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.

RETURNING TO THE LORD

RETURNING TO THE LORD

Deuteronomy 4:25-31 CSB

  • 25 “When you have children and grandchildren and have been in the land a long time, and if you act corruptly, make an idol in the form of anything, and do what is evil in the sight of the Lord your God, angering him, 26 I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you today that you will quickly perish from the land you are about to cross the Jordan to possess. You will not live long there, but you will certainly be destroyed. 27 The Lord will scatter you among the peoples, and you will be reduced to a few survivors among the nations where the Lord your God will drive you. 28 There you will worship man-made gods of wood and stone, which cannot see, hear, eat, or smell. 29 But from there, you will search for the Lord your God, and you will find him when you seek him with all your heart and all your soul. 30 When you are in distress and all these things have happened to you, in the future you will return to the Lord your God and obey him. 31 He will not leave you, destroy you, or forget the covenant with your ancestors that he swore to them by oath, because the Lord your God is a compassionate God.

The Christian life begins at a point in time and history that we call conversion. At the moment of our conversion, a new life begins. That new life is evidenced by two changes. One change is called repentance. Repentance is turning from our former life of sin to God’s righteousness. The other change is faith. Faith is believing in Christ and trusting in him.

At no point in the Christian life is it okay for us to stop having faith. Faith is an expected constant. We should develop the habit of believing and trusting Jesus in everything.

Repentance is also something that we cannot do just once. The Christian life should be one of constant repentance. We should keep examining our lives, attitudes and motives, and be willing to change whenever we find the need. Repentance is one choice which will lead to many choices. It is the turning of our ships in the direction of our intended destination, and it will also require many other smaller course corrections as the journey progresses.

From the day we surrender our lives to Christ, we need to keep practicing repentance. The series I am beginning today is going to focus on the kinds of things we have to keep working at. They are the habits of the victorious Christian.

Paul told the Philippians to keep on doing all they had learned from him (Philippians 4:9). There are some things we cannot just acknowledge. We have to put them into practice. We have to turn them into habits.

Today’s text talks about the habit of returning to the LORD.

These are the words of Moses, who has been told that he would not accompany the Israelites into the promised land. But he was given time to encourage the Israelites to follow God. He does that in the book of Deuteronomy.

Moses told the Israelites that even though they had determined to follow God, they could still fail him (25).

He said they were going to get into the promised land, be in that land a long time, have children and have grandchildren. But he warned them that as they lived their lives they would be tempted to do things that would anger their God. He summarized those things with these words:

• if you act corruptly, make an idol in the form of anything, and do what is evil in the sight of the Lord your God…

Moses had already written down God’s law to fill in all the details of that summary, and he would also provide the book of Deuteronomy as a second reading, so the Israelites would know exactly what God expected of his covenant citizens.

Moses told the Israelites that even though they had determined to follow God, they could still fail him. Even though they had committed themselves to leaving Egypt, there was still some of Egypt that had not left them. Even though they were physically going to where God wanted them to go, there was still the possibility of their getting there and failing to live the way God wanted them to live.

We are in a congregation today of people who have committed themselves to following God. We have made the choice to become Christians, and that choice means that we want to do what God commands. But we need to know that people who have committed themselves to following God are capable of failing God. It is absolutely essential that we know that.

The New Testament teaches this truth in the epistles. The epistles were all written to Christian workers, Christian congregations, and Christian leaders. Yet over and over again the epistles reveal problems that are the direct result of the sins and failures of those people. One of the reasons for the epistles is to provide guidance for Christians who want to correct their failures and return to a right relationship with the Lord.

Moses told the Israelites that there would be consequences of their failure to obey God (26b-28).

Listen again to this revelation:

• “you will quickly perish from the land you are about to cross the Jordan to possess. You will not live long there, but you will certainly be destroyed. The Lord will scatter you among the peoples, and you will be reduced to a few survivors among the nations where the Lord your God will drive you. There you will worship man-made gods of wood and stone, which cannot see, hear, eat, or smell.”

Let’s talk about the consequences that are revealed here.

