This issue of
“Equipper” celebrates GCI’s
transformation, which is leading us to more active participation in what
Jesus is doing to reach out to those outside the walls of our churches.
This month’s articles and sermons are linked below.
I know we’re all praying for those who have suffered loss and
those still in harm’s way in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey that
has devastated parts of Texas and Louisiana. For a report on how our
members in the affected areas fared and how you can help, click here.
Susan and I were richly blessed to spend time with many of you at We
Are GCI, our Denominational Conference held last month in Orlando,
Florida (click here for video highlights). During the conference
we heard stories from around the world showing what it looks like to
participate with Jesus in his ongoing ministry of reconciliation. I
addressed various aspects of that ongoing ministry in the April issue of Equipper,
noting how the Spirit leads us to live into the glorious, liberating
reconciliation that is ours in Christ. I quoted Alan Torrance, who reminds
us that the Spirit, who leads us to Christ, works in believers to help them
understand and embrace the new identity that is theirs in Christ, then
leads them to live into that identity, resulting in the transformation of
The story of Zacchaeus
A powerful illustration of this life transformation is given by Luke in
the story of Zacchaeus and his encounter with Jesus:
Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was
there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was
wealthy. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could
not see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to
see him, since Jesus was coming that way.
When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus,
come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” So he came down
at once and welcomed him gladly. All the people saw this and began to
mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”
But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now
I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody
out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”
Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because
this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to
save the lost.” (Luke 19:1-10)
Jesus’ statement that he had come “to seek and save the
lost” not only conveys the content of his mission, it shows the
orientation of his heart toward “lost” people like Zacchaeus,
who along with other residents of Jericho was driven by curiosity (and
perhaps by some other inner needs) to come out to see this rabbi named
In order to get a clear view of Jesus, Zacchaeus climbs a tree. This may
not seem like much to us until we realize that Zacchaeus, being wealthy,
would not typically go to such humbling extremes to connect with a man like
Jesus. One can only imagine what people thought observing this despised
little man. Jesus’ reaction was quite unlike that of the crowd.
Jesus, rather than ignoring Zacchaeus, “looked up,”
acknowledging this despised tax collector, discerning the heart of a man
willing to humble himself to see a rabbi known for bringing about change
wherever he went.
Jesus then addressed Zacchaeus by name, pronouncing that he would be
eating in Zacchaeus’ home that day. Upon hearing Jesus’ words,
the people “began to mutter”—they disdained Zacchaeus as
a traitor to his own people, supervising those who collected taxes on
behalf of the Romans. How could Jesus pick such a despicable person out of
the crowd to spend his valuable time with?
We do not know how God had been working in the heart and mind of
Zacchaeus to prepare him for this encounter with Jesus. Was Levi (Matthew),
a former tax collector (Luke 5:27–39), Zacchaeus’ friend? Had
Matthew told Zacchaeus about Jesus? Was Matthew praying for Zacchaeus? Had
Zacchaeus grown weary of his wealth and started yearning for something
better? Though we don’t know the backstory here, we do know that
Zacchaeus sought out and then responded to Jesus. He blurts out an amazing
statement of repentance, stating that he will give half his possessions to
the poor and repay all he has cheated at the rate of four times the amount
wrongfully taken—doesn’t that echo the truth that “where your
treasure is, there your heart will be also”?
Saved, through grace, by Jesus
The presence of Jesus and the unseen work of the Spirit in
Zacchaeus’ mind and heart transformed a lost sinner. He wasn’t
saved because of his commitment to good works—that commitment came in
response to the grace of God present with him in the person of Jesus, who
fellowshipped with him in his home that day.
Luke intends that we see Zacchaeus’ story as the story of all
humanity—the story of Jesus, by his initiative, first seeing, then
entering into fellowship with sinners. Zacchaeus’ story thus
epitomizes what it means to be saved by the grace of God in and through
Jesus. That grace is then received (responded to) in faith—note that
Jesus calls Zacchaeus a “son of Abraham”—likely not only
a reference to his Jewish heritage, but also a reference to the fact that
he showed faith in God, just as Abraham had done so many years before.
Indeed, it is by grace, through faith, and not by works, that people of all
kinds (even tax collectors!) are saved and so transformed by Jesus.
Zacchaeus’ story of transformation resonates deeply with
me—particularly as I think about all we witnessed at the Orlando
conference. By the grace of God, GCI has been transformed by Jesus at work
in us through the indwelling Spirit. As we heard at the conference, GCI has
experienced this grace of God in profound, wonderful ways. We heard stories
of how GCI churches and members are participating with Jesus in making
life-transforming differences in families, communities, towns and even
nations. As we heard these We Are GCI stories, it became even
clearer to me that Zacchaeus’s story is our story—the story of all
who recognize, receive and follow Jesus, responding to him in faith.
I look forward to hearing many more of these stories of what happens
when we participate with Jesus in his ongoing ministry of reconciliation. I
encourage you to attend our next Denominational Conference. It will be held
in Charlotte, NC, in 2020 (we’ll announce the exact dates soon). I
also ask that you pray for our annual GCI-USA Church Administration and
Development (CAD) team planning meeting that will be held in Southern
California in October of this year.
Many praises to the One who has and is transforming us,
Hospitality "Outside the Walls"
This article is from Josh McDonald, lead pastor of GCI’s
congregation in Indianapolis, IN. It is excerpted from a sermon Josh gave
to his congregation in casting a vision for outreach to the community
surrounding their church.
I ended college with student teaching. Every day, I had 80
tenth-graders staring at me. They all pretty much knew I had no clue what I
was doing. They were out of control, I was underprepared and my
supervisor-teacher spent most classes with her head in her hands. Around
Thanksgiving, my student teaching professor took me out for coffee and let
me know in no uncertain terms that I had failed the student teaching rather
In the midst of that embarrassing, stressful and revealing time, I met a
heroin addict I’ll call Mike. He had met one of my roommates who’d
given him a ride somewhere a few weeks earlier. He had given him our phone
number should he need help. One evening, as I sat in a pile of crumpled-up
lesson plans, Chinese take-out boxes, and not a little self-pity (knowing
how poorly I was doing as a student teacher), Mike phoned. My roommate
wasn’t home. This was how I ended up taking Mike to rehab.
Mike had been kicked out of wherever he was living and wanted to get
clean. I said I would give him a ride and we called the rehab center at
about 9:00 that night. They said, “We have a bed for Mike at 10:00 in the
morning.” As a college kid from the suburbs, I found myself, quite
suddenly, out of my “depth.”
Mike and I had an interesting evening. The rehab people said to give him
some beer so he wouldn’t go into seizures. He drank about 40 ounces of
gas station beer in about five minutes. Now quite drunk, he drooled all
over my passenger’s seat and fell asleep. Then we went to the ER, where I
found out that the hospital staff didn’t think of intravenous drug
users as a priority. We waited for six hours as he drooled, babbled,
urinated in a crowded parking lot and tried to smoke in the bathroom (which
failed when he fell over a trash can). After getting discharged with two
hospital-issued tuna sandwiches and the assurance he wasn’t dying, we
drove around northern Virginia until sunrise. I finally dropped him off at
the rehab unit where everyone seemed to know Mike. I gave him a black
sweatshirt and a hug, and never saw him again.
There are a few things that stayed with me from that experience. First
is the sure knowledge that I had no idea what I was doing and that I had
the Lord’s protection. I don’t recommend you do the same thing. I could
have dropped him off at the hospital and they and the police would have
taken better care of Mike. But I was a kid prone to dramatic gestures
Second, I realized that helping people was what I wanted to do. It was
hard to return to my tenth-graders. I think it was because I wasn’t
supposed to. The way I felt waiting with Mike at the ER was pointing me in
a different direction than coming up with lesson plans.
