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Follow the link – Summary of teaching on faith in God

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We are continuing to talk about faith in God this morning. Let’s remember together the three parts of faith:

1. A word from God to stand on. The Greek word for faith, when referring to this can be translated as “the faith,” what we believe; God’s promise and will.

2. Firm trust in God and God’s word to you. The Greek word here is simply translated as “faith.”

3. Appropriate action based on God’s word to you. The Greek word for faith, when referring to this can be translated as “faithfulness”

 And this last part is what we are focused on today. In the title, “The completion of faith: Our action” I’m using language that comes from James 2:22 when he says that Abraham’s faith “was completed by his works” or actions. And in the same way our faith, our trust in God’s word to us is completed by our actions of faith.

Now what these actions are depends entirely on what the promise is and what the situation is. To use the example of the man of faith:

  • God promised Abraham the land of Canaan. And the proper response was to leave his home and family and go there, and he did.
  • He waited for a son by his wife Sarah, and didn’t try to make it happen on his own – (apart from that Ishmael episode). And waiting can be the hardest action, not trying to do things in our  own way, but letting God work in his own time and way.
  • When God told him to, he offered up Isaac, the promised child, as a sacrifice to die, believing that God could give him back.

What the action is depends on the situation, but there always has to be action connected to our faith, which leads me to the first of my two points today.

Without action, you don’t have faith

If you don’t have part #3, deeds of faith, then what you are calling “faith” isn’t, biblically considered, faith.

So for instance, believing in “the faith” (part #1) without action isn’t enough. That is, just knowing what God’s truth and promise is, without acting on it.

Think about a most basic tenet of our faith, that there is only one God. Believing this is true doesn’t do you any good, unless it’s a broader part of you putting your trust in this truth and acting on this truth – by surrendering your life to serve the one true God.

James says, “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!” – James 2:19. His point is that believing in this truth of God doesn’t help the demons. Why? Because you have to respond to God’s truth with trust and (our emphasis here is on) appropriate action.

Also, simply trusting in God (part #2) without action isn’t enoughThat’s because when we truly trust God and God’s word to us it will show up in our actions. How do I know this? Because Jesus said a “tree is known by its own fruit” – Luke 6:44. There is an unbreakable link between what is inside us, in our hearts, and what comes out of us, the fruit of our lives; our deeds. So, what is within, in our heart, whether faith our doubt is made known in our outward actions.

Now, the necessity of action with regard to faith is put quite simply by James. He says,

  • Faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” – James 2:17
  • “Faith apart from works is dead” – James 2:26

Rather, we show our faith by our actions, as he says in James 2:18.

[James seems to be focused mostly on the first part of faith – a word, or truth from God in these verses. But his statement applies to claiming trust in God without works. Any conception of faith without works is dead.]

However you want to put it, your actions show what you really believe. You can say what you want about what you believe or how much you trust, or have feelings of trust. But you don’t have real faith until you act on your belief and trust.

 A famous tight-rope walker

Let me give you an illustration. This is a well-known story, perhaps you’ve heard it before. In 1859 a circus performer from France known as “the Great Blondin” strung up a tight rope and walked across the gorge just below Niagara Falls.

He was quite amazing. At different times he crossed blindfolded, on a bicycle, on stilts and with a man on his back. He also once pushed a wheel barrow across and he put a stove in it. When he got to the middle he cooked an omelet on the stove and ate it.

As you might imagine, he always gathered large crowds who wanted to see him perform. The story is told that one day he asked the crowd, “Do you believe that I can go across this rope? “Yes,” they answered. Then he asked, “Do you believe that I can do it with a person in the wheel barrow? “Yes,” they answered. Then he asked, “Which of you will be first?” But no one responded.

The point is that, it isn’t until you actually get in the wheel barrow that you show what you really believe. Everything else is talk. There has to be some action on our part.

If we boil all this down to a question it would be how do you know what you truly believe The answer is, you believe exactly what you do; what shows up in the fruit of your life; your deeds. So take a look at your life – a good, honest, sober look. Do you see the fruit of faith in your actions?

And just a reminder here, this is exactly how God will judge you on the final day, looking for the fruit of faith in your actions (2 Corinthians 5:10; Romans 2:6-11; Matthew 7:21).

Even a “small” amount of faith, if acted on, is enough

 Action is what completes our belief and trust and thus what makes us able to receive from God.

But sometimes we think that we have to be super-spiritual. You know, we have to have great faith to receive from God. We think there can’t be struggle or hesitation on our part. This is a misconception that can trip us up.

Jesus said, “If you have faith like a grain of mustard seed . . . nothing will be impossible for you” – Matthew 17:20. A mustard seed is a proverbial expression for something really small. Jesus is saying no matter how small your faith is, as long as it is real faith (it has belief, trust and action) God will come through for you.