First, there is the loss of life. If the Israelites failed to obey God’s law, he would take away his protection from them and allow them to lose battles, and to die from diseases, and to turn on each other and take each others’ life. His promise to his own people is that if they rebelled against him, they would not live long in the promised land, but “will certainly be destroyed.”

Secondly, there is the loss of unity. If the Israelites did not obey the covenant in that place, they would be scattered to other places “among the peoples” – that is, the Gentiles. God’s will was for them to know the joy of a community dedicated to him. But if the Israelites refused to obey God, he would send them to other places where they could not experience that community.

Thirdly, there is the loss of importance. God’s will was to manifest his greatness by multiplying the nation which he brought to the promised land. They were to be the most important people on the face of the earth – God’s own. But if those people rebel against his covenant, he would drive them to other nations and reduce them to a few survivors there. When your numbers are reduced, you become less important. When you are few in number, the kings of those foreign nations don’t feel obligated to protect you. When you are reduced to a minority, your civil rights can be trampled on. That’s not fair, but that is the way it is.

Finally, there is the loss of identity. God’s will was that the Israelites demonstrate their uniqueness. They were to be a unique people in their relationship with God. Note how that is expressed in these scriptures:

• Exodus 19:5 “Now if you will carefully listen to me and keep my covenant, you will be my own possession out of all the peoples, although the whole earth is mine”

• Deuteronomy 14:2 “for you are a holy people belonging to the Lord your God. The Lord has chosen you to be his own possession out of all the peoples on the face of the earth.”

• Deuteronomy 26:18 “And today the Lord has affirmed that you are his own possession as he promised you…”

• Psalm 135:4 “For the Lord has chosen Jacob for himself, Israel as his treasured possession.”

Moses tells the Israelites that some of their descendants are going to be so corrupted by the nations they are scattered in, that they will be idol worshipers just like the pagans. I can imagine the gasps of horror when those words were read in the assembly. The people would think “we could never do such a thing.” But then they would remember the golden calf. They would understand that they are capable of becoming just like the world around them.

There are severe consequences for the person who claims to know God and yet chooses to disobey him.

But there is good news in this text as well.

Moses told the Israelites that even when all these things happened to them, they could still return to the LORD (29-30).

God’s glorious gospel is reflected in this Old Testament text. It tells the Israelites that they can fail God, and there will be terrible consequences for doing so. But then Moses tells the Israelites that when they have experienced all that tragedy they can still come to their senses and return to God.

Moses invites the Israelites to imagine being exiles in a foreign land – victims of death, destruction, scattering, reduced to a minority of unimportant people discriminated against, turned into pagan idol worshipers – as far away from God and his will as is possible. Then hes says:

• “But from there, you will search for the Lord your God, and you will find him when you seek him with all your heart and all your soul. When you are in distress and all these things have happened to you, in the future you will return to the Lord your God and obey him.”

They could still return to the Lord.

Like the prodigal son – feeding pigs in a foreign land and longing to eat the slop. But the prodigal son became the wise son. He came to his senses and said “‘How many of my father’s hired workers have more than enough food, and here I am dying of hunger! I’ll get up, go to my father, and say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight’” (Luke 15:17b-18).

God’s glorious gospel declares that no matter how far down the road you have gone, it is not too late to turn back.

In fact, Moses tells the Israelites that they are going to get to such a point that they realize (like the prodigal son did in the parable) that there was nowhere else to go. Moses told them not that they could return – not that they might return, but that they would return.

• “you will search for the Lord your God”
• “you will find him”
• “you will return to the Lord your God and obey him”

How could Moses be so confident that the Israelites would eventually turn back to God?

Moses grounded his confidence in the faithfulness and compassion of God himself (31).

He told the Israelites that God “will not leave you, destroy you, or forget the covenant with your ancestors that he swore to them by oath, because the Lord your God is a compassionate God.”

Moses was certain that the Israelites would return to God – not because they are a great people, but because they have a great God.

When the prodigal returned, he was met by a loving father who ran to him, threw his arms around him and kissed him. He welcomed him back with a celebration because even though the son had done wrong, his father still loved him dearly.

That is our God. That is a God who does not look down on us and seek to condemn us, but runs up to us and rescues us in love. The LORD our God is a compassionate God.

