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God Can Use You

I want to share with you a word of encouragement today. I want to affirm that God can use you. God can work through each one of you to advance his kingdom on this earth.

  • He can use you right where you are in your place in life – your job, school, network of friends and family
  • Or God can call you out and put you in a different place, perhaps as a  missionary, pastor, bible translator, teacher, service worker, etc.

Now this might seem like an impossibility in your own mind. Perhaps you think, ‘I’m not worthy,’ or ‘I’m not significant enough,’ or ‘God only uses certain kinds of people’ or ‘I’m not gifted enough.’ But I want to challenge you that God can and will use you, if you’re open to it. And I want to show you this from the Scriptures.

First of all –

Age is not an obstacle

Children, listen up. Samuel was just a boy and yet God spoke to him and told him about the future – 1 Samuel 3.

And remember the children who thanked God for Jesus as the Messiah when he taught in the temple – Matthew 21:15. The children knew more than the scholars and leaders of Israel. And Jesus approved of their praise to God.

God can use you. You are not too young.

Teenagers, Daniel was a teen when he was taken away from his home and carried off into exile in a strange land.

But he was faithful to God. He decided to be a vegetarian in order to avoid any possible contamination from idolatry. And God blessed him for this. He was stronger and looked better than the rest.

Daniel 1:17 says, “As for these four youths, (Daniel and his friends) God gave them learning and skill in all literature and wisdom, and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams.” And they stood before the king as his favored counselors because they were “ten times better” than the others – Daniel 1:20.

How does God want to use you? Have you thought about it? Are you open to it?

Older adults, have you bought into the American idea that life is for the young, and that you are to be put out to pasture when you retire? Well, God doesn’t agree.

Think about it:

  • Abraham & Sarah were called to a whole new life when he was 75 years old – Genesis 12:4.
  • Moses began his ministry when he was 80 years old – Exodus 7:7. And he ministered for 40 more years.
  • Caleb was 85 when he fought for and obtained his portion of the promised land – Joshua 14:10-12.

So, let’s say you are 55, or 65 or more. Have you thought about the possibility that God has a new thing for you to do; that perhaps the most important part of your service to God is still before you? This was the case with all four of these people. But you have to be open to this, and listen to God.

Age is not an obstacle to being used by God to do great things for his kingdom.

A sinful past is not an obstacle

Maybe you get down on yourself because of all you have done wrong before, and you think, ‘I’m not worthy to be used by God.’ Well you’re right, but this applies to all of us. None of us are worthy to be used by God.

But God is a God of mercy and uses us nonetheless. Think about these people who had a checkered past, but who were greatly used by God:

  • Moses had murdered someone (Exodus 2:12). But he became the greatest of all Old Testament prophets. God spoke to him face to face – Deuteronomy 34:10-12.
  • Rahab, who was a Gentile prostitute, became an ancestor of the Messiah and an example of faith – Joshua 2, Matthew 1:5, Hebrews 11:31.
  • Matthew was a tax collector hated by his people for oppressing them. But Jesus said to him, “’Follow me’ and he rose and followed him.” – Matthew 9:9. He became an apostle.
  • Peter denied Jesus with curses and oaths (Mark 14:71). This is a horrible sin for any follower of Jesus. But Jesus called him again to “feed my sheep” – John 21:17. And he became a crucial leader in the early church.
  • Paul, who persecuted Christians, imprisoning them and watching some die, said, “I thank . . . Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent.” – 1 Timothy 1:12-13.

When we repent and are forgiven – we are forgiven. We are clean and pure! God gives us a new start; a chance to begin again. So instead of serving sin following our selfish desires, he gives us a chance to serve him and work for his kingdom.

A lack of ability is not an obstacle

This may seem strange, but it’s true. Here are three similar examples:

  • God called Moses to speak for him, but he wasn’t a good speaker. He said, “Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent . . . but I am slow of speech and of tongue.” – Exodus 4:10. But God said he would help him and gave him Aaron to help him.
  • God called Jeremiah to be a prophet, but he wasn’t a good speaker. He said, “Ah Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak . . .” – Jeremiah 1:6. God touched his mouth and said, “Behold, I have put my words in your mouth.” – Jeremiah 1:9.
  • Paul was an apostle of Jesus, but he was not a good public speaker. As the Corinthians said, “his speech is of no account” – 2 Corinthians 10:10. But God worked powerfully through him.

All of these call to mind what is recorded later in 2 Corinthians 12:9. Speaking of Paul’s weaknesses, Jesus said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Our inabilities are places where we have to rely on God. Often it is precisely because we have a lack, that God can work powerfully through us.

Lowly circumstances are not an obstacle

You might think that God only wants to use “important people,” or “famous people.” But God loves to use those who are insignificant in the eyes of the world, but who are significant to him.

  • God chose lowly Israel to be his people. God said to them, “It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples – Deuteronomy 7:7. But God made himself known through them and from them came Jesus.
  • God chose Gideon to be a judge of Israel. Gideon said, “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.” – Judges 6:15. But God said, “I will be with you” – Judges 6:16. And he used him powerfully.
  • God chose David to be king. He was the youngest, most insignificant son of Jesse. As God said to Samuel – “the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” – 1 Samuel 16:7. God used him mightily.
  • God chose Mary to be Jesus’ mother. She was a simple peasant girl. She was not famous. She did not stand out. She herself spoke of her “humble estate” – Luke 1:48. But God did a miracle and used her to bring forth the Messiah.
  • God chose Peter, Andrew, John and James as apostles. They were hardworking fishermen. As Acts 4:13 says, “They were uneducated, common men.” But God did great things through them.

1 Corinthians 1:27-28 speaks to this – and really to all of the obstacles we have looked at.

“God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are . . ..”

