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Series: Clothe yourselves with humility

Today we finish up our series on humility. Remember with me these basics:

The proud are those who raise themselves up:

  • to be honored because they think they are better than others
  • to be above others; to be separate and in charge
  • to be served by others
  • to have what they want, what’s best and easiest for them

Notice how all of this is self-centered.

The humble, however, are those who lower themselves:

  • to forsake seeking honor
  • to be with others on the same level
  • to serve the needs of others and to lower themselves to do this
  • to sacrifice,  as they serve, lowering themselves still further

Notice how this is completely other centered.

Well, we have talked about what it means for us as individuals to clothe ourselves with humility, but today we ask the question, “What does a humble congregation look like?”

And we are working with the same four components of humility that we have just reviewed.

1. A humble church remembers its own lowliness

As a group we know that we are not better than anyone else that might come to our door, or any group of people that we reach out to.

Luke 18:9-14 says, “Jesus also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: ‘Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other.”

It’s easy to forget that we are forgiven sinners ourselves. And that God loves those who have needs and problems just as much as he loves us. And that if we don’t have those same needs and problems, it’s because of the grace of God. And it is this same grace that we are to share with those who come to us.

Paul had to deal with a church that had some who were proud. This is what he says in 1 Corinthians 1:26-29 – “For consider your calling, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 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.”

He calls them to remember their lowliness. And that God loves the lowly, and works his will through them – so why try to lift yourself up?

  • A proud church thinks it’s better than others.
  • A humble church knows that it is not better than anyone who comes to its doors or that it seeks to reach out to. It gives up lifting itself up, just as Jesus set aside his glory in heaven to come to us (Philippians 2:6-7).

2. A humble church is with the lowly

What I am trying to say here is that we don’t just relate to those who are like us, or those we are comfortable with, we also and especially relate to and are with the lowly.

Who are the lowly?

  • Those who are rejected. In Jesus’ day these were the sinners, prostitutes, tax collectors and lepers.
  • Those who have low social status. in Jesus’ day this included women, children and slaves.
  • Those who are weak. In Jesus’ day this included the poor, the unlearned, the sick, the demonized, the mentally ill, older people and the disabled.

Who are the rejected today? Who are those with low social status? Who are those who are weak today? I would suggest that the list is much the same. And we are called to be with them in relationship, not to pull away as if we are better.

Think about the example of Jesus’ ministry. He said in Luke 4:18 – “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed . . ..” He also said in Matthew 9:12-13 – “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”

James talks about some who were proud in James 2:2-4. He rebukes those who favored the rich over the poor in their fellowship. He says, “if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, ‘You sit here in a good place,’ while you say to the poor man, ‘You stand over there,’ or, ‘Sit down at my feet,’ have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?”

  • A proud church sees the lowly as beneath them. Sometimes it even pushes them away or treats them with contempt.
  • A humble church follows Jesus’ example and is also in relationship with the lowly.

3. A humble church serves the lowly

We serve by lowering ourselves to meet the needs of others and to lift them up. And what I’m saying is that we don’t just serve those who are like us, or those we are comfortable with, or just people who are already in our group We also and especially serve the lowly.

As he said in Matthew 9:12 he is the doctor who seeks to make the sick whole, not those who are healthy:

– Jesus’ preached to the lowly and invited them to receive God’s grace, forgiveness and acceptance. He preached “good news the poor” – Luke 4:18.

– He helped with their needs through healing and casting out demons. Through him the Spirit brought “recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed” – Luke 4:18.

– He included the lowly in his congregation of disciples, for instance Matthew the tax collector – Matthew 9:9.

  • A proud church wants to serve certain people, those like us, who will benefit our congregation, our programs, who fit into our social events, who make us look good.  If the lowly are served it is at a distance and not with personal contact.
  • A humble church serves the lowly, following Jesus’ example who “came not to be served, but to serve” – Mark 10:45.

4. A humble church sacrifices for the lowly

As we lower ourselves to serve others, it will cost us and to sacrifice means we are willing to do this for the well-being of others. And what I’m saying is that we don’t just sacrifice for those who are like us, or those we are comfortable with, or just people who are already in our group. We also and especially sacrifice for the lowly.

Jesus tells a parable about the lowly in Luke 15:4-6 – “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’” Hey, it’s way easier to hang out with the 99. It takes work to go a find those who are lost. It takes a sacrifice of time and effort.

But of course, the supreme example of his sacrifice for the lowly is when he laid down his life on the cross. And we are to lay down our lives and this includes sacrificially serving the lowly. Jesus gave up everything for the lowly. What have you given up?

  • A proud church wants what makes it comfortable and takes the easy road.
  • A humble church make sacrifices to serve those in need, following the example of Jesus who “came not to be serve but to serve and to give his life” on the cross – Mark 10:45

Now, congregation we have many opportunities to be a humble church. . .. May God help us to grow in our willingness to be with and to sacrificially serve the lowly.

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If you have ever read 1 and 2 Corinthians, especially straight through, you know that Paul and the Corinthians had a stormy relationship. In fact this accounts, in large part, for why Paul wrote so much to them. There is a correlation between the amount of trouble and the amount of writing Paul had to do.

He had founded the church, but then left for other parts to preach the gospel. And in his absence the Corinthians started to think they were pretty smart. And also other Christian workers came to them and the Corinthians began comparing them against Paul, and seemed to like these others more than they liked Paul. And so some began to question him and pick him apart and there were various disagreements between them.

