself in wisdom and she will guard your life.

Let’s Pray:

We bow our knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of your glory You may grant us to be strengthened with power through your Spirit in our inner being, so that Christ may dwell in our hearts through faith—that we, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that we may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to You who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to You be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (Ephesians 3:14-21)

[1]

http://www.eyewitnesstohistory.com/californiagoldrush.htm

accessed 7.25.2015

[2]

Whitney, Don. Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life. 228.

[3]

Newheiser, J. (2008).

Opening up Proverbs

. Leominster: Day One Publications. Chapter 2

The Wisdom of Wealth (Proverbs 30:7-9)

        In 1990, best-selling author Randy Alcorn was a pastor of a large church. He had published several books and was making a considerable amount of money on book royalties. He loved his life as a pastor and wanted to stay in that role the rest of his life. Through his study of the Scriptures, he became convicted to fight for the unborn through peaceful, nonviolent protests at abortion clinics. Through his peaceful protests, he was arrested, sent to jail and sued by the abortion clinic. He agreed to pay his fine to the government, but would not give his money to support the taking of innocent lives. The church he was pastoring was about to be ordered by a local judge to garnish ¼ of his wages to pay to the clinic. He had no choice, but to resign from the church and he had to relinquish the rights to all his book royalties. The only way he could avoid having his wages garnished in the future was to make no more than minimum wage.  

            Alcorn was eventually sued again for participating in another non-violent protest. He lost this case as well which awarded $8.2 million dollars to the abortion clinic. So he had to remove his name off the deed of his recently paid-off home and could never legally own any assets again if he wanted to avoid supporting the work of abortion clinics. How would you handle that? How would you deal with being forced to resign from a job you love, giving up all your assets, and only ever being allowed to make minimum wage?  By all worldly appearances, Randy Alcorn would look like a failure. He had no assets and could never make more than minimum wage, but if you were to ask him, he would say, “It was one of the best things that ever happened to us…My inability to legally own assets was nothing I sought after and nothing to be congratulated for, but God used it to help me understand what He means by, ‘Everything under heaven belongs to me’ (Job 41:11).’[1]

            Randy Alcorn learned the secret of being content in every situation, whether having plenty or living in want. Sadly, many Americans have yet to learn this lesson. According to a recent report issued by the American Psychological Association, almost ¾ (72%) of Americans feel stressed about money. Almost one in four Americans say they experience extreme stress about money.[2] Another recent survey done by SunTrust Bank says that the number one cause for stress in relationships is the stress caused by finances.[3] We all have to deal with money. And we all have our own perspective of money, but the key is do we have God’s perspective on money?

            The theme most emphasized in the book of Proverbs is financial wisdom. Money problems are ultimately spiritual problems. Our checkbooks are an indication of our spiritual health. A wise perspective on money will help limit stress, avoid folly and, most importantly, help us to honor God with our all of our lives. 

The Wisdom of Financial Perspective

     
       God is the owner of all wealth. He owns the cattle on a thousand hills (Psalm 50:10). Everything under the Heaven belongs to the Lord (Job 41:11). He gives people strength in order to get wealth (Deut. 8:18). All of our wealth belongs to the Lord, not just the 10% we are called to tithe. The Lord distributes different gifts to different people. He gives some great wealth and others he gives a relatively small amount. This may frustrate us, but God’s ways are above our ways and his thoughts are above our thoughts. We know that he works all things for the good of those who love God and are called according to our purpose. We have to believe that God knows our needs and will provide for us the way that is best (Mathew 6:19-34). With that being said, there are three simple ways to view wealth that will help to make us financially wise.

Wealth is a Blessing

            When Wisdom speaks in Proverbs 8:18, she says, “Riches and honor are with me, enduring wealth and righteousness.” The rich man will be able to endure more easily in the day of trial because he wealth will provide him some protection. Proverbs 10:15, “A rich man's wealth is his strong city; the poverty of the poor is their ruin.” Proverbs 14:24, “The crown of the wise is their wealth, but the folly of fools brings folly.” Wealth is a blessing from the Lord. Those who have wealth should recognize that every good and perfect gift comes from above.  Proverbs 22:4, “The reward for humility and fear of the Lord is riches and honor and life.” Wealth can be a blessing to people in a vast number of ways.

            It is important to point out that proverbs are maxims which generally come true. We may be those who live in wisdom, but still may not possess great wealth. We know people who work hard and are poor and others who live extravagantly while piling up debt. When we look at money, these are general principles that typically are proven true based on our experience.

Wealth is Dangerous

            Wealth is a gift of God, but also can prove dangerous to the soul. Riches pose a very real threat to salvation (just ask the Rich Young Ruler). The rich are tempted to put their hope in their wealth instead of their hope in Christ. Proverbs 11:28, “Whoever trusts in his riches will fall, but the righteous will flourish like a green leaf.” Many have walked away from Jesus Christ because of their desire for wealth (1Timothy 6:9-10). You cannot serve both God and money.

            We should be very wary of the dangerous pull of wealth. Proverbs 30:7-9 give us a wonderful perspective on money,

Two things I ask of you; deny them not to me before I die: Remove far from me falsehood and lying; give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full and deny you and say, “Who is the LORD?” or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God.

Sadly, too many are full and deny God and say, “Who is the Lord?” The prosperity of this country has drawn many people away from God. The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. Wealth is a blessing, but it also can be a curse.

Wealth has limitations.

We all need to realize that money has its limitations. Proverbs 11:4, “Riches do not profit in the day of wrath, but righteousness delivers from death.” No one will be able to pile their money before the Lord on their day of judgment as a reason to enter heaven. You never see an armored car drive behind a hearse. Once someone asked JD Rockefeller’s accountant how much he left behind and he replied, “All of it.”  1 Timothy 6:7, “For we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world.” And Job said after losing all his possessions, “Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.” (Job 1:21)

Do not put your trust in riches. Do not expect money to give you ultimate happiness. A bigger car, a nicer house, or more vacations will not fill the longing in the soul, neither will denying yourself all of those things for a larger savings account. Benjamin Franklin has said, “Money never made a man happy yet, nor will it. The more a man has, the more he wants. Instead of filling a vacuum, it makes one.” Wealth has limitations so do not give wealth the place it should never hold.

The Wisdom of Financial Pursuit


            Solomon provides two general principles for those in their pursuit of wealth which should frame how we approach our pursuit of financial gain. We should work hard and honestly.

Pursue Wealth by Working Hard

Those who do not work hard should not expect riches. The best way to acquire wealth is simple, good old-fashioned hard work. Proverbs 10:4, “A slack hand causes poverty, but the hand of the diligent makes rich.” Proverbs 12:27, “Whoever is slothful will not roast his game, but the diligent man will get precious wealth.” As we have said before, proverbs are maxims that provide a general rule of how things work out. There are lazy people who have acquired wealth, but the majority of the world acquires wealth by simple, diligent, faithful work. Do not look for the get-rich quick schemes, but diligently work to slowly acquire wealth. Proverbs 13:11 says, “Wealth gained hastily will dwindle, but whoever gathers little by little will increase it.” Do not listen to the spirit of the age with the promise of quick and easy money, but be willing to give yourself to a life of hard work to acquire wealth.


One thing I have heard recently is how often young people expect to start their careers and home life at the same standard of living as their parents. Young adults want their dream home and their dream job right when they get out of school. We need to readjust our expectations and realize that it will take hard work over a long time to get where we want to go.

Pursue Wealth by Working Honestly

            We should not only pursue wealth diligently, but also honestly. People should work hard, but do it with integrity. An honest day’s work is more valuable than great wealth.

Proverbs 22:16, “Whoever oppresses the poor to increase his own wealth, or gives to the rich, will only come to poverty.”
Proverbs 28:6, “Better is a poor man who walks in his integrity than a rich man who is crooked in his ways.”
Proverbs 22:1, “A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold.”
Proverbs 8:11, “for wisdom is better than jewels, and all that you may desire cannot compare with her.”
Proverbs 28:8, “Whoever multiplies his wealth by interest and profit gathers it for him who is generous to the poor.”

Which would you rather have: money or a good name? Wealth or wisdom? Christians should value integrity and honesty more than making money. If you value money more than righteousness, you will probably fall into temptation. “Better is a little with the fear of the LORD than great treasure and trouble with it.” (Proverbs 15:16)Better is a little with righteousness than great revenues with injustice.” (Proverbs 16:8 ESV) Can you say it? Would you rather have little wealth and Christ, or great riches without him?

            There is a reason that Paul says, “But 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. (1 Timothy 6:9) The desire for great wealth is tempting, but may lead you to ruin and destruction. Tim Keller warns that, “money can become much more than money. It can become a powerful life-altering, culture-shaping god, an idol that breaks the hearts of its worshippers.[4]” Do not underestimate the power of wealth and the desire to be rich. Choose wisdom over wealth, righteousness over riches.

The Wisdom of Financial Practice


            We should work hard and honestly to pursue our money, but how should we spend our money? There are three simple rules that I see taught in the Proverbs on how we should practice with our wealth.

Practice Generosity

            Christians should be generous. Christians are freed to be generous because they understand that all their resources have been given to them by God. Therefore we should practice generosity. Proverbs 3:9, “Honor the Lord with your wealth and with the first fruits of all your produce.” Generosity protects people from idolatry and shows they value the Lord above riches. When we are free to give our money to the Lord, then we show that money does not master us. We show that we are serving God, not money. Throughout Proverbs we see the generous being promised a reward from God.

Proverbs 19:17, “Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will repay him for his deed.”
Proverbs 14:21, “Whoever despises his neighbor is a sinner, but blessed is he who is generous to the poor.”
Proverbs 14:31, “Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker, but he who is generous to the needy honors him.”

God loves a cheerful giver (2 Cor. 9:7). Christians should practice generosity because God has been generous to them. We give because God has first given to us. It is more blessed to give than to receive. Those who sow generously will reap generously. Practice generosity.

Practice Restraint

            One of the greatest tools in how one uses their money is to practice restraint. We do not need as much as we think we need. Solomon encourages restraint in three specific ways.

In Spending- Proverbs 21:5, “The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance, but everyone who is hasty comes only to poverty.” Fools do not plan, but spend their money hastily. We should be cautious in our pursuit of entertainment and luxury. Proverbs 21:17, “Whoever loves pleasure will be a poor man; he who loves wine and oil will not be rich.” We are an entertainment- and a comfort-addicted culture. We are trained to believe that we are entitled to pleasure and comfort. Whether its movies, video games, eating out, or a remodel, we have to be careful not to love pleasure. Think careful in how you spend your wealth.

Restraint is not the same as being stingy. Remember, we should be generous with our resources. We should be hospitable with others, including our families. God has given us good things to enjoy. He is gracious and kind to us and has given us wealth to enjoy his world. “For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving.” (1 Timothy 4:4). Practice restraint in your spending, not stinginess.

To Avoid Debt – Proverbs 22:7, “The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is the slave of the lender.” Whether it is student loan debt, credit card debt, a huge mortgage or a car loan, debt can be crippling. Debt may hinder generosity. Debt may hinder one’s ability to serve others because they have to work longer hours or get a second job. Debt may also bring undue relational stress. There are certain debts that we cannot avoid, like a huge medical bill, but there are others that we bring upon ourselves. We should honor our debts. Proverbs 3:28, “Do not say to your neighbor, “Go, and come again, tomorrow I will give it”—when you have it with you.” Psalm 37:21, “The wicked borrows but does not pay back, but the righteous is generous and gives.” Practice restraint in your spending and your purchases to avoid being put in situations where you will not be able to honor your debt. Be not one of those who give pledges, who puts up security for debts. If you have nothing with which to pay, why should your bed be taken from under you? (Proverbs 22:26-27)

To Avoid Schemes – Restraint will help us discover the various financial schemes of our day. Whether it is getting a free t-shirt on a college campus to sign up for a credit card, being roped into a pyramid scheme, or receiving an email requesting help from Nigeria, restraint will make you think twice before falling to a financial trap. “Wealth gained hastily will dwindle, but whoever gathers little by little will increase it.” (Proverbs 13:11) Restraint will protect you from the get rich quick schemes.

Practice Saving

            We should intentionally practice saving for the days ahead. The righteous plans for the days ahead like the ant prepares for winter. Christians should work to leave an inheritance for their children and to be prepared for the days of calamity. Proverbs does not specify how much one should save, but simply that one should save. “A good man leaves an inheritance to his children's children, but the sinner's wealth is laid up for the righteous.”(Proverbs 13:22) “The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance, but everyone who is hasty comes only to poverty.” (Proverbs 21:5).

            We practice generosity to honor the Lord and thank Him for his good gifts. We practice restraint to protect us from worldly pleasures, debts and schemes. We practice saving to prepare for the days ahead. There are many other things that could be said in how we spend our money, but these three practices will help one grow in wisdom in the use of their money.

The Wisdom of Financial Payment

            There is little doubt that some of you feel weighted down when thinking about finances. Whether you are struggling with debt or bound to an apparent never-ending cycle of poor choices, there is hope for you. The beginning of financial wisdom, like all wisdom is the fear of the Lord. Always remember your greatest debt has already been paid.

Christ Paid Your Debt

            The wages of sin is death. We all rightly earn death because of our sin. We have a debt to God that we cannot pay. And through the fear of death we have been subject to lifelong slavery. Therefore God sent forth his Son to free us from our bondage to our debt. We who were dead in our trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. (Colossians 2:13-14) After Jesus was dead and buried, God raised him from the dead proving that he accepted Christ’s payment in full. Jesus paid it all, all to him I owe. Sin had left a crimson stain, he washed it white as snow. The greatest debt that stood against us has been canceled; paid in full, forgiven in the blood in Christ. All who turn from their sin and trust in Christ have their debt wiped out. You may be overwhelmed by creditors, but in Christ, you have righteousness credited to your account forever.