Third, I had a powerful moment that taught me a lot about evangelism. At
one point Mike forcefully asked, “Why are you doing this for me?!” I
replied, “Because of Jesus man! Because of what he did for me!” Mike
might not remember that moment, but I do. I’d been in environments
growing up where the idea was that I was supposed to lay the gospel on
him—soup to nuts—right then and there, and then push him for a
decision. I think right after that, he went back to sleeping and
I found out later from friends at the hospital that he was a regular
visitor there. I’ve known a lot of “Mikes” since, and most likely
(statistically speaking) Mike has been dead for a long time. Did I miss a
chance to reach out to him with the gospel that night? Was his eternal fate
hinging on me getting the requisite theological points across to someone
who couldn’t even complete a sentence at the time? In the years since my
brief encounter with Mike, I’ve learned a lot about life and Jesus,
and I believe I didn’t miss my chance with him. I served as a witness
to Mike of the unconditional love of Jesus in the best way for him at the
time. I simply shared life with him, as difficult as it was to do so at
I use this example not to brag. I’ve had other opportunities and
failed to take part in God’s work at those moments. Perhaps I was
distracted checking my phone or otherwise serving myself. Sometimes when
Jesus knocks on our door (usually rather gently), we fail to hear and
As a congregation, we are in a time of transition, with the
disorientation that goes with it. I relate—when I was growing up, we
moved a lot—about 15 times before I left home for college. In one of
those moves, I was nine years old. We were living in a small house in a
small town in Iowa. I walked to school and had a bunch of friends on the
street where we lived. It was a pleasant, predictable life, and then we
moved to Salt Lake City. I’d never even seen a steep hill (Iowa is very
flat), let alone a mountain! I was suddenly surrounded by Mormons who I’d
never even heard of before. Even the air was harder to breathe, due to the
high altitude. Due to that move, my life changed a lot. Not unlike the
changes we’re going through as a congregation.
In times of change, what are the best ways to cope? I think the answer
involves going with what you know—boiling things down to the basics;
to what matters most. What is that for us as a congregation? It’s
summarized in our motto: Love Jesus, love others. If that sounds
simple, it is (though it’s not simplistic). The two go
together—you can’t have one without the other.
Some churches emphasize “love people” so much they fail to
love God. They go so far in the inclusive, accepting, open direction that
they abandon orthodox Christian doctrine, saying that all religions lead
to God, that we don’t need Christ’s sacrifice because sin isn’t real,
that God is just fine with whatever moral choices we make. Other churches
emphasize the “love Jesus” part so much they fail to love
people. Though they may have well-crafted, God-honoring doctrines, they
fail to share God’s love with others. A non-Christian friend of mine
observed after first meeting me that I was stand-off-ish and the Christian
group of which I was part felt like a clique that he wasn’t allowed into.
You’ll recall what the apostle John wrote:
We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I
love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love
his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this
commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.
(1 John 4:19-21 ESV)
Let me apply this statement to two venues. First, we are to love each
other within the church. Our love for God, who is love, must be
shown in the complexity and beauty of relationships with each other within
the body of Christ. Second, we are to love others outside the
walls of the church—extending God’s love in the form of
hospitality out into the community.
Loving others outside the walls is a big part of our calling as
Christians and as a congregation. We’re all familiar with the parable
of the Good Samaritan. Remember the part where the Samaritan, before he
lifts the man out of the ditch, says to him, “Do you accept Jesus Christ
as your Lord and Savior and promise to come to church?” No, I don’t
remember that part, either—it’s not there. When we reach out
beyond the walls of our church building, we have to expand a little on what
“reaching out” means. Let’s return to 1 John:
By this we know love, that [Jesus] laid down his life for
us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. (1 John 3:16
Reaching out—call it evangelism—is about laying down our
lives in service to others. To “lay down” means laying aside
our own priorities and comfort to reach out to others. In this case
we’re talking about “the other”—those who don’t
look or act like we do. People like my friend Mike. The idea that we would
literally die for someone is too abstract for most of us. But putting aside
our own agendas, our own comfort, our own time to serve another—this we
all can relate to.
Henri Nouwen (pictured at
right), a famous Christian writer and educator, felt alienated and
depressed at times—so much so that he joined a L’arche Christian
community. He served special needs people there for the last ten years of
his life. He knew what it was like to be the outsider taken in by the
outsiders. In the book Reaching Out, he defined outreach as a
form of hospitality. In doing so he notes that the German word
for hospitality, gastfreundschaft, means “friendship for the
guest,” and the Dutch word, gastvrijheit, means “freedom of
the guest.” Hospitality is thus about offering a guest (the person we
meet) friendship, which involves granting them the freedom to be who they
are, even if it isn’t who we are. Hospitality means laying down our lives
for our guests—being present and available to them.
I think we need to be creative about what offering hospitality outside
our walls means within our particular context. We don’t have a lot of
money, medical expertise, or legal know-how, but we do have a lot of is
love—a lot of hospitality. We have real, authentic community, which
is a rare these days. One journalist called loneliness the “modern
epidemic.” It’s everywhere. In a society where we used to work
together to get most things done, we now do most things by ourselves. We
used to have to knock on someone’s door to communicate with them, but now
we just send a few emojis by text message. We used to have to go the
market—haggle prices, brush up against other people, but now we order our
groceries online. Some people even go to church online (a practice I
GCI has been through what almost no other church community has been
through—complete doctrinal overhaul. As a church, our hearts have been
broken, and maybe that’s why they are now so open. The question is this:
how shall we extend the love we have been given by reaching out with
hospitality beyond the walls of the church? Here are a couple of things to
keep in mind as we seek an answer: First, reaching out doesn’t
necessarily mean explicit evangelism. Jesus called us to share the gospel
with words, but also with deeds of love. And when it comes to sharing with
deeds, our best witness is being Christians in the public square—not
hidden behind the church walls. Second, reaching out is not the exclusive
responsibility of the pastor. We have this calling together. We need all
the gifts God has placed here to reach out to the community.
How can we extend Love Jesus, love
others hospitality—the friendship and freedom Jesus gives us,
out to people who reside outside our walls? Here are some ideas for action
Pray. Obvious? Well, maybe, but we need to be more
proactive and focused in praying about the community around the church,
asking God to knit our hearts with those around us.
Prayer walks. This means walking through the
community and praying as we go, seeking to find out what Jesus is up to
Going door-to-door. Don’t let this one scare
you. This happens after the prayer and prayer walking. It does NOT mean
laying the gospel on people door-to-door. That isn’t effective in our
culture. What it means is getting to know people in their setting, showing
interest in them and their neighborhood. Engaging people in conversation.
It can involve inviting them to community events that we will
Non-profit partnering. We can partner with some of
the good work that is already going on in this area. But note that we are
not called to be a social service agency—those already exist and we
need not reinvent the wheel. However, we can participate in order to get
out into the community and develop real relationships with people who live
I’m sure there are other ways we can extend hospitality to the
community around our place of meeting. I welcome your ideas, and
we’ll certainly be in prayer together about this as we seek to
Love Jesus, love others.
Kids Korner: Thoughts from Walt Disney
This issue of Kid’s Korner is from Jeffrey Broadnax, National
Coordinator for GCI Generations Ministries (GenMin).
My family and I recently spent a few days in Orlando’s magical world
of Disney. Along with thousands of people at the Magic Kingdom and Epcot
Center theme parks, we enjoyed the sights, sounds, rides and food. Our
hotel was located near Disney Springs, a hybrid of Disney and a shopping
As my wife and I walked through Disney Springs, I noticed several quotes
from Walt Disney posted along the walkways. I’m not sure how many people
actually stop and read them, but I did, and the Lord used them to fan into
flame in my mind and heart some ideas for children’s and youth
Here are a few of Disney’s quotes. See what ideas these generate
in your mind and heart related to ministry to children and teens.
Disneyland is a work of love. We didn’t go into Disneyland
just with the idea of making money.
