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Posts Tagged ‘commitment’

I want to share with you about growing and moving forward in our Christian lives – from the Scriptures and from my heart.

Our Scripture comes from Mark 4:21-25 –

“And he said to them, ‘Is a lamp brought in to be put under a basket, or under a bed, and not on a stand? For nothing is hidden except to be made manifest; nor is anything secret except to come to light. If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.’ And he said to them, ‘Pay attention to what you hear: with the measure you use, it will be measured to you, and still more will be added to you. For to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.’” (See outline)

Paul Nolt once said to me, “What you put into something, is what you get out of it.” He was talking about church involvement. And I thought, “Hey that would make a good sermon.”

What he said also reminded me of Jesus’ words in Mark 4:24 – “With the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” Or as I’m putting it – you get what you give.

I want us to look at this principle of the kingdom, first of all to see what it means in its context. And then I want to make some suggestions about applying it more broadly to our Christian lives.

Our principle is a part of a section in Mark 4 focused on –

Understanding Jesus’ teaching

As we know Jesus’ teaching is often hard to understand. Even his close disciples struggled (e.g. Mark 7:17-18; 8:14-21). This is especially true of his parables, which were meant to conceal as much as reveal (Mark 4:11-12). Jesus is telling parables in Mark 4.

But here, Jesus is saying that his teaching really is meant to be understood. He compares it to a lamp in v. 21. “Is a lamp brought in to be put under a basket, or under a bed, and not on a stand?” (also Matthew 5:15; Luke 8:16). Just as a lamp is meant to shine out, so his teaching is meant to give light to all.

Jesus’ intention is expressed in v. 22 – “For nothing is hidden except to be made manifest; nor is anything secret except to come to light” (also Matthew 10:26; Luke 8:17; 12:22) Everything Jesus hides, he wants to come to light. Everything he veils, he wants to be made known.

But, we have to do some work. Jesus hides his teaching so that only those who really seek after it will find it. The two exhortations tell us what we need to do:

  • v. 23 – “If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.” We need to listen.
  • And then he says in v. 24 – “Pay attention to what you hear.”

Today we would say, “pay attention to what you read,” since Jesus’ teaching is now written out in the Scriptures.

If you want to understand, you need to listen carefully to Jesus. You need to put some effort into understanding what he is saying.

And then comes our principle. Mark 4:24 – “With the measure you use, it will be measured to you . . .” Jesus uses this principle in other places (Matthew 7:2/Luke 6:38), but here the focus is on understanding his teaching.

What he’s saying, is that there is a relationship between the effort we put in and the understanding we receive from God. To say it another way, the amount of careful listening you put in, equals the amount of understanding you will get. The more reading, seeking, puzzling, discerning, the more understanding you receive. And likewise, the less of these things you do, the less understanding you receive. Again – you get what you give.

But then, there’s the generosity of God for those who put in effort. The end of v. 24 says “. . . and still more will be added to you.” So, if you pay attention and receive from God in proportion to your effort – God will give even more understanding on top of this; a surplus; an added bonus.

In the first part of v. 25 Jesus says, “For to the one who has, more will be given . . ..” This is just how the kingdom of God works. God is amazingly generous.

The disciples are an example here: they are carefully listening, trying, asking questions, hanging in there with Jesus. And they have some understanding of his teaching and what he is up to. So more is given.

  • In Mark 4 Jesus gives them some private explanation of what he is saying for some of the parables.
  • But even beyond this God helped them understand in various ways. Think of how God helped Peter understand in Mark 8 that Jesus is the Messiah. This came from God.

So these words of Jesus are a promise to us. This is what God will do for us when we put in the effort.

And then we have a warning. The last part of v. 25 says – “. . . and from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.” (For this whole saying see also – Matthew 13:12/Luke 8:18; Matthew 25:29/Luke 19:26). This is the other side of the coin, as it were, of God’s generosity. Those who don’t listen to Jesus, who put in no effort, will lose even what they have.

The examples here are the Pharisees and to some degree the crowd. The Pharisees have already rejected Jesus and only seek to argue and find fault. The crowds are apathetic. They don’t seek after Jesus, but hang back. In both cases Jesus’ teaching goes right over their head. They might get a bit of it, but they end up walking away scratching their heads. The light of Jesus’ teaching is hidden from them.

Now let’s look at –

This principle in other areas of the Christian life

What do you put into Bible study? This is the context of Mark 4, after all. The measure you give, is the measure you will get. How much careful reading are you doing? Are you more like the crowds – casual, apathetic? You know, you pick up your Bible every once in a while. Or are you more like the disciples – trying hard?

What about seeking out God in prayer? Being in God’s presence? How much time and energy do you put into this? Does God feel distant? Have you not heard from God lately? You get what you give.

More broadly, what about growing in your Christian life? How much focus and effort do you put into this? Is it an afterthought? Or is it a priority in your life? The measure you use, will be measured to you.

What about being part of a church? God uses congregations to minister to us, to give us support and encouragement and equipping for ministry. But what do you put into a congregation? What effort do you make? What commitment do you have? And do you expect to receive . . . without giving?? Remember our kingdom principle – what you put into a congregation is directly proportional to what you will get out of it from God.

We could go on and on. Have you ever been in a worship service and said, “God didn’t speak to me?” Well, what did you put into the service in terms of being prepared? Often we just drag ourselves in to worship expecting to have someone give us energy and inspiration for another week – when we haven’t done anything. It is measure for measure. The measure you give is the measure you get. If you come and sit and do nothing, should you expect anything from God?