            The more we understand the debt that Christ has paid, the more we will love him and strive to honor him with all of our lives, including our finances. We have been bought with a price. We no longer are our own, but we belong to God. Jesus died as our ransom to buy us back to God. Our wealth, our resources, and our investments all belong to God. We should not be hesitant to give, but delight to give as God has given us so much. He did not spare his own Son, but give him up for us all, how will he not graciously with him give us all things? We cannot out-give God. We should delight in giving our all to him for Jesus paid it all, all to him I owe.

Christ Provided Your Contentment

            Let me close with one verse that should give us hope when we feel the squeeze of our checkbook. “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’” (Hebrews 13:5) Beloved, keep yourself free from the love of money, be content with what you have, because you have Christ. Jesus will never leave you or forsake you. If you have Christ, the King of glory, what else do you need? Learn the secret of being content with living in plenty and in want, for you can do all things through Christ who strengthens you.




[1] Alcorn, Randy. The Treasure Principle. Unlocking the Secret of Joyful Giving. 2001Pg 22-23
[4] Keller, Tim. Counterfeit Gods. Xv.

The Wisdom of Politics (Proverbs 16:10-15)


Groucho Marx defines politics as, “the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies.” Ronald Reagan states, “It has been said that politics is the second oldest profession. I have learned that it bears a striking resemblance to the first.” Aesop says, “We hang the petty thieves and appoint the great ones to public office.” And the ever witty Mark Twain says, “Suppose you were an idiot and suppose you were a member of Congress; but I repeat myself.” Politics is a dirty business. It is like entering a coal mine in a white suit, one cannot leave clean. Politics creates deep passion and utter frustration. 
      Christians vary in their views of politics. Some evangelicals have become so disgusted with the political process that they have withdrawn from it entirely while others are so devoted to partisan politics that it appears to overtake their allegiance to Christ. Christians can easily err on both sides of the line. As Martin Luther has said, “The world is like a drunken peasant. If you lift him into the saddle on one side, he will fall off again on the other side.[1]” So do we avoiding being like “drunken peasants,” falling on the side of total political apathy only to go to the side of total political immersion? How should Christians view politics or political leaders? What is the role of the government and its citizens? Should we place any hope in our political system?

      These questions have been debated throughout the centuries, as politics have always played a significant role in the health, good or ill, of a nation. Solomon wrote the book of Proverbs so that his readers would, “know wisdom and instruction, to understand words of insight and to receive instruction in wise dealing, in righteousness, justice and equity.” (Prov. 1:2-3) One of the key arenas in which Solomon desires these principles to be displayed is in the arena of government and politics. Some scholars believe that Proverbs was written specifically for the young men in Solomon’s court who were responsible to help govern the nation. As we struggle to process our role as Christians within a pluralistic, secular society it would be wise for us to glean wisdom from one of God’s kings who was inspired to write about God’s world, even the messy world of politics.


The Wisdom of Political Separation

Christians are citizens in two kingdoms. We are citizens of the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of the earth. Our primary citizenship is that of heaven, for God’s kingdom is not of this world (Phil. 3:20, John 18:36). Therefore we have to be very careful to make a strongest allegiance that of our citizenship of our earthly nation. We are fundamentally aliens and strangers in this land for our home is heaven. We are citizens of the King of kings living in a foreign land.

Separation of Church and State

In 1802 Thomas Jefferson wrote to Baptists in Danbury, CT introducing the concept of the separation of church and state into the American political lexicon by saying,

Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.[2]

Jefferson believed that it was not the right of the government to dictate matters of the conscience, but to empower people to freely express their beliefs in worship of God.

The idea of separation of Church and State has been misunderstood to mean a “religion free” public square. Jefferson never meant to limit the conversation, but to inhibit the government to dictate matters of conscience. Christians should rightly desire a separation of church and state as it was originally introduced into our country. We should fight for the government to be limited as to not infringe the conscience of believers.

Separation for the Gospel

      The church should never wed itself to a political party. Our primary mission should never be to elect someone from a certain political party into office, for our mission is far more important than the political activism. Our mission is the proclamation of the gospel. Our King has given us a task to preach the good news of Jesus Christ. The only saving message of the world is not through politics, but through a Savior. Men are going to perish for eternity in Hell if they do not know Jesus Christ as their Savior. Therefore the church must never waver in its primary mission to proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sin in the death, burial, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.

      The keyword is “primary.” We should be actively involved in our world, but our primary mission will always be to makes disciples of Jesus through word and deed. If we extend a hope in anything other than Jesus Christ, we are putting people in danger of eternal fire. The only lasting hope is the living hope of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead (1 Peter 1:3).

The Wisdom of Political Suitability

What is the purpose of government according to the Proverbs? Solomon believes kings and/or political rulers should enforce justice. Thus a suitable government promotes justice and punishes evil. Proverbs 16:10-15,

An oracle is on the lips of a king; his mouth does not sin in judgment. A just balance and scales are the LORD's; all the weights in the bag are his work. It is an abomination to kings to do evil, for the throne is established by righteousness. Righteous lips are the delight of a king, and he loves him who speaks what is right. A king's wrath is a messenger of death, and a wise man will appease it. In the light of a king's face there is life, and his favor is like the clouds that bring the spring rain.

Kings lived under the rule and reign of the Lord. Kings were to administer justice to the land which is why it is an abomination to kings to do evil. Their very purpose was to order a society that praises those who do good and punishes those who do evil. This is how a king is measured through 1st and 2nd Kings. The king either did what was right in the eyes of the Lord or he did what was evil in the eyes of the Lord. They were judged well if they promoted righteousness and justice.

People often talk about president’s political legacies, but the way we should judge a successful government is their ability to promote justice. Peter echoes Solomon’s exhortation in saying, “Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good.” (1 Peter 2:13-14). Paul says we should obey earthly governments, “For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good.” (Romans 13:3-4) Rulers are placed in authority by God to bring about his justice. When a government does not punish evil and praise righteousness, it has forgotten its purpose.


The Wisdom of Political Servants

      In a democratic republic we have the responsibility to elect representatives to help fulfill God’s mandate of justice. What should we look for in our political servants? Well we should first look for servants. Politicians are supposed to public servants not self-servants. We should work to elect servants of the people who:

Serve in Humility

      God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble. God sets up and removes kings. Daniel 2:20-21, “Blessed be the name of God forever and ever, to whom belong wisdom and might. He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings; he gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding.” Kings and rulers serve because God has placed them in that position.

      Nebuchadnezzar is a great historical example of someone who had to learn this lesson the hard way. Nebuchadnezzar was ruler over Babylon. He served for himself and thought the power of his kingdom was because of his hand. He was on the roof of the royal palace looking over his kingdom and said,

“Is not this great Babylon, which I have built by my mighty power as a royal residence and for the glory of my majesty?” While the words were still in the king’s mouth there fell a voice from heaven, “O King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is spoken: The kingdom has departed from you, and you shall be driven from among men, and your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field …until you know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will.” (Daniel 4:30-32)

Nebuchadnezzar lost his power, his palace, and his position to live on the grass like an ox. At the end of his life, Nebuchadnezzar was moved to “praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, for all his works are right and all his ways are just and those who walk in pride he is able to humble.” (Daniel 4:37)

      Let us choose leaders who understand that all God’s ways are right and that God is able to humble the proud in heart. “The king's heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will.” (Proverbs 21:1)

Serve in Wisdom and Justice

      The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Rulers are given wisdom to govern justly. Proverbs 8:12; 15, “I, wisdom, dwell with prudence, and I find knowledge and discretion…By me kings reign, and rulers decree what is just; by me princes rule, and nobles, all who govern justly.” The state should not rule the church and the church should not rule the state, but that does not mean that God’s wisdom should not be applied to the government. The best governments are those who seek God’s wisdom in their rule.

      Proverbs 20:26, “A wise king winnows the wicked and drives the wheel over them.” A wise king understands his rule to punish the wicked and promote justice. Proverbs 20:28, “Steadfast love and faithfulness preserve the king, and by steadfast love his throne is upheld.” The king defines righteousness and love by the commandments of the Lord. The king’s throne is upheld by his steadfast love to the Lord.

      We have all seen political leaders in our day that have not lived under the authority of the God. And those who have not lived in and for righteousness, cause grief among the people. Proverbs 11:10, “When it goes well with the righteous, the city rejoices, and when the wicked perish there are shouts of gladness.” Proverbs 28:28, “When the wicked rise, people hide themselves, but when they perish, the righteous increase.” Proverbs 29:2, “When the righteous increase, the people rejoice, but when the wicked rule, the people groan.” The joy and sorrow of a nation can be traced to its leaders. If leaders are honorable, they will lead in justice and the people will rejoice. If leaders are dishonorable, they will extend grief and sadness to the people.


The Wisdom of Political Struggle

Many evangelicals think it is best for us to retreat from the public square and to ignore the political partisanship that dominates national discourse. They rightly believe the Great Commission is our number one priority, yet they wrongly apply that belief by retreating from politics. We are called to struggle for justice. We have an obligation to speak the truth in love. We have an obligation to command people to repent and believe in the gospel and live in a way that honors the Lord. We are called to struggle.

Struggle for Wisdom with Fools

We see Solomon pleading with his readers to pursue wisdom over folly. Lady folly calls aloud leading people to ruin and destruction. We have to battle against Lady Folly by being those who call aloud with wisdom. We believe God’s ways will ultimately be better for our neighbor. If we love our neighbors, we should engage in political discourse which will lead them to wisdom.

The spirit of the age wants everyone to accept everyone else's ideology.Islamic ideology cannot coexist with Judaism. Judaism and Islam cannot coexist with Christianity. Judaism and Islam are enemies of the cross of Christ. They do not believe in the gospel, but offer another way to salvation. If Jesus Christ is man’s only hope for salvation, it is wicked to offer hope in anything else. It is naïve to believe that the cross is compatible with any other religion. Jesus Christ says, “I am the way and the truth and the life and no man comes to the father except through me.” We can leave peaceably with others, but we cannot accept their ideology. If we accept false ideology, we are abandoning the gospel.

We are in a real battle with foolishness. We have to struggle for the wisdom of the Cross in a world of folly.

Struggle for Preservation of Morality

      Jesus has called Christians the salt of the earth and the light of the world. We are called to slow the moral decay of our world by preserving it with righteousness. When we work for justice and peace, we are restraining the moral evil in our day. We cannot retreat into the shadows, but continue to be heralds of him who called us out of darkness into his marvelous light. We know that God will,

Render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. (Romans 2:6-8)

We know judgment is coming so we must speak. We do not have the option to be silent.

Struggle for Engagement

      Non-involvement is a vote for the wicked. If Christians are silent, they allow wicked to rule. A non-vote is still a vote and God will still hold you accountable for inaction. Proverbs 24:10-12,

If you faint in the day of adversity, your strength is small. Rescue those who are being taken away to death; hold back those who are stumbling to slaughter. If you say, “Behold, we do not know this,” does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it, and will he not repay according to his work?

The silence of the church is a great tragedy while the innocent unborn children are being led to the slaughter. The silence of the church is a tragedy for those who are deceived in their sexual immorality that will exclude them from inheriting the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:9-10). Beloved, we must open our eyes and continue to struggle for wisdom. We must engage in the political process.

The Struggle for Honor

      We may dislike our leaders, but we must continue to walk in respect and humility. I do not love the policies of our current president, but that gives us no right to malign him. Proverbs 24:21, “My son, fear the Lord and the king, and do not join with those who do otherwise, for disaster will arise suddenly from them, and who knows the ruin that will come from them both?” 1 Peter 2:17, “Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the Emperor.” The early church was called to fear Nero, who was far more brutal a leader than our country has ever seen. One way we honor them is by praying for them. 1 Tim 2:1-2, “First of all, then I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.”


The Wisdom of Political Savior

      Proverbs 29:26, “Many seek the face of a ruler, but is from the Lord that a man gets justice.” God will ultimately be the one to establish justice. He should engage in political action working for God’s justice to reign, but we should never put our hope in our government. Our hope should always be in God. God promised in the birth of his Son, Jesus Christ, in Isaiah 9:6-7 that,

The government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called, Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

Jesus has inaugurated his kingdom in his first coming and will fully establish it on his second. The kingdom of God is already here, but has not yet been fully realized.

Beloved, we were once under the domain of darkness. We were sinners in rebellion against God. We do not fear God or keep his commandments. We were destined for ruin and destruction because of our foolishness, but in God’s loving kindness he sent Jesus Christ. Jesus lived in perfect fear of God and embodied wisdom. He died as a sinner hung on the cross. Cursed by God. He was dead and buried, but God raised him from the Dead. His resurrection validated his Kingship. He ascended to heaven and sent the Holy Spirt into the world as a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance of the kingdom of God. Jesus has begun the kingdom of God and one day he will fully establish it.

Every earthly kingdom will one day perish. America will not last forever. There is coming a day when God will shake not only the earth, but the heavens and will remove all things that are shaken. Jesus Christ offers us a place in his kingdom if we confess him as our King, for all who confess with their mouth and believe in their heart that Jesus Christ is Lord will be saved and will receive the kingdom of God. Jesus is the only forever King of a forever kingdom. Right before Jesus ascended to heaven the disciples asked,

“Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:6-8)

Beloved, we do not know when the Lord will ultimately establish his kingdom, but we have received power to be his witnesses. Therefore, live as citizens of heaven as we await our King’s return. He is our only hope and is and will always forever be our only true political Savior.

The Wisdom of Marriage (Proverbs 18:22)


     
 Alexander Pope said of Isaac Newton, “Nature and Nature's laws lay hid in night:
God said, Let Newton be! and all was light.” Isaac Newton has been credited in discovering the theory of gravity. Many earlier scientists believed the Sun revolved around the Earth, but we now know that the sun is the center of our solar system. Every planet in our solar system rotates around the sun and is held in its orbit by the sun’s gravitational pull. The sun is by far the heaviest object in our solar system. The sun is 300,000 times heavier than the Earth. The lighter planets orbit around the heaviest planet. The weight of the sun places a gravitational pull on every other planet.
        