So don’t sit back and just wait for faith to suddenly and mysteriously arrive, so that it is effortless or easy, before you act. Instead of holding back for something that might never come, simply put into action the faith you have, however small. This is all you need. And this is, in fact, how your faith will grow. It can become easier and easier.

My parachute adventure

Here’s an illustration. Stacey and I, when we lived in Boston in the late 80’s, watched a TV show that featured the characters parachuting out of the back of a plane. We thought, “Wow that looks like great fun.” And so we decided we should go parachuting.

So we found a place in New Hampshire that trained people and let us jump by ourselves – all in one day. The training was hard and lasted for about six hours. They tied the packs on us so tight that I had bruises on my shoulders the next day.

Finally, the time came and we went up in a small plane. Contrary to the image we had in our minds of running out the back of a plane, in this setup you had to climb out onto the wing of the plane and then let go.

So we are up in the plane and the young man who was set to jump first got to the door of the plane. And his face went white. You could see that he was afraid. And not everyone in our group ended up actually parachuting. I won’t mention any names, but I am talking about my wife.

When it was my turn, I got to the side door of the plane and put my hand out to grab onto the wing – and the wind knocked my hand back it was rushing by so quickly. I grabbed again and pulled myself out onto the wing. I held on for a few seconds, and then let go.

Now, my point in all of this is that I didn’t have great faith. Not at all! It was actually terrifying. I had very small faith. But I acted on what little faith I had, and that was all I needed. You can still be afraid, white faced, sweating or nauseous, but if you act on your trust and belief – it is still faith. And with God that is all that you need. Now you can certainly grow in your faith so that after 100 jumps, almost all of your fear is gone. But even a mustard seed is enough.

To boil this all down, we can simply ask, how much faith do you need? The answer is just enough to make you cross that threshold from belief and trust – to action. It doesn’t matter if you are trembling in your boots. What matters is that you are putting your belief and trust into action; what matters is that you have complete faith.

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Series: Faith in God

Last week we looked at the importance of faith. It’s crucial to our Christian lives because as James (1:7) tells us, without it, we should not “expect to receive anything from the Lord.” But with faith, as Jesus tells us (Mark 9:23) “all things are possible.” All that God has for us is made available to us by faith. This is how we receive from God.

Today we look at the kind of faith that receives from God, getting a bit more specific. There are actually three parts to faith. And if you want to receive from God, you need all three of these working in your life.

Let’s jump right in. First of all, you need –

1. A word from God

You need something from God concerning his will and his purpose to believe in. You need something to stand on; something to claim that comes from God, not from your own mind or what someone else thought up.

Jeremiah 23:16 speaks of “vain hopes” that are not based on God’s word, but the words of people who have not heard from God. And this is what our faith is if it’s not based on what God says – “vain hope.” Rather, as the Psalmist says to God, we are to “hope in your word” – Psalm 119:114.

What we need is a knowledge of God’s promises; an understanding of God’s word; and the ability to hear God’s voice by the Spirit speaking to us. This is what makes faith possible.

As we saw last week, Abraham had a promise from God for a son. He had something from God to stand on.

  • In Genesis 12:2 the Lord said, “I will make you a great nation,” which means he has to have a child.
  • God said in Genesis 12:7, “To your offspring I will give this land.”
  • And in Genesis 17:16 God said more specifically, “I will give you a son by Sarah.”

As we see in this example, from “the man of faith” as Paul calls him (Galatians 3:9) our faith must be grounded in a word from God. Without this it’s fake faith; it’s simply presumption on our part, not faith. Without a word from God we will find ourselves vainly waiting on God to do something he never said he would do! We’ll talk more about this in a later message.

Second, you need –

2. Firm trust

I also call this “faith proper,” because this is what Scripture usually means when it talks about faith.

Hebrews 11:1 speaks of this. “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” First of all, we have “things hoped for” and “things not seen.” These refer to what we are looking for God to do, based on his word to us. What we are hoping for but can’t see yet.

The firm trust is referred to by the word “assurance”, or it can also be translated “confidence.” And also by the word “conviction” which can be translated “certainty.” So, firm trust means being sure of God’s word to us. Being certain in our hearts that what God has said to us, God can and will do.

Abraham trusted in God’s promise to him. After hearing that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars, it says, “he believed the Lord” – Genesis 15:6. That is, he trusted in God and God’s promise to him.

As Paul says, “No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised” – Romans 4:20-21. He had nothing to go on in the natural; they were both too old to have children. But he had “an assurance of things hoped for” – a promise from God; and a “conviction of things not seen” – that God would give him a son.

He trusted that what God told him would come to pass; that his circumstances wouldn’t remain the same. He was “fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised” – which is an excellent definition of firm trust. We too need to be fully convinced that God is able to do what he promises us.