If you have sinned against God and heaven, I don’t have to warn you about the consequences of that choice. You are already feeling those consequences.

What I need to tell you is that the God that you have sinned against loves you and he wants you back. You have damaged your relationship with him but he wants to restore it. You have brought suffering on yourself that you did not have to endure, but he wants to heal you.

And the reason I can tell you this in confidence has nothing to do with you. The reason I can tell you that you can return to the Lord is that he will not leave you. He does not want to destroy you. The LORD your God is a compassionate God.

GENTLENESS TO ALL PEOPLE

GENTLENESS TO ALL PEOPLE - 1GENTLENESS TO ALL PEOPLE

Titus 3 (CSB)

Remind them to submit to rulers and authorities, to obey, to be ready for every good work, 2 to slander no one, to avoid fighting, and to be kind, always showing gentleness to all people. 3 For we too were once foolish, disobedient, deceived, enslaved by various passions and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, detesting one another. 4 But when the kindness of God our Savior and his love for mankind appeared, 5 he saved us—not by works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy—through the washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit. 6 He poured out his Spirit on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior 7 so that, having been justified by his grace, we may become heirs with the hope of eternal life. 8 This saying is trustworthy. I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed God might be careful to devote themselves to good works. These are good and profitable for everyone. 9 But avoid foolish debates, genealogies, quarrels, and disputes about the law, because they are unprofitable and worthless. 10 Reject a divisive person after a first and second warning. 11 For you know that such a person has gone astray and is sinning; he is self-condemned. 12 When I send Artemas or Tychicus to you, make every effort to come to me in Nicopolis, because I have decided to spend the winter there. 13 Diligently help Zenas the lawyer and Apollos on their journey, so that they will lack nothing. 14 Let our people learn to devote themselves to good works for pressing needs, so that they will not be unfruitful. 15 All those who are with me send you greetings. Greet those who love us in the faith. Grace be with all of you.

We have been looking at the message of Paul’s letter to Titus for the past two weeks, and will conclude with a look at chapter three today. I have particularly felt the need to emphasize the fact that Titus was sent to help develop the churches on Crete because they were being influenced by false teachers. This is important for us today because our society is being bombarded with false teachings and we are being pressured to conform. This is happening in our congregations, but it is also happening in our schools, in politics, in the media, social media – it is everywhere.

It is important to see what the apostle Paul commanded Titus. We saw that one of the solutions to the problem on Crete was the establishment of leaders in the church who could address the false teachings. Chapter one emphasized this solution.

In chapter two, Paul emphasized the role of everyone in the Christian community in sharing the gospel by living in a sensible, righteous and godly way. Everyone in the Christian community had a part to play in proving the validity of the gospel. Everyone was a link in the chain.

In this chapter, Paul concludes his instruction by emphasizing the attitude we should all have as we interact with people. We all know of people who have been hurt by religious bullies. Some have sworn to never enter a church again because of conflict they have had with professing Christians.

Paul’s instruction for the Christians in Crete is that they should be “always showing gentleness to all people” (2). The Greek word for “gentleness” here is πραΰτης – which is a “non-imperious attitude” of humility, courtesy and consideration for others.

Everybody knows that you can do the right thing in the wrong way. Paul here instructs the Christians in Crete to share the gospel the right way. He implies that if we do not share the gospel gently, our efforts will be unfruitful (14).

We can be gentle to all people because we all began on the wrong side (3).

Paul encouraged the Cretan Christians to remember who they were before they came to Christ. He says “For we too were once foolish, disobedient, deceived, enslaved by various passions and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, detesting one another.”

You and I can still choose to live that way. But there is now a correcting influence on our attitude: the Holy Spirit. He now produces within us the fruit of gentleness. That is number eight out of the nine characteristics that Paul called the fruit of the Spirit:

• “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. The law is not against such things” (Galatians 5:22-23).