    The gravitational center of marriage has shifted in recent years. The new view of marriage is pulling people to a new gravitational center. People are changing their long-held traditional and historical views of marriage. We should not be surprised by this recent shift on marriage as we have seen our nation move away from a biblical worldview over the last 40 years. We are bearing the fruit of a nation that has rejected the straightforward testimony of the Bible. We talk most often about the change in perspective of same-sex marriage, but there have been many other shifts in how people approach marriage. People are getting married later and later. Most couples are choosing to live together before they get married, while divorce continues to be a legitimate way to solve marital conflict.

Our constant language of what we are against has obscured the beauty and gift of marriage. Non-Christians typically know more of what the church is against than what the church is for. They hear us being against a particular kind of marriage rather than seeing us being for godly marriages. We have been so focused on what we oppose that we have forgotten to cherish and treasure what we have in God’s gift of marriage. We must rejoice in our marriages. We must apply God’s wisdom in our marriages. The world needs it now more than ever.

The Wisdom of Marriage Choice

Before we dive into Solomon’s exhortation for a healthy marriage, we have to first establish the importance of choosing the right person. There are many marriages begin at a disadvantage because people are foolish in their choice of a mate. If you are not married, you have most likely asked, “Who should I marry?” If you are already married, you could probably help someone someday answer the question, “Should I marry this person?” As Christians, what are things that we should consider when choosing a spouse? Does God have any particular advice for Christians in choosing a spouse?

It is dangerous to preach about marriage in America. Americans love their personal autonomy. Even the Supreme Court this past week made a declaration that individual autonomy of a marital choice is a fundamental right. We are taught that our personal choices should not have any restrictions. We do have freedom to make our own choices, but those choices have consequences. We can chose to honor God with our choices or to dishonor God with our choices. The question is not whether we have freedom, but whether we are using our freedom to honor the Lord. The apostle Peter encourages the 1st century Christians to “Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God.” We have freedom of choice, but as Christians our choices should honor God and be governed by his Word.

      First, Christians must consider if they should marry at all. Paul writes to the Corinthians, “To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single as I am.” (1 Corinthians 7:8). Singleness is not a curse, but should be commended, for those who are single have the unique opportunity to have a singular focus on the Lord. They are not bound by other responsibilities and can give themselves to the service of the Lord and His church. Singleness is a gift and should not be squandered with a constant longing for spouse. The desire to be married is a healthy desire, but can also dominate a person’s life, clouding them from seeing the tremendous opportunity that singleness provides.

      Secondly, if a Christian is going to be married, then they should marry a Christian. Christians singles should not enter into a romantic relationship with a non-believer. I have asked many young Christians that start a dating relationship about the spiritual state of their partner and many times they respond, “We have discussed that yet.” If you haven’t discussed it, then how do you know if you should be in that relationship? 2 Corinthians 6 is not explicitly about marriage, but I believe it is appropriate to apply to the marriage relationship. Paul writes,

Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, “I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you, and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty. Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God. ” (2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1)

Paul makes the biblical application from the Law that believers should not yoke themselves or intimately connect themselves with an unbeliever. This does not mean we should not be friends with unbelievers, but our closest relationships should be believers as they will encourage our walks with the Lord.

      Let me add a caveat. I know a number of marriages where one of the spouses was a non-believer when they were married and the testimony of the spouse won them to the Lord. We should praise God for his kindness for using those spouses to draw their partners to the Lord. And yet for as many positive stories we hear, there are countless others of those whose faith was shipwrecked because of the influence of an unbelieving spouse. And there are many others who experienced tremendous hardships in their marriage because they married someone outside the faith. We cannot base our choices on anecdotal evidence, but on the Word of God.

      Solomon is exhorting young men in Proverbs to choice a mate wisely, because he knows of the powerful influence of a spouse, 1 Kings 11:6-8,

So Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the LORD and did not wholly follow the LORD, as David his father had done. Then Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, and for Molech the abomination of the Ammonites, on the mountain east of Jerusalem. And so he did for all his foreign wives, who made offerings and sacrificed to their gods.

Beloved, trust God’s Word in your marital choice.

Thirdly, Christians should marry only those who are free to marry. We live in a fallen world, so people are going to experience broken relationships. Marriages are going to end. Brokenness is woven throughout our lives. Everyone has been affected by divorce. We cannot escape its reach. It is a very present reality. There is a debate among conservative biblical scholars of what qualifies as a biblical divorce and a biblical remarriage. There were debates in Jesus day on what constituted a biblical divorce between the Pharisees and the Sadducees. Although there is a debate, there are only two agreed upon reasons for a divorce in the Scriptures: sexual immorality and desertion (Matthew 19:9; 1 Cor. 7:15).

Before you engage in a dating relationship, be sure you are only entering into a relationship with someone that is free to marry. If you are not careful before you enter the relationship, you may find yourself in a very difficult predicate as time goes on.

There are many other things to consider when choosing a spouse: sense of humor, physical attraction, personality, worldview, etc. Bring your friends and spiritual mentors into your life before you enter into a dating relationship. Let them help you ask the tough questions so you can honor the Lord with your choice of a spouse.

The Wisdom of Marriage Contentment

     Proverbs 18:22, “He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the LORD.” Marriage is awesome!! Marriage is a good thing. God loves marriage and wants us to delight in our marriage. One of the reasons that the gravitational center of marriage has changed is because there are a lot of people discontented in their marriages. Discontentment seeps into a marriage in many forms.

Comparison – Comparing your spouse to others breeds discontentment. Even comparing your spouse to themselves 5 to 10 years earlier. Comparison can make us long for someone other than our spouse.

Unrealistic Expectations – This is comparison’s ugly twin. We often place too much on our spouse. We expect them to meet the demands of our souls that only God can meet.

Sin – We are sinners who married sinners. We sin against our spouse which can drive them away from us. We are sinned against by our spouse which can drive us away from them. We need to see sin through the eyes Christ. Jesus did not lay his life down for perfect people, but for sinners. Romans 5:8, “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” We are called to treat our spouse with the grace they do not deserve. We treat them as Christ has treated us. God gives us grace to deal with the sin of our spouse. Yet there are times when the sin is so severe it cannot be dealt with alone. If you are in an abusive situation or know someone who is, please find help. We are here for you. You do not have to walk through it alone.

There are a myriad of different reasons discontentment can grow in your marriage which is why Solomon encourages you to delight in your wife. Solomon gives three long discourses in Proverbs 5-7 warning of the dangers of the adulterous woman. She is the picture of folly, inviting men into ruin and destruction. Folly’s call may come from a co-worker, neighbor, a website or a chatroom, but the call will come. How does one stand against folly’s call? It is easy to stand against it if we are delight in our spouse. We must be content with the good gift God has given us.

Marriage is a blessing. Proverbs 18:22, “He who finds a wife finds a good thing.” God wants his people to delight themselves in their spouse because marriage is a sweet and precious gift of God. Solomon gives strong warnings to avoid the adulteress because she leads to death. Listen to the outcome of those who are lured to find satisfaction outside of their marriage.

Her feet go down to death; her steps follow the path to Sheol; she does not ponder the path of life; her ways wander, and she does not know it. (Proverbs 5:5-6)
He who commits adultery lacks sense; he who does it destroys himself. He will get wounds and dishonor, and his disgrace will not be wiped away. (Proverbs 6:32-33)
With much seductive speech she persuades him; with her smooth talk she compels him. All at once he follows her, as an ox goes to the slaughter, or as a stag is caught fast till an arrow pierces its liver; as a bird rushes into a snare; he does not know that it will cost him his life. And now, O sons, listen to me, and be attentive to the words of my mouth. Let not your heart turn aside to her ways; do not stray into her paths, for many a victim has she laid low, and all her slain are a mighty throng. Her house is the way to Sheol, going down to the chambers of death.  (Proverbs 7:21-27)

The way of folly leads to death. Do not be deceived to think you will find satisfaction outside your marriage. This admonition is both for the married and the single. True intimacy is reserved for marriage.

The key to protecting your marriage is to cultivate contentment within your marriage or your singleness and rejoice in the good gift given by God’s hand. He who finds a wife finds what is good. She who finds a husband finds what is good. Marriage is good. Solomon makes his case in Proverbs 5:15-19,

Drink water from your own cistern, flowing water from your own well. Should your springs be scattered abroad, streams of water in the streets? Let them be for yourself alone, and not for strangers with you. Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth, a lovely deer, a graceful doe. Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight; be intoxicated always in her love.

Listen to the words Solomon uses to describe one’s satisfaction with one’s wife: rejoice, delight, and intoxicated. The key to healthy marriage is to rejoice and delight in the gift of your spouse. Do you realize how amazing marriage is? Marriage is a gift and all good gifts come from above.

      The key to a healthy marriage is profoundly simple and yet excruciating hard. Genesis 2:24, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” The key is a healthy marriage is oneness. God desires a husband and wife to be one. Contentment is a fruit of oneness. If couples work to cultivate a one flesh union, they will be content with one another. Marriages fall apart because couples drift away from each other rather than working to remain close to one another. Analyze your marriage with the “oneness test.” Do activities promote oneness or division? Are you “one” in your finances, raising of children, communication, intimacy, time, and/or hobbies? If you are not growing in oneness, there may be gaps of discontentment growing.

      Beloved, marriage is good. Guard you’re the oneness of your marriage with contentment.

The Wisdom of Marriage Peace

      Solomon wants marriages to be at peace. Solomon spends a considerable amount of time warning young men to avoid adultery because its pull is very strong. As men may be drawn away from oneness through sexual temptation and passivity, women are tempted to divide oneness with a critical, quarrelsome spirit.

      Husbands need to take responsibility to lead their marriage in peace. Husbands are called to lay down their lives for their wives to cherish and nourish their souls with the Word of God. Many wives become quarrelsome because husbands abdicate their responsibilities to lead. Imagine a husband and wife on a field playing soccer. An often typical response of a husband is take off his jersey and go sit in the stands. He stops intentionally engaging with his wife, but chooses to passively watch from the distance. Wives, on the other hand, trade jerseys with the referees and start blowing the whistle at their husbands.

      The lack of peace in a marriage is never one-sided. There is sin on both sides of marriage. And if marriages are full of strife, it will be unpleasant for both parties. Solomon writes,

A foolish son is ruin to his father, and a wife's quarreling is a continual dripping of rain. House and wealth are inherited from fathers, but a prudent wife is from the LORD. (Proverbs 19:13-14)
It is better to live in a corner of the housetop than in a house shared with a quarrelsome wife. (Proverbs 21:9)
It is better to live in a desert land than with a quarrelsome and fretful woman. (Proverbs 21:19)
It is better to live in a corner of the housetop than in a house shared with a quarrelsome wife. (Proverbs 25:24)
A continual dripping on a rainy day and a quarrelsome wife are alike; to restrain her is to restrain the wind or to grasp oil in one's right hand. (Proverbs 27:15-16)

It is not pleasant to live with a quarrelsome wife. God’s desires marriage to be peaceful. Wives have to strive to be at peace with their husbands. Husbands have to strive to be at peace with their wives. Solomon talks often about the quarrelsome wife, but remember both parties may be responsible for the quarreling. Paul gives two main exhortations in Ephesians 5. He tells husbands to love their wives and wives to respect their husbands. I believe he gives those exhortations because those are the areas that men and women need to be reminded. Men need to be exhorted to love their wives and women need to be exhorted to respect their husbands.

      A quarrelsome wife may not respect and honor her husband. Wives need to work to cultivate peace in their marriage by addressing the discontentment in their hearts that spills out to discontented speech. But a quarrelsome wife may have a husband that is passive and lazy. The main issue is the “why” a home is quarrelsome. Wives, must first ask if you they are quarrelsome. And if they answer yes, then deal with their heart before the Lord. Lean on other women in the church to help diagnose your own heart. Pray and ask God for help to reveal the reasons for you’re a quarrelsome spirit. And remember an excellent wife is the crown of her husband, but it is not natural to our fallen world. If it was, Solomon would not say, “An excellent wife who can find?” (Prov. 31:10) A prudent wife comes from the Lord.

      If husbands believe their wife to be quarrelsome, they must first ask how they are contributing to her quarrelsome spirit. Wives may appear like the constant drip of the rain because husbands are not talking responsibility to lead their families in word and deed. Husbands may need to get in the game. A husband can help his wife by serving her in a manner that does not invite criticism. Husbands need to intentionally engage in family life so that the wife does not have to feel it is her responsibility to nag her husband. Husbands have to fight to lead while wives have to fight to let them lead. Be patient with each other and fight for peace.

The Wisdom of Marriage Power

        The power of marriage is the gospel. Husbands and wives have to view their spouse through the lenses of Jesus Christ. There are no perfect marriages this side of heaven, but we have the power through Christ to cultivate godly marriages. Every believer in Jesus Christ has been given the Holy Spirit to overcome the flesh and to live in righteousness. Jesus Christ died for sinners. God is not surprised by your sin. If you are struggling in your marriage, there is hope for you. If you are struggling with discontentment, there is hope for you. If you are a quarrelsome wife or a wayward husband, there is hope for you. If you have been divorced, there is hope for you. Jesus Christ died to pay for you. He is calling you to come to Him. He died that you may live. We all have failed in our marriages. We all have been discontented or quarrelsome. Our failures should remind us of the hope we have in Jesus. Jesus died for us. Our only hope in our failures is to cling to Jesus who has made a way for us to be reconciled to God. His grace is greater than our failures. And we do not have to remain failures because God gives us power to overcome our sin.

      The power that God offers sinners is His resurrection power. Christians can overcome temptation because Jesus Christ overcame the grave. Romans 8:10-11, “But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.” God will give life to our marriages if we trust in Him. God wants our marriages to be a reflection of the gospel. He wants husbands to love their wives as Christ has loved the church. He wants wives to respect and submit their husbands as the church submits to Christ. He wants our marriages to be a fragrant aroma that leads people to the gospel of grace.