Finally, we need –

3. Appropriate action

– which flows from our certainty in God’s promise. Paul calls this the “obedience of faith” – Romans 1:5. This has to do with our actions of obedience to God in light of the promises that God gives us.

Abraham is an example. He acted on his faith in a way appropriate to the promise given to him. He left his family and home behind. He moved to Canaan. He waited for a son.

You can see his certainty in the way he acted. He would’ve never done these things if it weren’t for the promise and his firm trust in God and God’s promise. In the same way, when we are truly convinced of God’s word to us, it will show up in our actions. 

As Jesus said, a “tree is known by its own fruit” (Luke 6:44). What is within us, in our heart, whether faith or unbelief – is made known in our words and actions, what comes out of us. There is a correspondence between what is inside us and what comes out of us; the fruit of our lives.

A sure sign that we don’t really trust God is that we will hesitate to act on God’s promises. And conversely, when we have true faith, we are willing to act on that.

Putting these three parts together faith is trusting in and acting on God’s word to us.  We hear God’s word, we fully trust God in our hearts, and this flows out into how we live our lives.

So this is –

The kind of faith that receives from God

We need, not just one part or two parts, but all three.

  1. You need a word from God as a foundation.
  2. You need firm trust in this word from God.
  3. You need appropriate actions that flow out of this certainty and make your faith complete.

You need all three to receive from God.

And, in fact, all three of these are a part of the Greek word for faith:

1. This word can be translated as “the faith,” referring to what we believe , or God’s word to us. Jude 3 says, “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to you.” (Other examples: Galatians 1:23; 3:23, 25; 1 Timothy 4:1, 6; 6:21)

2. Or it can be translated as “faith” meaning firm trust, which is the most common meaning. Just to give one example, in Mark 11:22 Jesus says, “Have faith in God” that is, trust in God and God’s promises.

3. Or this word can be translated as “faithfulness.” For instance, in Galatians 5:22, “faithfulness” is one of the fruits of the Spirit. It refers to our actions of faith. (Other examples: Matthew 23:23; Romans 3:3; 2 Thessalonians 1:4)

(The context determines whether it means on specific part of faith or all of them).

These are all a part of faith, and we need them all if we want to receive from God.

This, then, brings us to –

God’s faithfulness

When we have all three parts of faith working in our lives, the result is that we receive what God has for us. God comes through on his word to us; God acts on our behalf!

God is always faithful on his end. As Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 5:24 – “He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.” He will do what he says he will do.

Abraham had faith and so he received the promise of a son. Isaac was born to him 25 years after the promise was originally given (Genesis 21). God came through for him. And God will come through for us as well.

Let me emphasize again, as I said last week –

Our faith is key

We have looked at four things today:

  1. God gives us a word
  2.  We trust in God’s word to us
  3.  We act in faith
  4.  God acts to fulfill his promise

Notice that God begins the process, and God ends it. But we have a crucial role in the middle connecting the beginning and the end. Our faith is the bridge between what God promises and what God does. (God has chosen for it to be this way)

Faith is what gets us from the promise to the reality. Before God acts to fulfill his promise we must trust and we must act on our faith (#2 and #3). God wants to see us trust and act first.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Our faith isn’t anything in itself. It’s just like the completion of a circuit so that the electricity can flow through it. It’s the electricity, or power of God that’s the big deal. God flows through our faith and then works his will in this world, bringing promise into reality.

This is what I think: God has tons of blessings, and he wants to pour them out. God want to use us in amazing ways. But we only receive a small amount. We are limited by our lack of vision and so that’s all we get. We need faith so that we can receive all that God wants to give us.

As we end, let me share with you a –

A call to faith

We are studying and praying about how God wants to use each one of us to lead people closer to Christ; that they might know him and walk in his ways. Whether that is planting seeds or harvesting, or whatever.

God’s will for us is to “make disciples of all peoples.” And this comes with the promise that Jesus is “with us always to the end of the age” to help us do this – Matthew 28:19-20. This is our foundation; a word from God for us.

And so we need to choose to have firm trust in God that he can and will use us. We don’t look at the outward circumstances – “I’m too shy,” or “I don’t know what to say,” or “I’m not good at this,” or “I don’t know many people.” We trust that God can use us.  We know that God spoke to Balaam through a donkey, so I’m pretty sure he can use me and you!

And we need to act when God opens doors for us to share with others. When the door opens, we should be courageous to speak, or serve or listen or bless – or whatever is called for in the situation, to help the person toward Christ.

Do you have this kind of faith? This is the faith that brings God’s promises into reality. This is the faith that makes all things possible. And this is the faith that I am calling you to, so that God might use you to touch people’s lives.

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Our title this morning is “Be faithful in the little things.” We are looking at a principle that Jesus teaches and how he applies it to two different areas of our lives. The principle is stated most clearly in Luke 16:10. We can call it –

The principle of little and much

Luke 16:10 – “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is unreliable in a very little is also unreliable in much.”