For instance:

  • There was a misunderstanding about his travel plans that upset them. Some were asking, “Why didn’t he visit us like he said he would?” (2 Corinthians 1:15-23)
  • Some thought they knew more than him about several topics of the Christian faith even though he was an apostle of Christ. (idol food, sexual immorality and the resurrection)
  • Some thought he boasted too much. (2 Corinthians 3:1; 10:8)
  • There were issues of trust regarding the offering being taken for the Jerusalem church. Can he be trusted to deliver this money? (2 Corinthians 8:20-21; 9:-21; 1 Corinthians 16:3-4)
  • Some thought that he was a poor speaker. This is interesting because we would never think this, but they were judging him by Greek standards of rhetoric and speech. In 2 Corinthians 10:10 Paul quotes some of them as saying “his speech is of no account.” (1 Corinthians 1:7; 2:1; 2 Corinthians 11:6)
  • Some thought he was weak; that he didn’t make a good impression. Again in 2 Corinthians 10:10 he quotes some of them as saying, “his bodily presence is weak.” (2 Corinthians 10:1)

All of this conflict is why Paul speaks of making painful visits  with them (2 Corinthians 2:1) and writing painful letters to them (2 Corinthians 2:4).

The core issue in all of this is the Corinthian’s pride and arrogance – in themselves and in their ideas about how he should be a minister.This shows up in 1 Corinthians 4:8, where he says sarcastically, “Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! Without us you have become kings! And would that you did reign, so that we might share the rule with you!” They had a very high view of themselves.

Paul goes on to say in 1 Corinthians 4:18-20. “Some are arrogant, as though I were not coming to you. But I will come to you soon, if the Lord wills, and I will find out not the talk of these arrogant people but their power. For the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power.”

With this background in place let’s look at our passage and its warning in v. 12. I will break it down into four parts:

1. The Israelites “had it all” too

vs. 1-4 – “For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.”

  • The Israelites shared in a baptism. They passed through the red sea, just as the Corinthians were baptized.
  • The Israelites shared in the Lord’s food and drink. They ate manna and drank water from the rock, just as the Corinthians partook of the Lord’s supper.

They too enjoyed the privileges and blessings of the Lord, like the Corinthians.

2. Yet they failed and were judged

v. 5 – “Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness.” They did not enter the promised land.

Paul then gives four examples of how they displeased God:

  • v. 7 – Idolatry. “Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, ‘The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.’” This refers back to the golden calf incident in Exodus 32. (v. 6 is quoted)
  • v. 8 – Sexual immorality. “We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day.” This refers to Numbers 25 when the Israelites engaged in sexual immorality with the Moabites.
  • v. 9 – Testing God. “We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents.” This goes back to Numbers 21, where they complained against God and Moses about his provision of manna. They wanted God to prove himself by giving them more and better food.
  • v. 10 – Complaining. We must not “grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer.” This refers to Numbers 14 and possibly also Numbers 16-17. In each of these cases the Israelites grumbled against God and Moses and were judged.

What is Paul’s message? The Israelites had it all, the blessings and privileges of God. But they were not careful and gave in to evil desire. Only two of them – Joshua and Caleb made it into the promised land. The rest were judged.

3. These stories are examples for Christians

And he emphasises this in two places in this passage. v. 6 – “Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did.” And then also v. 11 – “Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.” Paul is saying, what happened to them can happen to you – Corinthians.

And this point is made all the more secure in that the Corinthians were struggling with the same things that the Israelites in the wilderness struggled with. And that, even as they thought so highly of themselves.

– some were involved in idolatry, as he will warn them later in our passage, when they eat idol food in a temple they are actually connecting themselves to the demons behind idol worship. (1 Corinthians 10:14-22)

some were involved in sexual immorality – indeed they were even OK with a couple involved in incest being a part of their congregation (1 Corinthians 5; 2 Corinthians 12:21)

some were testing God – this might refer to how they were partaking of the Lord’s supper wrongly, bringing judgment on themselves (1 Corinthians 11:17-34)

some were grumbling against Paul as a leader, not receiving his counsel, thinking they knew more than him, and picking him apart.

And so he warns them in relation to all of these things –

4. Take care lest you too fall!

v. 12 – “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” You who think you have it all together, who think that you are standing firm, learn from this that you too can fall. You may now experience the blessings of God. But you risk being excluded from the promises of God – just as most of the Israelites did not enter the promised land.

And the issue is their pride and arrogance:

Their pride blocks them from being able to see their own problems, struggles and failures. Right? Pride makes us really good at finding other peoples’ problems, but really bad at seeing our own. And this was true in how the Corinthians treated Paul.

And their pride keeps them from receiving input and correction from Paul, so that they can change.

The lesson for us

Beware overconfidence! We all need faith and confidence in our relationship with God, but watch out for overconfidence. Beware pride! Beware arrogance!

All of us have weaknesses and we stumble in many ways. But when we are arrogant it blinds us to our problems and it keeps us from receiving input and correction from others. It is just as Proverbs 16:18 says, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.”

So then, let us learn humility. Let us confess our struggles. And let us receive from one another correction and help – so that we can all receive the promises that God has for us.

William Higgins

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We are jumping right back into the middle of a really intense encounter between Jesus and his opponents. As we saw last week it is actually a trial scene, at least an informal one.

In the Jewish legal system anyone can bring charges and they have accused Jesus of two things: 1) breaking the law by healing on the Sabbath and 2) making himself equal to God, which is blasphemy, and carries with it the death penalty. Jesus defends himself by claiming to be God’s unique agent who only does what his Father, who sent him, told him to do. (For more see – Why Jesus can heal on the Sabbath). 

Well, Jewish trials were based on testimonies, not investigative or detective work. And the one who had the most impressive or honorable witnesses usually won. And so in our passage today Jesus seeks to lay out the positive case for who he is through the use of testimonies.