What would it be like if we all came having put in much effort? Can you imagine how much God would bless us?

Finally, don’t forget the bonus. If you put effort into these things – bible study, seeking God, growing in your Christian life, in your church, into worship, not only will you receive from God in each of these areas – you will get even more. God’s gonna poor more blessings into your life.

But also, don’t forget the warning. If you don’t put in effort; if you are apathetic – even what you have will be taken away.

There is no standing still in the kingdom of God. You are either moving forward or you are moving backwards. You are either going forward and being blessed or you are going backwards and losing God’s blessings in your life.

So I encourage you this morning, move forward – and receive God’s abundant blessings!

William Higgins

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The Call to Work: Haggai 1

Today we begin a series on the book of Haggai. Haggai is one of the 12 so-called minor prophets. They are called “minor” because they are shorter. And by this reckoning he is really minor since his is the second shortest book among these prophets.

But, as we will see, being brief is no obstacle to being a good word from God. And there is much that we can learn from his messages.

Introduction

Last week, among other things, we overviewed the time period of Haggai. And today I have given you a handout on the historical background of the book – Haggai Background. You can look at that. For now, let me just give the basics:

  • The exiles have returned from Babylon to Judah
  • They had begun to work on the temple, but then stopped
  • By 520 BC, the work had ceased for 16-17 years

That’s a long time! And it is after this long delay in 520 that Haggai gives his messages, focused on building the temple.

Haggai has the distinction of being the first post-exilic prophet. Nothing is really known about him personally. What is recorded of his messages in this book only cover a 15 week span of time.

In verse one, we get some basic information about his first message. It’s delivered on August 29, 520 BC – v. 1. Haggai is quite precise about his dates all throughout this book. The message is given to Zerubbabel the regional governor and Joshua the high priest. These two together are giving leadership in Judah. But he is also speaking to the people of Judah, for they would have been gathered together on this day to celebrate the new moon festival.

This first message is presented as a dispute between God and the people. First we hear –

The people’s point of view

God articulates this in v. 2: “Thus says the Lord of hosts: These people say the time has not yet come to rebuild the house of the Lord.” If initially 17 years ago, the work on the temple stopped because of opposition from locals, as Ezra 4 tells us, now it is related more to the people’s own choices.

We learn in several verses that they were in tough economic times. v. 6: says, “You have sown much, and harvested little. You eat, but you never have enough; you drink, but you never have your fill. You clothe yourselves, but no one is warm. And he who earns wages does so to put them into a bag with holes.” They have their basic needs, but things are slipping backwards for them. They can’t get ahead. Things are getting worse.

So from their point of view this is a bad time to take up working on the temple. It makes perfect sense to them. It would be better to wait until the economy improves. After all, putting time and resources into building the temple would take away from their resources. So nothing was being done. Next comes –

God’s message

The first thing God focuses on is a disturbing contradiction. vs. 3-4: “Then the word of the Lord came by the hand of Haggai the prophet, ‘Is it a time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins?’” The people complain about times being tough? They are waiting for a better time to build the temple? Their houses look pretty good. At least some of them were living in paneled homes – a sign of luxury in those days. They seem to have enough to take care of their needs; their houses. Yet God’s house, the temple, “lies in ruins” – v. 4. As the Lord reiterates in v. 9: “My house . . . lies in ruins, while each of you busies himself with his own house.”

God is saying, and this is the contradiction, if the times are too tough to build my house, why are your houses built – some of them quite nicely?

They had put themselves and their needs and desires ahead of God. They had their priorities all wrong. And God is challenging them on this. He says in v. 5: “Now, therefore, thus says the Lord of hosts: Consider your ways.” Think about what’s going on here.

Next a new perspective on their situation is revealed, which is that God has brought about their hard times. vs. 9-11: “You looked for much, and behold, it came to little. And when you brought it home, I blew it away. Why? declares the Lord of hosts. Because of my house that lies in ruins, while each of you busies himself with his own house. Therefore the heavens above you have withheld the dew, and the earth has withheld its produce. And I have called for a drought on the land and the hills, on the grain, the new wine, the oil, on what the ground brings forth, on man and beast, and on all their labors.”

The people are saying: times are bad so let’s delay work on God’s house. In other words, bad times are an excuse for not doing God’s work. God is saying the exact opposite: times are bad because you delay work on the temple. In other words, it’s because of your disobedience. So the solution is not further delay, but rather to work on the temple.

Now, a note here. Just because we experience bad times, doesn’t mean we are disobedient. There is no simple one to one correlation. The evil do prosper. And Jesus, who didn’t sin, was murdered. But sometimes God points out a correlation, as is the case here.

What God is doing in this case is disciplining them trying to get their attention to correct them. And he is doing so according to his covenant with them – the agreement the Israelites entered into with God. And one of the stipulations is that they will have hard economic times if they are disobedient to the Lord – Deuteronomy 28:38-40.

What should they do? vs. 7-8: “Thus says the Lord of hosts: Consider your ways. Go up to the hills and bring wood and build the house, that I may take pleasure in it and that I may be glorified, says the Lord.” Their circumstances are a wake up call for them to do what they should have been doing a long time ago.

Now perhaps you are wondering –

Why was the temple such a big deal?

