Becoming more like Jesus 3 - Living Purposefully
[Sorry, there was a problem with the recording of the sermon this week and last week -fortunately Jim's provided a full text of his sermon - thanks Jim!]
Both Services on 12th June 2016
Christ Church, Stannington
Readings: Isaiah 42:1-4
Preachers have their own ways of preparation. When Tim puts out a plan for our sermons, I always look as soon as I can at the readings and let their influence work away at the back of my mind. This can take a short time or longer but, as I’m prompted, I jot things down. Eventually, I end up with a list of stuff that I hope the Holy Spirit has been putting into my head. I then use my own experience to put them into some sort of order, optimistically resulting in a flow that makes sense and can be followed. This is usually finished just before the due date but sometimes much earlier. This one was finished over a month ago; in fact before my last sermon.
One thing I haven’t done in the past is to look at the readings others are going to preach on. From now on, I will. This is because the Gospel reading I’m to preach on is about Beatitudes. I understand that a couple of weeks ago, Tim preached on the Beatitudes as a whole, explaining that the word “happy” used in the Good News version really meant blessed. I have to say that I do get a bit sad about the dumbing down of important words so that they’re more acceptable to modern ears. Sometimes it works, sometimes not.
I think some of the worst instances of this are in The Beatitudes. I really don’t like the word “happy” being used for when God bestows something wonderful on His people. I’m happy with “Happy” being one of the seven dwarves but not a beatitude. For me, happy is a feeling; blessed is a condition. I’m happy if I get through a sermon without stumbling over a phrase that I’ve previously practised faultlessly. I’m happy if I can get a good parking space. With things we get from God, surely most people believe we are “blessed” by them. The New International Version of the Bible (or NIV) is the one I’ve used since becoming a Christian. That and other versions use the word “blessed”. Here are some dictionary definitions of the word “bless”:
To make holy by religious rite; sanctify:
To invoke divine favour upon:
To honour as holy; glorify: Such as Bless the Lord.
And a couple of non-religious meanings:
To confer well-being or prosperity on:
To endow, as with talent: Like a high IQ or 20/20 vision.
Of course with talents we would say they were God-given. But all of these describe something way above “happy”. So Yes, I prefer the word used in most Bibles — “blessed”. Philip Yancey says it should be more like a short cry of joy, “Oh you lucky person”. “You lucky People” (enunciated as peep’ull) was a catch phrase of a comedian some of you may not have heard of called Tommy Trinder — a great humourist of his day.
Those words always take me back to when I was a trainee metallurgist at William Jessop and Sons Ltd. Working in the lab, we were quite isolated from the daily operation of the steel works. However we all had to have a 6 month stint in the 2S100 lab, out in the middle of the works. The main function of that unit was to do special tests on steel for British Timken, a huge customer. Working in the 2S100 lab, you were exposed far more to the work and the people of the factory.
Some of our preparation work was done in a building next door, which we shared with old Jack. His work was very different to ours. He used to brighten steel by immersing it in baths of Phosphoric acid. No health and safety there — but this was in the 50s. A friend of his, Ben from the grinding wheel shed, used to join him sometimes for breaks. When I went in, which was quite often, they would always sing out “Oh Lucky Jim, ‘Ow I envy ’im”. They never sang more than those two lines of what I’ve now discovered to be an old Music Hall song. These guys were both over 80 but very gentle men. I shall always remember them. I sometimes sing those words now, when something really good, or perhaps, sarcastically, when something bad happens. So yes, I agree with Philip Yancey that you have to feel really lucky to have been blessed with something by God.
To look at the first line of our Gospel Reading, which says “Blessed are the meek” in the NIV, we have to understand what was meant by this. As I’ve said before, I am not a Greek scholar but you can find out about such things on the Internet. I discovered that the Greek word used here is “praeis”. When the Bible was first translated into English, perhaps meek was appropriate. But today, if it is used at all, it generally means to be timid, which is a different Greek word, “deilias”. Biblical meekness is not timidity or weakness but rather refers to using God's strength under His control – i.e. demonstrating power without being unkind. In our Communion Service using the Book of Common Prayer, the last part of the introduction to Confession says that we should, “make our humble confession to almighty God, meekly kneeling upon our knees.” We’re not being timid when we do this. We are acknowledging the power of Almighty God and that we are His humble servants.
