Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Grievous Happiness

Matthew 5:4

17 February 2013

"Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.    (Matthew 5:4 ESV)



Using the alternate translation verse 4 would read "Happy are those who mourn", and we would look at that and say "no they aren't". Mourners are the opposite of happy they are sad. In truth they are sad, but they will be happy when comfort comes from God.


There is a time and a place for mourning,     Ecclesiastes 3:4 tells us there is "a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance."


There is a time of mourning when we deal with the temporal loss and pain it brings. For Christ followers mourning will cause us to seek after the God of comfort and press into him to recover. But sometimes people turn away from God, get angry with God and turn to bitterness.


Mourning is not Just about Sadness, it is about Repentance


In the Sermon on the Plain we find in Luke 6:21 the similar beatitude: "Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh." These are opposing peeks of human emotion. Psalm 126 provides us a good spiritual correlation of them:


    When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion,

        we were like those who dream.

    Then our mouth was filled with laughter,

        and our tongue with shouts of joy;

    then they said among the nations,

        "The LORD has done great things for them."

    The LORD has done great things for us;

        we are glad.

    Restore our fortunes, O LORD,

        like streams in the Negeb!

    Those who sow in tears

        shall reap with shouts of joy!

    He who goes out weeping,

        bearing the seed for sowing,

    shall come home with shouts of joy,

        bringing his sheaves with him. (Psalm 126)


In this passage laughing is for those who are with the Lord, and weeping is something that can only be overcome by the work of the Lord.


The mourning that Matthew mentions is attached to bereavement. It is the mourning of someone who cannot do anything to help themselves. It is the mourning of one's complete inability. It is like the words of the psalmist,     


My heart is in anguish within me;

        the terrors of death have fallen upon me.

    Fear and trembling come upon me,

        and horror overwhelms me. (Psalm 55:4-5)


There are times when we are sad and when we are down and then there are times when we are beside ourselves. Mourning is this later category.


This type of mourning is what Isaiah has in mind in Isaiah 61:2-3


        to comfort all who mourn;

    to grant to those who mourn in Zion—

        to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes,

    the oil of gladness instead of mourning,

        the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit;

    that they may be called oaks of righteousness,

        the planting of the LORD, that he may be glorified.


This type of mourning exists wherein the only comfort that can come for it is from the Lord. It allows one to trade beauty for ashes, gladness for mourning, and praise instead of faintness. It is done by God so that He is the one who receives all the glory.


We are all sinners, but few these days truly mourn their sin. Sure we mourn the loss of friends and family, we mourn the situations in our life that are difficult, we will find comfort from these as well, but we often do not live in a sense of mourning for our sinfulness. More than individual sins, this is our nature of sinning. We cannot escape sin, we must confront it, mourn for it, humbly come before God and seek forgiveness for it. Then we are blessed. Then we are comforted.


Mourning is an Activity of the People of God


The necessity of mourning in the Christian life is exhibited throughout the Bible in a variety of ways. In Greek, there are nine different words for grief in the New Testament alone. This is a common feeling and expression in the Bible. Let us briefly look at those who mourn.


In Genesis we find that Abraham mourned the loss of his wife: "And Sarah died at Kiriath-arba (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan, and Abraham went in to mourn for Sarah and to weep for her." (Genesis 23:2). The first man of the nation of Israel understood the need to mourn, to bereave. Through this bereavement process he found comfort.


The psalmist in Psalm 42 understood the mourning that comes when one is out of the presence of God:


    My soul thirsts for God,

        for the living God.

    When shall I come and appear before God?

    My tears have been my food

        day and night,

    while they say to me all the day long,

        "Where is your God?" (Psalm 42:2-3)


Jeremiah understood the calamities of his people, the one's he was prophesizing to, and in that he mourned for there state of being:


     Oh that my head were waters,

        and my eyes a fountain of tears,

    that I might weep day and night

        for the slain of the daughter of my people! (Jeremiah 9:1)


In the New Testament Paul is ever the character to emulate. Often we find him mourning over those he knew who needed salvation or who were in sin. In Acts 20:31 he says, "Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears." As he writes to the Corinthians he explains the need for grief and mourning:     For even if I made you grieve with my letter, I do not regret it—though I did regret it, for I see that that letter grieved you, though only for a while. As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. (2 Corinthians 7:8-10) Here we see the need for godly grief to create repentance. Finally, in 2 Timothy 1:3-4 he speaks of the mourning other Christians had had for him: "I thank God whom I serve, as did my ancestors, with a clear conscience, as I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day. As I remember your tears, I long to see you, that I may be filled with joy." (2 Timothy 1:3-4)


Peter particularly exemplifies the mourning over one's sins after the betrayal of Jesus: "And Peter remembered the saying of Jesus, "Before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times." And he went out and wept bitterly." (Matthew 26:75)


Finally, we see that even Jesus wept:     "Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died." 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. And he said, "Where have you laid him?" They said to him, "Lord, come and see." Jesus wept. (John 11:32-35)"


As we can see different types of mourning exist in the Bible, and they all bring comfort. It is the mourning over sin, however, that produces godliness and comfort.


Mourners are Blessed because of Forgiveness


We also must note that in this beatitude is the aspect of being happy. It seems quite paradoxical to have these two thoughts next to each other. We must somehow come to an understanding of how these two concepts can be placed alongside each other: happiness and mourning.


What we must see is not that we are happy because we mourn, we are happy because when we truly mourn we are repentant. When we are repentant we find forgiveness. It is those who are forgiven that are truly happy.


