Helping Hand of Suffering

There is a suffering common to all—suffering in the flesh. In other words, we suffer from an onslaught of temptations that our hearts are drawn to like a magnet. Our hearts are bent towards the flesh. C.S. Lewis described the heart inside himself as, “a zoo of lusts, a bedlam of ambitions, a nursery of fears, a harem of fondled hatreds.”

Suffering is not something to be done in isolation or at least it shouldn’t be. Suffering, especially in the flesh is best fought in community where there are many helping hands to lift you up. If you are suffering it is a time to allow the community to serve you. Here is how to suffer well from 1 Peter 4:1-11:

Be Prepared

Suffering is normal for Christians because Christ suffered. Therefore, we must not be surprised by it, but be ready to for it. Christ knew when he came into this world that he would suffer. He prepared for it. He fought through it with spiritual weapons (cf. Ephesians 6:10ff). And if he did, so must we.

“Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin,” – 1 Peter 4:1, ESV

Break from sin

Sin is essentially idolatry. In other, words sin substitutes God with a greater love. Often idols are good things that turn bad because we love them much and love God less. In times of suffering our hearts cling to either our idols or God for security (vs.2-3). Many will ease suffering by sinning rather than break from it. Sadly, idols don’t keep you safe nor do they love you in return. God is the only one that truly loves you, serves you, and will bring you lasting joy.

Ready yourself for rejection

It surprises the world when Christians don’t participate in their wiles (vs.4-6). Sometimes we think we are missing out by not participating, but what we miss out on is greater misery. While rejection is a consequence for not participating, it is better to miss out on a little fun this side of heaven than to miss out on the great feast the other side of heaven. And though the world rejects you, God accepts you.

Give grace to others

When we suffer we don’t first think about others. We think about how we can get out from under suffering or how others can serve us. However, suffering is an opportunity to help and be helped by the community of Christ. There are many ways to express grace to one another while suffering and Peter shares a few: First, pray maturely (v.7). Second, love earnestly (v.8). Third, show hospitality (v.9). Fourth, serve with your gifts (vs.10-11).

“The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.” – 1 Peter 4:7-11, ESV

Suffering is a part of the will of God because Christ suffered. Suffering is a precious gift from God that he uses as a helping hand to pull you toward himself. It also an opportunity for you to push yourself toward others who are suffering and offer a helping hand.

 

Questions for Reflection:

  • How has Jesus give you an example of suffering in the flesh? What does it mean to suffer in the flesh like Jesus?
  • How is God’s will less about where you live, who you marry, what job you take, and more about what kind of life you live? How does this help you understand God’s will? Why is it best to listen to God’s will?
  • What is our temptation as Christians when it comes to our ‘old ways of living’? What parts of culture and society do you need to reject? How will this set your apart from your friends or family? How can you do this in a loving way?
  • How does love cover a multitude of sins? (cf. Matthew 22:36-40) Why does Peter command us to love one another?
  • How will those who malign you be held accountable for their actions?
  • How does your understanding of the gospel inform your condition about community with other Christians? Is community optional for Christians? Explain.
  • How does hospitality show grace? How is God hospitable? (see Isaiah 25:6-8) What does it mean to be hospitable without grumbling?
  • Why does God give us spiritual gifts? How is God glorified when we serve one another? Why does serving bring joy? Where are you serving and helping in the community?
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blessing in suffering

Have you ever been slandered, bullied, or made fun of for doing the right thing? For being a Christian? Suffering for doing good or not being like for being a Christian is normal. The hard part is responding well to this kind of suffering. This is why Peter shares some ways to bless to others while suffering.

Respond in the way others least expect

Sometimes people are mean, they say mean things and do mean things. Even people in the church may treat you wrongly, but contrast their meanness by expressing a unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, tender heart and humility (vs.8-9). When you respond this way it will deflect evil and show others the attitude of Christ.

“Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.” 1 Peter 3:8-9, ESV

Responding by blessings those who inflict suffering doesn’t come natural to us. However, you are called to bless, even in suffering. Our suffering is a picture of Christ’s suffering. It is an occasion to proclaim the gospel, not always in words but in the way you walk through suffering.

Remember what God has already said

The Scriptures are chalked full of promises, even in the midst of suffering (vs.10-12). In Psalm 34, David pens a song while he was on the run from from King Saul. The song helps us to reflect on truth and promises already spoken over us. They are good reminders to rest in while suffering.

“Whoever desires to love life
and see good days,
let him keep his tongue from evil
and his lips from speaking deceit;
let him turn away from evil and do good;
let him seek peace and pursue it.
For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous,
and his ears are open to their prayer.
But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” – 1 Peter 3:10-12, ESV

Expect suffering for being a Jesus follower

It is not if, but when. The world currently and historically makes fun of Christians (vs.13-14a). It is normal. It started with Jesus and continues with his followers. The reason for this suffering is that the cross is foolishness to those who don’t know Christ.

“Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed.” – 1 Peter 3:13-14a, ESV

Answer suffering with grace

Grace offers others what they do not deserve. When we respond to suffering and slander with grace, it puts our enemies to shame (vs.14b-17). The answer is not heaping more coals onto the fire, but to snuff it out with grace. It is God’s will that we suffer, but also that we suffer graciously. One who has received grace himself can freely give it to others too.

“Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.” – 1 Peter 3:14b-17, ESV

The blessing of suffering is not suffering itself or getting even with those who cause your suffering. When you become a follower of Jesus you put yourself in the way of ridicule and rejection. However, as a Christian you are in good company. The blessing in suffering is helping the world see another way. The way of Jesus and his followers.

 

Questions for Reflection:

  • How can suffering be a blessing?
  • How do people tend to respond when hurt by others? Why would Peter contrast repaying evil with blessing? What does repaying evil with blessing look like? How is this so countercultural? Why is it important to suffer well? How does our response put others to shame? What is the difference between shaming someone and letting your behavior put them to shame?
  • Which of the characteristics in verse 8 do you need to grow in? What are the opposites of these characteristics? How can the Holy Spirit help you to grow in these areas?
  • What does it mean to have unity of mind with other Christians? Does this mean you agree on everything? How is living with others, even in the church an exercise of unity of mind? What important things can all Christians agree on? How can we have unity of mind and what should we do when we don’t?
  • What is the relationship between doing good and suffering? Who receives the blessing for suffering for righteousness? How have you suffered for righteousness sake?
  • What are some temptations you face when suffering for righteousness? What are the consequences of giving into those temptations?
  • How does the gospel help you to understand and deal with suffering for Jesus?
  • How have you received blessing through suffering?

life together

Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “It is not simply to be taken for granted that the Christian has the privilege of living among other Christians.” A life with Christ is not meant to be lived alone, rather together with a community of Christ followers. This requires intentionality and vulnerability. Togetherness encourages focusing our eyes on what matters most—Jesus. Bonhoeffer continues, “Christianity means community through Jesus Christ and in Jesus Christ. No Christian community is more or less than this”

Here four actions to focus our minds and encourage togetherness.

Set your hope on future grace

“Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” – 1 Peter 1:13, ESV

The mind is a battle ground. While there are many pressures from outside, it is in the mind that one is most often tempted to fear, lose hope, or skirt holiness. Alone we are prone to distraction and disillusionment from the grace that is ours in Jesus Christ. If your hope is in anything, but Jesus you will be disappointed. It is a gift of God’s grace that we are together in this fight of faith and that we will be together around the throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16).

Pursue holiness

“As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”” – 1 Peter 1:14-16, ESV

Above any other attribute of God, his holiness is mentioned the most in the Bible. God is holy, meaning he is “set apart” and there is none like him. If God is holy he wants his children to be holy too. God is not a militant nor a mongrel demanding perfection, but he is a loving father who wants his children to pursue holiness everyday. Encourage one another to be holy in an unholy world.

Have a healthy fear of God

“And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile,” – 1 Peter 1:17, ESV

Peter tells us that God is a Father and we should have a healthy fear of him because he judges his children fairly. While we aren’t perfect kids, he is a perfect daddy. Sometimes we are tempted to view God through the lens of what our earthly father was or is like. While this can be helpful, not everyone had a father who was loving, caring, or taught them right and wrong. God is a good Father.

Look to Christ our example

“knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.” – 1 Peter 1:18-21, ESV

Christ came to earth. He lived a holy life and obeyed his Father in everything. He even obeyed God by going to the cross becoming the sacrificial lamb for our sins. Through Jesus we can have faith and hope because in Jesus we see what God looks like with skin on. Jesus also helps us to see what holiness looks like as a human. Follow in his steps.