And God still chooses this way. It is just how God likes to work.

Let me just end by saying that there is nothing more amazing than having God use you. We were made to be used by God to bring forth his plan for his creation – whether we are an evangelist through whom thousands are saved or whether we simply encourage others to be faithful right where we are.  This is what gives us true significance, meaning and purpose. And it is what gives us a true sense of fulfillment and peace.

I encourage you – open yourselves up to what God has for you.

William Higgins

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We come today to the final part of the Sermon on the Plain. This is Jesus’ conclusion to his own sermon.

But before we jump into this, let’s step back for a minute and take a big picture look at how the sermon is put together. (Additional outline handout)

  • As we saw last week, the second section on loving enemies corresponds to the third section on correcting others. They have a common theme – mercy, and a common structure, with v. 36 in the middle holding them together.
  • Today I would highlight that the first section on blessings and woes corresponds to the fourth section, our focus. They have a similar structure and they share a common theme. Both are about a comparison between faithful and unfaithful disciples.

As you look at the way this sermon is put together, notice the X shape of it. This is a common way of thinking and writing in the ancient world. It’s called a chiastic literary structure. The name comes from the Greek letter Chi which is in the shape of an “x.”

Next, still in big picture mode, let’s look at a summary of the teaching of the sermon thus far:

  • In the first section on blessings and woes we learned that we are to be faithful despite the consequences. Even if it makes us poor, hungry, sorrowful and causes us to be slandered.
  • In the second section on enemies, we learned that we are to love our enemies and return good for evil.
  • In the third section on correcting others, we learned that when we see sin in someone’s life, we are to act with mercy, not judgment or condemnation, so that we can help them get rid of their sin.

In his conclusion then, which is our focus, Jesus uses this teaching as a test – ‘How do you compare?’ ‘Are you faithful?’ I can look at my life and compare it to these three things and see, ‘Am I heading toward faithfulness or am I heading toward unfaithfulness as a disciple?’

So this last section is Jesus’ call to faithfulness for each one of us. In this he challenges us to test two things in our lives.

Test #1: Our words

Do our words line up with Jesus’ teaching here?

vs. 43-45 – “For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit, for each tree is known by its own fruit. For figs are not gathered from thornbushes, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.”

Let me point out two things here.

1. The principle of the inner and the outer. This teaches us that what’s in your heart, the treasure, what’s stored up in it, the abundance – that’s what comes out. Jesus says, “Each tree is known by its own fruit” – v. 44.

So you can see what is in a person’s heart by how they act. (Now someone can put on a show for a while, but eventually the truth comes out.) There is an unbreakable connection between the inner life of a person and the outer life of a person. The inner is the source of the outer and the outer is a window into the otherwise hidden recesses of the inner.

  • So you can’t say, ‘I am living a life of sin, but this doesn’t really reflect what’s in my heart. And God just cares about my heart. I like Jesus. I have faith so it’s OK.’
  • Or to put it another way – you can’t say, ‘I’m a Christian in my heart of hearts. People just can’t see it. The outward stuff just isn’t that important.’

According to Jesus, a good tree produces good fruit.

2. The focus here in on our words. Jesus pulls vs. 43-45 together by saying “For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” So in this case, it is our words that reveal what is in our heart.

Are we a good tree or a bad tree? The test is are our words in agreement with what Jesus has taught in this sermon. More specifically, do we affirm and teach that we are to:

  • be faithful despite the consequences?
  • love our enemies?
  • give mercy to those who fail and sin?

If we do this shows that we are a good tree. We have stored up Jesus’ teaching in our hearts. And so we have a good treasure, which overflows in words that are shaped by Jesus’ teaching. In other words, we show that we are faithful disciples in this area.

Now this same test can be applied to others who come to us and teach. Do their words affirm and teach all that Jesus says in this sermon? When you hear someone preach or teach, or on the TV or the radio – test their words and see.

Test #2: Our actions

Do our actions line up with Jesus’ teaching here? Do we obey Jesus’ teaching?

Now, let me back up a minute. In each of the sections of the Sermon on the Plain so far there has been a word about how to enter the kingdom of God. Let’s look at this briefly:

  • Section one: If we suffer for our faithfulness to Jesus we will be lifted up and blessed in the kingdom of God and not cursed.
  • Section two: If we love our enemies we are “sons” and thus inheritors of the Father’s kingdom; not sinners who have no reward.
  • Section three: If we give mercy to those who fail, we will receive mercy and not judgment or condemnation on the last day.

There is a focus on entering the future kingdom of God in each of these.

Well, in calling us to faithfulness at the end of his message, here in vs. 46-49, Jesus draws this all together and makes the point that our actions based on this sermon as a whole will determine our eternal fate.

We begin with –

v.46 – “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?”

Jesus’ question is rooted in a contradiction. To call Jesus ‘Lord’ means you are to submit and obey. As Jesus says in 6:40, disciples are supposed to learn from and obey their teachers. But some who call Jesus ‘Lord’ do not submit and obey. This was true in Jesus’ day and it remains true today.

And it just doesn’t make any sense! We say one thing and do another. We indicate that we will listen to Jesus and obey him, but we listen to and obey other voices – while we ignore Jesus.

In vs. 47-49 Jesus gives the parable of the two builders. This compares those who call Jesus Lord and obey him, and those who just call Jesus Lord and don’t obey him. It gives us a picture of the final judgment. And it’s a warning to us.

vs. 47-49 – “Everyone who comes to me and hears my words and does them, I will show you what he is like: he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when a flood arose, the stream broke against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built. But the one who hears and does not do them is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the stream broke against it, immediately it fell, and the ruin of that house was great.”

One house was well built. The builder worked hard and dug deep to lay his foundation on something solid. The second house was not well built. It had no foundation.