      There will be much conversation regarding the Supreme Court ruling to legalize same-sex marriage this past week, but our calling has not changed. We are called to be witnesses of the resurrection of Jesus Christ through word and deed. Al Mohler, president of Southern Seminary, summarizes this well,

In one sense, everything has changed. And yet, nothing has changed. The cultural and legal landscape has changed, as we believe this will lead to very real harms to our neighbors. But our Christian responsibility has not changed. We are charged to uphold marriage as the union of a man and a woman and to speak the truth in love. We are also commanded to uphold the truth about marriage in our own lives, in our own marriages, in our own families, and in our own churches.

We are called to be the people of the truth, even when the truth is not popular and even when the truth is denied by the culture around us.  Christians have found themselves in this position before, and we will again. God’s truth has not changed. The Holy Scriptures have not changed. The Gospel of Jesus Christ has not changed. The church’s mission has not changed. Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today, and forever.[1]

Beloved, God desires godly marriages. The world needs godly marriages. We have a great opportunity to display God’s wisdom to the world in our marriage. Let us cultivate godly marriages so the world will see and savor the beauty of God’s wisdom.

Exceeding Righteousness

Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.~ Matthew 5:19-20

Beloved,

How can one exceed the righteousness of a Pharisee?  They lived incredibly moral lives. They fasted twice a week for the nation of Israel. They honored the Sabbath. As the epitome of Jewish faith, they fought to protect the Scripture’s commandments. If they meticulously and diligently strived to honor the Old Testament laws, then what did Jesus mean when he said that unless our righteousness exceeds theirs, we will never enter the kingdom of heaven?

Jesus answers the question by teaching that the weight of the law exceeds the external adherence to the law. True Christian discipleship is not merely following the law, but obeying it from the deeper places within our hearts. Jesus redefines the importance of the Ten Commandments by elevating and enriching them.  One should not murder, but also one must NOT permit personal rage to develop to the point of homicide.  Jesus Christ has fulfilled the Law. He pours out the Spirit of the New Covenant. “For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” (Jeremiah 31:33) Christ came, not only to change our behavior, but to transform our hearts.

The righteousness of Christ exceeds the external decency of a Pharisee. God doesn’t want merely people who obey his law externally, but desires a zeal within His people’s hearts for good works! Through the Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ places his law within our hearts. Christ came so we would no longer have a righteousness that “comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.” (Phil.3:9) Our righteousness depends on God and what He’s done for us through Jesus Christ.

Beloved, we no longer are under the Law of Moses. We’re now under the law of Christ. We no longer trust in our works to save us, but we have faith in Christ’s righteousness. Our Lord’s righteousness now calls us to complete the law of Christ by living for righteousness from the heart. God cares not only about our actions, but why we do things! He came to transform us, not just our behavior. He came to give us a righteousness that exceeds that of Pharisees, so that we will enter the kingdom of heaven.

The Wisdom of Words (Proverbs 22:17-21)


            Over the past several months, our family has experienced a lot of car trouble. We have had windows that will not roll down, doors that will not open, engines that have been over heating and a computer system that would randomly shut off leaving the car without air conditioning and windshield wipers. It has been a rough couple of months on the car front. Our cars have been perishing. We finally had to say goodbye to our family car, Big Blue. It was a 2003 Dodge Caravan with 245,000 miles that served us well, but it had to be replaced. It was a little sad saying goodbye to the family car, but we had seen that day coming for a while.

            We knew the van was sick, because of the noises that we would hear come out of the car. The car was so loud that I could tell when my wife was coming about ½ mile before I could see her. The noises the car makes is often an indication of its physical health. Many mechanics can listen to a car and diagnose the problem simply by listening to the engine. The average car customer, when buying a new car, always listens to the sound of the engine to see if anything sounds odd. The noise coming from a car is a barometer for its physical health. Likewise, the noises our bodies make are a sign of our physical health.

            The first thing the doctor does when he enters the examination room is to take out the stethoscope and listen to your heart. By listening to the noises of the body, he can make observations and judgments about the health of the body. The noises within the body indicate our physical health, but the noises that come out of the body indicate our spiritual health. The words we use are a barometer for our spiritual health. Jesus says, “What comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart.” (Matthew 15:18a) If we want to diagnose our spiritual health, we need to look no further than the tongue. In order to diagnose the health of our own soul, we need to be like the doctor and the mechanic and listen the noises coming out of our mouths. We have to examine their truthfulness and their timeliness.

            A key theme throughout the book of Proverbs is speech. Proverbs 18:21, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.” There is power in the tongue. Wisdom calls aloud from the street and beckons us to use our tongues to honor the Lord and to love his people. We have the choice every day to walk the road of folly with the tongue or the way of wisdom. James says, “With the tongue (it) we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. (James 3:9-10) Our words matter to God. We have the choice and the responsibility to walk in wisdom with our words.

The Wise Speak Gracious Words
    
        Solomon shows throughout the book how death and life are in the power of the tongue. He wants the youth to choose wisdom with their words so that they can be a blessing to their neighbor. It is hard to underestimate the importance of good communication for the health of any relationship or any community of faith. The words we use to one another have power to bring life to the soul. Proverbs 16:24, “Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body.” The gracious words we use to and for others function like medicine to the sick soul. Solomon says that the anxious heart weighs a man down, but “a good word makes him glad. (Prov. 12:25) There indeed are so many helpful benefits of the good communication weaved throughout the Proverbs that it will be hard to touch on every one, but it is helpful to remind us how powerful our speech can be for the good of others.

            How often do you sit down at the end of the day and examine how you used your words that day? It is a helpful practice to think through conversations and to examine if our words were edifying. Did we say too much? Did we leave words unsaid? We will never grow in our speech unless we see the importance of it. All animals communicate to varying degrees, but only human beings have been given the power of speech. God has given us speech because we were made in God’s image. The very first words in the Bible, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth…and God said, ‘Let there be light’ and there was light.” God speaks and creates life. Beloved, God has given us this gift. We speak and create life. Our words should be life-giving to our neighbors. Proverbs 10:11, “The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life.” God has given us the power to speak life into people’s wearied souls.

            The most obvious way we speak life is to speak the gospel. Paul writes to the Thessalonians, “As we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts. (1 Thessalonians 2:4) We speak the gospel because the gospel brings life. We should make a practices of speaking the gospel to our neighbors for this pleases God who tests our hearts.

If you are a visitor today, I wonder what you think when you hear the word gospel? ”Gospel” simply means good news. It is the good news about how God has sent His Son, Jesus Christ to stand in the place of sinners. God spoke the world into existence. He created man and breathed life into his body. Man rebelled against God’s Word and turned to folly. And because of Adam and Eve’s sin, we were born sinners. Born as fools. Our foolishness deserves to be punished. The Bible states that all fools will perish forever in a literal Hell. But God does not only speak a word of judgment, but a word of salvation. The good news is God sent Jesus Christ to us. He lived a perfect life and was punished as a fool on a cross to pay for our foolishness. He was dead and buried, but God raised him from the dead. Jesus overcame death and hell in his resurrection. And the beautiful word of the gospel is that if anyone turns from their sins and trust in Christ, then his death will be credited to you along with his resurrection. Whoever calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved. You can be saved from the consequences of your foolish, by turning from your sins and trusting in Christ.

Beloved, the mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life so let us speak of the gospel that brings forth the fountain of living water. Let us speak about Jesus.

Of course we want our lips to constantly be extolling the gospel, but we also are going to speak about a variety of issues. The Scriptures should govern all our communication so let me give two practical questions that one can ask to improve their communication with others. “Should I say anything?” It is so easy to get in trouble by not practicing restraint. We do not need to speak into every situation. As Elvis has said, “Only Fools Rush In.” We can intentionally speak life by first asking if I should speak at all.  “Whoever guards his mouth preserves his life; he who opens wide his lips comes to ruin.” (Proverbs 13:3) “Whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps himself out of trouble.” (Proverbs 21:23) We all have probably had the experience of regret after quickly saying something foolish only to realize we can never take what we said back. Training our minds to ask the question, “Should I say anything?” will help us grow in much needed restraint in our communication. “There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” (Proverbs 12:18) Do not thrust the sword at your neighbor, but use a wise tongue to bring healing. This should be truth for all Christian communication, including that which occurs online.

The second question we should ask is, “What is the right word to say?” After we discover if we should say anything, then we need to think through what to say. Remember the goal is to speak life, not to voice our opinions. We want to speak life-giving gracious words, for a timely word is beautiful to its hearers.  “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.” (Proverbs 25:11) “To make an apt answer is a joy to a man, and a word in season, how good it is!” (Proverbs 15:23) We want to bring joy to our neighbors. Of course this requires thought and wisdom, but in working to find the right words we will speak life to our neighbors.

The Wise Avoid Foolish Words

            The wise speaks words of life, but they also avoid the various ways fools communicate. Pastor Ray Ortlund speaks about the seriousness of foolish communication by comparing it to the awful sin of adultery. He writes, “I have never seen a church split over the sin of adultery. Gossip is a sin rarely disciplined, but often more socially destructive than the sensational sins.” Gossip is one form of foolish speech and has destroyed countless people’s lives. I have seen relationships destroyed in my own family because of someone’s misrepresented, manipulating gossip. One of the best ways to have a healthy church community is to resolve ourselves to avoid using our words like a fool. As we examine the list of the particular foolish use of words, ask yourself which ones you are most tempted by and then work to eradicate them from your life.

Fools Lie

Lying lips are an abomination to the LORD, but those who act faithfully are his delight. (Proverbs 12:22) A lying tongue hates its victims, and a flattering mouth works ruin. (Proverbs 26:28) There are many reasons people lie: fear, shame, vengeance, or cowardice. Christians have been called to truth by Him who is Truth. God never lies and as his people neither should we.

Fools Flatter

Flattery is a cousin to lying, but just as dangerous. Flattery excessive and insincere praise, especially that given to further one's own interests. Flattery may not be malicious, but that does not mean it isn’t dangerous. Flattery may allow people to put confidence in skills that they do not possess. “A lying tongue hates its victims, and a flattering mouth works ruin.” (Proverbs 26:28) “A man who flatters his neighbor spreads a net for his feet.” (Proverbs 29:5)

Fools Gossip

            As I stated above, gossip is one of the deadliest forms of foolish speech. “Argue your case with your neighbor himself, and do not reveal another’s secret.” (Proverbs 25:9) “Whoever goes about slandering reveals secrets, but he who is trustworthy in spirit keeps a thing covered.” (Prov. 11:13) We are guilty of gossip when we repeat that which is not worthy of repeating. Ending gossip is a community project. It involves both the gossiper and the one who listens to the gossip. “Whoever goes about slandering reveals secrets; therefore do not associate with a simple babbler.” (Proverbs 20:19) For lack of wood the fire goes out, and where there is no whisperer, quarreling ceases. (Proverbs 26:20) If the whisperer has no one to whisper to, then they cannot whisper.

Fools Create Strife

            The end result of poor, foolish communication is that it divides and fractures relationships. Christians must be zealous for unity. Jesus prayed in John 17 that we should be one as Jesus and the Father are one. The unity of the church was on Jesus’ mind right before he hung on the cross. Proverbs 18:6 says “A fool’s lips bring strife,” and among the things listed in Proverbs 6 that God hates is “one who sows discord among brothers.”

Beloved, God views unity with the highest importance, and so must we. Do not use your lips to fracture the body. God hates the one who sows discord among the brothers. Repent of your use of foolish speech and giving an ear to foolish speech. Wise communication is a community project. Let us strive for unity in the bond of peace.

The Wise Heed Difficult Words

            We should exercise restraint in our communication. We should avoid foolish ways of communicating. We should be very careful with our words, but biblical communication still requires us to correct and admonish one another. Most people avoid correction or admonishment like the dentist. We do not want to give correction because there is the possibility of hurting someone we care about. I would say that withholding admonishments and correction actually does more to hurt the people we care about. Withholding correction is one form of selfishness. We are afraid more of how we will be received than the good of our brother or sister in Christ.

The other reason we do not offer correction is that people do not take correction well. In our flesh, we want to defend ourselves when corrected. The righteous should delight in correction because it leads us deeper into wisdom. Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid. (Proverbs 12:1 ESV) We want to love discipline for it is a sign we love the knowledge of the Lord. When we buck up against reproof it is our pride welling up in us. Human pride is against the Lord and the Lord is against the proud.

As Christians, we no longer need to worry about justifying ourselves. God is the one who justifies. And he justifies not on the basis of your righteous works but on His mercy. When someone corrects us and we get defensive, the kernel of self-righteousness is growing in your soul. It says, “This can’t be true about me, because if it is, then I will be in trouble.” The gospel says, “I am a sinner and will continue to sin until I die, but thanks be to God who saves me from this body of death.” How we respond to criticism is a good indicator of our true belief of the gospel? Do I need to justify myself? Or do I trust in the justification given to me by Jesus Christ?

Solomon continues contrast the righteous and the wicked in their ability to hear rebuke. A wise son hears his father's instruction, but a scoffer does not listen to rebuke. (Proverbs 13:1) A rebuke goes deeper into a man of understanding than a hundred blows into a fool. (Proverbs 17:10) Reprove a man of understanding, and he will gain knowledge. (Proverbs 19:25b) As the words we say indicate the spiritual health of our hearts, so too how we hear and listen to rebuke. We should not be defensive and self-justifying when we hear correction, but delight that God has sent someone to give us an opportunity to trust in the full atoning work of the gospel. Correction also gives Christians the opportunity to grow and move to Christ. Beloved, I pray we would grow into a community who both gives and receives correction well. It is an indicator of our spiritual health.