Of all of our inventions for mass communication, pictures still speak
the most universally understood language.
Disneyland will never be completed. It will continue to grow as long as
there is imagination left in the world.
Of all the things I’ve done, the most vital is coordinating those who
work with me and aiming their efforts at a certain goal.
Movies can and do have tremendous influence in shaping young lives in
the realm of entertainment towards the ideals and objectives of normal
A man should never neglect his family for business.
Animation can explain whatever the mind of man can conceive. This
facility makes it the most versatile and explicit means of communication
yet devised for quick mass appreciation.
We allow no geniuses around our Studio.
I would rather entertain and hope that people learned something than
educate people and hope they were entertained.
We have created characters and animated them in the dimension of depth,
revealing through them to our perturbed world that the things we have in
common far outnumber and outweigh those that divide us.
We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because
we’re curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.
You can design and create, and build the most wonderful place in the
world. But it takes people to make the dream a reality.
The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.
Times and conditions change so rapidly that we must keep our aim
constantly focused on the future.
Our heritage and ideals, our code and standards—the things we live
by and teach our children—are preserved or diminished by how freely
we exchange ideas and feelings.
When you believe in a thing, believe in it all the way, implicitly and
I only hope that we don’t lose sight of one thing—that it
was all started by a mouse.
Laughter is America’s most important export.
I believe in being an innovator.
Sermon for October 1, 2017
Ex. 17:1-7 and Ps. 78:1-4,12-16
(or Ezek.18:1-4, 25-32 and Ps. 25:1-9)
Phil. 2:1-13; Matt. 21:23-32
Sermon by Martin Manuel from Philippians 2:1-13
Sharing in Jesus’ Incarnational
Each year, Time (magazine) names a Person of the Year.
In 2014, Time gave that award not to an individual but to the
group of people who fought the deadly Ebola virus in Africa.
Time said they “risked and persisted, sacrificed and
saved.” Here’s a video about them:
The sacrifices made by these Ebola fighters remind me of Jesus.
I’m not suggesting they are equal to Jesus, but in them I see a
reflection of Jesus, the “person of all time.” In the sermon
today, we’ll see how Jesus both modeled incarnational
living and now, through the Holy Spirit, works to mold his
followers into those who share his incarnational living.
The background of our text today (Philippians 2:1-13) is the story of
early humanity told in Genesis where, in chapter three, we find the
narrative of humanity’s fall. Similar to Ebola’s devastating and fatal
effect upon people, the human race contracted the “disease” of
sin when Adam and Eve chose to pursue their own interests, desires and
ambitions over trusting their Creator. There was no escaping the
consequences for this rebellion through their own efforts. Only the
intervention of God, the healer of this disease, could save them and all
humanity who joined in their rebellion against God.
Of humankind’s healer, Philippians 2:6-7 says this:
[Jesus], being in very nature God, did not consider equality
with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself
nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human
likeness. (vv. 6-7)
Though divine by nature (fully God with the Father and the Spirit),
Jesus nonetheless chose to act unselfishly, assuming human nature. In doing
so, he did not cease being divine, though he did leave behind the glory,
powers and privileges of being God. It would be considered remarkable n our
world if a person of royalty descended to the status of a slave. But that
would be a small thing compared to what the Son of God gave up in order to
be God incarnate in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.
And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! (v.
Jesus didn’t stop his descent at becoming a human servant—he
went all the way into ignominy, including the humiliation of crucifixion.
When our court system convicts a person of a capital crime with a place on
death row, they are treated as the off-scouring of society. Jesus was
sentenced to the most dishonorable and shameful capital punishment in Roman
and Jewish cultures. Ironically, this self-sacrificial death of a
divine-royal, turned human-servant, saved the human race, as Isaiah
He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for
our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by
his wounds we are healed. (Isa. 53:5)
Resurrected from the grave and ascended to the place of glory with his
Father in heaven, Jesus is now recognized by his followers for his
love-motivated, self-sacrificial act:
Therefore God exalted him to the highest
place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of
Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God
the Father. (Phil. 2:9-11)
Although not yet fulfilled, the Bible records the divine promise that
all humanity will bow to the glorified, exalted Jesus, acknowledging him as
Lord over all, even if some may refuse to trust in him as their Savior.
A call to follow Jesus
The apostle Paul wrote these inspirational words not only to encourage
people to place their trust in Jesus as Lord and Savior, but also, as Paul
notes in Phil. 2:5, to follow his example of humble service to others:
In your relationships with one another, have the same
mindset as Christ Jesus. (Phil. 2:5)
Jesus’ mindset, which flows forth in what we might call
incarnational living, soars far above the natural human way of
thinking. Paul knew that he was proposing a bar far too high for his
readers to leap and clear, but he suggested a start through their
reflection on the benefits they already had derived from Jesus’
Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united
with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the
Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by
being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one
mind. 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. (Phil.
The believers in Philippi could relate to Paul’s exhortation. Being in
spiritual union with Jesus Christ greatly encourages, and experiencing his
love deeply comforts. Sharing in the Holy Spirit binds the believers into a
close-knit, loving community. The community created by Jesus, through the
Spirit, is one of infectious tenderness and compassion, and Paul says it is
necessary for them to live together accordingly. How? By replacing selfish,
ambitious and arrogant behavior with humble, others-first ways of thinking
The Ebola fighters, many of whom not only are medical professionals but
devoted Christians, exemplified this behavior in putting others’
interests before their own. Dr. Jeremy Brown, the man clad with white
protective headwear in the center of the Time magazine cover in
the video, is part of Eternal Love Winning Africa (ELWA), a Christian
ministry. Others, including medical volunteers from Serving in Mission
(SIM), Samaritans Purse, and Doctors Without Borders, stepped into a gap of
desperate need where governments and health organizations were absent. They
endangered their lives in the process, to stop the epidemic, thereby saving
much of the human population from exposure to Ebola. As Dr. Kent Brantley
said in the video:
We live in a global community. We need to recognize that
people on the other side of the world, they are our neighbors, and we need
to treat them with love and compassion and respect just like we do the
person who lives in the house next door.
We who are not medical professionals may not serve in the midst of a
life-threatening epidemic, but we do encounter humans who need love,
compassion and respect. Let us join Jesus in incarnational living and serve
Christ at work through the Holy Spirit
Jesus has shown the way and given us reason to charge forward in
following his example, but it takes more than inspiration to make us like
Christ. For that reason, Paul closes with an exhortation that includes
reassurance that the divine help we need to accomplish incarnational living
is readily available:
Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not
only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out
your salvation with fear and trembling. (Phil. 2:12)
Sometime before writing this, Paul had shared the message of the gospel
with a small group of women who gathered to worship on a riverside near
One of those listening was a woman named Lydia… The Lord
opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message… she and the members
of her household were baptized. (Acts 16:13-16)
Lydia and others in her household responded to Paul’s proclamation
of the gospel by committing, through baptism, to a life of following
As Paul and his team continued to share the gospel in Philippi, the
operator of the city jail asked Paul and his co-workers:
“What must I do to be saved?” They replied,
“Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved—you and your
household.” Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all
the others in his house… he and all his family were baptized. (Acts
The jailer’s family joined Lydia’s household as followers of Jesus
being discipled by Paul. This, the start of the church at Philippi, came
about as a result of Paul’s proclamation of the gospel and the church
members’ response of obedience to his message. It was this obedience to
which Paul refers in his letter, calling on these new believers to even
greater devotion to following Christ in his absence. How would they do
that? And what did their obedience have to do with “working out
salvation”? To answer that important question, we must read further
what Paul says in Philippians 2:
For it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to
fulfill his good purpose. (Phil. 2:13)
Paul is not saying that our works somehow earn or complete our
salvation. To the contrary, he is clear to state that the accomplishment of
God’s purpose (our salvation) is the outcome of God working in those who
trust in Jesus. Paul alludes to this earlier in his letter:
He who began a good work in you will carry it on to
completion until the day of Christ Jesus. (Phil. 1:6)
Notice who began the work, who continues it, and who carries it on to
completion—God! These words would be empty platitudes if Paul meant
that the real work of salvation was ours. Putting his statements together,
we see that the Holy Spirit within believers is doing the
work—molding each into the likeness of Jesus. And we are called to
participate—to cooperate. The believers in Philippi did so by obeying
Paul’s instructions when he was with them. And now he was urging them to
continue their active, willing participation with the Spirit in his
As we see in Acts 16, they did respond to Paul’s message—they
did believe in the Lord Jesus and were baptized. When persecution led to
Paul’s earlier-than-planned departure from Philippi, Paul met with
them and “encouraged them” (Acts 16:40), knowing that persecution lay
ahead for them all—suffering that would add endurance to the gifts
that the Spirit was granting them.