Life together is primarily about keeping our minds on Jesus Christ until Jesus Christ comes again and makes us completely like him. Walking in grace, holiness, and a fear of God is impossible alone, but together it is a lot more encouraging and doable.

 

Questions for Reflection:

  • What does holiness mean? What does it look like to be holy? What is the opposite of holiness?
  • How does the illustration and reality that God is Father and you are his children encourage you? Why do God and parents ask their children to do good things not evil things?
  • What does it mean to obey? Are there any rules or standards from the Bible or your home that you don’t think are fair or right? Why? What rules or standards are difficult for you to obey? Why?
  • How is God a Judge? Why is it good that God judges?
  • How does the world make fun of Christians for being holy or different? How does knowing that at the end of our life God will reward us for holy life?
  • What is the meaning of the word redeem? How did Jesus redeem mankind?
  • How do thinking on these verses help guard your mind from temptation?

purpose of pain

thorns

The deepest pain we experience is often inflicted by people, especially those who we care for the most. The closer we are to people the more vulnerable we are to be hurt and wounded. Not just physically (cf. 2 Corinthians 11:23-27), but emotionally (11:28-29). People can disappoint, reject, abuse, slander, fail, betray, or turn on you. These type of wounds go deep and hurt. Have you ever felt pain from someone close to you? A spouse? A parent? A child? A friend? A church?

Jonathan Edward, a pastor through America’s Great Awakening, was voted out of the church where he pastored for 22-years over a disagreement about who takes communion. The pain caused by this lead him to live meekly among Native Indians, a broken man until his death. Charles Haddon Spurgeon—some would say the greatest preacher the world has ever known—was voted out of the Baptist Union for standing strongly for the Scripture. He was crushed and his health was never the same.

Paul experienced this kind of pain too. He loved the church at Corinth immensely. He spent 18-months with them. He saw many come to Christ and he nurtured them. He invested his life to the church. He thought of himself as their father and them as his daughter. And yet he also experienced his greatest pain and heart-ache from this church. False teachers came into the church and spread lies about Paul cutting down his credibility as an apostle therein cutting down the credibility of the gospel. They called into question his integrity, character, leadership, wisdom, honesty, motives, love and loyalty. Many in the church bought into the lies of false teachers. And Paul was left assaulted, crushed and hurt deeply.

Pain is universal. Every human experiences pain at some point. It’s the problem of pain. Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble.” Pain is part of life. It’s not a matter of if, it’s when.

Pain is never pleasant, until we understand what God is accomplishing by it. Often the greatest times of spiritual development happen in times of great pain. Paul teaches us how to see the hand of God in the midst of pain. No text unfolds this in greater detail than 2 Corinthians 12. It is set in one of the most emotionally charged portions Paul had put pen (See Chapters 10-13). Paul lays his heart wide open and we see what God endeavors to accomplish in our pain and where we find strength in the deepest pain.

“So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited” (v.7)

First, Paul described the pain was like “a thorn.” Have you ever got a thorn stuck in your foot? In Chad, there are thorns everywhere. Just yesterday I was raking our yard and I literally pulled out over 10 thorns from the bottom of my flip-flops. I was immediately decommissioned from any further work until I pulled each thorn out of my foot. The word “thorn” as Paul used it can refer to a small thorn or an object as big as a stake. Imagine that. It is as if he says “a stake was driven right through my flesh.” Ouch.

We understand the word “thorn” was used metaphorically, like when we say, “He is a real thorn in my side.” So what was Paul’s thorn? What was bothering Paul? There are dozens of speculation as to what the cause of the thorn could be (ex: headaches, lust, eye problem, malaria, epilepsy, loss of hair, hysteria, gastritis, leprosy, lice, deafness, stuttering, etc.). In all, these trivial speculations miss the what the text says itself about the thorn, they miss the debilitating and humiliating depth of Paul’s pain and it misses God’s purposes for the thorn.

Second, Paul said the thorn was “given” to him. Satan inflicted it, but ultimately God allowed it for he pleads with God to take it away (v.8; cf. Mark 14:32-41). In Greek, the phrase reads “a thorn for the flesh was given me.” What we know about the word “flesh” in Scripture is that more often it doesn’t refer to the physical flesh, but the home of human impulses and sinful tendencies. The thorn poked Paul deeper than the surface of his skin. Paul goes on to tell what the thorn is. It is a “messenger or Satan to harass me (torment, punch).” It is a messenger (angel); a demon sent to inflict Paul.

Now it is interesting because a demon would not want to humble Paul, but to exalt him. A demon would not want to drive a stake through his flesh, but his spirit. The context gives light to this messenger being false teachers who are controlled by a demon as they reject Paul’s authority, ministry and integrity (cf. 11:13-15; 1 Timothy 4:1-2). Like Satan, these false teachers are so close to truth that the people buy into it and it is crushing Paul because he can see the angel of light twisting the truth against him.

There is a question some would ask here. Why would God allow Paul to be tormented? Does God really allow pain? In short, yes. God has used demons, even Satan, and pain for his purposes in the lives of believers. Job is a great example. The moment God allowed Satan to test Job all hell broke loose. Everyone in Job’s family was killed except his wife. All his crops and animals were destroyed. His own body became ravaged by a skin disease. A Middle Eastern mogul was reduced to rubble. Job was in deep pain. And it was compounded by his wife and friends giving him bad advice. Notice, in the end, God never tells Job why all this happened. God never apologizes. God never blames Satan. God simply praises Job for his persevering faith.

In Luke 22:31-32, Jesus says to Peter, “Satan demanded to have you that he might sift you, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail” In other words, “Peter, you would make a good prospect for Satan. I think I will use him for my purposes in you.” You could hear Peter say, “Jesus, You said ‘no’ right?” Jesus knew this would be a defining moment for Peter. He would move from being a great denier to becoming the great defender.

While Paul’s thorn was a thing that his opposers used as a means of showing other that God was not with him. It had the opposite effect. The thorn was proof that God was with him. God was with him, keeping him humble when he could be the opposite because of all that God did through him.

Third, Paul said the thorn was to “keep [him] from becoming conceited.” Paul became a figure head. Everywhere he went two things started: a church and a riot. The work he accomplished in his lifespan is staggering. He had all the reasons in the world to be be proud: he had visions, wrote revelation, planted churches, brought the gospel to the gentile world, but this thorn was crushing him, inflicting pain to keep him humble.

Why was God allowing this mess at Corinth? Why was God allowing Paul to experience deep pain? God was teaching him and the church deep truths about Himself that they might not learn otherwise. God’s purposes for the Paul are made clear,

“But [God] said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (vs.9-10)

Like Paul, we learn much about God through pain. First, God uses pain reveals our spiritual character (vs.5-6). We are like a sponge and pain squeezes out what is really inside. Second, God uses pain to humble us (v.7). Third, God uses pain to draw us to Himself (v.8). Going to God is the right place to go. Fourth, God uses pain to display his grace (v.9). God answers is often “no” to removing the pain, but God gives the grace. We will have trouble, God never promises to remove it, but he promises enough grace to endure it. God increases grace to those who are broken. Fifth, God uses pain to perfect his power (v.10). When there is nothing left within us—no pride, no glory, no strength, no ability to fix it—then there is room for the power of God. This is power in our weakness.(Romans 8:18).

Paul was burdened beyond strength. He was left broken, beaten, battered. He could not fix the situation. He was at the end of his rope. He hurt deeply because of what others had done. Yet it was here that the power of God was displayed in his weakness (cf. 4:7-12; 6:4-10).

Power in weakness is most vividly seen in the cross of Christ. Jesus, the man of sorrows was the strongest man to ever live because at his weakest earthly moment he did not use all the power he had to stop the pain or avoid the pain, rather he embraced his own thorns so that the plans of God could be accomplished through him. In God’s plan of redemption, there had to be weakness (crucifixion) before there was power (resurrection). Paul came to understand and embrace the fact that his thorn in the flesh was essential to his ongoing weakness and the experience of Christ’s ongoing power. Through Christ’s temporary pain we have eternal gain.

If you are doing ministry in Jesus name you need to expect stakes to be driven through your flesh. Pain is a part of life as a follower of Christ (outside and inside the church). Christ in us! That is the reward of those who serve him with their weakness. As Isaac Watts wrote,

“Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
Save in the death of Christ, my God;
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to his blood.”