Testimonies to Jesus

31If I alone bear witness about myself, my testimony is not deemed true. 32There is another who bears witness about me, and I know that the testimony that he bears about me is true.”

Jesus’ testimony refers to what he has just said about himself in vs. 19-30 regarding who he is and his relationship with the Father. He understands that they don’t accept his words as valid testimony (although they should since he is not an ordinary person 8:13-18).

But the Father bears witness to him. This is what Jesus means when he says “there is another who bears witness about me.” (The present tense here excludes this from referring to John’s witness which is all in the past tense below)

And he presents this as coming through three different avenues, in accordance with the Mosaic Law that says, “A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses” – Deuteronomy 19:15 (NIV).

1) The testimony of John the Baptist. 33You sent to John, and he has borne witness to the truth. 34Not that the testimony that I receive is from man, but I say these things so that you may be saved. 35He was a burning and shining lamp, and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light.”

Jesus appeals to John for two reasons: 1) God sent John and spoke through him (1:6). And 2) they themselves went to hear John’s testimony, giving credit to it. They had some openness to John for a time, so Jesus is saying, “remember his testimony to me.”

John told them that the Messiah was in their midst. And he testified to Jesus’ exalted status. He called Jesus the “Son of God” (1:34). And he said, “after me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me” (1:30). Even though John was older than Jesus, the Son of God existed before John.

Jesus himself doesn’t need John’s witness because he knows who he is apart from this. But he hopes they will listen to him.

(That this is all in the past tense seems to indicate that John is either in prison or more likely already dead.)

2) The testimony of Jesus’ works. 36But the testimony that I have is greater than that of John. For the works that the Father has given me to accomplish, the very works that I am doing, bear witness about me that the Father has sent me.”

Works here refer to the miracles and healings that he is doing in their midst, and has just done in healing the man who couldn’t walk for 38 years. (Jesus’ “works” can be more broadly construed, as in 5:20 where it has to do with Jesus’ role on the final day in giving life and judging. But here seems to be focused on his signs, as in 9:3) (See 10:37-38; 14:11 for the witness function of his signs)

As the man born blind, but later healed by Jesus says in 9:32-34, “Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” And as Jesus himself says in 15:24 he does “works that no one else did.” These testify to who Jesus is. 

3) The witness of the Father’s word. 37And the Father who sent me has himself borne witness about me.”

This refers to the witness of the Scriptures as we will see in a minute (below v. 39, 46-47). (This is not a new witness of the Father, but it is a testimony that he “has” borne to Jesus.) 

But first let’s note that all three of these testimonies establish that the Father sent Jesus – vs. 36, 37, 38; they establish Jesus’ point about who he is; he is God’s authorized agent.

Next Jesus says more about this last witness of Scripture, but he does so in the context of making –

Countercharges against his opponents

In a Jewish legal context, unlike our own, the one who began as a defendant can become a prosecutor of his accusers and successfully bring charges against them. And this is what Jesus does in this section; he turns the tables on his opponents.

Talking about Scripture he says, “His voice you have never heard, his form you have never seen, 38and you do not have his word abiding in you, for you do not believe the one whom he has sent.”

When he speaks of God’s voice and form he is talking about the giving of the Law or Scripture at Mt. Sinai. When God gave the Law the children of Israel heard God’s voice as a trumpet sound, and they saw him as a thick cloud with smoke and fire – Exodus 19:9-11; 16-20 (They didn’t see God’s form per se – Deuteronomy 4:12, but a visible manifestation in fire – 4:36; or his glory –  5:24).

But his opponents have neither heard nor seen God. They haven’t truly received God’s word.It is not abiding in them.

And he knows this by their outward actions – they do not receive “the one whom he has sent;” God’s Word in human form (1:1; 14).

39You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, 40yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.” “Search” refers to diligent Scripture study, in this case of the Hebrew Bible or the Old Testament. And there is no doubt that his opponents studied the Scriptures carefully.

But they have missed the central point of Scripture. They have a wrong focus and so they have missed the witness of the Scriptures to Jesus, which is the central point.

Here’s an example of this witness, from just before in John 5:27,  Jesus identifies himself as the Son of man spoken of in Daniel 7:13-14 who receives dominion and glory on the final day.

Although they hope that by studying the Scriptures they will  have life, they will not, since they have missed the point; they have missed Jesus who is the one who gives life.

And then we come to their core problem. “41I do not receive glory from people. 42But I know that you do not have the love of God within you. 43I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not receive me. If another comes in his own name, you will receive him. 44How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?”

In contrast to Jesus, who doesn’t care at all about human praise but only seeks after God and loves God, they do not love God, but do care about human praise.

As was the custom in that day there was great regard for teachers – with various honors, rank and titles given to them. Jesus is saying that they are more than happy to accept these fellow teachers who come in their own name and they will exchange praise with one another. But when God’s unique agent comes, in the Father’s name, they reject him. Why? Because their desire is for human glory and not the glory of the one God. Their pride keeps them from listening to Jesus as he challenges them and corrects their understanding of Scripture. (See Matthew 23 for a similar critique.)

(The phrase in v. 44, “the only God” is a statement of the Shema that there is only one God – Deuteronomy 6:4. So whatever we say about the relationship of the Father and the Son, there is still only one God)

Then the focus comes back to Scripture. 45Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father. There is one who accuses you: Moses, on whom you have set your hope. 46If you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. 47But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?”