Then a storm comes with lots of rain and deep waters. Storms and floods often picture God’s judgment in Scripture (Psalm 18:11-14; Habakkuk 3:3-15; Zephaniah 1:15/ Genesis 6-9; Isaiah 28:2, 17; Ezekiel 13:10-16).

After the rivers were swollen with rain the flood “broke against” both houses.

  • The first house survives the storm. Because it had been well built it “could not be shaken.” It was built on solid rock.
  • The second house, however, immediately falls and “great was the ruin of that house.”

The point is that disciples who only call Jesus Lord, but do not obey him, will be washed away in the storm of the final judgment. This is the second house.   Only disciples who act on Jesus’ words, who obey him, will survive the storm of the final day. This is the first house.

The test, then, is do we obey Jesus’ words? The phrase “my words” refers back to the sermon Jesus has just delivered. We obey his words by living out his teaching here. So –

  • Are you faithful despite the consequences?
  • Do you love your enemies?
  • Do you give mercy to those who fail?

If we live out this teaching, then we show ourselves to be faithful disciples.  Since we have dug deep and built on the foundation of Jesus’ teaching, we will not be shaken.

————

To sum it up, Jesus calls us to faithfulness in two ways. Do our words line up with his teaching here? And – Do our actions line up with his teaching here? We need to test ourselves in these ways so that we can grow more and more in our faithfulness to our Lord.

William Higgins

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Today we move into the third section of the Sermon on the Plain. Now, these are not just isolated sayings of Jesus strung together for no reason. They all fit together. This can be seen by the careful way that it is put together, which parallels the second section on dealing with enemies, with v. 36 holding them together:

Dealing with enemies (27-35)

  • Two sets of four sayings on loving enemies (27-30)
  • A key principle (31)
  • Some provocative questions (32-34)
  • An exhortation (35)
  • The result of obedience (35)

Center of the sermon (36)

  • Be merciful

Correcting others (37-45)

  • Four mercy sayings (37-38a)
  • A key principle (38b)
  • Some provocative questions (39-42)
  • An exhortation (42)
  • The result of obedience (42)

What this section is about

This part of the sermon is also held together by two interrelated themes: 1. The theme of mercy. This section is set up by the center point of the sermon – v. 36, which says, “Be merciful even as your Father is merciful.” And this mercy theme is continued in vs. 37-38, when it talks about forgiveness as opposed to condemnation.

2. And then we also have the theme of correcting others

  • vs. 37-38 are about judging or giving mercy when someone sins
  • v. 39 speaks of someone who is blind who needs guidance
  • vs. 41-42 speaks of correcting others who have sin in their lives

When you put these together, the focus of this section is on correcting others with mercy. It is interesting that the core of Jesus’ sermon highlights two areas that we don’t like to talk about – loving enemies and correcting others.

Jesus’ instructions on giving mercy

judge not and you will not be judged
condemn not and you will not be condemned
forgive and you will be forgiven
give and it will be given to you

The first two are synonymous parallels; they mean pretty much the same thing. Also the second two are parallels – forgive and give, that is, give mercy. It’s not about money so that all of a sudden Jesus changes topics. It’s implied for sure, but it means – give mercy.

Also the first two and the last two are opposites. To not judge or condemn is to forgive or give mercy.

What does it mean to judge someone?

We have begun to answer this, but let’s look more closely because this often confuses people. Jesus is not talking about:

  • discerning what is or is not a sin
  • or calling someone to stop sinning

This is the same Jesus, after all, who told us in Luke 17:3 – “If your brother sins, rebuke him . . ..” Here you have a discernment that something is a sin, and a call for the person to stop doing it.

Rather, judging means that you determine someone is unworthy of mercy – from God or others. Here’s an example of some judging responses. Bob, an addict, stole your car and wrecked it. You might:

  • hold bitterness and hatred against him
  • speak evil against him, his character (James 4:11)
  • look down on and keep away from him, like the Pharisee who said, “God, thank you that I am not like this tax collector – Luke 18:10.
  • withhold forgiveness when there is repentance
  • seek to harm him

What does it mean to give mercy?

Mercy means there is the possibility of redemption and a new start – with both God and others.

Again, Bob, an addict, stole you car and wrecked it. To give mercy, you can:

  • have compassion for him
  • see the good in him
  • recognize you have failed too and you are not that different
  • forgive when there is repentance
  • work with him as he tries to live a new life, giving help and accountability

A key principle

v. 38 – “For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.” This principle is behind the logic of all four of Jesus’ instructions above. And it is radical! It means – you will get from God what you have given to others, either judgment or mercy. Some motivation here for action! Next we have –

Some provocative questions

– which come in the context of an extended set of sayings on blindness and seeing.

v. 39 – “He also told them a parable: Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit?” Those who taught others were called guides to the blind. In this case, however, the teacher is also blind, which leads to disaster for both teacher and student. Jesus is saying, ‘Disciples, you are blind. You are still learning and you need a good teacher to guide you.’

In v. 40 he goes on to talk more about teachers and students. “A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher.” Jesus is saying to his disciples, ‘Once you’re fully trained, you will be like me.’ Jesus was famous for giving mercy to sinners, prostitutes and tax-collectors. All those that others judged and cast aside. As disciples, we will be known for our mercy as well.

Next comes more questions. vs. 41-42 – “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye?”

You know how it feels when you get something in your eye and you can’t see. I can only imagine how it must feel to have a log in your eye. This does present something of an image of the blind leading the blind.

Here’s the point:

  • You see a sin in someone else’s life (a speck) and try to correct it.
  • But you don’t see your much bigger problem that should be corrected first.

Now this could apply to any problem you have that is worse than the issue you are trying to correct in someone else. But here, in context, the log refers to being merciless and judgmental, as you try to correct someone. If you see sin in a Christian’s life you look down on them, speak evil of them and don’t forgive them.