What Paul summarizes in Philippians 2, he elaborates elsewhere in the
letter. In 3:9 he says his personal intention was about “not having a
righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through
faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of
faith.” Paul clearly did not consider his obedience as a work that
accomplished or somehow added to his salvation. Only the Savior, through
the Spirit, can do this saving-perfecting work. Exercising faith in
Christ’s righteousness, Paul considered his responsibility as being to
“press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called
me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (3:14). Explaining our participation,
through the Spirit, in Christ’s ongoing work of salvation, he adds,
“All of us…who are mature should take such a view of things”
By “press on,” Paul meant not looking back or standing
still. The journey of those united to Christ by the Spirit is
forward, involving continual growth in knowing and following
Christ. Paul wrote the believers in Philippi to encourage them to keep up
that journey even though he was not there with them. He wanted them to be
careful and conscientious about their obedience, always trusting in God for
salvation and letting nothing distract them along the way. That is what he
meant by “working out your salvation with fear and
Throughout this journey, God—Father, Son and Spirit—works through
grace, calling and opening minds to respond to the gospel (like Lydia),
leading believers to live a life of trust in Jesus as Savior (like the
Philippian jailer), and helping believers participate with the inner work
of the Holy Spirit as Paul urged the whole congregation. The outcome of
this journey is the ever-growing mind of Christ at work molding each
The Father, Son and Spirit work the same in Jesus’ followers
today. Christ in us, by the Spirit, does within us what Christ did and
still does: living life incarnationally—a life that is humble,
unselfish and actively, sacrificially serving others.
Jesus Christ modeled incarnational living by his life of love-motivated
self- sacrifice, humbling himself, going from glory to servant-hood to
sacrifice. Jesus in us by the Spirit lives the same incarnational life. We
are called to a lifestyle that exhibits the mind of Christ toward other
humans; living in unity with those with whom we share union in Christ; not
allowing our natural drives, ambitions, and interests to dominate us;
having others’ interests and well-being at heart in all we think and
The Ebola fighters exhibited this attitude in their unselfish service
and sacrifice to care for and help fellow-humans stricken by the disease.
That attitude, starting in Christ-centered ministries in Africa, and
spreading first through Christ-centered charitable organizations and on
into medical staffs in Africa and in the United States, helped stop the
spread of the deadly disease.
Although most of us are not workers in medical fields, we can recognize
in the Ebola fighters the example of Jesus, and also the molding Jesus
does, by the Holy Spirit, in those who follow him into incarnational
Sermon for October 8, 2017
Ex. 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20 and Ps. 19
(or Isa. 5:1-7 and Ps. 80:7-15)
Phil.3:4b-14, Matt. 21:33-46
Sermon by Ted Johnston from Philippians 3:12-16
(drawing on commentary by Warren Wiersbe in The Bible Expository
Commentary and Francis Foulkes in The New Bible
Running Strong with Jesus
In Philippians 3, Paul rejoices in who Jesus is and who we are as
believers in union with him. Paul rejoices that Jesus is at work, through
the Spirit, redeeming our past (vv. 1-11) and securing our
future (vv. 17-21). Then in vv. 12-16, Paul looks at our
present, noting that Jesus, who has saved us, invites us to
participate with him as he ministers through the Spirit. Paul uses a sports
metaphor to compare this participation to running a race. His purpose is to
urge us to run strong with Jesus!
Please don’t misunderstand. Paul is not suggesting that somehow we
are saved by, add to, or perfect our salvation by running strong. Rather he
is urging believers (those who, in faith, have received salvation in
Jesus), to live out their salvation by actively sharing in what Jesus is
now doing through the Holy Spirit to fulfill the Father’s mission to
A little background will help here. In Paul’s day, only citizens were
allowed to enter the Greek games (forerunner of what we know as the
Olympics). Athletes did not compete in these games to gain
citizenship—they competed because they were citizens already. In like
manner, Paul declares that “our citizenship is in heaven” (Phil 3:20).
His goal is to show how these citizens should run the race into which they
have been enlisted.
As followers of Jesus, we have joined the race and have been assigned a
particular lane in which to run—a particular calling that has to do
with the gifts for ministry given us by the Holy Spirit. If we run strong,
the way God has planned for us, a reward is ours. But if we drop out of the
race, or run outside our assigned lane, we lose that reward, though we keep
our citizenship, which is symbolic of our salvation.
In Philippians 3, Paul gives five keys to running strong with Jesus.
Let’s explore each one.
1. Divine dissatisfaction (vv. 12–13a)
Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already
been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ
Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken
hold of it…
Despite his considerable achievements, Paul was not resting on his
laurels. Unfortunately, many Christians do just that, comparing their
“running” with that of other believers. Had Paul compared himself with
others, he would have been tempted to be proud and perhaps to let up. But
Paul did not compare himself with others—he compared himself with
himself and with the perfection of Jesus. That led him to a “divine
dissatisfaction” with his progress that is highly motivating. Mature
Christians honestly evaluate themselves and then “press on.”
The Bible often warns against a false estimate of one’s spiritual
condition. The church at Sardis thought of themselves as alive, but the
reality was that they were spiritually dead (Rev. 3:1). The church at
Laodicea boasted that it was spiritually rich, but the reality was that
they were “wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked” (Rev. 3:17).
Self-evaluation can be dangerous, because we can err by making ourselves
better than we are, or by making ourselves worse than we are. Paul had no
illusions about himself; he knew he still had to “press on” in order
“to lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold” of him (Phil.
A humble self-appraisal leading to an appropriate divine dissatisfaction
is key one for running strong with Jesus.
2. Deep devotion (v. 13b)
…But one thing I do…
Paul understood the power of staying focused on “one thing.” “Only
one thing is needed,” Jesus said to busy Martha when she criticized her
sister Mary for her devotion to Jesus (Luke 10:42). “One thing I ask of
the Lord, this is what I seek” testified the psalmist (Ps. 27:4).
The “one thing” for us is to fulfill our calling to participate with
Jesus in his ongoing ministry in the world. An athlete succeeds by
specializing in one event—they keep their eyes on this one goal and let
nothing distract them. Like Nehemiah, the wall-building governor, they
reply to distracting invitations: “I am carrying on a great project and
cannot go down” (Neh. 6:3). As the apostle James wrote, “a
double-minded man [is] unstable in all he does” (James 1:8).
It’s a matter of values and priorities—running with devotion
in our assigned lane with Jesus. That is key two, and then there is a third
3. Clear direction (v. 13c)
Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is
It’s easy to get bogged down in the past. But running strong with
Jesus requires a clear sense of forward direction. Imagine what
would happen on the race course if a runner started looking behind
As believers, we are called to be future-oriented: “Forgetting what is
behind.” In Bible terminology, to “forget” does not mean to fail to
remember. Rather, it means no longer being influenced by or affected by the
past. When God promises, “their sins and lawless acts I will remember
no more” (Heb. 10:17), he is not suggesting he will conveniently have
a bad memory! What God is saying is this: “I will no longer hold their
sins against them. Their sins can no longer affect their standing with me
or influence my attitude toward them.”
