We’ve been working through a series on Stewardship over the past few weeks. Stewardship is the word that Christians usually use to talk about how we see and use all the good things that God has given us in this world. Our jumping off point was 1 Corinthians 16:1-2 where Paul is asking the church to set aside some money he can bring with him to help out the needy church in Jerusalem, but hopefully, by now we’ve all realized that godly stewardship encompasses so much more than just our finances.
We’ve talked about a lot of subjects in this series. We’ve talked about the reputation the church has with the world around us when it comes to money, why we pass the plate on Sundays and the importance of building a habit of a lifestyle of generosity.
We’ve covered a few big Stewardship questions, the first of which is “Whose is it?”. Regardless of whether it’s our time, talents, treasure, or testimony, the first question Christians need to ask is, “Whose is it?”. The answer to that question radically our outlook. If it’s mine then I can do whatever I want – but if it’s God’s, then that means I’d better ask Him what He wants me to do with it.
That led to the study of the Parable of the Talents where we asked the second big question, “What am I supposed to do with it?” and the most general answer to that question was simply, “God wants us to do something with it that will serve others and honour Him.”
Next came a discussion of the “risk” of using what we have and how our perception of God changes how we see everything we have. If we believe God is generous, then we will be generous with others – but if we feel God is holding out on us, then the risk sharing is too great and we end up holding onto things more tightly and share a lot less.
Which brings us to last week’s message where we moved from not only talking about taking the risk to do “something” with what God gives us but how to use these gifts “best” We started with God’s gift of time and how to perceive and use it in a biblical way.
Along the way, I came up with a brief statement to challenge us and clarify what Christians believe about the use of their time, talents, treasure, and testimony. It simply says, “Everything is God’s and I am a steward of His resources. I will use what He has given me, as best I can, His way, despite the risks involved.”
Are you with me so far? If you want to get caught up on the series, head to my Art of the Christian Ninja blog and you’ll be able to read and listen to them all there.
Talents and Abilities
Today I want to talk about the stewardship of our Talents and Abilities, but first I want to show you this:
David Green said at the end there, “We do not own this company but we’re the stewards.” His son, Steve Green said, “This business has been blessed by God. He has given the family the skills and ability, the opportunity, the time, the ideas – all of these have come… from God, and so for us to lay claim to any of that would be wrong.”
And then Debbie Kinsey, “Management Ministries Coordinator” – which I don’t know what that is, but it sure sounds like an interesting position – she said she heard an employee say, “I clean restrooms and I clean floors to help David Green get the gospel spread worldwide.”
That is a group of people that have a good, Christian understanding of Christian stewardship.
Whose Am I? – Radical Individualism
It all goes back to our first question, right? Whose is it? – but in this case, it’s a little different. It’s not, “Whose is it?? It’s, “Whose am I?” All throughout the scriptures, we are reminded that everything is God’s – the sky, the seas, the animals – but we sometimes forget that we ourselves are God’s.
We live in a radically individualistic society. For a long time societies, cities and nations were built on the premise that the family, the church, our countrymen, the state, the king, or God was the highest thing of value, worth the higher honour, and the most worth protecting, that has shifted in our culture to the highest value being individual rights.
It used to be that if someone’s life was going off the rails, they were making bad decisions, they were being selfish, you could say, “Don’t you know that you’re hurting your family, you are having a bad influence on your friends, you need to change your ways because your life is having a negative effect on those around you.” That concept is more and more foreign today.
Now, we are told from a very early age that we are special, distinct from the group, that the highest consideration in our life should be our own needs, wants, desires, hopes and dreams. This is seen as breaking the bondage of the oppressive forces that have held people down for so long – parents, religion, government, teachers, and everyone that says “no”. The heroes of modern stories are less and less the ones who put themselves second and fight for others or the “cause”. Now more and more of our society’s “heroes” are the ones who break away from everyone else, do what they want, and become whatever they want to be. Instead of running toward others, they run away, and then attract likeminded others to them.
I like superhero movies and I’ve noticed that even the superhero genre is affected. Superman used to put himself at risk and fight for “truth, justice and the American way”, but now he’s brooding, distant, and seems only to fight begrudgingly. If you’ve seen the new Superman movies you’ll remember Superman’s Mom’s advice:
“I never wanted this for you. Be their hero, be their monument, be their angel, be everything they need you to be – or be none of it. You don’t owe this world a thing. You never did.”
That’s radical individualism. Even though you’re Superman, sent to earth to help people and be a good example, his mom is like, “Meh. Who cares about the world? Do whatever makes you happy, kid.”
As we’ve moved farther from God we’ve become more enamoured with ourselves. As we’ve allowed sin to dictate more and more of our actions, we’ve pushed God and others more and more to the side. As we grow more radically individual, our moral compass gets more out of whack. Think about it? What do the rise in abortions, the legalization of drugs, the crazy divorce rate, social media addiction, the destruction of our environment, the military’s consistent recruitment struggles, and the legalization of assisted suicide have in common? Radical individualism.
If the universe revolves around you, then why keep the baby if it will just be a burden to you? If my desires matter most, why not get stoned whenever I want, even when at work or driving? If my happiness and comfort is paramount why stay in a difficult marriage? Why not litter everywhere and mow down a rainforest? Why should I put myself at risk of getting shot somewhere overseas or be stationed somewhere I don’t want to live? And then, if it’s all about me, why not kill myself when I feel like I’m not accomplishing what I want to do anymore?
We Are Not Our Own
That is the absolute opposite of what Christianity teaches. The Bible teaches us that we are not our own. Listen to some of these verses: “…you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.” (Psalm 137:13) “You clothed me with skin and flesh, and knit me together with bones and sinews.” (Job 10:11) The way you look, how your body is built, your height, eye colour, beauty and deformities are all designed by God. Same with your neighbour, your child, and your friend.
Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” That means that not only did God design us, but also made each of us able to do good works, and then prepared some things for us to do!
1 Corinthians 6:19-20 says to Christians, “You are not your own, you were bought at a price.” The Bible doesn’t present anyone in this world as free. We are either slaves to sin or slaves to Christ. Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin.” (John 8:34) An unrepentant sinner doesn’t actually do whatever they want, they do what sin wants them to do – which is why it ends up destroying them. In the same way, a Christian doesn’t do whatever they want, but instead have given themselves to God. They were ransomed from hell by the death and resurrection of Jesus. He paid the price and now owns them.
Romans 6:16-18 says it this way,
“Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.”
The Bible doesn’t present anyone as being free in the ultimate sense (full-autonomy). No one. Everyone is in servitude to someone – either sin or Jesus. Christians recognize this and say, “I’m so sick of being tossed around and beaten by the my slave master, Sin. I am regretful of all that it has made me do and wish I could get away from him. But I’m trapped and he owns me.” Jesus says, “I will pay your ransom. I will buy you back from sin and death. I will trade my life for yours and then be your new master, your new Lord. And my yoke is easy and my burden is light. Come and be with me.” Part of being a Christian is making Jesus not only our Saviour, but our Lord. And recognizing Him as Lord means recognizing that we are not our own.
You Are a Gift
But there’s another way that we are not our own. Throughout the Bible people are presented as gifts to one another. I can’t think of anyone in the Bible that was placed on earth to be by themselves.
It was not good for Adam to be alone, so God presented Eve to him, and they were to live life together. Abraham was brought out of obscurity not to be made special, but to be the father of nations by which the Saviour would come. Joseph wasn’t made the most powerful man in Egypt because he was so talented, but so the Israelites could be saved from famine. David wasn’t made king because he was so strong and popular, but because He was a servant of God who could defend and lead his people. His successes and failures affected everyone. The times when things to really wrong in the Bible is when people get selfish. Their sin ends up spreading all over the place and ruining all kinds of things.
Consider Jesus. Listen to Colossians 1:15-18, “
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.”
That’s quite a description, isn’t it? Everything was “created through him and for him”. The word, “firstborn” there doesn’t mean Jesus was created, it’s a title. He’s the prince of all creation, the one who will inherit it all. Everything is His. He is preeminent.
Now listen to Him teaching His disciples in Matthew 20:25-28,
“Jesus called them together and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’”
Jesus, the preeminent One, says, “No one on earth, not even me, is an island unto themselves. Everyone is a gift to everyone else.” Jesus didn’t come as king of the universe, but as the ultimate servant, the ultimate gift to mankind.
That’s how Christians see themselves – not as mere individuals, but as gifts to each other. First, when we are born, we are given as gifts to our family. We cherish babies of all kinds because they are gifts to us from God. Then, as we grow, we live and serve our family, placing their needs above ours – and they do the same for us. We learn how to serve and be served as we are part of a loving family. Then, we leave our family and we are given as a gift, and receive the gift of a spouse. We get married to someone who helps in ways our family can’t – and we help them in ways their family can’t. In the ups and downs of marriage we learn how to be more holy, more selfless, more humble, more giving, more sacrificial – in short, more like Jesus. And then, in marriage we are given as the gift to our own babies, and the cycle continues.
But more than that. Throughout our lives God gifts us to more people. We are given as a gift to our country to be a good citizen. We are a gift to our church. We are given as a gift to our friends and neighbours. We are given as a gift to our workplaces, our employers and employees, to help each other flourish and find meaningful work in this world.
But as I said, this all gets messed up when selfishness and radical individualism take hold of our hearts, when we start to erect borders and walls between us and others.
- We try to erect the wall of racism, saying that our people group is better than another, refusing to help or listen to others because of a difference in skin colour or nationality.
- We erect economic walls believing that rich people are better than poor, or poor are better than rich, or the middle is better than anyone else.
- We erect walls between the sexes, chauvinism that says men are better than women, and messed up feminism that says women are better than men.
- In the church we see all kinds of these walls, like ageism where young people and old people can’t get along, even long enough to sing the same song.
The devil plays us against each other and they we do his work for him. All of these divisions are ungodly, sinful, and dangerous. Galatians 3:26-29 says to believers,
“…for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.”
It says, “Guys, the divisions are gone. It’s not about you. You’re all family now. So live for each other.”
The Bible says repeatedly that God has given each of us different sets of gifts to steward. Some have more time, others less. Some have more talents, others less. Some have more money, others less. Some have more experience, others less. Our job is just to figure out what God has created us to do and then go do it. And whatever that is, it’s always going to be about honouring God and serving others.
Three More Things
I just want to say three more things and then I’ll close.
God Don’t Make No Junk
First, I hope that this study helps to changes our perspective of ourselves and others. Sometimes we look at ourselves or someone else and think, “Wow, I’m useless. I’m not strong enough, not brilliant enough, not creative enough, not old enough, not young enough, not experienced enough, not put together enough. God made me wrong and I don’t really have a place in this world. If I was more like this person or that person then I’d really do good, but I’m not.”
I hope this study helps you see that no one is useless. No one is an accident. And, because of the grace of God, no one is beyond his ability to use for His Kingdom. You have strengths, even if you haven’t discovered them. You have abilities, even if you’ve buried them under a pile of sin, fear and shame. But even if you were utterly incapable of doing anything – like a newborn baby – you would still have inherent worth because you are a child of God and one of His image bearers. As they say in the South US, “God don’t make no junk.”
I thought it was really interesting when David from Hobby Lobby in the video said that he used to feel guilty because his whole family went into ministry but he had a heart for selling things in retail stores. He felt bad because he thought that God like ministers, missionaries, and Sunday school teachers better. Why? Because he had a poor understanding of what God expected of him.
If you are constantly comparing yourself to others and trying to be something God didn’t create you to be, you are going to feel like junk. And, on the other side of the coin, if you judge people by your own standards and not God’s, then you are going to see them as junk. You are going to look at your own weaknesses, and the weaknesses of others as problems, excuses as to why you and them aren’t good enough for God to use. And you will want to do what we all do with junk that has no value, that is worthless – you’ll want to throw yourself or them away.
But that’s totally wrong. As long as David thought that God only wants people to be pastors and missionaries he felt like junk. But once he figured out that God didn’t make him to be in full time ministry in a church, he finally figured out he can be in full time ministry by serving God in and through passion he has for managing retail stores and selling craft supplies. That’s amazing! And it’s true for you too. God calls very few people to be missionaries and pastors and teachers. He calls most people to serve outside the church, in their families, neighbourhoods and workplaces. And He uses people of all sorts to do it.