An exhortation

v. 42 – “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye . . ..” Get rid of your much bigger problem, judging and condemning others. Learn mercy and practice forgiveness.

The result of obedience

v. 42 –  “. . . and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye.” Before, with the log in your eye, the correction was just a part of condemning the person. That’s why Jesus calls the person a “hypocrite.” They look like they are doing something good, but they are really only judging someone.

It’s only when you learn mercy for those who struggle and fail that you will “see clearly to take out the speck” in the other person. This is when you’ll actually be able to help someone with their problem, when they fail, when they struggle.

How does it work? If you see sin in a Christian’s life – recognize you have failed too, pray and work for their repentance and forgive when there is repentance.

Finally

How will you respond when you see sin in a fellow Christian’s life? It’s not like this is an uncommon thing.

Remember: If you give judgment and condemnation, not only will you be the blind leading the blind, God will give you judgment and condemnation.

But, if you give mercy and forgiveness, not only will you be able to help, God will give you mercy and  forgiveness. As vs. 38 says, “a good measure (of mercy), pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap.”

William Higgins

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Alright, we have been looking at the Sermon on the Plain in Luke 6. And last week we covered the section on Dealing with Enemies. Jesus teaches us here to love our enemies. He tells us, just as you want what is good, so give good to others – whether they deserve it or not.

He also told us that living by ‘an eye for an eye’ gets you no reward, for even sinners do this. But living by love for enemies gets you great reward. That’s because the heavenly Father loves his enemies. And since, ‘like father like son,’ you show yourself to be a son of his, that is, an inheritor of his blessings.

Last week I needed to spend the whole time working with the text trying to lay out what it means. So this week I want to get more into some of the practical realities of loving enemies. I want to do something a little different and tell you some stories and then draw out some lessons I have learned.

Our hostile neighbors

We had been in our house for several years when new people moved in behind us. We lived on a flag lot, so the neighbor’s  property was surrounded by our house and other church property. As soon as they moved in they started making claims that a part of our driveway was actually their land. And it got worse from there.

We had a tree on the border that needed to come down. A part of it had fallen onto our house the last winter in an ice storm and it was diseased. So we told them, but they became hostile. They wanted the tree to stay. In fact, they claimed it was on their land, along with a part of our backyard.

He had anger issues, to say the least. He also liked his alcohol which made things worse. A police man who was later involved in an incident called him “Mr. Testosterone.” He was abusive and a bully. And if anything, I thought she was worse. At one point she was hanging over the fence, taunting and insulting me and the church as I worked in my backyard.

Anyway, I had a trustee over for dinner and told him about all this since our house was owned by the church at this time. I had to go talk to the neighbor about some issues, so we both went over to his house. He went nuts. I was nose to nose with him, kind of looking down on him because I was taller. And he was just screaming and threatening. My trustee and I calmly walked away.

At another point, when I wasn’t home, my wife engaged him about the tree and at that point, full of alcohol, he threatened to shoot her in the head. That’s when the police were brought in to try to talk some sense into him.

Well after the lawyers were brought in an agreement was made whereby the tree would come down and the church would survey the border and put up a fence (which we wanted).

I have to admit it was funny. After the surveyor was done I happened to see the neighbor wife come out to see where the  stake was put. She was standing on it looking out beyond it into our yard, thinking it was hers. But, of course it wasn’t. The border was pretty much right where we thought it was.

It was also sad in a way. The truth is that they had two structures that were too close to the border, without a variance. Although we never required it, it was a bit surreal to see him one day with a chainsaw cutting a part of an overhang off of his house – about four by twelve feet, because it was too close to our driveway.

#1. It’s really hard to love enemies. It doesn’t come naturally. When someone harms me, especially if there’s no cause, I get angry (not as much as I used to thankfully). And there is a part of me that wants to strike back – harm for harm. I want to show them how wrong they were and have them feel some of what they gave to me. So for me, to love enemies requires God to be working in me. Because there is nothing in my flesh that wants to do this. And I am guessing that this is true of most, if not all of you.

#2. If we want to overcome evil with good we have to deal with our anger. Romans 12:21 says, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” We are not to let someone’s evil deeds to us, change us so that we do the same thing back to them. That’s what it means to be overcome by evil. Rather we are to overcome evil with good, by returning good for evil.

So all through out this (it went on for months) I had to learn to give my anger over to God. Otherwise I would have been right there with him ‘in the flesh’ screaming and threatening and worse. I had to trust that God would take care of the wrong that was done to me.

What I learned is that when you do this, and I had to do it daily there for a while, it frees you up to focus on doing good and being Christ-like, which is our job as Christians. Instead of focusing on getting even, I could give mercy.

This was a good thing because I learned later that after provoking previous neighbors he had tried to sue them for their responses.

#3. Loving enemies is different than nonresistance. I remember that some in the congregation said that if the neighbor wanted a part of the backyard, it should be given to him, under the idea that we are not to resist the evildoer, but yield and even give more than he asks. This didn’t seem right to me. And, of course, in this case he would have asked for the whole property.

So I really began to struggle with these texts. What do they mean in this situation? What I came to over the next few years was a clearer understanding, I believe, of the context of nonresistance – as I said last week. It has to do with enemies who are also authorities.

And so what should guide my behavior in this kind of a situation is simply the command to love and do good and to pray for my neighbor, which I did.

And also, if love is the standard, not nonresistance, then I have a great deal more freedom in how I respond to my neighbor. As long as I also act with love toward him.

#4. God can intervene on our behalf. Romans 12:19 says, “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.’” God can and does act for us many times even now, when we refrain from acting ourselves in the flesh to get even.