God’s grace on display in my childhood

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I was born to two teenage parents. My parents submitted to their parents and married while I was still in the womb. Their marriage lasted two years, but they remained close. I bounced between apartments and my grandparents. It was frustrating and heart-aching for me not to have consistency in the home, but I imagine it was equally difficult for my parents whose young adult lives now included a little boy.

During my elementary school years, I was both distracted and a distraction. I was known as the class jester. I became such a distraction that my school moved me to the ‘special class’ where I received ‘special’ attention. I got the attention I desired, but I still craved more.  My attitude grew out of control. Rage and bitterness held the reins of my life. Most wouldn’t know it because I learned how to manufacture masks to cover what really was under my skin. Occasionally, it would flare up and my outbursts got me into a lot of trouble. It became such a problem that my school sent me to multiple counselors and child psychologists.

It was about this time, my mom remarried and we moved 3-hours north, away from my dad. I started going to a new school, but my past behavior soon followed. My new guidance counselor created a motivational tool he called, “The Hutts-O-Meter”. It hung just outside the principal’s office. The meter would go up one ‘tick’ on a detention-free day, but it went down two ‘ticks’ if I sat in detention. If the meter reached 100 “ticks”, the entire 5th grade would receive a pizza party in my honor. At first, it was cool. I was overdosing on attention. It didn’t take long to see through my classmate who just wanted a party. On top of this, a certain teacher said to me, “Justin, you will either end up in jail or the psych ward.” I was crushed.

My family started attending a small Bible Church, which was different from the Catholic church I grew up attending. I received a lot of attention there, but it was different. People cared for my spirit and mended my wounds with the Word of God. It was there, Jesus redeemed my life. Thereafter, certain men in the church discipled me and helped me to find joy and affection in Christ.

Years later, I met the teacher who prophesied on my future. He didn’t recognize me, as I was fitting his feet with new shoes. I was working at Schmidt’s Sporting Goods through high school to save enough money to go to Bible College. I asked him if he knew who I was. It took him a minute with a look of surprise he said, “Justin? No! Really? Wow, you’ve got a job?” I shared with him what Jesus had done and was doing. His look of surprise became a look of shock. God’s grace was on display that day.

Also in this Series…

Part 1: God’s grace is powerful enough to redeem anyone (3-weeks ago).

Part 2: God’s grace can lead to a sudden conversion (2-weeks ago).

Part 3: God’s grace uses people as his instruments (last week).

Part 4: God’s grace on display in my childhood (today).

God’s grace uses people as His intruments

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Saul’s conversion was a miraculous display of God’s grace. Jesus, the commander-in-chief of the universe, intersects with Saul on the Damascus road. There is no doubt that only He could change a soul like Saul’s. And Jesus isn’t finished with Saul. Grace isn’t a one time thing, it’s given for a lifetime of transformation. It’s a gift to be given again. In the next few verses, God’s purpose with Saul will be outlined to a little known Jesus-follower will give Saul another touch of His grace.

Who is the little-known disciple? Ananias (Acts 9:10a). How does Ananias respond to God’s initial call? He too, like Isaiah and Saul, expresses his willingness to obey God (v.10b; cf. v.6; Isaiah 6:8). What does God ask Ananias to do next? God doesn’t give any details about what had just happened to Saul, but asks Ananias to meet Saul at the street called Straight (i.e. Main St.) and touch him (vs.11-12).

Do you wonder what was going on in Ananias’ mind? Now, think about your response to a man of Saul’s reputation, “Lord, maybe we need to rethink this…Saul is coming to imprison me…maybe leaving him blind would be a good idea…at least long enough for me to pack my bags and get out of town…” This response isn’t far from Ananias’ (or the church) response (vs.13-14; cf. vs. 21-28). Have you ever questioned or challenge God’s demands upon your life? If so, you are not alone. Many biblical characters have done the same thing (i.e. Moses, Jeremiah, Jonah). God accepts questions, but will you accept His.

Notice the how God responds to Ananias’ questions: He is gracious, not harsh, but firmly commands Ananias to go down the street (v.15a) and He gives him insight for the journey. What does God say about His plans for Saul? (v.15b) By His sovereign grace, He chosen Saul and will use him as an instrument to take His name to to the Gentiles, to people in high places, even to His people. What does it mean that Saul is God’s “instrument”? He will be a tool or vessel in God’s hands to increase and expedite the gospel message to the uttermost parts of the world.

God always errs on the side of grace and so should we. Grace is seen in Ananias first face-to-face with Saul. How does Ananias greet him? He calls Saul, “brother” (v.17). What more intimate term could you think of? It’s as if Ananias says, “brother Saul, the Lord has sent me so that you may regain your sight. Once was a day that Jesus opened my eyes too.” And the intimate touch of Ananias hand healed Saul’s blindness (vs.18-20).

God uses reluctant Ananias as His ambassador. God gives him a vision to share the gospel with someone he really is not comfortable. He’s heard of Saul’s reputation, and knows he could be walking The Green Mile. I can relate to Ananias. I tend to be timid. I fear the unknown. I doubt or question God’s grace. Yet His grace is sufficient everyday. He carries my feet outside the gate. He opens my mouth to speak with feeble French and ever more amateur Arabic. He uses me as His instrument to proclaim the name of Jesus.

God’s grace is on display today through your life. It is an example of grace to those around you just as Saul’s conversion is an example. Later, Paul reflects on this with his young pastoral student, Timothy,

“I thank Him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because He judged me faithful, appointing me to His service, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost [chief, first place]. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display His perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in Him for eternal life. To the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.” [1 Timothy 1:12-17]

In the words of R.C. Sproul, “Just minutes before his conversion, all that Paul could think of was what he could do to Christ, but immediately after, all he could think of is what he could do for Christ.” That’s grace on display!

Coming Soon…

Part 1: God’s grace is powerful enough to redeem anyone (2-weeks ago).

Part 2: God’s grace can lead to a sudden conversion (last week).

Part 3: God’s grace uses people as his instruments (today).

Part 4: God’s grace on display in my childhood (next week).

God’s grace can lead to a sudden conversion

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With a flash like lightning, God intersects with Saul (and his entourage). “Now as [Saul] journeyed he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed about him.” (v.3) It was an unexpected encounter. It is interesting, unlike many Christians, Paul never links his conversion to a long process of God convicting or frustrating him of sin or stories scaring him out of hell. All those things may have happened in the instant he fell to the ground.

As Saul lay there on the ground, what did God say to him? First, He says in Hebrew, “Saul, Saul.” (v.4a) God singled out Saul by name. Fifteen times in Scripture names are repeated (i.e. God>Abraham, God>Moses, God>Samuel, David>Absalom, Elijah>God, Jesus>Martha, Jesus>Jerusalem, Jesus>God), which was used to gain attention or warning. Second, God says, “Why are you persecuting Me?” (v.4b) Notice He doesn’t say, “Why are you persecuting My people? Why are you such a bull?What’s wrong with you?” We discover in verse 5, the voice of God identifies Himself as Jesus. And Jesus clarifies that the persecution Saul is inflicting is ultimately against Him (v.5). In other words, Jesus is saying, “If you persecute My people, you persecute Me.” Those words bring such comfort to those suffering persecution for His name sake.

Notice how Saul responds to Jesus. He’s not passive nor is he defensive (v.5). He knows the voice is the Sovereign One of heaven. I can image Saul is as white as a bleached sheet and under the tremendous conviction of all his crimes. Yet in that moment, God’s grace is sufficient for Saul. It is also sufficient for your weakness too.

When I consider Saul’s conversion, it gives me courage to speak about the name of Jesus with friends and family. Their salvation might not happen immediately, but it might happen suddenly. Like My Grandpa Dale. He was a generous and kind man, he didn’t have many enemies (and he worked for the IRS). I’d share the gospel openly with him, since I was a teenager. He would listen intently, but normally respond saying, “Justin, that’s good, but I am happy being Catholic.”

A few years ago, Gramps called me at the church. In his quirky way he’d say, “Hey Huttshead. You’re a counselor, right? I have two questions for you: First, what do you think about me and my girlfriend living together? Second, could you tell me again how you think one gets to heaven?” His questions caught me by surprise. I answered his first question, letting him know I would rather see them marry, but that dearly I loved him. We spent the majority of conversation going to the Word, the source for the answers to his second question. Gramps, thanked me for the chat. He didn’t convert that day, but seeds were sown. Later, I found out that he had just been diagnosed with a malignant cancer that would soon take his life. Questions about his eternal destiny were his present reality.