We should not be surprised if the non-christian world fails to manifest these character traits. But we have every reason to do so as Christians.
• We have been saved from hate so that we can now experience love.
• We have been saved from despair so that we can now experience joy.
• We have been saved from anxiety so that we can now experience peace.
• We have been saved from impatience so that we can now experience patience.
• We have been saved from meanness so that we can show kindness.
• We have been saved from evil so that we can now show goodness.
• We have been saved from unfaithfulness so that we can now show faithfulness.
• We have been saved from brutality so that we can now show gentleness.
• We have been saved from self-indulgence so that we can now exhibit self-control.

Paul’s point for the Cretan Christians is that they have been born again, but they still remember the lives they lived before they were born again. So they can approach the unsaved with a spirit of gentleness. Because they were once on the wrong side, they can approach those still on the wrong side with consideration and humility. Such is the case with us today.

We can be gentle to all people because God has been gentle to us (4-7).

When we deserved God’s judgment, he saved us according to his mercy (5). We had no works of righteousness that could be counted in our favor. In fact, all our acts of righteousness could be seen by God as what they truly were – filthy rags. If you try to clean something with a filthy rag you are going to make it more filthy. That was what we were doing with our religion and our attempts at charity. Everything that we tried to do to appease our own guilt was still sin, and so we kept spiraling down the hole.

But God showed mercy to us. Mercy is not giving someone what they deserve. God saw our filthiness and he washed us by “regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit” (5). We deserved to be condemned, but God saved us according to his mercy.

When we deserved to die for our sins, God chose to justify us by his grace (7). Grace is giving someone what they don’t deserve. We did not deserve for the Son of God to die on a cross to purchase forgiveness for us. That was grace – unmerited favor. Because of his grace we now have the hope of eternal life. We didn’t merit that either. Our names were placed in the Lamb’s book of life at the cost of the cross.

You see, friends, God is not Santa Claus. He does not have a naughty list and a nice list. He does not choose to save people on the basis of their good behavior. It’s a good thing, too, because all of us would be permanent entries on the naughty list.

But the good news of the gospel is that our God took pity on some of us, and showed us a Savior. Our heavenly Father treated us with gentleness and consideration.

And now it is our turn. We can focus on doing good works, not so that we can be saved, but so that others can be saved. We can be gentle with unbelievers because our God was gentle with us when he showed us the way out.

But being gentle to all people means being careful how we handle controversy (8-11).

Paul instructed the believers in Crete to “be careful to devote themselves to good works” (8). This was the primary strategy for winning unbelievers to Christ.

But false teachers had introduced controversy at Crete. They had undermined the faith of believers. They had corrupted whole households. So, Paul had to give special instructions here on how believers should handle controversy.

• First, Paul tells believers to “avoid foolish debates, genealogies, quarrels, and disputes about the law, because they are unprofitable and worthless” (9).

I have seen in my ministry overseas where a pastor swallowed some false teaching about how the church should be more Jewish and then led the whole church into rejection of the gospel. I can still remember the day one of my students – a member of that church – came into my office in tears. Thankfully, he and his family chose to not follow that errant pastor. We had to start from scratch again in that village and plant a new church.

False teaching killed that congregation. That was the kind of thing that Satan was trying to accomplish all over Crete. Paul’s instruction for the believers was that they should not allow themselves to get sidetracked. Their mission was to win their towns for Christ. Controversies that take our eyes off Christ are unprofitable and worthless. We have to intentionally avoid them.

• Secondly, Paul challenges Titus to patiently warn those who are caught up in controversy (9).

A divisive person is to receive a first and second warning. Instead of branding such people and immediately rejecting them, Paul advises Titus to take a more gentle approach. Three strikes and they are out. That is taking the problem seriously, but still keeping a door open for repentance and recovery of those caught up in controversy.

Our society today thrives on controversy. We have turned drawing a line in the sand into an art form. We attack first, and ask questions later. But that kind of attitude fails to give room for the Holy Spirit to work. He wants to make some of our enemies into our friends. We should not allow ourselves to be provoked. Taking a deep breath and counting to four may cause our enemies to question their position.

• But thirdly, if people remain consistently divisive, Paul told Titus to reject them (10-11).

He told Titus to “Reject a divisive person after a first and second warning. For you know that such a person has gone astray and is sinning; he is self-condemned.”

