Stretching and Sharing in Gospel Joy

Three Reasons for Christian Cultural Flexibility in Making Disciples

To win more 

“I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some.” (1 Corinthians 9:22 ESV)

“Save some.” Paul realized that in spite of our best efforts many will not believe and will reject Jesus. But humanly speaking, by stretching ourselves and flexing into the life and culture of anyone, God can and will use it to save some.

What price can we put on the eternal soul of any person? I’ve mentioned before a man I knew who was complaining about all the trouble in the world and my response to him was, “It’s almost as if the world needs a Savior.” That man died recently, and it rattled me. If we could just glimpse eternity, we would realize that the things we care so much about don’t matter and the things we often overlook matter more than anything else. This calls us to go to them with language and love that speaks to their hearts rather than them accommodating us. 

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Why the Gospel Fuels Generosity

I want to let the Apostle Paul, by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, summon all of us to the generous life as the godliest and most meaningful life we can experience.

“We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints—and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us. Accordingly, we urged Titus that as he had started, so he should complete among you this act of grace. But as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you—see that you excel in this act of grace also.” (2 Corinthians 8:1–7 ESV)

The Example of Financially Poor Christians’ Generosity (2 Corinthians 8:1-8)

The context here is a region-wide offering the Apostle Paul is collecting for the needs of the church in Jerusalem. Jerusalem is where the church began on the day of Pentecost. Jerusalem was the hub of early apostolic activity. By 50 AD, the Jerusalem church was impoverished due to a 10-year famine. The years of persecution of the church didn’t help either.

Paul is ministering in the Gentile communities across Asia Minor and he told them of the difficulties of the Jerusalem Christians. Paul was passionate about this collection for a couple reasons. One was Christian compassion. Out of compassion for the poor and the suffering, Christians give to meet those needs. But the larger issue was a gospel and ethnic one. Jews and Gentiles were historic enemies. One of the hurdles of the early church was to see that there was not just a Jewish church or a Gentile church, but that there was one church. Paul writes to the Galatians, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)

The Jewish church birthed the Gentile church. What better way to show the unity of the church then for Gentile Christians to cross historic bigotry lines and to personally sacrifice to meet the needs of the Jewish believers? Few things say I love you better than cold, hard cash.

Steward Everything!

Our parable today is situated between two beloved and famous moments. The first is the story of Zacchaeus in Jericho. The wee little man who climbed a sycamore tree to see Jesus. I have told that story many times at bedtime. Maybe kids can relate to being wee little people. His eventual repentance from a life of greed and materialism elicits from Jesus, “For the Son of Man came to seek and save the lost.” (Luke 19:10 ESV)

Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem, which provides the other side of this parable, the triumphal entry into the city of David. Between Zacchaeus and Palm Sunday is the Parable of the Minas.

“As they heard these things, he proceeded to tell a parable, because he was near to Jerusalem, and because they supposed that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately.” (Luke 19:11)

This is insightful and important to understanding the purpose of the parable. Notice the repetition of the word because. Luke helps explain the parable by telling why Jesus told it in the first place. He was near to the capital city Jerusalem. There was a growing excitement that Jesus may reveal his true identity. They supposed that the kingdom of God would appear immediately.

Why is that a problem? What do people do when they think the world is about to end? People get crazy about these things, but what they don’t do is get busy. They go to a mountaintop and wait. The temptation is to do nothing. Jesus tells this parable to correct our understanding of the future and what we are to do as we wait for his return.

Sola Church

The Church is the Pillar (Proclaimer) of Truth

“If I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth.” (1 Timothy 3:15)

Foundations hold things fast; pillars hold things high. Pillars put things on display. Think Athens or Rome and those ruins still have pillars and columns standing upright. They are still doing their job centuries later.

The church is called to display the gospel by proclaiming the gospel. This is our outreach. This is our evangelism. This is our lives lived as salt and light. This is God’s love through us to others.

Christ Alone

Jesus fulfills the Old Testament priesthood by representing us to God in his death as our representative and his ongoing ministry of intercession for us. “Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.” (Hebrews7:25 ESV)

Who is “them”? Those who come to God by faith. There’s the gospel. There’s personal trust in Jesus. What does Jesus do as our priest? Intercession.

Intercession = the priestly work of Christ in which he represents us and our needs to the Father and prays for the application of covenantal promises and blessings to us which the sacrifice of his own life made possible.

How qualified is he to intercede to the Father on our behalf?