The Wise Reflect the Word

Ultimately, the reason we want to use wise words is because they reflect the Incarnate Word, the Lord Jesus Christ. John 1:1, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Jesus Christ, the Eternal Word, has called us to be salt and light to the world. The words we use reflect Him. Proverbs 30:5, “Every word of God proves true; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him.” We want people to see God through our words. Every one of His words prove true so we want our words to prove true. We want all our words to be gracious and seasoned with salt so that we can draw men’s gaze to our great and glorious Savior. For drawing men’s gaze is to Jesus Christ is the only way one’s heart can be changed. If we want the world to be wise, then we point people to Jesus Christ. If we want our words to be wise, we fix our eyes upon Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith.

Jesus Christ is the perfect Word. The more we focus on him, the more we will become like him. Jesus Christ always spoke gracious words. John 6:63, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.” Peter confirms this a few verses later, “Lord, to whom shall we go, you have the words of eternal life.” The Words of Jesus Christ, the Righteous, are a fountain of life welling up to eternal life.

Jesus Christ always avoided foolish words. He never lied, flattered, gossiped, or slandered. “He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.” (1 Peter 2:22-23) Jesus never spoke in sin, but avoided all foolish speech. He is wisdom personify. He lived and spoke as true wisdom.

Jesus Christ also heeded the most difficult word ever spoken. The word spoken by His Father that sent him to the cross. Jesus was sent in the world to be disciplined for the sins of his people. Jesus wanted the cup to pass from him. He prayed in the garden, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” Jesus cared more about the Word of His Father more than he did about his own life. He became obedient to death, even death on the cross. Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the Name that is all names. And at the name of Jesus every knee will bow and every tongue will confess he is Lord. Jesus heeded the hard word of the cross and God raised him from the dead. And because he heeded the Word spoken by the Father, we now can heed the same word by taking up our cross and following Him. And we too, like him, will be raised to life on the last day.


Beloved, we should care about our words because they reflect our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. King Jesus has taught us and continues to teach us to be wise in our words. Let the wise words of our Savior be forever on our lips, for that will show that He is the Lord of our heart.

The Diploma

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. ~ Matthew 5:17-18

Beloved,

Thousands of high school and college graduates walk across stages and receive their diplomas each spring. They’ve fulfilled all scholarly criteria vital for their success. And because they’ve done so, these students are no longer bound by the school’s rules. After graduation, that student is free, no longer bound by regulations or academic expectations.

But imagine if students could receive diplomas without completing their work. What if a man or woman could graduate due to someone else’s finished work?

Jesus didn’t come to change God’s standards. Jesus, our teacher, didn’t come to abolish the Law or the Prophets, He came to fulfill them. Jesus gives us salvation through his finished work on the cross, and every believer who is in Christ is no longer bound by the Law or the Prophets. We grow in Jesus who changed everything for us, by completing God’s Will written in His Word.  Jesus is the turning point for the people of God.

Jesus fulfills the sacrificial system by becoming--once and for all—a sacrifice that eternally redeems us (Heb. 9.22). Also, Jesus fulfills the priesthood. He’s our high priest, and this fact allows us an eternal pathway and connection to God (Heb. 7:23-24). Jesus fulfills the geographic temple worship by becoming our temple, so we now worship God in spirit and truth (John 4:23). Jesus fulfills the law of circumcision by sending the Holy Spirit to circumcise the heart. By doing so, God’s people are no longer defined ethnically, but they’re spiritually created into a holy nation, a royal priesthood, a people of his own possession that proclaim His Glory to the world (1 Peter 2:9).

Jesus didn’t come to change the law, but he fulfills it through his death and resurrection. We no longer live under the Old Covenant for he’s given us the New Covenant. Jesus is the mediator of a New Covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant (Heb. 9:15).  Let us receive and rejoice in the New Covenant purchased by the blood of Christ.

 Jesus didn’t change the demands of the law, but fulfills them so that we can receive salvation through his finished work on the cross. We receive our “diploma of salvation” based on the work of Jesus.


Rejoice in the fulfillment of the Law! Rejoice in the completed work of the cross!

A City Set Upon a Hill

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16)

Beloved,

In 1630, John Winthrop led a group of Puritan Englishmen to the shores of America. He stood upon the ship, The Arabella, challenging his countrymen to establish a nation that would be a “city set on a hill.” He pleaded with them on the basis of scripture to live as a model of Christian charity. He writes:

We shall find that the God of Israel is among us, when ten of us shall be able to resist a thousand of our enemies, when He shall make us a praise and glory, that men shall say of succeeding plantations, "the Lord make it like that of New England." For we must consider that we shall be as a "city upon a hill." The eyes of all people are upon us, so that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken, and so cause Him to withdraw His present help from us, we shall be made a story and a byword through the world.

Winthrop knew that the world’s eyes were watching the New England colonists. He knew that they had a tremendous opportunity to shine the light of the gospel across the world. Politicians, like John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan, have popularized Winthrop’s early exhortation as a sign of American exceptionalism. America was to establish as an exceptional nation because her inhabitants would live as the light of the world.

 Jesus has commands his church to be a light to the world. Light brings illumination. It  makes no sense for a light to be hidden. A hidden lamp cannot serve its purpose for it cannot illuminate darkness. Beloved, a hidden Christian cannot serve their purpose for they cannot bring illumination to darkness. We are called the light of the world so that others may see our good works and give glory to our Father in heaven.  God saved us for a purpose. We were created in Christ Jesus for good works.

Do our lives radiate the light of the gospel? Do we live with such integrity and holiness that people are drawn to our God and Savior? We are not called to live in a holy huddle, but to shine the light of Christ to our world. We may not be establishing a new nation, but Winthrop’s words still stand. We are still called to be a “city set upon a hill.” We live out this great privilege in our jobs Monday through Friday. We are working for King Jesus. We work diligently at the office to radiate God’s grace to our colleagues so that we shine for His Glory. 

Sebastian Traeger writes in his book, The Gospel at Work: How Working for King Jesus Gives Purpose and Meaning to Our Jobs,

Our jobs are more than just a means to an end — whether that end is selfish enjoyment or service in the church. Our work is more than something we “slog through.” However menial, however boring, however unmatched to our interests, our jobs are one of the key ways in which God matures us as Christians and brings glory to himself. God has a purpose for our work.


We should wake up each morning understanding that God has a purpose for us. He wants to use us to bring Him glory!! Beloved, the world is watching so let us not be a byword among our neighbors, but a city set upon a hill. Let them see the light.  
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The Wisdom of Friendships (Proverbs 17:17; Proverbs 18:24 Proverbs 27:6; 9)



Catholic Theologian Thomas Aquinas has said, “There is nothing on this earth more to be prized than true friendship.” True friendship is a sweet gift, but it is indeed very rare. In our world of hyper-connectivity and a plethora of online friends and followers, many of us are starving for true friendship. We are always connected with one another, but rarely are truly connected to one another.

Friendship is one of the most important and most practical virtues that one can possess to obtain wisdom. The goal of the book of Proverbs is to help people get wisdom. Proverbs 4:5-9,

Get wisdom; get insight; do not forget, and do not turn away from the words of my mouth. Do not forsake her, and she will keep you; love her, and she will guard you. The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom, and whatever you get, get insight. Prize her highly, and she will exalt you; she will honor you if you embrace her. She will place on your head a graceful garland; she will bestow on you a beautiful crown.

Solomon urges us to prize wisdom so highly that we should pursue her with all our might. And yet before we pursue wisdom, we have to see the value of wisdom. True friendship is one of tools that help people live in wisdom. Think of all the decisions that we face that require us to use wisdom: who should we marry, where should I live, should I move closer to my family, how many kids should I have, how often should I vacation, how many activities should I put my kids in, where should I go to church, etc. The list goes on and on. We need wisdom for all of life. And I believe that God in his sovereign, eternal wisdom has given us true friendship to guide us to pursue wisdom.

I remember having a conversation in college with one of my roommates. We were upperclassman and had recently met some freshman. We were astonished at how easy it was to identify which of the freshman had close friends growing up. There was a remarkable difference among those who had close friends. Looking back I would now say that we saw wisdom in people who possessed close friendships. I want to encourage you to be intentional in your friendships. Proverbs believes friendship is paramount to wisdom. We must choose wise friends and be wise friends. We first have to see the power of friendship.

The Wise Power of Friendship

Friendship is important. There is something very sweet about friendships. As Aquinas has said, “There is nothing on this earth to be more prized than true friendship.” We have to prize friendship because society desires to push it out. When life gets busy, the first thing that is often cut out of our lives is friendship. Our society highlights romantic love. I wonder how many friends have been lost when someone enters into a relationship. Someone starts dating someone new and they suddenly do not have time for their friends. Why? Well, our society has trained us to believe that all we really need to romantic love. In his book, The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis writes, “To the Ancients, Friendship seemed the happiest and most fully human of all loves; the crown of life and the school of virtue. The modern world, in comparison, ignores it. We admit of course that besides a wife and family a man needs a few ‘friends.[1]’” Lewis goes on to say that one of the reasons people do not pursue friendships is because so few have experienced it.

Our society no longer promotes the value of true friendship because the desires of the individual reign supreme over the community.  It is easy to diminish the value and the importance of true friendship, but we were created for community by a God who values community. Our God has always existed in perfect community. The Father and the Son and the Spirit live in perfect community with one another which is why God has said, “It is not good for man to be alone.” We have an innate longing to live in community with one another. We have a deep desire to live life together with others. We feel lonely when we are not connected to others. The millennial generation has tried to answer that loneliness with online connection, but God has given us bodies so that we would be physically present with one another. God shows how much he believes in face to face contact by coming to us in a body being clothed in flesh. God values face to face, body to body community. He wants us to be with one another.


We would have a lot more happy and content people if they follow some of God’s most basic commands to love one another and to gather together regularly to encourage one another in the faith. Our hyper individualistic society promotes self at the expense of the community. I just want you to be aware of how easy it is for us to push our friendships to the side. I believe one of the most undervalued and an under-utilized tools to create wisdom is friendship. You will see how the practical gifts of friendship, closeness, candor and commonality, are a powerful tool to promote wisdom. And because it is so powerful, the worldly system is against true friendship. The world wants people to be satisfied with superficial acquaintances because true friendship is the way to wisdom. The world promotes folly, and fools despise wisdom and instruction. So the world wants us to ignore that which can bring us wisdom. Be aware of the value of friendship and do not allow the world to lead you to ignore it.

The Wise Picking of Friendship

During our childhood years, the greatest influence on our lives is our parents. Our parents form and shape our direction. They instill our values and our morality. Although parents are the predominate ones who help to create the character of children, friends become the primary influence as we grow into our teenage and young adult years.  Solomon understood this concept. He was primarily addressing teenagers as they were coming of age, and he warns them repeatedly to be careful in choosing their friends. Proverbs 1:10, “My son, if sinners entice you, do not consent. If they say, ‘Come with us, let us lie in wait for blood; let us ambush the innocent without reason…my son, do not walk in the way with them; hold aback your foot from their paths.” Solomon warned youths about following in the path of sinners because it was going to bring them to destruction and evil.

Yet following after friends will do much more than merely bringing people in the path of evil, but it will help people become evil. Proverbs 22:24-25, “Make no friendship with a man given to anger, nor go with a wrathful man, lest you learn his ways and entangle yourself in a snare.” Proverbs 24:21-22, “My son, fear the LORD and the king, and do not join with those who do otherwise, for disaster will arise suddenly from them, and who knows the ruin that will come from them both? The danger of choosing wrong friends is that you will begin to emulate their way of life. Bad company corrupts good character. Friends have an incredible influence on the moral shaping of an individual. I look back at my life and see how my choosing of friends played an important role in shaping my character. Think of your friends. Do they lead you to righteousness or folly?

How many stories have you heard that begin this way? John was a good kid raised in a kid home. He started hanging out with some friends that introduced him to drinking. His drinking quickly turned to smoking marijuana which turned into cocaine. This is, of course, and extreme example, but there are countless more “good kids” who may not become drug addicts under the influence of their friends, but perhaps simply drift away from God. Your greatest danger may not be someone leading you into drug addiction, but subtly away from the Lord. Maybe friends that encourage you hang out late on Saturday night so you are not fresh on Sunday morning or friends whose conversations focus on trivial, earthly things lacking eternal substance. Friends have a powerful, powerful influence on one’s life. You must be careful in choosing your friends because you are going to emulate their ways and you may become entangled in a snare.

The entanglement could be things that are devastating like drugs or alcohol, or as equally devastating as anger or lust. Parents you should be praying right now for your children’s friends.  As they grow, their friends will continue to have a greater influence on their lives. Proverbs 13:20, “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm.” Choose your friends carefully, because they will have a greater impact on you than you can possibly imagine.

C.S. Lewis says that all, “Friendship is born at that moment when one man says to another: "What! You too? I thought that no one but myself…” Commonality is the very beginning of friendship. I remember walking into my old church. I was filling the pulpit for about six months prior to the new pastor coming. I walked into his office to let him know what I had been teaching and I asked him a question about theology and he smiled and replied, “Indeed.”  Our common love for the local church, sound theology, and good food was the beginning of a friendship. Sharing hobbies, interests and activities (jobs or recreation) may be the beginning of any friendship, but once a friendship starts it must be pursued.

The Wise Pursuit of Friendship

            We know that friendship is powerful for wisdom and our choice of friends will shape our character, but how does one build friendship? We build friendship by pursuing it. Proverbs 17:17, “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.” A friend loves at all different kind of times. They love when things are going well and they love when things are going poorly. They love in prosperity and they love in poverty. They love in health and love in sickness.  A true friend loves at all times.  A true friend is one you can call at 3 o’clock in the morning because you got a flat tire on the side of the road. A true friend is one who will sit with you and cry after you put your dog to sleep.  A friend loves at all times. How do these kinds of friendships develop? These friendships develop because both friends pursued the relationship. 