So, “forgetting what is behind” does not suggest an impossible feat
of mental gymnastics by which we try to erase the memory of our past. It
simply means that we break the power of the past by living for the future,
which is ours, by God’s grace, free of sin and secure in Christ.
We cannot change the past, but we can change its meaning. There were
things in Paul’s past that could have weighed him down (1 Tim.
1:12–17), but they became inspirations to propel him forward. The events
did not change, but his understanding of them did.
Many Christians are shackled by regrets concerning past failures and
disappointments. They are trying to run forward while looking backward!
Some are distracted by past successes; and this is just as distracting.
“What is behind”—whether good or bad—must be set aside so that we
can focus on “straining toward what is ahead.”
So to run strong with Jesus we need dissatisfaction, devotion, and
direction. And then there is a fourth key:
4. Dogged determination (v. 14)
I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God
has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
“I press on!” carries the idea of intense effort. A person does not
become a winning athlete by listening to lectures, watching movies, reading
books, or cheering at games. They become a winning athlete by getting into
the game with a strong determination to win! The same zeal that Paul
employed when he persecuted the church (Phil. 3:6), he went on to display
in serving Christ.
In running with Jesus, there are two extremes to avoid: (1) “I must do
it all” and (2) “Jesus must do it all!” Both positions overlook the
stunning truth that Jesus includes us in his life and in his ministry.
“Let go and let God!” is a clever slogan, but it does not fully
describe the truth of our life shared with Jesus. What quarterback would
say to his team, “OK, men, just let go and let the coach do it all!” On
the other hand, no quarterback would say, “Listen to me and forget what
the coach says!” Both extremes are wrong.
The Christian runner realizes that Jesus must work in and through them
if they are going to win (Phil. 2:12–13). “Apart from me you can do
nothing,” said Jesus (John 15:5). God works in us that he might
work through us. As we apply ourselves to the life we share with
Jesus, the Spirit matures and strengthens us for the race. “Train
yourself to be godly” was Paul’s exhortation to Timothy (1 Tim.
Toward what goal is the Christian pressing and struggling with such
determination? According to Paul it’s “the prize for which God has
called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:14). When the winner in
the Greek games reached “the goal” (the marker at the end of the race),
they were “called up” to the winner’s platform where they were given
their reward. Paul is not suggesting with this metaphor that we attain
salvation by our works. He is simply saying that just as an athlete is
rewarded for their performance, so the faithful believer will be rewarded
when Jesus returns (see 1 Cor. 9:24–27 for a parallel, and note that
while only one athlete receives the reward, all Christians may receive a
We don’t know a lot about the nature of these rewards—it may be
that Paul sees Jesus himself as the reward. But what we do know is that we
will be rewarded if we “take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took
hold of [us]” (Phil. 3:12).
So determination is the fourth key for running strong with Jesus. And
there is one more key:
5. Consistent discipline (vv. 15–16)
All of us who are mature should take such a view of things.
And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to
you. Only let us live up to what we have already attained.
In order to win, the runner must compete according to the rules. In the
Greek games, the judges were very strict about this. Any infringement of
the rules disqualified the athlete. That did not mean being stripped of
citizenship, but it did mean losing the prize in that particular race. In
Phil. 3:15–16, Paul emphasizes that we must remember the “spiritual
rules” laid down by Jesus, our judge. Paul makes a similar point in
writing to Timothy: “If anyone competes as an athlete, he does not
receive the victor’s crown unless he competes according to the
rules” (2 Tim. 2:5).
One day each of us will stand before Jesus at God’s “judgment
seat” (Rom. 14:10). The Greek word for “judgment seat” is the same
word used to describe the place where the Olympic judges gave out the
prizes to the winners. If we have disciplined ourselves to run strong with
Jesus, we will receive great reward at that time.
There are many examples in the Bible of people who began the race but
failed at the end because they disregarded God’s rules. Such was the case
for Lot (Gen. 19), Samson (Judges 16), King Saul (1 Sam. 28; 31), and
Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5). Though God does not expect perfection, we
are, as followers of Jesus, called to “live up to” what we have been
It’s exciting to run the race daily with our eyes fixed on Jesus
(Heb. 12:1–2). It will be even more exciting when we stand before him at
his return and experience the full reward that is ours. This prospect of
future reward was motivation to Paul to discipline himself now in order to
run strong to the finish. It can be our motivation as well.
Let’s remember Paul’s keys for running strong with Jesus:
divine dissatisfaction, deep devotion, clear direction, dogged
determination and consistent discipline. All of these are about actively
participating with Jesus, by the Spirit, as he ministers in our world,
fulfilling the Father’s mission. As believers, all of us are included
in Jesus’ ministry! So, let’s get about it—let us, through
the Spirit, run strong with Jesus!
Ex.32:1-14 and Ps. 106:1-6, 19-23
(or Isa. 25:1-9 and Ps. 23)
Phil.4:1-9, Matt. 22:1-14
Sermon by Josh McDonald from Philippians 4:4-9
Practicing Aggressive Gratitude
In Phil. 4:4-9, Paul urges believers, rather than being anxious, to practice
“prayer and supplication with thanksgiving.” Today I want to
elaborate on that thought, discussing what we might call “aggressive
gratitude.” Sounds like an oxymoron, doesn’t it? We’re
not used to putting these two ideas together. Aggressive gratitude takes
the familiar emotion of aggression (fighting, conflict, anger) and couples it with
gratitude, which Paul associates with giving, receiving and
Paul’s anxiety-producing circumstances
When Paul sent this letter to the church at Philippi, he was under house
arrest in Rome (though some commentators think he wrote it while imprisoned
in Caesarea). Though chained to a Roman guard, Paul was able to write and
even have occasional visitors.
Although this was not the worst type of imprisonment for Paul
physically, it was a time of high anxiety as he awaited trial and likely
execution. There Paul waited, a soldier attached to him day and night, for
something he wasn’t sure of. As they say, “even the certainty of
misery is better than the misery of uncertainty.” Paul writes in the
middle of the misery of his uncertainty.
Paul urges aggressive gratefulness
He’s writing to the church at Philippi, which he had planted some
15 years earlier, and now longs to see once again. Different from
Paul’s usual letters, he isn’t writing correctively. He’s
not rebuking them for false theology and sin—this is mostly a letter
of encouragement and friendship. He is urging this community to keep
going—to keep walking in faith. They are being ridiculed and
persecuted by their neighbors, they have trouble within the
church—divisions and doctrinal fights. Paul urges them to be
aggressively grateful for God’s presence with them in the
present and in the future when they enter glory with Christ.
I think Philippians is where we see Paul at his most centered. He writes
things like, “to live is Christ, to die is gain;” “whatever happens
to me, conduct yourself in a way worthy of the gospel;” “I count all as
loss so that I might know Christ.” He is not arguing or rebuking—he
is living in the peace that passes understanding and urging the Christians
in Philippi to do likewise.
Have you ever been in love? Have you ever been so filled with purpose
and strength that everything that used to scare you or anger you just falls
away? My opinion is that Paul, despite his stressful circumstances, wrote
these words when he was at his most peaceful and centered. He commends the
Philippians to this kind of aggressively grateful life: “Rejoice in the
Lord always and again I say rejoice!”