A week later, I received another call from Gramps at the church. He started off by say, “Hey Pastor Hutts. I have two things I’d like to share with you. First, I have asked my girlfriend to marry me. Second, after talking to a pastor in town I have given my life to Jesus Christ.” Gramps went into hospice care a few months later. I leaned over the edge of his bed, he looked into my eyes—with tears in his—and said confidently, “I look forward to seeing my Savior.”

Gramps conversion was sudden and unexpected, as it might be with your neighbors, loved ones, or enemies. When you consider Saul’s sudden conversion how does it call you to persevere and be patience? How does it encourage you as you think about those who hard to love or hard to the gospel? As we will see (next week), Saul’s conversion is meant give you encouragement.

Coming Soon…

Part 1: God’s grace is powerful enough to redeem anyone (last week).

Part 2: God’s grace can lead to a sudden conversion (today).

Part 3: God’s grace uses people as his instruments (next week).

Part 4: God’s grace on display in my childhood (in 2-weeks).

God’s grace is powerful enough to redeem anyone

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Have you ever known a heinous somebody, who miraculously turned their life around? Have you ever been threatened by someone and struggled with doubts about them ever changing? Have you been praying for a loved one or friend to believe the gospel for a long time without any difference?

Saul, also known as Paul, is one of the most beloved characters in the NT. He is known for his boldness and bravery for the sake of Jesus’ name. However, don’t forget Saul’s beginnings. I suppose that’s what makes his story so sweet. He the proud student of the Jewish scholar, Gamaliel. He slavishly devoted himself to obeying the Torah among other Pharisaical laws [Galatians 1:13-14]. He rose in rank, becoming a member of the elite group that wielded considerable religious and political power in his Israel. He was a Hebrew through and through and he devoted his entire life to promote Judaism, no matter the cost.

The one thing that Saul saw as the biggest menace to Judaism was the growing movement of people who called themselves followers of the Way (cf. John 14:6). Jews were converting by the hundreds and thousands, believing “there is no other name under heaven given among men by which men must be saved” (Acts 4:12), but the name of Jesus.

In zealous response, Saul wreaked havoc and terror on Jesus-followers seeking to be a one-man roadblock to the Way. In Acts 9:1–2, Saul was not just bullying Christians, he was “breathing threats.” Like a bull snorting and stomping his hooves he was ready to charge at the church. With permission from the theocratic ruler of the Jewish people, his next stop was Damascus.

Saul’s intentions, like a terrorist, was to inflict debilitating fear that would squelch the new movement of Jesus followers (cf. Acts 8). Unbeknown to Saul, God had different intentions for his journey to Damascus. God was leading him down redemption road.

Remember, Saul began as an enemy of Jesus. Like Saul, we all began our journeys as enemies too. But as we will see (next week), God’s grace will be on display (cf. Ephesians 2:8-9)! He is powerful enough to redeem any enemy into a friend. He is powerful enough to redeem the your friend or enemy or anyone. Don’t forget that!

How can the begins of Saul’s journey and the promise of God’s grace give you hope for those you know who are hard to love or hard to the gospel? How are you an example of God’s grace being powerful enough to redeem?

Coming Soon…

Part 2: God’s grace can lead to a sudden conversion.

Part 3: God’s grace uses people as his instruments.

Part 4: God’s grace on display in my childhood.

those who are given Grace give no excuses good enough to keep sinning

“What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” (Romans 6:1-2 ESV)

Grace gives no excuses to sin. If you give excuses for sinning after you’ve been given grace you do not completely understand grace. You don’t understand the grossness of sin. You don’t understand the glory of Christ.

Sin might look cute in kids. Sin might be expected in teens. Sin might be hidden by crafty adults. But that gives not excuse to sin. That only abuses grace.

is it better to know Jesus or love Jesus?

I grew up in central Wisconsin. As a teenager, I was a big fan of Brett Favre (along with 5 million other people in the State). I know his stats starting from 1992 to present. I would pretend to throw like him my backyard. I’ve read all his Sport Illustrated cover stories. I worked at a Sporting Goods store so I could collect his memorabilia. I can even tell you the name of the town he lives in down south (Kiln, Mississippi). I have never met Brett, yet I feel like we’re buds. I know a lot about Brett Favre (probably more than most of you), but I really don’t know him. I love to watch him fling a football, but I don’t really love him like those closest to him.

Sadly, some in the church think of Jesus like I thought of Brett Favre. Now I am not comparing Jesus to Brett Favre (although I know some fanatics who might). You can be just a fan of Jesus. You can know a little about Him, and love things about Him. But you might not really know Him or love Him as He desires. This leads to the question in the title: Is it better to know Jesus or love Jesus? No, it’s not a trick question, but the answer may surprise you.

When Jesus came He called for faith and followership from the least to the greatest, the poor to the rich, the sinner and the religious. Jesus came to save the good, bad, and ugly. We see this in Luke 7. As we step into the story it begs us to ask another question: Who am I most like in the story?

1. Am I like Simon the Pharisee? He’s got a lot knowledge of God, but no intimacy [Luke 7:36].

In Luke 7, Jesus is invited over for dinner by a Pharisee named Simon [v.36]. Ironically, Simon invited Jesus over just after He scolded the Pharisees for not accepting either John or Himself. And the Pharisees just accused Him of being a party boy with the tax collectors and sinners [7:34]. But Jesus didn’t play favorites. He accepted dinner invitations from the Pharisees too, without asking about their motives [cf. 11:37; 14:1].

What is a Pharisees? In the Bible, they are a group of Jewish religious leaders. In its title, Pharisee, means, “separated ones.”  They built ‘fence laws’ (traditions) around God’s law to help them keep God’s law and to protect their personal image so that they appeared holy and separate from the sinful world. They hung holiness around their neck like Mt. T wore gold chains. Their fence laws were often stricter than God’s law. They were good law keepers and made sure others saw it. Their fence was painted and polished on the outside, but inside it would not meet any inspection codes. Pride and hypocrisy are the failures of fence law’s. They knew a lot about God, but they really didn’t know Him. In Matthew 15:8. Jesus describes the Pharisees as “people who honor Me with their lips, but their hearts are far from Me.”

Simon invitation to have the traveling rabbi over for a meal would have been considered a religious brownie point. Jesus should have been considered the guest of honor. In the Middle East during those days there were certain rules of etiquette. First, a customary greeting would be given of a kiss on the cheek or hand. To neglect the kiss of greeting would be like having a person come into your home and not saying, “Hello!” or shaking their hand. Second, in a shoeless culture, the washing of feet was mandatory before meals. Normally the host or his servant would wash the feet or at the very least they would give water to the guests to wash their own feet. Third, for an especially distinguished guest, some (inexpensive) olive oil was given for anointing their head.

When Jesus comes to the house of Simon, there is no kiss (greeting), no washing of feet, and no oil for his head. The reason is not certain why Simon did not do these courteous gestures. But from Jesus’ words later on, Simon didn’t really know Him. If Simon really knew who He was he would have honored Jesus more extravagantly.

It’s not that Simon did not know God. He knew a lot about God. As a Pharisee, he spent his life studying the Scriptures. By the age of 12 he had memorized the first 12 books of the Bible. He would squash the kids in your AWANA ministry! By the age of 15 he had memorized the entire Old Testament. Sadly, he committed to memory more than 300 OT prophecies about the coming Messiah, yet he didn’t even realize it is the Messiah who sat at his dinner table. He knew about Jesus, but he didn’t know Jesus.
He’s all knowledge, but no intimacy.

When I graduated from Bible College I had quite the chip on my shoulder. I read the Bible backwards and forwards many times for class. The Bible became a textbook. I knew enough Greek and Hebrew to look smart. I knew the Bible, but my head was the size of a hot air balloon and it was filled with pride. God used a lot of patient people in my first ministry to chisel away at my pride. And it’s still a temptation.

Pharisees often confused knowing God for loving God. In church, it is easy to get this confused too. We build systems that cater towards knowing about God, but not necessarily loving God. We have endless Bible studies with workbook and Bible curriculum with homework. Sermons notes with fill in the blanks. If you grew up in the church, you probably go to Sunday school, where you have a teacher. In the summer the kids may go to Vacation Bible school. All these programs help you know, but not always love God.