            You cannot expect to have real, deep true friendship without spending a considerable amount of time together. It will not happen unless you intentionally spend time with each other. My greatest friends are those who I have spent the most considerable about of time with, and I bet the same could be said for you. Some of my greatest friends are the ones I developed in my childhood and in college. My closest friend growing up was Nick Scalabrino. We became friends in first grade. We were close until 4th grade when he was moved into the gifted and talented track at my elementary school. In God’s providence, we became locker partners again in 8th grade and we have been close ever since. Nick and I lived more like brothers during our high school years. I was either at his house or he was at mine. We live miles apart now, but we will always be close because of the amount of time we spent together during our childhood.

And even though we know each other so well, we still have to continue pursuing a relationship. Some of my greatest friends now are in this church. And this, in large part, is due to the amount of time we spend together. I am around a lot of lonely people. People are desperate for deep friendships, but they do not have them. One of the reasons for their lack of friendships is their lack of pursuit. How can people honestly expect to have deep meaningful friendship without time? I heard someone say this week that he and his wife have refused to use busyness as an excuse to not get together with people. He said claiming busyness was a sign that he believed that his time and activities were more important than people. How great would it be to have friends who believed that we were more important than their busyness? We do not have true friendships because we are too lazy. We fear rejection. And we simply do not put the time into building biblical friendships.

Tim Keller gives two important traits of friendship: closeness and candor. The idea of closeness is that a true friend knows your emotional needs. They have spent so much time with you that they know how to give you exactly the needs of a situation. Listen to these proverbs and see how important it is for someone to answer at the right time and in the right mood.

Proverbs 27:14, “Whoever blesses his neighbor with a loud voice, rising early in the morning, will be counted as cursing.” (The right greeting, at the right time)
Proverbs 25:17, “Let your foot be seldom in your neighbor's house, lest he have his fill of you and hate you.” (The right balance of presence and absence)
Proverbs 25:20, “Whoever sings songs to a heavy heart is like one who takes off a garment on a cold day, and like vinegar on soda.”

A true friend knows how to meet your emotional needs. Do you have friends that know you that well? And do you try to be that kind of friend? This takes time as well as thoughtfulness. We need more Timothy’s in our world who the Apostle Paul says that, “For I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare.” (Philippians 2:20)

And yet friendship is not only about closeness, it is about candor. A friend is honest with you. Listen to the honest and candor encouraged in the Proverbs,

Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy. (Proverbs 27:5-6)
A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. (Proverbs 18:24)

A man with many companions may come to ruin, because he does not have friends close enough to him to let him know when he is facing ruin. A true friend will risk losing the friendship if it means saving their friend from disaster. I have met many people whose arrogance has led to their downfall simply because they did not have enough friends to give them an open rebuke. It is never a good thing to have friends that always agree with you. “Faithful are the wounds of a friend.” If you cannot trust a loving rebuke of those who love you, then who can you trust?

       And if you do not have the courage to tell your “friends” what they need to hear, you may not be the kind of “friend” you need to be? Silence can lead to disaster. A biblical friend speaks truth in love to their friends because they care more about their souls than their own happiness. We use the word friend very casually in our culture. We have friends on Facebook, friends at work, friends at the gym, and friends in the neighborhood. Could it be that the casual use of friendship has destroyed our understanding of biblical friendship? It is better to have 2-3 true friends than hundreds of “companions.” Can we resolve to build true friendships? Give people your time, your attention and your honesty, for true friendship cannot be built without it.

The Wise Perseverance of Friendship

The second half of the Proverbs 18:24 is also important. “A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” The Hebrew word for sticks used here is same used for cleaving and clinging too. You should cling to your friends as tightly as you would cling to rope that held you over a cliff. Family is a blessing, but there are friends that become even closer than family. Families will typically be there for you when things are difficult, because they have to be there. A friend does not have to be there for you, but they chose to be there for you. And they chose to stick with you.

True friends will still close to you, but fake friends are only there for their own gain. Listen to how wealth brings fake friends,

 “Wealth brings many new friends, but a poor man is deserted by his friend.” Many seek the favor of a generous man, and everyone is a friend to a man who gives gifts. All a poor man's brothers hate him; how much more do his friends go far from him! He pursues them with words, but does not have them. (Proverbs 19:4; 6-7)

Be wary of fake friends, those who are only around you for gain.

You will come to know your true friends during times of your greatest difficulty. Our greatest difficulty will often be of our own doing, when we fall into sin.  A friend loves at all times and will keep loving at all times even when you are at your worst. The love may take different forms, but a true, biblical friend loves to the end. And we see this most clearly in friendship of the Lord Jesus Christ who demonstrated his love for us in that while we were yet sinners he died for us.

The Wise Picture of Friendship

The best picture of friendship can be seen in how Jesus loves us. Jesus is not a fair weather friend, but one who loves at all times until the very end. John 15:12-17,

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. These things I command you, so that you will love one another.

At the end of Jesus’s life, he wanted to show how much he loved his disciples so he explained to them true friendship. Jesus loved his disciples at all times and loved them to the end. Jesus laid down his life for his friends. Jesus allowed the disciples inner access to his life.

Jesus is a friend to sinners. He laid down his life to rescue us from our sin and damnation. Jesus is our friend, but are we his? The Bible says in our natural state we are a friend of the world. James 4:4, “Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” Just as many think they have true friends only to realize they were fake friends not sticking in love to the end. Jesus will have that same experience. There are many who claim they are friends with Jesus, but they may not be true friends. You cannot love the world as a friend and love Jesus as friend. Jesus said, “You are my friends if you do what I command you.” You are his friend if you turn from your love of the world and walk with Him. “He who walks with wise, becomes wise.” Jesus laid down his life so you could walk with him and become wise. He invites you to walk with him. He invites you to choose wisdom. He invites you to be his friend.

Jesus is the true picture of friendship. If we want to be a true friend, we must first know what a true friend is. A true friend is one who lays down his life for his friends. If we want true friends, be a true friend. Greater love has no one than this: that someone lay down his life for his friends. And yet, our confidence should never be in our ability to be a true friend, but in the friendship God has given us in Christ. Jesus says, “You did not choose me, but I chose you.” Even when we feel all our friends have abandoned us, we still have Jesus. Paul experienced this when he stood trial for his preaching of the gospel. He writes, “At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me. May it not be charged against them! But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me.” Jesus Christ has given us the true picture of friendship. He has promised never to leave us nor forsake us. This is the kind of friend God is calling you to be.

Our friends are God’s gift to us. They are tools to help us become wise. Our friends have been chosen for us by God. C.S. Lewis writes,

But in Friendship, being free of all that, we think we have chosen our peers. In reality, a few years' difference in the dates of our births, a few more miles between certain houses, the choice of one university instead of another, posting to different regiments, the accident of a topic being raised or not raised at a first meeting—any of these chances might have kept us apart. But, for a Christian, there are, strictly speaking, no chances. A secret Master of the Ceremonies has been at work. Christ, who said to the disciples "Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you," can truly say to every group of Christian friends "You have not chosen one another but I have chosen you for one another." The Friendship is not a reward for our discrimination and good taste in finding one another out. It is the instrument by which God reveals to each the beauties of all the others. They are no greater than the beauties of a thousand other men; by Friendship God opens our eyes to them. They are, like all beauties, derived from Him, and then, in a good Friendship, increased by Him through the Friendship itself, so that it is His instrument for creating as well as for revealing.[2]

God has chosen your friends for you. Your friends are a gift to help make you wise. Do not forsake your friend for, “There is nothing on this earth more to be prized than true friendship.” Be a true friend by holding fast to the True Friend, Jesus Christ. He has showed us friendship, now let us go and do likewise.





[1] Lewis, C.S. The Four Loves. Harcourt Brace & Company, New York. 1960 pg 58
[2] Lewis, C.S. The Four Loves. Harcourt Brace & Company, New York. 1960 pg 94
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The Real Salt Life

“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people's feet.” (Matthew 5:13)

Beloved,

In 2003, a group of friends developed a line of clothing called, “Salt Life.” They were connected through their passion around their time spent in the ocean. These friends embarked on a journey, “to develop a brand that wasn’t just a logo; they wanted it to represent a style of life.” Salt Life encourages its customers to live for a passion for the outdoors and to experience all that the ocean has to offer. It is not uncommon to see bumper stickers on cars all over the Southeast spreading the “Salt Life” culture.

Christians were the original ones who were called to live and spread the “Salt Life.” Jesus said Christians are the salt of the earth. Although salt had many purposes in the first century, it was primarily used to enhance the flavor of and to slow the decay of food. The church is called to be the salt of the earth as we enhance the flavor of life and arrest the decay and corruption of the earth. How does the church live the “Salt Life”?

First, we live flavorful lives. Christians should live in such a way to attract people to Jesus. Their speech should, “always be gracious, seasoned with salt,” causing people to consider the claims of Christ (Col 4:6). Proverbs 14:13, “By the mouth of a fool comes a rod for his back, but the lips of the wise will preserve them.” We can preserve the earth with our “salty” speech.

Secondly, we live holy lives. In the first century, salt would lose its taste and effectiveness as it was mixed with impure substances. Craig Bloomberg writes with that the common problem with salt was of it, “being mixed with various impure substances and therefore becoming worthless as a preservative.” Salt could no longer function in its designed way because it became defiled. Likewise, the church will no longer function in its designed way if it becomes defiled. The church has to remain holy and pure from the world if it is going to slow the decay of corruption in the earth.

If a clothing brand could embark on a journey to create a “Salt Life” culture, should we not do so even more? We have been rescued from the dominion of darkness through the shed blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. We no longer are destined for wrath but to obtain salvation in Christ. If a group of friends could use a logo to develop a Salt Life culture, then blood-bought believers can strive to create a true “Salt Life” culture.


Beloved, let us live flavorful and holy lives. Let us strive for a church culture where our speech is seasoned with salt as we live as blameless and pure children of God in the midst of this crooked and depraved generation (Phil. 2:15). We are the salt of the earth. Therefore, let us live like it as we give flavor and preservation to the culture around us.
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Greater Reward

“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:11-12)

Beloved,                 

Moses grew up as a prince of Egypt. He had access to all the riches in Egypt, all the opportunities of privilege, and all the respect of the kingdom. He had everything the world could offer him, but he chose Christ. Moses chose, “to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward.” (Hebrews 11:25-26) Moses was looking for the reward of Christ.

We remember Moses leading his people out of Egypt, but we forget the 40 years he spent in the wilderness as he waited for God’s reward. Would Moses have considered himself blessed as he tended the flock on the mountain estranged of his own people as lived as an outcast? But would Moses consider himself blessed today?  He has received his reward.  He is enjoying the eternal pleasures at the Lord’s right hand. He is in heaven.

It is hard to rejoice when others revile and persecute us and utter all kinds of evil against us. It may be hard, but God has said that we should rejoice and be glad for our reward will be great in heaven. Our trials are not exclusive to us. The Prophets, like Moses, who came before us experienced the same struggles. We are not alone in our trials. We all have choices to make when we are treated poorly for Christ’s sake. We can raise our heads to heaven and ask why or we can raise our heads to heaven with joy as we wait our great reward.

Everyone lives for the promise of reward, but the Christian redefines the reward. The world lives for the fleeting pleasures of sin. They live for the reward of temporal pleasure and comfort while the Christian lives for the eternal, great reward promised for us in heaven. The Christian lives their lives banking on a greater reward than the fleeting pleasures of sin. A Christian’s reward is not fleeting, but everlasting.


Moses may have struggled with living in the wilderness for 40 years tending the flocks of his father-in-law, but he is not struggled now. If you were to ask him if he made the right choice considering the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, what do you think he would say now? Beloved, consider the reproach of Christ greater wealth than all the treasures of this world.

For Righteousness' Sake

“Blessed are those who persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:10

Beloved,

Matt had been unemployed for a year and recently landed an interview with a local company. Matt was selected for the position, but the employer told him that it was necessary for them to pay him under the table so that the company could save money on taxes and insurance. Although Matt desperately needed the money, he chose to turn down the position because his Christian faith was more important. Matt believed righteousness was better than money.  He was willing to be persecuted for righteousness’ sake.
Christians face decisions every single day that could bring persecution into their life. Whether it is the college freshman who chooses not to drink, or the spouse who refuses to lie on her taxes, or the parents who choose to go to church rather than have their children play in sports on Sunday, they all face decisions that could bring persecution into their lives. Every Christian will one day be faced with a choice to either forsake righteousness or be persecuted. “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” (2 Timothy 3:12) The persecution may vary depending on the society. It may be losing the opportunity of career advancement in America or losing your life in Iraq. Although the persecution may vary, the promise of Jesus Christ will never vary or change.
When we face persecution, we must remember Jesus’ words, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” God’s people need to resolve to choose righteousness. We do not look for persecution, but when given the choice, we should gladly bear persecution for righteousness’ sake. We may lose things in this life, but we gain the kingdom of heaven. Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. (James 1:12) When we remain firm in the face persecution, we are still blessed.
Do not focus on what you may lose, but what you will gain. We may lose everything, but we gain Christ!! Let us consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus as Lord. Take the sure road of blessing by choosing to suffer for righteousness sake.

Preparing to See God

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. (Matthew 5:8)
Beloved,
            My wife thrives in details. She loves schedules and plans. Before taking a long trip, she usually packs the day before while I usually pack ten minutes before we leave. Early in our marriage, we were taking one trip to visit my family in California. As we waited in the line to go through security at the airport, my wife looked at me and asked (as she has done for every flight we have ever taken together), “Do you have your driver’s license?” I reached back and patted my pocket, making my eyes big saying, “Oh no!! I forgot my wallet!!” Her jaw dropped in disbelief, “Are you serious?” Her genuine fear of missing the flight made me quickly confess that I was only kidding. Although I may not love details, even I knew that if I wanted to see my family, I had to have my ticket and my ID. My desire to see my family affected my preparation.