Moses stuttered. Abraham was old. Hosea had a super messed up marriage. David was a hothead who wanted to kill people who he didn’t like and then had an affair. Jonah ran away from his mission. John Mark ran away too. Elijah suffered from ministry burnout. Paul was blind, sick, and used to chase and murdered Christians. Timothy was so stressed out he had stomach problems. Lazarus was dead. And yet God used them mightily.
Whether you think yourself too weak, or you are that prideful person who keeps judging others as disqualified. Listen again to 1 Corinthians 1:26-31, “For consider your calling, brothers: 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. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.’”
We Will Be Judged
Second, I want you to realize that at the end of time, the Bible says that Jesus will evaluate every person, every Christian’s contribution to the life of the church and the deeds they have done. Just like the master came home and took account of what his stewards did with their talents, so will Jesus inspect what we have done with what he has given us. Listen to the words of Romans 2:6-8, “God ‘will repay each person according to what they have done.’ To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger.” 2 Corinthians 5:10, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.”
How we use the abilities, talents and spiritual gifts that God has given us will be judged. Listen closely. Christian, your salvation is assured, because that is dependent on the work of Jesus Christ. Listen to 1 Corinthians 3:11-13, “For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw—each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done.”
The foundation of our salvation is built by Jesus, but the life we build on that foundation, the way we use the gifts we’ve been given according to our ability, that will be judged.
We do well when we cultivate a healthy fear of God in this area.
How to Use Them Best
The third question of stewardship, if you remember, is “How do I use it best?”, right? So how can we use our talents and abilities best? That’s a tough one to answer because they are so varied, but let me try.
If you are serving in your wheelhouse right now, you know you’re where you’re supposed to be, then great. Give me a call and talk to some Christian friends about how you can grow in that area. But if you are like a majority of people and haven’t got that figured out yet, then what I want you to do three things:
First, ask God if you are doing the right thing or if you should change? Ask Him to guide you to where you are supposed to serve Him and be open to His call. I’m only a preacher today because I decided one day to be open to a radical change. So open your heart and ask God.
The second is to explore your gifts. In other words, try different things. Take a few personality tests, a spiritual gifts inventory, and a job placement test. Volunteer for different things to try them out. If you stink at it, that’s ok. You’re allowed to make mistakes here. We still love you. What better place is there to experiment with your interests than surrounded by a loving church family, right? There are a lot of people who are serving in the wrong place either because of fear or obligation or confusion. I don’t want that for you.
And third, I want you to get brave and talk to people who care for you about what they see in you, what your strengths and weaknesses are, and then listen. Be willing to try doing what they see in you instead of dismissing it out of fear or because it’s too much work.
First, A Quick Request:
Here’s the poll (link fixed): https://www.facebook.com/ArtOfTheChristianNinja/posts/1618969174822815
Over the past few weeks we’ve been talking about the wise and godly use of all the good gifts that God has given us in our lives, which usually, in the Christian church, is called “stewardship”.
The jumping off point of our study was 1 Corinthians 16:1-2 where the Apostle Paul gave final instructions to gather up a collection to help out the needy Christians in Jerusalem. They had asked how they could help and Paul said,
“Now concerning the collection for the saints: as I directed the churches of Galatia, so you also are to do. On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come.”
On the first week of our study we talked about some of the ways that the Christian church has gotten a bad reputation for how we see, use and ask for money, explained the historical background of this passage and why churches gather weekly collections. A big part of that was understanding that our collection helps believers practice a lifestyle habit of generosity – of holding our wealth and possessions loosely and allowing God to dictate how they are to be used. The big question was to ask ourselves if we really understand God’s love for us and if that understanding is reflected in our generosity toward others.
This led to last week’s conversation about Stewardship where we expanded the definition to encompass not only our wealth and possessions but our entire lives – our time, talents, treasure and testimony. We asked some important questions last week and were challenge to clarify in our own hearts how we perceive ourselves, our stuff, and the world. I said the first question of Stewardship is, “Whose is it?”. When we look at the time we have been given in a day, the abilities and skills we possess, the wealth we have, and all the things that have happened to us that have created the story of our lives, we must ask ourselves, “Whose is it?” or “Whose am I?”. If the real answer is “It is God’s, I am God’s”, then that changes everything about how we use it.
The second question from last week was, “What am I supposed to do with it?” If we acknowledge that whatever we have is God’s, then the next, logical question is, “What does He want me to do with it?” That led to a study of the Parable of the Talents where we answered this question in the most basic way: God wants us to do “something” with it. The big lesson of the Parable of the Talents was that, for various reasons, the third steward did nothing and was therefore condemned.
We talked about how our perception of ourselves and our stuff is directly connected to how we see God. If we believe He is generous, then we will be generous. If we believe He is stingy, then we will be stingy. If we believe He will provide for us, then we will provide for others. If we believe God holds out on us, then we will hold out on others.
How Can I Use it Best
So, if you’re with me so far, and can agree with this statement, then we can move forward to the next question:
“Everything is God’s and I am a steward of His resources. I will use what He has given me, as best I can, His way, despite the risks involved.” Can you agree to that?
If so, we move on to the third question: “How can I use it best?” Whatever “it” is… the time we have in a day, the money in our pocket, the car we drive, the stuff on our shelves, the skills and abilities we have, or the story of our lives, the question isn’t just, “Will I use it for God’s glory and humanity’s good?”, but “How can I use it best for God’s glory and humanity’s good?”
So over the next bit, I want to go through these four gifts and get practical about how to use them best.
Stewardship of Time
First, let’s talk about how to steward our Time best.
I’ve been using The Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis over the past little bit and it has been absolutely chopping me in half. It was written sometime in the 1400s but it reads like it could have been written today. Other than the Bible this may be the most published book of all time with thousands of editions over the past 500+ years.
The first section talks a lot about how we are to steward our thought life, which actually has a lot to do with how we steward our time, and is certainly something I’ve been struggling with lately. Most of you know that our family has been going through some difficulties over the past while and for me, when I get overwhelmed with it all, it’s very tempting to shut down my thoughts and shut out the world by distracting myself with Netflix or YouTube or the internet. I know it’s not healthy, but until recently I don’t think I realized how dangerous it is.
Thomas a Kempis says this,
“What good is much discussion of involved and obscure matters when our ignorance of them will not be held against us on Judgment day? Neglect of things which are profitable and necessary and undue concern with those which are irrelevant and harmful, are great folly.”
That hit me like a wall and I’ve been chewing on it for a while, but then, just this past week, I read this…
“How can a man who meddles in affairs not his own, who seeks strange distractions, and who is little or seldom inwardly recollected, live long in peace?…. We are too occupied with our own whims and fancies, too taken up with passing things. Rarely do we completely conquer even one vice. And we are not inflamed with the desire to improve ourselves day by day; hence, we remain cold and indifferent. If we mortified our bodies perfectly and allowed no distractions to enter our minds, we could appreciate divine things and experience something of heavenly contemplation.
The greatest obstacle, indeed, the only obstacle, is that we are not free from passions and lusts, that we do not try to follow the perfect way of the saints. Thus, when we encounter some slight difficulty, we are too easily dejected and turn to human consolations. If we tried, however, to stand as brave men in battle, the help of the Lord from heaven would surely sustain us…. Let us, then, lay the axe to the root that we may be freed from our passions and thus have peace of mind…. If you do not overcome small, trifling things, how will you overcome the more difficult? Resist temptations in the beginning, and unlearn the evil habit lest perhaps, little by little, it lead to a more evil one.
If you buy consider what peace a good life will bring to yourself and what joy it will give to others, I think you will be more concerned about your spiritual progress.”
My spirit drank that in like a withered plant takes in water after a drought. How much time have I spent on things which were neither profitable nor necessary, seeking “strange distractions” in things that are irrelevant and even harmful? It’s no wonder I don’t have peace and joy in my heart and it’s wrong to blame others and circumstances for making me feel so miserable. This says, “Where did you turn when difficulties arise? Human consolations? Then is it any wonder you have no divine peace?” The challenge is to lay the axe to the root of the problem and finally be freed from all the garbage distractions I keep going to so I may finally have that heavenly sustenance.
And a lot of that is about wise time management. That requires making different choices with ow I use my time, right? So, how can we build the habit of using our time well?
Wasted and Anxious
Maybe you resonate with what I’ve been saying about wasting time, or perhaps you are one of those people that is worried that you haven’t done enough with your life, that you need to do more, that there is so much to accomplish, are always rushed, always busy, and forever feel like you are falling behind. The invisible list you keep in your mind of where you should be and what you should have done by now bring you nothing but guilt and shame and fear. You compare yourselves with others, with people your age, or with the aspirations you had when you were younger, and you feel guilty. Or perhaps you are younger and you’re looking at the future and it’s coming up fast – and you need to make decisions about school, career, marriage, where you’ll live, what you’ll do. Time seems like an enemy to you.
You think you should be making more money and have a better career by now Or you should have your life planned out by now. You should have your house paid off by now. You should have written that book by now – or at least read that book by now. You promised yourself that you would have achieved a certain dream a long time ago, but there’s never enough time. Or merely on a daily basis – you simply always feel behind, always feel lost, like you’re never in the right place, and whatever energy you expend is never enough to catch up.
And maybe you even impose this anxiety on others. You’re always rushing people, even when there’s no reason to rush. Every time you leave the house there’s a competition to see who can get out first and fastest so they don’t have to face your wrath. You buy groceries and stand there for a few moments worrying you’ll pick the wrong line and lose precious seconds of your day. You yell at anyone who is late, constantly tap your foot or pace when you are stuck somewhere, and there always seems to be too much traffic no matter where you go. Anyone resonate with this?
Whether you struggle with wasting time or with the fear of time, let me tell you that what’s at the root of the problem isn’t first a calendar issue but a gospel issue. What is the solution? We must first turn to God and His Word.
All Time is God’s Time
The first thing is to realize is that all time is God’s time. This goes back to our first question, “Whose is it?” Solomon says in Ecclesiastes 3:11, “He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” Humanity has a concept of time and eternity, and most people seem to inherently live with a constant sense of urgency. Even atheists inherently know that their life is not lived in a temporal vacuum but live as though this present experience is not all there is. They may deny an afterlife, but the way they live shows that they want their lives to not only matter, but have lasting effect. They have “eternity in their hearts”. Unless you are utterly depressed or suicidal, almost everyone lives as though what they do has some sort of significance. Whether they are a stoner who sits around eating chips or an ultra-driven Fortune 500 CEO, if you ask them, they will give you some reason for what they are doing.
But, a Christian who believes that all time is God’s time, our reason for what we do is very different. We are not drive by fear or sloth. We know that God knows everything that has and will happen, that He has a plan from the beginning and the end, and that He has invited us to work within His plan and do things of eternal value. Therefore, we don’t see time as a trap, or that there’s not enough, or that it’s something to waste, but as a gracious gift from a loving God. One more good thing God has given us in order to accomplish His will for our lives.
And, not only is our time is a God-given gift and therefore good, but God Himself is good, gracious and forgiving. So when He sees we have wasted a day, or when we feel like we’ve fallen behind, or we’re anxious and harried, we can know that our Heavenly Father isn’t like your stressed out mom or dad – tapping His foot, checking His watch, rolling His eyes, grumbling and sighing, and saying, “When will you get going? Why haven’t you done more?! I’m running out of time! You’re ruining my plans!” He’s really not.
Why? Because neither you nor I are powerful enough to effect God’s plans. He will accomplish what He wills with or without us. What’s amazing is that He invites us to accomplish it with Him and then shares the reward with us. But He never feels like we’ve fallen behind, because He’s never behind!
Think of you asking a toddler to help you do a project. You need dinner buns baked by supper or need to change the oil in the car. Whether the toddler helps or not, the buns will be made and the oil changed, right? Our joy is inviting our child to do it with us – even though they do very little or nothing at all. Are we mad when they don’t roll their little bit of dough fast enough? Are we mad when they are standing next to us holding a tool? No. Why? Because we know it’ll get done because we’re in charge of the project. We’re in charge of the time. We know what we’re doing. We’re just glad they’re there. God’s relationship with us is a perfected version of that.
Yes, God holds us accountable for how we use our time, we see that throughout scripture, but sinning in our use of time is no worse than any other sin. God still forgives, still wipes the slate clean, still restores us, and still, as Ephesians 3:20 says, “is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us…”
As I said, neither you nor I is powerful enough to hurt God’s plans, and He loves us so much that at any moment He’s willing to get us back on track. Our sins in our use of time – whether wasting it through doing nothing or doing too much — is also covered under by blood of Christ. He will forgive and restore us if we ask for it.