Paul repeats the word rejoice several times in this letter. He
commends them to do this rejoicing “in the Lord.” Interesting that he
uses that phrase. He does not say, “rejoice because life is so
great.” He doesn’t say “rejoice because Oprah says
it’s good for your cardio health.” He says “rejoice in
the Lord.” Rejoice because your daily reality is shaped by your
Paul, likely facing prolonged imprisonment or even death, is keeping
focused and relatively free of anxiety by rejoicing in realities that
can’t be touched by imprisonment or death. He is rejoicing because
God is in control—because God will supply all his needs, and even if
he dies, life with God in heaven awaits. As so Paul writes, “Do not
be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication
with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God”
Anxious—there’s that word. As an article in
Psychology Today states, “anxiety is one of our modern
plagues.” The Huffington Post asked, “Why is anxiety the new
norm?” Certainly there is no shortage of things to make us anxious in
this hectic world. Yet there is a severe shortage of ways to deal with
anxiety. Paul faces anxiety head on and shows us true freedom: “Be
anxious for nothing,” he says. In writing this, Paul seems to be
quoting Jesus, who in Matthew 6 says, “Do not worry about what you will
eat….” Paul picks up on this in Philippians, declaring over and over
that God is in control and our true citizenship and home is in heaven, no
matter what happens.
Personal illustration: My dog was killed a
few weeks ago. The owner of the dog who killed ours wants to keep it, so we
had to testify in court. We believe the offending dog is a danger to our
kids and the neighborhood, so we testified against it. Right in the middle
of that, God had me studying a book written by Paul as he awaits his day in
court! There I was, reporting on one of the most violent, anxiety producing
things I've ever experienced, and Paul is telling me to be anxious for
nothing! It was hard for me. Last week seems to have taken forever as I
waited to relive that terrible event. One of the healing, calming things I
did during that time was to reflect on our dog's life. We looked at old
pictures, talked about old memories and how much we loved her. We tried and
tried again to practice thankfulness, as Paul mentions here: “In
everything by prayer and petition with thanksgiving let your requests be
made known to God.” We can practice aggressive gratitude---the
transformative grace that can help us celebrate memories---and even rejoice
when we feel the pain because it means we've experienced love.
As Paul goes on to say, “The peace of God, which surpasses all
understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”
Here I need to share some historical context. In Paul’s day,
religion and morality were two separate things. Religion had to do with
keeping the gods happy. You did religion so your crops would grow and you
would win wars. The gods were distant and unpredictable.
Morality—your way of being in the world—was taught by the
philosophers in that society. Someone like Oprah or Dr. Phil would come
along and tell you how to conduct yourself in a way that was most peaceful
and happy for you and everybody. There was essentially no connection to the
gods in this.
Our world today is not so different. We have all these tricks and
gimmicks to reduce anxiety or to make ourselves into better people, but
it’s all about believing and looking into yourself. But this
strategy doesn’t seem to be working—we need stronger
Paul sees no disconnect between our life with God and our daily living.
He urges us to lift the details of our daily life to God in prayer. Often
we don’t understand what is happening in our lives, but by putting
our trust in God, we receive a peace that truly does pass
understanding—a peace that is from far beyond our world where
ultimate peace is never found.
Guarding your heart
Yes, the peace of God guards our hearts in Christ Jesus. Paul
is asserting that when we stay in prayer with aggressive thanksgiving, our
hearts and minds will be guarded. The Greek word Paul used for
guard is the same one used for a military battalion. The image is
of a big, scary, spear-wielding group of soldiers guarding your peace. Paul
probably looked at the brute of a soldier to who he was chained and thought
“yeah, that’s it!”
So the peace of God is our guard. He surrounds us like a military guard
protecting a city so that there can be peace within. Thus Paul is urging
them to realize that they have a heavenly connection, and to plug in to
that. Rejoice, pray, be aggressively grateful, enjoy the privileges of your
heavenly citizenship—even in the harshness of daily reality.
As you do, God’s peace will guard your heart.
Guarding your mind
Paul then turns to the part of our lives we always have the power to
change: our minds. In 2 Corinthians 10 he wrote that we are to
“take every thought captive” for God’s glory. Paul knows how
squirrelly and scattered our minds can be—how quickly we get focused
on the negative, how quickly we forget that God is the one with the final
word. To the believers in Philippi, Paul writes this:
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable,
whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is
commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of
praise, think about these things.
The church in Philippi was being persecuted. Their first instinct might
have been to turn in on themselves believing that anything outside the
church is evil and cursed. But Paul calls them to reach beyond their fears
and anxieties, not to be of the world, but to continue to be
in the world—reaching out to the world with a mind
tempered by God’s peace.
Sadly, many Christians in our world, which is increasingly hostile to
faith, turn inward. They make their own music, movies, books, clothing.
Yes, these things can sometimes helpfully feed our spirits, but sometimes
it goes too far—sometimes it becomes what Dwight Moody warned of:
being too heavenly-minded to be of any earthly good.
In contrast, Paul shows us that because the entire world is God’s
world, we can enjoy it the way it was meant to be enjoyed. We know that
romance, money, work—none of these things viewed in a worldly
way—can fill the void in us. That void can only be filled by Christ.
Through him—our minds and hearts centered on him—we can enjoy
these gifts with no anxiety attached.
“Set your mind on things above,” wrote Paul. See the beauty and
goodness around you as the promise that a loving, creative, hilarious God
rules over it all! Yes, right now we live “between the times,”
where life can feel like a sort of prison.
Part of the background that Paul refers to throughout this letter is
that the people in Philippi are dual citizens. They are citizens
of Philippi where they reside, yet they also are citizens of Rome because
Philippi was a Roman colony. Paul reminds them that, in like manner, they
are citizens of earth and of heaven. He shows them that the church of which
they are a part is a colony of God’s kingdom, and they should live
out their privileges as citizens of heaven.
Here are three truths I pray you will take with you from this
Remember your citizenship. As Christians, we are part
of a colony of heaven in this world—we have a dual citizenship.
Through aggressive gratitude, which involves setting our hearts and minds
on things above, we can enjoy God’s peace even here; even now you are
a citizen of God’s kingdom here in this world. Don’t forget
that God is in charge.
Guard your mind and heart. Set your mind on things
above through the power of prayer and aggressive gratitude. The more you
set your mind on those things that are true, noble and praiseworthy, the
more you will experience God’s peace in your heart.
Practice gentleness. As Paul wrote, “Let your
gentleness be evident to all.” The Greek word he used for gentleness
carries the idea of forbearance, reasonableness, not retaliating when
revenge is your natural reaction. Such gentleness in the face of trouble
and threat is a key part of our witness to Christ. It means not bombing
people with gospel tracts at the mall, not screaming at everyone that
they’re going to hell. Instead, we display the gentleness, kindness,
and freedom of a heart that is guarded by the peace of God. May it be so
for us all. Amen.
Sermon for October 22, 2017
Ex. 33:12-23 and Ps. 99
(or Isa. 45:1-7 and Ps. 96:1-13)
1 Thess. 1:1-10; Matt. 22:15-22
Sermon by Ted Johnston from 1 Thessalonians 1:5-10
(drawing on commentary by John Stott)
Living and Sharing the Gospel
Our reading from the epistles today is from Paul’s first letter to
the Christians in the Greek city of Thessalonica.
Following greetings in 1 Thess. 1:1-4, Paul links the gospel and the
church in 1 Thess. 1:5-10. He shows in three steps how the gospel creates
the church and how the church then lives and shares the gospel:
“Our gospel came to you” (v. 5).
“You welcomed the message” (v. 6).
“The Lord’s message rang out from you” (v. 8).
This is how evangelism worked in Thessalonica in the first century, and
how it still works in our day. Let’s explore each step.
1. The gospel came to you (v. 5)
Our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with
power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction. You know how we lived
among you for your sake.
The gospel did not come to Thessalonica by being dropped by parachute
from heaven. No, along with his ministry partners Silas and Timothy, Paul
brought the gospel to that city. Before they arrived there was no
church—when they left, the church had been planted and had taken
root. How did that happen? The planting was the direct result of
evangelism—the sharing of the gospel. That sharing occurred in four
a. With words. True, the gospel came “not simply
with words,” but it did come to them with words. The gospel is a
“message” (v. 6) or “the word” (RSV), “the
word of the Lord” (v. 8, RSV) or “the word of God” (2:13,
RSV). Words matter—they communicate meaning, and the gospel has a
specific meaning. That is why it must be verbalized. In our evangelism,
whether in public preaching or private sharing, we need to use words.
b. With power. Words by themselves are seldom
enough—this is especially true in communicating the gospel, since
blind eyes and hard hearts do not appreciate it. So words spoken in human
weakness need to be confirmed with divine power. The reference here is
probably to the internal operation of the Holy Spirit. It is only by his
power that the gospel can penetrate people’s mind, heart, conscience
and will. Paul wrote the same thing to the Corinthian church (1 Cor.
