J. Gordon Duncan

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Love Your Enemies Part 2 – Romans 12:14-21

Part One of this series can be found here.

Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly.  Never be wise in your own sight. 17 Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.

You remember the old song “Love and Marriage”?  The lyrics are, “Love and Marriage, Love and Marriage, Go together like a horse and carriage, This I tell ya brother, you can’t have one without the other.”  Well, in your efforts to bless those who persecute you and weep and show compassion to those who are weeping and in need of compassion, you will never be able to do it unless you remove haughtiness and associate with the lowly.

Since we don’t use the word “haughty” we should probably explore what it means because when hear the word, it brings to mind images of pasty white men and women with fake wigs from the movie Amadeus or the upper class who don’t want to go down with the Titanic.  Biblically though, the word for haughty is often translated proud or self-righteous.  It has the impression of dwelling on yourself with the goal of lifting yourself up on high above others.  It can be the same word used for lifting your arms in the air.  Obviously if you are haughty or proud or self-righteous you are not going to hang with the lowly or meek or humble.  Interestingly enough, God has reserved a special kind of anger for the haughty and hearing this should cause of us to quake in our boots.

  • 2 Samuel 22:28  You save a humble people, but your eyes are on the haughty to bring them down.
  • Psalm 101:5 Whoever slanders his neighbor secretly I will destroy. Whoever has a haughty look and an arrogant heart I will not endure.
  • Proverbs 16:18  Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.
  • Proverbs 21:4 Haughty eyes and a proud heart, the lamp of the wicked, are sin.
  • Isaiah 2:11 The haughty looks of man shall be brought low, and the lofty pride of men shall be humbled, and the Lord alone will be exalted in that day.

Let me ask you this:  When was the last time you either repented of haughtiness or asked God to remove it from your life?  Yesterday?  How about never?  But when you begin to see so much ink spilled on a subject in scripture, you take notice.  We don’t get references to masturbation, drugs, venereal diseases, or the death of the dinosaurs but we get at least 20 references to haughtiness.

When that happens, you better sit up and pay attention because that means that haughtiness is a problem.  And when the definition of the outworking of your faith is the caring of the meek and lowly and when haughtiness is the enemy and obstacle to your caring for and spending time with the meek and lowly, you should pay careful attention.

Most simply, if you are haughty, you don’t spend time with the lowly or care for them because you think you are better than they are.  Unfortunately this is a pretty common occurrence in Christianity.  Let me give you a quick test for haughtiness.  When this verse speaks of associating with the lowly, what comes to mind?  Do you squirm?  Do you immediately feel guilty knowing that there are many people you pass by but try to ignore?  Or do you immediately move to the defense by reminding yourself how you do spend time with meek and lowly?  You see haughtiness ignores the lowly or either justifies itself from a few charitable acts.  Humility however neither wallows in self-justification nor ignores the conviction that comes from scripture.  Humility keeps a person from being wise in their own eyes and it fights haughtiness, pride, and arrogance.

This path down is the only way to truly live, act, and breathe in Christ’s imitation.  It is the motivation to resist repaying evil for evil.  It is the motivation to live honorably among all, even your enemy.  It is the motivation to love peacefully among all.

Let me give you an example of what passes for this in the Christian life:  Get up in the morning.  Maybe spend a few minutes reading your bible or praying a quick prayer in the car on the way to work.  At work, interact with a host of people, the most of which you disagree with politically and socially.  You consider it an accomplishment to not start a fight with any of them about their views on healthcare, gay marriage, their lifestyle, their entertainment choices, or their upcoming 3rd wife.  You hear your co-workers talk about problems with their ex-wife or with their finances and you think, “Wow, they have really screwed up their life,” but you don’t say anything.  On the way home, you listen to the local radio station and bemoan where all those crazy liberals are taking this once great country.  When you pull into your driveway, you see some neighbors who you kinda know and give them a nod or a wave.  The rest of your evening is a combination of resting, hanging with family, or maybe even doing a little more work.  When you hear commands about living peaceably and associating with the lowly and not cursing those who persecute you, you think, “Well, I didn’t say what I really thought when I disagreed with those folks at work, I go to church and the church does good stuff, so I guess I’m doing alright.”

That scenario though doesn’t describe in any way what we are being called to here.  Paul is talking about the living of a life with such deep humility that you don’t consider anyone below you.   You don’t resist arguing with co-worker to keep peace but you do it because you have such a deep humility in your own opinions and convictions.  When you hear of a co-worker who has been divorced or has money problems, you don’t think, “Wow, they screwed up,” but instead think, “Do they know the hope of Christ?” or maybe you think that folks here at SK could help.  Your heart longs to know your neighbors because God has providentially placed them in your life.

There is only one reason this life is possible or even worth attempting:  the life of Jesus.  Consider your Savior’s example in each of these commands.