You see we must take the words of James as a commentary on this beatitude:     


Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you. (James 4:8-10)


To be exalted by God we must first find forgiveness with God. If we want to be happy in our mourning we must understand the fruit of our mourning is forgiveness from sin, but that can only happen when we truly mourn our sin.


Mourning Promises Comfort


Finally, we need to see the effects of those who mourn. Once again this is a purpose clause in the beatitude. When we are happy in our mourning (and only then) we will find comfort.


The first beatitude was in the present tense. "Yours is the kingdom of heaven." Notice the difference in this "you will be comforted." It is important to note this, for the comfort that comes from God may not be immediate. Some comforts from God may only come when we receive glory and see God face to face. However, this does not negate the promise. We must find assurance in this beatitude. We will be comforted; we just need to wait patiently for that comfort.


Now this comfort comes to us in a variety of ways. First, it comes to us through the Holy Spirit. In John 14 we find Jesus saying farewell to the disciples and provides a means of comfort: "If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you." (John 14:15-17) This "Helper" is also known as the "Comforter." It is the person of the Holy Spirit who will indwell believers. The Spirit aids us in reading Scripture and in Prayer. In fact it is better for Jesus to go so that the Spirit may indwell us.


Second, we have the Word as comfort. The Scriptures are to be comforts to us always. Romans 15:4 tells us, "For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope." Many times in our lives we find comfort through the remembrance of Scripture. The nature of the Bible is to be a message of hope, that message provides comfort. If you are not being comforted try reading the Bible, it just might work.


Finally, Jesus himself is a comfort to us. "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 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. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." (Matthew 11:28-30).


Our ultimate comfort and reconciliation really comes in the Kingdom of Heaven, in the presence of The Lord. Until that time we will have many opportunities to mourn. But in each of those times of mourning we must remember that comfort is on the way; so blessed are those who mourn.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Happiness and Humility

Matthew 5:3

10 February 2013

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

(Matthew 5:3 ESV)



This week we begin our trek through the Beatitudes. For the next few weeks we will take each of these one at a time. One could say these are the building blocks of personal holiness. Though presented in brief statements it will take a lifetime to understand truly what and how these are to be in our lives. Second, each of the beatitudes stands alone as a distinct characteristic. The "poor in spirit," "those who mourn," or the "peacemakers," (etc.) are all distinct from one another and need to be treated individually so that the full import of their meaning can be unpacked. Though we are teaching a text at the same time, given the nature of that text, we are teaching a topic. For these two basic (or foundational) reasons we are slowly working through these beatitudes. With that stated, please let your class understand the importance of learning, practicing, and applying each of these beatitudes in their lives.


As we begin, we need to make sure we understand what a beatitude is. The phraseology in the Bible is "Blessed is . . ." In Matthew 5 we find the most famous set, but there are more beatitudes throughout the Bible. For example, Psalm 1, 33, and 41 all have this phrase as well.


    Blessed is the man

        who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,

    nor stands in the way of sinners,

        nor sits in the seat of scoffers; (Psalm 1:1)


    Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD,

        the people whom he has chosen as his heritage! (Psalm 33:12)


    Blessed is the one who considers the poor!

        In the day of trouble the LORD delivers him; (Psalm 41:1)


As we can see the Lord has in mind certain things he wants for us to do that will bring a "blessing." But what is that "blessing"? In Matthew 5 the word that is used is Markarios. This is translated a variety of ways but "blessed" or "happy is" are the most common English usages. The happiness presented here is connected to joy rather than pleasure. There is another word for happiness in pleasure eudaimonia. So when we come to these beatitudes we must understand a sense of happiness mixed with joy. We could also say it is a happiness that comes only from God: "The one who is truly blessed" or "The one who receives happiness from God is . . ." Thus, we have a connection with a certain personal characteristic Jesus presents in Matthew 5 that, when practiced, receives divine happiness.


As we go through the beatitudes we must remember their nature of happiness as well as their relation to the ethical demands of the Sermon on the Mount. Moreover, these personal characteristics put together in a particular order so that they are built upon one another and it is the whole of the characteristics from the beatitudes that constitute the type of disciple that is able to accomplish what the Sermon on the Mount demands.


This week, we will be looking at the first: Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Topically, this relates to humility, so this morning we will look at how the Bible understands that true humility brings one divine happiness as well as the Kingdom of Heaven.


The Poor in Spirit are those who are Humble


As Jesus begins his message he immediately presents the concept of the "poor in spirit." We must wrestle with this phrase if we are understand Jesus as well as if we are to be able to attain the "Kingdom of Heaven" promised for those who are poor in spirit.


So what does it mean? For our usage we often think of the poor in a socioeconomic category. The poor are those who are impoverished, who make less than $XX.XX a year, who are in need of aid all the time. "Poor" can also connote a bankruptcy existent in other realms outside of money, which is what Matthew is doing. The poor in spirit are those who are spiritually bankrupt, those who are in complete need of God. The root word for poor, means to bow in order to beg alms. We have people here who have traveled to very poor places where people are far more desperate than the poor in this country, and begging alms for them is humiliating but it is their only means of support. This is our mental image for this passage. The poor in spirit make to claim to self-righteousness, rather they bow and say "have mercy".


In Luke 18 Jesus tells a parable of two men going to pray. The Pharisee's prayer praised himself, listing his righteous works, and even thanking God that he was not like the other man. That man confessed his sins and ask God for mercy. Jesus said it was the second man who was justified that day, a perfect example of the poor-in-spirit.