            Do you desire to see God? Does that desire affect how you live? Jesus makes a wonderful promise for those who desire to see God in saying, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” There is a requirement for someone who wants to see God; one must be pure in heart. Purity of heart means one lives with integrity, righteousness, and morality driven from sincere motives. The “pure in heart” have a single-minded devotion to live for the glory and honor of Jesus Christ. They are like the blessed man in Psalm 1 who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers. He lives rightly.

            Jesus Christ is the only one who perfectly lived with a pure heart. He committed no sin and lived for the glory of his heavenly Father. And yet, he died in our place so that we would live for righteousness.  The Christian forsakes immorality and sin because they want to see God. The desire to see God overtakes the desire of the flesh. The pleasure of God is more important than the pleasures of sin. The Christian has been justified by Christ death and cleansed to walk in righteousness.


            We all will continue to battle the sinful desires of the flesh, so how do we overtake those desires? We replace our desire for worldly things with a desire to see God. Jesus Christ has said, “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God!!” What is better than seeing God!! If we want to change our behavior, we must to change our desires. Beloved, prepare to see God by striving to live with a pure heart for Jesus Christ, “who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” (Titus 2:14)

Desires in Death (Luke 23:26-43)

Crucifixion was an awful death. It was reserved for those who committed treason against the King. Jesus was tied to a post and was beaten and scourged with a leather whip that was interwoven with pieces of bone and metal designed to tear the flesh as it was pulled away from the skin. The beating was often so severe that many did not survive it. Jesus was scourged with the whip to ensure his death would be final on the cross. The reason crucifixion was so brutal was so that it would publicly shame the convicted criminal and serve as a warning to anyone who thought to defy Caesar. Jesus’ death was meant to be a public demonstration of Rome’s power, but it will show the power of his love for his Father and for those the Father had given him.

     Although Jesus is being led as a martyr, he acts as the Divine Judge who has the power to dispense mercy even as he experiences a death without mercy. We are going to look at the desires of Jesus throughout his crucifixion by examining his words during his last moments prior to his death. We will focus on three desires of Jesus as he approaches his death.

Jesus Desires Weeping for the Coming Destruction

After being beaten, the Roman soldiers lead Jesus up to the place called the Skull, or Golgotha, Latin for Calvary, forcing a man in the crowd to carry the cross. Luke 23:26-31,

And as they led him away, they seized one Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, and laid on him the cross, to carry it behind Jesus. And there followed him a great multitude of the people and of women who were mourning and lamenting for him. But turning to them Jesus said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For behold, the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren and the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us,’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’ For if they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?” (Luke 23:26-31)

A crowd of women were following Jesus and weeping over him as he headed for the cross, but Jesus turns to them and tells them to weep for themselves. The women are representing the Nation of Israel. Jesus speaks to them with tenderness as he addresses them, “Daughters of Jerusalem.” The Nation has rejected Jesus as Messiah and therefore destruction is coming to befall them.  He warns them of the coming days that will be so bad they think it would be better off to be dead than to experience that degree of suffering. This destruction was realized in the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70 which is described in the writings of Josephus as horrific.

      Jesus is heading towards the cross, but is still concerned with the souls of others. Jesus quotes Hosea 10:8 which speaks of Israel being judged for their idolatry. Idolatry is worshipping something or someone other than God. Tim Keller has said, “Idolatry is not just a failure to obey God, it is a setting of the whole heart on something besides God[1].” Jesus is saying that the Nation of Israel has set their heart on something other than God and the Messiah. Hosea 10:8, “The high places of Aven, the sin of Israel, shall be destroyed. Thorn and thistle shall grow up on their altars, and they shall say to the mountains, “Cover us,” and to the hills, “Fall on us.” Jesus is tenderly caring for the Nation by encouraging them to weep over their sin and turn to God in repentance. Blessed are those who mourn over their sin, for they will be comforted.

Jesus knows the cross will be brutal, but he also knows of the joy that lies after the cross. Hebrews 12:2 says that Jesus, “who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” Jesus knew that glory awaited him at the other side of the cross so he was able to turn to these women and say, “Do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children.” Jesus desires his people to weep over their idolatry, their false hopes, and their sin.

Are there sins or idols in your life that God is asking you to weep over this morning? Have you taken good things like money, career, or family and made them ultimate things which have a greater influence on you than God? How do you know if you have an idol problem? First, ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to you if you have idols. Second, ask yourself what you think about in you silence. Archbishop William Temple once said, “Your religion is what you do with your solitude.” He means our “functional Savior” is revealed what we think about in silence. Tim Keller, again, is helpful here:

The true god of your heart is what your thoughts effortlessly go to when there is nothing else demanding your attention. What do you enjoy day-dreaming about? What is it that occupies your mind when you have nothing else to think about? Do you develop potential scenarios about career advancement? Or material goods such as a dream home? Or a relationship with a particular person? One or two day dreams do not indicate idolatry. Ask rather, what do you habitually think about to get joy and comfort in the privacy of your heart?[2]

Jesus was walking to the cross and he tenderly told his people to weep over their idols. Beloved, I pray that you will weep over your idols and place your heart fully on the hope of Jesus Christ.

    Jesus ends his words to these women by giving them a parable saying, “For if they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?” As NT Scholar Darrell Bock comments, “If the Jews treat Jesus this way for coming to deliver them, how will they be treated for destroying him?[3] It is much easier to burn dry wood than lush, wet, green wood. Jesus desires his people to weep, for destruction is coming. It will come to you like a thief in the night unless you repent of your idols and place your faith in Christ.

Jesus Desires Forgiveness for the Current Destroyers

Jesus continues to be led to the place of the Skull. It was called a Skull because the hill protruded into the sky like a skull. Luke shows how Jesus is being led their along with other criminals to receive the same fate as the guilty. Luke 23:32-38,

Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments. And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.”

I want to focus on two things: how Jesus was treated and how Jesus treated others.

     First, let us examine how Jesus was treated.  It said that they cast lots to divide his garments. This could have been the outer garments that were given to him by Herod when they mocked his kingship or it could have been all his clothes. It was tradition that right before the crucified died, the soldiers would strip them so that they would be exposed and naked, publicly shaming them one last time. Jesus was watched by the people and scoffed at by the rulers. He was mocked in his true identity as Messiah and the Chosen One. His charge hung above his head, “This is the King of the Jews.” In the eyes of the crowd his death was a sign of his inability to save, but we know his death was the sign that He alone is able to save. Jesus was treated awfully and did not deserve any of this treatment. 

No one has ever experienced the level of injustice that Jesus faced that day as he hung on the cross. His hands nailed to the cross, straining to pull his weight up so that he could take a breath before his body weight fell again suffocating his lungs. He hung as a cursed man for the sake of cursed men. He was in agony. No one has ever experienced that level of injustice and hatred. And in the midst of this cruelty, how does Jesus treat others?  He prays, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Jesus is more concerned with the souls of others than his mistreatment.

Jesus provides a tremendous example for us as we face those “destroyers” in our lives. We will face people who desire to destroy fellowship with us through slander, gossip, lying, stealing, malice, etc. If we live long enough, we are going to be mistreated. Whether it is by a close friend or a foe, Jesus shows what our desires should be in our mistreatment. We should desire their forgiveness. When was the last time you were mistreated? How did you respond? Did you desire their forgiveness or their pain? Did you want them to experience God’s grace or God’s wrath? The natural response is to demand retribution for injustice, but Jesus desires for his people to have a “supernatural” response. Jesus lives out his words from the Sermon on the Plain in Luke 6,

If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. …. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. (Luke 6:32-33; 35-36)

Beloved, are you treating people as their sins deserve or are you treating them in view of the mercy you have received?

We were the ungrateful and the evil that to whom God showed kindness. We were the mockers and the scoffers. We were the criminals who were guilty of treason against our God and King. And yet, God did not treat us as our sins deserved, but showed us mercy. He desired our forgiveness; he did not save himself so that he could save us from our sins.  Jesus chose the cross so others may live. And now, Jesus is calling us to choose cross as well so others may live.

Beloved, this is how we are to treat others. We are not called to avenge ourselves in the face of injustice, but to desire forgiveness. When we do not treat others with mercy and forgiveness, we forget how God has treated us with mercy and forgiveness. Jesus said, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:14-15) If you are unwilling to forgive others than why should you expect God to forgive you?

Whose forgiveness is God calling you to pray for? Who is God calling you to forgive? Remember, forgiveness is conditional. When Jesus prays to the Father to forgive them, he is praying for their repentance. God is always ready to forgive, but people must repent and believe. Not everyone will be forgiven, but only those who put their faith in Christ, which is clearly seen in these two criminals who were hanging on his right and left.

Jesus Desires Paradise for the Confession of Death

Luke returns to the two criminals that are hanging cursed alongside Jesus. In Matthew and Mark’s account of the crucifixion, it says that both criminals reviled Jesus. Luke does not provide this detail, but we can assume that while the thief hung on the cross, he finally saw who Jesus truly was, and repented and believed. Luke 23:39-43,

One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

Two criminals died next to Jesus that day, but only one was forgiven. One thief was forgiven because his eyes were opened and he recognized his sin before God and Jesus as his Savior and only hope in death.

In four short verses we see someone move from the dominion of darkness into the kingdom of the Beloved Son in whom there is redemption, the forgiveness of sins. First, he feared God, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation?” He realized that his time was coming and he was going to have to answer for his sin. Second, he acknowledged his sin, “And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds.” Third he knew that Jesus was innocent, “but this man has done nothing wrong.” Fourth, he confesses Jesus as Christ the King, “And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Fifth, he receives the promise of eternal life and to be with Jesus, “And Jesus said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

Friends, we all only have two choices. We confess Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection as our only hope before God, or we choose to face God alone, receiving the due reward for our deeds. The choice is yours: which shall you choose?

When I was 20 years old this story of the thief helped me choose to follow Jesus. I was living in ways that did not honor God. I was burdened by my sin and guilt, but this man’s simple faith changed my life. After hearing a talk on this thief, they played a song by Third Day called, “Thief,” that tells the story of this man. Listen to the words and the think about the choice that is before us today,


I am a thief, I am a murderer
Walking up this lonely hill
What have I done? I don't remember
No one knows just how I feel
and I know that my time is coming soon.
It's been so long. Oh, such a long time
Since I've lived with peace and rest
Now I am here, my destination
guess things work for the best
and I know that my time is coming soon
Who is this man? This man beside me
They call the King of the Jews
They don't believe that He's the Messiah
But, somehow I know it's true.
And they laugh at Him in mockery,
and beat Him till he bleeds
They nail Him to the rugged cross,
and raise Him, they raise Him up next to me
My time has come, I'm slowly fading
I deserve what I receive
Jesus when You are in Your kingdom
Could You please remember me
and He looks at me still holding on
the tears fall from His eyes
He says I tell the truth
Today, you will live with Me in paradise
and I know that my time is coming soon
and I know paradise is coming soon.



This man’s story is a sweet reminder that God delights to save sinners.  It was a sweet reminder that God delighted to save a sinner like me. I chose to follow Christ and I have never regretted it.

This morning we have the opportunity as a church family to confess our faith again through taking communion together. Jesus established the Lord’s Supper the day before his death so that we could remind our weak hearts that God delights to save sinners. We have the great privilege to publicly proclaim our faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ by physically taking the bread and the cup. The bread is a reminder that Jesus’ body was broken for us. 1 Peter 2:24 says, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.” The cup is a reminder that Jesus has purchased and established for us the new covenant in his blood.

      The Lord’s Supper is not only a reminder for us, but it is also a declaration. We are coming together declaring and confessing our belief in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 11:26, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.” As the thief said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom,” we also proclaim in taking the bread and the cup for Jesus to remember us when he comes and establishes his kingdom. Taking the Lord’s Supper is an act of faith. It is a sign that you trust in Christ and desire to live in righteousness. As we prepare the Table, I would ask you to prepare your own heart, for “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.” Beloved, remember it is a great privilege to take communion, but also a great responsibility.  As we remember our sins, let us also remember that through faith in the death of Jesus Christ, God will remember our sins no more.




[3] Bock, D. L. (1996). Luke: 9:51–24:53 (Vol. 2, p. 1847). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.
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The Golden Rule of Mercy

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” (Matthew 5:7)

Beloved,

Would you agree with the following statement “You have to give respect in order to get respect?” Would you give respect to someone who does not give you respect? I believe most of the world functions this way. People treat others how they have been treated.  Although this is not all bad, it is not biblical. Jesus gives us the “golden rule” in Matthew 7:12, “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” Jesus summarizes the Old Testament in a succinct, powerful sentence. Jesus does not say, “Treat others as they have treated you,” but rather “Treat others the way you want others to treat you.” If you miss the difference, you will miss mercy.

Mercy is defined as compassion or forgiveness shown toward someone whom it is within one's power to punish or harm. When we are mistreated, we have the power to punish or harm them with treated them as they have treated us. But when we treat others as they have treated us, we forget the compassion and forgiveness God has shown towards us when we mistreated him. Merciful people understand that they have received mercy. We do not treat others in the way they have treated us, but we treat others the way God has treated us. When we faced an insurmountable debt, God showed us mercy by withholding punishment we rightly deserved and placing it on Jesus Christ. We will forever be debtors to mercy.

If we are not merciful towards others, then we cannot expect to receive mercy from God. Jesus says, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” As the merciful will be blessed in receiving mercy, the cruel, unkind, mean, and unforgiving will receive wrath. We treat others the way we want God to treat us and the way God has already treated us in Christ.


When we demand respect before we give respect, we are forgetting the gospel of Jesus Christ. Beloved, God wants you to be merciful to the world as a witness to the mercy He has extended to you. Let us know known as a merciful people for, “Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” 1 Peter 2:10. 

Christ as Lord in the midst American Intolerance (1 Peter 3:15)


Garrett Kell, pastor of Del Ray Baptist Church in Alexandria, VA, wrote this following our recent presidential elections:


A great tragedy unfolded less than one week ago on Tuesday, November 6, 2012.

The tragedy was not found in the celebrations of elected officials or the concessions of defeat. It was not colored red or blue, and it wasn't wrapped up in meaningless campaign promises.