Hear me out (before you throw stones); I wholeheartedly encourage studying, teaching, and preaching God’s Word. It is a biblical mandate. It’s my calling. Even our example, Jesus, read and quoted Scripture as proof that He knew God’s Word. The problem isn’t knowledge. The problem is that you can have knowledge without having intimacy. In fact, knowledge can be a false indicator of intimacy. Obviously where there is intimacy there should be a growing knowledge of God, but too often there is knowledge without a growing intimacy.

Think about it this way, the proof that I love my wife is how much I know her. I know what kind of deodorant she uses. I know her favorite kind of Thai food. I know what makes her laugh or cry. So knowledge is part of intimacy, but just because there is knowledge doesn’t mean there is intimacy.
Probably the best biblical word for intimacy is the word “know.” But this knowing goes much deeper than knowledge. The Bible first uses this word to describe a relationship in Genesis 4:1, “Adam knew Eve his wife.” The Hebrew word for “knew” here is the word yada, which means ‘to know completely and to be completely known.’ Unabashedly, Genesis 4:1 is an intimate moment between a husband and wife. It’s a beautiful picture to help see what it really means to know God.

In Psalm 139, David uses this word yada to describe how God knows us, “O Lord, you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lord, you know it altogether. You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it.”

So the word used to describe a husband and wife is also used to describe how God knows you and wants to be known by you. This changes the way I think about knowing God. He’s not interested in a let’s-just-be-friends relationship; a noncommittal dating relationship; or a relationship where you define the terms; He is seeking the kind of commitment and intimacy best illustrated in a marriage relationship. Do you just know about Jesus or do you really know Him? Are you like Simon the Pharisee? He’s got a lot of knowledge of God, but no intimacy

2. Am I like the woman?  She’s got little knowledge of Jesus and lot’s of love [Luke 7:37-38].

While Jesus is eating at Simon’s house a woman comes on the scene. She comes uninvited. To better comprehend the awkwardness of this moment, you must understand that she wasn’t just any woman. She’s “a woman of the city, who was a sinner.” [vs.37] Her reputation negatively precedes her. She’s done bad things that have damaged her reputation. Maybe she slept with her boyfriend, cheated on her husband, is in a same-sex relationship, or was a prostitute in the small town.

We are uncertain the specifics that drew her to Jesus. But in desperation she came to Him at Simon’s dinner party—a dinner she would never be invited to attend nor would she have interest in attending anyways. As she wandered in she felt the condemning glares from “holy men”. Nervous as she might be, she brushes off the glares and stares at Jesus.

Apparently she had heard Jesus teaching, maybe earlier that day. What about Jesus teaching made such an impact? Was it forgiveness? Perhaps while listening to Jesus she thought, “Can He really forgive my shameful past?” Was it redemption? Maybe as Jesus spoke she realized that only He could put back together the broken pieces of her life and make her whole. Was it love? Maybe she wondered, “Certainly Jesus knows how messed up I am; how the guilt of my sin stains me so deeply. Could He love me too?”

What she does next is impulsive, extravagant, and culturally unthinkable, especially to someone who did not know Jesus [v.38]. Can you feel the tension? The woman approaches the dinner table and stands at the feet of Jesus. The table is silent. Everybody is watching. Everybody knows who she is. They are thinking, “What is she doing here?” She looks around at the guests. She gets glares of judgment. She looks at Jesus. He looks at her. She looks to Him in faith seeking forgiveness for her shame. He looks back with a loving smile. She says nothing. Nothing needs to be said.

She is so overwhelmed, tears of repentance rain down. She falls and begins to kiss Jesus’ feet. Her tears begin to drip onto the dirty feet of Jesus. She sees the muddy streaks and suddenly realizes that His feet haven’t been washed. She can’t ask for a towel, so she lets down her hair. The dinner guests gasp out loud at her disgrace. Then she takes a costly alabaster jar of ointment. Perhaps in the past she used it drop-by-drop for many men. But now she empties it. She will not need it anymore. She pours out, her life, on His feet, and she kisses them over and over.

The woman does a gutsy and glorious thing, all at the same time. She faced her sin. Rather than running from it she runs to the only one who can forgive her. She is broken, grieved, and repentant. Her offering of worship is a sweet smelling aroma. In a moment, she moved from a life of shame to a member of the Fellowship of the Unashamed.

When is the last time you had a moment with Jesus like this woman? Repentant? Broken? Honest before God? When’s the last time you’ve poured yourself out before Him? When is the last time the shed tears over your sin and shame? When is the last time you demonstrated unashamed and extravagant worship?
Can you relate to this woman?

This sinful woman is a mentor to us all of a repentant heart and worshipful response towards Jesus. Unlike the Pharisee, who loves himself too much, she sees herself for who she is—a sinner needing forgiveness. Do you remember who you were before Christ? Do you see the seriousness of your sin? The closer I get to Jesus, the more sinful I recognize myself as being. I am the Pharisee when I forget I am like the woman. The woman didn’t know a lot about Jesus, but she knew He could forgive her sins. She didn’t love a bunch of things about Jesus. She really loved Him. Proof of her love was over-the-top worship. Do you love things about Jesus or do you really love Him?

3. Am I like Jesus? He’s got unbiased love and unconditional forgiveness [Luke 7:39-50].

It is easy to look at the two characters of the story and say, “I definitely don’t want to just know God like the Pharisee. I want to love God like the woman.” But you can assume or zoom by the third character in the story—He’s most important. His name is Jesus. He is the main character of not just this story but also the Bible. He is the one you most need to emulate. “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” [Ephesians 5:1-2]

Notice how Jesus responds to Simon’s statement whispered under his breath [v.39 “If Jesus were a prophet He would know what kind of woman this sinner she is]. Jesus doesn’t blast him out of his boots by saying, “I heard that! Why would you say such a stupid thing, Simon! How dare you judge me? I am the Judge here.” No. But He doesn’t ignore Simon either. Listen to the tenderness in His voice: “Simon, I have something to say to you…” [v.40] In answer to Simon’s statement, Jesus uses His prophetic powers to read Simon’s heart. He told him a short parable. It is one of the smallest parables of Jesus (only two verses long), but it is hugely significant [vs.41-42].

In summary, a banker loans money to two men, one receives two year’s wages and the other receives two month’s wages. Neither man can pay back the banker. Unexpectedly, the banker shows grace and removes the debts from both their records. When each man should be bankrupt and file chapter 7 they are given a new start to life. Obviously, both gain new affection for the banker. But Jesus asks a crucial question, “Which man loved the banker the most?” Simon being no intellectual slouch has a ready answer [v.43]: “the one with the larger debt.” And Jesus acknowledged Simon has the right answer as a religious person would, but it did not mean he saw he was the one with the small debt.

Jesus’ story is not just for Simon, but it’s for all the ears at Simon’s table (including you and me). What is your place in the parable or Simon’s table? How would you respond to Jesus’ story? Would you sit beside Jesus and acknowledge only a small debt, or would you fall down at His feet and, in tears, begging for the forgiveness you do not deserve?

Now Jesus is ready to make His point [vs.44-47], “Do you (even) see this woman?” Jesus did not dispute the woman’s condition. They both agreed she was sinful. That’s not the point. The point: how acceptable is she before God? Simon is disgusted with her. He is also inhospitable with Jesus. But Jesus lets her touch, kiss, and wash His feet. Why? She loved much. She was a human in need of divine grace. She needed what only Jesus had to give—forgiveness and salvation. Ignoring any reply or reaction from Simon, Jesus spoke to the woman, “Your sins are forgiven.” [v.48]

Can you hear the dinner party guests gasp again? They began chattering around the table, “How could He forgive sins? That is God’s job. Who does this man Jesus claim to be?” [v.49] Precisely! God. As God, He can forgive. And Jesus’ words here are ultimately what get Him hung on the cross by religious people, like Simon. Again Jesus ignores them, and focuses solely on the woman, “Go on without worry. Live a new life. Your faith has saved you.” [v.50]

Jesus’ words are an invitation to Simon, and us all, to open our eyes to people around us who have been marginalized or ostracized. Before this moment, Simon failed to really see anything at all; he saw neither Jesus nor the woman. He was blind to her act of repentance and love. He only saw her sin. We don’t know if Simon changes. But we do know Jesus loves Simon as much as He loves the woman. He longs for Simon to see her not as a category (sinner) but as a person who, above all else, needs God’s love and forgiveness, “He who is forgiven little, loves little.”