Throughout the gospels Jesus is said to eat with tax collectors and sinners, sometimes those "sinners" are defined as prostitutes, the outcasts of society. Constantly people call out to Jesus saying "Son of David, have mercy". Make the connection. The poor-in-spirit came begging Jesus for mercy, because He freely gave it. Jesus said "I've come not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance" (Matthew 9:13).


It's hard to fake humility. It is like the guy who tells you about his humility award and in boasting of it negates its content. True humility is the emptying of ourselves to be filled with what God wants for us.


So what is a good definition of humility? I think Martin Lloyd Jones has presented a helpful definition:


"It means a complete absence of pride, a complete absence of self-assurance and of self-reliance. It means a consciousness that we are nothing in the presence of God. It is nothing, then, that we can produce; it is nothing that we can do in ourselves. It is just this tremendous awareness of our utter nothingness as we come face to face with God."


Now it might sound horrific to think that we are to exist in someway in which we are nothing. This is because of the pride that is in our lives, and that pride, that sin, is what keeps us from truly being in the presence of God or understanding His will for our lives.


The "poor in spirit" are those who are humble.


The Poor in Spirit are exemplified throughout the Bible


Now when Jesus presents us this beginning beatitude He is not presenting new material. The concept of humility has been present from the beginning because it is the necessary characteristic of all those who come before God. The Bible has exemplified this type of humility. So lets take a few moments to see examples of humility.


First, we see humility in Moses.


    Now Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian, and he led his flock to the west side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. And the angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed. And Moses said, "I will turn aside to see this great sight, why the bush is not burned." When the LORD saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, "Moses, Moses!" And he said, "Here I am." Then he said, "Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground." And he said, "I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob." And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God. (Exodus 3:1-6)


Here we notice how Moses reacts when he is in the presence of God. He hides his face. We may think that perhaps he was just fearful, but it is not in a normal sense. In the presence of God he knew he could not look, he must humbly cast down his face. Already he is told to remove his shoes since he is on holy ground, once he realizes why he knows he must act in humility and cast away his face.


In Judges we find humility in the life of Gideon


    And the LORD turned to him and said, "Go in this might of yours and save Israel from the hand of Midian; do not I send you?" And he said to him, "Please, Lord, how can I save Israel? Behold, my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father's house." And the LORD said to him, "But I will be with you, and you shall strike the Midianites as one man." (Judges 6:14-16)


Gideon becomes the great deliverer of Israel in his time, but he began as one who was humble. Don Carson relates Gideon to the "poor in spirit" well when he says, "Poverty of spirit may end in a Gideon vanquishing the enemy hosts; but it begins with a Gideon who first affirms he is incapable of the task, and insists that if the Lord does not go with him he would much prefer to stay at home and thresh grain."


Isaiah presents us his humility when he is in the presence of the Lord in chapter 6:


    And I said: "Woe is me! For I am undone; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!" (Isaiah 6:5)


Peter, though often impetuous, shows us his great humility when he sees the great power of Jesus, But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord." (Luke 5:8)


Paul, who was a Hebrew of Hebrews and who had suffered much from Christ knew the true blessings of humility:     Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ (Philippians 3:8).


Finally, we can see that even Jesus himself saw the need for humility in his life:


    Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:5-11)


These are but a few examples, but the truth is that the men and women of faith in the Bible understood that the appropriate response before God was that of humility. They exist for our examples as we should exemplify humility before God for this world, for there is no completing God's will and purpose apart from true humility.


Being Poor in Spirit has Eternal Consequences


Finally, in this beatitude we must see that there is a great purpose behind the humble. We have already seen the need defined and illustrated, but we will miss the absolute need to live humble lives apart from the promise that accompanies it: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Literally the royal place that is covered or hidden. How fitting that the wretched poor who hide their face from God in humiliation will receive this place of royal power, that remains hidden from those who do not repent.


In each of the beatitudes we find a promise, a clause that comes after the attribute needed. Most of them have these promises in the future tense, but this one and the last one have it in the present. This shows that these attributes are not just for the future but are for here and now. In addition both the first and the last beatitude have the same promise, the kingdom of heaven. If we remember correctly the kingdom is the content of Jesus' ministry (see Matt 4:17), so at the beginning of his sermon and at the conclusion of his initial attributes for disciples, Jesus is making it clear that what he wanting of us is connected to His entire ministry and purpose. That is to say: We are to be humble because it has eternal consequences.


True humility comes from those who are truly God's, and those who are truly God's are those who will be with Him for all eternity in His kingdom. With these thoughts in mind we must make the correlation between them that if we are to be beneficiaries of Jesus' life and death work, then we must be humble. True humility is a mark of the Christian, the disciple, the one who follows after Jesus. In the next few weeks we will see many more characteristics that we must do, but none of them are accomplished without this one first. We must be humble if we want to be in the kingdom and being humble means coming to Jesus and claiming our lives as nothing and His life as our all.

Discipleship and the Sermon on the Mount

Matthew 5:1-2

3 February 2013

Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:

(Matthew 5:1-2 ESV)



When we studied the book of Romans, we called it Paul's Magnum Opus his greatest theological work. As we begin our study of the Sermon on the Mount, you will see it is similar in importance to the Christian faith. Even more remarkable is that Jesus preaches this sermon at the beginning of his earthly ministry. Right after his baptism, and temptation by Satan, having called only the first 4 disciples to follow him, but already healing the sick he encountered.