(Unreliable is usually translated as “dishonest,” but the former seems more appropriate as a counterpoint to “faithful.” The principle is also in Matthew 25:21/23, see below. See also Luke 19:17. Luke 7:47 goes in a different direction.)

So we have what is little and what is much. And there is a relationship between them. How one does with what is little is a clear indicator of how one will do with much. This is stated in both a positive and a negative way – whether you are faithful or unreliable.

This principle can be applied in many ways, for instance with parents working with children or bosses with employees, or even in relationships. If someone you are dating treats you poorly or lies to you, you can be sure that they will do so once you are married. But our focus is on how Jesus applies this principle and first we look at the topic of –

How we use our wealth – Luke 16:11-13

The statement of our principle and these verses come right after the parable of the dishonest manager, which we looked at a few weeks ago. Let’s remember together briefly what it taught us:

There was a manager who had squandered his master’s funds and was about to be fired. But then he figured out how to take care of himself. He cut the debts of those who owed his master, so that they would like him and take care of him after he was fired and had no money. He said, “I have decided what to do, so that when I am removed from management, people may receive me into their houses.” Luke 16:4. Through a shrewd use of his master’s wealth he took care of his future.

Jesus’ point is that Through a shrewd use of the world’s wealth (giving it to the needy) we take care of our future. He said at the end of the parable, “And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.” Luke 16:9  That is, the poor ones we help, will welcome us into the eternal kingdom.

And then comes v. 10 which states the principle of little and much, and then in Luke 16:11-12, Jesus applies this principle to the topic of wealth.

11If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches?” Here we learn that the wealth of this world is not real wealth. True riches, that don’t fail (v. 9) and that one has because of righteousness, as opposed to how things often work in this world, true riches will only be given out in the world to come.

12And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own?” Here we learn that the wealth of this world is another’s. But what we are given in the world to come is going to be our own.

And in both of these statements it is clear that the “little” has to do with what we do or don’t do in this world with the wealth God gives us. The “much” has to do with what we will be our situation in the world to come – whether we will have the true riches that are our own. And the first, what we do or don’t do with the little, determines the second – the much. Because God knows based on what we have done with what is little, how we will do with the much of what is to come in the kingdom.

The key in all of this is, ‘Will we give of our wealth to help the poor and needy?’ This is being faithful in the little, this is being reliable in the little.

Then in v. 13 Jesus gets to the heart of the matter. “13No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” If we love God, we will do what God wants us to do with the little of this world’s wealth. We will give to help those in need. But if we love our wealth, we will keep it for ourselves and we will not have friends to welcome us into the kingdom.

Second, Jesus applies the principle of little and much to –

How we serve God – Matthew 25:21, 23

The context here is the parable of the talents. Let’s remember together the meaning of this parable. Jesus is about to go away to the Father after his death and resurrection. And so Jesus leaves his kingdom work to his disciples – the church, to you and me. And to some he gives a lot of responsibility, 5 bars of silver, to some 3 bars of silver and to some only 1 – each according to our ability. And we are to fulfill our tasks.

And then Jesus returns for the final judgment. And here we have the little and much principle stated clearly, as the master says to the one who had five bars of silver and increased them, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much.” Matthew 25:21. And again to the one who had three talents and increased them, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much.” Matthew 25:23.

Like before with wealth, the “little” has to do with what we do or don’t in regard to serving God with the tasks he has given us to do. The “much” has to do with what we will be our situation in the world to come – what our levels of responsibility will be in the fullness of the kingdom. And once again, the first, what we do or don’t do with the little, determines the second – the much. Because God knows based on what we have done with what is little, how we will do with the much of what is to come in the kingdom.

The key here is, ‘Will we serve God and do what he has tasked us to do?’ If we are faithful with the small responsibilities in this life that God gives us, God will give us greater responsibilities and honor in the world to come.

But heed the note of warning with the third servant. If we are not faithful here, we will not have a place in the world to come but will go to place of weeping and gnashing of teeth – Matthew 25:30.

The principle of little and much

This principle teaches us that what we do in this life will determine what we have in the life to come. God tests us in the little things of this life, before we get the real blessings of the world to come. Because he can tell from what we do in this life, what we should have in the life to come.

If we aren’t faithful in the little things, we will not be entrusted with the greater things – the much of the world to come. So whether it is how we use our wealth in this life, or how we fulfill the tasks that God has given to us in this life, we are being tested.

And so my word of encouragement to you this morning is this be faithful in the little things of this world! Be radical in your giving – don’t let fear of being without hinder you. Serve God with abandon – don’t let the things of this world distract you from what is truly important. Do this and you will be blessed with the much of the world to come – with what is true, with what is lasting and with what will be your own – untold blessings in the kingdom of God.