All time is God’s time and He can grow it and stretch it, or shrink it and stop it whenever and however He wants. Once you’ve settled that in our heart it will go a long way to decreasing your guilt, anxiety and fear.
Track Your Time
Which leads us to the most practical thing you can do in order to use your time best. There are thousands of different methods, but the most important thing you can do is simply to keep track of your time, and I want to talk about that for a minute.
Once you have realized that God is not a harsh, clock-watching, foot-tapping taskmaster, and you have committed to simply living every day His way, the most important, practical thing you can do is to track how you use your time.
- The Bible often speaks of things happening at the “right time”, or the “appointed time” (Exodus 13:10; Psalm 75:2; John 7:6-8; Romans 5:6; 8:22; 1 Corinthians 4:5) and the tracking of time is all over the Bible.
- Ecclesiastes 3:1 says, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven.”
- Ephesians 5:15-17 says, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.”
- Psalm 90:12 says, “So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.”
- Jesus says in John 9:4, “We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work.”
- The Parable of the Ten Virgins comes right before the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25 and it’s all about how important it is to use our time on earth carefully.
The best way to do that is to keep track of what you are doing. Whether you use an online calendar or a paper daytimer, in order to be wise with your time you need to be writing down what you are doing. I use Google Calendar online and it syncs to my phone and my computer. My wife and I are even able to connect our calendars so we can see what the other one is doing. Tracking time allows you to block out how much time you’ll need – not just for the meeting or the event, but the car ride over and the hangout time after.
I’m not just talking about meetings and work though. Have you been wishing you can get in date night with your spouse and kids, wishing you could finally read that book, wishing you had more time to cook or clean or organize? Want to get a better job, find a school, finish your project, even watch a show you’ve been wanting to see? Block it in and then it’s there.
If you’re one of those people who are constantly letting others down because you are always late, this will help you. If you’re always tired, always frustrated, always on edge – tracking your time will help you get control of that. Block out time for sleep, time to eat, time to pray, time to go to church, time to play with your kids, time to visit your friends, time to nap and rest and exercise.
I’ve done this many times in my past, clocked everything down to 15 minute blocks, and it is amazing how the picture of your life shows up in your calendar. You are tired because you don’t sleep or eat. You are stressed because you don’t leave enough time to get places. You realize you haven’t connected to your family in forever and likely never will if you keep going this way. Tracking your time not only helps you fix your priorities but also lets you see how many hours you’ve wasted in your day. You don’t realize how many hours per week you spend online or whatever until you actually total it up. Tracking time is an awesome tool.
If you don’t track your time, it will get away from you, and you will be one of those people who cannot be trusted, let people down, are always feeling stressed out and guilty, and are forever wondering why you can’t get things done. Having no picture of your time makes you feel like you are always in in the wrong place. But you know what? The stress go way down when you block in what you want to do.
You can say, “It’s ok that I nap now, because I have my time under control. It’s ok to watch this show, because I’ve been planning this for a while. I don’t have to rush through this romantic date or board game or work project because I know that I’ve given myself enough time to do it.” Or even, “Sure I’d love to try that new thing. I’ve left some time for things like that.” The spiritual benefits of being consistently connected to God, because you have set aside time to be with Him are awesome too. Tracking time is amazingly freeing.
Two Final tips
Let me close with two final tips on this in order to get the most out of time management.
First, practice the phrase, “Nope, I can’t make it. I’ve already got something else planned then.” Here’s the trick: It doesn’t matter what that “something else” is and it’s none of their business. Maybe it’s work, but maybe it’s a nap. Maybe it’s your bible reading. Maybe it’s date night. Maybe it’s watching a TV show. Once you’ve mapped things out in your life, blocked out your priorities in advance, you’re going to find that a world of opportunities to ruin your schedule will open up to you – and some of you will feel very guilty in keeping your schedule. Suddenly a bunch of seemingly super-urgent, vitally important things will try to wreck your calendar. Someone will plan a meeting during a time you’ve set aside to be with your family, or someone will start something early in the morning that you kind of want to go to.
Normally, you’d tell your family to take the back seat, or give up your sleep or devotional time, or try to accelerate everything in order to please everyone – don’t. It’s not worth it. You’ll just let people down, stress yourself out, and feel guilty about being in the wrong place. If you’ve prayed about this schedule, agreed on it with your family, and have set your priorities straight, there’s no reason to feel guilty when you say “Nope, I can’t make it. I’ve already got something else planned then.”
And my second tip is this: If you find yourself overwhelmed in your planning, surrounded by chaos, stressed by the needs of the day, and utterly confused about what is going on: Do what an old mentor of mine once told me: “Just do the next, right thing.” First, remember that all time is God’s time and if you’ve gotten yourself in a pickle, He will forgive you. So ask forgiveness of God for stressing out and whatever you’ve done to contribute to this situation – and then forgive yourself – and then just “do the next, right thing”.
Jesus says in Matthew 6:34, “…do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Implicit is that statement is that the past is done and can’t be changed, only God knows the future, and you and I are only responsible for the present. That brings a lot of peace. So, when life comes rushing at you, smashes into you like a wave, and then sucks you into the undertow, stop for a moment and say, “What is the next, right thing?”
Maybe it’s to eat some food because you haven’t done all day. Maybe it’s to sit down and pray. Maybe it’s to clean the kitchen. Maybe it’s doing your homework. Maybe it’s calling your mom or accountability partner. Maybe it’s buying the milk you’ve needed since this morning. Maybe it’s simply fixing your schedule so this doesn’t happen again.
If the past is done and can’t be changed, God is in control of the future, and you are only responsible for the present, what is one, right thing you can do in this moment? Not the “most perfect thing”! Don’t get sucked into that trap. Just one, right thing. Start there and every time Satan says, “That’s not right. That’s not the best thing! That’s not good enough. Do something else! You’re letting everyone down!” Realize it’s your enemy who is trying to crush your spirit and stress you out, and that God loves you no matter what you have done or are currently doing – and so does your family and so do your friends and so does your church. We don’t love you because of what you do and how perfectly you accomplish your lists – we love you for you. When you get overwhelmed, stop, give God that moment and say, “Lord, I’m just going to do this next, right thing and God, that’s all I can do right now.” And I promise it’s more than enough.
And then, when you’re done that next, right thing – do the next, right thing.
Don’t miss the current blessings that God has for you because you’re dwelling on the past or fanaticizing about the future.
This week we’re going to continue our study on Tithing and Stewardship which we introduced last week by turning to Matthew 25:14 and using it to build a framework for how we are to think about how we use the things that God gives us in this world.
“Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his property to them. To one he gave five talents of money, to another two talents, and to another one talent, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. The man who had received the five talents went at once and put his money to work and gained five more. So also, the one with the two talents gained two more. But the man who had received the one talent went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.
After a long time, the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. The man who had received the five talents brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five talents. See, I have gained five more.’
His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’
The man with the two talents also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two talents; see, I have gained two more.’
His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’
Then the man who had received the one talent came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid and went out and hid your talent in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’
His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.
‘Take the talent from him and give it to the one who has the ten talents. For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’”
Hang In There
As I said last week, talking about money, tithing, and stewardship of our lives is one of those big deal concepts that tend to have a pretty serious effect on people and you may have one of two reactions to this topic. The first reaction is to groan and set your brain on auto-pilot because you think you already know everything I’m going to say and have settled mind on it. You don’t need to listen because no one is going to change your mind about how you live your life. This sermon is for all those people less holy than you are.
The second reaction is to get angry that I’m talking about it at all. We covered it last week, didn’t we? Why do we have to talk about money? Leave it alone. Maybe you get upset because you assume this is going to be a 45-minute guilt trip where I beg you for cash in the name of Jesus.
If you did have one of those two reactions, let me ask you to stick with me just for a little bit, because this sermon isn’t going exactly where you think it’s going.
First, I want you to notice that this sermon isn’t called “Tithing”, it’s called Stewardship. And that’s important because I’m not just going to talk about money today. What I’m going to talk about is “Stewardship”. And stewardship is about a lot more than how we use our finances. We’re going to look at 4 things that God gives us to be stewards of our time, talents, treasure and testimony. Stewardship touches every part of our lives: The time God gives us, the abilities we have, both natural and supernatural, the wealth we are born with and acquire, the story God is writing in our lives. So hang in there and let’s talk about this.
Q1: Whose Is It?
That brings us to our first Stewardship question: “Whose is it?” We touched on this last week. A “steward” is someone who takes care of someone else’s things. If you go away on vacation and ask someone to look after your cat and water your plants, you have asked them to be your steward. If you work for a company that gives you a desk and a computer, or a set of tools, or a rental car, then you are a steward of your company’s resources. If someone passes away and you are in charge of managing their estate, then you are a steward of their wealth.
Humans are stewards. We often talk about “owning” things. We “own” our home and possessions. We have our “own” money. We can make it on our “own”. The word “own” literally means to have full claim, authority, power, or dominion over something. I control it, and can do with it as I please. I can use it how I want, keep it on a shelf, or destroy it. It’s mine. In this sense, biblically speaking, humans “own nothing” because we are limited in our control, and cannot possess something forever. God is the one with eternal power, authority, dominion and control. We inherit things from others and then lose them when we die. Christians acknowledge that we do not and cannot own anything in this world.
The first realization we must make in the realm of Stewardship is that “everything is God’s.” This is a critical realization because whoever “owns” it has control of it. If I own it, then no one can tell me what to do with it. But if someone else owns it, then I must treat it very differently. No matter what it is.
We teach our kids this, don’t we? We go to a restaurant or park or a friend’s house and as soon as the roughhousing starts we say, “Be careful with that. It’s not yours.”
David in Psalm 24:1 says, and this theme is repeated throughout scripture, “The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it…”
1 Samuel 2:6-7 says, “The LORD brings death and makes alive; he brings down to the grave and raises up. The LORD sends poverty and wealth; he humbles and he exalts.”
God’s ownership extends to everything in the universe, from what we eat and drink and wear to the trees, mountains and stars, from the oil deep underground and the birds in the sky. And everything we have made, homes, cars, weapons, rocket-ships, and medicines are just reassembled versions of things that he already owns. It’s not ours, it’s His, and He gives it to us to have, use, eat, take care of, distribute, and enjoy.
This week I had to buy a new coffee pot because my old one broke. I felt no pang of guilt when I unplugged the old pot and threw it in the garbage and replaced it with another. And in the same way, the Bible says that one day, just like I tossed out the broken, dirty coffee pot, the true “Owner” of all things will finally get rid of this world and create a new one. 1 Peter 3:10, “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.”
You and I are merely stewards, temporary possessors, of something that we don’t own. We can use it for a few years, and make great big piles of it, and rearrange it in many different ways, and gain enjoyment from it, but as Solomon said in Ecclesiastes 5:15, “Naked a man comes from his mother’s womb, and as he comes, so he departs. He takes nothing from his labour that he can carry in his hand.”
We are merely stewards. This is what Jesus says in the story of the Talents. Look at verse 14 it says the owner “entrusted his property to them.” That’s you and me.
And in verse 15 we read that everyone gets a different amount. Now, remember, we’re not just talking money here. Whenever you read the word “Talent” in this story, think of words like “opportunity” or “blessing” or “time” or “skill”. This isn’t just about money or abilities. God entrusts each of us with different things. We all have a different amount of time to live on this earth. We all have different abilities and spiritual gifts. We all have a different amount of wealth and possessions. And we all have a different testimony or life story.
We are not equal in what God gives us. Some get more, some get less. And though what we get is not equal to others, we are all equal in our responsibility to manage it according to what the “owner” wants us to do with it. Verse 15 says that the owner gave each one a certain amount of talents “according to his ability”. In other words, He didn’t give them more than they could handle or less than they needed. He didn’t set them up for failure. He set them up to succeed.
In the same way, God gives us each a different life to steward, and He doesn’t set us up for failure. He sets us up to be able to do exactly what He wants us to do. Using His gifts, His way makes it possible to actually produce something greater than if we were not to use them – or use them selfishly. It’s a win-win-win, when we properly manage what God gives us we gain joy from using them, others benefit from their use, and God is given glory.
Q2: What am I Supposed to Do With It?
And now comes the second question: “What am I supposed to do with what God has given me?” If our time, talents, treasure and testimony are not ours, but we are merely stewards of them, then what are we supposed to do with them? The options are seemingly endless.