The text for this morning is the first two verse of the Sermon in chapter 5. In these two short verses we briefly see the context of the Sermon that is to follow. Simply stated, it appears as if Jesus is taking the opportunity to teach and preach. The somewhat redundant language of verse 2, "And he opened his mouth" provides us a clue as to the force of his teaching. This is not a simple story time or a parable to be told, but teaching. Another clue to this is that he sat down. This is the custom of a teacher, they sit when they are about to instruct. From these two clues we know we are about to encounter important teachings from the master, however Matthew has provided a few more statements that will aide us in understanding the Sermon on the Mount in the place of Jesus' ministry and Matthew's presentation of the gospel.


In Chapter 4 we are informed that after Jesus conquers the temptations of Satan that he begins his ministry in Galilee, as prophesized. In 4:17 we are provided a summary of what that ministry will be: "From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, 'Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.'" Though Jesus' major ministry is to become the sacrifice necessary to save humanity from its sin, He also knows he must preach and teach repentance and the kingdom. These two concepts, repentance and kingdom, are central to his ministry. It is repentance that he needs from humanity and it is the kingdom to which he is creating for humanity. Only those who repent will be beneficiaries of this kingdom and it is the kingdom that is of great importance for the Sermon on the Mount. We must ever be mindful of striving for that kingdom for it is the end of the gospel, as presented here.


Further, Matthew also provides us a summary statement of what he is about to present. In 4:23 he states, "And he [Jesus] went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction of the people." Basically Jesus is teaching (and preaching) and healing. The Sermon on the Mount comprises chapters 5-7 and is the core of Jesus' teaching. Chapters 8-9 present the healing ministry of Jesus. At the close of these chapters we find an almost identical summary statement: "And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and affliction." (Matt 9:35) It can be surmised from these summaries that Matthew is encapsulating for us the teaching and healing ministry of Jesus. What this means is that in the Sermon on the Mount we have what Jesus wants to teach his followers.


To follow Jesus means to be a disciple. If we are to be his disciples ten we must pay attention to his teaching. In order to begin our study on this sermon we must be mindful of a few things.


The Sermon is for Disciples


As noted Jesus has only 4 declared disciples, or full-time followers, but his words and his healing always draw a crowd.

The sermon is thus reaches a mixed audience of the committed and the curious. Really even His disciples at this stage are hardly any better trained than the by-standers. To be a disciple means that one is following after another. What Jesus is then teaching is what his disciples must also understand, practice, and teach.


This concept is central to the gospel message, and especially central to Matthew's gospel. We all know the Great Commission in Chapter 28 wherein we are told to make disciples. The concept of disciple is found from beginning to end in this Gospel (65 times). These disciples are unlike the scribes, Pharisees, and crowds surrounding them in their surrender to his call, but without careful training they could fall for the same deceptions of self-righteousness as the Pharisees.


The Sermon is the New Commandment


To me the easiest mistake to make with Matthew 5-7 is a find a newer even more extreme legalism than that of the Pharisees. The focus is on redemption through Jesus, not works of the law. But His audience of Jews needed a hard lesson, a paradox of righteousness to change their thinking.


The Law should make everyone aware of their sinfulness, as the Law describes a righteousness man. But through the Rabbi's teaching on the Law it had instead been twisted to describe a self-righteous man. In fact many claimed to be blameless under the Law, but with a heart that was never turned toward God. So these cultural Jews practiced a man-centered bottom up religion of being better men, and even looked down on those who did not follow their way.


Jesus, I believe breaks that paradigm beginning with Matthew 5 tearing down self-righteousness and any perceived goodness of these cultural Jews without a heart toward God. Who could read this passage and claim any degree of self-righteousness?


So in this sermon there is something to offend every one of us, and that offense is an invitation to repent from self-righteousness, or simply keeping a set of rules, what we would call just going-through-the-motions. This is a call to have a heart and will surrender to God; to think about His holiness every day, as a sharp reminder of our sinfulness.


The Sermon is Nothing apart from Jesus


Finally, we must see that this sermon, though given to the disciples and presented as the content of Jesus' teaching, is really nothing apart from the teacher who gives it. Just as there is a difference between the crowds and disciples as recipients of the sermon, so too is there still that distinction today. The sermon on the mount will not make much since to those who do not understand that the teaching is from a master who bids them to repent and follow. In the beatitudes Jesus says that persecution will come to his followers because of His [Jesus'] name. There is a direct relationship between the application of the sermon on the hearts of the hearers and the ability of the hearers to be applied to the teacher of the sermon. In short, if you do not know Jesus you will not understand the sermon.


Here are the keys to this sermon: Matthew 4:17 the focus on the kingdom of heaven and calling people to repent, John 5:39 the scripture testifies of Messiah, Matthew 5:17 Jesus fulfills the law, Matthew 5:20 heaven requires a righteousness beyond the legalism of the Pharisees. This is only available as the redeemed are clothed with the righteousness of Christ. So I see Matthew 5 not as a new legal standard, but a call to repent of the sin of self-righteousness. A contrast between the letter of the law twisted to exalt one class of men above other, and the purpose of the law which should always exalt God. The perfect man of Matthew 5-7 could only be the God-man Jesus Christ, the divinity of God rendered in the form of mortal man as John 1 describes the Word become flesh.