  • 14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.
    • At His crucifixion:  Luke 23:34And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments.
  • 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.
    • At the death of His friend Lazarus:  John 11:33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. 34 And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Jesus wept.
  • 16 Live in harmony with one another.
    • Appearing after His resurrection:  John 20:19 Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 20 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.”
  • Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly.
    • Matthew 11:29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
  • Never be wise in your own sight.
    • Before Jesus’ crucifixion, He prayed, Matthew 26:39 “He fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”
  • 17 Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.
    • Isaiah 53:7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.
  • 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.
    • Romans 5:1 Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.  His making peace is your avenue to making peace.

19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Jesus securing all of these things for you is the power of the Gospel whereby you can imitate and follow Jesus.  So, you don’t have to avenge yourself but leave wrath and vengeance to the other one who has the right to execute wrath and vengeance:  God.  Any time you decide to return the sarcastic remark or blog post or email, you have decided that you are God and you have the right to vengeance.  But we as sinners have not right to execute our own vengeance because we were the enemies who had rebelled against God and He was the one who chose to forgive us.  Through Christ we have a better way:  If your enemy is hungry feed them.  If your enemy is thirsty give them something to drink.

In doing this you will heap burning coals on their head.  This is a quote from Proverbs 25:21-22.  Now heaping burning coals normally implies judgment but it more practically is a euphemism for opening people’s eyes.  You see, the whole world expects you and everyone else to return complaint with complaint, bitterness with bitterness and hurt with hurt.  But when you can genuinely return love and blessing in the face of hatred and cursing, people take notice.  You want to know why?  Because returning love and blessing and in the face of hatred and cursing is what God has done.  The kindness of God is what led you to repentance.

And because Jesus has lived for those who have sinned so egregiously and because Jesus has loved those who hated Him and because Jesus died for those who would not for any cause other than their own, and because Jesus showed you grace, you can show it to others.  This is the upside down nature of the Gospel.  Our pathway to showing compassion and sympathy and offering forgiveness to others comes about because that is exactly what Christ has done for you.

January 25, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | 2 Comments

Love Your Enemies Part 1 Romans 12:14-21

When I was a kid, I loved the Rocky and Bullwinkle Show.  If you don’t remember it or aren’t familiar with it, the show centered around Rocky the flying squirrel and his friend, Bullwinkle the dimwitted moose.  Most weeks, Rocky and Bullwinkle would battle Boris and Natasha in protection of their town, Frostbite Falls.  The show was a cartoon serial which meant that it would end with a cliffhanger to be concluded in the next episode.

One of the fun things about those cliffhangers was that the narrator would say, “Tune in next week” and then give you two options for what the next show could be called.  A couple of my favorites were:

  • Below Zero Heroes or I Only Have Ice for You
  • Bullwinkle Makes a Hit or I Get a Bang Out of You
  • Axe Me Another or Heads You Lose!

The reason I bring Rocky and Bullwinkle up is because the multiple options for the next episode is how I feel about this week’s Big Picture Question.  When I was doing sermon prep a month or so ago, I decided on this week’s Big Picture Question, but then upon revisiting the passage, I came up with another one.   You see this week, the passage from Romans 12 is going to emphasize two things:  what a life of sympathy and forgiveness looks like as well as the upside down nature of the Gospel.   So in true Rocky and Bullwinkle style, we’re going to try to answer both.

Big Picture Question:   What is the prescription for a life that is both sympathetic and forgiving? or What does the upside down nature of the Gospel look like?

Last week, Paul talked about how the believer in Christ is to offer themselves as a living sacrifice in two ways:  We are to outdo each other in honor by meeting each others needs, and we are to outdo each other in honor by showing hospitality to those who are in need.  In doing this, the church shows that they have been transformed by knowing Jesus Christ.  Jesus has met our need for forgiveness and our need for righteousness.  He has given us both, so we demonstrate that we have been with Jesus by meeting the needs of people within the church and showing hospitality to those outside of the church.  We saw that last week by Paul exhorting each and every believer to show genuine love as an expression of knowing Christ.

We looked briefly at Jesus’ example of genuine love.

  • He gave the widow her whole world back by raising her son.
  • He defended a scandalously sinful woman in front of a bunch of pious, arrogant jerks.
  • He hung with women of poor reputation.
  • He taught the real obedience was helping those in need.
  • He healed lepers.

In the big picture, this is how Jesus expresses genuine love:  Jesus genuinely shows love to those who have sinned.  He hates their sin.  He reverses the repercussions of people’s sin even if those repercussions are those people’s fault.  This kind of radical love is rare these days.

  • It is seen when one spouse refuses to ever bring up something another spouse has done wrong.
  • It is seen when you forgive a parent for their faults.
  • It is seen when you love people even when the mess that is their lives, is their own fault.

With that in mind, Paul continues to explain what this life of sacrificial living looks like.

Romans 12:14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another.