The temple was an expression of God’s love for them, a place where he could be present among them. As the Lord says in Exodus 25:8, “Let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst.” It was a gift of grace to them (Alec Motyer). And through their actions, whether intentional or not, they are spurning that gift; they are dishonoring God.

The people’s response was vigorous

  • They obeyed the voice of the Lord – v. 12.
  • They showed reverence to God – v. 12.
  • They worked on the temple – v. 14. They began three weeks later, on September 21st. Haggai tells us that the Lord “stirred” them up and “they came and worked on the house of the Lord of hosts, their God.”

And God encouraged them saying to them through Haggai, “I am with you” – v. 13.

Considering our ways

Haggai told the people to “consider your ways” two times. And we also need to think carefully about where we might have a wrong perspective on things.

1. Are you ignoring the gift of God’s presence? God was offering the gift of his presence to them once again. But they were caught up in the everyday tasks of surviving – working and trying to get by.

Do you do the same thing? We are so busy, going in several directions at one time, stressed out, chasing after food and clothing; trying to get ahead, keeping up with family activities and obligations.

We, as individuals and the church are God’s temple now and his presence dwells in us. But do you work at allowing God to be present in your life – putting in the time and focus needed to receive this gift?

2. Are your priorities right? Like in this passage you can find out what your priorities are by looking at how much you busy yourself with your house and your work versus how much you busy yourself with God’s house and God’s work.

  • You say you don’t have enough money to give to God’s work. But your needs are taken care of (not desires mind you, but your needs).
  • Perhaps, you don’t use your talents to serve God, but you use them to provide for your needs.
  • You don’t have time to invest in your church – which is called “the temple of God” in the New Testament, but you have time to do all of your activities, both regular and extracurricular.

Your house is fine, but God’s house is pretty shabby by comparison. Your work gets done, but God’s work doesn’t. If this is true in your life, your priorities are wrong. You have put yourself ahead of God; giving God the leftovers; the scraps. And like the people of Judah you need to make some changes.

3. We are to do God’s work even when times are bad. The people of Judah rationalized not doing God’s work because things were hard. But God calls us to have faith in him, right? And to trust that if we give ourselves to do God’s work, he will take care of us. When we prioritize him, he will make sure to provide for us.

It is like Jesus said in Matthew 6:33. Instead of following the world focusing our lives on getting ahead, he tells us, “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” When we seek God first we set our priorities right and then God provides for us, he supplies our material needs.

Don’t say I will wait until I have all I need and then I will do serve God; I will wait until my house is in order. Serve God first and above all. And trust that God will take care of you even as you give him the best of your time, energy and resources.

William Higgins

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rewritten

We are looking at five steps that you can take to overcome sin in your life; to deal with areas where you are really struggling to do God’s will. And we are up to Step 5. When you are in a time of testing – endure.

Endurance has to do with the ability bear up under hardship for a long time. Other words might be persistence, fortitude, stamina, or patience. We need all this because –

Satan tries to wear us down in a time of testing

Even if we are successful at first, he continues to press us to give in so that we will fail – so that he can accuse us of sin before God and seek our condemnation. So we think we are doing fine, but then we realize that the struggle has really just begun. Satan is persistent in tempting us to sin and we must be more persistent in fighting this.

Here is an example for us to work with. A fellow student offers to let you cheat. But decline, and you feel pretty good about it.

But then as you go through the year, you find out that the class is a lot harder than you thought. You know you can get the answers – your classmate is more than willing, But you don’t. You just work extra hard.

And then you fall behind because you had to leave town for a week for a family emergency. And you don’t know if you can catch up. And it’s possible that you will fail the class. And if you fail the class you won’t graduate on time and with all your friends. So you think – ‘I didn’t want to cheat before, but it’s not my fault I’m behind and the stakes are really high now.’

The temptation lingers even as the circumstances increasingly  pressure you to make the wrong choice.

The message today is, whatever the test, however long it goes on, and however hard it gets –

Don’t give in!

What this means is that we keep repeating the previous two steps:

  • Step #3: You keep your mind focused on God’s will. This is the battle of the mind. When you are tempted to rationalize giving in, for instance, to cheat, you use the Scriptures to keep you focused on God’s will. You could think on Ephesians 4:25 which says, “put away falsehood.” It teaches us that we are to be people of honesty and integrity. And then you tell Satan to leave you in the name of Jesus.
  • Step #4: You keep receiving strength from the Spirit to do God’s will. This is the battle of the heart. When you are tempted to give in, to choose what is wrong, for instance, to cheat, you look to God for help to do what is right. And so you deny those desires of your flesh that would lead you to sin – (your desire not to fail, your desire to graduate on time and with your friends).

No matter how long the test lasts, you don’t quit thinking what is right, and choosing what it right. This is what endurance means.

Other Scriptures use different imagery to speak of the same reality. For instance we are to resist Satan and his enticements. 1 Peter 5:8-9 says, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brothers and sisters throughout the world.” James 4:7 tells us simply to “resist the devil.” We resist his lies and we resist his pressuring us to choose the desires of the flesh.

Also, we are to stand our ground. Ephesians 6:10-13 uses military imagery to make this point. “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. . . . Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore . . ..” Notice we are not called to take any ground. We only need to stay firm and not give in, in terms of our Christian faithfulness. Satan can only defeat us if we quit; if we stop standing our ground.

How long must we endure?