The Discipline of Service

Matthew 20:25-28

20 January 2013

But Jesus called them to him and said, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." (Matthew 20:25-28 ESV)



We are coming to the close of our studies in the Outward Disciplines. We have looked at Simplicity, Solitude, Submission, and now will consider the discipline of Service. All of these are disciplines that we must practice in our daily lives. Simplicity is making room for God in your life. Solitude is actively seeking the presence and voice of God in your life. In submission we put God in authority over us, and Jesus becomes our example; so wives were told to submit to their husbands as though he was Jesus, and husbands were told to love and sacrifice for their wives a Christ did for the church. And we are both told to submit to each other in the fear of God, suggesting that God will judge us for our lack of submission. In submission, pride is our enemy and humility is our friend, and so it is this week in the discipline of service.


Our passage this morning is in the context of an argument among the disciples. James and John's mother came to Jesus and asked a bold request; "Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom" (Mat 20:21). This mother was looking out for the well-being of her children, but in the process asked a question that she did not know she was asking. The response to this question is our text. Jesus is telling us that we are not to strive for position and power in this world, that is what the Gentiles do. What we are to do is to seek to be servants. This is not because Jesus is trying to keep us down, rather it is because Jesus is trying to tell us that he anticipates us acting like him. Remember the goal of discipline and discipleship is unity with God, or Christ-likeness. Look at the passage "even as the Son of Man" this is talking about Jesus. He came to serve, so should we. It is that plain and simple, yet it is a very difficult discipline to enact.


As an introduction, take time to discuss with your class their own desire for greatness. Encourage your class to be open and honest and let them know that it is not wrong to have these desires, we just need to understand (as the disciples did) that we "may not know what we are asking."


In this passage we see that the way to true greatness is on the pavement of service. We will take the remaining part of the morning seeing what true service looks like.


Service is not Self-Righteous


When one is presented with the discipline of service I believe there are two innate responses from within ourselves, which may even occur simultaneously. One is the inner response of no. When presented with service, which is to work for others, we have within ourselves the selfish desire to reject the opportunity. Second, we may accept the opportunity with the understanding that this will in some way benefit ourselves. This latter impulse is what we might call Self-Righteous Service, and it must be avoided if we are to practice the discipline of true service. If we think of Jesus we must remember that he did not think of himself first, though his disciples did. At the Last Supper Jesus     "rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. (John 13:4-5). Not one of the disciples wanted to do this menial task, but Jesus, the master was not above it. These men said no, or at best realized one of them should have done it once they saw Jesus, but even then it would be self-righteous. Jesus did not practice self-righteous service, nor should we.


Self-Righteous service has many components to it, but lets discuss eight. First, Self-Righteous Service is human. This is a simple declaration that when we practice service for the sake of ourselves it originates only from ourselves. As Christians we should be people who are motivated by the will of God in our life and, as such, we should not be striving for anything outside of that will. The proper type of service we should seek, then, is to have service that is divine, that is, that is, directed by God. We must ever be listening to His will for our lives and be able to do it when he says so.


Second, Self-Righteous Service is interested in impressiveness. This means that those who self-righteously serve are interested in having others be impressed by their level of service. No one should say, "Look at me! I am a servant!" Though we may not say this aloud, how many of us say this in our heart? Self-righteous service is interested in how others perceive its service. True service is interested in serving alone, regardless of who notices or comments. Service is to be done for God alone, not for others.


Third, Self-Righteous Service wants rewards. This is an easy one for us to understand, but a hard one for us to practice. We have heard it many times that we should serve without expecting anything in return, but in our hearts we know we would like to receive some reward from it. A thank you, a nod of approval, an act of service in return, all of these we look for from time to time when we serve, but they are actually borne from a self-righteous desire to serve. True service must be seen in the reward of accomplishing God's will. He is pleased when we serve, and that is enough.


Fourth, Self-Righteous Service wants results. This aspect may seem a bit counterproductive. Should not any work that we do produce results? Should we not expect a benefit from the work we do, even if it is unrewarded and unnoticed? The answer is yes, if we understand that we are not the ones to determine that work or the results. Service becomes self-righteous when we work for our own means and the end of the service. We may evaluate a particular service as unworthy because we do not see results; this is self-righteous. True service works when we free ourselves from seeing any results at all. We should serve for the sake of serving.


Fifth, Self-Righteous Service is selective. When we pick and choose where we will serve we are doing it from a self-righteous motive. For instance, if we know we should serve but then decide we will serve in this area of town but not that area of town then we are serving self-righteously. True service is that which is indiscriminate. We do not get to choose when we serve. If God has called us to help a homeless person who is smelly and dirty, then we must do so, we cannot wait until he has a bath. Selective service is self-righteous because it is not obedient to the will of God.


Sixth, Self-Righteous Service is not based on feelings. Service that says, I feel like serving or I do not feel like serving today is self-righteous. Once again, we are placing the ability to serve God in our own hands and are driven by our desires and whims. Our schedules are full, our ability to entertain ourselves is high, so if an opportunity to serve presents itself often we evaluate the choice based upon if we "want" to do it. This is feeling based, this is self-righteous. What we must do for true service is to have it based upon faith. We say, "I know I am busy, but I believe God wants me to do this." God must be the one to direct our service.


Seventh, Self-Righteous Service is temporary. The one who decides to serve this month and not next, this week and not next, this day and not tomorrow, is the one who serves temporarily. They believe they have the choice of when they can serve or not. This is related to service that is human, and not divine. True service is such that is a lifestyle. We are not practicing service to just serve, but to become servants. The servant sees a need of service and does it automatically because it is a part of his or her life, not just an addition to the life.