Now, we are going to read some verses this week that so many believers will say they believe are true because they believe the Bible is true, but in terms of actually living these verses out, very few of us believe they are true.  You ask people to give some money and they can do that.  Ask people to give of their time and talents, people can do that too.  Ask them to hold their tongue and speak kinds works, and people can do that too.  However, ask them to love their enemies and, bless the people who persecute them, and turn the other cheek, and you get a bunch of faces that look like people have been sucking on lemons.

Paul offers three commands here that promote harmony with one another.  Bless the people who persecute you and don’t curse them.  Rejoice with those who rejoice.  Weep with those who weep.  And then you can live in harmony with one another.

Now, if I tell you that you should be rejoicing with people who rejoice, you get that completely.  Weeping with people who weep challenges us a bit more.  I mean, if someone is throwing a party, hanging and having fun is pretty nice unless you are a boorish dullard.  Weeping with people who weep however takes two things:  Compassion and Sympathy.   Those are challenging qualities.  Life is hard enough dealing with your own problems.  Being able to actively show compassion and feel the pain of others is tough.  But nothing speaks more to expressing love and care than weeping when someone weeps.

Let me give you an example.  Last week, Emma fell down the stairs.  I mean she fell down every single one of them and landed on the floor like a ragdoll.  Aside from being scared, she was fine.  She’s a tough kid.  Amy held her a minute or two and the crying stopped.  I on the other was holding Landry.  In seeing Emma fall down and considering that her sister might be hurt, Landry burst into tears.  She did not want to see her sister hurt or cry.  She wept when Emma wept.  She hurt because she feared her sister hurt.  Have you ever wept with someone when it could be said that your tears were equal to the tears of the person who was suffering?

Who loves this way?  Listen to Jesus’ reaction when He returned to hear Mary tell Him that His friend Lazarus was dead.  John 11:33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. 34 And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Jesus wept. 36 So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” Even though Jesus had the power over death, and even though Jesus knew that He could and would raise Lazarus from the dead, He cried alongside of Mary because He and she were saddened to their very being.

So weeping with those who weep and showing compassion with those who need compassion, we get.  We might even want to be like that.  But blessing those who persecute us?  Blessing them and not cursing them?  That is crazy.  Practically, Paul is telling us that it is in the character of those who know Jesus to not retaliate against attacks (which if obeyed would immediately shut down half the world’s blogs and all the world’s political commentary).  In fact, Paul is commanding believers to not only resist retaliation but to bless those who persecute you.  The person who attacks you should walk away feeling blessed by you.  How in the world is that possible?

Well remember, what we are being commanded to do here is offer a living sacrifice.  You no longer have to offer a physical death as payment for sin.  But you do have to offer a sacrifice.  A living sacrifice is a physical act that represents and actual death.  Because Christ died for you, you can die to self and not only resist retaliation, not only forgive, but actually bless those who persecute you.  You can offer genuine love even to those whom have done you evil.

Again, we say, “How in the world can anyone do that?  You don’t know what so and so has done to me.”  And I don’t.  I know what having to forgive someone who has hurt me to the very fiber of my being looks like, but I don’t know what you’ve been through.  So where is the hope?

I Peter 4:1-2,8 Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, 2 so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God.  8 Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins

Since Christ physically suffered as a human being as we do, and since He did it effectually for you, you can now grow in obedience and sin will begin to decrease in your life so that you don’t serve your own passions of revenge and anger, but actually serve the will of God.  Through that, you can now earnestly show genuine love and that will cover the multitude of sins that a person afflicts on you.  You will bless those who curse you.  Then, your anger and desire for revenge become sympathy.  Instead of hating and cursing some one, you bless them.  You weep with them.  You show them compassion.  You meet their need because Jesus has met yours.  As we always try to do, what practically does this look like?

It means if you have been wronged in a relationship, whether you have been wronged by your spouse, or by your parents, or by your boss, or by a member of your homeowners association, or by a teacher, you can now through the power and example of Jesus Christ, bless those who hurt you instead of cursing them.  As I told someone this week, “The degree to which you understand how you have sinned against Christ and understand that Jesus gladly suffers on your behalf, will be the degree to which you are willing to forgive and restore someone who has offended you.  We would be the most attractive of all communities in Garner and the surrounding areas if we lived this way.

January 24, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | 3 Comments

The Upside Down Show – Sovereign King Service Preview 012410

Bless those who persecute you?

Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly?

Never be wise in your own sight?

How upside down is that?  It stands contrary to almost every thing that our nature and our culture tell us that we should do?   Yet it is the life of faith and the life of following Jesus Christ.

In light of so many problems globally (Haiti) and locally (NC’s financial struggles), understanding the life of faith in this way is essential.

This week at Sovereign King Church, that upside down nature is exactly what we are going to pursue.  If you would like to join us for worship, we meet each Sunday at 10:30am, and you can find directions to our space at

http://www.sovereignkingpca.net/1.2.html.