They have missed the witness of Moses to Jesus. A specific example of this comes from Deuteronomy 18:15-18. Here the Lord says to Moses, “I will raise up for them a prophet like you . . . and I will put my words in his mouth and he shall speak to them all that I command him. And whoever does not listen to my words that he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him.” God spoke through Moses of sending an agent like Moses, who would speak God’s words and the fate of all would rest on their listening to him.

Although they hope that Moses will defend them on the final day (his role as the intercessor for Israel in Scripture was thought to continue), he will actually accuse them. For he himself wrote of Jesus. But they have not truly believed Moses, which leads them to reject Jesus.

(Notice the correspondence between the Father’s “word” 5:38 and “my words” in 5:47 [an inclusion] as well as how the subtext of Deuteronomy 18:18-19 uses the phrase “my words” for God’s words. Also notice the agency language of this subtext,  including coming “in my name.”)

 A summary of Jesus’ charges:

1. They have not truly received or believed God’s word in Scripture  and Moses.

2. They have missed the point of Scripture and Moses, which is Jesus.

3. Their hearts are focused on seeking after human glory, so they receive those who come in their own name.

4. And this pride leads them to reject God’s promised agent, Jesus, who comes in the Father’s name. They think they know the Scriptures and won’t listen to him.

And in rejecting Jesus they show that they have (or already had) rejected God. Because to reject an agent is to reject the one who sent him.

Some challenges for us

Do you accept who Jesus claims to be? As we saw last week, he is God’s agent. He only does and says what the Father tells him to do and say. He is the one who fully and truly reveals God (1:18). And he is testified to by John the Baptist; the works of Jesus recorded for us; and the word of the Father in the Scriptures.

Do you accept him for who he is? And if so, do you live your life like this is true, according to his words and example? This is the true test of what you believe about Jesus.

Don’t miss the point of Scripture. You can know everything there is to know of the details of Scripture – it background, various theories of composition, what this or that scholar says about any topic – but still miss the point and find no life.

Jesus is the point of Scripture. The Old Testament points to him, which is what Jesus is talking about, and now the New Testament presents him and points back to him. And it is when we see and know Jesus in the Scriptures that we find the life that the Scriptures can give.

Beware of teachers who seek human glory. Those who are seeking human praise are too proud to truly hear and receive from God. They are busy hearing and receiving praise from others.

Whether it is in popular Christian culture with teachers exalting themselves in various ways, or in Academia with its culture of giving and exchanging glory with one another with various ranks and titles – these are not the teachers to listen to. Look for teachers who love God and seeks after the glory that comes from God alone.  They are the humble ones that labor seeking no recognition. These are the ones who receive from God and can teach you the word.

Let’s learn from Jesus’ love for his enemies. They are actively seeking to kill him, making capital charges against him. But he shows his love for them. He certainly speaks the truth to them, calling out their sin. But he does this out of love. In 5:34 he says, “but I say these things so that you may be saved.” Wow! They are trying to kill him and he is trying to bless them with salvation.

May we also love our enemies, even when they make wrongful charges against us and seek to harm us.

William Higgins

 

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Series: How to overcome sin

We are continuing tonight on our theme – How to Overcome Sin, or how to get rid of our sinful behaviors and habits which enslave us and destroy our life with God.

This morning we heard the call to stop sinning; to put away those sins that we know about – and yet choose to do anyway. And if this is indeed our goal, then we need to understand what we are up against. So I want to give you some teaching on ‘How Sin & Testing Work.’

First of all we look at –

How sin works

And here we begin with the biblical concept of  the flesh. This refers to our human weakness and frailty apart from God. As Jesus said, “the flesh is weak” – Mark 14:38. This weakness is connected to our human desires, longings and fears. For instance, Paul speaks of “the passions of our flesh . . . the desires of flesh and senses” in Ephesians 2:3.

Specifically, the flesh is weak in regard to doing God’s will. That’s because the desires of our flesh lead us into conflict with God’s will for us. God requires things like love and sacrifice for others. But our flesh is all about self-interest and comfort. It wants the easy way out. It wants to feel secure. It wants to soothe its fears. It is self-centered. What? Love God? Love others?

Paul says it this way, “For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other . . .” – Galatians 5:17.

Now, to clarify, God gives us basic desires, for instance the desire to meet our needs for food, clothing and shelter; or the desire to be in relationships with others. There is nothing wrong with these. It’s what we do with these desires as we put them into practice apart from God that’s the problem. Our self-centeredness twists and distorts these desires.

Here’s a couple of examples of this:

  • God created us with a desire to meet our basic needs, you know, daily bread, but we turn this into greed – a craving for more and more beyond what we need.
  • God created us with sexual desire, but we seek to fulfill it in our own way, not God’s way, and so it leads us to sexual immorality.

So the flesh is not some alien thing, or some “other” nature in us, it is simply our humanity in all of its weakness as we try to live our lives apart from God. And this is where sin comes from. It comes from us; as we follow our distorted desires, longings and fears – instead of following God’s path. To use the language of James 1:14-15 – “Each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin . . ..”

And then there is our human pride which makes everything worse.

God designed us to seek after peace and to find fulfillment. This is the way we are made. But it has always been God’s plan that we find our peace through him and his will for our lives. And, indeed, this is the only way we will find real peace. God is our maker, after all, and God knows what is best for us and what will bring us fulfillment.

But, we -and this is our pride – we think we know more than God, even Christians, at least in certain areas of our lives. So instead of doing what God wants us to do, we seek after peace through the flesh. We do things in our own way, not God’s way. We act according to our wisdom, not God’s. We pursue peace through our own self-centered pursuit of what makes us comfortable; what soothes our fears; what we think will solve our problems.