2:1-5), and it is from Corinth that he wrote to the Thessalonians. We must
never divorce what God has married, namely his Word and Spirit. The Word of
God is the Spirit’s sword (Eph. 6:17). The Spirit without the Word is
weaponless; the Word without the Spirit is powerless.
c. With deep conviction. “Power” describes
the objective result of the preaching, “conviction” the
subjective state of the preacher. Paul’s preaching was not only
powerful in its effect but confident in its presentation. He was sure of
his message, of its truth and its relevance, and in consequence he was bold
in proclaiming it.
d. With the Holy Spirit. I put this expression last
because it seems to belong to the other three: the truth of the Word, the
conviction with which we speak it, and the power of its impact on others
all come from the ministry of the Holy Spirit. It is he who illuminates the
mind of those who share the gospel so that our message has integrity and
clarity. It is he whose inward witness assures us of its truth, so that we
verbalize the gospel with conviction. And it is he who carries it home with
power, so that the hearers respond in repentance and faith.
2. You welcomed the message (vv. 6-7)
You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you
welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by
the Holy Spirit. And so you became a model to all the believers in
Macedonia and Achaia.
Paul praises the Thessalonians for how they received the gospel:
a. Despite severe suffering. There had been
considerable opposition in Thessalonica to the gospel, and so also to those
who preached it and those who embraced it. The gospel frequently arouses
hostility (not least because it challenges human pride and
self-indulgence), although the opposition it provokes takes different
forms. But persecution had not deterred the Thessalonians. They had
“welcomed the message” despite the suffering involved.
b. With the joy given by the Holy Spirit. The same
Spirit who gave power to those who preached the gospel gave joy to those
who received it. He was working at both ends—in the speakers and in
the hearers. And it is not surprising to read of the converts’ joy,
for joy is a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22). Wherever the gospel goes and
people respond, there is joy— joy in heaven among the angels over
sinners repenting (Luke 15:7, 10) and joy on earth among the people of God
(Acts 8:8, 39; 13:52; 16:34). This pattern of outward opposition and inward
joy has often been repeated in the long history of the church (John
c. You became imitators of us and of the Lord. This is
an earlier expression, which comes at the beginning of v. 6. It indicates
the profound change that came over the lives of the converts. They began to
follow the example as well as the teaching of the apostles and so of Jesus
whose apostles they were. To “welcome the message” includes
this. It’s no mere intellectual agreement with the truth of the
gospel—it’s a complete transformation of behavior through a
close following of Christ and his apostles.
d. And so you became a model. Those who take Christ and
his apostles as their model inevitably themselves become a model to others.
And the singular “model” probably signifies “a model
community”—the church. It is marvelous to see in a congregation
of transformed sinners the effect of the gospel on those who receive it. It
may mean persecution and consequent suffering, but it also involves inward
joy through the Holy Spirit, the imitation of Christ and the apostles in
changed lives, and the setting of an example to others.
3. The message went forth from you (vv. 8-10)
The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in
Macedonia and Achaia—your faith in God has become known everywhere.
Therefore we do not need to say anything about it, for they themselves
report what kind of reception you gave us. They tell how you turned to God
from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from
heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the
The gospel spread forth from and through them—so loudly and
clearly that it (“the Lord’s message”) “rang
out” (a translation of the Greek word execheo, which is
derived from echos, an echo or noise as from a trumpet or
thunder). Paul’s point is that the Thessalonians lived and shared the
gospel, making “a loud noise” in the ears of unbelievers. As a
result, their “faith in God” became “known
everywhere” (v. 8).
Something extraordinary was happening in Thessalonica: a new society was
emerging, with new values and standards, characterized by faith, love and
hope. And people were taking notice and telling others about it—the
gospel was being “gossiped” around—so much so that Paul
says that “we do not need to say anything about it” (v. 8b).
Better, “we do not need to tell other people about it: other people
tell us…” (JB). Exactly what was being reported? In general, it
was a report about their “faith in God” (v. 8). More
specifically people were “gossiping” about the
“reception” given Paul, his team and their message (v. 9) and
the results in the lives of the believers in Thessalonica—in short, a
report about their conversion (vv. 9b-10). That conversion consisted of
three parts: (1) a decisive break with idols, (2) an active service of God,
and (3) a patient waiting for Christ. This three-part formula seems to
equate with Paul’s three-part summary of Christian virtue: faith,
love and hope (see 1:3):
a. As you turned from idols (acting in faith). It would
be difficult to exaggerate how radical is the change of allegiance that is
implied by the turn from idols to “the living and true God”
(see Jer. 10:10). For idols are dead; God is living. Idols are false; God
is true. Idols are many; God is one. Idols are visible and tangible; God is
invisible and intangible, beyond the reach of sight and touch. Idols are
creatures, the work of human hands; God is the creator of the universe and
of all humankind.
Paul knew what he was talking about. Not only had he railed against
idolatry when addressing the pagans of Lystra (Acts 14) and the
philosophers of Athens (Acts 17), but the Thessalonians could themselves
see Mount Olympus, about 50 miles south of their city, where the Greek gods
and goddesses supposedly lived.
Today we are more “sophisticated” with our idolatry. Some
people are eaten up with selfish ambition for money, power or fame. Others
are obsessed with their work, or with sports or television, or are
infatuated with a person, or addicted to food, alcohol, drugs or sex. Both
immorality and greed are later pronounced by Paul to be forms of idolatry
(Eph. 5:5), because they demand an allegiance that is due God alone. So
every idolater is a prisoner, held in humiliating bondage. But the good
news is that through the grace of God in Christ, in many cases suddenly and
completely, the prisoner turns to God from the idols (whether superstitious
or sophisticated), which so far have controlled their life. In this way,
the “strong man” (the devil) is overpowered by one stronger
than he (Jesus), his palace is raided and his prisoners are set free (see
b. As you served God (acting in love). The claim to
have turned to God from idols is bogus if it does not result in serving the
God to whom we have turned. We must not think of conversion only in
negative terms as a turning away from the old life, but also positively as
the beginning of a new life of service. We could say that it is the
exchange of one slavery for another, so long as we add that the new slavery
is the real freedom. In this way, authentic conversion involves a double
liberation, both “from” slavery to idols and “to”
the service of God, whose children we are.
c. As you awaited Christ’s return (acting in
hope). Note that serving and waiting go
together in the experience of believers. This, at first sight, is rather
surprising since serving is active and waiting is
passive. In Christian terms, serving is getting busy for Christ
on earth, while waiting is looking for Christ to come from
heaven. Yet these two are not incompatible. On the contrary, each balances
the other. On the one hand, however hard we work and serve, there are
limits to what we can accomplish. We can only improve society; we cannot
perfect it. For that we have to wait for Christ to come. Only then will he
secure the final triumph of God’s reign of justice and peace (2 Pet.
3:13). On the other hand, although we must look expectantly for the coming
of Christ, we have no liberty to wait in idleness, indifferent to the needs
of the world around us. Instead, we must work even while we wait, for we
are called to serve the living God.
Thus working and waiting belong together. In combination they will
deliver us both from the presumption that thinks we can do everything and
from the pessimism that thinks we can do nothing.
In this first reference of the letter to the return of Christ (the
Parousia), which is hereafter mentioned in every chapter of both
1st and 2nd Thessalonians, Paul tells us two truths about him for who we
Jesus is the one, “whom he [God] raised from the dead.” The
resurrection not only publicly declared Jesus to be the Son of God (Rom.