January 22, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | Leave a comment

Exhortation

The beautiful design of God is that by His empowering mercies and grace, if you are humble, look after each other with sober judgment according to the faith that God has given you, if you rely on God’s mercy and grace, the church will function like a body.  If you fail to be humble or look at your self with sober judgment according to the faith that God has given you, then the church will function as one that is lame or blind or deaf.  Christ will no less be glorious or victorious, but His bride won’t as effectively accomplish what God has called her to which is creating and engaging community for the glory of Jesus Christ.

The simple takeaway is this:  By faith, God is commanding each and every one of you to be humble seeing others as better than yourself.  By faith God is commanding each and every one of you to see yourself with sober judgment finding infinite value only in Jesus Christ and not in what you do or what honors are heaped upon you.  Then as the church does that, she will create that loving community of believers that God intends for us to be.  Believers will participate in the life of the church because every believer is essential to the life of the church.  Believers will serve without a care or concern about getting personal praise or glory.  Service to Christ within the church and to the larger community in which each church exists will be done in the power and mercy of Jesus Christ seeking to glorify in Him in all that is done.

This article also appears at the Raleigh Examiner.  Read it there and help me earn a penny.

January 12, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment

The Head Bone is Connected to the Neck Bone – Romans 12:3-8 Part Two

The audio for this sermon can be found at http://www.sermoncloud.com/sovereign-king-church/

4 For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, 5 so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.

This humility and sober judgment evaluated by faith gives Christians the motivation to work through difficulties, forgive, and restore.  When the church functions in that way, the truths of Paul are a sweet balm to any wound of offense.  When we live that way, people don’t flee the church; they are attracted to it.  Paul says that Christians make up one body comprised of many members (a similar description to the one he uses in I Corinthians 12).  Every physical body has multiple members (feet, hands, head, etc) and each one of them serves a specific function.  When one of those members doesn’t function correctly, the body has to either change the way it does things or in worse case scenarios, there are just some things the body cannot do any longer.

Now this makes sense.  We’ve all been some situation or another where our health has failed us.  Maybe your back hurts and you can’t lift things anymore.  Maybe your knees hurt and you can’t play basketball anymore.  Maybe you can’t pick up your children as easily as you once did.  Maybe you struggle to find energy to make it through the day.  Maybe your eyesight isn’t as great as it once was.  The books you read get thinner while your glasses get thicker.  Whatever the case, when a part of the body breaks down, some other part of the body has to compensate to make things work.

When I had my shoulder reconstruction surgery, I couldn’t use my left hand for almost anything significant the first few weeks.  I didn’t think it would be a big deal because I was right handed so I figured using it for everything wouldn’t be a problem.  I couldn’t believe how quickly my right arm and shoulder began to hurt because I was no longer using my left arm.  I was overcompensating and the only way I was going to begin to function without pain was to regain the use of my left hand.  That is exactly what happens to the church body when people opt out and choose not to use their gifts corporately.

We are individuals saved by faith in Christ but we are saved into the body of Christ, the church.  Each of us is intrinsically and inextricably connected.  You are especially equipped to serve within the context of the church so that the church more effectively accomplishes the mission that God has for it.

Think about that truth in the context of Sovereign King Church.  If one of us chooses to opt out, then other parts of the body have to overcompensate and eventually, problems set in.  For example, think about what it takes to plan and implement a worship service.  A sermon has to be written.  Music is picked out according to the themes of the sermon.  Samples and sheet music have to be collected and distributed to the music team.  A music team has to be willing to meet, practice, and play music.  A sound person has to make sure everything is mixed properly and recorded.  A call to worship, time of repentance, prayer for the kingdom, and Lord’s supper liturgy have to be prepared.  A bulletin has to be designed, edited, and printed.  The space has to be cleaned.  Someone has to coordinate refreshments and someone has to sign up.  And folks, this is not even an exhaustive list of all that has to happen for us to gather here on Sunday.  The church also coordinates Fight Club, Project Runway, CE Groups and a host of other activities.  All of these things fit the specific ministry that we are called to do here in Garner and the surround communities.

The beautiful design of God is that by His empowering mercies and grace, if we are humble, look after each other with sober judgment according to the faith that God has given us, if we rely on God’s mercy and grace, we will function like a body.  If we fail to be humble or look at ourselves with sober judgment according to the faith that God has given us, then we’ll be lame or blind or deaf.  We won’t effectively accomplish what God has called us to which is creating and engaging community for the glory of Jesus Christ.

The simple takeaway is this:  By faith, God is commanding each and every one of you to be humble seeing others as better than yourselves.  By faith God is commanding each and every one of us to see ourselves with sober judgment finding infinite value only in Jesus Christ and not in what we do or what honors are heaped upon us.  Then as we do that, we will create that loving community of believers that God intends for us to be.  We’ll show up to events because we all are essential to the life of the church.  We’ll serve without a care and concern about getting personal praise or glory.  We’ll serve in the power and mercy of Jesus Christ seeking to glorify in Him in all we do.

6 Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; 7 if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; 8 the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.