In the parable, we have two different responses to the talents. The first two stewards went and put their money to work, and doubled what they had. And when the owner came back he was pleased. He didn’t look at the guy was given two and say, “How come you didn’t make five like the other guy?” Instead, because the steward used what he had, and did what he could, the Owner was pleased.
Not Using Your Talent
But the third guy did nothing. He just buried it. Now here’s a big questions: Why did he bury his talent? I think that there are a lot of reasons why people don’t use what they have been given by God, but I think this story gives us two big ones.
Take a look at the third steward’s response in verse 24: “Then the man who had received the one talent came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid and went out and hid your talent in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’
Reason 1: A Bad Relationship / Misunderstanding the Owner
The first reason that people don’t use what God has given them is that they have a bad relationship with, or a total misunderstanding of the Owner. This servant didn’t really like his master. He was afraid of him. He couldn’t care less about pleasing him. He was just trying not to get punished. But was the owner really that selfish and cruel? It doesn’t sound like it to me. The owner delegates according to the ability of the servant… that shows he knows them, cares about them, and has wisdom. He leaves the servants in charge and lets them to do their job… that shows confidence and trust. He gives them lots of time and opportunity to get it done… that shows generosity and patience. When he comes back he doesn’t just grab the money out of the other steward’s hands, but swells with joy and pride in them and invites them to come and party and celebrate with him.
The third steward had a totally backwards view of the true nature of his master. And I think that we sometimes do that to God too. We don’t give our time to God because we think He’s selfish and doesn’t give us enough to work with. How many people do you know have complained there aren’t enough hours in the day? What does that imply about God? That He doesn’t give us enough time to do the things we need to do. It’s His fault.
Or maybe we it’s that we don’t use our talents and abilities for God’s kingdom because we think He doesn’t reward people properly. We know we can get more praise, money and thanks out in the secular market, so we give our best to them and leave the leftovers for God.
Or maybe it’s when we don’t give our treasure or wealth to God because we see Him as greedy, always wanting our money, and that this whole religion thing was just set up as a way to get weak-willed suckers to give up some of their cash. We don’t see God as generous and kind but as stingy, tight-fisted, selfish, beggar who is never happy but always wanting more.
One reason we bury our talent is that we don’t know the owner that well.
Reason 2: Fear
The second reason some of us bury our talents and don’t use what God gives us as good stewards, is because of our fear of risk. The first two stewards took a risk and were rewarded. The third guy was afraid to take the risk. He thought that if he just buried it and gave it back, that somehow he would at least avoid punishment. But that wasn’t the case. The talent was given to him so He would use it and gain more. That was the mission – to use what he was given to gain more for the master.
And the owner says as much in verse 26 when he says, “’You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? ” In other words, “You know that I’m all about getting the most out of what I have? You know that I’m all about squeezing every drop of opportunity to gain a profit?” “Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.”
In other words, “You could have done something! But you did nothing! I gave you this to use, and you didn’t, and that is why I am so angry. I gave you this and nothing increased. I didn’t expect much of you, but I certainly didn’t expect nothing from you.”
Some of us are afraid of risk too. Some won’t make a commitment to serve others because they don’t want to risk the possibility of running out of time for other things they want to do. So they never take the risk of getting involved, joining up, or volunteering. That way they ensure they have time for the things they want to do.
Some are afraid that they will be criticized, embarrassed, or rejected, so they never use or develop the talents and abilities that God gave them. They have a heart to teach, but they are afraid of what might happen if someone asks a question they don’t know the answer to… so they never teach. They have an aptitude for music, or public speaking, or dance, or art, but they are afraid to risk showing people because they might get critiqued. They have a talent for organizing, making money, or leadership, but they are afraid someone will misunderstand them, so they only use those gifts professionally. They don’t want to risk their feelings.
Some don’t want to risk their current or future comfort level, so they never invest their wealth in the kingdom of God. They’re more concerned about their future retirement plans than what God wants. They feel they will get better returns with their RRSP, or their Mutual Fund, or their Real Estate, than if they were to give that money to a missionary or hurting family or church ministry. If it’s in their bank or with their investors then they can control it and use it for a rainy day – but if they give it to a missionary or relief agency or church ministry, then they not only lose control of it but have no guarantee that it will do something positive for them and they may actually end up losing their comforts and seeing nothing in return. So they never take the risk. They convince themselves that making more and bigger piles at home, for their own family, is why God gave them what they have. Sharing their wealth with other Christians is too risky.
And some people are afraid to take the risk of using their gift or even sharing their testimony because being honest with people will shock them. Doing what God made them for or sharing their story will cause people or will see them in a different light. For example, their talent is unconventional – they’re great at art but everyone says that it’s a waste of time, so they bury it. They have a knack for making movies or telling dark stories, but the people around them say Hollywood is evil and telling dark stories is bad, so they bury it. They are a natural gymnast or dancer, but their church looks down on them because they’ve oversexualized it, so they quit. Or God called them to be single and everyone around is pressuring them to get married. Or God gifts them with a bazillion kids and everyone around tells them to stop. Or maybe it’s just that their testimony has some really rough parts, some bad stuff that no one knows about, and they’re afraid to tell anyone because it may risk their social status, so they never, ever share it with anyone. God gives them hopes, dreams, and a story – but they bury it because they are afraid.
Next week I want to get practical and answer question 2 in a more positive way by asking: “How can I use it best?”, but we’ve run out of time and are going to have to stop for now. But let me ask you to consider these two questions.
First, do you see yourself as a steward of all you have been given, or an owner?
And second, are you not using something God has given you, whether it’s time, talent, treasure or testimony, because you are afraid of the risk involved?
Answering those will go a long way toward figuring out how much faith and trust you have in God. Let me encourage you to work on that. If God has equipped you with something, then ask Him how to use it. Just don’t sit on it, or keep it to yourself. Even if it’s just a little… show your faith in God by starting to use it and develop it for His glory.
“As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak but should be in submission, as the Law also says. If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.” (1 Corinthians 14:33b-35)
Oh boy, have I ever been looking forward to preaching on this passage…
No one likes to be told to shut up – least of all, in my experience, women. If I tell my guy friends or my sons to “shut up” it goes a lot better than if I were to tell my wife, daughters, or female friends.
But, unfortunately, that’s a reputation that some pastors, churches and Christians have. One accusation consistently brought against the Christian church is that we are anti-female, oppressing and restricting women. And of course, horrible stories like the homeschooling parents who kept their children starving and chained to their beds, or the various reports of religious communes and cults that force women and children into servitude don’t help because they are invariably called “devout Christians” at some point by the media.   And, in our post-Christian, post-church culture, it’s natural to lump everyone who calls themselves Christian together with them. The pastors are cult leaders, the men are mysogonist pigs, the women are fools or terrorized, and the children treated no better than slaves.
I’ve heard from a few of you that some people around this area have even wondered if Beckwith Baptist Church is a cult. Long gone are the days when the small, local, Baptist church was seen as a beacon of morality. Now, the most basic Christian terms like “Christian”, “pastor”, “elder”, “deacon”, “biblical “authority”, “submission”, evoke among the culture pictures of abuse, brainwashing, and financial exploitation. People don’t know the difference between David Koresh and Jamestown, Westboro Baptist Church, or the evangelical church around the corner. Conversations with people about “going to church” or “being a Christian” these days have a lot of baggage, so it’s little wonder that some are ashamed to admit it.
And when it comes to a passage like we are looking at today, it’s even worse. Christians aren’t automatically given the benefit of the doubt to explain what it means, but instead beaten over the head with it as it’s used as confirmation bias for outsiders to spread false beliefs about what goes on here.
And within the church this is the kind of verse that people tend to avoid. They like the Gospels and Proverbs and Psalms and whatnot, even Revelation and Romans, but when it comes to this kind of verse, it’s just easier to pretend it doesn’t exist. But it doesn’t work, does it? There’s always that nagging voice inside of you that says, “What have you gotten yourself into? These people look all nice and happy now, but there’s a secret underbelly where some really bad stuff happens. These women aren’t happy, their afraid – you just don’t see it yet. These kids aren’t loved, they’re terrified to show their true feelings. These church men are all the same – they preach love and grace but secretly they are using religion to control women, harm their kids, and take people’s money. Be careful. Don’t get sucked in.”
These Christians tend to stay on the outside, never really giving themselves fully to Jesus, God, or their church, because they’re afraid they are going to be let down. They feel drawn to God, drawn to worship, drawn to Jesus. They love the message of Salvation, the idea of having a community of believers, and the practical ways that the Bible is changing their lives, but they are secretly afraid of learning too much, seeing too much, engaging too much, of finding out what Christianity is really all about.
Then a terrifying thought hits their brain: “You’re being lied to. You’re being manipulated. This church says that they’re not a cult, but that’s what all cults say isn’t it? It’s when you get into the inner circle that things start to get scary and oppressive.”
So they come to church on edge, waiting for confirmation of this little voice in their head. They start to watch the news with new eyes, seeing how much damage religion is doing around the world, and the horrible things people have done in the name of Christ. They start to remember personal stories of difficult times when they went to church as a kid, or stories their family has told, and remember that there was a lot of hurt there. Now when they attend it feels different. Now the people seem a little stranger, less trustworthy, and all the messages seem to be about judging and hating others, giving more money, and unquestioning submission to some human authority.
They usually come for a while, hoping all this isn’t true, but then, without fail, someone says or does something to confirm everything they’re thinking. A pastor commits adultery, a youth worker abuses a child, a trustee is caught stealing, a small group leader starts a fight. And their fears are confirmed so they leave angry, sad, frustrated, feeling stupid and used, vowing never to get fooled again.
They still have a hunger for God in their heart, but they keep that all to themselves now. They stay home, read the bible themselves, or start to experiment with other religions.
This story has been played out over and over in the church. Perhaps you know someone who has gone through it, or perhaps you secretly thinking some of this yourself.
So what do we do at times like this? It is my belief that everything I just described is a direct Satanic attack on the souls of people seeking God and who believe in Him. He’s a liar, a master deceiver, a manipulator who has been playing this game for a long time. So what is the solution to these sorts of lies? What are we to do when we come across a difficult passage like this that stirs up so much inside us? The only way to defeat a lie is with the truth, and so instead of avoiding these passages, we have to dig into them. We need to confront our biases and our fears and be willing to allow God’s Word to tell us what He is really saying.
So I want to do that today. I want to give us four questions to ask when it comes to these types of difficult passages so we can have a deeper faith, more trust in God, and a stronger witness to the unbelieving world.
Does this Sound like the Biblical God?
The first question I want you to ask yourself is “Does my interpretation of this passage sounds like what Jesus preached and what the rest of the Bible teaches?”
Let’s read it again,
“As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.”
What does that sound like to your modern ears? Based on your personal history and worldview, what does that sound like? It sounds like the Apostle Paul is telling all women everywhere to keep their mouth shut when they come to church, right? He cites God Law as his authority and in verses 37, which we didn’t read, he says, “If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord.” It sounds like he’s saying, “God says women in all churches for all time need to shut up. Jesus says a woman asking questions is terrible.”
Sounds close, right? But is it? Does that interpretation line up with what the rest of the Bible says? Not even close. What does the Bible say? It says God created woman as the other half of His image, a compliment and gift to man, different in many ways, but equal in dignity, worth, purpose (Gen 2). It was sin that turned men against women making them use their physical strength to oppress, subjugate and enslave them.
When God gave Israel His Law, they had come from a world full of violence, superstition, oppression, and evil. His people were to be different so He broke them away from the norm and gave them a higher set of standards that elevated the status of women and children, giving them rights and protections under the Law they never had before.
And it gets better. In the New Testament. Jesus treated women and children with so much more respect and care than the culture ever did. He didn’t see women as sexual objects, or judge them by their beauty, age, marital status or anything else. He simply saw them as genuine persons worthy of love and respect. He met with them, protected them, listened to them, taught them, and cared for them as no one else would, and then taught his followers to do the same.
I want to play a clip from a man named Todd Friel who is the host of Wretched TV and Radio. He talks a little funny, but he’s a good, Christian guy and I think this clip helps us understand something important about the Christian view of women.
I could do a whole sermon on the biblical view of women, but that’s not the point today. Does the Bible teach that men should oppress women? No. Now, does it teach that women should shut up in church?