The question of this text remains still remains, who am I most like? Simon? The woman? Jesus? The Pharisee and the woman are both sinners on opposite extremes of the pendulum. And Jesus gives them both what they need. The Pharisee needed truth in love. The woman needed forgiveness and assurance of His love. Jesus’ call to faith reaches out to people society deems as despicable (even the rapist, molester, cereal killer, stripper, or terrorist). But the church, unlike society, must show the sinner the way to Jesus and show His forgiveness and unconditional love. What can we do as a church or followers of Christ?

First, understand that faith often appears in the most unexpected places. It could be at your Sunday lunch and your waitress at Red Lobster, or the guy outside the bar, or the young pregnant gal walking to the clinic, or the uncomfortable and awkward outcast sitting in the pew near you. Let God bring salvation the way He chooses to the people He chooses. God can transform the worst of sinners and the greatest of the religious [cf. 8:1-3].

Second, beware of religious taboos such as never associating with sinners or shooing them away from the church. Yes, there is a place for protecting your church from false teachers, confronting sin, and “being in the world, but not of the world.” But how will they know unless you show love and forgiveness of the Light of the world? Our church creed must read: we are all equal in Christ who is our Head, though messy and sinful we are still His glorious Bride, everyone is welcome, for we are One in Him.

Third, cherish the truth that no one is worthy to receive what Jesus offers the woman. Know your place among the unworthy. What if God sent you a bill every month for your sin, what would you owe God? What would your debt be? Too much! Thank God, He sent Christ to forgive your debt. If you are in Him, He’s paid it all. Don’t you think that Jesus’ coming to earth, being obedient to the Father, even to the point of death on the cross is rather extravagant? My response is to pour out over-the-top gratitude. Be proud to be a member of the Fellowship of the Unashamed.

Fourth, believe Jesus alone has the power and authority to forgive sins and offer salvation. You can be the most religious or most sinful. The distance between you and God is repentance. Respond to Jesus in humble faith and accept His forgiveness and salvation. Today.

Is it better to know Jesus or love Jesus? It is best to know and love Jesus from your head all the way to your heart. Jesus said when asked by a Pharisee the greatest commandment, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” [Matthew 22:37-40]

paying the price of pride

What makes Christianity different that all other religions? It’s grace. A single word captures the difference between Christianity and all other religions. Grace.

Every other religion allows me to pay at least something for the tow. And if I pay anything at all then pride will wolf it down and the vines will begin to grow with a terrible ferocity. All my pride needs is credit for a single good thing. If I take credit for seeking God then my pride lives. But Christianity allows nothing of the sort. It is the shepherd who seeks the sheep. It is the sheep who is lost and hopeless and helpless. So it is the cross or it is nothing at all. That is why the cross is death before it it life. Even with Jesus it was the cross and only then the resurrection. Grace makes it the same for us.

It is true that pride is inflation of the soul then the only time we are the size of our true self is when we are devoid of pride.

Grace is the kryptonite to pride.

Taken from Red Like Blood by Joe Coffey and Bob Bevington. Shepherds Press, Wapwallopen, PA. 2011. 80-81.

undeserved

What is grace?

Grace is not unconditional acceptance, but it is undeserved. That is a very difficult balance to strike! God’s grace comes to us without prerequisites, finding us as we are. God;s grace does not come to the “deserving” (there is no such person), and it does not discriminate. Rather, initially it comes to us freely. But once it enters into our lives, God’s grace demands changes; it holds us accountable. Why? Grace demands our holiness and growth for our sake as well as for God’s glory. Grace intercepts destructive behavior, protects us from the ravages of sin, sanctifies us so we can be “holy and happy,” two inseparable qualities.

In summary, grace is undeserved caring that intercepts destructive behavior. It is not unconditional acceptance, nor is it a legalism that says, “Shape up or I will stop loving you.” Rather, it says, “Your sin cannot separate you from me,” and then, in addition, says, “I won’t let your sin destroy you.” Grace comes to the unlovely person, but refuses to let him remain ugly.

Timothy Keller, Ministries of Mercy: The Call of the Jericho Road. P&R Publishing, Phillipsburg, NJ. 1997. 226-227.

leaving Ephesus (marks of a servant)

When you write a letter how do you usually end it? What is your customary salutation? I suppose it depends on the kind of letter you are writing. If you are writing a love letter you’ll probably end with something mushy like, “As the sunrises or sunsets you are forever my love.” If you are writing to a friend separated by a long distance you might express how much you miss them. If you are writing an apology you might conclude with one last, “I’m sorry.” How does the Apostle Paul conclude such magnificent epistle following exhortations about the work of Christ and walking in Him?

At the conclusion of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, he mentions a man named Tychicus who is also referred to elsewhere in the New Testament.[1] Tychicus is not a name that would come to mind when people are asked to identify key people of the Bible. His name sounds like a guy who had a stuttering problem. His name is not a significant name of the Bible, but he has a significant purpose in the gospel. Sometimes I feel quite small spiritually next to the spiritual giants of the Scripture. I don’t feel like I quite measure up with Paul, John, Joseph, Moses, Abraham or David.

Likewise, you may feel as if they are “little” in relation to the “big” people of the Bible, “I just play video games, listen to my iPod, and eat Cheetos for breakfast.” However, Paul clearly states in Ephesians and throughout his letters that the work of the gospel is contingent upon a lot of people who are faithful to God and are equally “big”. For the sake of the gospel, you have something to offer. What do you have to offer? Being a servant of the gospel. How do you do that, you ask? Let’s look at Tychicus:

Key Marks of a Servant of the Gospel [Ephesians 6:21-22]

The first mark of a servant of the gospel is SELFLESSNESS [v.21] Tychicus is given the intimate title of a “beloved brother” He is as close as a brother to Paul because they have labored together for Christ, which has bonded them together like superglue. Selfless people care more for the concerns of other than their own.

The second mark of a servant of the gospel is STEADFASTNESS [v.21] Tychicus was a “faithful minister.” He did what he was told. Paul gave him a simple task, ‘take this note and walk it to Ephesus’. Don’t you think as he walked he was thinking, “I wish I could do bigger things for God? Do I have to be a lousy mailman my entire life? I suppose I only matter to the dogs.” All the while he is carrying the Word of God in his hands. You can still reading his mail to this day and be transformed by it through the power of God.

The third mark of a servant of the gospel is SERIOUSNESS [v.22]. The gospel is serious enough that it needs to be sent out. Paul’s sends out Tychicus with the scroll filled with encouragements for the followers of Christ in Ephesus. Tychicus ministry was walking. He could walk. He walked seriously. His name made the Bible as a professional walker. You might think that your ministry is small and insignificant, but God can use you as a mighty deliveryman of the gospel.

The fourth mark of a servant of the gospel is SENSITIVENESS [v.22]. You know Tychicus is an encouraging servant because he is commissioned to “comfort your hearts.” This Paul’s reason for sending him to Ephesus: he serves others with sensitivity. He is the kind of guy who sits with one sitting alone and talks to him in a way that shows he cares. He does not manipulate, unrelated, or castrate to get a convert. He genuinely cares and believes the gospel changes lives.

In Romans 16, there is a casting call of dozens of ordinary servants [men, women, young, old, rich, poor, married, single, etc.] who are doing big things for God: Phoebe helps people. If your car is broken down and need a ride, call Phoebe. Need a baby sitter? Call Phoebe. Priscilla & Aquila, a husband and wife team, are both great Bible teachers. They used their house as a center for gospel ministry. ­­­­Rufus’ mom is the kind of mom who gives out kisses and cookies. This reminds me of my adopted mothers who I have blessed by since being a pastor. I love these prayer warrior women. They are often forgotten servants. And the list of little-big servants of the gospel goes on and on.[2]

Someday, I will meet Tychicus. I look forward to shaking his hand and hugging his neck, and thanking his service for the gospel of Christ. If I approach him in this manner I should not come empty handed with shallow words, but readily share of my own opportunities of delivering the message of the gospel through my words and walk.

Key Words of a Walk in the Gospel [Ephesians 6:23-24]

Why should servanthood be my middle name? May these gospel-centered words of Paul in the closing statements be motivation for you to serve humbly and boldly: peace, love, faith and grace.

PEACE. If you are not a follower of God you do not know peace because you are an enemy of God and rebel against His cause. Unbelievers are lazy, lack listening ears, and lift their middle finger to God. They would rather be god than let God be God. You are not a good god. When you sin you are fighting and warring against God. This will cause your life to be chaos rather than peace. Only friends of God know peace.