Remember as a child saying a prayer that began, “Gentle Jesus meek and mild”? Jesus was meek in accepting God’s will, even as to how He would die. But, taking today’s meaning, those who turned His Father’s house into a “market” didn’t think Jesus was timid, as He made a whip and drove out the animals and threw out the money changers for their disrespectful behaviour (John 2:13-17). The Pharisees and Teachers of the Law didn’t think He was timid either as He told them of the seven woes in store for them (Matthew 13:13-32). As we’ve just sung, Jesus had that unique combination of Meekness and Majesty.
The Good News Bible comes out on top with this one because it says “humble”, which is nearer than the modern conception of “meek”. The true meaning of humble is nothing like Uriah Heep, the fictional character created by Charles Dickens in his novel David Copperfield. Heep professed humility but wasn’t humble at all. He was scheming and very nasty. The best biblical example of humility was of course Moses. The Bible tells us that “… Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth” (Numbers 12:3) but Pharaoh didn’t find him to be timid as he argued for the release of God’s people.
When the Greek word is applied to animals the meaning is clear because it means “tame”. The animals have lost none of their strength but have learned to control the destructive instincts, which prevent them from living with humans, who take the place of God in their world. The more control believers have over some of their naturally selfish attitudes, the more likely these “meek” disciples are to inherit the earth.
What about the second beatitude in our Gospel Reading this morning? Paul wrote to the Corinthians that they should eagerly desire the greater gifts of the spirit (1 Corinthians 12:31). But God doesn’t want us to eagerly desire righteousness, He wants us to hunger and thirst for it as it says in the NIV. There are billions of people in the world who actually are hungry for food and thirsty for safe, clean water. Possibly some here this morning have actually experienced hunger and so have I. I’ve often said that most of my time in the army was enjoyable and I owe a great deal to those years of experience. However, in the Medical Corps we stayed twice as long in basic training as most soldiers. That was because everyone in the corps, with the exception of the clerks, in addition to normal army training, also had to undergo basic training in nursing. So our time there was 16 weeks. Most other recruits in those days only had 8 weeks at their depot. Don’t let anyone tell you that if you’re hungry you will eat anything. It’s not true. If the food is and smells really bad, you won’t. I spent many nights during those four months unable to sleep, because of the hunger in my stomach. I hungered for good food to fill it and that’s how we should hunger for the righteousness described in this beatitude. I have to say that after my basic training, the army became a totally different experience.
To get back to the beatitude about the righteous, St. John Chrysostom, was the Archbishop of Constantinople (347-407). Chrysostom actually means “golden mouthed”. In interpreting this beatitude he said that the opposite of the virtue of righteousness is covetousness.
As you’ll have no doubt heard many times before, human beings have a God-shaped hole in their hearts that only He can fill. Some folk spend their entire lives trying to fill it with all sorts of things such as wealth; possessions; sex and searching for answers everywhere but where they exist — in the Bible. This craving expresses itself in our desire to acquire things we don’t have, especially things someone else has. It could be fame; privileges; power or control etc. but none of these things can satisfy their hunger. They will never be content. CS Lewis wrote “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”
This isn’t something new. It’s spoken of in the Old Testament. God speaking through Isaiah said of His people,
“My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water". (Jeremiah 2:12-13 NIV)
Those described in this beatitude have realised that none of the things of this world can ever alleviate that hunger or quench their thirst and sought what could bring them peace. And that is the righteousness that can be bestowed upon us by God thanks to the blood of Christ, even though we are sinners.
So, if righteousness has been bestowed upon us by the blood of Christ, why should we be hungering and thirsting after it? God wants us to do that! Because God views us through the blood of Christ, He sees us as righteous. But we are not righteous. How righteous are we really? What would be a measure of this? Well, we’ve already seen the two examples – how we are with our God and how we are with each other.
Our belief in Jesus as the Son of God saves us from the Lake of Fire. But what do we mean by ‘belief’? James said to the believers, “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder" (James 2:19). They won’t be playing harps. Satan certainly believed in Jesus; he tried to tempt Him three times but he’s not saved.
In the Gospels, Jesus was asked by three different people what they should do to be saved or inherit eternal life. To two He answered that they should obey the commandments (Mark 10:17-22; Luke 18:18, 19). To the other He was more specific and agreed that the answer was to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind”; and, “Love your neighbour as yourself”. (Luke 10:25-28). These two commandments were from Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18 respectively.