Well, in the same letter in chapter 11 it says that women are allowed to pray and prophecy in the church. It says, “…but every wife who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head…” I won’t get back into the issue of head-coverings, but notice that there were women praying and prophesying in church. In the Old Testament we have women like Meriam and Deborah leading worship and speaking publically to the people. Psalm 68:11 (NET) says, “The Lord speaks; many, many women spread the good news…” In the New Testament we see the Prophetess Anna speaking at the temple (Luke 2:36-38), Philip the Evangelist’s four daughters who prophesied (Acts 21:9), and the Apostle Peter saying at Pentecost, “And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dream…” (Acts 2:17).
Clearly, from scripture, we can say that women have the same spiritual availability to not only teach, prophecy, and share God’s Word but were doing it in the Christian church right from its inception.
So if Jesus elevated the status of women, and the church has been a champion of women’s rights, and so many other places in scripture say women can speak in church, what’s going on here?
What’s the Historical Context?
That’s the second question: “What’s the historical context?”
Notice that he’s not just telling women to change their behavior, but everyone! He tells those coming to church and eating all the food to stop it (let’s be honest, that’s probably the men). He tells those who are getting drunk at church to stop it. He tells those who are flipping out like they did at the pagan temples to stop it. He tells everyone who is being noisy and disorderly to stop it. He tells those who are yelling and singing over each other to stop it. He tells the tongues speakers to limit themselves. He tells the prophets and preachers to take turns. That’s men and women.
He’s like the referees at a hockey game where a brawl has broken out. He’s blowing his whistle, separating fighters, sending some folks to the bench and others to the locker room. He’s restoring order.
And another issue he’s dealing with is that there were a specific group of women who were disrupting the church services with questions. Whether it was because they didn’t understand what was going on and wanted to learn, or they were arguing with the points the teachers were making, or something else, these women were causing trouble in the church.
We’ve talked a lot about context over the past while so I won’t bore you with a repeat, but there are two things I want you to remember: the situation with the headdresses and the problem of disorderly worship.
Remember how messed up and chaotic the church services in Corinth were. Everyone in the church was doing whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted, as loudly as they wanted, right? Remember the context of 1 Corinthians 14 where Paul is talking about what it means to be orderly in church. That’s a really important part of what’s going here. Paul’s not singling out women, but listing a whole bunch of things that are going wrong in their church services. One of those things, among many, was this group of women.
It’s likely the same group of women who were being addressed in the head coverings controversy. Remember when we talked about them we saw that there were some women that were coming to church and were not only causing disturbances but were embarrassing their husbands by they causing scenes, flaunting their sexuality and independence, and were being a bad witness to the church and the rest of society. In that lesson, we talked about how one of the big issues was that these women were disobeying God by refusing to submit to the biblical teachings of complementarianism and male headship (again, something I’m not going to repeat here). That’s very, very similar to what’s going on here.
It’s not that these women weren’t allowed to pray, prophecy, speak in tongues, worship, or serve – it was that they were part of the disorderly service problem and needed specific correction. They were asking so many questions that it was causing a ruckus (just like those speaking in tongues were). Sure, they were allowed to learn, but the worship service wasn’t the time to be interrupting with a bunch of questions.
Notice as well that this is addressed to wives. That’s what gives us a clue that this is connected to the headdress and male headship issue. It’s likely that these women weren’t just politely asking too many questions, but were actually making a scene, being out of control with their words, and reflecting badly on their husbands and families. So Paul gives them the same message as before – respect your husbands enough to show some self-control and bring your spiritual concerns to them privately first.
I wonder if this also speaks to the women who refuse to talk to their husbands about anything spiritual at all, but instead keep all those conversations for their Christian girlfriends, small groups, pastors, and Christian professionals. They have so little respect for their husband’s spirituality that they leave them completely out of the conversation. They have an issue in their heart and need counsel, a question about the Bible, need some wisdom or direction, or help with some other part of life, and don’t even talk to their husbands about it, but immediately go to their pastor, small group leader, or Christian friends. What does that say about how much they value and respect their husbands opinions? That it has zero value. That’s hurtful to the marriage disrespectful to the husband. Wives, talk to your husbands first about what’s going on in your heart. Don’t leave him out of the mix.
The first question is, “Does my interpretation of this passage line up with what the rest of the Bible teaches?” and the second question is “What is the greater historical context of this difficult passage?” . So, the third and fourth questions are simply, “What does this passage mean?” and “Will I submit myself to it?”
So, what does this passage mean? It means that the Bible elevates women, not degrades them. They have equal access to God’s Holy Spirit and are invited to learn and participate in church worship services just like men, and are under the same rules to keep it orderly. But, it also means that there is a lesson there about self-control and humbly submitting to how God wants to do things. It means that you don’t get to say whatever you want to say whenever you want to say it. It means practicing patience and submission to authority. It means respecting your husband enough to include him your spiritual walk, asking his thoughts, listening to his answers, even if it makes you uncomfortable or you don’t feel like he’s up to it.
In the end, once we study this passage, and strip away our own bias, what we see here are some verses about the godly attitudes of humility and respect? Humility and respect toward God and His rules for how we live our life. Humility and respect for your church family, placing their desires above your own. And humility and toward your husband, and that’s something that, I think, everyone can understand and agree on.
I encourage you to be introspective this week about this. Have you let Jesus take control of your tongue, your pride, and the openness between you and your spouse in your marriage? Are you practicing humility and respect in these areas?
Ok, so I need you to take a moment to remember the last few sermons, because they have all been, in some way, preparatory for this one. On the first Sunday of the year we talked about we are sometimes convicted to make changes in our life, and therefore make “Resolutions” to change – but how those resolutions rarely last very long. That’s when we talked about accountability not only to God but also to each other. The next week we talked about the Church Membership Covenant and how it is simply a type of accountability tool to help each other walk with Jesus more joyfully, biblically, and consistently. That was followed by last week’s message on “Unity and Harmony” which was an overview the theological underpinnings of how and why the work of Jesus on the cross brings us back into fellowship with Him and with each other, and how us doing the hard work to live that out brings glory to God and honor to Jesus.
Hopefully, those big thoughts of Accountability, Unity, and Harmony have been bouncing around your head for the past month because it will help you understand what is going on in our passage today. Please turn to 1 Corinthians 14:1-33.
First, and as always, a little context first. 1 Corinthians is a letter written by the Apostle Paul, inspired by God and with the authority of Jesus, to a new and relatively small church in the ancient Greek city of city of Corinth. Corinth was not unlike Ottawa or other big cities in North America today. It was cosmopolitan, multicultural, multi-ethnic with a vast array of religions and places of worship. It had very rich and very poor people, famous thinkers, great actors, beautiful architecture, and was a port town with lots of tradesman and visitors.
Atheism was almost unheard of and the life of the city ebbed and flowed from the pagan temples. They were where you’d go not only for worship, but for entertainment, to find work, to buy groceries, or to eat out. The experience of being part of a “worship service” in one of these temples was pretty intense. There were temple prostitutes, drugs, music, and other pretty crazy stuff going on two as people opened their minds to demonic influence. Some people would scream, others laugh. Some would fall down and shake, writhe on the floor, speak gibberish, or tell fortunes with special “words from the gods”.
None of this was considered weird though. It would be normal for someone, rich or poor, man or woman, to come into the temple, join an orgy, take drugs, and party – or beg favour from the god and be told to either pay money, hurt themselves, or do something extreme or terrible to ensure the god’s goodwill. That was normal.
Then the Apostle Paul came to town and planted a Christian church and it was very different from what they were used to. He was tired and overwhelmed from a long, difficult mission trip, but stayed for a year and a half, preaching, teaching, counselling, and preparing the church. He taught them that God loved them and saved them by grace, and didn’t need or want them to do all the crazy stuff they were doing at the pagan temples. He taught them God’s expectations for biblical faith, salvation, prayer, and how God creates people for his glory and equips them to worship Him and take care of each other.
He left and went on to plant and help more churches, but it wasn’t too long until he started hearing that there were problems in Corinth. We’ve been covering a lot of those issues over the past year or so, but most of them centred on divisions in the church – which we learned last week means that they had forgotten the very foundation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
They had divided on which teacher they liked better – some choosing Peter, others Paul, others Apollos – forgetting that their first allegiance was to Jesus and the teachers all just worked for Him. Because of the fighting in the church, they had given room for Satan to have a field-day among them and some of the habits of the old temples had worked their way back into their church. They forgot the gospel and started to believe they had to do certain things to get saved and win God’s favour. They forgot what God had said about purity and righteousness as both rampant sexual immorality and some form of pleasure denying asceticism had grown up in the church. They forgot about the unity and harmony that comes from being united to Jesus and started suing one another. They had also forgotten about the exclusive claims of Jesus, that there is only one God and one way to be saved as they grew bored with their church or felt pressure from society to go back to their old temples to offer worship to the pagan gods – while other people were using their freedom in Christ as an excuse to offend everyone around them by refusing to conform to the basic, cultural standards of their society.
In the section before the one we’re looking at right now, we’re seeing how all this had crept into the most foundational of their Christian practices as even the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper, what we call Communion, had been corrupted. They’d meet for a worship service, which always included the special time of Communion where the sacrifice of Jesus was remembered, and it was a fiasco. Some would come early and eat all the food, others would get drunk on the communion wine, and the hungry among them would continue to starve.
Paul then, in chapter 12, turns the topic to Spiritual gifts, which are God’s special gifts given upon conversion to believers, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to help people worship God, serve their church family, and spread God’s love around the world. We talked about that in November and the sermon is online, so I’m not going to review it here, but I want you to remember that the big issue was that they had gotten God’s gifts confused with the type of things that were happening at the pagan temple.
In their previous religious experiences, it was all about self and selfishness. It was about manipulating the gods and the people around them to get what they wanted. It was about having intense ecstatic experiences that centred on their own desire for pleasure or excitement. It was about being the centre of attention, feelings special, and being more spiritual, more euphoric, more intense than those around them.
But the Christian church isn’t about selfishness, it’s about selflessness. It’s about being like Jesus, the servant of all who gave His life as a ransom for many. It’s about God saving us unto good works and living a life humbly serving His will and not our own. It is about using our gifts, talents, abilities, finances, to help others and point them to Jesus.
Giving up self-centred religion is hard though. Giving up on the belief that we can manipulate God is hard. Giving up being the centre of attention and living for others is hard too – which is one reason why this church, once the Apostle left – slipped back into old habits and needed to be corrected. In that correction, Paul gives some teaching on the Spiritual gifts, teaches them about loving service in Chapter 13 (which I hope you remember), and then here in chapter 14 addresses two of the gifts that were causing most of the trouble – Prophecy and Tongues.
Prophecy and Tongues
Just a quick note on what those are, so the passage is more easily understood when we read it:
Prophecy is, essentially, is the spiritual gift of speaking words from God. This is either something God has suddenly revealed or brought to mind, usually the words of scripture that apply to a certain situation or some piece of wisdom or direction or are very much like the gifts of preaching and teaching when God uses a person to speak and explain the Word of God to someone. They come through normal, human language, and according to the Bible, have to be tested or evaluated for truth, based on what God has already revealed in the Bible (1 Cor 14:29, 1 Thess 5:19-21).
So the picture of the New Testament spiritual gift of prophecy isn’t Moses standing on a hillside declaring words from God that no one has heard before, but more like a Christian friend, teacher, elder, or preacher speaking words that line up with scripture and seem to exactly fit a certain moment in time, bring glory to God and clarity, comfort, and direction to those who are listening. Sometimes God uses the words that the person is speaking to go straight into the heart of the listeners, believers or unbelievers, so much so that it seems like the secrets of their heart have been revealed to the speaker and God is speaking directly to them.
The gift of Tongues is similar but different in that the message from God is coming in a language that the person speaking doesn’t know – sometimes as another human language, like in Acts 2, or sometimes in a language that no one knows. This can happen when a Christian is alone, during their private prayer times, or publically when God takes over a person’s voice and shares a message that no one is able to understand until someone with the gift of interpretation stands up to explain what the message means. When spoken privately, it’s an intimate act of worship. When spoken publically, just like the gift of prophecy, this public message is meant to bring glory to God and clarity, comfort, and direction to those who are listening.
You can see how tempting it would be for a person who wants that weird, ecstatic, religious experience, or who wants to be the centre of attention, or who wants to feel special, to want this to happen to them. And especially for those in this Corinthian church where people were coming out of those pagan worship rituals. The other spiritual gifts, like hospitality, encouragement, service, giving, mercy, faith, or helps are not nearly as spectacular or flashy as tongues, right?
So, with that in mind let’s read 1 Corinthians 14:1-33 together:
“Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy. For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit. On the other hand, the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation. The one who speaks in a tongue builds up himself, but the one who prophesies builds up the church. Now I want you all to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be built up.
Now, brothers, if I come to you speaking in tongues, how will I benefit you unless I bring you some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or teaching? If even lifeless instruments, such as the flute or the harp, do not give distinct notes, how will anyone know what is played? And if the bugle gives an indistinct sound, who will get ready for battle? So with yourselves, if with your tongue you utter speech that is not intelligible, how will anyone know what is said? For you will be speaking into the air. There are doubtless many different languages in the world, and none is without meaning, but if I do not know the meaning of the language, I will be a foreigner to the speaker and the speaker a foreigner to me. So with yourselves, since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church.
Therefore, one who speaks in a tongue should pray that he may interpret. For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful. What am I to do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also; I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also. Otherwise, if you give thanks with your spirit, how can anyone in the position of an outsider say ‘Amen’ to your thanksgiving when he does not know what you are saying? For you may be giving thanks well enough, but the other person is not being built up. I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. Nevertheless, in church I would rather speak five words with my mind in order to instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue.
Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature. In the Law it is written, ‘By people of strange tongues and by the lips of foreigners will I speak to this people, and even then they will not listen to me, says the Lord.’ Thus tongues are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers, while prophecy is a sign not for unbelievers but for believers. If, therefore, the whole church comes together and all speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are out of your minds? But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you.
What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up. If any speak in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn, and let someone interpret. But if there is no one to interpret, let each of them keep silent in church and speak to himself and to God. Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. If a revelation is made to another sitting there, let the first be silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged, and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets. For God is not a God of confusion but of peace.”
A Gospel Issue
Do you see what the big issue is here? God is all about Christians using their gifts. He wants people to speak His word to people, to bring His wisdom and comfort and joy to them. He wants His power to be shown, for Christians to be built up, for faith to grow, worship to be exciting and inspirational, and for people to get saved. He wants believers to experience what it’s like to speak the words of life to one another and see God’s Spirit move in a powerful way.
But, as with all sources of power and all gifts, there is the risk of it being misused. Usually, our greatest strengths are those that cause us the most trouble, right? This church had a lot of amazing spiritual experience, and had seen God move in amazing ways, had experienced God’s grace in an amazing way, but with that explosive power had come the temptation toward selfishness, division and pursuing the gifts rather than the Giver.
Instead of listening to God, they were more interested in being heard by others. Instead obeying God, they kept trying to tell God what they wanted. They were treating Jesus the way they had treated their pagan gods. Instead of coming to the Son of God humbly for salvation, for direction, for hope, for help, they came for the gifts and experiences associated with Him.
This still happens today and happened when Jesus walked the earth. Turn to John 6 where it tells the story of when Jesus had preached all day and those who were listening hadn’t brought food and were hungry. He had compassion on them and miraculously fed thousands of them with one boy’s lunch. After everyone had eaten until they were full, the disciples gathered twelve baskets of extra food left over!
Now read what happened next:
“When the people saw the sign [the miracle] that he had done, they said, ‘This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!’ Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself.” (John 6:14-15)
What did the people want from Jesus? Eternal life? Salvation from death? Freedom from sin? Peace in their hearts through a right relationship with God? Did they even want to be with Jesus, the source of life and light, the very Son of God? No. They wanted full bellies. So Jesus takes off, runs away, and that night escapes to the entire other side of the sea. But the people follow him. Read from verse 22:
“On the next day the crowd that remained on the other side of the sea saw that there had been only one boat there, and that Jesus had not entered the boat with his disciples, but that his disciples had gone away alone. Other boats from Tiberias came near the place where they had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks. So when the crowd saw that Jesus was not there, nor his disciples, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum, seeking Jesus.
When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, ‘Rabbi, when did you come here?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.’”
Do you see that there? Same issue as in Corinth. They were willing to completely bypass their relationship with God, forget about the Word of God, and dismiss everything that Jesus was offering them – for the sake of the gifts. In this case it was the food and freedom from hunger, in Corinth it was the spiritual gifts of tongues so they could feel special and powerful, but it was the same motive. They didn’t want Jesus, they wanted to use Jesus to get what they wanted – even if it meant trying to make Jesus give them what they wanted by force. They completely missed the point of the Gospel Jesus was preaching. He offered eternal life, these Jews wanted sandwiches. Jesus offered peace and purpose and a spiritual family, they wanted to babble and look cool to their friends.
This is a terrible temptation for any counsellor, preacher, or evangelist, but when we concentrate on the gifts, point people to the good things Jesus offers, we inevitably miss out on presenting the Gift-Giver! If they are converted to the gift, if we seek the gift, we will invariably feel let down because it will only feed our selfish desire for more – but if we are converted to and seek the Giver, only then will we be satisfied.
Jesus says, “I showed you signs that I’m the Saviour and the path to eternal life, but you don’t want that, do you? You want the gifts.” In another place He says,
“For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?” (Matthew 16:26)
Or, what is the point of eating your fill if you don’t accept eternal life? What is the point of speaking in tongues if you aren’t making any sense, helping anyone, worshipping God, or even connected to Him? What is the point of being the centre of attention and getting all the adulations of being a prophet, if you are far from God?
Keep reading in John 6 because something important happens there. Look at verse 28: “Then they said to him, ‘What must we do, to be doing the works of God?’ Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.’”
The Corinthian church was so active with these gifts that they had forgotten what they had believed and the work of sharing the gospel of Jesus! Their worship services didn’t proclaim Jesus anymore. They were as bad as the pagan temple, a cacophony of drunken noise that didn’t make sense to anyone. There was no message telling people how to find peace with God, no sharing what it means to be righteous, no message of hope, mercy and grace – just meaningless madness done no longer in the name of Apollo or Aphrodite but in the name of Jesus.
Jesus implores His listeners to see the miracles as signs that they must do the one thing they must do to be saved – believe in Him. Paul, in the same way, implores the church to quit focusing on the signs and the gifts, and go back to the simple message they first believed, and to proclaim it in an orderly, understandable, humble, God glorifying way.
I could go farther into this, but I’m out of time. I want to you to take some time this week to read 1 Corinthians 14 in the light of John 6 and to explore in yourselves what ways you are focusing on the gifts rather than the Gift-Giver.
- In what ways are you simply using the people around you, the church, and even God, as a way to get what you want – even at the expense of your relationships with them and God?
- In what ways have you made your life, your home, your church, or your soul, a cacophony of self-centred noise that is out of tune with what God wants for your life? What I mean is to ask yourself about what ways you are being self-focused, self-centred, self-motivated – but pretending to do it in the name of Jesus. Teaching, helping, speaking, giving, singing, reading, eating, working, all for yourself, so you can be seen and steal glory from God by being seen by others, rather than using your gift to bring glory to Him and serve those around you. It’s impossible to hear God when everything in your life is focused on telling you how great you are.
- In what ways have you replaced a simple, orderly relationship with God, simple worship, simple prayer, simple bible reading, simple service, simple singing, with complicated, bombastic, ritualistic, religion? It could be choosing not to read the Bible so you can read the latest Christian book or listen to some preacher – or only talking about God when you are in public, but never giving Him a second thought when you are alone or with your family – or being caught up in trying to impress God with good works or punishing yourself.
- In what ways have you complicated your relationship with Jesus so that you are losing your focus on Him in favour of things that are merely about Him?
Malachi is the last book in the Old Testament and shines like a beacon in a dark place. And those who first heard it really needed a beacon because even though things weren’t at their darkest, it still wasn’t a great time in the life of Israel.
Malachi was a prophet that lived about 400 years before Jesus and 100 years after the Babylonian exile. He came on the scene in the years after Nehemiah and Ezra had already rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem and reinstituted the sacrificial system, but things were still pretty bleak. Though things were going ok for the generation that had come back to their homeland of Judah things were far from perfect. The prophets that had encouraged them to rebuild their temple had given promises of blessing, renewal, expansion, prosperity, peace, that would come when God’s glorious presence would once again come to the temple.
But when they looked around at their life they were disillusioned – it wasn’t anything like that. Sure, they were no longer being oppressed in a foreign land, but the glory days of expansion under King David and the peace and prosperity under King Solomon were long distant memories. Now they were the least important territory in Persia under Artaxerxes, were barely getting by, suffering from droughts and crop failure, and were constantly fighting with their neighbours.
It wasn’t just the living conditions and lack of plenty that bothered them, there was also a spiritual drought. Sure, the temple was rebuilt, but it was much smaller and spiritually inferior to the great Temple of Solomon. God had shown up to help Esther save the nation and Nehemiah rebuild Jerusalem, but they thought that once the final stone was laid at the temple that the miracles would automatically rain down on them, but it seemed that God’s presence had all but left their nation. Even the Holy of Holies seemed deserted.
Of course, the problem wasn’t that God was gone, but that their hearts were far from him. Their worship was lethargic and empty of love or passion. They constantly complained about God’s lack of love and how he was unjustly punishing them. They even withheld their tithes because they were worried they wouldn’t have enough. It can be summarized in Malachi 3:13-15, “Your words have been hard against me, says the LORD. But you say, ‘How have we spoken against you?’ You have said, ‘It is vain to serve God. What is the profit of our keeping his charge or of walking as in mourning before the LORD of hosts? And now we call the arrogant blessed. Evildoers not only prosper but they put God to the test and they escape.’”
Disappointed with God
Have you ever felt this way? What’s the point of following God? Where’s the gain in following all God’s rules, doing things His way, which is almost always harder, and then things just getting worse? God is the “Lord of hosts”, the “God of gods”, the “God of angel armies”, but where is He? The arrogant, self-willed, atheistic, non-believers all seem like they are doing better than us. And people who are outright committing evil, mocking God to His face, are getting away with it! What’s the point in believing in God when He never does anything to make our lives any better?
That was the attitude of the Israelites during the time of Malachi, and it’s the attitude of many today. They were tired of waiting, tired of suffering, tired of not having enough, tired of seeing evil get away with it, tired of calling themselves the people of God and then losing every other battle to those which they used to conquer easily. God wasn’t blessing anything they were doing, so they blamed God for all their problems.
But Malachi doesn’t allow for that. Malachi comes to God’s defense. He reminds them that God is more than happy to bless them, but refuses to bless their sin. He reminds them that God was the one that chose Israel and has stayed committed to them, showing them great love even when they had completely turned their backs on Him, and then restored them back to their land. And what was their response? To worship and praise and obey and give thanks and take care of each other? No… it was to grumble, complain and dishonour God by bringing worthless, impure offerings – to withhold their worship, love, and obedience – to commit sexual sins, divorce each other, and marry unbelievers – to dishonour and live unjustly towards one another – and to live as hypocrites who say one thing and do another.
He tells them that they aren’t receiving God’s blessing right now because their hearts and lives are a mess… which is a story we’ve all heard so many times, right? Almost to the point we’re tired of it. I know I can start to feel that way.
God, where’s the good news!? Why is everything so hard? Marriage is hard, and parenting is hard, and getting older is hard, and being young is hard, and being sick is hard, and staying healthy is hard, and our spiritual life is hard, and there are so many temptations, and there is so much pain and uncertainty – and that’s just the tip our own little iceberg. This world is a whole other thing. I don’t understand what the government are doing, corporations seem to be getting more powerful and sometimes more evil, people seem to be getting either more gullible or more selfish. Nature itself seems to be going crazy as people panic about climate change, natural disasters, and species extinction. And then we have crazy scientists who are doing all sorts of terrible things like creating human embryos and then destroying them, messing with human genetics, cutting off heads and putting them on other people’s bodies – it’s like a sci-fi movie out there right now!
Our spirits cry out to God, we hit our knees, we cry out to God and nothing seems to happen. We read our bibles, say our prayers, go to church, and nothing gets any better. Sure, maybe we’re distracted for an hour or two, but invariably it all comes crashing back on us. Or worse, we come into church hoping for an uplifting message with some answers and just hear once again how our problems are somehow all our fault – and we go home feeling even more miserable. Seems to be the same story over and over, right?
Then it’s easy to slip into the mindset that Malachi was writing about: What’s the point of all this religious stuff? What’s the point of believing in God if things are just going to be miserable anyway? Where is God when all this insanity is going on? We hear stories about amazing things happening in India, China, and Florida – but what about Beckwith, or Ottawa? And like Israel, we get disillusioned and disappointed with God and start to back off our faith.
Instead of tithing as we should, we keep a little more back each week because we are worried about the budget. We think, “God hasn’t given us enough money, so how can we afford to tithe?”
We start to skip church events, skip Sundays, drop out of ministries – after all, there’s lots of work to be done and attending church hasn’t really produced anything other than guilt and broken promises about “finding joy in suffering”.
We start to indulge a little more in the things that bring us temporary joy – porn, drinking, drugs, food, violence, entertainment – and it gives us that little rush we weren’t getting when we were trying to connect with God. Sure, it produces some shame… but if we keep at it we know that the shame will eventually be quieter.
We pull away from our Christian friends, stop going to small groups, stop calling our accountability partner, stop listening to Christian music, because it all just reminds us about how everyone else in the world is either just as miserable or better off– and I don’t want to hear from either one of those people.
So we head to the doctor in hopes of a medical solution, and they are more than happy to give us something that numbs our feelings and forces us into unconsciousness at night.
Sure, we still call ourselves Christians, but we stop reading the Bible because it just produces more guilt and we rarely pray, except to complain to God about how unfair life is, how He’s not doing His job, how if He’d just fix things then we’d come back to doing what we’re supposed to. But the prayer bounces off the roof, nothing changes, and we start to contemplate not only why we started to believe in the first place, but whether God even exists at all.
It would be far easier if He didn’t, we think. If God didn’t exist, then nothing matters. There are no consequences, no Hell, just oblivion. That, by definition is hopelessness, and that’s not only where a lot of people are today, but where Israel was headed during the time of Malachi. By the time we reach the birth of Christ, except for a few people, hopelessness had almost totally engulfed the nation.
Where to Find Hope
What is the cure for hopelessness? The simple answer is hope. “Hope that does not disappoint”, as Romans 5:5 puts it. What message does Malachi give to these people whose faith was falling apart and who were losing hope? Look at the very end of Malachi, the last of the Old Testament. Open up to Malachi 3:16. After all the complaining and faithless and disobedient had had their say against God, another group immerges:
“Then those who feared the LORD spoke with one another. The LORD paid attention and heard them, and a book of remembrance was written before him of those who feared the LORD and esteemed his name.”
Pause there a second. In this nation that had all but fallen away from God, there was one group that was still faithful, one group who had not bowed their knee to another god, one that had continued to remain obedient despite all the troubles they had seen. How?
Look what they did. They “spoke with one another”. I’m sure most of you have gone camping and had a camp fire. These days they make you buy your wood from the store at the campground, and it’s really expensive, so you really need to enjoy every little piece. You start with a nice fire, but as the night wears on, the wood burns down, the logs get smaller, until there is only one little charred block, with a tiny flame, surrounded by orange embers. So what do you do? You stoke the fire, right? When the flames are dying down, and you’re all out of wood, what do you need to do to make sure it doesn’t go out? You bring the embers together, you keep the flame alive by bringing the warmth together. In order to kill a fire, you spread it out, right? To keep it going, you pull it together.
In the same way, when the fire of faith is burning low, believers should be drawing together to keep the flames of faith alive. And what did they do? They spoke with one another. What did they speak about?
Hebrews 10:23-25 shows believers who were in a very similar situation. Oppressive government, dangerous times, losing hope, and it says, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”
They confessed their hope to one another: “What brings you hope this week? How have you seen God this week? What do you remember of God’s covenant to us? How has He been faithful to you this week?”
What else did they speak about? They stirred one another up to love and good works. “How have you been doing this week? How can we help you? How can we help others? Have you been caught in sin? How are you doing with forgiveness?”
What else did they speak about? They encouraged one another. “I know you feel miserable right now, but you’re doing great. I know you feel lonely but I’m here. I know you feel your prayers aren’t answered, but I assure you God is listening and doing more than you know. I know you feel stuck, but I see such wonderful potential in you. God is doing something amazing with you and I can see it. Don’t give up!
Another group in Ephesus was going through a similar situation, living in evil days, and the Apostle Paul says this in Ephesians 5:15-21, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit…” Which all makes sense right? Sinning by drinking or doing drugs isn’t really going to help, right? But look what he says next, because it’s really important. Essentially, he says what Malachi and Hebrews says:
Verse 19, “…addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.”
How do you keep your hope up when things are getting hopeless? When the fires are going out in your heart? Satan will tell you to get alone. Turn away from God, away from friends, away from prayer, away from church, away from your spouse and children, to get alone – so you are an easier target. What does God say? Not just “Speak to each other.” But “sing to each other!”
He says, if you are down and feeling hopeless and want to feel more hopeful and closer to God, get together and sing to each other! Sing your praise, sing your thanks, sing about God, sing about Jesus… but not just to feel better, but out of submission and reverence for Jesus. When we sing songs of faith together our hearts knit together, and then fall before Jesus.
How do you fire up dying coals? Blow on them! So how do you encourage yourself when you feel your faith is dying? Draw together with other believers and speak and sing!
Elijah is John the Baptist
Let’s close by reading the end of Malachi, the last words of the Old Testament, starting in 3:16 again,
“Then those who feared the LORD spoke with one another. The LORD paid attention and heard them, and a book of remembrance was written before him of those who feared the LORD and esteemed his name. ‘They shall be mine, says the LORD of hosts, in the day when I make up my treasured possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his son who serves him. Then once more you shall see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve him. For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble. The day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the LORD of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall. And you shall tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet, on the day when I act, says the LORD of hosts. Remember the law of my servant Moses, the statutes and rules that I commanded him at Horeb for all Israel.”
I can almost hear the words of the faithful in response to this, “Yes God! We will keep meeting together, keep remind one another, keep speaking your name and singing your songs. We believe you will completely save us one day. But when, God? When will you come and deal with the evil once and for all? When will you come and raise up your people like the sun? When will healing come? When will you tread down the wicked and cause us to leap for joy?
And God tells them the sign to wait for in 3:5 that will kick off this glorious time,
“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.”
Who was this one that would come right before the “great and awesome day of the Lord”? Who would come to prepare the land so it wouldn’t be “utterly destroyed”? According to the Bible and the words of Jesus it was John the Baptist, who would come and proclaim Jesus’ coming as Son of God and Saviour of the world. (Matthew 11:7-14; Luke 1:17).
Choose to Meet
Next week we enter into the Advent season, the season of waiting and preparing ourselves for Christmas. I know that for some of you this is a wonderful time that you are looking forward to, and that there is much to be cheerful and thankful for. And I know that for some of you, you’ve got so much going on in your life and in your souls that even the idea of celebrating Christmas seems like more of a chore than a blessing.
My encouragement to both of you is to keep doing the things that will point you and others to hope in Jesus. If you are having a good season right now, then that’s great, come to the church events, host people in your homes, make excuses for people to get together and invite those from outside your usual circles so more people can encourage one another. And if you are going through a struggling season right now, then I encourage you to clear your schedule and be willing to accept these forthcoming invitations so you can be with your fellow believers more and more. Honestly decide in your heart that you will make your church family and various Christian events a priority, to meet with Christian friends, and to find ways to sing and talk with each other – as medicine for your soul! If you are sliding into hopelessness, that’s the recipe for hope – and there’s no more perfect time of year to make excuses to get together to speak and sing with one another than Christmas time, right?
 Acosta, D. R. (2016). Lord of Hosts. In J. D. Barry, D. Bomar, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, D. Mangum, C. Sinclair Wolcott, … W. Widder (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press. & ESV Study Bible Malachi Introduction.
Have you ever had the experience where you look at a word too often and it suddenly loses its meaning? You read it, try to spell it, sound it out, and then suddenly that word looks really weird, you don’t recognize it, the letters all look misspelled, and you’re not even sure what it means anymore? Because I spend so much time writing and reading it happens to me all the time.
It’s actually a very normal thing that happens. It’s called “Semantic Satiation” and it happens when you ask part of your brain to access a piece of information too many times in a row. Essentially that little bit of your brain gets tired and needs to recover.
This can happen with more than just words though. This is why we usually don’t like listening to songs more than once and why songs with repetitive lyrics lose their meaning after a while as the words become just part of the beat. It happens to warning signs where the words “Danger” or “Caution” are seen so many times that they lose their ability to affect us. It’s also why advertising companies keep changing the names, logos, and boxes. You’ve probably noticed this when you’ve written a note and stuck it on a wall, right? It was supposed to remind of something, but after a short period of time, you don’t even see it anymore. The same thing happens with companies as the wow factor of their product goes down and they have to change up how it looks or what it’s called so you’ll notice it again.
This rabbit hole goes deeper though. There were some studies done on Semantic Satiation that showed how using emotional words a bunch of times can change how you see other people. In one study in 2012, they took a bunch of students, stuck them in a room, and gave them a bunch of faces to get familiar with. They were then divided into two separate groups. One group was asked to repeat a feeling word 30 times (like “happiness”, “anger” or “fear”) putting them way into Semantic Satiation of that word. Then they showed a picture of someone they had just memorized with their facial expression showing that emotion (being happy for example). It took the group that repeated “happiness, happiness, happiness” over and over much longer to identify the person than the group that hadn’t – even when they made the face super extremely happy. It had fatigued that part of the brain so sufficiently that when they saw happiness, not only had the word “happiness” lost its meaning, but their ability to detect happiness it in other people’s faces!
One could make a pretty good argument that we’ve done this with a lot of really good words like “Epic” and “Awesome”, which are now all used to describe not only the most majestic parts of creation but also the most mundane things. You can stand on the edge of Niagara Falls, witness its power and listen to its roar and say, “wow, that’s awesome” – or when your waitress asks how your food is, you can say, “wow, it’s awesome.”
I think in a very real and even more serious way, this has happened to the word “Love”. It’s supposed to mean “an intense feeling of deep affection”, but it seems to have lost its punch.
Most people know the Bible has a lot to say about Love, but it doesn’t really help much to read that if our brains simply can’t soak in what that word means because either we see it too much or we have no real definition of it, right? It just bounces off us like water off a duck’s back, never penetrating the shell of our hearts.
1 John 4:7-8 says, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.”
How can we understand what that means if we are using the word “love” to describe our feelings for God – but also our spouse, our kids, our car, for new fallen snow, and our favourite dessert? How can I love God but also love tacos?
The New Testament was written mostly in Greek and Greek had 4 different words for “love”. There’s EROS, where we get our word “erotic”. It was represented in the Greek god EROS, who the Romans called “Cupid”. It is the feeling of arousal where people are sexually attracted to each other.
Then there was STORGE, which was the special love shown for relatives like parents and children, and the word PHILIA which is the love between very close friends or even brothers and sisters. There’s a really combination word in Romans 12:10 that says Christians are to “PHILOSTORGOI one another”. Love as a family and love as friends mushed together.
But there is one word for love that towers above all others in the New Testament and that is the word AGAPE or “unconditional or sacrificial love”. It is not a love that is based on familiarity, charm, or attraction. This is a love that has more to do with principles than feelings. That being said, it’s not just the cold, religious duty that we give to God or we give to others because we have to, but more as an affection driven by something deeper than mere feelings. This is love based in commitment, given by self-sacrifice, made by choice, regardless of how much the other person deserves it or the risk of disappointment or rejection. 
The Love of God
AGAPE love is the love that is “of and from God”. It is love that is “of” (as in, aligns to His design for it) and “from” (as in, the kind of love God gives us). It is the kind of love God gives to us and the kind we are to give to others. This is what 1 John 4:19-20 means when it says, “We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar…” That’s the concept of AGAPE laid out. We can only have the deep, AGAPE type of love – sacrificial, committed, fearless, unselfish love – if God not only demonstrates it to us but also helps us to have it.
Once we start to grasp the concept of how much God loves us, it gives us the courage and the impetuous, the motivation to love others. As long as we think God is against us, will leave us, hates us, is angry at us, or is too distant to care about us, we will never be able to truly give AGAPE love others.
But when you realize that God loved you so much that He was willing to trade His one and only Son for you – you start to get it. When it becomes real to you that God knit you together in your mother’s womb and chose you before the beginning of time to be His – you start to get it. When you realize that even your worst sins are not only forgiven but will be used for your good and God’s glory – you start to get it. When you realize that you were dead, condemned, an enemy and yet God saved you anyway – you start to get it. When you realize that even on your worst day, when everything is wrong, that there is nothing in the whole universe that can separate you from the love of God, because His love doesn’t depend on you, it depends on Jesus – you start to get it. When you realize that you were the leper and Jesus touched you, you were the blind and Jesus made you see, you were the outcast, the Pharisee, the prostitute, the hypocrite, the corrupt official, the fool, the afraid, the lost sheep, the prodigal son, the one who owed more than could be repaid in many lifetimes – and Jesus came and got you, healed you, cleaned you, paid your debt with His own blood, and walks with you every moment of every day – you start to get how much you are loved.
And then that type of love can’t help but leak out on to others. Just like “faith without works is dead” (James 2:17), the love God shows us must spill onto others. Love must be “demonstrated”, shown, made real and practical. That’s Romans 5:8: “But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
Agape love is always shown by what it does. God’s love for us is most clearly shown at the cross. God’s AGAPE love is love we don’t deserve. Ephesians 2:4-5, right? “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved…”
But what does that type of love even look like in our lives? It’s all well and good to talk about big, God-sized love, and it makes us feel warm and fuzzy to read and sing about, but how does it work out practically in our lives? What does it look like? If “love” has truly reached “Semantic Satiation” in our culture, then how can we recover it? Well, we not only need to experience it for ourselves by being saved by Jesus, but we also need some concrete concepts and examples to help us understand. And that’s when we turn to 1 Corinthians 13.
Turn with me to 1 Corinthians 13 and let’s read one of the most famous passages in scripture, often called “The Love Chapter”, and let’s pull out some real, concrete, ways that God’s AGAPE is lived out in our lives.
Remember the context of this church? They were divided into factions (1:12), participating and encouraging all kinds of sin (5:1, 6:12-20), suing each other (6:1), messing up their marriages and families (7:1-16), constantly offending one another and tempting one another to sin (8:12; 10:31; 11), coming to church drunk and eating all the food before everyone got there (11:17-34), even desperately wanting to be able to have the kind of crazy spiritual experiences they used to have when they worshipped demons at the temple (12:2).
Remember the context from last week about Spiritual Gifts? Last week we learned that they had gotten the idea of spiritual gifts completely confused and were not only wishing they could all have sign gifts, but were belittling themselves and anyone who had gifts they deemed less important. And so the Apostle Paul, writing under the authority of Jesus, says, “You guys have this all wrong! We’re a body that needs all these different parts!”
At then, at the end of his illustration of the Body of Christ, where he tries to teach them to accept the gifts as God gives them and work together, he says, “And I will show you a still more excellent way.” What’s more excellent than getting the gift of tongues, or healing, or miracles, or teaching? What’s more excellent than having some intense, ecstatic worship experience? Paul starts with a preface.
Look at verse 1-3:
“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.”
What’s he saying here? He’s saying that you can have all the gifts, talents, powers, and faith in the world – but if it’s not motivated by AGAPE love – sacrificial, committed, unselfish love – it is meaningless. Why? Remember what I said last week about the difference between demonic spiritual gifts and the spiritual gifts from the Holy Spirit? What was the difference?
The ones from the Holy Spirit point to Jesus and the demonic ones point everywhere else. What’s the difference between real, meaningful, good works and ones that are meaningless? Love.
Listen to the words of Jesus from Matthew 7:21-23,
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’”
These passages sound very familiar, don’t they? “Jesus! We spoke in the tongues of men and angels, we gave great, prophetic messages and sermons, we studied so we could understand mysteries, and memorized bible passages and theologies and doctrines and psychologies and medicines and technologies so we would have all kinds of knowledge, and we did mighty works in your name, fed nations, started ministries, cured disease, travelled the globe singing your songs and speaking your name.
And what does Jesus say? “You had not love, neither for me nor my people. You were only thinking of yourself. So when you taught and spoke and sang all I heard was an irritating, clanging symbol. I don’t even know who you are. My ears were closed to you. And your faith and mighty works, were not motivated by AGAPE because you don’t even know me. There was no sacrifice, no commitment, it was selfish love meant to point back to you – and so it all meant nothing. We weren’t working together, Me as your Lord and Saviour, you full of my Spirit. You were doing it all on your own. All your supposed good works, because they were not motivated by my love, were all works of lawlessness, doing more harm than good.”
No good deed, no great religious work, no level of knowledge can save us, nor can it please God alone. Why? Because even though it looks like love for others, it is actually just love for ourselves. What does this look like?
Verse 1 speaks of words. Consider your words. Where do your compliments come from? From a desire to make others feel loved or because you want compliments back? Why do you try to solve relationship issues like arguments? Because you love the person or because you hate conflict? Why do you insert yourself into people’s lives and try to befriend them? Because you love them and want to bear life’s burdens with them – or because you are afraid to be alone or need someone to stir drama up with? Consider why you do what you do. Is it out of love for others or love for yourself?
Verse 2 speaks of knowledge. Why do you study? So you can serve others or so you can sound smart? Why do you seek excellence? Because you want to maximize the joy of others or because you are a controlling perfectionist? Why do you like hearing people’s problems and giving advice? Because you have a soft heart and want to walk with them or because you have a saviour complex and want to be Jesus to them?
Verse 3 speaks of actions. Why do you do what you do? Love is not merely measured by your actions, but by your motives. Why did you buy that gift for that person? Because you love them and thought it would make them feel love – or our of obligation, to shut them up, to distract them, or to make yourself look good. Motives matter. This says you can give away everything you have, be the most generous person alive, live in a cardboard box, and then die as a result – and it could mean nothing to God, gain you no heavenly reward, because it was not motivated by love.
What a different view of spirituality, religion, wisdom, and sacrifice God has compared to us, right? We could judge someone the most amazing believer ever – the voice of an angel, the preaching power of Spurgeon, the wisdom of Solomon, the spirituality of Augustine, the knowledge of Da Vinci, and the sacrificial life of Mother Theresa – and yet, before the face of God in heaven it would all count for exactly zero because it was not motivated by love.
So what does true, AGAPE love look like? We see it in verse 4. “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”
Hopefully the picture begins to form. Have you ever known someone who was amazingly skilled, knowledgeable, or giving – but their heart was a mess? What a smart guy, but what an unkind man, he has no patience for anyone. That woman volunteers all over town and serves in every ministry – but what a bragger. That guy sure knows a lot about the Bible, and is such a man of prayer – but he is so rude, always insisting on his own way – you should see how he treats the waiters and waitresses at restaurants.
“Of course I love my husband and my family and my church”… then why are you always so irritated and resentful of them? Why do you have a ready list of everything they have ever done wrong since you met them? “I love my wife and family and church”… then why do you constantly like about where you’ve been, what you’ve been doing, and why you were late?
Do you see how our motives can completely negate our loving actions? How our actions can completely negate our words? The love of God, AGAPE love, looks like this. Remember I said that love is “of” God and “from” God. The way we understand how to love others is to understand how God loves us. So what does true love look like?
Love is patient, longsuffering. The Bible says repeatedly that God is “slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” (Exo 34:6; Num 14:18; Ps 86:5). He’s not sitting around waiting to zap you, constantly stomping around, disappointed with you because you’ve “done it again” – He’s patient. Are you? Some of you ask, “How long do I have to put up with this?” The Biblical answer is, “A good, long while.” “But they keep doing it! How many times do I have to forgive them and be patient? They’ve done this like seven times!” And Jesus says, “I do not say to you seven times, but 490 times.” (Matthew 18:22) So many times that you end up losing count. Are you patient? Keep in mind that one of the fruits of the Spirit that you can ask for is “Patience” (Gal 5:22-23).
Love is kind. Kindness is the initiative to respond to people’s needs. You see someone in need and you are compelled by a drive inside, because of the kindness God has shown you when you were in need, to go and fill it generously. “Need a quarter? Here’s a dollar”. “You look sad, here’s something to cheer you up.” “Can’t afford a babysitter? I’ll come for free – and tidy the kitchen when you’re gone.” “You need a ride? Here, borrow my car.”
Love does not envy, or is not jealous. Envy is when you get angry that someone has something you want. When seeing someone that has something causes you to feel sorry for yourself. “That person is richer than me, smarter than me, prettier than me, better at a skill than me, and that makes me angry at them and assume the worst about them. I can’t be their friend because they have something I don’t. They have a spouse, girlfriend, boyfriend, parent, child, home, car, whatever, and when I see them or think about them I immediately feel bad about myself. That’s envy and jealousy. It was, perhaps, Satan’s greatest sin. Love says, “I am happy that person has something awesome like that. Sure, I’d like that too, but I’m really glad they are blessed in that way. I wouldn’t trade with them because then they would be without. I’d rather go without if it meant their happiness.”
Love does not boast; it is not arrogant. This is the mirror of envy. This is making others feel badly because of the things we have. We are given a gift by God and are meant to use it to bless people – but instead we use it to make ourselves feel superior to others. That’s sin. Love says, “I have this awesome thing and I’m going to share it with you. I have this talent and I’m going to bless you with it. I have this ability and I’m going to use it for you, without cost, because I love you.”
Love is not rude, or unseemly. In other words, love doesn’t make people cringe by being crude, impolite, or offensive. Usually this means sexual talk and profanity, but it can also mean simply not waiting your turn, serving yourself first, or telling jokes that try to humiliate or embarrass others. Love lifts people up, encourages, and is sensitive to others. It wants God to be honoured and everyone to enjoy what’s going on.
Love does not insist on its own way. Being self-seeking, or insisting on your own way, is literally the opposite of love. Love looks out for others, gives way to them, insists others go first, listens to what others have to say and lets them try it their way.
Love is not irritable or resentful. Another translation says, “Love is not easily angered and keeps no record of wrongs.” Love isn’t touchy, irritable, hot headed, always on the edge of exploding. It doesn’t have a list ready every time someone talks. Love doesn’t jump down people’s throats over a misspoken word or cause others to hide in fear of them. It doesn’t sit there with their thumb on the nuclear button that they know will blow the other person up and make them stop talking. Love is patient, right? It gives people latitude, lets them speak, lets them make mistakes, lets them try again, lets people explain themselves, and contributes calm to the room – not fear. Which do you contribute?
Love does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love loves morality. When sin and evil happens it’s not happy about it, but sad. God doesn’t delight in wickedness (Ps 5:4). In fact, He hates sin. Injustice and evil causes Him to feel sadness and wrath. God didn’t sweep the sin under the rug, but dealt with it justly and righteously. That’s why Jesus had to die on the cross, to take the wrath of God for us.
After explaining what love does not do, he turns to the positive and gives us what it does – and they all point to Jesus. To “bear all things” means to “cover” or “hide”. Think of someone being a human shield or throwing themselves on a grenade. Love protects. You see someone being embarrassed or gossiped about or about to face harm and the love inside you makes you jump out and help them. That’s what Jesus did for as He took the punishment for our sins and continues to intercede for us as our advocate.
To “believes all things” doesn’t mean to be gullible or naive, but to be willing to think the best of people, giving them the benefit of the doubt. Jesus does this to us as He walks with us, continues to listen to our prayers, keeps helping us, keeps encouraging us, and treats us as friends. One of His titles, after all, is Jesus, Friend of Sinners. A friend knows our weaknesses and cuts us lots of slack.
To “hope all things” means we look forward, not backward. You can’t keep a record of wrongs if you are looking forward, right? It means knowing that God is working on people, that tomorrow is another day, and trusts that God is working things out for our good and His glory. Jesus is our ultimate hope, allowing us to know that as bad as it can get, God has it under control and it will all eventually make sense in Him.
To “endure all things” means to persevere. It was not the Jews or the Romans who put Jesus on the cross. He could have stopped anytime. It was Jesus that put Himself there. He, because of His AGAPE love for us, endured the cross (Heb 12:2) so that we could be saved. Love doesn’t take off when things get tough, it sticks through. Love doesn’t give up. Hardship and pain doesn’t stop love, it purifies it. They strive to save their marriages, families, friendships, as much as they can – for the sake of love.
And that kind of love goes beyond feelings doesn’t it? It’s not temporary, it’s permanent because it is rooted something that doesn’t change: in God Himself. That’s the kind of love Christians have been given and that we have access to when we submit ourselves to the leading of the Holy Spirit. It really is the “more excellent way”.
 White, R. E. O. (1988). Love. In Baker encyclopedia of the Bible (Vol. 2, p. 1357). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.