The tragedy of the 2012 election is that in this land of the free and home of the brave, many people were not allowed to vote. Their voices were silenced. Their votes were not cast. Their opinions not expressed. Why?

Because they were dead.

The great tragedy of the 2012 election is that roughly 33 million would-be voters had been murdered. From 1973 to 1994, roughly 35 million babies were aborted. That's roughly 35 million 18- to 39-year-olds who could not vote from the grave.
This is an unspeakable tragedy.  The numbers are shocking, but on average 7 babies are aborted every 3 minutes in America.  But Pastor Kell goes on:

  This is a tragedy that hits close to home. When I was 19, I chose to end the life of my first child through an abortion. My friend and I were in a scary place, we didn't plan to get married, and we had nowhere else to go. So we opted to end the life of our child.

   That child would be 16 today. They'd be excited about driving a car and, in just a couple of years, they'd be excited about voting. But they won't be doing any of that. We won't be sitting down together as I explain how to think about policies and the candidates who represent them. I won't be able to tell them about freedom and justice for all. I took that freedom away with my injustice.
I cannot undo what I've done in the past. None of us can. Only Jesus, who shed his blood for sinners like me, can heal those wounds. Jesus gives us great hope in the midst of this tragedy, and all the other tragedies we face in this life. 

    When we start the discussion of abortion this Sanctity of Life Sunday, we must hold two core truths side by side.  Abortion is an unspeakable tragedy and the shed blood of the Lord Jesus forgives that tragedy.  Abortion is not the unforgiveable sin.  There is no sin that cannot and will not be forgiven when people turn to Jesus Christ in repentance and faith.  

If you or a friend or family member, have been impacted by abortion, can I encourage to firmly grasp on to that truth? 1 Timothy 1:15 “This saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.”  Jesus came to pay the penalty of sin, including the sin of abortion.  
The Church is in a unique place in American History.  The State is becoming more and more hostile to the Christian Faith.  I believe Peter’s warning to the first century church is very applicable for us today.  “Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? (Like fighting for the unborn) But even if you should suffer for what is right you are blessed. “Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened.” But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord.” 
We will suffer so set apart Christ as Lord.

It is clear that the persecution that is happening against the church is only going to rise in the near future.  We will suffer.  We will suffer in our efforts to do good and honor the Lord and His Word. The recent healthcare law passed by Congress has approved the use of federal funds for abortions.  As Christians, we cannot support such regulations.  Christian Universities, Catholic Charities, and even secular businesses run by Christians are fighting this law. Most notably, Hobby Lobby, which has refused to honor this bill is being fined $1 million dollars per day for being eager to do what is good.  Persecution and penalties are going to come so how do we stand against them.  First, we set apart Christ as Lord.  We have to make a decision that no matter what happens in our lives, we are going to serve Jesus Christ as Lord. As Joshua said, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” Well beloved, “As for me and my church, we will serve the Lord.” We do not yet know how this aggressive secularism against the things of God will affect the church.  But regardless of consequences or penalties, we must set apart Christ as Lord in our lives.  So I pray this morning that I will offer some help in how we can set apart Christ as Lord in the midst of American Intolerance.  The first way from the text,

Be Prepared with Gospel Reasoning


Look back on how Peter starts to encourage the church in verse 15, “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who ask you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” We must be prepared with gospel reasoning.  In order to be prepared we must think and study why we hold the position we do. Today as we look at the issue of abortion, I hope to provide reasons why we support the pro-life position from the scriptures and why we disagree with the pro-choice positions. (This will be posted on our church website later today, so if you miss anything you can find it there).

The reason that there is wide-spread disagreement even within churches is because there is no clear verse of Scripture that says, “Thou shall not have an abortion.” But that does not mean that Bible is not clear about abortion. The emphasis of the Scriptures is that life begins at conception and therefore, abortion would be murder, the taking of a life, which is explicitly forbidden in Scripture; (Exodus 20:13, “You shall not murder.”) Listen to the following verses: 

Genesis 1:27
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

The foundation of the biblical argument is that every human being is created in the image of God and therefore every human being has dignity and a right to life.  The crux of the entire debate is whether or not the fetus is a person and when that personhood is established.  The Bible is clear that a fetus is a little man or woman created in the image of God and deserved the right to live.

Psalm 139:13-16
13 For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. 14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. 15 My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth,16  your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.

God is active while the child is in the womb; forming the child into a unique human being.

Isaiah 49:1
Listen to me, O coastlands, and give attention, you peoples from afar. The LORD called me from the womb, from the body of my mother he named my name.

Jeremiah 1:4-5
4 Now the word of the LORD came to me, saying 5 “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”

God knows us and calls us while we are still in the womb.  We could spend hours dissecting other passages, but for the sake of time let me just say this: The weight of the biblical evidence is that life begins at conception.  So positively our gospel reasoning is that the Bible is very pro-life.  
But we also must be prepared with gospel reasoning to refute the arguments of the opposing side. My goal is not to provide exhaustive evidence against these positions, but merely to point out some flaws in their argument. 


  1. A Woman has a right to her own body – Although there is a lot of truth to this claim, a woman does not have an absolute right to her body.  For example, a woman cannot use her body as a battering ram to injure other people and she does not have the moral right to sell her body as a prostitute.  So although a woman has a right to her body in some cases, it does not mean she has a right to her body in all cases.  We should also note that this position assumes that the baby in the womb is a part of her body.  Now the baby is in the woman’s body and is sustained by the woman’s body, but the baby also is uniquely different than the woman’s body.  A genetic DNA mapping of the woman and the baby will show two unique individuals rather than two identical ones.  So the fetus is essentially not a part of the woman’s body as the child has a unique genetic fingerprint.
  2. The decision is between a woman and her doctor – This is a common view held by those in the pro-choice camp.  And this is one of the reasons, why men often are persuaded not to involve themselves in this matter.  This, they say, is a woman’s rights issue.  All I will say here is that the right to privacy does not trump the right to life.  We see that in every other facet of society.  What people do in their own homes is allowable unless it infringes on one’s rights to life.  And men should be able to speak on the issue of life because we should care about life.  Would the apostle Paul not be allowed to speak on the matter because he was male? Or Jesus Christ? 
  3. If abortion is made illegal, then women will resort to back alley abortion that will potentially harm their lives. – If abortion is made illegal, there will be some women who resort to unlawful and harmful abortion practices that may injure their life.  But if abortion was illegal, they would be breaking the law and the consequences would be by personal choice.  It is not the government’s job to protect people who willfully place themselves in danger when they break the laws.  This argument also implies that the lives lost of women who continue to pursue abortions are more important than the millions of children that would be saved if an abortion was illegal. We lose approximately 1.5 million children to abortion every year.   In a simple comparison, the argument does not hold water.


Those are only a few of the arguments of the pro-choice position. If we want to set apart Christ as Lord, we must prepare ourselves with Gospel Reasoning.  God has given us minds to think and reflect.  One of the greatest successes in the pro-abortion movement is that they have convinced people (and some Christians) to be pro-choice.  They may not personally believe in abortion for themselves, but do not feel it is their right to take the choice from someone else. If you are here and fall into the pro-choice side, can I challenge you to study the biblical evidence and work to protect life?  

Beloved, we are going to suffer for the position we hold.  One danger of a democratic society is the tyranny of the majority.  As the majority of our culture, moves away from biblical truth, we are going to suffer more and more persecution.  We are just beginning to experience tyranny of a Anti-God majority in our culture. Set Apart Christ as Lord by preparing yourself with Gospel Reasoning.  

Be Equipped with Gospel Respect


Secondly, we must be equipped with Gospel Respect.  Go back to verse 15, “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. BUT do this (giving answers and reasons for our hope) with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. It is better, if it is God’s will to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.” Christians are not always known for their gentleness and their respect. The public square often characterizes Christians who stand for Biblical truth as angry, arrogant and annoying.  But our convictions come for a God that is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. 

We must portray a Christ-like demeanor and response when we suffer for what is right.  

Peter gives three reasons why we should have gentleness and respect. The first is so our conscience may be clear.  God has given us a conscience to help us determine to see what is right and wrong. The Holy Spirit speaks to our conscience to convict of sin and lead us to righteousness.  It is important to have a clear conscience. Listen to 1 Tim 1.18-19, “ Timothy, my son, I give you this instruction in keeping with the prophecies once made about you, so that by following them you may fight the good fight, holding on to faith and a good conscience. Some have rejected these and so have shipwrecked their faith.” The “these” that the some have rejected are faith and a good conscience which leads to a shipwrecked faith meaning a false faith or no faith.  We want to do things in keeping a good and clear conscience so we will protect our faith.” Peter wants you to act with gentleness and respect for the sake of your own faith.  

Secondly, our gentleness and respect is meant to serve those who are attacking us.  Peter says should be equipped with gospel respect so that, “those who speak maliciously against our good behavior will be ashamed of their slander.”  We will always be held responsible how we carry ourselves when we are mistreated.  We want those who slander and maliciously speak against us to come to repentance and the knowledge of the truth.  We also have a goal of their restoration with Christ.  I have learned this early in my ministry for as a pastor one of my jobs is to help people with sin, even when that sin is against me.  So when people slander me and speak malicious of me (even those of you in this congregation) I must respond with gentleness and respect in hopes that God would grant you repentance.  

Paul says this to Timothy:
24 And the Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. 25 Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.” 2 Timothy 2:24-26

Beloved, we all need grace. We all need to grow.  But those who disagree with Scripture, we must pray that God would change their mind and heart for the sinful or worldly mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law nor can it do so and those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God (Romans 8).  

Thirdly, it better to suffer, if its God’s Will for doing good.  Ultimately, we trust the sovereignty of God.  And in his sovereign control, if we are persecuted, we call ourselves blessed.  This is testimony of the early church. This is testimony of Jesus Christ when he said, “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they are persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:10-12).

This past week Pastor Louie Giglio was invited and then dis-invited for praying at the President 2nd Inauguration.  He was asked to pray because of his work to combat human trafficking. Then later he was dis-invited because 15 years ago he made a comment that homosexuality was a sin and that people could be healed and can be forgiven in Jesus Christ.  There is much could be said about this recent event. I believe it shows that people who continue to hold fast to biblical truth will continue to be persecuted, but I also believe that the response from Pastor Giglio is one we can emulate.  He responded by saying: 



I am honored to be invited by the President to give the benediction at the upcoming Inaugural on January 21. Though the President and I do not agree on every issue, we have fashioned a friendship around common goals and ideals, most notably, ending slavery in all its forms. Due to a message of mine that has surfaced from 15-20 years ago, it is likely that my participation, and the prayer I would offer, will be dwarfed by those seeking to make their agenda the focal point of the inauguration. Clearly, speaking on this issue has not been in the range of my priorities in the past fifteen years. Instead, my aim has been to call people to ultimate significance as we make much of Jesus Christ.

Neither I, nor our team, feel it best serves the core message and goals we are seeking to accomplish to be in a fight on an issue not of our choosing, thus I respectfully withdraw my acceptance of the President's invitation.  I will continue to pray regularly for the President, and urge the nation to do so.  I will most certainly pray for him on Inauguration Day.

Our nation is deeply divided and hurting, and more than ever need God's grace and mercy in our time of need.

He modeled gentleness and respect who those who opposed him.  And end this is all we are called to do.  We cannot change people’s mind; that is God’s job.  Ours is to stand for the Lord with Gospel Reasoning and Gospel Respect.  But also must be:

Be Grounded in Gospel Redeemer 


Peter reminds us that we also need a Redeemer. It is so easy for us to forget, especially when dealing with the volatile issues of the day like abortion or homosexuality, that we are sinners in need of a Savior.  Peter writes, “For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body, but made alive by the Spirit.” Beloved, we must never ever forget our desperate need for God.  We must always show the world that without God we would be destined for eternal death in hell for our sins. Sin separates us from God.  We often comfort ourselves that our sin is not as bad as others (especially in the conversation of abortion), but listen to Jesus, 

 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder,[a] and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother[b] will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,[c]’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.

Jesus says that people are in danger of hell not because of murder, but the root of murder which is anger. The smallest of sins deserve the death penalty in the eyes of God.  We all are unrighteous because we all have sinned against the righteousness of a Holy God.  But listen to Peter’s words again, “For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.”  Once for all. For those who are in Christ Jesus, all sin is forgiven, even the ugliest of sins is forgiven for the righteous died for the unrighteous. Why? To Bring you to God. There is no hope for any of us outside of Jesus Christ.  

So what are we to do in this era of American Intolerance against the church? We set Jesus Christ as the Lord of our life by embracing his forgiveness. And after we set apart Christ as Lord in our hearts, we speak.  We speak with gospel respect and gospel reasoning, but beloved, we must speak.  We must in any and every way we can speak for those who cannot speak for themselves.  

We end where we began by hearing from Pastor Kell, one who participated in abortion, he writes,


I have on my wall a picture of a 3-year-old boy in cowboy boots. He nearly wasn't with us today because his mother was in a difficult place. She was unmarried, pregnant, and scared. But my wife met with her, prayed with her, and took her to a Christian doctor who showed her the baby in her womb through a sonogram. That young mother had the courage to keep her child.


That young boy's smile reminds me that God can save children, one at a time. He does this by using his people to come alongside the struggling to lovingly show them the Christ who can walk them through any terrifying situation---even an unplanned pregnancy.


I believe the only hope to turn the trend of this tragedy is for people to turn their hearts toward the God who made them through the way paved by his Son Jesus. Jesus changes hearts, and changed hearts can change a nation. May God give us grace as a country, and may God give us courage to stand up in the midst of this tragedy so that, if he tarries, many more will cast votes in 2030.

Lord Jesus, we need your help.
So like Pastor Kell and his wife, when you have the opportunity to stand up for the unborn whether in a conversation with a family member or a confused teenager or a voting both.  Stand up.  James 5:20, “Remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins.”