Mark 13:13 talks about testing and speaks of enduring “to the end” – or until the test is over. You endure until your difficult circumstances change, or until your desire of the flesh to sin is gone, or until you die – as was the case with Jesus, who was faithful unto death.

Having the right perspective

Going through trials, testing and temptation is not easy! Scripture tells us that It “always seems painful rather than pleasant at the time” – Hebrews 12:11 (NRSV). And so we need to have the right perspective on this.

What we must remember is that, although Satan wants us to fail, God uses testing for our own good. God wants us to grow in righteousness and in character. God allows us to be tested “for our own good, that we may share his holiness” – Hebrews 12:10. Such testing, when endured “yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” – Hebrews 12:11.

Although Satan uses testing to condemn us and exclude us from God’s blessing, from God’s point of view, as Paul said, testing “is intended to make you worthy of the Kingdom of God” – 2 Thessalonians 1:5.

Because we know that God uses testing for our own good, we can have joy even as we struggle; mixed in with our pain and sorrow. As James says, “Whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy” – James 1:2. God is working in your life. God is making you more and more like him.

Encouragements to endure

Now, remaining faithful in times of trial is talked about a lot in Scripture. And there are many promises and words of encouragement to us in this regard.

First of all we learn that if we fight back, Satan will flee. James 4:7 says, “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” He doesn’t have unlimited access to us, but must eventually yield.

We also learn that God watches over us in testing. 1 Corinthians 10:13 says, “God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” God has regard both for how much we can take, he does not let us get in over our heads, and he provides a way out for us.

After a time, God will renew and restore us. 1 Peter 5:10 says, “And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.”

Finally, our endurance will be rewarded. Galatians 6:9 says, “Let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest-time, if we do not give up” (NRSV). 2 Timothy 2:12 says, “If we endure, we will also reign with him,” speaking of the life to come. And James 1:12 says, “Blessed is anyone who endures testing. Such a one has stood the test and will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.” (NRSV).

It’s hard to go through testing, but we can overcome and we will be blessed.

Once again I want to illustrate this step with –

The examples of Peter and Jesus

– as they were both tested when Jesus was arrested and taken off to die.

Peter’s failure. He sinned. He denied that he knew Jesus in order to save his life. As Jesus said in Mark 8:38, “Those who are ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” Peter was ashamed of Jesus. This is, perhaps, the worst thing you can do as a Christian. When Peter realized what he had done “he broke down and wept” – Mark 14:72.

Jesus’ example. He endured his time of testing. He endured through arrest, beatings, mockery and crucifixion. He endured even when the test was so hard that he cried out from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” – Mark 15:34. Jesus endured, faithful to God – and this is the key phrase – until the end. Not for part of it or for most of it, but until the end. Mark 15:37 says, “Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last.”

And as the Scriptures teach, he received God’s blessing for enduring. Jesus was raised from the dead and seated at the right hand of God as Lord of all things. As Hebrews 12:2 says, “for the sake of the joy set before him Jesus endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God” (NRSV).

Let me end by encouraging you to –

Endure in times of testing

Keep your mind focused on God’s truth, and keep receiving strength from the Spirit to do God’s will. It is worth it!

The same Jesus who endured to the end and was raised to new life; who knows how all this works from experience, says to us, “Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life” – Revelation 2:10. Just as he was faithful unto death and was blessed, so if we are faithful, he will bless us with life everlasting.

William Higgins

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[rewritten]

We are looking at five steps that you can take to overcome sin in your life; to overcome in the area where you struggle to do God’s will. Today we look at step #4. Once you are in a test, receive strength from the Spirit to do God’s will. Now, we need strength in a time of testing, because not only does Satan attack our mind, he attacks our heart – our desire to stay true to God.

 Satan pushes hard to get us to choose sin

And we are weak and prone to sin. As Jesus said, “the flesh is weak” – Mark 14:38. And this is especially the case when we are put under pressure to do what’s wrong; when we are in a test. Satan wants to make it so that it is really hard to follow God and easy to sin.

When the pressure is applied, what happens is that there is a conflict between the desires of the Spirit, who encourages us to do God’s will even if it is hard and requires sacrifice, and the desires of the flesh, which want us to take the easy way out even if it means sinning against God. It’s like Paul said, “For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other” – Galatians 5:17.

We have to choose which way we will go – the desires of the Spirit or the desires of the flesh.

Let me give you an example of this conflict. I worked as a house painter when I moved to Boston in my 20’s. Well, when tax time came around I asked for my information and I found out that most of my pay was meant to be “under the table.” So I am on the phone with my boss and he is telling me this and I realize that he expects me to go along, because it helps him save money and if I don’t then my coworkers might have to start declaring their income and paying more taxes as well.

I was under pressure and I felt the conflict. I knew I should pay my taxes (Romans 13:7) and that this was a matter of integrity. But I didn’t want to lose the job; I didn’t want to cause my coworkers trouble; and I was poor and the thought of having more money was pretty appealing. I should probably just go along and get along. It’s just the way things are done, right?

This is a conflict between the desires of the Spirit and the desires of the flesh. We have all experienced this many times and in different ways.

Well, in times of testing, when we are struggling, what I am saying is that –

The Spirit can help us

So in your moment of weakness pray, “Spirit fill me and empower me. Give me the strength I need to do your will.” The Spirit is powerful and can enable us to overcome.

When we do this there is a death and resurrection that takes place within us. The wrongful desires of our flesh are crucified and the new life that God is raising up in us is more fully manifested.