And it might seem to work for a while. Hebrews 11:25 talks about the “fleeting pleasures of sin.” But it doesn’t usually take long before the other shoe drops. That’s because, although we may freely choose our sin, our sin comes to take over our lives. As Jesus said, “Everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin” – John 8:34.

And we come to realize that what once seemed good and the answer to our problems, we now hate because it’s ruining our lives. Proverbs says, “There is a way that seems right to a person, but its end is the way of death” – Proverbs 14:12.

Now, for sure, most who are caught in this slavery don’t see themselves as weak or in bondage, but as strong and free, choosing their own way in life. When we walk in the flesh we think, ‘we don’t need God!’ As Paul says in Romans 8:7, “the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God.” And it is this very pride that keeps us in our slavery.

This is the tragic irony of sin. Jeremiah 2:13 says it well. Speaking of us, the Lord says, “They have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.” God is “the fountain of living waters,” pure, bubbling, refreshing; providing all we need to quench our thirst and give us life. But in our pride we choose to go our own way and we forsake God. We follow after the flesh digging our own water holes, thinking this is the way to happiness. But our water holes don’t hold water! And so we are left with nothing – thirsty, despairing, dying.

The very thing that would give us life and peace, we will have nothing to do with. This is our pitiful state, when we walk according to the flesh.

Next we look at –

How testing works

I want us to see, not just the dynamics of what goes on in our hearts with regard to sin, but also what happens outside of us that can influence us to sin.

Even as Christians, who seek to do God’s will, we have to confess that without God’s help we are mere flesh – weak and given to self-centeredness and pride.

But God wants us to grow and to come to a place where we humbly rely on him in our weakness, and to be transformed so that we find our true fulfillment in doing his will.

And this is why he allows us to be tested – that is, to go through hard times and difficult struggles. He does this for our own good. As Hebrews 12:10 says, he tests us “for our good, that we may share his holiness.” Even Jesus was tested as Hebrews 5:8 tells us.

Satan, however, the one who actually tests us, has a different agenda which has nothing to do with what is good for us. Being aware of our weakness and pride – he uses testing to lead us to sin, judgment and destruction.

– He asks God permission to test us. We see this in the book of Job. And Jesus talks about it in Luke 22:31.

– He tries to catch us unprepared for testing. Peter tells us that “Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” – 1 Peter 5:8. Satan is like a lion, who picks off the weak and the unprepared.

– He tests us by putting us in a difficult situation so that the desires of our flesh and the desires of the Spirit are brought into clear conflict, and we have to choose. We will either look to God for help or give in to sin. We will either move forward with God or backward with Satan. And he banks on the latter being the more common response.

– In a time of testing, he encourages us to sin. He lies, deceives and in general seeks to confuse us with regard to God’s truth and God’s will for our lives. Jesus tells us that he “he is a liar and the father of lies.” – John 8:44. We are also told that he is “the deceiver of the whole world” – Revelation 12:9.

And as we struggle he tells us, ‘It’s OK, it won’t hurt you,” or, “everyone else is doing it.’ He works through “the world” – other people who are not trying to do God’s will. Scripture tells us that he is “the god of this world” – 2 Corinthians 4:4. The world tells us “It’s OK.  Sin is normal.” And then if we do try to live according to God’s will, it pressures us to conform.

So this is what we are up against in our struggle to overcome sin. The weakness and pride of our own flesh and heart and the reality that Satan seeks to pressure us to sin.

But let’s end with –

A note of encouragement

  • Although the flesh is weak – Jesus overcame it by the strength that the Spirit gives to do God’s will.
  • Although Satan is powerful – Jesus overcame him by the authority he has and the truth of God so that he did God’s will.

And Jesus shows us how to follow in his path to be overcomers as well. This is what I want to show you next time – five steps to overcoming sin.

William Higgins

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John the Baptist is our Advent focus this year. John prepared the people for Jesus’ coming. And he can also prepare us as we get ready to celebrate the coming of Jesus at Christmas and also as we await the second coming of Jesus; his second advent, which could happen at any time.

Last week we saw how he prepares us through his message of repentance. We are to set aside our sin and our excuses for our sin, and commit to do God’s will in all of our lives. And then, just as the people did in John the Baptist’s day, we can come and confess our sins and find forgiveness.

Today we focus on how John’s example of humility prepares us. But first, a bit more on the person of John the Baptist. We looked at some things last week, but today we take note of –

John’s exalted status

John was chosen by God and given a special role in God’s scheme of things; God’s plan for this world. And not only this, he is spoken of very highly in Scripture. Let’s look at this.

1. His birth was announced by an angel in the Temple – Luke 1:13. Not many people can claim this.

2. He received the Spirit ‘in utero.’ The angel said, “He will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb” – Luke 1:15.

3. His birth was special. When people heard about the circumstances of his birth, about his mother being older and not able to have children and his father not being able to speak and then speaking to name him John, when they heard all this, they said, “‘What then will this child be?’ For the hand of the Lord was with him.” – Luke 1:65-66.

4. It is the testimony of Scripture that “He was a righteous and holy man” – Mark 6:20.

5. He baptized Jesus – Matthew 3:13-17. An amazing privilege.

6. He was the first to confess Jesus’ identity. He said, “I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God” – John 1:34.

7. He was immensely popular. “And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.” – Mark 1:5.

8. He was respected by the king. “Herod feared John . . . and he kept him safe. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed, and yet he heard him gladly” – Mark 6:20

9. Jesus said about him, “He was a burning and shining lamp” – John 5:35.

10. Jesus said, “John came to you in the way of righteousness” – Matthew 21:32.

11. His father prophesied great things about him at his birth. “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins” – Luke 1:76-77.