Paul makes it pretty clear.  Just as God gives a variety of measures of faith, so He also gives a variety of measures of gift to the church and the exercise of each is essential and necessary to the glorious privilege the church has in fulfilling her mission.  Paul says if you have the gift of prophecy, exercise in proportion to your faith.  Now, there are about a dozen different explanations for the gift of prophecy here and I don’t want us to get caught up here and miss the overall exhortation of the utilization of gifts here, but I think it is worth spending a couple of moments on definitions.

There are 3 predominant explanations for the word prophecy here.  The first is expressed well by Wayne Grudem who said, “It is a human report of something that God has brought spontaneously to mind. It is different from teaching in that teaching is based on a written text of Scripture, while prophecy is based on the immediate impression that God is directing our thoughts to information that we would not otherwise have known or spoken.”  The second is expressed by Richard Gaffin who feels the authoritative forth telling of prophecy ended with the completion of the canon of scripture.  The third describes the prophecy mentioned here as, “a Spirit-guided expression of something we otherwise would not know or say, which is powerful for that particular moment and brings conviction or exhortation or consolation for the awakening or upbuilding of faith.”

The last explanation is akin to last week two weeks ago when I was preaching on both the kindness and severity of the Lord and someone in the congregation came up to me and mentioned how one specific example that I gave was exactly something they were struggling with and the biblical exhortation was a perfect remedy for the heartache they were experiencing.  I tend to think the definition of a prophet as simply a future teller is too narrow and tend to agree with Poythress here.

The point being emphasized by Paul here is this, and I’ll use this as a conclusion.  Walk in humility with sober judgment and serve within the context of the church according to the faith, mercy, and grace that Jesus Christ has secured for you.  There are a lot of people in this congregation that need words of encouragement.  Don’t assume it is someone else’s job to give that encouragement.  You give it.  If there is an opportunity to serve, then serve.  If there is an opportunity to exhort and encourage others to greater love and service, then exhort.  You’re going to have an opportunity to see the skills and gifts of teaching and leadership from your elders soon.   There are continually opportunities for us to demonstrate mercy to the GPD, EMS, and Hayes Place.

The central point being given here is that God has uniquely equipped each and every one of you to serve and if you don’t, the church will no doubt still victoriously proclaim Christ, but will do it while compensating for your absence.  If you are a member of Sovereign King, trust God’s mercy and grace, walk humbly with faithful sober judgment and serve.  If you are a visitor to Sovereign King, we would love for you to join us in the incredible work that God is doing here.

As Ephesians 4:7-8 says, “But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. 8 Therefore it says, “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.”  When we faithfully exercise the gifts that God gives us, Christ is lifted up, He pours out His mercies to us, and more and more people come to saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.

January 11, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | Leave a comment

3 Truths About Yourself – Romans 12:3-8 Part One

The audio for this sermon can be found at http://www.sermoncloud.com/sovereign-king-church/

So often, when it comes to evaluating ourselves, our gifts, our talents, etc, we either think way too much or way too little of ourselves.  We are all either Donald Trump and the kings of self-promotion or we are Eeyore walking around thinking we are not much of a donkey.   People of each extreme are pretty difficult to work with.  The kings of self-promotion always have their best interest at heart, whine the loudest when their ideas aren’t the ones the group go with, and they rarely can offer a sincere apology.  The Eeyores are comfortable in their own worlds that are safe and secure, so they risk very little, always have an excuse for underperforming, and rarely have enthusiasm for anything other than that in which they are comfortable.  At a quick glance, the Donald Trumps and Eeyores of the world are not that much different.

I wish the church was immune from these extremes but sadly, she is not.  Thinking too much of yourself is a direct contradiction of commands like, “Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord,” and “Consider others better than yourself.”   Thinking nothing of yourself spits in the face of your being created in the image of God and denies any power and work of Jesus Christ.  As a result, Kingdom work often is led without faith by people of competing interests.

It is no wonder so many people flee corporate worship every year.  One of the more prevailing trends of American Christianity in the past decade is the attitude that God is completely okay with believers in Jesus living their lives of faith separated from other believers.  The thought of being connected with a body of believers (whether that group meets in a building, a school, or home) seems almost repugnant to many Christians.

My two cents:  Whenever the Gospel takes a back seat to any other effort or personality of the church, people will flee.

No matter the reason, reducing Christianity to “Jesus and Me” minimizes the efforts of Christ in both building His church and making His bride beautiful.  The body of Christ is designed with wonderfully diverse people, gifts, roles, and functions.  Bringing them together requires extra measures of grace (never a bad thing) and requires believers to grow in forgiving and restoring (again, never a bad thing).

Denying the body of Christ access to your unique gifts and talents not only hinders the work of the Kingdom of God, it fails to recognize and glorify God for the grand plan that He has orchestrated.  I Corinthians 12:18,24  But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.  But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, 25 that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.