I believe this happened in this case. First of all the neighbors moved away not long after the tree came down. And then I heard from a former friend of his that he had a stroke that paralyzed one side of his face. And his doctor told him he needed to calm down for his own health’s sake. We found out that he had moved from house to house fixing them up and selling them, and also harassing neighbors wherever he went. We certainly hoped that this would put a stop to it.

A story about Fred

(I have changed some things in this story to hide “Fred’s” identity).

I met Fred in church one day. We hit it off pretty good and he was interested in the Bible and identified himself as a Christian. His was a sad story – mental illness and time in jail.

Later Fred became angry with the church, and he focused his anger on me and one other person in the church. His demeanor changed, like he was a different person. As I understand it, he was off his medications.

Once he came to the door of my house and was pounding on it – obviously angry. I decided to go out and talk with him, but locked the door behind me. He was making various threats. Stacey was inside and she decided it was time to get the police involved. We had talked about this before as an option.

Another time he showed up at church during Sunday school, high, playing with a knife he had brought along in a menacing way. My goal was to get him away from the church, so I asked him if he wanted to go for a ride and talk. And so we did. I drove him far away and then dropped him off near a family member’s home.

#5. Love and harm are not always a contradiction. I believe that what Jesus forbids to us is non-redemptive harm. This has to do with revenge, retribution, pay back or an eye for an eye. It’s ‘non-redemptive’ because it is meant only to hurt and punish.

Redemptive harm, by contrast, has to do with causing harm to the person for their greater good, or at least with their best interests in mind. This could be called tough love. I always use the example of a doctor that amputates a leg to save a life. This is different than someone who just cuts off your leg!

In this case we called the police. My aim was to get him a psychological evaluation and hopefully get him back on his meds. That isn’t what happened – they just held him for 24 hours. But even then, the situation was stopped. And if he had physically assaulted me I would have sought to restrain him, even if it meant causing him pain.

#6. You can trust God with your life. Matthew 10:29-31 says, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.”

Based on this, this is what I believe: If I’m walking in God’s way, I’m not going to die unless God allows it. If I have someone with a knife at church or threatening me at home – I know that it’s not up to them if I live or am hurt. It is up to my Father in heaven. This frees you up to say and do what you need to, to address this situation.

#7. Love will never let me kill someone. This was certainly true with Fred or my neighbor. No matter what they did, I would not be able to do this because I am called to love them.

But this is also why I teach that Christians should not participate in war. There are many issues involved in this, of course, but for me only one is decisive. If love means what the Bible says it means – to give good to others, and I am supposed to love everyone including my enemies, then how can I kill someone and still be faithful to Jesus? How can I both destroy someone and love them at the same time? Even if the government tells me to, I have to refuse. Because as Peter said, “we must obey God rather than men” – Acts 5:29.

#8. Always be open to reconciliation. Luke 17:3 says, “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him.” We became good neighbors with the former friend of our hostile neighbors, even though he was there standing by as threats were made against us.

Also, Fred and I did reconcile. His anger subsided and he apologized. I didn’t see him as much, but talked to him from time to time when he stopped by the church. Last I heard he was doing better and I am grateful for that.

Finally, and not connected to these stories – #9. This teaching isn’t just for “enemies.” Several of you mentioned after last week’s message that you weren’t sure who your enemies are today. In general an enemy is anyone who harms you or tries to harm you.

But even beyond this sometimes it is our spouse who does something that hurts us, or a child, or a friend or a church member. But we would not say they are “enemies.” So in some cases it is best to drop the word enemy, but still apply this teaching.

In these situations as well, don’t respond in kind. Always give what is loving and good to the other – whether they deserve it or not.

  • When your  spouse says something hurtful, don’t simply say something hurtful back. Seek to return good. Deal with the issue in a kind way.
  • When your child is misbehaving, don’t discipline them in anger as payback. Give them something good – loving discipline.
  • When someone cuts you off on the road, don’t transform into a vigilante. Return good and be kind.

It’s natural to highlight more dramatic examples when we talk about returning good for evil. But these more common examples may well be harder to live out – day in and day out.

William Higgins

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[Check out the website – Love your enemy]

Last week we began our series on the Sermon on the Plain, the name for Jesus’ teaching in Luke 6. We looked at the first part of it – the blessings and the woes. In these, Jesus, speaking to his disciples, comforts the afflicted – by giving four blessings to the faithful, and he afflicts the comfortable – by giving four woes to the unfaithful.

This teaching forces each of us to ask:

  • Am I with the ones who are suffering for faithfulness and will be blessed?
  • Or am I with the ones who have compromised their commitment to Jesus in order to gain the world’s favor and will be judged?

Today we move to the second section – focused on dealing with enemies – 6:27-36.

Jesus’ instructions on loving enemies

There are two sets of four commands here:

vs. 27-28 vs. 29-30
1. love your enemies
2. do good to those who hate you
3. bless those who curse you
4. pray for those who abuse you
1. to one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also
2. and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either
3. give to everyone who demands from you
4. and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back

All of these commands call us to love our enemies. But there are differences between the first four commands and the second four. I want to take just a few moments to flesh this out, because it has a big impact on how you put this into practice in real life.

  • The first four commands instruct us to return good for evil. We respond with love even when someone harms us.
  • The second four instruct us to yield to the enemy. We are to give what is demanded, and more.

These are different instructions.

Let’s take this example – You are being robbed . . ..

1. Under the admonition of the first set of commands you must simply love the robber, do good in return, and pray for him. As long as you return good for evil, you have a great deal of freedom to choose different options. You could refuse to give up anything, you could try to stop or disarm the robber. Or you could call the police, if your goal isn’t just to punish him. As long as you also show love to him, and act with his best interests in mind, not just yours, you’re fine.