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Advent series: Parables of faithful waiting

I am asking the question once again this morning, “Will you be ready for Jesus’ second advent?” This comes to mind because we are celebrating the first advent of Jesus in this Christmas season, and we know that many among the people of God were not ready. And as Jesus warns us some will not be ready for his second advent.

We have been looking at several parables of faithful waiting to help us see what we need to do to be ready. And today we have come to the familiar parable of the slaves with responsibilities, or as it is often called the parable of the talents.

Our passage is found in –

Matthew 25:14-30

14For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his slaves and entrusted to them his property. 15To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away.” (I have changed ESV’s “servants” to “slaves” throughout. For a very similar parable see Luke 19:11-27)

The phrase, “for it will be like . . .” connects to 25:1, which has the full formula, “the kingdom of heaven will be like.” Just as with the previous parable – the ten maidens with lamps, this one is about Jesus, his second coming and the coming of the kingdom of heaven to earth.

The word “talent” here does not mean a gift or ability that we have. (It came to mean this later in English, because of a particular interpretation of this parable, but it actually confuses things. Abilities are mentioned in v. 15 as a separate factor). It was a measurement of the weight of metal, usually silver. In this case we are talking about a bar of silver between 50-75 pounds. It was considered to be equal to 6,000 days of wages for a common worker.

Now, this can be done in different ways, but if we calculate it based on our minimum wage (7.25) and an eight hour work day:

1 talent = $348,000

2 talents = $696,000

5 talents = $1,740,000.

Needless to say these are astronomical amounts of money, especially for that day.

Although it is not stated here, as we will see, the point of giving them this money was for them to take it and increase it. The master is giving over his business to his slaves and they are to be proactive and make a profit while he is gone.

And notice that he gives out this money according to their abilities. He knew some would be able to handle more than the others. So the master gives out responsibilities to increase his business, based on what each one can handle.

16He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. 17So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. 18But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money.”

Notice the eagerness of the one with five bars of silver – “he went at once.” He engaged in business and garnered a 100% profit, as did the one with two bars of silver. But the slave with one bar of silver decided that he had better not lose his master’s money and so he buried it in the ground. This was a common practice in the ancient world and was considered a good way to keep a treasure safe.

19Now after a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. 20And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more.’ 21His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’”

22And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here I have made two talents more.’ 23 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’”

So both the one with five bars of silver and the one with two bars of silver are highly commended. They were faithful in his absence to do what he said. And because they were they are promoted and given more responsibilities. They are blessed.

And then we come to the crux of the story. 24He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, 25so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’”

The master is presented as a ruthless businessman. To reap where you do not sow and gather where you do not scatter most likely refers to seizing crops from tenant farmers who couldn’t pay their rent to him (Craig A. Evans). He wants a profit wherever he can get it. And because of this, this slave didn’t want to take any risks to lose what he had been given. And he feels like he has been successful, because he gave back just what had been given him.

26But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful slave! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? 27Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest.”

The master condemns him with his own words. “If you knew I was a ruthless businessman, always wanting a profit – then you would know that I would want a return on my money.” The slave could have at least invested the money with a bank to earn some interest.

Then the master reveals the real problem. He is “slothful” or lazy. He had been given the responsibility to increase the master’s business while he was gone. But he chose not to do so, and so is called “wicked.”

28So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. 29For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.” This is the first part of the master’s judgment of the third slave. Because he failed in his responsibility to increase his master’s business, his silver is taken away from him.

The proverbial saying here means this: The one who has is the one who fulfilled his responsibility to increase his master’s business. So more is given to him. In fact, even though we are not told this above, here we see that he keeps not only the five bars of silver that he started with, but also the five that he made, and now the one bar from the third slave. So he does have an abundance. The one who has not is the one who did not fulfill his responsibility to increase his master’s business. So even what he was given, the one bar of silver, is taken away. Simply put – faithfulness with what is given you is rewarded with much more, but unfaithfulness will lose you even what you started with. (For the same use of this proverb see Luke 19:26. For its use in the context of seeking to understand Jesus and his teaching see Mark 4:25; Matthew 13:12; Luke 8:18).

And then comes the second part of his judgment: 30And cast the worthless slave into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” He is thrown into hell or Gehenna, the place where the unrighteous will go on the final day of judgment. The phrase, “cast into the outer darkness” refers to hell (Matthew 8:12; 22:13); as does the phrase “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 8:12; 13:42, 50; 22:13; 24:51; Luke 13:28) which speaks to the suffering that will happen there.

The meaning of the parable

Like the previous parables, this is an allegory:

  • The master who goes away = Jesus while he is away. And we learn here once again that Jesus could be gone for a long time, for v. 19 says the master came back “after a long time.”
  • The three slaves = disciples of Jesus
  • The talents = responsibilities that Jesus gives us to increase his kingdom while he is gone, each according to our ability, to serve and expand the kingdom here on earth.
  • The master’s return = Jesus’ second coming
  • Settling accounts = the day of judgment. Those who fulfill their responsibilities are rewarded with much; they are faithful and will be given more responsibilities; they will “enter into the joy of their master” – that is,  they will share in the eternal kingdom. Those who don’t  fulfill their responsibilities will be judged. They will lose everything. Jesus will cast them into hell.