God pursues peace in His people. Paul calls you to armor yourself with shoes with readiness to engage the wicked enemies in the world with the gospel of peace [6:15]. The gospel is the only means of real and permanent peace. The Middle East peace process, African tribalism, or your family’s conflict will never be resolved completely unless the gospel of peace rules your heart.

LOVE. God does not love you because you are good looking, talented, or loveable. You are not cute and loveable. Your sin is disgusting and gross. You are like a dirty chalice pouring out dirty water. No matter how much you polish and shine your chalice is still a cesspool of sickness and sin. The only way to change the chalice is to tap into the Living Water. He will overflow your cup with new life. You are really bad, but Jesus is really good!

He loves you because He made you. He even loves His enemies. He loves those who killed Him. If you were in the crowd you too would have cried out, “Crucify Him!” Yet Jesus responded lovingly, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are saying.” His love is unparalleled. He is the only being able to love the entire world. You cannot love anything but yourself and a few things immediately around you. He loves you passionately, sacrificially, unconditionally and actively. He demonstrates His love for you practically through His Son. He stood, suffered and died in your shoes.

FAITH. There is an inherent desire in every man to gain merit with God by good deeds, karma, or morality. 7 billion people walking this planet have faith in the 3 pound piece of meat in their melon: a scientist has faith in his theories, a philosophers has faith in his mind, a religious church-goer has faith in his systems. You feel guilty because you want God to smile upon you but don’t think you quite make the cut. Many around Jesus did not believe because they could not see, hear or touch Him. They trusted in their hands, eyes and ears, rather than trusting God. The problem is you are the problem. You need God. All you need is to trust God. He smiles upon His Son. True believers have faith not in their work, but in the finished work of Christ on the cross. That is the essence of the gospel.

GRACE. This is the most marvelous word. Paul saves the best word for last. You do not deserve God. In fact, you deserve the sewer soaking in the stink of your sin. Peace, love, and faith are all gifts of God’s grace. God is a giver. He is not passively sitting in a castle ruling from a distance, He got off His throne and pursues His people with peacemaking, love-sharing, and faith-building grace. By Grace, He has showered you with riches in His Son. Don’t reject the gift of God. The ultimate folly of man is to not receive the free gift God openly extends to you. Walk in the gospel of peace and love through faith by His grace.

35 Years Later [Revelation 2:1-7]

Paul wrote the letter to the church at Ephesus approximately 60 A.D. A generation later, approximately 95 A.D, the apostle John wrote Jesus’ words to this church. They were doing some things exceptionally well. They are enduring patiently under trials and hardships for the sake of the gospel. However, Christ had one contention with them. Do you see it? “They have abandoned the love they had at first.” What does He mean by this? They were not walking as servants of Christ like they were a generation before. In response, Christ charges them to turn back to Him and walk as conquistadors for the King until they reach Paradise.

How quickly it is to forget the gospel and walk in it daily. Let our leaving of Ephesus be a reminder to you and me to rehearse the gospel daily and commit to know, speak and live the gospel everyday. Leaving your mark on this planet for eternity is by a willingness to serve of the Most High King and be His messenger, keeper, and ambassador of the Gospel. The gospel transforms.


[1] Cf. Acts 20:4; Colossians 4:7; 2 Timothy 4:12; Titus 3:12

[2] Cf. 1 Corinthians 16:5-22, Philippians 3:19-30

spreading the fame

It is unbelievable to think that there are hundreds of people groups around this planet that do not know the name of Jesus or bowed their knee to His name. Unreached people are all around you. They might be in your family, at your work, next door to your home, or even in your church.

In our nation you do not have as many unreached as you do have unengaged. Unengaged are people who do not hear or see a gospel. Instead, you see people busy building their names and kingdoms. Personal fame is the name of their game. However, what you observe from history is that it takes one to two generations before your name disappears and becomes forgotten. This land has acres of rectangle lots where people are buried, but few know anything about those 6 feet below those tombstones. What will be remembered about you 100 years from now? Where will you be 100 years from now? That’s what matters. There is One whose fame will last the test of time. Do you know Him?

In Psalm 145, we hear a majestic masterpiece. It is a song that is composed of beautiful Hebrew acrostic hidden to our English eyes.  This psalm is what is called a doxology. A doxology is praise based on doctrine—worshiping God from in spirit and truth. People praise God based on what they know about Him. What you can know about Him is revealed to you in His Word through His Spirit.

This is David’s last psalm recorded in the Book of Psalms. It is his crescendo of praise—his swan song. It is like that of a powerful rock ballad that hammers an explosive ending that just when you think it is coming to an end there is encore multiplied by encore. Praise [Heb.Hallel] means to radiate and shine—boast and brag. This is a song needs to be integrated in our souls and ringing in our ears. No matter where you are at today—discourage, overwhelmed, confused, bored, ready to worship—this song is for you.

 

Prelude [1-2]: David begins his song with a high and low. In the high David says to God, “I extol You, my God and King.” To extol means to lift high. It is to make God’s name the highest, greatest, best, most known and most famous. In the low he says, “Bless Your name” To bless [Heb. barak] means to make low—to literally bow the knee. It is an expression of humility to God’s authority. This reverent kneeling is not just a one-time deal. David says, “I will bless You everyday… forever and ever” Now not everyday is the same. Some days are harder than others. Some days have challenges. He says, “I will bless God no matter the circumstances.” The idea of praising God is to lift Him higher and bow me lower. This is worship. How do we spread the fame of God’s name? Note these 5 stanzas of praise to God:

 

Stanza 1: Greatness of God [3-7]. God’s greatness is seen in His power and authority. His greatness cannot be contained. His greatness is limitless and awe-inspiring. Even your greatest thought about God is puny compared His reality. He cannot be fully realized or comprehended. He boggles our minds. His greatness is unsearchable and indescribable [v.3]. Trying to comprehend Him is like floating on a raft in the middle of the ocean. You can not know its depth, width, breadth or height. So it is with God.

The greatness of God is spread by “One generation shall declare your mighty acts to another.” [v.4] Do you share what God has done in and through you? There is a mandate for parents in these verses—that parents would declare God’s mighty acts to their children. Do you tell your children about the great things God has done? This fires me up about being a parent. Tell and retell God’s great works. Don’t be the last link in your family. Pass the spiritual torch to the next generation. What is the greatest inheritance you can give to your children?

There are many ways we can declare God’s greatness. You can begin by declaring it to yourself [v.5]. Meditate means to ponder, to converse aloud with yourself, to remind yourself, to stir up your memory, to preach to yourself. The idea of meditation is to hear your own thoughts make statements about God. Take a moment to think about His greatness. What does David meditate upon? The “glorious splendor of God’s majesty.” [vs.6-7] He weighs in on the worthiness of God’s greatness. Do you need peace and comfort for your soul, counsel through a tough marriage, rough workweek or nagging sin issue? Meditate upon God’s great power and work.

The more I know about God the more I amazed that I do not know very much about God. Getting my Masters Degree taught me that I could spend the rest of my life just scratching the surface of God’s greatness. As I learn about God it cannot keep silent. The greatness of God is too exciting to keep secret. David needed to talk about God. It was on the tip of his tongue Does your conversation lead to God? If you were to map out your talk do they funnel towards God? This is the basis of our fellowship in this church. Our unity and community is in our talk about the greatness of God.

 

Stanza 2: Grace and Mercy of God [8-9]. These verses are a classic expression of praise for God’s character.[1] God’s grace is His favor that He gives to those who do not deserve it. His mercy is withholding of His wrath from those who do deserve it. He is patient with those who arouse His anger with their sin. He is loyal with a long-lasting love. God is a good King. He does not rule with dread to those who are in His kingdom and escape His wrath by the blood of His Son. God’s grace is not cheap little gifts from the dollar store, but priceless gifts poured out from a warehouse stocked full to the ceilings. In response, all of His works and all His people will praise Him [v.10].

Stanza 3: Sovereignty of God [10-13]. God is enthroned in the heavens and His kingdom remains forever. He rules over all things. He has the authority to do as He pleases. He has the power to carry out all He promises to do. Does that bring comfort to your soul? God is not a maverick. He is not random. He doesn’t second-guess Himself. He does not make mistakes. He holds all things together.

The sovereignty of God is key to evangelism. Since, God is your Creator that makes Him your absolute authority. You are responsible to Him. He owns you. Stop your rebellion and return to Jesus Christ. You will stand before Him as your King. That is the essence of the gospel.

