Living Significantly in a Needy World
God has enlisted us in his navy and placed us on his ship. The boat has one purpose-to carry us safely to the other shore. This is no cruise ship; it is a battleship. We aren’t called to a life of leisure, we are called to a life of service. Each of us has a different task. Some, concerned with those who are drowning, are snatching people from the water. Others are occupied with the enemy, so they man the cannons of prayer and worship. Still others devote themselves to the crew, feeding and training the crew members.
Though different, we are the same. Each can tell of a personal encounter with the captain, for each has received a personal call. He found us among the shanties of the seaport and invited us to follow him. Our faith was born at the sight of his fondness, and so we went. We each followed him across the gangplank of his grace onto the same boat. There is one captain and one destination. Though the battle is fierce, the boat is safe, for our captain is God. The ship will not sink. For that, there is no concern.
There is concern, however, regarding the disharmony of the crew. When we first boarded we assumed the crew was made up of others like us. But as we’ve wandered these decks, we’ve encountered curious converts with curious appearances. Some wear uniforms we’ve never seen, sporting styles we’ve never witnessed. “Why do you look the way you do?” we ask them.
“Funny,” they reply. “we were about the ask the same of you.”
The variety of dress is not nearly as disturbing as the plethora of opinions. There is a group, for example, who clusters every morning for serious study. They promote rigid discipline and somber expressions. “Serving the captain is serious business,” they explain. It’s no coincidence that they tend to congregate around the stern.
There is another regiment deeply devoted to prayer. Not only do they believe in prayer, they believe in prayer by kneeling. For that reason you always know where to locate them, they are at the bow of the ship. And then there are a few who staunchly believe real wine should be used in the Lord’s Supper. You’ll find them on the port side.
Still another group has positioned themselves near the engine. They spend hours examining the nuts and bolts of the boat. They’ve been know to go below deck and not come up for days. They occasionally are criticized by those who linger on the top deck, feeling the wind in their hair and the sun on their face. “It’s not what you learn,” those topside argue. “It’s what you feel that matters.”
And, oh, how we tend to cluster.
Some think once you’re on the boat, you can’t get off. Others say you’d be foolish to go overboard, but the choice is yours. Some believe you volunteer for service, others believe you were destined for the service before the ship was even built. Some predict a storm of great tribulation will strike before we dock, others say it won’t his until we are safely ashore.
There are those who speak to the captain in a personal language. There are those who thing such languages are extinct. There are those who think the officers should wear robes, there are those who think there should be no officers at all, and there are those who think we are all officers and should all wear robes.
And oh, how we tend to cluster.
And then there is the issue of the weekly meeting at which the captain is thanked and his words are read. All agree on its importance, but few agree on its nature. Some want it loud, others quiet. Some want ritual, others spontaneity. Some want to celebrate so they can meditate, others meditate so they can celebrate. Some want a meeting for those who’ve gone overboard. Others want to reach those overboard but without going over board and neglecting those on board.
And, oh, how we tend to cluster.
The consequence is a rocky boat. There is trouble on deck. Fights have broken out. Sailors have refused to speak to each other. There have even been times when one group refused to acknowledge the presence of others on the ship. Most tragically, some adrift at sea have chosen not to board the boat because of the quarreling of the sailors.
Ouch! Reading things like that can cause all kinds of reactions among believers:
For one thing it can just leave you dumbfounded. Quite frankly the divisions within the body of Christ are mystifying. If He is Who He said He was, and He started this Church like He said He did, how come we are so divided? I went online and guess how many churches I counted just in our immediate area? 44 all of them claiming to be preaching the truth about Jesus Christ. Does that mystify you? Ever wonder how we could be unified? Listen this morning and maybe you can discover an answer.
Division in the church may dumbfound you, or it could be even more destructive. It might discourage you. When you hear that statistic that I just gave: 44 churches in the wilson area, you begin to doubt. When you got saved, you thought you would discover unity in this body you united with, but since you’ve joined the voyage, you’ve discovered that there’s a lot of fighting on the boat, and you’re beginning to wonder if it be better to abandon ship. Well, I want to tell you that those aren’t your only options. Unity is possible.
But there’s one more thing division may do to us. Not only can it dumbfound us and discourage us, but it also can distract us. I’ll tell you this is the most dangerous effect of disunity. The church today spends so much money and so much energy fighting one another; wrangling over insignificant issues that have no eternal impact that we lose sight of our mission and while people are dying all around us, we’ll argue about whether we should use this type of music or that type of event to reach them. It’s like standing on the deck of the titantic, discussing which life preserver we should throw out in the ocean to rescue drowning men. Our division distracts us. We must learn how to be unified so that we can get on with what God called us to do.
The church Paul wrote to in the book of Ephesians was called to be involved in a great mission too. Paul knew how easy it would be for them to be divided. After all, this church sought to meld into one body two groups who were mortal enemies: Jews and Gentiles. It would be so easy for these groups to find fault with one another and to separate from each other. Maybe that’s why Paul makes it clear to them that unity is the key to their success. In fact, it is the only way that they will ever be ale to impact their world. He told them in chapter 4 of Ephesians
I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, 2with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, 3endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
Throughout this book, Paul emphasizes over and over again the need for unity. More than that, he reveals that a realization of who we are in Christ makes unity inevitable. It is so important to him that some commentators consider the theme of unity to be the main focus of Ephesians. I want to take you through this book this morning and show you two requirements Paul gives us for unity. The first one is this: Genuine unity requires
DIVISION 1: GENUINE LOVE
Now some of you who are budding theologians might be smiling condescendingly when you hear me make that statement. You’re thinking, “Just what I expected from a musician turned pastor. Yeah, you’re stong on feelings and short on facts. Unity doesn’t begin with love; unity begins with doctrine!”
Well, I’ll have to say, you do have a point. In fact it’s a point Paul does make in Ephesians 4:4:
There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your
calling; 5one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6one God and Father of all, who is
above all, and through all, and in you all.
When he speaks of unity, Paul is quick to base that unity on doctrinal agreement, at least on the things that really matter. You see him here give us what is doctrinally essential.
But I think he would also be the first to tell us that correct doctrine isn’t enough for unity. In fact, some of the most doctrinally correct churches are some of the most divided churches. Most churches don’t divide over a lack of truth but over a lack of love. That happened to this church: You remember from our study in 1 Timothy that this Ephesian church had some doctrinal problems. Some of their leaders were leading people astray with false doctrine, so Paul had sent Timothy to straighten things out. Timothy, evidently does a good job because when this church is mentioned in the final book of the Bible their problem is no longer improper doctrine it is an insincere love. Jesus said to this church, “Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love”
Now that’s a mystifying statement, quite frankly. It is mystifying because of all of the love that had been lavished on this church. Paul told them in Eph 2:4, 5
4 But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ
They were a loved people, and not just by God, the Father. His Son also loved this church. In Eph 3:19 says that God wanted them “to know the love of Christ, which passes knowledge.” And because Christ loved them, He brought them together as one in Himself. Look at what Eph. 2:14-18 says about what His love did for them:
For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, 15 having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace,
And this body that His love had built was one body in Him and in that body they were brought together through the power of His Spirit. Eph. 5:18 says:
And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit, 19 speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, 20 giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another in the fear of God.
This great love of God, shown in and through His Son, was to empower them through His Spirit to submit to one another in love so that in all their relationships they would have the grace to humble their pride-filled flesh and seek unity, not their own selfish way. Now wife could submit to husband because of the Spirit’s power; husband could submit to Christ because of the Spirit’s power; child could submit to parent because of the Spirit’s power and in that day slave could even submit to master because of the Spirit’s power.
Somewhere, though, the Ephesian church missed it. Somewhere, pride entered in perhaps, or the Holy Spirit was not longer allowed to have His way, and that love died, and when the love left, so did the unity; and when the unity left, they lost their impact.
But it doesn’t have to be that way here! We can choose to surrender to the Spirit. We can choose to mutually submit. We can choose to be a body where pride is removed, self is conquered the Spirit is in control, love is evident, unity is genuine and the impact on this world is powerful! We can be different, how? Well, it’s all about love! Genuine unity requires genuine love.
That is so easy to forget in our day of power politics and political intrigue. We have forget that impact isn’t about power, but about love. We think that the way to change our world is to elect more republicans, or hang more Sadam’s. We think its about raising money, getting out the vote, or picketing clinics. We think its about marquis names and strategic planning. We forget that Jesus never went for those things. How did he change His world?
Dr. Christianson was a professor at a small college in the Western United States. He was a believer and taught a class in religion at that college where he sought to share the gospel of Christ, often to no avail. To his dismay, students considered the class required drudgery . . . until one day. On that day, he did something his students would never forget.
Before class he asked one of his students to help him with an illustration. The student was Steve, a well-liked freshman who played football. Steve was in great physical shape, so the professor wasn’t surprised when he answered his question . He had asked, “Steve, how many pushups to you think you could do.”
“Well, I do 200 every night,” Steve replied.
“Do you think you could do 300? Not all at once, but in sets of 10.”
“Well, maybe . . . yeah, I think I could.”
“Great,” replied professor Chrstianson, “I need your help.”
On Friday, the class was surprised when the professor, instead of beginning a lecture, brought out a box of doughnuts, the big, creme-filled, delicious kind. The professor asked Cynthia, the first student in the row, “Cynthia, would you like one of these doughnuts?”
“Sure,” Cynthia replied.
Dr. Christianson turned to Steve and asked, “Steve would you do ten push-ups so that Cynthia can have a doughnut.”
“Yes,” Steve replied, and did 10 quick push-ups without breaking a sweat. This process was repeated as the professor went down the first row and then started down the second, first asking if each person wanted a doughnut, then asking Steve to do 10 pushups so that they could have their doughnut.
He arrived at Scott’s desk. Now Scott was an athlete on the Basketball team, proud of his ability, and not wanting someone else to do his work, so when the question was asked, “Scott, do you want a doughtnut,” he replied, “Well, can I do my own pushups?”
“No,” came the reply, “Steve has to do them.”
Scott said, “Well, I don’t want one then.”
Dr. Christianson shrugged and then turned to Steve and asked, "Steve, would you do ten pushups so Scott can have a donut he doesn’t want?" With perfect obedience Steve started to do ten pushups.
Scott said, "HEY! I said I didn’t want one!"
Dr. Christianson said, "Look, this is my classroom, my class, my desks, and these are my donuts. Just leave it on the desk if you don’t want it." And he put a donut on Scott’s desk. Now by this time, Steve had begun to slow down a little. He just stayed on the floor between sets because it took too much effort to be getting up and down. You could start to see a little perspiration coming out around his brow. Dr. Christianson started down the third row. Now the students were beginning to get a little angry. Each student began to turn down their donut, and each time, the professor asked Steve to do ten pushups and gave them one anyway.
By this time, Steve’s arms now shaking with each push-up in a struggle to lift himself against the force of gravity. His back was swayed, not straight. His waist barely cleared the floor. Sweat was profusely dropping off of his face and there was no sound except his heavy breathing, there was not a dry eye in the room. Finally, Dr. Christianson turned to the last girl, Susan. "Susan, do you want a donut?"
Susan, with tears flowing down her face, began to cry. "Dr. Christianson, why can’t I help him?"
Dr. Christianson, with tears of his own, said, "No, Steve has to do it alone, I have given him this task and he is in charge of seeing that everyone has an opportunity for a donut whether they want it or not. When I decided to have a party this last day of class, I looked at my grade book. Steve, here is the only student with a perfect grade. Everyone else has failed a test, skipped class, or offered me inferior work. Steve told me that in football practice, when a player messes up he must do push-ups. I told Steve that none of you could come to my party unless he paid the price by doing your push ups. He and I made a deal for your sakes. Steve, would you do ten push-ups so Susan can have a donut?" As Steve very slowly finished his last pushup, with the understanding that he had accomplished all that was required of him, having done 350 pushups, his arms buckled beneath him and he fell to the floor.
Dr. Christianson turned to the room and said. "And so it was, that our Savior, Jesus Christ, on the cross, plead to the Father, ’into thy hands I commend my spirit.’ With the understanding that He had done everything that was required of Him, he yielded up His life. And like some of those in this room, many of us leave the gift on the desk, uneaten."
What does that have to do with impacting your world? O just about everything. See, Jesus could have come and demanded our loyalty. He was God after all, and He had created this world. He could have come after us with power. But He didn’t. He wasn’t interested in people following Him because He made them. He wanted a relationship with people who, enabled by His Holy Spirit, could return His love. He wanted change from the inside out. It wasn’t about power; it was about love.
And if we want to change this world, we must trade power for love, too. You see, power divides. When I say I am powerful, it’s a pretty meaningless statement unless its comparative. It only makes sense when I say “I am more powerful than you,” and that kind of approach divides us into winners and losers.
Power divides, but love? Love unites. Love brings us together and gives us impact. Christian that simply means that you and I cannot bully others into believing. We can’t afford to win the argument if it means we lose an opportunity to show the love of Christ. Impact isn’t about giving our unsaved friends a piece of our mind; its about giving them a piece of our heart. Hey, when was the last time you had an unsaved friend over for dinnner. When was the last time you decided that you were going to encourage a new believer and become a mentor to them. Power divides; love unites.
That just means that real impact is impossible of Christ isn’t your Lord. If you’re here this morning and you don’t have a relationship with Christ, you are really powerless to have significant impact. You might say, “Oh, really! What about that sales award I won last year? What about my Ph.D.? How can you say that I have no impact?” Well, I suppose those kinds of things do indicate your own personal achievement, but they really have not eternal impact on this world. Eternal impact is a spiritual thing, impossible through human power. If you ever want to eternal impact, you must have a relationship with Jesus Christ. Power divides, but love unites.
Peace Church, our impact doe not depend on how many dignitaries know about us or whether everybody in town has attended the Christmas theater. Our impact doesn’t depend on how much we take up in the plate, but on how much we give out to the world. We will never reach Wilson locked inside these four walls. We can’t even reach this world by heartlessly going out on visitation every week. No! There must be genuine connection. There must be real love. There must be a willingness to give our life away just like Jesus did.
Genuine unity requires genuine love. But it also requires
DIVISION 2: SUPERNATURAL GRACE.
When it comes to loving other people there is a classic non-negotiable princple that cannot be violated: You cannot love others until you know you’re loved. Even children instinctively know it’s true. One ingenious teenager, tired of reading bedtime stories to his little sister, decided to record several of her favorite stories on tape. He told her, “now you can hear your stories anytime you want. Isn’t that great?” She looked at the machine for a moment and then replied, “No. It hasn’t got a lap.”
All of us need a lap. All of us need love. In fact, we won’t be able to love others until we know we’re loved. Maybe that’s why Paul spends so much time in this letter that urges loving unity talking about all the things that a loving God has done for us. We see in verse four of chapter one that “ . . . He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world.”
We see in the very next verse that He “predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself.
And on down in verse 7 it tells us that in Him, “we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace.”
And then in verse 9 he tells us that God “has made known to us the mystery of His will.”
And in verse 13 He lets us know that we don’t ever have to worry about losing our inheritance in Him because we have been “sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise who is the guarantee of our inheritance.”
You cannot read chapter one without coming to one undeniable conclusion: This great majestic God we have loves us very much! So if it is true that you cannot love others until you know you’re loved, and God tells us that He loves us very much, you would expect that Christians should be the most loving unified people on the planet, right?
Well, you’d think that, but the truth is, they often are not. Why is that? I think its because even though God loves them, they really haven’t grasped it yet. That’s right! In fact, Paul lets us in on a little secret about the love of God. It is possible for us to be believers and not realize His great love. It is possible for us to come to Christ and be saved, yet live lives that have never really connected with the awesome love of God. You say, “Well, Rusty, show it to me.”
Glad you asked: Look over in chapter 3, beginning in verse 14
14 For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15 from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, 16 that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, 17 that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height— 19 to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
Hey, do you see what the focus of Paul’s prayer for them is? It is v. 17, “that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height– to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge . . .”
Yes, its possible for you to live a joyless, defeated, divisive Christian life, never getting ahold of just how much God loves you and, in return, never being set free to genuinely love any one else.
My friend, to you have any idea how much God loves you? I saw Dave Busby do this illustration a few years ago and I have never forgotten it. (Take a chair and put it down in the audience, then turn and face them)
What if Jesus Himself walked into this room right now and cleared it out so that it was just you and Him. What if, he sat you down in the chair in front of Him, knee to knee, nose to nose, eyeball to eyeball. What if he stared right into your face so that You knew You were the only one on His mind, what do you think He would say to you?
You might think, “Well, He’d say, ‘I saw what you did last night. How can you call yourself my child and live like that? It’s time for you to make a choice. Shape up or I’ll ship you out.’”
Or you might think he’d say, “When are you going to start telling other people about me? Why don’t you love me? Hey, if you’re going to be ashamed of me when it really counts, I’m going to be ashamed of You when it really counts.”
Or you might think he’d say, “When are you going to start trusting me with your finances? I know you’ve got a lot of debt, but it just comes from you wanting more than you can afford. I don’t care if it bankrupts you, you need to tithe!”
What do you think He’d say? Do you know what I think He’d say? Before he chastised you about your hypocrisy or get on you for your fear, or tell you you needed to tithe, I want you to know what he would say to you, no matter how far you are from Him or what You’ve done to hurt Him. His first words I believe to you would be, YOU HAVE NO IDEA HOW MUCH I LOVE YOU!
YOU HAVE NO IDEA HOW MUCH I LOVE YOU!
You say, “but you just don’t know how bad I’ve been, Rusty. I call myself a Christian. I claim to love God, but I have slapped Him in the face over and over again. There’s no way He could still love me unconditionally.”
O, then you haven’t read Romans 5:8 lately: “But God commendeth His love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”
And in this letter to the Ephesians, Paul again tells us in chapter 2 verse 8 that it is “by grace we have been saved, through faith, and that not of ourselves it is the gift of God, not of works lest any man should boast.”
Before you can ever be the Christian you ought to be. Before you can ever be the father you want to be. Before you can ever be the Upward Coach God wants you to be, or the choir member David thinks you can be. Before you can reach out and effectively share the love of Christ with anyone, you’ve got to grasp just how much God loves YOU!
Love builds in us a desire to obey. Donald J. Barnhouse wrote:
Love is the key. Joy is love singing. Peace is love resting. Long-suffering is love enduring. Kindness is love’s touch. Goodness is love’s character. Faithfulness is love’s habit. Gentleness is love’s self-forgetfulness. Self-control is love holding the reins.
It’s all about love! If you’re here today and you’ve never become a follower of Jesus Christ, I want you to know that I’ve been praying Paul’s prayer for you. That’s right! I’ve been asking God that the Holy Spirit would turn on the switch in your heart so that you finally come to comprehend the great love God has for you. I am praying that you will grasp just how much he loves you and surrender to that love.
Christian, I’m praying Paul’s prayer for you too. Some of you need a fresh glimpse of that love. Oh, you would tell me this morning that you know you are saved by grace through faith, but the truth is you’re trying to earn your keep! Having been saved by faith through the supernatural grace of God, you are trying to live the Christian life in the power of the flesh and its nothing but drudgery to you. You need to reconnect with the great love of God.
Peace Church, we cannot afford to repeat the mistake this Ephesian church made: By the time you read about them in the book of Revelation, they have left their first love. Why? Because they forgot what Jesus had done for them. They preached the word, yes! They even lived the life, yes! They taught their doctrine, yes! But they didn’t live the love! They forgot what Jesus did for them.
It is the love of Christ that will soften your heart. It is the love of Christ that will unify this body. It is that love which will make it possible for us to reach out with such love and unity that the world around us will be drawn to what God is doing through us. It is this love which can turn your own life around.
It did for me! It was back in the ‘80's. I was in graduate school in Murfreesboro, Tn. I had been out of Bible College for a while and I had just kind of settled into a routine life. I was involved in a church in Nashville Tn., worked a job, and went to school. In the middle of that routine, some things started to creep into my life. It was nothing public, but just an erosion of my heart and a drawing away from the Lord. There was a lot of guilt that went with my defection and I began to dread the things of God. I mean I still went to church all the time, but there was this pain that came because I knew that I was not on the inside what I was on the outside. In my mind I thought God was after me, and I suppose that He was, but not in the way I thought.
I remember riding home from class one night. I remember it as if it were yesterday. It was dark and quiet in that car and the billboard sign lights were whizzing by in the darkness. I was feeling so empty and away from God. There was a part of me that really wanted to be right with Him, but I was afraid. I thought, “God doesn’t want to hear a single word I’ve got to say.”
But then it happened. It was like the Holy Spirit whispered in my ear what the Father wanted to say to me. I’ve never forgotten it. It was as if a light came on, on the inside and I knew God had touched my heart. He said this to his wayward servant: “You have no idea how much I love you.!”
That’s my prayer for you this morning. I want You to hear God say that to You. You see, if you genuinely hear Him say that, it changes your life. It takes away your fear. You don’t have to be afraid to step out on faith for the God who loves you is going to take care of You.
You don’t have to hold onto your money anymore because the God who loves you will provide for you. You don’t have to hold on to your life anymore, because the God who loves you will take care of you.
Christian, can you hear God this morning? He’s saying, “I love you, you can
Unsaved, can you hear God this morning.