The master’s harshness is meant to warn us that Jesus has very high standards for us to do the work of the kingdom while he is gone. And will we have to give a very exacting account for what we do, or don’t do.

This brings us to the challenge of the parable –

Will you be ready?

  • Last week, we learned from the parable of the ten maidens that to be ready we need to be following Jesus’ teaching and example.
  • Today we learn that to be ready we need to be serving Jesus and doing the work of the kingdom.

Are you ready for this? Are you busy doing what Jesus has told you to do to increase his kingdom? We have all been warned this morning of the consequences of not being ready. So find out what your responsibilities are and get busy so that you will be blessed on that final day.

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Series on Witness

We are in a series of messages on witness that is meant to challenge us to become more outwardly focused as a congregation. Whether this is helping the church’s mission here in SW Chambersburg or whether it is in your own areas of outreach where you live or work or hang out. As a congregation we need to be less concerned with being comfortable and with what we get out of church, and more concerned with taking risks to reach out and with what we should be giving to others as we reach out.

Last week we began with the letter ‘W’ of the word “Witness” – Why we reach out. And we learned from the Scriptures that our motivation is Christ’s love for people. When we have Jesus’ heart of love we will have a different perspective on people, whatever they might be or seem to be according to the flesh. From the perspective of Jesus’ love they are helpless and harassed like sheep without a shepherd and need his salvation and grace.

Well today we focus in on a wrong reason to reach out, and this is the ‘I’ in witness – Idolatry and reaching out. And the idol is the desire to get big; to have a large church, thinking that this is what success means. This is where we idolize growth and getting big as the goal in itself.

Now yes, let me be clear, we very much do want to grow and have people come to know the Lord and become workers for his kingdom. But this can easily and subtly be distorted into an idol. And I think this takes place under the influence of American culture where big is the sign of success. And it comes from using a business model where the bottom line is profit and this is compared to getting more people in the congregation. And it can also just be from envy of other churches that are big and seem to be doing well.

So let me share with you three problems with this thinking:

1. The idolatry of big has a wrong understanding of success

According to this thinking a successful church equals growing and being big. And so if you are not growing you are a failure. But according to the kingdom of God a successful church equals being faithful to reach out, which can lead to growth and being big, but it might not. Do you see the difference in terms of what counts for success? Bigness in itself vs. faithfulness to do what God says whatever the results might be?

That this is true just think for a moment about the parable of the soils. What if a church is in a context where there is rocky soil – trials and persecution, or thorn filled soil – where everyone is focused on the good things of this life? If you are consistently reaching out, but with little or no results are you unsuccessful?

Here’s a more concrete example. What if a church is in a Muslim context and you are consistently reaching out but with little or no results. Does this mean you are unsuccessful?

Here’s an example from our congregation connected to the block party last week. I know a person who invited someone and he came. I know another person who invited 35 people and none of them came. But who would say that the second person was less faithful than the first?

And finally, think of Jesus. Was he a failure because at the end of his ministry he only had a handful of followers? Certainly not!

The point is if you are reaching out, you are successful, whether you are growing or not. Because it is the reaching out itself that is the mark of faithfulness, not the results of reaching out. So you can be amazingly, abundantly, fantastically faithful but have little outward fruit to show for it.

After all, Jesus said “you will be my witnesses” (Acts 1:8) not you must have many converts. And so the bottom line is that we are witnessing, not that we are growing; it is that we are loving and obeying God, not that we are big.

2. The idolatry of big will distort our outreach

Anything that we make into an idol will take us down the wrong road. The most prominent example here is that we water down the gospel to get people to come. Right? If the goal is to get people, you need to do what it takes to get people. So you lower the bar to suit your audience so that they will respond. You take away the things that are hard or that challenge people’s sin.

Well, Jesus flatly rejected this approach. We see this first in Luke 14:25-26. It says, “Now great crowds accompanied Jesus.” And we think, way to go Jesus you’re a success! You’re a winner! You have a crowd. But what does he do? “he turned and said to them, ‘If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.’” What? Jesus you have to keep the crowd. You can’t go telling them to give everything up for you. They won’t follow you anymore!

But this shows us that Jesus doesn’t think like us. Jesus wasn’t influenced by the idolatry of big. He was consumed with faithfulness to God. So when there was a temptation to choose between having more people and watering down the gospel, he chose speaking the truth.

Another example of this comes from John 6:26. Before and after Jesus fed the 5,000 a crowd was following him. And in this case he said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me . . . because you ate your fill of the loaves.” What Jesus? Why would you challenge them like this. They wanted to make you a king!