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:15–16)

So we have this amazing combination in Christ of perfect identification and perfect representation. He perfectly identifies with our weaknesses because he has a human nature that experienced weakness. No matter what you are going through today, Christ can identify with it. He has been there, felt that. He perfectly identifies with us. He’s one of us. At the same time, he perfectly represents us as priest to the Father and prays that the Father would fulfill his promises to us, in our trials and in our pains. In our sorrows and in our joys. He takes our feeble prayers and cries and appeals to the Father according to the Father’s will for us.

Sola: Grace

What Does Sola Grace Mean?

We are saved entirely by God

“And are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 3:23–24 ESV)

Justification by faith is the hallmark of the Reformation. Notice here we are justified by his grace. What is the difference? Faith is the means by which God declares us righteous. It also is a gift. “Justified by grace” means that God declares us righteous without anything in us contributing or inclining him to do so. God is the giver and we are the receivers.

Sola Scriptura: A Scripture-Alone Life

 

 

 

 

 

Scripture Over Us (We Submit to Scripture)

This is the issue of authority; the foundational issue of the Reformation. The word “submit” here is good, but I think it must be much more than merely submission.

“Thus says the Lord:
   “Heaven is my throne,
and the earth is my footstool;
   what is the house that you would build for me,
and what is the place of my rest?
All these things my hand has made,
and so all these things came to be, declares the Lord.
   But this is the one to whom I will look:
he who is humble and contrite in spirit
and trembles at my word.” (Isaiah 66:1-2 ESV)

God is glorious. Heaven is his footstool. Yet, the kind of person God gives his loving attention to is one who trembles at his Word. “Tremble.” Why “tremble”? Why not read the Bible like the newspaper? Because “the grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.” (Isaiah 40:8) Or we could put it this way, The New York Times withers and Oprah’s Book Club will fade away. One million books are published every year. The Library of Congress has 16 million books. It is the storehouse of all the wisdom of man down through the ages. All of it will wither, fade, and burn. But the smallest thing God has said will last forever.

Our trembling is a loving, treasuring, trembling. “Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day.” (Psalm 119:97) This whole Psalm 119 is a long love song about Scripture. Ten times it uses the word “delight.” It is more delightful than other things we delight in, like sweets (honey), or money (thousands of gold and silver pieces).[1]

Let’s be honest, aren’t we often giving Scripture less attention than “tremble” and “love”? “Ambivalent” and “disinterested” might be closer to the truth. I know this because I see how long Bibles with names on them remain in the church lost and found. It’s almost as if these people don’t even realize their Bible is missing.

The real issue is not how or what I think about the Bible, it is how or what I think about God. The more I reverence him, love him, worship him, the more I will treasure his Word.

Luther said, “The truth of Scripture comes first. After that is accepted one may determine whether the words of men can be accepted as true.”[2]

What do you do when you get your mail? We look at who the mail is from. Mail that comes from people we don’t care about we call what? Junk mail. We much prefer personal mail. Especially from someone we care about. If it’s from a boyfriend, girlfriend, husband, or wife, we may save that for the last one to open. Read it. Re-read it. Read it again. We may keep that card, put it on the fridge, put it by our nightstand. We don’t want to throw it away. Why? Not because of what it says but who it’s from.

If treasuring Scripture is a struggle, ask yourself, have I downgraded God? Ask God for a fresh heart vision of his glory, goodness, power, love, mercy, kindness, and grace. Treasure Scripture over us.

Scripture Under Us (We Stand on Scripture)

Martin Luther stood before a council (The Diet of Worms) requiring him to recant of his teachings and writings. He refuses to recant and concludes with these words, “Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise.”[3] “Here I stand.” What did he mean? He meant that Sola Scriptura was not merely Scripture over him but also under him; under him as the foundation of his faith and hope. “Here I stand.”

“Stand” means trust. Trust what? Trust that God’s Word will prove to be true. Trust in the promises of God. This is a huge blessing to us because so much of what God has said are promises from God to us.

  • “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10)
  •  “The Lord is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me?” (Psalm 118:6)

We have these and hundreds of other promises. We show that Scripture is our foundation when we take God at his Word and apply his promises to the difficulties of life.

I know for me over the years God has used different passages at certain times in my life right when I needed it. It gave me perspective. It sustained me. It got me through. I’m sure you could testify to the same.

Jesus said some people build their lives on sand, but others on the rock of God’s truth. Which are you? Of course, it is times of difficulty where our real foundation is revealed. Like buildings in these hurricanes. You don’t know which ones are wobbly till the winds and rain come. Maybe you are in a hurricane time right now. Everything feels shaky. You are fainting. You are weak. Do you actually believe the promises of God for his presence and provision?