2. But under the admonition of the second set of commands you must yield to the robber, give whatever is demanded and more, and never ask for anything back.

Do you see the difference? You can’t apply both sets of instructions to this case at the same time, because they give different answers.

What does this tell us about these two sets of commands? It tells us that they are speaking to different situations. In Scripture the command to yield (from the second set) is given in relation to authorities, for instance the government. And we are taught to submit even if they are an enemy to us (1 Peter 2:18-23; Romans 13).

Also, each situation in the second set is best seen as the action of an authority:

  • An authority figure who slaps to put someone under them in their place. This was a common custom of the day. It’s not a fist fight, it’s a way of pulling rank.
  • A creditor who takes the coat given in pledge for a loan by court authority. It’s not someone just stealing your coat. There is a legal procedure taking place.
  • The last two sayings picture the requisitioning demands of an occupying government, as the Romans did in Jesus’ day. For instance a soldier could come and say, “Your horse is needed by the Emperor” – and take it. When it says in v. 30 – “give to everyone who demands from you,” it’s talking about this, not, for instance, a beggar on the street. (The word “ask,” sometimes translated as “beg” is best translated as “demand” in this context, since you really don’t have a choice.) Also, when it says, “and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back,” it’s talking about this, not ordinary theft. Often items were not given back, even though they were supposed to be given back.

So the second set of commands deals with enemies who are authorities. And we are to yield to them. This is, in my understanding, what biblical nonresistance means. It’s the combination of the command to submit to authorities and to love our enemies. When you put these two together, you get nonresistance.

Now yielding doesn’t exclude other options, for instance fleeing (Matthew 10:23) or appealing to a higher authority for relief (Acts 25:10ff) or standing your ground and taking the consequences. But since Jesus doesn’t talk about these here, I won’t go into them for now.

The first set of commands deals with regular enemies – your neighbors, evildoers, robbers. And we are to love them and return good for evil.

My aim is that next week we will get into some of the practical realities of loving enemies. But my goal today is simply to help us understand what Jesus’ instructions mean here.

Next, Jesus gives us –

A key principle

v. 31 – “And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.” This is the so-called golden rule, which tells us how to act toward others.

The usual standard that people employ is – how has so and so treated me? And then you respond accordingly. If John does good to me, I’ll do good to him. But if he wrongs me, I’ll get him.

If you put this into a principle it would be the opposite of the golden rule – As others have done to you, do so to them. This is the standard of “an eye for an eye” or to put it positively, “a favor for a favor.” You act towards others based on how they have acted toward you.

But Jesus gives us a different, higher standard. To say it in a slightly different way – treat others based on how you want to be treated. The idea here is that, just as you want what is good, so  give what is good to others. Let this be your standard.

This is the principle behind all eight statements in the first section we looked at. They set aside an eye for an eye and work according to the logic of giving what you want to get. This principle teaches us to love and do good to all, even if they don’t deserve it.

Some provocative questions

In vs. 32-34 Jesus asks three questions that show that the “eye for an eye” standard is not an adequate one.

  • “If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.”
  • “And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.”
  • “And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount.”

Jesus is saying, everybody loves and does good to those who love and do good to them. This is just an expression of the standard of an eye for an eye, or a favor for a favor. You don’t get any credit or reward for this. Even sinners do this. The term “sinner” is used to speak of people who are acknowledged to have failed to live according to God’s will.

Jesus’ point is that if this is the best you can do, you’re doing nothing more than what sinners do. His challenge is, do you live by a higher standard of conduct than sinners?

After the questions comes –

An exhortation

– to live according to the higher standard that Jesus is teaching. v. 35 – “But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return . . ..” Put aside an eye for an eye or a favor for a favor, and simply love and do good to all, no matter how they treat you.

A concrete example here is loaning money to an enemy who is in need (if you can). Jesus indicates that if they are unable to pay it back, we are to forgive the loan.   Love and do good to all, no matter how they treat you.

The result of obedience

v. 35 – “. . . and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.” It’s not easy to love enemies, as we’ll talk about next week. But Jesus indicates here that it’s worth it. If living by an eye for an eye brings no reward, as we just saw, loving enemies does bring a reward. Specifically, “your reward will be great.”

And then he goes on to talk about being sons of the Most High. The idea here is that a son acts like their father. And since –

  • God is “kind to the ungrateful and the evil” – v. 35
  • God’s sons should do the same

To be a son of God is not about gender, it is about a certain social or religious status. It is to be an inheritor of your Father’s blessings. And both women and men can act like the Father and thus show that they have the status of inheritors.

But the specific test here is – Do we love our enemies, like our Father does? If we do, we will inherit the blessings of the kingdom.

We end with v. 36, which is the center point of the whole Sermon on the Plain, and sums up this teaching on loving enemies. “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” Again, like Father, like son. The Father is merciful to evildoers. And as his children, we are to be merciful as well.

William Higgins

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We are starting a new series today and I’m really excited. We are going to go through what is called ‘the sermon on the plain.’ We all know about the sermon on the mount, found in Matthew 5-7, right? Well this one is much shorter; a kind of miniature sermon on the mount. It is found in Luke 6.

It’s called the ‘sermon on the plain’ because it says in Luke 6:17 that, just before Jesus delivered this teaching, he “came down . . . and stood on a level place” – or as the King James version says, he “stood in the plain . . ..”

In this sermon, Jesus is speaking to his disciples, for it says, in Luke 6:20, “he looked up at his disciples and said . . .” – and then he gave his sermon. This is not just the twelve. There is also the “great crowd of his disciples” as verse 17 says. All of these disciples are the “you” that is addressed throughout the sermon. This shows us that his teaching here is not for the super-spiritual. It is meant for every follower of Jesus – including you and me.