So, do we love Jesus with all our hearts, souls, strength and minds? Jesus told us how we could prove our love for Him. He said, “If you love me, keep my commands” (John 14:15). How good are we at that? His greatest command, which He said was a new command was “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (John 13:34 NIV).
Tim preached a few weeks ago about this very command, remarking that in many cases people found it difficult to get on with others. (I was listening). We see it around us most of the time, ranging from small disagreements with friends or family to atrocities happening all over the world just now. If our intolerance of one another is so great, surely there’s not much point in our trying to obey this command of Jesus — is there?
How would Jesus feel if we were to ignore His one command to us and try to find some other way to show our love for Him? He’d probably weep as He did outside the tomb of His friend Lazarus (John 11:35 NIV).
Why? Because we would be disregarding the only way He said we could show our love for Him. So let’s not go down that path. So where should we be aiming to show this love for one another. Don’t forget that as both Tim and I have pointed out we’re talking about agape love, which isn’t based on feelings but on actions. So what actions can we perform to do what Jesus wants from us regarding our fellow human beings? I think it’s mainly about our attitudes to others. That’s easy to remember because we’re talking about the be-attitudes. So do we have pointers about our attitudes to others? Oh yes! Where? In the Bible of course, where else? Here are a few of them:
Jesus told us not to judge others or we ourselves will be judged (Matthew 7:2). He also said we should, “Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:31 NIV).
Paul gave lots of guidance on this:
“Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law” (Romans 13: 8 NIV). Jesus commanded us to love one another. Seeing this as a debt we owe to them might be an encouragement to do so.
“No one should seek their own good, but the good of others” (1 Corinthians 10:24NIV)
“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Ephesians 4:29 NIV)
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others" (Philippians 2:3-4 NIV). A perfect example of being humble.
“… do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased” (Hebrews 13:16NIV)
And finally Peter wrote, “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms” (1 Peter 4:10 NIV) . Every Christian has been given a gift, which they should use to serve others. Anyone thinking they don’t have a spiritual gift should pray to the Holy Spirit to reveal theirs to them.
And here’s a clincher – “Your attitude should be that of Christ Jesus" (Philippians 2:5 NIV).
This sermon in the 'Becoming' series is on 'Living Purposefully'. So what is our purpose as Christians? Ever since I was led onto the path to meet Jesus, I’ve always considered our main purpose to be bringing unsaved souls to salvation. There are lots of ways to do that. Jesus used different means. He was a very persuasive speaker; His miraculous healing of people brought many to believe; He was fantastic in prayer; He knew the Scriptures inside out etc., etc. But everyone can’t have these particular gifts. Some have but if anyone feels powerless in these fields, we’ve heard this morning of one of the best ways to show people what Jesus is really like. If we let people see Him in us, how can they not want to know more about Him? So how can we let someone see Jesus in us?
The first thing we should get rid of is the self-confident attitude that leads us to not caring what others think of us. We should care if we want them to see Jesus in us. So how can we let someone do that — see Him in us? We could try our best to follow the guidelines given in the Scriptures above, and God would be well pleased with our purposeful living. Can we do it on our own? I think there’s little chance of that. We need the help of the Holy Spirit within us, which God has given to each one of us who trusts in the Lord Jesus. We need to ask the Spirit to help and guide us in this. Perhaps to meditate on one or more of the scriptures I’ve just listed and there are more if we look. If we go on this path, who will benefit? Well hopefully the people we’re treating in a more kindly and understanding way. But we also will benefit. Not only because we’ll have the satisfaction and joy of doing what our Saviour asked of us but also wouldn’t our lives be so much better living in harmony with those around us? Even leaving that apart, just as giving a gift to someone gives us at least as much pleasure as the recipient. Being kind to others will have the same effect. So let’s make it the main purpose of our lives to agape love one another as our Saviour asked us to and show others what our Saviour is really like. Amen.
What makes you feel most happy?
Looking at the definitions of “blessed” in the sermon, what makes you feel most blessed by God? Do you feel lucky having this blessing?
Thinking of someone you know who you feel is truly “humble”, what is it about them that makes you think this? Do you feel that you could aspire to these attributes? Would you describe them as “timid”?
God sees you through the blood of Jesus as righteous, do you think that you hunger and thirst to be more righteous in yourself? What do you think that entails and what steps might be taken to achieve that?Where could you find help to guide you along this path?
Do you know people who have obvious God-given spiritual gifts? If you feel you don’t have any, have you prayed about this on your own or with someone else?