Eighth, Self-Righteous Service destroys communities. When service is rendered based upon humans, rewards, accolades, etc. we as humans see through it and are often cynical to the reasons why someone serves. Though we may say aloud, "we cannot judge their hearts" we know in our hearts we have already condemned the other. When we practice self-righteous service we are doing so at the expense of the community that service is supposed to guild up. True service, devoid of all human intentions, on the contrary builds community. It allows others to see that someone saw them as worth-while and a joy that can only come from God is given and a bond formed that otherwise would not form is created. True service builds community; it builds the church.


Discuss with your class areas they have fallen into self-righteous service.


Service is Humble


1 John 2:16 says, "For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world." In this passage we see three aspects of the world that keep us from being humble servants. Desires and pride are worldly ideas that not only are not from the Father but are devices that keep us from truly serving. If we are to be servants we are to be humble. These two things are sometimes elusive for us to find, this is true because to be a servant or to be humble, is something that you cannot seek. It is something that you become by being in accordance to the will of God. We should be seeking the love of the Father and not that which is in the world. For this passage teaches us that those things are passing away and His is the only one that will remain.


Richard Foster clearly states the way in which we are to understand humility and service,


"Nothing disciplines the inordinate desires of the flesh like service, and nothing transforms the desires of the flesh like serving in hiddenness. The flesh whines against service but screams against hidden service. It strains and pulls for honor and recognition. It will devise subtle, religiously acceptable means to call attention to the service rendered. If we stoutly refuse to give in to this lust of the flesh, we crucify it. Every time we crucify the flesh, we crucify our pride and arrogance."


For us to be able to gain humility in service we must be willing to die to this world. Remember Mark 8:34 from last week, "deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me", Jesus said this is the only way to be His follower. In fact, there is not other prescription for accomplishing the will of God in this world apart from the plan that is laid out by Jesus. In our passage today we see that Jesus serves by giving up His life, we too must serve by doing the same. When we deny our desires, in order to become servants, then we gain humility.


When we practice service in humility it becomes all the things it needs to be as discussed above, but it also allows us to see things we never would have seen before. This is because we become like many of those we may not have seen before. We should become, in some way, like what Paul says of himself, "To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the filth of the world, the refuse of all things." (1 Cor 4:11-13)


Discuss with your class ways in which God has humbled them by acts of service.


Service is a Lifestyle


In conclusion, we must see that to practice the discipline of service is to truly practice it. We must serve. Jesus has given us this mandate to serve the world. James says, "Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. (Jas 1:27). If we are to serve we must act, we cannot just hold it in theory. We cannot just say we should serve and never do serve.


This active service must be one that is subservient. It is ever in service to others, but in response to God. There are times when our service is not appreciated, but we do it because God has called us to and we are submissive to His will for our lives. This type of service must also be, at times, hidden. It must not be practiced for others to see. It is something done for the sake of the Father and the benefit of others, never for our sake or our benefit.


In application, this morning we are having a ministry fair where you can sign up to serve. Here are some ways for you to serve at Hallmark Baptist Church:


  • Life Groups
  • Ambassadors
  • Handy Man Ministry
  • Men's Ministry
  • Women's Ministry
  • Children Worker Volunteer
  • Nursery Worker
  • Financial Peace
  • Vacation Bible School
  • Choir
  • Outreach to Missionaries
  • Fort Worth Pregnancy Center
  • Mentoring
  • What else?



The Discipline of Submission

Mark 8:34-38

20 January 2013

And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels." (Mark 8:34-38 ESV)



This week we will be looking at the discipline of submission. This is a discipline that is a little more difficult to apply to our lives because, if we really are honest, we do not want to submit to anyone. This is because of the sin nature that we live with day by day. The summation of all sin can be summed up in one word: Pride. Pride is what keeps us from repentance, from humility, and from God. The antidote for pride is submission.


Submission is a willing obedience, "to give over or yield to the power or authority of another." It is not often easy to give power over to another. A simple illustration of this is the child whose parent has to leave for a bit and places an older sibling (not too much older) in charge. There is outrage, denial, fighting, abuse, all because the younger does not wish to submit, even for a time to the older. We see this often in our marriages, in our jobs, in our church, and in our country. We do not like submission. However, the larger problem is that we also do not like to submit to our God.


The discipline of submission is understood when we remember how Jesus himself practiced it. In Philippians 2:8 we find the submission of Jesus Himself, "And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross." This submission of JEsus to the Father is also illustrated in the Garden, "Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done" (Luke 22:42). This is a submission that Jesus expects from us as well. In Matthew 5: 39, and 44 we see, "But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also." "But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." The reason that Jesus has given us these commands is because He expects us to do what He says, to follow after Him as Mark 8 shows, and He explains this in John 13:15, "For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you."


We are to follow the example of Jesus Christ in our everyday lives. That example was one who practiced submission. This morning we will more about what the discipline of submission looks like.

Submission is Self-Denying


The primary attribute of submission is for us to remember that we are to submit to Jesus Christ. He is the one who is our Lord. This is an important concept often lost on liberated American minds. A Lord is someone to whom we owe loyalty and service. As our Lord Jesus has purchased salvation and expects our obedience. In Mark 8:34 Jesus said, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me." This is the path of self-denial. We do not live to ourselves anymore because we are to live for Jesus Christ. This is what discipleship truly is: the following after of Christ. This fellowship, then, is a denial of our wants and desires to become in tune with His wants and desires. It cannot come apart from submission to Him, and in submitting to Him we must lose ourselves.