Growing in living with one another and utilizing the gifts of God is the challenge before us.  With that wonderfully big vision of God’s work before us, let’s ask ourselves this Big Picture Question this week:

Big Picture Question:  What fuels and equips the gifts that God uses within the church?

Romans 12:3 For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.

As always, we need to remind ourselves of the context of the passage before us.  Last week, we looked at chapter 12:1-2 and in that we saw Paul issue two commands.  Believers in Christ are now to offer themselves physically as living sacrifices to God in a spiritual act of worship.  In giving Jesus Christ as a perfect sacrifice, God has enabled His children by His mercies to live sacrificially.  He has enabled you to die to sin sacrificially.  He has enabled you to serve others sacrificially.  The believer is to live out of these truths today by not conforming to this world.  Doing this causes you to look and act and believe and speak in such a way that your life stands in contrast to every person that you interact with that doesn’t yet know Jesus Christ.

So after speaking about being a living sacrifice in the context of the world, Paul talks about what being a living sacrifice looks like within the context of the church.  Just as we saw last week, it is the grace and mercy of God that fuel this sacrificial living no matter the context

He offers 3 steps to prepare our hearts to live sacrificially within the church.

  • Step One:  Do not think more highly of yourself than you ought.
  • Step Two:  Think with sober judgment.
  • Step Three:  Live by the measure of faith that God has given you.

Step One:  Do not think more highly of yourself than you ought.

A good question to ask is how do we know how highly we should think of ourselves?  I would say that question can’t really be answered apart from scripture for these reasons.  Sin always skews our view of ourselves.  Sin makes objectivity a rare gift, so we need a mirror to the human soul to help us and that mirror is the scriptures.  So scripturally, how highly should you think of yourself?

The first place we should look to the declaration that God has created us and designed us in the image of God (Genesis 1:27).  What this means is that every human person is created with dignity and worthy of respect as they are to some extent stamped with an indelible impression of God.  Whether or not you like a person, agree with them politically, find them attractive or ugly, no matter their race, religion, or sexual orientation, they deserve to be treated with dignity and respect because they, like you, are created in the image of God.  This is actually the highest any of us can think of ourselves.  God valued you to such an extent that He made you like Himself in some way.

The second place we should look in scripture is how sin affects the image of God that we were created with.

First of all if you are not a believer, scripture describes the effects of sin in this way.  I Corinthians 15:22 states that every human being dies physically and spiritually because of Adam.  Romans 5:17 says that because of Adam, sin reigns in the lives of those who do not yet know Jesus Christ as their savior.  Romans 8 states that those who are unforgiven and spiritually dead cannot please God with their life, actions, or thoughts.

But Romans 7 explains how sin now affects the believer in Christ.  You recognize that the words and laws of God are good.  You recognize you are fleshly and born as a slave to sin.  As a believer you want to obey.  As a believer you hate sin.  As a believer you still very often choose to sin despite wanting to obey.  You recognize that sin still dwells within you.  You thank God that He enables you through God to obey at all.  2 Corinthians 5:21 states that Jesus who had no sin, became sin on behalf of believers so that they could possess the very righteousness of God.

These are the options that each of you have before you right now.  Every single person is either dead in sin, facing the condemnation of God, and are not able to please God in any way.  Or a person can be forgiven by God by faith in Jesus Christ, they will be given a goodness apart from themselves which is Jesus’.  Despite these wonderful truths, there is a continual, ongoing struggle with sin and quite often, the believer still chooses to sin despite knowing the power of sin and devastation it brings.  The takeaway is that believers in Christ should always be humble in their assessment of themselves not thinking highly at all.

So with that in mind, we ask, “What is the second step toward preparing our hearts to live sacrificially within the church.

Step Two:  Think about yourself with sober judgment.

Knowing these truths of step one, each person should look at themselves with sober judgment.  Sober judgment is how a diverse church full of diverse gifts can work together.  What exactly does thinking about yourself with sober judgment mean btw?  Well, sober judgment doesn’t begin by looking to either ourselves or others but looking to Christ.  In looking at Christ, we see ultimate significance and value.

Do you want to have significance? Then embrace Christ as the one who is infinitely significant to you. Do you want to have value? Then embrace Christ as infinitely valuable. Do you want to want to have esteem? Then embrace Christ as worthy of infinite esteem.  Our faith in Christ is the measure of our significance and value and esteem, because faith means looking away from ourselves to Christ and embracing him as the all-satisfying embodiment of all that is significant and valuable and worthy of esteem. The measure of our new self in Christ—the renewed mind—is the degree to which we look away from ourselves to Christ as our truth and treasure.”  John Piper

Sober judgment doesn’t mean that we look to Jesus for OUR value and significance.  It means we look to Christ as valuable and significant.

“If Christ is more to you, you are more. If Christ is less to you, you are less. Your measure rises and falls with your measure of him. Your valuing him is the value that you have. Your esteeming him is the esteem that you have. Your treasuring him is the treasure that you are.”  John Piper

Step Three:  Live by the measure of faith that God has given you.