The church in Crete was experiencing a storm of false teaching, and it threatened to destroy every congregation in every town. But Paul recommended three courses of action to Titus. First, he encouraged the development of competent leadership. Second, he encouraged every believer in Crete to promote gospel truth by demonstrating it through sensible, righteous and godly living. Finally, Paul encouraged a “non-imperious attitude” of humility, courtesy and consideration for others. Our church fellowship is a wonderful place to learn how to do this. We can learn how to show gentleness to each other, and that will help us to show gentleness to unbelievers.

SALVATION FOR ALL PEOPLE

SALVATION FOR ALL PEOPLE

Titus 2 (CSB)

“But you are to proclaim things consistent with sound teaching. 2 Older men are to be self-controlled, worthy of respect, sensible, and sound in faith, love, and endurance. 3 In the same way, older women are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers, not slaves to excessive drinking. They are to teach what is good, 4 so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands and to love their children, 5 to be self-controlled, pure, workers at home, kind, and in submission to their husbands, so that God’s word will not be slandered. 6 In the same way, encourage the young men to be self-controlled 7 in everything. Make yourself an example of good works with integrity and dignity in your teaching. 8 Your message is to be sound beyond reproach, so that any opponent will be ashamed, because he doesn’t have anything bad to say about us. 9 Slaves are to submit to their masters in everything, and to be well-pleasing, not talking back 10 or stealing, but demonstrating utter faithfulness, so that they may adorn the teaching of God our Savior in everything. 11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, 12 instructing us to deny godlessness and worldly lusts and to live in a sensible, righteous, and godly way in the present age, 13 while we wait for the blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. 14 He gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to cleanse for himself a people for his own possession, eager to do good works. 15 Proclaim these things; encourage and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you.”

Last week I began a short series of messages based on the book of Titus. When we examined Titus 1, we found that the missionaries had reached Crete with the gospel and had established congregations in various towns all over the island. But there were still some things left undone, so Paul assigned Titus to rebuke and silence the rebellious false teachers. Then he had to replace the false teachers with leaders who displayed godly character and were faithful to the truth.

What was at stake was the goal of the gospel itself. If left unchecked, false teaching can turn churches and communities against the gospel, and turn whole communities and nations into post-Christian communities. When that happens, what is left is a few words and traditions, but no true faith and therefore no hope of permanent life.

I think the message of the book of Titus is extremely important for our town, our county and state and nation and world today. We are much in the same shape as Crete was when Paul left Titus there. We are in danger of becoming post-Christian. We are in danger of keeping only the appearance of biblical salvation, but losing its reality. For that reason, we need to pay very close attention to this New Testament book.

Note first how this chapter defines salvation (11).

I titled today’s message “SALVATION FOR ALL PEOPLE” based on verse 11. I realize that the title needs to be explained. Paul did not teach universalism. Universalism is the view that eventually everyone is going to be saved. The Bible does not teach that. There will be a hell, and it will destroy all those who are not saved.

But Paul says that God’s grace has appeared, bringing salvation FOR all people. It will not bring salvation to all people, because many people will reject it. But the gospel message is for all people, and the offer of salvation is for all people.

Paul begins the sentence talking about the grace of God. That is always where the gospel message of salvation begins.

• “being justified as a gift by His grace” Romans 3:24.
• “For by grace you have been saved” Ephesians 2:5,8.
• “being justified by His grace” Titus 3:7.

When we talk about the gospel, we cannot begin anywhere else, because no one deserves the permanent life that God promises through Christ.

Paul’s point, then, when talking about God’s grace being “for all people” is that God offers his grace to all by virtue of the finished work of Christ on the cross. So, when we go out into our communities and share this gospel, we are to exclude no one. The gospel is not just for my kind of people, but for all kinds of people.

Jesus told us that. He said “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.” He didn’t say “all English speaking nations.” He didn’t say “all developed nations.” He didn’t even say “all civilized nations.”

So, Paul sent Titus to proclaim the gospel among the Cretans, a people who even regarded themselves as “always liars, evil beasts (and) lazy gluttons” (1:12). The good news of the gospel is that God has no limit as to how far down he will reach to save us.

Now, note how this chapter explains the role of Christ in our salvation (13-14).