Although the flesh is weak, Jesus also said, “the Spirit is willing” – Mark 14:38. That is, the Spirit is willing to help us. How does this work? Well, it is the Spirit of God that first gave us a new heart with new desires when we were born again. And the same Holy Spirit can strengthen our desires for righteousness in a time of testing, when the desires of the flesh seem to be prevailing so that our desire for righteousness is greater than our fleshly desires and so we choose to do God’s will.

As Paul said, “Walk by the Spirit (the power or strength of the Spirit), and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh” – Galatians 5:16 (NRSV). The power of the Spirit gives us the strength we need to override the desires of our flesh.

What we are really doing when we do this is putting to death the desires of our flesh that oppose God. Paul writes in Romans 8:12-13, “we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh – for if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” By the Spirit, that is, the strength the Spirit gives us, we put to death the deeds of the body; we deny or say “no” to our fleshly desires that oppose God, so that we can do God’s will in our lives. As Jesus told us, we are to deny ourselves and take up our cross in this way daily – Luke 9:23.

Another way?

Now, often we try to overcome the desires of our flesh on our own. We don’t look to God for help. Sometimes we use rules or being hard on ourselves; sometimes even religious rules. Paul talks about, “self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body” and he says these, “are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh” – Colossians 2:23.

Sometimes we rely on our own good intentions and will-power. And we may make some progress here or there, but there will always be areas where we fail. Paul describes such a person, “For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. . . Wretched man that I am!” – Romans 7:18-19; 24.

The problem with these other ways is that the flesh can’t fix the flesh. The power of sin is too strong. The flesh is too weak.

It is the Spirit alone who can set us free from the power of sin. As Paul says, “For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death” – Romans 8:2. The Spirit sets us free! The Spirit enables us to do “the righteous requirement of the law,” that is, God’s will – Romans 8:4.

How do we receive strength from the Spirit?

We ask for it. We pray for the Spirit to come and fill us and empower us. This is the promise regarding receiving the Spirit, “For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened” – Luke 11:10

We should pray this, opening ourselves up to the Spirit to change our hearts and strengthen us in righteousness.

Now, let’s illustrate this step with –

Peter and Jesus

First, Peter’s failure. He tried to stay true to Jesus, but he only relied on the power of the flesh. As you remember, he secretly followed Jesus after he was arrested and was outside in the courtyard where Jesus was being tried – Mark 14:66-72. Satan used the world to pressure him. The crowd put him on the spot. They said, “This man is one of them!” – Mark 14:69. And they did this three times. The third time it says, “Peter began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, ‘I do not know this man (Jesus) of whom you speak’” – Mark 14:71.

Despite what he had said earlier, Peter wasn’t prepared to die for Jesus. When it came down to it he denied Jesus in order to save his life. Only relying on the power of the flesh and under pressure – he gave in. To use the words of James 1:14-15, Peter was “lured and enticed” by his desire to live. This “desire gave birth to sin.” He denied Jesus to save his life.

Jesus’ example. He received strength from the Spirit to do God’s will. Jesus didn’t want to die on the cross. He didn’t want to be abandoned by God. He didn’t want to come under the judgment of death.

But Jesus received strength from the Spirit. Again, “the flesh is weak,” but “the Spirit is willing” – Mark 14:38. And the Spirit was at work in him. You can see this in his prayer in Gethsemane, “not what I will, but what you will (God)” – Mark 14:36. His desire to do God’s will was greater than his desire to stay alive.

He received strength to undergo arrest, false accusation, mockery, torture, crucifixion and death. Jesus crucified the desires of his flesh in his heart, which led, in this case, to him offering up his body for literal crucifixion.

Do you receive strength from the Spirit?

When you are in a time of testing and you feel weak, do you ask God to empower you and enable you to do his will?

This is absolutely the key to overcoming sin in your life, above anything else we will talk about. Even if you want to do God’s will, you will find yourself in situations where you don’t have what it takes. You are too weak. And if you don’t access God’s power, you will fail.

The Spirit gives us power beyond what we have in ourselves – to do what is impossible in our own strength. And by this power we can deny any fleshly desire in order to do God’s will. Even when it is extremely difficult and involves self-sacrifice.

William Higgins

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We have come to the final letter in our series on the seven letters to the churches in Revelation. Today we look at what Jesus has to say by the Spirit to the church in Laodicea, and also to us.

Laodicea was situated on major north-south and east-west trade routes. It was a prosperous city, even able to rebuild after a devastating earthquake in 60 AD without imperial help. It was known for several things: its banking and financial industry, it textiles – including making clothes, and a medical school.

The situation in Laodicea

Something is seriously wrong. This letter is arguably the worst of the seven in tone and critique.

  • In v. 16 Jesus says, “I will spit (or vomit) you out of my mouth.” In other words, they make Jesus sick!
  • In v. 17 Jesus says, “You are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.”
  • They have shut Jesus out. v. 20 presents a picture of Jesus on the outside, knocking, hoping to get in.
  • They need to repent, as Jesus says in v. 19.

When we look at what’s going on, it isn’t exactly clear. They are doing well. In v. 17 Jesus has them say, “I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing.” And all this in a time of persecution, which raises some questions. We have already seen in other letters that persecution can bring economic hardship. But they are doing just fine. Perhaps they are using their wealth to keep them out of suffering, through bribes or calling in favors and otherwise using their influence.