To truly walk in this humility and sobriety, a person has to walk by faith.  That faith is a gift from God and the amount of faith a person has comes from God.  Faith in God does not originate in and of itself within you.  Faith in God is alien to sinful humans.  Ephesians 2:8, “By grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”  1 Corinthians 4:7, “What do you have that you did not receive?

Faith is the gift given to each believer, but apparently some have greater faith in God than others.  In fact, a believer can evidence different amounts of faith at different times in their life.    Scripture presents faith as something that can be growing stronger.  2 Thessalonians 1:3: “We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing.”  Scriptures also present faith as something than can be weak.  Romans 14:1, “As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him.

I think this is an experience in which every Christian can relate.  There are times where you feel like you have great trust in God, His grace, and His plan, and then you live and make decisions based on that faith.  You find yourself living and acting not with great confidence in yourself but with great confidence in God.  And then there are those times when you doubt very much that God can and will do anything.  You cognitively say, “God can do anything,” but you don’t live like it.  You know if your faith in God dips, the only place that faith can go is faith in yourself.  Not trusting God is trusting in your own thoughts, skills, and abilities which is also called idolatry.

So how are humility and sobriety more clear in light of the faith that God assigns you.  God intends each and every one of you to recognize that humility is the posture of the Christian.  God intends for each and every one of you to find value, esteem, and honor only in Jesus Christ and not in yourself or anything conferred upon yourself.  Then God wants you to ask yourself the very sober and humbling question, “How much am I trusting God today?”  Am I trusting my wisdom more than I am trusting God’s  Do I say I believe God can do anything but function like I’m the one who has to do everything?

Asking those questions help you to understand the measure faith that you presently have.  Do you find yourself feeling like your faith is low and ebbing?  Do you wish you had greater faith?  If so, cry out like the Father of the boy with the unclean spirit, “I believe.  Help my unbelief!”  Then, you are ready to live out your living sacrifice among the church.  Look at that description in verses 4-5

January 10, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | Leave a comment

Living Sacrifice Part 2 – Sermon Notes on Romans 12:1-2

This is part 2 of the sermon notes for “Living Sacrifice – Romans 12:1-2” –  you can find the first set of notes at http://wp.me/pBHzf-gY

Audio for this sermon will be at http://www.sermoncloud.com/sovereign-king-church/

2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

We live out this worship by not being conformed to this world.  Now let me make one thing clear right from the beginning:  I wish folks agreed on what not being conformed to this world looked like.  Unfortunately, the differences of interpretation about not conforming to the world have not only split families, but churches and even denominations.   There is one thing though that is held commonly by most folks about not being conformed to the world and that is that everyone hold’s fiercely to their interpretation of this verse.  That we have in common.  Typically if you disagree with most people’s convictions on this matter, the worst type of self-righteousness ensues.  With that in mind, let’s agree on this:  in light of the fact of the verse we just looked at, that nothing we do can be found acceptable and holy without the empowering mercies of God, let’s walk humble with each other in the interpreting and living out of this verse, okay?

Now before we jump into the interpretation of not being conformed to this world, let’s brainstorm for a minute about some of the examples of non-conformity that have been

pretty prevalent in Christianity over the past say 20 years or so.  By no means exclusive, these are examples that I have heard preached or enforced.

Not conforming to this world means…

  • Not drinking any alcohol
  • Not smoking any tobacco
  • Not saying damn or hell or a few other slightly more blue words.
  • Short hair for men and long hair for women
  • Not going to R rated movies or even better yet, not going to the movies at all
  • Home schooling your children
  • Classically training your children
  • Sending your children to a Christian school
  • Listening only to Christian music
  • Not handing out or trick or treating for candy
  • Not reading Harry Potter

Now, you can imagine why some of these things have been considered as avenues to avoid not conforming to this world but I can say that you can follow the command or prohibition in each one of those and come no where close to avoid being conformed to this world.  Why?  Because none of them are expressedly forbidden in scripture.  What is required in not conforming to the world is pursuing the wisdom of God and seeking the scriptures on what God calls conformity to the world.

How do we do we know?  Verse 2 tells us how not to be conformed to the world.

  • Step 1 is renewing your mind.
  • Step 2 is testing
  • Step 3 is discerning the will of God.

Let’s look at each one in detail.  Step 1 Renewing your mind.

Well, how does one renew their mind?  Well there are multiple ways mentioned in scripture but for the sake of brevity I’ll focus on the one scripture mentions most:  reading God’s word.  Listen to the promises surrounding God’s word.

  • Colossians 3:16 tells us that the word of Christ dwells richly in you to transform you.
  • Psalm 119:9, 11 “How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to your word. I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.”
  • Hebrews 4:12 “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”
  • Deut. 32:46-47 “he said to them, “Take to heart all the words I have solemnly declared to you this day, so that you may command your children to obey carefully all the words of this law. [47] They are not just idle words for you–they are your life.