But again, Jesus doesn’t think like us. Jesus wasn’t influenced by the idolatry of big. He was consumed with faithfulness to God.

He went on to talk about faith in him in such a way that most deserted him and he had to even ask the 12, ‘Will you leave me also?’ Jesus wasn’t interested in just getting a crowd. His goal was sharing God’s truth with everyone, even if the crowds went away.

3. The idolatry of big leaves God out of the equation

Yes, you can grow a church without God being involved. Indeed there are non-Christian religious groups that grow very rapidly and are large. But God is not in it. And there are churches that have grown because of a dynamic leader who was later found to be full of sin all along. And there are churches that grow because they tickle itching ears and tell people what they want to hear. But God is not in this.

So yes, you can grow a church without God, but this isn’t true growth. It is based on the flesh; on us and our skills or personality or techniques.And so this puts the spotlight on us. Look what we did. And this is in part why so many have become famous, celebrity pastors. They made their church grow! So they write their books and they go on tour and so forth.

But true growth only comes when God moves and people’s lives are changed. And he does this is thousands of different ways, not through some specific technique or strategy or leadership style.

In fact God loves to use the weak and the lowly; those who no one expects to do anything great. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1:27-29, “But 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, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.” This brings the glory to God.

As Paul said, we may work, but “only God (is anything), who gives the growth.” – 1 Corinthians 3:7. It’s all about God, not us.

Now, none of this is meant to excuse not reaching out, and we have work to do here, as do most churches. And it is good to look at how we are doing in our outreach – if it is ineffective – to see if we are doing it poorly and to make corrections.

And you can also turn all this around and make an idol out of being small or not growing. You know, we are small because we are so much more faithful than other groups! When really it is because we don’t reach out or we have created cultural barriers that keep people away.

My point in all this is to have –

The right focus

So let’s focus on being faithful to God to reach out, taking risks and giving of ourselves to others. This is the measure of our success in the kingdom of God. And even if we are not bursting at the seams we can still be encouraged and joyful in our walk with God knowing that God is pleased with us.

Let’s focus on presenting the full gospel to others, even if it means that fewer people will come. Let’s not change his word and gospel message just to get our congregation bigger. If people don’t come or leave because of this we can still be encouraged and joyful in our walk with God knowing that God is pleased with us.

And let us focus on praying for God to move as we minister in his name, to change people’s lives. If there is not much fruit, this isn’t a matter of discouragement, so much as it is a call to greater prayer and reliance on God to bring about the growth, which only he can do. And we will give him the praise when he does his work.

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This morning we are looking at another story of faithfulness, in this case, the life an ancient believer whose life and faith I believe should be an encouragement to us in our Christian lives. Justin is his name, and he illustrates for us some specific aspects of faithfulness to Jesus which I will highlight at the end.

Some basics on Justin

He was born near Shechem, Samaria around 100 AD (A1-1) so he is a very early Christian. He was born just 30 years after Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 AD, and around 70 years after Jesus had his conversation with the Samaritan woman not far from Shechem.

He was not a Samaritan, or a Jew however (D – 28). He was born to a pagan family (A1-1) so he had no Christian influence growing up.

As a young man he gave himself to the study of Philosophy, going through several different schools of thought seeking after a knowledge of God. (D-2)

Justin’s conversion

Around 130 AD he had a conversation that changed his life. He most likely lived in Ephesus at this time. And as was his custom, when he wanted to get away to think, he went to a field by the sea where he could be alone.

But this time he met an old man there who challenged him to rethink his search after God.After pointing out several shortcomings in his thinking he led him to the Hebrew prophets as reliable teachers about God and his Son, the Christ. These were those who didn’t just think about God, but saw and knew God. And the man admonished him to pray that God would open his heart and mind to receive the truth of God. (D-7)

As Justin testified, “a flame was kindled in my soul; and a love of the prophets, and of those people who are friends of Christ, possessed me; and while revolving his word in my mind – I found this philosophy alone to be safe and profitable.” (D-8). He had been prepared for this encounter beforehand by seeing and admiring the courage of Christians as they faced death in times of persecution (A2-12)

Justin’s ministry

Justin MartyrHe continued on in the role of a philosopher, complete with dressing in the traditional cloak (tribon) of a philosopher (D–1); but as a Christian who encouraged the study and practice of the teachings of Jesus (D-8). He was a scholar and a teacher.

And he used this role as an opportunity to share the gospel with others. An example of this comes from his Dialogue with Trypho,who was a Jewish philosopher. He he wrote an account of and it can still be read. As he said to Trypho early on in this conversation, “If then you have any concern for yourself, and if you are eagerly looking for salvation, and if you believe in God . . . you may become acquainted with the Christ of God (through the Scriptures), and, after being initiated live a happy life.” (D-8)

Later he moved to Rome and started a school. While he was in Rome he wrote two defenses of the Christian faith. One was written to Emperor Antonius Pius, the other to Emperor Marcus Aurelius. These can also still be read. In these he stood up for believers who were being persecuted and killed for their faith, often based on rumors and baseless objections to Christianity.