Before this looks too grim we must note that Self-Denial is not self-hatred. Just because we are to deny ourselves does not mean we should hate ourselves. Jesus has great things to say about our love for ourselves, it is the basis upon which we are to love others (Matt 22:39). If we then begin to hate ourselves we cannot be able to love others. No, the denying of self actually helps us love ourselves better because we are then able to love ourselves and others through Jesus' love and in His love.


It also must be noted that Self-Denial is not a loss of identity. This is something people often fear. "If I have to follow Christ I will lose all of myself." Part of this is still pride, but part of this is just unfounded fear. Christ wants us to follow Him, but He does not want us to be robots, He wants us to be ourselves. He is the one who created us. Even in the Scriptures we see the personalities of the men God used to inspire Scripture come out. He intends for us to be who we are, He just wants who we are to follow after who He is.


Finally, we need to note that Self-Denial is not self-contempt, or no self-worth. By denying our own desires and wills and submitting to Jesus we are not emptying our worth, rather we are adding to it. If we lost our worth because of submission to God we would negate the reason Jesus came. Because God deemed us worthy of Salvation He sent His Son to bring us Salvation, and so when we follow Him by denying ourselves we are not setting aside our worth, but realizing the fullness of our worth that is found only in Jesus Christ. In Matthew 10:29 we are reminded of the worth God has for us, "Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father." To deny ourselves is not to lose that worth.


Discuss with your class the difficulties they have with practicing self-denial.


Submission is not Abusive


After seeing the importance of submission in self-denial we must note the limits of that submission. Too often the idea of submission has led to abuse. We know that Ephesians 5 says, "submitting to one another in the fear of God. (v21) Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. (v22)" This verse is important for marriage, but it must not be understood that the husband is to Lord over His wife in an abusive way. He is to love her, as the chapter continues. He is to cherish her. However, our pride often leads to an abuse of submission that leads to real abuse, be it verbal, emotional, or physical. This is true as well with our children. We know the Bible teaches us "Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 'Honor your father and mother' (this is the first commandment with a promise), 'that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.' Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord." (Eph 6:1-4) but as parents we must note that last line to not provoke. This is where submission gives way to abuse. Foster says it best, "Submission meets the end of its tether when it becomes destructive." Abusive submission misses the instruction of co-submission in the fear of God, and also misses the purpose of unity with God.


Christ was abused for our sake, but his suffering served a purpose. He did not love the shame and disgrace of his abusers, but he loved the souls his suffering was to redeem.


Submission Helps us Value Others


However, we must also see that when we practice submission correctly it provides freedom for us and helps us find value in others. The simple act of submission allows us to respect those around us a bit more. When we submit to our spouse and are not puffed up with pride for the request they have made we find that we are able give to them freely and learn how to serve them better. When we submit to our bosses we find greater fulfillment in our jobs. When we submit to government we find that we are able to not worry about the judgment of the law. When we submit to God we know we are in His will and that His perfect plans are being played out in our lives.


Why did Jesus wash feet in John 13? The practice of submission allows us to put others above ourselves. There is great freedom in doing so, but because of pride there is a great reticence to do it too. Pride tells us to lift ourselves us, submission tells us to lift up Jesus and others. Pride brings greater anxiety and worry. Submission takes our worry and puts it on Jesus.


Take time to discuss with your class the positive benefits they have experienced when they have been able to practice submission.



The Practice of Submission


In conclusion, there are a few places we need to recognize as places of submission. Though these are not the limits of submission they are a great place to start. Challenge your classes to find ways to submit in each of these areas in the coming week, discuss with them how they can submit in their lives in each of these areas:


  1. To God
  2. To Scripture
  3. To Our Family
  4. To Our Church
  5. To Our Community
  6. To Government -
  7. To the World

7 But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. 8 Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; 10 that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, 11 if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:7-11)


If we say we live in God, we must live the way Jesus lived. (1 John 2:6)

The Discipline of Simplicity

Luke 12:32-34

6 January 2013

32 "Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell what you have and give alms; provide yourselves money bags which do not grow old, a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches nor moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Luke 12:32-34)



I mentioned before Kyle Idleman's book "Not a Fan". In the book he is trying to help us see the difference between a "fan" of Jesus and a "follower" of Jesus. Many people would come to hear Jesus, or see his miracles but most would go back to their normal lives after a few days. Those that stayed with him had to give up things they were busy with before Jesus, in order to keep following him. Jesus even preached sermons designed to bring people to that moment of truth, where they had to decide what was most important to them. Village church pastor Matt Chandler calls these sermons space-makers, because that's what they do; separate the fans from the followers. All of us reach these decision points, or moments of truth, when we each must choose the way we will go. The other word for follower we see often in the Bible is "disciple". Of course we know disciple is the root word for discipline; the systematic training of a student for needed improvement.


This Sunday we begin a series of lessons on what some have called the "Outward Disciplines." (based upon Richard Foster's Celebration of Discipline). The first of these 4 disciplines is "Simplicity"; the process of unburdening yourself from unnecessary clutter, so you can effectively focus on the essential points of Christian faith. A great hindrance to evangelism is nominal Christians who won't give up anything to follow Jesus. These people are indistinguishable from the unredeemed world, based upon their daily lives. Many preachers will never preach the space-maker sermon so their churches can be filled with people who give up nothing to follow Jesus.


What we need to focus on is a simpler life. A life centered on the things of God and not the things of this world. We need a little more simplicity in our lives. This morning we will discuss the discipline of simplicity, but please underline Luke 12:34: "34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." Some of you see that verse and think "oh no, he's going to talk about money". But if you really study this "space-maker" sermon you will realize Jesus wants our hearts, and money is just an indicator of where your heart is.