Although this sermon doesn’t cover every area of discipleship, it does lay out nicely some of Jesus’ core concerns that he wants us to focus on.

First we look at –

An overview of the blessings and woes

– in verses 20-26. There are four blessings and four woes in our verses. Up first are the blessings, or beatitudes.

Announcement Who is blessed The blessing
Blessed are you who are poor for yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are you who are hungry now for you shall be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now for you shall laugh.
Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.

We will look more at the identity of the recipients in a moment, but for now I will just say that, however you want to interpret the beatitudes in Matthew, here in Luke the content of this teaching is fairly easy to understand. We are dealing with literal poverty, hunger, weeping, and rejection. There is no indication that any of this is figurative.

To be blessed means that you are favored by God. And this favored status shows up in what is given: possession of the kingdom, being satisfied, laughing, and having a great reward in heaven.

Now notice the first and fourth beatitudes focus on present blessings, with present tense verbs. The second and third beatitudes focus on future blessings, with future tense verbs. So some of the blessing come now, and some later when the kingdom comes in its fullness.

Now we look at the four woes.

Announcement Who is cursed The curse
But woe to you who are rich for you have received your consolation.
Woe to you who are full now for you shall be hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now for you shall mourn and weep.
Woe to you when all people speak well of you for so their fathers did to the false prophets.

Notice that these woes exactly parallel the blessings: poor/rich; hungry/full; weep/laugh; and revile you/speak well of you.

In this case, once again, we are dealing with literal riches, food, laughter and social acceptance.

“Woe” is a way of pronouncing God’s curse or judgment on someone. The judgments are: no hope of the kingdom, hunger, weeping, and although the fourth is left unsaid, the opposite of reward is condemnation.

The first woe speaks to something already present. The second and third woes look to the future with future tense verbs. So just as with the blessings, some of the judgment occurs now, and some later, at the final judgment.

When we put all this together we see clearly that the coming of the kingdom brings about –

The great reversal

Jesus talks about this in a number of places, I will just give you one example, that is close to what we have in our verses. Luke 14:11 says, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

The exalted one and the humble one trade places. Let’s look at this in our verses.

  • In the world those who are rich are on top, and those who are poor are on the bottom. But in the kingdom there will be a reversal.
  • In the world there are those who are well fed and they have all they want, and then there are those who are hungry. But in the kingdom these places will be reversed.
  • In the world those who laugh have an easy life, and then those who weep are without what they need. But in the kingdom there will be a reversal.
  • In the world those who are accepted and well spoken of have a good life, and then there are those who are rejected and spoken evil of, who suffer. But in the kingdom things will be the opposite.

Jesus is clear, the coming of the kingdom turns everything upside down.

Now let’s get more specific and ask –

Who are the recipients of these blessings and woes??

It’s certainly of interest to me and I’m guessing for you as well. Our first clue is something we already saw – 1. Jesus is speaking these words to his disciples. This means that he is not talking about the poor in general. He is saying, “You, my disciples, who hear me, who are poor . . ..”

So the reversal we just looked at applies to disciples:

  • Disciples who are poor, hungry, weeping and rejected are exalted with the coming of the kingdom.
  • And disciples who are rich, well fed, laughing and socially accepted are brought low and judged.

2. The suffering here has to do with faithfulness to Jesus. What I am saying is that the poverty, hunger, weeping, and rejection all come – to use the phrase from the last beatitude – “on account of the Son of Man” – Luke 6:22.

So Jesus is not talking about or advocating here voluntary poverty, or voluntary hunger, or voluntary weeping for that matter. It has to do with how people treat you because of your commitment to Jesus.

Jesus is working here with the common theme of the faithful prophet who suffers, and as well, the unfaithful prophet who has it good in life. And he is laying out the marks of faithful and unfaithful prophets as this is found in the Old Testament.

This comes out at the end of the blessings and at the end of the woes. v. 23 says, “for so their fathers did to the prophets.” v. 26 says, “for so their fathers did to the false prophets.” So Jesus is making a connection between us as his disciples and the prophets of old.

True prophets speak God’s word regardless of the consequences. Thus they are rejected and persecuted. Because of this they are made poor, hungry, and they weep. They are oppressed for their faithfulness.

False prophets, however, say what pleases their audience. Thus they are well spoken of by all. Because of this they have wealth, food and they laugh. They are accepted by those in power and receive the good things of this life.

Jesus is saying, just like it has always been, so it is with his disciples.

So those who are blessed are disciples who have suffered loss for their commitment to Jesus. Those who are cursed are disciples who have compromised to gain the things of this world.

Let’s dig deeper here and make –

Some clarifications

– which I think are important for us to see.

1. You don’t have to be in a continual state of suffering to be blessed. After all, Jesus was well spoken of for a time. This didn’t make him a false prophet. He is referring to the long haul. If you are consistently  faithful to God, these kinds of things will mark your life.

2. You don’t have to have everything that’s on the list in order to be blessed. For any suffering is a mark of faithfulness and brings God’s blessing. To be hated and defamed is enough. We are not penalized simply because those who hate us, in our context, don’t have the power at present to make us poor or hungry. (Although in our society some still get rich and live the high life because they tell people what they want to hear.) But if they do gain this power we must endure it.

3. It’s often ‘the people of God,’ so called, who will do these things to you. It was the people of Israel who oppressed the prophets of old and also Jesus. They didn’t like what they heard – and thought they knew better.

Jesus’ words as encouragement

One of the reasons Jesus gives this teaching is to encourage those who are suffering for him. Think about those who are going through terrible loss all throughout the world for their faith – and the discourage-ment and weariness that this can bring.

Jesus is saying, don’t give up. It won’t always be this way. And he is saying, there will be a day of reckoning for those who do this to his disciples. And he is saying, it will be worth it. The rewards of the kingdom more than outweigh what is lost in this life.