12. He is the fulfillment of Malachi 3:1. Jesus said, “What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is he of whom it is written, ‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you.’” – Luke 7:26-27.

13. He is the fulfillment of Isaiah 40:3. “For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said, ‘The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.'” – Matthew 3:3.

14. He is the fulfillment of Malachi 4:5-6. This speaks of Elijah coming before the day of the Lord. “And the disciples asked Jesus, ‘Then why do the scribes say that first Elijah must come?’ He answered, ‘Elijah does come, and he will restore all things. But I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but did to him whatever they pleased’. . . Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them of John the Baptist.” – Matthew 17:10-13. (Also, Matthew 11:14; Luke 1:17)

15. John is the dividing line between old covenant and the new. Jesus said, “The Law and the Prophets were until John; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached.” – Luke 16:16.

16. John was the greatest of the old covenant. Jesus said, “I tell you, among those born of women none is greater than John” – Luke 7:28. That is, those among the old covenant. Neither Moses, nor David, nor Elijah is greater than John.

It is difficult to find someone in Scripture spoken of more highly, and certainly none in terms of the words of Jesus. What an amazing person! And what an amazing ministry he had!

Now lets’ look at –

How John’s example prepares us for the coming of Jesus

He presents an example to us of true humility. And given all the accolades, this really stands out.

He saw himself as unworthy in comparison to Jesus. He said, “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry.” – Matthew 3:11. He sees himself as not even worthy to do slave service for Jesus; not worthy to carry his sandals.

He claimed no titles. “He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, ‘I am not the Christ.’ And they asked him, ‘What then? Are you Elijah?’ He said, ‘I am not.’ ‘Are you the Prophet?’ And he answered, ‘No.’” – John 1:20-21. Jesus called him the prophet and Elijah. But he was uncomfortable with these titles. He simply saw himself as the one who prepares the way.

He felt unworthy to baptize Jesus. When Jesus came, Scripture tells us, “John would have prevented him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’” – Matthew 3:14.

He willingly let his disciples follow Jesus. “The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God!’ The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus.” – John 1:35-37.

John deferred to Jesus’ ministry. Someone said to John, “Rabbi, he . . . to whom you bore witness – look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him.” – John 3:26. Would he be envious? John answered them, “The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete.” – John 3:29. He is simply the friend of the bridegroom. The party is for the groom, not the friend. And he is happy for Jesus.

Finally, and succinctly, John said this about Jesus, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” – John 3:30.

What an amazing portrait of humility! He was socially humble, claiming no status. He was economically humble, being poor. He was personally humble, as a virtue in his relations with others. And he was humble before God and submitted to him. Whatever you want God, that’s what I want.

And this stands out all the more in contrast to king Herod and the Pharisees and Sadducees, where we see arrogance, pride, self-righteousness, and self-sufficiency.

But notice that John, in his humility, was blessed by Jesus when he came. But all these others, because of their pride, found themselves opposing Jesus and being opposed by Jesus. They lifted themselves up and so they were not ready for the coming of the Lord.

What about you? Where is there pride, arrogance, self-righteousness or self-sufficiency in your life? Do you strive to be recognized, as opposed to lifting Jesus up?

Do you have areas of our life where you think you don’t need Jesus? Are there issues where you think you know more than Jesus, and so you don’t listen to him or obey him? When he challenges you, do you resist because you are too arrogant to listen or yield?

John teaches us that getting ready for Jesus’ advent means getting rid of our pride and learning true humility before God.

Jesus said in Luke 14:11 “everyone who exalts himself will be humbled,” that is by God when he comes. But he also said in the same verse, “he who humbles himself will be exalted,” that is by God when he comes – just as John was exalted and blessed.

And if we follow John’s example, we too can be blessed, when celebrate and worship our Lord this Christmas, and as we await his second coming.

William Higgins

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How Sin Works

[Edited]

We are into week two of our series – How to Overcome Sin in Our Lives. We are looking at how to get rid of our sinful behaviors and habits which enslave us and destroy us.

Last week we heard the call to stop sinning; to put away those sins that we know about and yet choose to do anyway. And if this is indeed our goal, then we need to understand ‘How Sin Works’ – which is our focus today.

First of all we look at the biblical concept of –

The flesh

This refers to our human weakness and frailty apart from God. As Jesus said, “the flesh is weak” – Mark 14:38. This weakness is connected to our human desires, longings and fears. For instance, Paul speaks of “the passions of our flesh . . . the desires of flesh and senses” in Ephesians 2:3.

Specifically, the flesh is weak in regard to doing God’s will. That’s because the desires of our flesh lead us into conflict with God’s will for us. God requires things like love and sacrifice for others. But our flesh is all about self-interest and comfort. It wants the easy way out. It wants to feel secure. It is self-centered.

Paul says it this way, “For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other . . .” – Galatians 5:17.

Now, to clarify, God gives us basic desires, for instance the desire to meet our needs for food, clothing and shelter; or the desire to be in relationships with others. There is nothing wrong with these. It’s what we do with them as we put them into practice apart from God that’s the problem. Our self-centeredness twists and distorts these desires.

Here’s a couple of examples of this:

  • God created us with a desire to meet our basic needs, but we turn this into greed – a craving for more and more beyond what we need.
  • God created us with sexual desire, but we seek to fulfill it in our own way, not God’s way, and so it leads us to sexual immorality.

So the flesh is not some alien thing, or some “other” nature in us, it is simply our humanity in all of its weakness as we try to live our lives apart from God. And this is where sin comes from. It comes from us; as we follow our distorted desires, longings and fears – instead of following God’s path. To use the language of James 1:14-15 – “Each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin . . ..”