In v. 17 Jesus tells them the truth, “For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.” They think they are faithful. They haven’t denied Jesus (having used their wealth to escape persecution), but in reality they aren’t standing up for Jesus. If it is true that they have bought their way out of testing, they are avoiding true faithfulness to Jesus.

In vs. 15-16 Jesus says, “you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.”

The idea of this hot-cold contrast, with lukewarm in between seems to be that they are trying to be something in between two extremes. They are trying to have it both ways, being faithful to Jesus, but also not having to suffer for him. But the truth is they are neither standing up for Jesus (hot?), nor denying him (cold?), but are doing something in between (lukewarm).

The Laodiceans didn’t have good drinking water, so they would have understood Jesus’ image here of spitting out bad water. They would have gotten the message that Jesus doesn’t approve of their behavior.

Jesus’ message

v. 18 picks up on the last three words of v. 17 – “poor, blind and naked.” Jesus says, “I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see.”

In this verse Jesus gives them the answers to their problems. 1. They are poor (even though their city is famous for its financial industry and wealth). The answer – “Buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich” – v. 18. Refining is a common metaphor for testing and persecution. Jesus is saying, gain true treasures that come through enduring testing.

2. They are naked (even thought their city is famous for its textiles and clothing industry). The answer – “Buy from me . . . white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen” – v. 18. In Revelation, white garments have to do with righteous deeds, including suffering (Revelation 19:8; 7:13-14). Jesus is saying, gain true righteousness through enduring testing.

3. They are blind (even though their city is famous for its medicine, including eye medicine). The answer – “Buy from me . . . salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see” – v. 18. Jesus is saying, gain true vision so that you can realize your situation of unfaithfulness.

Jesus’ call to change. Although judgment is threatened, Jesus says in v. 19, “Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.” His warnings come from love, so that they will listen and have a change of heart and behavior.

In v. 20 Jesus says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.” (Now this verse is popular and is often used to speak of becoming a Christian. But in context it is spoken to those who are already Christian, but need to repent because they are being disciplined by Jesus.) In this verse, Jesus is looking for those in the church in Laodicea that he can share fellowship with. This fellowship is pictured as eating a meal together. The path to this is repentance. They have shut him out, and so they must let him back in.

Jesus speaks to us

v. 22 – “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” Jesus is speaking to all who will listen in his churches. And so, once again, we have to ask ourselves, ‘Do we have ears to hear what Jesus is saying to us in this letter?’

1. We often don’t see when we are failing. The Laodiceans thought they were faithful and were probably expecting a good word from Jesus. They were clueless having deceived themselves.

And we too can be unaware of our own faults. We too can be deceived and oblivious to reality. This is why we need to be in relationship with God and with others so that we can receive admonition and correction.

We need others. When we isolate by ourselves; when we stop coming to church and stop reading the Scriptures and praying, we cut ourselves off from God and other. And we are setting ourselves up for failure.

But we are Americans and we love our privacy! But we are called to love each other enough to help each other see our faults, so that we can repent and receive God’s blessing in our lives.

2. Even when we fail, Jesus still loves us and invites us to come back. In v. 19 Jesus admonishes us because he loves us and wants us to change. And in v. 20 he knocks on the door of our hearts because he wants to be in fellowship with us.

Even when we sin and are under threat of judgment, Jesus still wants us to hear him and respond with repentance so that we can be in relationship. We may shut Jesus out of our lives, but he still pursues us.

3. Beware the dangers of wealth. All through the New Testament wealth is seen as potentially dangerous. In Mark 4:18-19, the parable of the sower, the seed among the thorns represents – “those who hear the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.”  Wealth can choke out and kill our Christian faithfulness.

In Luke 12:15 Jesus says, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” Jesus is saying, don’t even desire an abundance of things.

When wealth is used to help those in need it is a blessing to all. But when it is used for personal comfort and security it becomes a stumbling block. This seems to be how the Laodiceans were using it.

4. Jesus wants us to be truly faithful to him. In v. 15 he says, “you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot!” Like the Laodiceans, we try to have it both ways. We want to be faithful to Jesus, but we also want to be comfortable. We don’t want to experience the downside of faithfulness, you know, things like suffering and ridicule. And so we find ways to get out of this.

But you can’t have it both ways. To be faithful to Jesus means being faithful precisely when it is hard, and precisely when it takes away our comforts. We can’t be both hot (faithful) and cold (unfaithful) at the same time, that is, lukewarm. We have to be either hot or cold. Not just faithful on the surface.

As we end, lets remember Jesus’ words of encouragement for faithfulness: v. 21 – “The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne.”

William Higgins

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We are up to the sixth letter in our series on the seven letters to the churches in Revelation. Today we look at what Jesus has to say by the Spirit to the church in Philadelphia, and also to us.

Philadelphia was about 28 miles southeast of Sardis. It was founded the second century BC. It was called the gateway to the east. It was a conduit that helped spread Greek culture eastward. It was famous for it grapes, frequent earthquakes and volcanic soil.

The situation in Philadelphia

They are suffering. v. 8 – “I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.” v. 10 – “. . . you have kept my word about patient endurance.”

In these verses we see that they are marginalized. They have “little power.” “Patient endurance” speaks to persecution. This is a theme in the book of Revelation, that we must endure persecution. We also learn that they are faithful in the midst of this. Jesus says that they have “kept my word” twice, and they have “not denied my name.”

If we ask, ‘Why are they suffering?’ it’s the same as we saw in Smyrna, and other cities, the demands of Emperor worship. Some cities, especially in Asia Minor at this time, competed to see who was the most loyal to their government. One way to do this was to emphasize and require worship of the emperor. For instance offering up incense to the emperor and calling him a son of God; or the Lord and ruler of the world.

As we have seen, by Roman policy, Jews were exempt from this, because of their faith in one God. The early Christians saw themselves, rightly, as simply a form of Judaism. But because of conflict over the confession of Jesus as Messiah, Christians were put out of some Jewish synagogues. They were denounced, as it were, ‘you aren’t Jews,’ and so were now subject to persecution, including death, for refusing to worship the emperor.

All of this is the background to the language of Synagogue of Satan, as we saw before in Smyrna. v. 9 – “those of the synagogue of Satan who say that they are Jews and are not, but lie . . ..” Just as some Jews had said of the Christians, ‘they say that they are Jews and are not,’ so Jesus says of them, ‘they say that they are Jews and are not, but lie.’

To be a Jew is to be on God’s side. But they are acting like God’s “adversary,” who is Satan. This is what the name Satan means. They are falsely accusing Christians and exposing them to persecution.

So the Christians in Philadelphia are in a difficult spot. They have been put out of the synagogue by unbelieving Jews, and are enduring persecution from idolatrous Gentiles.

Jesus’ message

There are no words of criticism or judgment. Rather Jesus has words of encouragement for them throughout the letter.

First of all, although they may be put out the door of the synagogue, Jesus gives them an Open door. This is the background to the key and door imagery in this letter.

v. 7 – “The words of the holy one, the true one, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens.” Jesus is the one who has the key of David. This comes from Isaiah 22:22, words spoken to Eliakim, the new steward of the house of David, under Hezekiah. “And I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David. He shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open.” The one with the keys, has control over who gets into the king’s palace.

This is then applied to Jesus, as David’s son and the Messiah. He has authority over who is a part of the people of God and who gets into the kingdom of God, not the unbelieving Jews of the synagogue.

Jesus is saying, they put you out and marked you as excluded from God’s people, and from the blessings of the age to come. But “I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut.” -v. 8. These are powerful words of affirmation.

Next, Jesus tells them that They will be vindicated. v. 9 – “Behold, I will make them come and bow down before your feet and they will learn that I have loved you.”

This comes from several Old Testament texts that refer to the Gentiles acknowledging that Israel, the people of God, do have God’s blessing. For instance Isaiah 60:14 says, “The sons of those who afflicted you shall come bending low to you, and all who despised you shall bow down at your feet; they shall call you the City of the Lord, the Zion of the Holy One of Israel.”

But now this gets turned around and is applied to non-believing Jews acknowledging that these Christians are a part of God’s people.

They will be vindicated in that those who humbled them will themselves be humbled. Those who marked them as rejected, will learn that Jesus accepts and loves them.

Jesus also tells them that they will be Kept from the hour of trial. v. 10 – “Because you have kept my word about patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth.” There is a word play here. Since they have kept Jesus’ word, he will keep them from trial.

Now, many want to see this as a key passage about the end times, but it’s not. This is a promise to these specific people concerning a test that will affect them, not some later time after they are dead. Perhaps this refers to new pressure to coerce worship of the emperor under Domitian? This would affect the whole known world of these believers; the Roman empire. (Colossians 1:5-6 also uses the phrase “whole world” in this way.) They have already experienced some of this and been faithful, but the worst is yet to come. And Jesus is saying that they will be kept from this.

Finally, he tells them to Remain faithful. v. 11 – “I am coming soon. Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown.” Jesus is coming to reward them. The reward is a crown. In Greek athletic contests the winner receives a wreath or crown.

If they fail to finish the race or are found to cheat, their crown can be seized. But if they “hold fast,” if they keep enduring, they will keep their crown. They will be overcomers.

Jesus speaks to us

v. 13 says, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” Do we have ears to hear what Jesus is saying to us in this letter?

1. Rejection and ridicule (or worse) should be expected as a follower of Jesus. There was nothing wrong with these believers that they experienced this. It is because they are living faithfully. And so they are models for us.

Paul says in 2 Timothy 3:12, “all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” Peter says in 1 Peter 4:12, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.”

It should be seen as unusual not to experience some of this. What does it say about us, if we are not experiencing some ridicule and rejection for our faith?

2. If you’re faithful to Jesus, it doesn’t matter what others say about your salvation. The Christians in Philadelphia were marked as rejected by some synagogue leaders. But Jesus affirmed his acceptance of them.

In the same way, others may say you are excluded, or even act to exclude you. But this doesn’t matter. All that matters is what Jesus says. And when Jesus opens the door for us – no one can shut it!

Not only are we in – a part of God’s people and of the kingdom of God – Jesus promises that we will be like pillars in God’s temple forever in the kingdom.

3. God can spare us testing. In Smyrna, where other faithful believers were experiencing persecution, they were told to expect more testing. In Revelation 2:10 Jesus says, “Do not fear what you are about to suffer. . . for ten days you will have tribulation.” But those from Philadelphia will be spared. As Jesus says in  v. 10, “I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming . . ..”

So God does at times spare us from testing. And this is why Jesus teaches us to pray, “Lead us not into testing, but deliver us from the evil one.” And we are to pray this, so that God will hear our prayer and have mercy on us.