And about a hundred more along those same lines.  Essentially, without the study of the word, which is God’s revelation of Himself, then you can no more worship God through avoiding the conformity of the world than anyone else can.

You know, I once had a guy come up to me in the coffee shop and ask me what I was doing as my bible was open.  I told him I was preparing my sermon.  He responded by saying he never prepares.  He just walks up to the podium and waits for the Spirit to tell Him what to say.  He then asked me why I didn’t do the same and I told him that I had just spent 20 hours with the Spirit in reading God’s word in preparation for the sermon.

Renewing your mind by the reading of scripture doesn’t forgo trusting God’s work through the Spirit – it intensifies it.

Secondly, once you have renewed your mind through the Spirit inspired word of God, you test what conformity to the world or avoiding conformity of the world looks like.  God intends for there to be a process in your working out of worship through not conforming to the world.  Some places in this world, living out your sacrificial worship is incredibly clear but some places it is not and God intends for you to study the scriptures both in command and principle, pray, and test each situation in life.  Still that isn’t always clear about how we decide what our sacrificial worshiping lives should look like.

So let me offer a couple of tips about studying the scriptures so you might know how to discern the will of God and thus worship by not conforming to the world.

Borrowed from Cross Talk – First of all, let me speak for a minute about what the bible is not.

  • The Bible is not primarily a book of do’s and don’ts.  Though there are do’s and don’ts in the bible, if it is reduced to that, then large sections of the bible become utterly useless.  A lot of the Bible is more descriptive of the Christian life than it is prescriptive.  Treating the Bible like a list of do’s and don’ts completely misses out on the process of testing that God intends to use for increasing your faith.
  • The Bible is not primarily a book of principles for the problems of life.  Though the Bible does of course contain principles for the problems of life, but if that is all it is to you then you will have a tendency to overlook the history and culture of the Bible which are intended to help you learn how to apply God’s word.  When we approach the scriptures like this, we reduce life to a phrase or a commandment and miss out the interaction that God intends with His believers and other people.  Parents can do this so often when they refuse to interact with the children because their children have disobeyed a 4 word phrase of the Bible.  If God did that, the world would have ended with “Do not eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.”
  • The Bible is not primarily a casebook of characters for you to imitate and avoid.  We treat the Bible like this when we think, “What should I do?” and then you find a Bible character to imitate.  For example, you wonder what how to act in a certain situation so you look at the King of a Jewish nation who was bound to laws of which you are not bound who is held accountable for things that you will never be held accountable who also had 100’s of wives and concubines and we say, “Well Solomon did such and such so I will too.”  Really?   Now Biblical character application can be helpful but you cannot reduce the Bible to just that.  Why?  Merely imitating people in the Bible doesn’t highlight the character of God, it highlights the character and walk of people which always falls short.
  • Finally the Bible is not primarily a system of doctrine.  Though the Bible of course contains doctrine and we value doctrine, treating the Bible like a systematic theology text book minimizes the wisdom of the Bible and makes the Bible a proof text for things you already believe.  So the Bible does have do’s and don’ts, it does have principles for the living of life, it does have Godly people who could be imitated and it does have doctrine, but studying scripture just for those things doesn’t always help you understand how not to be conformed to the world.  You might say, “What does then?”

Well, discerning how to worship God by not conforming to the world looks like this:  You should obey what is expressedly commanded.  For example:

  • 2 Corinthians 6:14 says marry only fellow believers in Christ
  • Ephesians 6:4 says raise your children by God’s standards
  • Ephesians 6:1-2 says children are to honor and obey parents
  • 1 Timothy 5:8 says you should work to support yourself and your family.
  • Psalm 1:2 says you should meditate on the scriptures
  • I Corinthians 13 says you should love others

And there are hundreds of other very clear biblical exhortations like these.  But then you ask what about all the other stuff?  Well if scripture forbids something, it is forbidden.  If it doesn’t forbid something, don’t forbid it.

Yet, still how do we know how to avoid conforming to this world?

  • Remember God promises to help you discern and know His will.
  • Be patient
  • Reflect on what God has taught you before.
  • Consider all your options.
  • Remove anything in your life that is clearly non-biblical
  • Pray pray pray
  • Seek Godly counsel
  • Then make your decision by faith.  If your decision does not require any amount of faith then it is sin as scripture says anything that is not of faith is sin.

Folks today God wants all of you.  In giving Jesus Christ as a perfect sacrifice,  He has enabled you by His mercies to live sacrificially.  He has enabled you to die to sin sacrificially.  He has enabled you to serve others sacrificially.  Your living out of these truths is your sacrifice today.  Doing this causes you to look and act and believe and speak in such a way that your life stands in contrast to every person that you interact with that doesn’t yet know Jesus Christ.

Jesus has perfectly equipped you to live sacrificially by giving you His scriptures so you might discern God’s will about how to live and love sacrificially.

January 4, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment