GETTING RID OF FOREIGN GODS

GETTING RID OF FOREIGN GODS

Joshua 24:14-24 CSB

Therefore, fear the Lord and worship him in sincerity and truth. Get rid of the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt, and worship the Lord. 15 But if it doesn’t please you to worship the Lord, choose for yourselves today: Which will you worship—the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living? As for me and my family, we will worship the Lord.” 16 The people replied, “We will certainly not abandon the Lord to worship other gods! 17 For the Lord our God brought us and our ancestors out of the land of Egypt, out of the place of slavery, and performed these great signs before our eyes. He also protected us all along the way we went and among all the peoples whose lands we traveled through. 18 The Lord drove out before us all the peoples, including the Amorites who lived in the land. We too will worship the Lord, because he is our God.” 19 But Joshua told the people, “You will not be able to worship the Lord, because he is a holy God. He is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions and sins. 20 If you abandon the Lord and worship foreign gods, he will turn against you, harm you, and completely destroy you, after he has been good to you.” 21 “No!” the people answered Joshua. “We will worship the Lord.” 22 Joshua then told the people, “You are witnesses against yourselves that you yourselves have chosen to worship the Lord.” “We are witnesses,” they said. 23 “Then get rid of the foreign gods that are among you and turn your hearts to the Lord, the God of Israel.” 24 So the people said to Joshua, “We will worship the Lord our God and obey him.”

Over the past few weeks, we have been looking at some of the good habits of the victorious Christian. We can find those habits described in the New Testament – like the habit of letting God renew your mind, or passing on your faith. But there are also some good habits described in the Old Testament – like returning to the LORD.

Today’s habit is described in the Old Testament book of Joshua. Joshua 24 records a crucial moment in the history of the Jewish people. They had entered into the promised land, and had settled there. But their fighting was not over. No, Joshua told his people that they had a choice to make – and a choice to keep on making.

Like those Israelites, you and I have the same choice to make. We can delude ourselves into thinking that idolatry is an ancient temptation, and that we are beyond it. Nothing could be further from the truth. If anything, we are living in a generation profoundly polytheistic. You only have to look at the news headlines and social media posts to see that people are following numerous paths, and all those paths compete for our attention and allegiance. The gods of this generation may not overtly name themselves, or demand sacrifices or ritual ceremonies, but those gods are very much alive. They are reflected in the number of their adherents.

It is precisely for that reason that this text can speak to us this morning. We face the same choice that these Old Testament Israelites faced. We would do well to look at the choice they had to make, and see what choice they made, and why it was important that they make it. The habit they needed to develop is the habit of getting rid of foreign Gods and staying true to the one true God.

Joshua encouraged his people to get rid of all the foreign gods and serve the Lord exclusively (14-15).

Moses had instructed the Israelites not to “worship any other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God” (Exodus 34:14 NIV). He told them to “Fear the Lord your God, serve him only and take your oaths in his name” (Deuteronomy 6:13 NIV). A few chapters later, Moses repeated himself, saying “Fear the Lord your God and serve him. Hold fast to him and take your oaths in his name. He is the one you praise; he is your God” (Deuteronomy 10:20-21a NIV).

Jesus had the very same attitude. Some people today talk about Jesus as if he would accept anybody’s religion as long as they were devout. But the Jesus we read about in the New Testament quotes Moses when he says “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only” (Matthew 4:10 NIV).

Joshua encouraged his people to serve the LORD exclusively, but it was not a simple choice for them to make. Opposition gods are everywhere. Here is a short list of Egyptian gods and goddesses.

  • AMUN-RA: the King of gods

  • MUT: the Mother Goddess

  • OSIRIS: The King of the Living

  • ANUBIS: Protector of the Dead 

  • RA: God of the Sun and Radiance

  • HORUS: God of Vengeance

  • THOTH: God of Knowledge and Wisdom

  • HATHOR: Goddess of love and beauty 

These are just a few of the major deities of the Egyptian pantheon. These gods and goddesses had been part of everyday life for the Israelites when they were slaves. They had been born into a culture that venerated these multiple gods.

Joshua’s instruction for his people was to “Get rid of the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt” (14). Now, why did he have to say that? I mean, didn’t the Israelites leave Egypt? Didn’t they cross the Red Sea on dry land? Didn’t they wander in the open country for forty years, and then cross the Jordan into the promised land? Yes, they left Egypt. But the problem with getting out of Egypt is that Egypt does not automatically leave you.

The Israelites had lived in Egypt for over four centuries. They had learned to walk like an Egyptian, talk like an Egyptian, think like an Egyptian, worship like an Egyptian. They needed to present their bodies to God as living sacrifices and allow God to transform them by renewing their minds. But as long as they held on to those Egyptian gods and goddesses, their worship of the one true God would be unacceptable.

It is one thing to destroy an idol. You can do that quite easily. It is another thing to stop trusting in the god that inhabits that idol. You see, if you don’t dump the god or goddess that that idol represents, you are liable to get sentimental and remake the idol. All it takes is a bit of wood or stone. In my travels, I’ve seen the poor make idols out of cement, or use a plastic baby doll. So Joshua challenges his people to get rid of – not just the idols, but the foreign gods.

Now, let’s look at the “gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living” (15). Some of the Israelites were probably not tempted to worship the gods associated with their slavery in Egypt. But they would be tempted to worship the shiny new gods of the land of Canaan.

Here are some of the gods and goddesses who opposed him in the promised land.

  • Ashtoreth (Canaanites)

  • Baal (Canaanites)

  • Baal Peor (Moabites)

  • Baal Zebub (Philistines)

  • Chemosh (Moabites)

  • Dagon (Philistines)

  • Milcom (Ammonites)

  • Molech (Ammonites)

Joshua encouraged his people to get rid of all the foreign gods – old and new – and serve the Lord exclusively

The Israelites know that only the Lord has shown himself powerful enough to save them (16-18).

Notice how the Israelites respond to Joshua’s challenge. They said “We will certainly not abandon the Lord to worship other gods!” (16). They knew that to follow any of the other gods would be to abandon the one true God. He is owed exclusive allegiance.

But they go further than that. They know that following God exclusively is necessary because he has shown himself powerful enough to save them.

First, he miraculously saved them from slavery in Egypt. They said “ the Lord our God brought us and our ancestors out of the land of Egypt, out of the place of slavery” (17).

Second, he showed his power by undeniable miracles while leading them.

Third, he miraculously protected them through the entire generation of wandering and the next generation of conquest.

Fourth, he drove out before them “all the peoples, including the Amorites who lived in the land” (18).

So, the Israelites were convinced that their God alone was worthy of worship and was powerful enough to eliminate the need for any “plan b.” They didn’t need any other gods to fall back on.

They had made an important declaration. Now it was Joshua’s turn to warn them that following the one true God in a polytheistic environment was not going to be easy.

Joshua reminds the Israelites that serving the Lord requires firm commitment (19-22).

Joshua warned them that they “will not be able to worship the Lord, because he is a holy God. He is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions and sins” (19).

If you transgressed under the other gods, there were ceremonies and rituals and sacrifices that would automatically set things right. You could pay a priest or shaman and they would get you forgiveness. But Joshua warns the Israelites that they have to dump that whole process because the true God is jealous and would not forgive someone who stayed connected to those other gods.

Not only would such a person not be forgiven, he would invoke the wrath of God. God would harm him – even destroy him (20). Serving the Lord requires firm commitment. He will not tolerate hypocrisy.

Joshua and the Israelites agree to get rid of all their foreign gods (23-24).

So, Joshua tells the Israelites to “get rid of the foreign gods that are among you and turn your hearts to the Lord, the God of Israel” (23). They agreed to do so. They said “We will worship the Lord our God and obey him” (24).

That was not the end of the story. Idolatry continued to plague the Israelites throughout their history – eventually leading to their exile and captivity among the Gentile nations.

What I see in today’s text is a general principle from Scripture which is just as true today as it always has been. God’s people will always be tempted to add other gods to our pantheon. We will always be tempted to take on some priority other than the gospel of Jesus Christ, and we need to habitually fight that temptation.

Our advertisements reveal that we are enamored with the pagan god SELF. We are commanded to take care of SELF, to treat SELF well because SELF deserves a break, to respect SELF, to pamper SELF, to make SELF first priority.

Meanwhile, our Lord told us that if we want come after him, we will have to deny SELF, and take up our cross, and follow him (Matthew 16:24).

The apostle Paul taught that we should be bearing the weaknesses of those without strength, not concentrating on how to please SELF (Romans 15:1).

James taught that we should be humbling SELF in the presence of the Lord (James 4:10).

Peter taught that we should submit SELF to human authorities because it is God’s will (1 Peter 2:13-15).

When our LORD left us to return to heaven, he gave us one great commission – to make disciples for him. There are a whole lot of others things that will compete for our time and energy, but we need to seek first his kingdom and righteousness. When something else jockeys for the top position, we need to put that god back in its place, because he told us “Do not have other gods besides me” (Exodus 20:3 CSB).

Folks, we have to dump those idols. We have to keep dumping, demolishing, burning, and getting rid of those gods. If we want to live in victory today, and be a part of his coming kingdom, we have to remove every commitment that challenges our Lord’s primacy.

RENEWING YOUR MIND

RENEWING YOUR MIND

Romans 12:1-8 CSB

Therefore, brothers and sisters, in view of the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your true worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God. 3 For by the grace given to me, I tell everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he should think. Instead, think sensibly, as God has distributed a measure of faith to each one. 4 Now as we have many parts in one body, and all the parts do not have the same function, 5 in the same way we who are many are one body in Christ and individually members of one another. 6 According to the grace given to us, we have different gifts: If prophecy, use it according to the proportion of one’s faith; 7 if service, use it in service; if teaching, in teaching; 8 if exhorting, in exhortation; giving, with generosity; leading, with diligence; showing mercy, with cheerfulness.

All the scriptures we are looking at this month highlight habits that we should have – things that we should keep doing as Christians. As a theme verse for the series, I noted Paul’s instruction for the Philippians to keep on doing all that they have learned from him (Philippians 4:9). My point is that the Christian life has a beginning, but we cannot say that now that we are converted, we can just stop serving God and rest on our accomplishment. The Christian life is a life – it is a permanent path that we are walking on (Psalm 1). It is a life that we are passing on to our relatives and friends (2 Timothy 1). It is returning to the Lord – over and over again – so that we always stay with him (Deuteronomy 4).

But I have a confession to make. The title I chose for today’s message is misleading, because…

We cannot renew our minds (2).

Let’s take another look at verse 2 so I can explain what I am talking about.

• Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.

There are two options described by Paul for the Roman Christians. They can either be conformed to this age, or they can be transformed by the renewing of their mind. But did you notice that both of those options are passive?

An action that is passive is one in which the subject is being acted upon by someone or something else. Paul told the Romans not to be conformed to this age. Being conformed means that all the Romans had to do was passively allow the age in which they lived to conform them to its standards.

Likewise, the Romans could passively choose to be transformed by the renewing of their mind. But they could not actively renew their mind. They had to submit to God’s will, and let him renew their mind. In fact, if they did not submit to God, they could not even “discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.” So, the Romans could not renew their own minds. Neither can we.

But this passage does teach us how we can cooperate with God and let Him renew our minds.

What we can do is present our bodies to God (1).

Let’s take a closer look at verse 1.

• Therefore, brothers and sisters, in view of the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your true worship.

First, let’s take a look at that first word: “Therefore.” What is the “Therefore” there for? It draws our attention to everything that Paul had said previously in the book of Romans.

In Romans 1, we learn that the gospel is the power of God which can save everyone – Jew or Gentile. But the Gentiles rejected that gospel and chose idolatry instead.

In Romans 2, we learn that the Jews also rejected that gospel and chose an outward religion instead of the inward circumcision of the heart.

In Romans 3, we learn that everyone is a sinner, but that anyone can be saved by faith in Jesus Christ as the world’s redeemer.

In Romans 4, we learn that Abraham is an example of this kind of faith.
In Romans 5, we learn that Adam’s sin resulted the death penalty to everyone, but that Christ’s obedience will result in a resurrection unto permanent life for those reconciled through his death.

In Romans 6, we learn that we can now present our current mortal bodies not as slaves to sin, but as slaves to God. We also learn that even though the wages of sin is death, the gift of God is permanent life.

In Romans 7, we learn that the flesh and the law cause us to struggle with sin in this life.

In Romans 8, we learn that the Holy Spirit can help us overcome those struggles, and that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ.

In Romans 9-11, we learn that not all natural descendants of Israel are the true Israel. Instead God’s people are those who put their faith in Christ. We learn that “A partial hardening has come upon Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in” (Romans 11:25).

So, everyone – Jew and Gentile alike – depends on something for their redemption. Paul calls that something “the mercies of God.” We cannot transform ourselves from sinners to saints. God has to do that. All we can do is present our bodies to him as a living sacrifice. This is what true worship does. It says “God, I have faith in you to make me become something holy and pleasing in your sight. I cannot renew my mind, but you can. I cannot change my habits, but you can. I cannot even figure out for myself what you want, but you can reveal it to me.”

Now, why would God want to do that for us? The answer is “the mercies of God.” He is merciful. He looks down on his poor, ignorant, dependent children and chooses to treat us with his mercy. God’s ultimate act of mercy will be seen when we are raised to permanent life when Jesus comes again. But we don’t have to wait until the second coming to show the world that we are recipients of his mercy today. We can cooperate with God and let Him renew our minds.

We can also think sensibly about our function in Christ’s body (3-8).

Verse 3 encourages us to “think sensibly, as God has distributed a measure of faith to each one.”

God’s mercy has endowed each of us with a measure of faith, and a set of spiritual gifts by which we display that faith. The whole body of Christ functions properly when all the gifts are displayed.

But the body of Christ can become dysfunctional when certain gifts are regarded as more important that the other gifts.

For example, this passage lists four gifts that are traditionally understood as defining church leadership: prophecy (6), teaching (7), exhortation and leading (8). What we have done traditionally in our churches is that we have propped up these gifts by requiring a formal ordination process and giving people titles that reflect that process.

Now, I believe in properly trained church leaders. As a missionary, I trained people overseas to become church leaders. I teach seminars online to train people as church leaders now. I am currently an ordained minister, and a member of the Eastern North Carolina Conference ministerial committee which evaluates candidates for ordination. But I also believe that Paul’s warning here applies to us.

There is no function in the body of Christ which is more important, or more essential than any other function. When we start thinking of our gifts more highly than we think of others, we are liable to get proud. Pride goes before a fall.

Also, the miracle of the body is that it has many parts, and all of them are designed to function in tandem with all the others. Paul implied this kind of relationship when he said “we who are many are one body in Christ” (5a).

But Paul went a little further. He said that all of as individuals are members of one another (5b). That’s why we can’t get the big head and ignore other members as less important than us. Each of us has a gift that the other members of the body needs. And they have gifts that we need.

That’s why there are so many reciprocal commands in scripture. These are the commands that can only be obeyed in conjunction with other believers.

• Be devoted to one another
• Give preference to one another
• Be of the same mind toward one another
• Love one another
• Build one another up
• Accept one another
• Greet one another

[And that’s just the ones appearing in Romans!]

Also, the imagery of the body shows us that you cannot practice your gifts apart from others. A severed limb no longer functions at all.

Paul encourages the Romans to learn what their function is, and to use that set of spiritual gifts “according to the proportion of one’s faith” (6b). They should not all try to be like preacher so-and-so, or deacon what’s-his-name.

It is a matter of trusting God, really. It is trusting that God had a purpose for putting me in the congregation – a role for me in the community that he did not design for anyone else.

It is also freeing to know that my relationship to Jesus is not tied to the same result that someone else gets in her ministry. As hard as I try, I might not have the same effect on others that she does. But if I am thinking sensibly, I’ll realize that I am not supposed to evaluate myself based on her achievements.

So, I want to conclude by saying that there is some things we can do to present our bodies as living sacrifices, and if we do so in an attitude of trust, God will renew our minds regularly. Mind renewal is passive. We cannot do it ourselves. But body presentation is active.

Become living sacrifices for God (1)

This is not an exhaustive list, but it is a good start.

• First, decide where God wants our feet to go, and sacrifice all other destinations. There are places we can go that we shouldn’t go. We are aiming for the permanent path. That means there are places we cannot stand – directions we cannot walk.

• Second, decide to bend our knees. Be always in an attitude of prayer and humble submission to our king. Someday every knee will bow. Today our knees should bow.

• Third, decide to surrender our appetite and desires to the kingdom. Seek first the Lord and his righteousness.

• Fourth, decide to use all your strength for the Lord, and stay strong not for yourself, but so you can be strong for him.

• Fifth, put God’s word in your brain. Memorize scripture, and meditate on it. Hide the word in your heart so that you do not sin against him.

As I said, it is a short list. But as we focus on presenting ourselves as living sacrifices to God, we set him free to renew our minds day by day. Before long, we will begin to discern what God wants us to do, and what he wants us to say. We will understand how he wants us to serve him and one another in his body.

“God, we have faith in you to make us become something holy and pleasing in your sight. We cannot renew our minds, but you can. We cannot change our habits, but you can. We cannot even figure out for ourselves what you want, but you can reveal it to us. We surrender to your mercies. Renew our minds. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”

A WITNESS ESTABLISHES FACTS

A WITNESS ESTABLISHES FACTS - 01A WITNESS ESTABLISHES FACTS

• Acts 1:8 “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come on you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

Essentially a witness (Greek μάρτυς) is someone who attests the fact or truth of something. The word originates in a legal context. In the New Testament, the focus is on the act of testifying, not of what the witness has seen, but of what the witness is saying. There are two other words in the NT for eyewitness.

• Luke 1:1-2 Many have undertaken to compile a narrative about the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as the original eyewitnesses (αὐτόπται) and servants of the word handed them down to us.

Αὐτόπται is the plural of αὐτόπτης. It comes from a combination of the Greek word for self and the word for see. An eyewitness is someone who sees something himself or herself.

These eyewitnesses that Luke consulted in writing his Gospel were the people who had actually seen Jesus and observed what he had done. Jesus chose not to use this word because he was calling on all believers to be witnesses – not just the eyewitnesses.

Peter was one of those eyewitnesses but he used a different word.

• 2 Peter 1:16 For we did not follow cleverly contrived myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ; instead, we were eyewitnesses (ἐπόπται) of his majesty.

Ἐπόπται is the plural of ἐπόπτης. It is the combination of the prefix for over and the verb for see. Peter was emphasizing the crucial role of the first witnesses of Christ – the leadership role of establishing the church.

The eyewitnesses were very important because they laid the foundation for the generations after them. But they were not the only witnesses. We have the same Holy Spirit they did, and we share the calling to witness. But I want to study what is means to be a witness today. What does it entail? What do witnesses of Jesus do?

I want to begin my study in Matthew 18. The word witness appears in verse 16.

• Matthew 18:16 But if he won’t listen, take one or two others with you, so that by the testimony of two or three witnesses every fact may be established.

Let’s back up and read the chapter to this point. {All texts are CSB version}.

Who Is the Greatest?

• Matthew 18:1 At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “So who is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”

The section heading comes from this verse. Jesus had made it clear that he was a king of a coming kingdom. The disciples assumed that since Jesus was using a political term like that, then if Jesus was going to be king, each of them would have a position of authority as well.

• Matthew 18:2 He called a child and had him stand among them.

What could Jesus mean by this? Maybe the disciples thought that for some reason, this particular child would be greatest. Maybe he would grow up to become a great teacher, healer, or leader? No, it was not this particular child who would be greatest.

• Matthew 18:3 “Truly I tell you,” he said, “unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

Those disciples each assumed that he had a solid place in God’s kingdom by virtue of their choosing to follow Christ. But Jesus popped their balloons. He said that they had to turn and become like children or else they would not even enter the kingdom, much less lead it.

• Matthew 18:4 Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child – this one is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

The kingdom will have a different way of measuring greatness. The kingdoms of the world measure greatness by personal power or attainment. Christ measures greatness by personal humility and deferment to others.

• Matthew 18:5 And whoever welcomes one child like this in my name welcomes me.

Neither of the disciples thought they were showing disrespect to Christ when they were arguing with one another about who had rank. But Jesus suggested that they were showing disrespect. They were refusing to welcome Christ. Jesus will be establishing the fact of his own existence and his purpose for the world – but he would be doing it through witnesses who are like this child.

• Matthew 18:6 “But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to fall away– it would be better for him if a heavy millstone were hung around his neck and he were drowned in the depths of the sea.

Now, notice how Jesus turns the subject matter of the conversation. They had been talking about who was the greatest in the kingdom. Now Jesus introduces the subject of causing people who believe to fall away. What is the connection?

The first specific connection has to do with causing simple believers to fall away from the faith.

• Matthew 18:7 Woe to the world because of offenses. For offenses will inevitably come, but woe to that person by whom the offense comes.

These offenses are stumbling blocks that lead people away from commitment to Christ. Leaders are especially liable to this because people are watching them.

Then Jesus talks about how cautious we all should be about letting sin lure us away from our commitment to Christ.

• Matthew 18:8-9 If your hand or your foot causes you to fall away, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or lame than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into the eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to fall away, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hellfire.

Notice that the hell Jesus talks about is not some shadowy underworld that people’s spirits supposedly go to when they die. What is this “eternal fire” (8) and “hellfire” (9)?

First, let me tell you what it is not. Hell is not life. Twice in these verses Jesus talks about those who “enter life” but he makes it clear that those in hell have not entered life. Hell is death – the second death. Whatever pains and sorrows and suffering and shame people will experience in hell, it will not be perpetual.

So, what is the “eternal fire”? It is the permanent fire. It is the fire that destroys permanently. Paul calls it “permanent destruction” in 2 Thessalonians 1:9. That is the final state of the lost.

The Parable of the Lost Sheep

• Matthew 18:10 “See to it that you don’t despise one of these little ones, because I tell you that in heaven their angels continually view the face of my Father in heaven.

Another reason we should be careful about being factual witnesses of the truth is that the little ones have angelic intercessors. If we mistreat people because we assume we are great, someone greater is there to right that wrong.

• Matthew 18:12-13 What do you think? If someone has a hundred sheep, and one of them goes astray, won’t he leave the ninety-nine on the hillside and go and search for the stray? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he rejoices over that sheep more than over the ninety-nine that did not go astray.

The Shepherd is going to make sure that he ends the day with the same 100 sheep he began with.

• Matthew 18:14 In the same way, it is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones perish.

The technical term for the one verse moral of a parable is the nimshal. The nimshal of the parable of the Lost Sheep is this verse.

So, such is the important task of those called to witness to the facts of the gospel. We cannot steamroller over the little people in our pursuit of greatness. If we do, we run the risk of not even entering the kingdom ourselves, and incur the wrath of angels, and God himself.

Restoring a Brother

• Mat 18:15 “If your brother sins against you, go and rebuke him in private. If he listens to you, you have won your brother.

The end result that Jesus is looking for is RESTORATION, not excommunication. He wants us to restore the relationship so that at the end of the day, all 100 sheep are accounted for.

Note: you might notice that the words “against you” are not in some translations. The Greek words (εἰς σὲ) are not in many of the best manuscripts, and may be a copyist addition. I think it is important to note that we have a responsibility to restore those who are falling away, even if we are not personally offended by them.

• Mat 18:16 But if he won’t listen, take one or two others with you, so that by the testimony of two or three witnesses every fact may be established.

The witnesses are there to help the brother who is threatening to leave to return to the fellowship. They are there to help establish the facts. Our role as witnesses of Christ is to establish the facts. We are all needed for that. There is going to be opposition to the truth of the gospel. There are going to be challenges to the Bible’s claims. People are going to question whether Jesus was real, whether what he said was true, whether he really died on the cross, and whether he really rose from the grave. Our role as witnesses is to weigh in on the side of all these facts.

• Mat 18:17-20 If he doesn’t pay attention to them, tell the church. If he doesn’t pay attention even to the church, let him be like a Gentile and a tax collector to you. Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will have been loosed in heaven. Again, truly I tell you, if two of you on earth agree about any matter that you pray for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, I am there among them.”

If it doesn’t work, and the sheep deserts, there is still something Jesus wants that small group to do: pray for restoration.

This first passage we have studied shows us that our role as witnesses includes evangelism, but it is more than that.

But we are not the eyewitness. The ones who saw Jesus are long dead. They left us a historical record in the Bible. Christians choose to believe that historical record.

We can also testify to what believing in Jesus has done in our own lives, and how he has changed us. We can also talk about how he has blessed others – perhaps even those in our own family.

Our witnessing should be conversational, not confrontational. Our goal is not just to “get the gospel out” but to reconcile people to God. We have to believe in the God of all one hundred sheep. That shepherd does not want to leave anyone behind.

Our witnessing is best done as a team. There is a reason that Jesus suggests bringing witnesses along. Agreement is a magical thing. It can help people see the other person’s point of view. It is collaboration, and that adds respect.

Also, our witnessing does not end once someone has professed faith in Christ. There will be challenges to people’s faith, and we will need to witness to the facts of the gospel and seek to bring the lost sheep back into the fold.

CHOOSING A PERMANENT PATH

CHOOSING A PERMANENT PATH - 1

CHOOSING A PERMANENT PATH

Psalm 1 (CSB)

How happy is the one who does not walk in the advice of the wicked
or stand in the pathway with sinners or sit in the company of mockers! 2 Instead, his delight is in the Lord’s instruction, and he meditates on it day and night. 3 He is like a tree planted beside flowing streams that bears its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers. 4 The wicked are not like this; instead, they are like chaff that the wind blows away. 5 Therefore the wicked will not stand up in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous. 6 For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked leads to ruin.

Habits – we all have them. Some of our habits are inherited. Some are learned from others. And some just seem to attach themselves to us. Habits can be good things that we like to do and things that make our life better. But they can also be bad things that we don’t like to do, and it frustrates us when we keep doing them.

The Bible encourages us to learn to do the good things, and to keep doing the things we have learned. That is the idea behind this sermon series. I wanted to identify some of the habits that the Bible encourages.

We need to repent of the bad habits and replace them with good habits. I think that if we just concentrate on learning and becoming proficient in the good habits, we will be less bothered by the bad habits. We only have so much time. If we carefully manage our time – giving quality time to quality habits – it will help us avoid getting stuck on worthless habits.

So far, I mentioned the habit of returning to the Lord when we looked at Deuteronomy 4, and the habit of passing on your faith when we looked at 2 Timothy 1 last Sunday. Today I am going to look at Psalm 1, and talk about the habit of choosing a permanent path.

This psalm lists two paths that a person can follow (6).

The psalm boils all our life choices down to two directions – two paths. Either we are walking in the “way of the righteous” or we are walking in the “way of the wicked.”

Jesus talked about those two directions too. He said…

• “Enter through the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who go through it. How narrow is the gate and difficult the road that leads to life, and few find it” (Matthew 7:13-14 CSB).

Jesus taught that choosing the way of the righteous is going to be more difficult than choosing the way of the wicked. The gate into the way of righteous is narrow. It is restricted. The way of the righteous is a difficult road, and there will be few who find it.

Jesus also compared the ultimate results of choosing the way of the righteous with the ultimate results of choosing the way of the wicked. When all is said and done, those who choose the path of the righteous will have life – because that road leads to life. But those who choose the path of the wicked will be destroyed – because that road leads to destruction.

Jesus is talking about the ultimate results of a lifetime of choices in a certain direction here. The Bible teaches that both of these paths will lead to something permanent. The way of the righteous will will lead to permanent life. The phrase “eternal life” is found 41 times in the New Testament, and that is what it means – a permanent life that Jesus will give us to replace these temporary lives we are living now. We begin our permanent lives at our resurrection.

But the way of the wicked also leads to something permanent. Paul called it “the penalty of eternal destruction” (2 Thessalonians 1:9). And that word “eternal” is the same word that describes the life that believers will inherit at the resurrection. Eternal means permanent. The two ultimate destinies are two permanent destinies: permanent life or permanent destruction.

I entitled today’s sermon “choosing a permanent path” because something that will be permanently destroyed is not really permanent. The point that the psalmist is making in Psalm 1 is that only one path is a truly permanent one, because only one path leads to permanent life.

The psalm lists three obstacles to the permanent path (1).

If someone decides to take a road to somewhere, that person needs to avoid all the obstacles that will keep him or her from reaching that destination. This psalm lists three obstacles.

• First, to reach the permanent destination, we need to stop walking in the advice of the wicked.

We are living in a sinful world because our ancestors decided to walk in the advice of a certain serpent. He gave Eve some wicked advice, and she decided to walk in that advice. Her husband joined in the same rebellion.

But Satan has not stopped giving advice. He is still deceiving, deluding, and destroying people by convincing them to go in the wrong direction – to take the wrong path. In fact, Jesus told us that most people in most nations would choose the path to destruction most of the time. We can preach the good news but most people will consider it bad news. We can point the way to life but most will choose the way that leads to death.

In Eden, Satan disguised himself by using a serpent. Now, he is passing on his bad advice by disguising himself as well. We can get bad advice from government officials, from school teachers, from our televisions and computers – even from our family members and friends.

Sometimes people have been forced to disobey certain laws, because some laws have been built on the advice of the wicked. Sometimes judges decide their cases on the advice of the wicked.

• Second, to reach the permanent destination, we need to stop standing in the pathway with sinners.

When you are standing in the road, you have your choice which direction you will go. But when people see you standing there with sinners, they are going to assume that you have chosen to sin along with them.

If we are serious about walking in the way of the righteous, we need to make it clear to the world that we have made that choice. The Bible teaches that we make that clear by acknowledging Christ before others.

• “Therefore, everyone who will acknowledge me before others, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. But whoever denies me before others, I will also deny him before my Father in heaven (Matthew 10:32-33 CSB).

You can either acknowledge Christ, or you can try to hide yourself by standing in the pathway with sinners. That road heading to destruction is crowded with people trying to blend in – not wanting to take a stand – not wanting to be different. Most of them are not trying to be bad people. They don’t have to be bad people. All they have to do is stand there – and refuse to acknowledge Jesus before others. By not making the choice for Jesus, they are condemning themselves to hell by default.

• Third, to reach the permanent destination, we need to stop sitting in the company of mockers.

Mockers are people who are determined to keep doing what they are doing, and criticize or make fun of those who try to stop them.

The apostle Peter warned that “Scoffers will come in the last days scoffing and following their own evil desires, saying, “Where is his ‘coming’ that he promised? Ever since our ancestors fell asleep, all things continue as they have been since the beginning of creation” (2 Peter 3:3-4 CSB).

But Peter goes on to explain that these scoffers deliberately overlook the whole Noah’s Flood thing. God promised to destroy the earth with a flood. Most of the planet – all but eight people – said “flood schmud” – but then the rain came, and “the world of that time perished when it was flooded” (2 Peter 3:6).

Peter taught that “the present heavens and earth are stored up for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly” (2 Peter 3:7). The mockers don’t want us to teach that. They don’t want to believe it. But refusing to accept the truth does not stop it from being the truth.

The psalm shows us how to access the permanent path (2).

If a person wants to be walking on the way of the righteous, that person should delight in the Lord’s instruction, and meditate on it day and night. This Bible is the Lord’s instruction. Some people say BIBLE stands for Basic Instruction Before Leaving Earth. No, that’s not right. Our goal is not leaving earth, it’s eternal life in the restored universe. BIBLE stands for Basic Instruction Before Living Eternally.

How can you tell if a person is delighting in the Lord’s instruction? Well, you are not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but the cover is usually a pretty good indication of what the book owner delights in. A Bible that is falling apart is usually owned by someone who isn’t falling apart.

Nowadays, lots of us own Bibles as apps on our computers and phones and tablets. How often do we access these treasures? No matter what the medium it is in, the Bible is the word of God. We should delight in his instruction.

But if the words stay on the page and do not penetrate our minds and inform our lives, then we haven’t gone far enough. We need to be meditating on the words of the Bible day and night. The Bible is the GPS for our trip on the path that leads to life. Whenever I go anywhere alone, I have my GPS on, and I allow it to tell me which road to take, and which to avoid. That’s what the Bible can do for the person who has decided to choose the permanent path.

The psalm compares the destinations of the right path and the wrong path (3-5).

Notice that there are two similes in this psalm. Those who take the permanent path are said to be “like a tree” (3) and those who avoid the permanent path are said to be “like chaff” (4). Think about that for a minute. If you are imagining a tree, you probably see a large oak of a beautiful maple. You see strength. You see stability. You see something that is going to be there tomorrow and next year.

But what comes to your mind when you hear the word chaff? Chaff is the stuff that the wind blows away. It’s the stuff that is discarded when the harvest is gathered. Chaff is the temporary stuff.

John the Baptist predicted that when Jesus comes again, he is going to have a winnowing shovel in his hand “and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn. But the chaff he will burn with fire” (Matthew 3:12).

The Book of Revelation gives us a list of those people who are the chaff and tells us when they will be burned up. Is says “But the cowards, faithless, detestable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars—their share will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death” (Revelation 21:8 CSB).

There are two permanent destinies – permanent life or permanent death. The first death is not permanent because we will all be resurrected from it. But the second death is permanent. Once you are burned up in the lake of fire – that’s all she wrote.

Today’s psalm says that we can avoid that terrible destiny. But to get to the right destination, you have to get off the wrong path. You have to choose the permanent path. You have to delight in the Lord’s instruction, and meditate on it day and night. You have to trust your life to the LORD. He is watching over the way of the righteous.

sermon audio file

PASSING ON YOUR FAITH

PASSING ON YOUR FAITH - 1

PASSING ON YOUR FAITH

2 Timothy 1:3-7 CSB

3 I thank God, whom I serve with a clear conscience as my ancestors did, when I constantly remember you in my prayers night and day. 4 Remembering your tears, I long to see you so that I may be filled with joy. 5 I recall your sincere faith that first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and now, I am convinced, is in you also. 6 Therefore, I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is in you through the laying on of my hands. 7 For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but one of power, love, and sound judgment.

Today’s sermon is doing double duty. It is part of the series on the habits of the victorious. But it is also appropriate as we celebrate Mother’s Day today. Paul tells Timothy that when he thinks about Timothy’s faith commitment, he remembers seeing that same spark of faith in the lives of two women in his life – his grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice.

Timothy’s faith was a direct result of the loving discipleship of these two women. They had decided to be obedient to Jesus’ great commission to disciple all nations, and they decided to start in their own family.

Today I want to talk about the habit of passing on your faith to those around you. We sometimes call that evangelism. That’s not a bad word because the word evangelism is related to the word gospel. The faith that we pass on is good news. It is a particular good news that Jesus has paid the price for our sins, and the price of admission to his future kingdom that is coming down from the sky.

But today I want to talk about passing on our faith in a different sense. I suppose it is a more general sense. I am talking about transferring all that it means for us to be Christians to others around us who are not yet Christian. It is more than a particular doctrine or set of doctrines. It is multiplying your life.

Jesus was a role model for this type of discipleship. He had lots of followers, and he taught them all. But he opened his life to the twelve in a very special sense. He did life with them. And it made a difference in their lives. Early in the book of Acts we learn that when the crowds “saw the boldness of Peter and John, and discovered that they were uneducated and ordinary men, they were amazed and recognized these men had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13 NET).

Our families are a wonderful place for us to do discipleship. This was God’s intention from the very beginning. He put us in families so that we could teach the most important lessons to those who are the most important to us. He designed families to be microcosms of his kingdom.

Since that is the case, it is only natural for parents and grandparents who have themselves entered into the dominion of Christ’s kingdom – to pass on their citizenship to their children and grandchildren. It does not always happen. But it can happen. It happened in the case of Lois. She passed on her faith to Eunice. It happened in the case of Eunice. She passed on her faith to Timothy.

And because of the obedience of these two mothers, many more came into the kingdom by means of the Timothy’s work. Paul had told Timothy to “entrust what you heard me say in the presence of many others as witnesses to faithful people who will be competent to teach others as well” (2 Timothy 2:2 NET). So the investment of these two mothers would lead to discipling going on well beyond the limits of their own lives and that of Timothy. Timothy was a member of Paul’s missionary team. That means that these two women made a missionary impact on the world even if they didn’t go on the field. Who know how many thousands of people were won to faith because of the commitment of these two women?

This morning I want to share some advice with you if you want to pass on your faith to the others around you. I am basing this advice on today’s scripture text.

Make sure your faith is sincere (5).

Paul called Timothy’s faith sincere in verse 5. The Greek word he used is ἀνυπόκριτος, which means unhypocritical. Jesus had warned his disciples not to do like the hypocrites do.

When the hypocrites gave to the poor, they sounded trumpets to draw attention to their generosity. If they gave just to be applauded by others, that was their reward.

When the hypocrites prayed, they stood up in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets so that everybody could see them. If they were just praying to be seen praying, that would be their reward. Their prayers would accomplish public appreciation, but they would not be praying to God.

There were some who decided to take some of their money and dedicate it to God. But what they were actually doing is setting that money aside temporarily so that they would not have to use it in taking care of their parents. Jesus called them hypocrites. They were using religion as an excuse not to honor their parents. Family is a sphere in which we can learn how to have a sincere faith. Our children are watching to see how much we respect and care for our parents.

Jesus condemned the scribes and Pharisees for their use of religion to keep others from being saved even while they themselves failed to enter the kingdom. They did their religious acts to impress people, but their piety was not sincere. They were hypocrites.

When Jesus was teaching about his second coming, he told a story about a master who put his servant in charge of his household while he was away. But the servant started abusing the other servants, and spent all his time eating and getting drunk. He said the master will come on a day that the servant would not expect, and that the master “will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 24:51 CSB). Hell is for hypocrites, folks.

But the passage is even more relevant to today’s topic. Remember that the master had put the servant in charge of his household. We need to be aware – parents and grandparents – that Jesus has put us in charge of our households. He has given us a commission to lead our families, providing for all they need. We had better be careful that we do not neglect their spiritual needs. It is a matter of condemnation and shame fathers and mothers neglect their children. How much more so those who neglect to show their children Christ. There is no substitute for that. We can give all that we have, but if we do not give our children Christ, we have failed them, and him.

Make sure your faith is evident (4-5).

Paul said he was convinced that Timothy had been passed on a legacy of genuine faith. He “I recall your sincere faith that first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and now, I am convinced, is in you also” (5). He could probably see a physical resemblance between these two women and Timothy. But he could also see a spiritual resemblance.

The saying goes that the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree. We say that when we notice a character trait or an element of the personality of a parent showing up in the child. I used to love it when my young daughters said something or did something that imitated me or Penny. I loved it even more when they themselves became parents, and I saw them parenting like we did.

Of course, the bad characteristics of our personalities show up as well. Our kids learn from us, even when we don’t want them to. Parenting is not a job that you can punch out of. When I worked at the factory and other such places, I could punch out at lunch time. Then I could do what I wanted to do. I was not responsible to my boss then. But I could never punch out of being a parent. My kids were watching every waking moment. Every aspect of our lives is evident.

I was reminded of this when our oldest daughter first went away to Bible College. We discovered that she was very good at theology. Penny and I had invested many hours of our lives every day training Bible college students, but our kids did not go to that college. So, why was Liz so good at theology? Well, what else would we talk about at the dinner table? Our passion was evident, and our kids caught it.

Paul mentioned that Timothy’s faith was evident in his emotions and desires. He said he remembered Timothy’s tears (4). He knew what Timothy was passionate about because it was evident in his life.

Doctor Dorothy Law Nolte wrote a poem called “Children Learn What They Live.” It’s a good poem. Look it up and read it. It is a reminder of our obligations as parents. It is also a reminder that we are shaping the lives of those in our households. Yes, they’re watching their teachers and they’re watching their TVs. But that does not stop them from watching us.

Jesus told his followers that we are the light of the world. He said a city set on a hill cannot be hidden. A faith that is evident is a faith that is more likely to be passed on to the next generation – and the next.

Make sure your faith is getting stronger (6-7).

Paul was confident that Timothy’s faith was genuine, but it still needed to grow – to develop – to mature. That is why he told Timothy to “rekindle the gift of God that is in you through the laying on of my hands” (6).

Notice that Paul is not just talking about some general “laying on of hands.” He said “the laying on of my hands.” Paul had personally laid his hands on Timothy and prayed with him as he committed his life to the ministry of missionary work. He had personally watched as the Holy Spirit empowered Timothy by giving him the spiritual gifts he needed to plant and develop new churches.

Now – years later – Paul tells Timothy to “rekindle the gift.” You use kindle to start a fire. But sometimes the fire gets weak and needs to be rekindled or else it is in danger of going out.

The Greek word that Paul uses is very revealing. It is ἀναζωπυρέω. Let me break it down for you:

• ἀνα means “new”
• ζω means “life”
• πυρ means “fire”

To rekindle is to put new life back into the fire. To rekindle the gift means to make God’s power even stronger and more evident in your life.

Paul is telling Timothy, “Son, you had a faith when you were young. You got that faith from watching your mother and grandmother. That faith worked well when you were young. But you are playing with the big boys now. You need a mature faith that is strong enough to overcome your fears.”

That’s why Paul goes on to say that “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but one of power, love, and sound judgment” (7). God has started the fire by empowering you with his Holy Spirit. Now, don’t allow the fear of your flesh put out the fire of the Spirit. Rekindle that fire.

When it comes to passing on our faith, this act of rekindling is crucial. You see, to pass on our faith in Christ, we need a faith that is stronger than our adult problems. We cannot just survive on the faith we had when we were younger. It was real – it was sincere – but as we grow older and seek to be used by God to accomplish more things for him – we will have to put new life into the fire.

You see, there are three ways that a mature Christian life is going to test our faith.

• Fear is going to challenge our ability to stay true to Christ. So Paul reminds Timothy that God has already given him a spirit of power.
• Fear is going to challenge the authenticity of our love for God and others. So Paul reminds Timothy that God has already given him a spirit of love.
• Fear is going to challenge the wisdom of our choices. So Paul reminds Timothy that God has already given him a spirit of sound judgment.

The faith that Timothy needed now had to be stronger than ever because his commitment was going to be challenged like never before.

Jesus wants us to pass on our faith to our children, grandchildren, our neighbors and friends. But in order to do that, we need a sincere faith, an evident faith, and a faith that is stronger than ever before.

LORD, help us to rekindle our faith so that we can pass it on.