4. You don’t have to be strong to be faithful as a Christian or as a Christian community. They weren’t from the biggest, most important town. They had “little power” as it says in v. 8. But they kept Jesus’ word. They did not deny Jesus. And they patiently endured difficulties.

And this faithfulness is acknowledged by Jesus. This is a very warm and encouraging letter, and the one in which he tells them that all will know that, “I have loved you” (v. 9).

We too may feel weak, small, insignificant. But we can still be faithful to Jesus and know his affirmation and love.

_____________

As we end lets remember Jesus’ words of encouragement for faithfulness: v. 12 – “The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name.”

May we be among those so blessed in the final day.

William Higgins

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We are up to the fifth letter in our series on the seven letters to the churches in Revelation 2-3. Today we look at what Jesus has to say by the Spirit to the church in Sardis – and also to us.

Sardis was an important city, although more so in earlier centuries. It was known for its wealth centuries before, but was still doing well in Roman times. It was also a religious center. There was also a large Jewish community in Sardis – perhaps from the time of the Exile. Several from this community were wealthy and leaders in the city.

The situation in Sardis

Something is definitely wrong. It’s a very strong and negative letter. v. 2 – “I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God.” Not a lot of specifics, so let’s look closer.

First of all, they are asleep – v. 2. This metaphor is used in several places in scripture and never in a good way. It means that you are not spiritually alert. You are complacent, apathetic, lethargic or just coasting along.

The language of “sleep” and of Jesus coming as a “thief” is used in:

  • Matthew 24:36-44 – talks about people “eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage.” They are caught up in the routines of life and not ready for Jesus’ coming.
  • 1 Thessalonians 5:1-7 – refers to people who say, “there is peace and security.” There is no need to worry, things will continue on as always. These are not ready for Jesus to return.

To be asleep is to live like things are normal, unaware of the spiritual reality of Jesus and his coming and our need to be serving him.

Another clue is the phrase “soiled garments” – v. 4. According to Revelation 19:8 “garments” have to do with the righteous deeds of the saints. This verse speaks of the bride of Christ dressed in “fine linen, bright and pure – for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.”

Soiled garments, then, pictures that they have allowed sin and unfaithfulness in their lives.

So they are asleep and have dirty clothes. Is sounds like they are just going along with society around them, compromising in order to continue to fit in. This might be why there is no mention of persecution in this letter. It looks like they are doing well – “you have the reputation for being alive” – v. 1, but when you look closely, they are dead. They are complacent and unfaithful. Only a remnant among them is faithful and alert.

Jesus’ message

Change now!

  • “Wake up” from your slumber and get moving (v. 2).
  • “Strengthen what remains and is about to die” (v. 2). Whatever is left, tend to it before it’s too late.
  • “Remember, then, what you received and heard” (v. 3). Get back to where you were when you started, when you first believed.
  • “Repent” (v. 3). Have a change of heart and mind that leads to changed behavior.

And Jesus is saying, change now, or else. There are strong threats of judgment. v. 3 – “If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you.” Jesus will come, not referring to the second coming, but in a visitation of judgment. He will be against them.

And also in v. 5, the one who conquers, Jesus says, “I will never blot his name out of the book of life.” The message is clear. If you don’t overcome, your name will be blotted out. And as Revelation 20:15 says, “If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”

Jesus doesn’t mince his words. He speaks the truth to them. You may think you are OK, but you aren’t. And if you don’t remedy things, you will be judged.

Finally, Jesus encourages the faithful. Some in Sardis are still faithful. They have not soiled their garments. “They will walk with me in white, for they are worthy” – v. 4. This is referring to the day of resurrection and eternal life.

Jesus speaks to us

v. 6 says, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” Notice again the plural. Jesus’ words to the church in Sardis are also words for us. And we need to have ears that hear his words.

1. Will we listen to Jesus when he speaks truth to us? These believers thought they were OK. But Jesus dealt directly and pointedly with them. He spoke the truth, you are dead!

We don’t know if they listened or not. But if Jesus comes to us and challenges us, when we think we are just fine, and he speaks the truth to us, will we listen? Will you listen?

2. Is our congregation dead or alive? Jesus says in v. 1, “You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead.” This means a church can look alive, but really be dead – or dying. What would Jesus say to us?

What do you look for in a church that is alive? A certain kind of lively music or worship style? Charismatic leaders? Lots of programs? A big crowd?

According to Jesus, its not about any of these things. It has to do with our works of love and service to God and others.

3. Are you asleep? Jesus rebuked the believers in Sardis for being caught up in the normal routines of life – eating, drinking and giving in marriage, enjoying peace and security.

What about you? What’s different about you from the world around you? Are you just the same in your attitudes and actions as everybody else? Just trying to fit in with the world around you?

Jesus calls us to wake up as well. To put aside our complacency and spiritual apathy and renew our commitment to him; to be busy at his work, and to be ready for him.

4. Sometimes we have to get back to the basics. Jesus said to these believers who were complacent and unfaithful, “remember, then what you have received and heard. Keep it and repent” – v.3.

And sometimes we get off track as well. We allow sin in our lives or we get distracted by the demands of life from our commitment to Jesus. And we need to remember as well what it was like when we first became a Christian. The freshness of our commitment and the basics of the gospel.

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As we end lets remember Jesus’ words of encouragement for faithfulness: v. 5 – “The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels.”

May we be among those who are so blessed on the final day.

William Higgins

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