And then there is our –

 Human pride

– which makes everything worse.

God designed us to seek after peace and to find fulfillment. This is the way we are made. But it has always been God’s plan that we find our peace through him and his will for our lives. And, indeed, this is the only way we will find real peace. God is our maker, after all, and God knows what is best for us and what will bring us fulfillment.

But, we -and this is our pride – we think we know more than God. So instead of doing what God wants us to do, we seek after peace through the flesh. We do things in our own way, not God’s way. We act according to our wisdom, not God’s. We pursue peace through our own self-centered pursuit of what makes us comfortable; what soothes our fears; what we think will solve our problems.

And it might seem to work for a while. Hebrews 11:25 talks about the “fleeting pleasures of sin.” But it doesn’t usually take long before the other shoe drops. That’s because, although we may freely choose our sin, our sin comes to take over our lives. As Jesus said, “Everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin” – John 8:34.

And we come to realize that what once seemed good and the answer to our problems, we now hate because it’s ruining our lives. Proverbs says, “There is a way that seems right to a person, but its end is the way of death” – Proverbs 14:12.

Now, for sure, most who are caught in this slavery don’t see themselves as weak or in bondage, but as strong and free, choosing their own way in life. When we walk in the flesh we think, ‘we don’t need God!’ As Paul says in Romans 8:7, “the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God.” And it is this very pride that keeps us in our slavery.

This is the tragic irony of sin. Jeremiah 2:13 says it well. Speaking of us, the Lord says, “They have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.” God is “the fountain of living waters,” pure, bubbling, refreshing; providing all we need to quench our thirst and give us life. But in our pride we choose to go our own way and we forsake God. We follow after the flesh digging our own water holes, thinking this is the way to happiness. But our water holes don’t hold water! And so we are left with nothing – thirsty, despairing, dying.

The very thing that would give us life and peace, we will have nothing to do with. This is our pitiful state, when we walk according to the flesh.

————————

So this is what we are up against. But there is good news. Although the flesh is weak – Jesus has overcome it through the power that the Spirit gives to do God’s will even when it is very difficult. And we will look at how to follow his example in the teaching to come.

William Higgins

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(For more on the interpretation of these verses see the post below – The Story of the Babylonian Envoys).

Today we end our time of focusing on Hezekiah by over viewing 2 Chronicles 32:24-31 and the story of the visit of the Babylonian envoys.  But first we have to set the background, and this means first looking at . . .

Hezekiah’s greatness (background #1)

Last week, in 2 Chronicles 32:23, we saw that after the defeat of Assyria, “many brought . . . precious things to Hezekiah king of Judah so that he was exalted in the sight of all nations from that time onward.” This is further expanded on in vs. 27-30:

“Hezekiah had very great riches and honor, and he made for himself treasuries for silver, for gold, for precious stones, for spices, for shields, and for all kinds of costly vessels; storehouses also for the yield of grain, wine, and oil; and stalls for all kinds of cattle, and sheepfolds. He likewise provided cities for himself, and flocks and herds in abundance, for God had given him very great possessions. This same Hezekiah closed the upper outlet of the waters of Gihon and directed them down to the west side of the city of David. And Hezekiah prospered in all his works.”

We talked last week a bit about Hezekiah’s water tunnel. It goes from the Gihon spring outside the city, to the pool of Siloam inside the city, 1750 feet long. They dug through rock, starting at both ends and met in the middle. It was an amazing engineering feat.

There are also pottery impressions from jar handles that have Hezekiah’s royal seal on them. Many of these have been found. These were most likely used to store food items – which speaks to the abundance during his reign.

So Hezekiah was great and wealthy. He was exalted in the sight of the nations. And this is background to our story, because the Babylonians came due to his fame and they came bearing gifts as well.

Hezekiah’s recovery from sickness and a sign (background #2)

Chapter 32:24 says, “In those days Hezekiah became sick and was at the point of death, and he prayed to the Lord, and he answered him and gave him a sign.”

Now, you understand that these stories of the kings of Judah that we have been looking at over the last year, are also told in other places, most prominently in 1 and 2 Kings, but in Hezekiah’s case also in Isaiah. And in these other places there are sometimes different stories or they vary in the level of detail they go into.

In this particular case:

  • in 2 Chronicles the story is covered in 1 verse
  • in 2 Kings there are 11 verses, and
  • in Isaiah there are 22 verses.

So, with this story, we will actually have to look at one of these other sources, because the writer of 2 Chronicles simply assumes that we know this story.

For today, here are the basics from 2 Kings 20:1-11:

  • Hezekiah is told by Isaiah that he will die from his illness
  • But he prays and weeps and God hears his prayer and promises to give him 15 more years of life.
  • And he is given a sign that this will happen – the shadow of the setting sun moved backwards “ten steps.”

This is an amazing story, and I encourage you to read the longer versions. But in 2 Chronicles this is all background (just one verse) for the story he wants to focus on, which is . . .

The visit of the Babylonian envoys

As the writer says in 2 Chronicles 32:31, these envoys “had been sent to Hezekiah to inquire about the sign that had been done in the land.” So he had to mention the healing and the sign.

But even though the visit of these envoys is his focus, again, he doesn’t tell the story! He just makes comments on it, assuming that we already know the story. So lets lay out the story from 2 Kings 20 along side the comments of the writer of 2 Chronicles in chapter 32.

2 Kings 20:12 tells us that envoys came from the king of Babylon. Babylon was still subservient to Assyria, but it was soon to be the next great world power. They had heard Hezekiah was sick and so they brought a gift to him.  2 Chronicles 32:31 comments, “And so in the matter of the envoys of the princes of Babylon, who had been sent to him to inquire about the sign that had been done in the land, God left him to himself, in order to test him and to know all that was in his heart.” So there is more going on here than meets the eye. There is a spiritual or faith part; a test from God.