Here’s some Bethel Church history. When we built the auditorium 18 years ago, we placed under the pulpit three things before they sealed it with concrete: a Greek New Testament, an English Bible, and a hymnal. Dr. Joe Stowell II, the first pastor of our church, was invited to our grand opening. We shared that we had buried a Bible under the pulpit. He was in his early 90s but when he came to the pulpit, he looked down, and he said, “It’s good to be standing on the promises.” Indeed. Here we stand. We cannot do otherwise.

Scripture in Us (We Meditate on Scripture)

“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” (Colossians 3:16)

God’s Word over us is the final authority. God’s Word under us is the foundation of promises. For either of these to be effective, we must have God’s Word in us.

The Reformation exploded out of a desert of biblical truth. The people were starving for the gospel and God’s Word. That’s why translating the Bible into languages the common people could read was so huge. People literally gave their lives to have a Bible in their language. Tyndale. Wycliffe. Others were burned at the stake for translating the Bible into common languages. Why were they so committed?

“Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation.” (1 Peter 2:2) After having two children of my own, I have personally witnessed how an infant communicates it’s hungry. They scream! She’s not satisfied until she eats. Peter says, be like that.

How do we get Scripture in us? Read it. Memorize it. Meditate on it. Discuss it with others. Hear it taught and preached. Teach it to others. Pray it. Sing it. Quote it. And other ways. We are blessed to have so many resources that place Scripture in our hearts and minds.

Can I encourage you to do all you can to regularly expose your heart to God’s Word? One way we provide is every weekend God’s Word is proclaimed at Bethel Church. Make it a priority.

Scripture over us—authority. Under us—foundation. In us—meditation.

Scripture Through Us (We Live Out Scripture)

Parents, have you had this experience?
       “Sweetheart, it’s time to stop watching TV and get ready for bed.”
“OK Daddy!” She doesn’t move.
       “Sweetheart, it’s time to stop watching TV and get ready for bed.”
“OK Daddy!” Still doesn’t move.
What if I asked, “Honey, are my words important to you?”
“Yes, Daddy, they are the most important words in my whole life.”
I think, Really? It sure doesn’t look like it.

I wonder how often God looks down at us, hearing our apparent commitments to him, seeing our Bibles around the house or the Bible apps on our phone, seeing us nodding our heads at Sola Scriptura sermons, yet, we are still on the couch NOT prioritizing Daddy’s words. How do you know if Scripture is over you, under you, and in you?

Obedience to God’s Word

“But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” (James 1:22) James goes on to describe this person like someone who looks in a mirror but then walks away without making any necessary changes. Like, what difference is what you see actually making to you?

If my daughter says, “OK Daddy,” and quickly obeys, I know she is putting my word ahead of her own desires. Obedience to God’s moral and spiritual will in his Word is really the bottom line.

Yes, we believe in grace and forgiveness and we all fail in my respects. But that doesn’t mitigate the need for a life of obedience to God’s Word. Sola Scriptura leads to life Scriptura.

Guidance by God’s Word

Not all decisions in life are about obedience, many are questions of guidance. Wisdom. Choosing what is best. God’s Word is so helpful here too. It tells us what to prioritize.

  • “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.” (Matthew 6:33)
  • “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.” (Romans 12:2)
  • “Trust in the LORD with all your heart…and he will make straight your paths.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)

“[God’s Word] is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” (Psalm 119:105) We are the sum of our decisions. God’s Word and wisdom will guide us toward decisions that please God. When my mind is renewed and saturated by God’s Word, the inclinations of my heart lean toward the things God wants in my life. With those decisions come the blessings of God on my life. The house of my life is built on the rock and my decisions and directions are too.

Let’s review.

 

 

 

 

Scripture over us—authority. Under us—promises. In us—Bible intake. Through us—obedience and guidance. Sola Scriptura. Let’s be doctrinally right but let’s make sure right doctrine leads to right living. “This God—his way is perfect; the word of the Lord proves true; he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him.” (Psalm 18:30)

[1] Daniel Hyde, “The Word of God: How am I to Love God by Loving it?” www.Ligonier.org. January 6, 2014.

[2] Matthew Barrett (Ed.), Reformation Theology: A Systematic Summary, p. 153.

[3] Martin Luther as quoted by Roland H. Bainton, Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther, p. 183.

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