Jesus’ words as challenge

But another reason he gives this teaching is to challenge each one of us. We have to ask ourselves:

  • Am I with the ones who are suffering for faithfulness and will be blessed?
  • Or am I with the ones who have compromised in order to gain the world’s favor and will be judged?

Now granted, we don’t live in a society that really persecutes. There are limits to what can be done, as I said before. But you can be ridiculed, slandered, made an outcast or worse – like lose a job because of your faith.

The question for us in our setting is, when there are negative results that come to us because of our commitment to Jesus – Are we faithful, despite the consequences?

This is the test of whether we are among the company of the true prophets or the false prophets.

William Higgins

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We are dealing with community life skills that we all need to be able to be a healthy church community in our relationships with each other.

We talked about repentance last time and ended with Luke 17:3 – “If a fellow believer sins, tell them to stop; if they repent forgive them.” To heal a relationship damaged by sin you need both repentance and forgiveness. And so we look at forgiveness today.

Jesus has some strong things to say about our need to forgive others their wrongs against us

1. If the person repents – you must forgive. As we just saw, “If a fellow believer sins, tell them to stop; if they repent forgive them” – Luke 17:3.

2. If you don’t forgive – you won’t be forgiven by God for your sins. Jesus says, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” – Matthew 6:14-15.

3. You should forgive whenever someone comes to you in repentance. In Luke 17:4 Jesus says seven times in one day. In Matthew 18:22 Jesus says, seventy times seven – or 490 times. These are both meant as overstatements to make the point – forgive whenever someone comes seeking it.

If we ask, “why forgive?” the answer comes in the parable of Matthew 18:23-35. It is an evil hypocrisy and inconsistency to receive forgiveness from God for what is a huge debt that you owe to God and not forgive others what is relatively speaking a small debt. You can’t receive mercy – and then not give mercy.

Three components of forgiveness

So, a person comes to you – with repentance – and you want to forgive them – what does this look like?

1. Set aside your anger and the desire for judgment. When you have been wronged, anger is the natural response. In fact it’s the way God has made us. Anger is given to us as a way of stirring us up to seek out what is right for ourselves and others.

The problem, of course, is that we can’t usually handle our anger, because our fleshly desires corrupt it and turn it into a vehicle to simply get back at those who hurt us. So our anger leads us to seek out judgment of the other person. We want to get even; to make them pay; to harm them in return. We stew in anger and hostility until judgment is done or we sink into bitterness if it is not done.

But Jesus tells us in Luke 6:37-38-

judge not, and you will not be judged forgive, and you will be forgiven
condemn not, and you will not be condemned give (mercy), and it will be given to you

Judging and condemning are the same thing here and they are the opposite of forgiving and giving mercy. Jesus teaches us that we have to choose. You can’t have both at the same time. Forgiveness means setting aside this anger and desire for judgment

This is not based on emotions – you most likely won’t feel like doing it – it’s a decision you make. Also, this is not an overlooking of the wrong that was done. It is a search for a different kind of resolution – other than payback. One that brings peace and wholeness rather than more wounding and harm.

2. In mercy release the person of their debt to you. There is actually an economic background to the idea of forgiveness in Scripture: Sin is seen as a debt that is owed – Matthew 6:12. The word that Jesus uses here – “forgive” means to release someone of a debt.

This shows us that we owe each other to do what is right and good. And when we fail in this by wronging them we are in debt to them. To forgive someone is to release them of this moral debt to you.

So when someone comes to you with genuine repentance, seeking mercy, “I owe you and I can’t ever really make it right” – forgiveness means releasing them of this debt that they can’t pay.

But note, it has to be real, not a show or a put on, or a social courtesy. It has to be “from the heart” – Matthew 18:35. Also, once it is dealt with and you are satisfied that there is real repentance – you must really let it go. You don’t keep bringing it up.

3. Begin the relationship anew. The goal with any broken relationship is reconciliation. As Jesus says in Matthew 5:24 to the one who does the wrong – “leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother.” He also says in Mark 9:50 – “Be at peace with one another.” This can happen when you have true repentance and true forgiveness  – the relationship can heal.

Now this doesn’t mean that you can always pick right up where you left off. Some wounds go deep and need time to heal, time to reestablish trust – and that is fine. It’s a process. The key is that you are in relationship – and you are working at healing.

 Clarification: What if there is no repentance?

In popular language “forgiveness” is something we can just do internally by ourselves – an inner release of anger and debt. But in Scripture “forgiveness” has to do with all three components. There has to be repentance that deals with the issues and leads to reconciliation. Both parties need to be involved.

What should we do when there is no repentance? It is similar to the teaching on forgiveness:

  • We give up our anger and desire for judgment.
  • We choose to love them even as we are to love all our enemies. (And what is an enemy except one who harms you and doesn’t care or repent.)
  • And we stand ready to forgive them if they ever repent and work toward true reconciliation.

Finally –

What is more powerful –  the evil deed or love that forgives?

In some cases forgiveness is seemingly unthinkable – the pain is too deep. I think of sexual abuse, child abuse, or the murder of someone you love. But even in these catastrophic cases, each of us have to choose:

  • Will we allow the evil done to us to be the most powerful reality – and let it enslave us and twist us and deform us and make us bitter?
  • Or will we act on the belief that love is more powerful – and choose to make the hard choice to forgive and allow God to set us free?

It can be an incredible struggle to forgive. We could say like Jesus said to the rich man, “with man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” – Matthew 19:26. It takes God acting in us and through us to make the decision to forgive and to live out that decision throughout our lives.

But if we make the choice we can put into practice the admonition of Paul in Romans 12:21 – “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Instead of being overcome by the evil done to us, we can overcome it with good – the power of love and forgiveness.

William

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