2 Kings 20:13; 15, Hezekiah showed them “all his treasure.” Everything he had he laid out before them. Notice the pronouns. In v. 13 – “his” is used 5 times in connection with his wealth; and in v. 15 – “my” is used 2 times in this way. 2 Chronicles 32:25 brings out what is only subtle in 2 Kings. “But Hezekiah did not make return according to the benefit done to him, for his heart was proud.”

Think of all the benefit done to him:

  • God had delivered him from the Assyrians
  • God had healed him and given him an amazing sign
  • God had exalted him, including all his wealth

Yet here Hezekiah was, boasting before the envoys of all that “he” had. He got caught up in his own exaltation and forgot about God, who gave him all that he had. The writer of Chronicles makes this clear in 32:29. It says, “for God had given him very great possessions.”

2 Kings 20:14-18 goes on to tell us that Isaiah confronts Hezekiah and warns of coming judgment. Vs. 16-18: “Hear the word of the Lord: Behold, the days are coming, when all that is in your house, and that which your fathers have stored up till this day, shall be carried to Babylon. Nothing shall be left, says the Lord. And some of your own sons, who shall be born to you, shall be taken away, and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.” 2 Chronicles 32:25 says it this way, “therefore wrath came upon him and Judah and Jerusalem.” This refers to Isaiah’s word of coming judgment.

But 2 Kings 20:14-15; 19 tell us that Hezekiah told the truth when confronted by Isaiah. And then after hearing of the judgment, Hezekiah said to Isaiah, “The word of the Lord that you have spoken is good.” He accepts that what he has done is wrong and he submits to God’s rebuke and will. (See the similar response of Eli to a word of judgment – 2 Samuel 3:18).  2 Chronicles 32:26 says, “But Hezekiah humbled himself for the pride of his heart, both he and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the wrath of the Lord did not come upon them in the days of Hezekiah.”

How many other kings imprisoned or killed the prophets who rebuked them? Yet because of his humility (his response to Isaiah and his change of heart) God had mercy on him and spared that generation from the coming judgment on Judah, for all their unfaithfulness throughout the centuries. The judgment was coming. It was just a matter of when at this point. And God put it off because of his repentance.

[Note on 2 Kings 20:19, “For he thought, ‘Why not, if there will be peace and security in my days?'” The sense is not, ‘Oh good, someone else will bear my judgment.’ Rather, it is that judgment is inevitable, given Judah’s past sins (which he has added to) but that it is postponed for now. The tipping point had already been reached, and for now it is just a matter of whether God will be merciful to delay it, which God did. See the similar situation with Josiah in 2 Kings 22:15-20.]

Two lessons from our story

1. God tests us when times are good, not just when times are bad or there is a crisis. And these may well be more difficult tests, because we aren’t as alert as when there is a crisis going on, because we are not as focused.

What I’m really saying is that, the good times are themselves the test. What will we do when things are good; when we have an abundance?

Deuteronomy 8 talks about testing. It talks about having lots of food, herds and flocks, good houses, silver and gold. And it says, “Take care lest . . . your heart be lifted up, and you forget the Lord your God” – vs. 11-14. It says, “Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’” – v. 17. This is exactly what Hezekiah did.

Well, God also tests us when we have an abundance; when things are good. Like with Hezekiah, God wants to see what is in our heart (2 Chronicles 32:31). Is it “lifted up”? (Deuteronomy 8:14); is it “proud”? (2 Chronicles 32:25). Will we “make return according to the benefit done to”  us by giving glory to God? (2 Chronicles 32:25). Or do we think “my power” has “gotten me this wealth”? (Deuteronomy 8:17).

We see the results of pride in Hezekiah’s life and it is a warning to us, to respond differently. Let us not forget God in our good times or take credit for God’s gifts to us.

2. What to do when we fail a test. We all fail at times, sometimes horribly. When we stumble and fall, what should we do to get back up and moving forward again?

Well, “Hezekiah humbled himself” (2 Chronicles 32:26).

  • He received the rebuke of Isaiah (2 Kings 20:14-18). The prophet came to him and told him that what he did was wrong and he received it.
  • He confessed truthfully what he did (2 Kings 20:14-15). Yes, the envoys came and I showed them all of “my” stuff.
  • And he accepted the consequences (2 Kings 20:19) Hezekiah said to Isaiah, “The word of the Lord that you have spoken is good.’” Even though it was a hard word. He accepted God’s discipline.

In all of this he showed a true change of heart. From pride to humility. He turned away from his sin. And that’s when the mercy came. So that, although he had fallen, he was able to recover and move forward, and he was remembered as a great and righteous king (2 Chronicles 32:32-33).

In the same way, when we fail, we must also humble ourselves:

  • We need to receive rebuke and correction from others. And this requires humility. We all have blind spots. But how many of us are humble enough to receive correction from someone else without being defensive or even hostile?
  • We need to confess our sins. We need to tell the truth about what we did, which takes humility.
  • And we need to accept the consequences of our actions. When we reap what we sow, we must not blame others, but rather in humility, take responsibility for what we have done.

We must show forth a true change of heart as well; we must turn from our sin. And this is when the mercy will flow for us. It is never too late for God’s mercy for those who repent. And when we repent, then we can get back up and move forward again with what God has for our lives. And we can be remembered as one who loved and served God.

These are lessons we learn from Hezekiah’s failure and from his recovery.

William Higgins

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