According to today’s text, Jesus Christ has three roles to play in the salvation that we have been discussing.

First, Jesus offers redemption. “He gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness” (14a).

That is a reference to the sacrificial death of Christ on the cross. He was God’s sacrificial Lamb, given as a substitute for the sins of us all. I could not please God “just as I am” because my sins had separated me from the holy and righteous God. So I needed a redeemer, someone as pure as God is – his one and only Son.

Secondly, Jesus offers cleansing. He came “to cleanse for himself a people for his own possession, eager to do good works” (14b).

In the Gospels, there were two groups of people who experienced cleansing from Jesus: lepers and those possessed by demons. Paul tells us that all believers have experienced the same kind of cleansing. He says in Ephesians 5:25-26 that Christ gave himself up for his bride “to make her holy, cleansing her with the washing of water by the word.”

Thirdly, Jesus offers glorification. Our blessed hope is “the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ” (13).

This is the ultimate experience of salvation. We have already been redeemed by the blood of Christ. We have already been cleansed so that we can draw others to Christ by our good works. But we have not yet been glorified. That experience awaits us when our Savior returns.

Next, note how this chapter shows that everyone in the Christian community can share salvation to all people (1-10).

The false teachings have done more than confuse people about what the gospel is. They have also resulted in the Christians failing to live like Christians are supposed to live. This is important because Jesus left us and went to heaven. He has left us as the only ones who can testify of the truth of the gospel.

• For the older men in Crete, that meant “to be self-controlled, worthy of respect, sensible, and sound in faith, love, and endurance” (2b).
• For the older women in Crete, that meant “to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers, not slaves to excessive drinking. They are to teach what is good” (3).
• For the younger women in Crete, that meant “to love their husbands and to love their children, to be self-controlled, pure, workers at home, kind, and in submission to their husbands” (4b-5a).
• For the younger men in Crete, that meant “to be self-controlled in everything” (6-7a).
• For Titus, it meant making himself an example of good works with integrity and dignity in his teaching (7).
• For Christian slaves, it meant “to submit to their masters in everything, and to be well-pleasing, not talking back or stealing, but demonstrating utter faithfulness” (9-10).

Everyone in the Christian community had a part to play in proving the validity of the gospel. Everyone was a link in the chain. If only one link failed, God’s word would be slandered (5). Every Christian in Crete had the responsibility to “adorn the teaching” (10). The Greek word Paul used for “adorn” is kosmeō (κοσμέω) – which means to decorate something so that it is beautiful and attractive. The word is related to our English word cosmetic.

Take a beautiful woman’s face, add good make-up, and you’ve got “wow!” Take a beautiful truth – like the gospel of Jesus Christ – add the make-up of Christian people “living in a sensible, righteous and godly way” and you’ve got a recipe for revival. God’s wonderful word is adorned by his obedient church.

Finally, note how this chapter explains how to draw all people’s attention to the gospel of salvation (12, 14).

How do we draw people’s attention to the gospel? The key (and our key verse for this series) is verse 12. We have “to deny godlessness and worldly lusts and to live in a sensible, righteous, and godly way in the present age.”

The word for “sensible” is σωφρόνως which means “marked by a serious awareness of responsibility.”

The word for “righteous” is δικαίως which means “being in conformity with standards for acceptable or anticipated behavior.”

The word for “godly” is εὐσεβῶς which means speaks of a life lived “in a reverent relation to God.”

Now, if I come into my community determined to teach a set of religious doctrines and I fail to adorn those teachings by making myself “an example of good works with integrity and dignity” – nobody will care about what I teach.

Paul said something similar to the Corinthians. He said “If I speak human or angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal” (1 Corinthians 13:1). The Cretans were losing their members to false teaching. Why? Because the church was gonging the gospel. They were not demonstrating the truth by “living in a sensible, righteous and godly way.”

LORD, we are tired of gonging the gospel. Make us a church so filled with your love, wisdom, righteousness and godliness that we catch people’s attention. Then, when they are ready to know the reason we are the way we are, give us the wisdom to proclaim your gospel – a gospel which is good news because it offers your salvation to all people.

Today’s sermon audio file.