Here’s an example – many thought Christians had no morals. For instance, since Christians celebrated a love feast (the Lord’s supper), called each other brother and sister and met in private for this – they thought they were promiscuous or even incestuous. (A1-29). So Justin repeatedly emphasized the values and morals that Christians believed and practiced. In one passage he says, “we who formerly delighted in sexual immorality – now embrace sexual purity alone . . .”

He goes on, “we who valued above all things the acquisition of wealth and possessions, now bring back what we have into a common fund and give to everyone in need; we who hated and destroyed one another, and on account  of their different culture would not live with people of a different tribe, now since the coming of Christ live in relationship with them and pray for our enemies . . .” (A1-14)

Christians were also despised as atheists because they did not worship the gods or offer sacrifices to them. Justin explains, “what sober minded person then will not acknowledge that we are not atheists, worshipping as we do the Maker of this universe and declaring . . . that he has no need” of sacrifices. (A1-13).

This brings us to –

Justin’s death

Although it was illegal to be a Christian at this time, the Roman government didn’t usually seek Christians out to persecute them. If, however, they were exposed by others and didn’t recant they would be condemned. So, if you had a neighbor who didn’t like you; or a business competitor that wanted to get rid of you; or an enemy that wanted you dead – all they had to do was accuse you of being a Christian to the government. And once the charge was made persecution and often death followed.

Well he had enemies. One was a philosopher named Crescens. He and Justin had held public debates before about Christianity. As Justin said at one point, “I . . . expect to be plotted against and crucified . . . perhaps by Crescens . . ..” (A2-3). Tatian, a student of Justin, said that Crescens had indeed sought to kill them both at one point (Address to the Greeks). Whether it was Crescens or someone else, eventually he was arrested along with several of his students, including a woman named Charito.

At the trial the Roman Prefect demanded that Justin offer up a sacrifice to the gods. He asked, “Are you not then a Christian?” Justin answered, “Yes, I am a Christian.” The Prefect, contemplating Justin’s death asked, “Do you suppose, then, that you will ascend into heaven to receive some recompense?” Justin said, “I do not suppose it, but I know and am fully persuaded of it.”

The Prefect demanded that they all offer sacrifices to the gods. Justin said, “No right minded person falls away from true belief to false.” The others said, “Do what you will, for we are Christians and do not sacrifice to idols.”

The Prefect announced the sentence, they were to be scourged and then beheaded. Justin, and the others, remained faithful and were killed for their faith. Later, a group of Christians secretly obtained their bodies and gave them a proper burial.

This happened in 165 AD, so Justin was around 65 years old. This is also how Justin came by the name that he now bears – Justin “Martyr.” He was a true witness to Jesus, which is what the word martyr actually means, in his case, he was a witness even unto death.

Now let’s look at –

Several characteristics of faithfulness

 1. He was a faithful teacher and wise man. As Jesus said in Matthew 23:34 – “I send you (that is unbelieving Jews) prophets and wise men and scribes . . .” (although he was sent to the Gentiles primarily)

And just as the parable of the talents teaches us in Mathew 25:14-30 we have all been given tasks to do for God as we serve him in our earthly lives. What ministry has God called you to and how is it going? Justin was faithful to his calling in a time when being faithful was dangerous. Are you faithful to your task in our time?

2. He bore witness before the authorities. Jesus said in Luke 21:12-15 – “You will be brought before kings and governors for my name’s sake. This will be your opportunity to witness. . . . I will give you  a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict.”

He argued effectively in writing and in person in debates and conversations and when he was on trial before the Roman Prefect. We are called to bear witness before others as well, even if they are less intense situations. But God will also be with us as we speak to give us wisdom. Do you have the courage to speak out and trust God for the right words?

3. Justin confessed Christ under persecution. Jesus said in Matthew 10:32 – “So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven.”

Justin confessed Christ when he life was on the line and died for it. And so we can be sure that he did and will receive a blessing from God, even as he said in faith that he would before the Prefect. Do we identify with Jesus and confess him in front of others? Or are we ashamed of him and hide our faith because it is a socially awkward situation or because it might affect our social standing or reputation? Don’t think that you can be ashamed of Jesus in these “little” ways and that when more serious persecution comes and your life is on the line that you will suddenly confess Jesus. All these lesser situations are practice for the more serious. It is those who are trained to identify with Jesus in everyday life who will confess him with boldness when their lives are on the line.

A1 = First Apology

A2 = Second Apology

D = Dialogue with Trypho

The other numbers refer to the sections of each work.

 

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