Stanza 4: Faithfulness of God [14-16]. God is generous. God is a provider. He comforts those in need [v.14]. He nourishes the needs to those He has a covenant relationship [vs.15-16]. Considering the faithfulness of God can be the greatest counsel to your needy, broken, and empty spirit. He will fill your hand and satisfy the hunger in your soul. As I think about the people of North Africa and reaching them with the gospel I am overwhelmed by their physical needs. However, the gospel will provide them more satisfaction than drilling a well for fresh water, protecting from radicals, rapists and terrorists, or reforming nations with decent dictators who will care for their own people. The gospel changes somebody from the inside out, forever.

Stanza 5: Righteousness of God [17-20]. God is working all things together for your good and His glory [cf. Romans 8:28-29]. There are many people around the world that consider their current circumstances: sisters and mothers raped, families displaced by genocide, immense poverty and suffering at the hands of tyrants, “Is there any justice?” Does it seem like Satan is winning the war? In the Lord, justice is at home in His righteousness. Everything the Lord does is right [v.17]. His righteousness looks for your sincerity [18], your reverence [19], and your love [20] even in the face of worldly danger. God’s righteousness will deal with injustice.

Coda [21]: The coda is the final movement of a musical piece. The coda of David’s psalm answers the question: How do we spread the fame of God’s name? By proclaiming His praise to every person [v.21; cf. Revelation 5:6-10]. How will they believe if no one tells them?

So this is why our hearts are set the unreached. Why not stay in North America? Good question. The answer from Psalm 145 is simple; Have a passion for God and compassion to make the name of Jesus famous to the forgotten and unengaged peoples of the world. 100 years from now we will not be remember, but God’s name will still remain. Will they know Him?


[1] Cf. Exodus 34:6; Nehemiah 9:17; Psalm 86:15; 103:8; Joel 2:13; Jonah 4:2.

rags to riches reality

Steve Jobs was born to a teenage mother and later adopted by a working-class couple in California. He dropped out of Reed College when he couldn’t afford tuition, but continued auditing classes. In 1976, he started Macintosh in his friend Steve Wozniack’s garage with just 50 computers. He was fired from the company because of a power struggle. He then started Pixar and sold it to Walt Disney. He returned to Apple in 1996, leading the company to a massive expansion in music and media through devices and software including iPod, iTunes and the new iPad. Some love him in a cultish way, whiles others love to hate him for being a rock star CEO. Most remember the scene in Forest Gump when Gump says, “I investment in this fruit company [Apple]. I don’t have to worry about money anymore.” No one can deny Jobs is a true to life rags to riches success now worth over 5.5 billion dollars.

We love to hear stories about people who rose out of poverty into the path of success, like those seen in the Pursuit of Happiness and Cinderella Man. We are inspired by the work ethic and luck of people who climbed out of the hole. The Bible tells us the greatest rags to riches story of all time—you—a follower of Christ.

The Bible describes people without Christ like filthy rags [cf. Isaiah 64:6]. You might look like you have it together on the outside, having acquired the “good life” by the worlds standard, or believing you don’t need any help to make something of ourselves, but we are still viewed as wicked inside out if we do not have Christ. Without Christ you are a dead men walking.

Dying Penniless in your Filthy Rotten Rags [Ephesians 2:1-3]

Sin literally a deadly poison. Sin will take you farther than you want to go, keep you longer than you want to stay, and cost you more than you want to pay. Sin might be cute in a baby, but the older you get the more ugly your sin appears. Before Christ my biblical rap sheet does not look hopeful. I was a gutter dweller, saturated with a thirst for sin. We are reminded that this is what, “You were…”

…dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. [Ephesians 2:1-3]

It is hard to believe the Bible characterizes us like this. I certainly did not think of myself as that bad. Now my mother would probably disagree, since I was no angel. But was I as bad as the verses above describe me to be? These verses seem to be describing a vile murder or rapist, not an innocent young boy who grew up in the suburbs of Milwaukee. Is anyone innocent of sin? It is clear from these verses we are born into a world that is sinful, by nature we are inclined towards sin, and there are supernatural powers influencing us to sin. The odds are triple stacked against me—I am a sinner [vs.2-3], living in a sinful world [v.2], powered by sinful opponents [v.2]. Is there any hope?

The truth is we need to be reminded of how sinful we are in order to be grateful to savor the sweetness of God’s grace in Jesus Christ. Remember all the ways God has blessed us in Christ? [cf. Ephesians 1:3-14] Without Christ I am a pile of filthy rags that are good for absolutely nothing.

Becoming Rich without Deserving a Dime [Ephesians 2:4-7]

There are two words that bring us hope in a sinful world, “but God…” These two words contrast all that we are before Christ [vs.1-3], but who we can be in Christ [vs.4-7]. Even though I am sinful and sold out to sin, God comes through with His mercy when I ultimately deserve His wrath. “But God,” are two wonderful mysterious words of salvation.

Why is God so merciful to His followers? Paul shows that the origins of Gods saving initiative are found in His mercy [v.4; cf. Ex.34:6; Ps.103:8], His great love [v.4; cf. Rom.5:5-8; 8:39], His rich grace [vs. 5, 7-8] and his kindness to us in Christ Jesus [v.7]. Our salvation is totally undeserved, but again that is the character of God.

The benefits of Gods mercy are both present and future. In Christ, I am saved for eternity, but now have power over sin through my present day relationship with Christ. We see three present future realities of God’s mercy for His followers in verses 5-6. First, I am “made alive with Christ.” Without Christ I was dead in my sin [v.1], but through Christ I am made alive. I am alive because my sins have been forgiven in Christ forever [cf. Colossians 2:13].

Second, I am “raised up with Him.” There is a clear connection here between Christ’s resurrection and mine [cf. Colossians 2:12; 3:1]. Without Christ rising from the grave I would not have hope of raising either. My salvation secures my resurrection. Third, I am “seated with Him in the heavenly places.”  In others, I no longer have to live under the authority of the ruler of the kingdom of the air [v.2]. In Christ, I have been transferred from the old kingdom to the new reign of Christ.

Followers are given these realities so that “in the coming ages He might show the immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness towards us in Christ Jesus.” [v.7] Grace is basis of the whole work of salvation [cf. 1:6; Rom.3:21-25; 5:15]. God’s grace is like a physician bringing back-to-life a person whose heart has been flat-lined in a coma for years, raising Him from the artificial life-support, and setting him loose into the world to live freely. God has taken us from below the spiritual poverty level, raised us to new life, and given us an eternal inheritance.

We think we deserve God’s grace. I hear people say often, “God is love and would not send anyone to hell. I am certainly good enough to get into heaven.” Grace would not be grace if we deserved it. We don’t deserve it. Instead we impose upon God that we do deserve it. Grace is not cheap. It came at the cost of Christ’s death upon the cross. Grace is priceless.

Becoming Rich without Doing any Work [Ephesians 2:8-10]

When God pours out His grace He does not hold back, “For by grace you have been saved.” [v.8] This is the heart of the gospel message [vs.8-10]. I am not good enough, smart enough, strong enough, or rich enough to get salvation by my own merit. God has to come through with His grace.

There are comments on either extreme of grace, “I am too bad for God to forgive me,” or “I don’t need grace, I’m okay.” To this David Powlison writes, “Left to ourselves, we think we are either too good to need grace or too bad to receive it. Are you too good to need a major redemption?”[1] This is echoed in the Bible,

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. [Ephesians 2:8-10]

Salvation is humbling. It is humbling because I cannot do anything to get it on my own. Salvation is the work of grace is supremely and solely through the work of Christ. Any good work that I do produce is a gift from God and picture of His grace. Even faith in God’s is a gift from God. As one commentator states, “If Gods grace is the ground of salvation, then faith is the means by which it is appropriated. And faith itself cannot be a meritorious work; it is the response which receives what has already been done for us in Christ.”[2]

I was once a poor man living in the squanders of sin, now I have been given the riches of the kingdom in Christ. God’s grace has picked up my horrific tab and canceled my spiritual indebtedness. Salvation through Christ is the world’s greatest rags to riches reality. When I think about the grace of God I sing with Paul, “to the praise of His glorious grace, which He has blessed us in the Beloved [Christ].” [1:6] God’s grace is not only a source of comfort, but counsel to work out my salvation as I “walk in” His grace in a manner that is worthy of His glory [v.10].


[1] David Powlison. Seeing with New Eyes, Phillipsburg, NJ. P&R Publishing, 2003. 49]

2 Peter Thomas O’Brien, The Letter to the Ephesians, The Pillar New Testament commentary (Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1999), 174.