Simplicity is a Biblical Principle


Simplicity, is an important biblical principle. God is greatly concerned with how we approach the world he gave to us and how we manage it economically. Leviticus 25:23 states, "The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine. For you are strangers and sojourners with me." We do not own this world, it is given to us by God. In fact, the Israelites were supposed to have a Year of Jubilee wherein all property and wealth would be returned to the tribe and family of first-possession when Israel entered the promised land. Jubilee was to be a limit both on greed and on poor financial choices. Even slavery could be erased by Jubilee. God knows the greed that exists in our hearts and has commanded us to repent of such sin. The world in which we live is God's and we must remember we are His servants here.


The wisdom literature of the Bible, also speaks of not setting our hearts desire on wealth.


    "if riches increase, set not your heart on them" (Psalm 62:10)


    "See the man who would not make

        God his refuge,

    but trusted in the abundance of his riches

        and sought refuge in his own destruction!" (Psalm 52:7)


    "Riches do not profit in the day of wrath,

        but righteousness delivers from death." (Proverbs 11:4)


    "Whoever trusts in his riches will fall,

        but the righteous will flourish like a green leaf." (Proverbs 11:28)


The Bible does not say that one should not have wealth, rather that when we set our hearts on wealth that is when destruction comes. The book "7 habits of highly effective people" warns that some people spend their whole life climbing the ladder of success only to find their ladder was leaning on the wrong wall; meaning their reward is not what they thought it would be, and what they gave up was more valuable than what they gained. The discipline of simplicity can be practiced by the wealthy, it is matter of how you come to and utilize wealth that counts. If your heart is on God and not wealth, you are living simply.


In the New Testament we also see this warning against seeking wealth. Jesus states that you, "cannot serve God and Mammon" (Luke 16:13). In our own text for this morning it tells us that where our heart is there too will be our treasure. No matter what we say is important, time is the great arbiter of good intentions. Over time what we really value will be revealed in what we do.


The question is where are we placing our heart? The biblical discipline of simplicity is to practice setting our hearts not on things or money, but on God. Sometimes there is a fine line between owning stuff, and letting your stuff own you.


Simplicity is not an End in Itself


Before we continue to construct what the discipline of simplicity is, let's take a few moments to mention what it is not. It is not an end in itself. This means that merely by practicing the discipline of simplicity we may find satisfaction in our spiritual life or find the favor of God. This is a deception. Many people in the history of Christianity have fallen prey to this deception. What happens is that they are getting the cart before the horse. Simplicity comes from a life filled by God and it aids in increasing the blessings therein. It is not a means to find the blessings of God, but rather clearing the way for us to see and experience the blessings that are already there.


Practically speaking, what this can become is a form of works salvation. If we deny ourselves things, food, water, pleasures, then God will smile upon us. I hear prosperity preachers talk about gaining God's favor to get more of what you want. There, the goal is still earthly things, not a greater presence of God in our lives.


What we must realize is that God is the only one who can bless us, provide us satisfaction. In the Old Testament this is proven by passages like Isaiah 1:11 where God shows no delight in sacrifices. In the New Testament we are told that salvation is not by works, Galatians 2:16. All we must do is follow Him and do what He commands. one of the things He looks for is a life of simplicity.


Simplicity Focuses Us


One benefit of simplicity is that it focuses us. This means that it helps put into perspective the important things in life. We have said it before, but the focus of the heart should be on God and His purpose, not things, our lives, people, etc. These are important, but often stand in place of that which is most important.


What we need to do, to help us understand the importance of simplicity, is to ponder these parables of Jesus:


    "The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

    "Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it. (Matthew 13:44-46)


When we are willing to forsake all for Christ we know that we have practiced the discipline of simplicity. In short, it means that we have only one focus: God. Sure there are many things God wants us to do, but He only wants us to focus on Him so we know how to do them. This is simplicity, it is a focus upon God and Him alone.


Simplicity Frees Us


Finally, we see that simplicity also frees us. The reality is, is that we are in bondage to many things, events, and persons in our lives (even in bondage to church). The discipline of simplicity finds ways for us to release ourselves from that bondage and go back to putting on only the yoke of Jesus in our lives.


This is why Jesus gives these commands:


    "Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back." (Luke 6:30)


    "Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys." (Luke 12:33)


Though we may have pains when attempting to live out these texts, when we do accomplish them we find a great liberty in God. The bondage of those things has left us and we find freedom. The goal is to free our hearts from things that steal our affections from God.


In some sense we are all hoarders of something in our lives, and we must learn to let go of those things. Perhaps we need a garage sale of the spiritual kind. Perhaps we need an actual garage sale. Whatever the case the discipline of simplicity helps us understand those things in our lives that bind us. Let us choose to be liberated from them in 2013.


In closing discuss Foster's 10 suggestions for a simple life (90-95):


First: Buy things for their usefulness rather than their status.

Second: Reject anything that is producing an addiction in you.

Third: Develop a habit of giving things away.

Fourth: Refuse to be propagandized by the custodians of modern gadgetry.

Fifth: Learn to enjoy things without owning them.

Sixth: Develop a deeper appreciation for the creation.

Seventh: Look with a healthy skepticism at all "buy now, pay later" schemes.

Eighth: Obey Jesus' instructions about plain, honest speech.

Ninth: Reject anything that breeds the oppression of others.

Tenth: Shun anything that distracts you from seeking first the kingdom of God.