1:4) but was also the beginning of God’s new creation, the pledge
that he will complete what he has begun. The resurrection from the dead
assures us of the return from heaven.
Jesus is the one “who rescues us from the coming wrath.”
Already, Jesus has delivered us from the condemnation of our sins and the
power of our idols. But when he comes, he will accomplish the final stage
of our salvation: he will rescue us from the outpouring of God’s
wrath against sin (condemnation) at the day of judgment (see Rom.2:5, 16).
It is from this condemnation that Jesus is our deliverer.
Looking back over this passage, noting the vital relationship between
the church and the gospel, two points stand out:
The church that receives the gospel must pass it on.
Nothing is more impressive in 1 Thess. 1 than the sequence “our
gospel came to you—you welcomed it—it rang out from you.”
God intends every church to be like a sounding board, bouncing off the
vibrations of the gospel, or like a telecommunications satellite, which
first receives and then transmits messages. This is God’s primary
method for evangelization—making disciples of all nations.
The church that passes on the gospel must embody it.
We have noted that what went forth from Thessalonica was not only
“the word of the Lord” (verbal evangelism) but also news of
their conversion (rumor evangelism). Everybody heard about this new
community that had come into being in Thessalonica, its bold rejection of
idolatry, its joy in the midst of opposition, its transformed values, its
faith and love. People were so impressed by what they heard that many must
have come to see for themselves.
The communication of the gospel is by seeing as well as by hearing. This
double strand runs through all the Bible: image and word, vision and voice,
opening the eyes of the blind and unstopping the ears of the deaf. Jesus is
the Word of God and the Image of God. The Word became visible, the Image
audible. No church can spread the gospel with any degree of integrity, let
alone credibility, unless it has been visibly changed by the gospel it
preaches. We need to look like what we are talking about. It’s not
enough to receive the gospel and pass it on—we must embody it in our
common life of faith, love and hope. And to that we say, Amen!
Sermon for October 29, 2017
Deut. 34:1-12 and Ps. 90:1-6,13-17
(or Lev. 19:1-2, 15-18 and Psalm 1)
1 Thess. 2:1-8; Matt. 22:34-46
Sermon by Ted Johnston from 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8
(drawing on commentary by John Stott)
Leading Well with Jesus
Last week we began a series in 1 Thessalonians looking
at the apostle Paul’s instructions concerning the important
relationship between the gospel and the church. We noted in chapter 1 how
Paul addresses the topic of evangelism—the calling the church has
to live and share the gospel. Now in chapter 2, we’ll see how Paul
addresses the topic of Christ-like, gospel-focused church leadership.
Ideas for application of this sermon: A primary
aspect of the church's disciple-making ministry is to participate actively
in what Jesus is doing to multiply shepherd-leaders to serve his body, the
church. In this sermon, you can help advance this strategy by addressing
some of the foundational characteristics of Christ-centered
servant-leaders. In doing so you (the preacher) can be transparent in
talking about your own leadership struggles and values. In doing so, you
can challenge others to join with you in leading in Christ-like ways.
Paul’s brief mission in Thessalonica was brought to a sudden end
by a public riot leading to legal charges against Paul and his companions
that were so serious they had to flee the city. Paul’s critics took
advantage of this sudden disappearance to try to discredit his leadership
and gospel. They accused Paul of being a fraud out to enrich himself.
Apparently some of the new Christians in Thessalonica were believing these
accusations, which Paul must have found quite painful. Paul defends his
leadership in 1 Thessalonians 2:1:
You know, brothers and sisters, that our visit to you was
not without results.
The apostle’s point was that there was ample evidence of his
genuineness as a Christian leader. He then offers evidence with respect to
his motives and methods. In these we find a beautiful model for church
leadership in our day that is true participation in the leadership that
Jesus exerts, by the Holy Spirit, within the church—leadership that
is willing to suffer, that is bold, accountable, caring, directive and
1. Leaders must be willing to suffer (2:2a)
We had previously suffered and been treated outrageously in
Philippi, as you know…
Before reaching Thessalonica, Paul had suffered injury and insult in
Philippi. He and Silas had been stripped, beaten and thrown into prison. It
had not only been an extremely painful experience, but humiliating as well,
since, despite being Roman citizens, they were stripped naked and publicly
flogged, all without trial. Then in Thessalonica, Paul met “strong
opposition.” Yet these afflictions did not deter the apostle. On the
contrary, God gave him courage to go on proclaiming the gospel, whatever
the consequences might be.
2. Leaders must be bold (2:2b)
…but with the help of our God we dared to tell you his
gospel in the face of strong opposition.
The verb translated dared is from a Greek word meaning
“to speak boldly”—openly, with courage. Paul’s
ministry in Thessalonica had been exercised in the open before God and
human beings, for he had nothing to hide and thus could be open and bold in
living and sharing the gospel.
As an example of bold leadership, you might mention that this coming
Tuesday (Oct. 31, 2017) is the 500th anniversary of the event that sparked
the Protestant Regormation. On October 31, 1517, Martin
Luther nailed a document, known as The 95 Theses, on the door
of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany.
3. Leaders must be accountable (2:3-4)
For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure
motives, nor are we trying to trick you. (v. 3)
Paul makes this point beginning with the negative, noting that his
ministry “does not spring from error,” since his
message—the gospel—was true. Nor was it due to “impure
motives” such as ambition, pride, greed or popularity. Nor was it an
effort to “trick” anyone (or as the RSV says, it was not
“made with guile”). In short, there was nothing devious about
Paul’s methods. He and his ministry team made no attempt to induce
conversions by concealing the cost of discipleship or by offering
fraudulent promise of blessings. He never used such underhanded
Then in v. 4, Paul moves to the positive:
On the contrary, we speak as those approved by God to be
entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please people but God, who
tests our hearts. (v. 4)
As a leader, Paul was:
a. Tested and approved by God. God had
“approved” him—the word means to be examined and found
genuine—fit for ministry.
b. Trusted by God. God had “entrusted” him
“with the gospel,” thus making him a steward of it.
c. Seeking to please God. God was the one he was
“trying to please,” not people (see also Gal. 1:10).
Paul’s primary motive in ministry was to please and serve God.
This God-centeredness in leadership is on the one hand a bit disconcerting,
because God scrutinizes our hearts and his standards are high. But on the
other hand, it is marvelously liberating, since God is a more
knowledgeable, impartial and merciful judge than any human being can be. To
be accountable to God is thus to be delivered from the tyranny of human
criticism, which frees us to be accountable to both God and people.
4. Leaders must be caring (2:5-9)
You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to
cover up greed—God is our witness. We were not looking for praise from
people, not from you or anyone else, even though as apostles of Christ we
could have asserted our authority. Instead, we were like young children
Just as a nursing mother cares for her children, so we cared for you.
Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only
the gospel of God but our lives as well.
Surely you remember, brothers and sisters, our toil and hardship; we
worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we
preached the gospel of God to you.
Before declaring what his approach to leadership is, Paul declares what
it is not: he does not use flattery (2:5), pretense (putting on a
“mask”), nor does he seek “praise from people”
(2:6). Such tactics and motives have no place in Christian leadership, for
they turn a leader from being a servant into a “burden” to
those being led (2:9).
Paul carefully avoided all these traps in ministry leadership, refusing
to take advantage of his authority as an apostle to be authoritarian or to
enrich himself by insisting on being paid (2:9 and see 2 Thess. 3:8).
Instead of approaching leadership in these ways, Paul says in v. 7:
“Just as a nursing mother cares for her children, so we cared for
you.” This is a powerful contrast between a self-serving leader and
the selfless tenderness of a mother.
Paul adds in v. 8 that he not only was gentle as a mother with them, but
was affectionate and sacrificial, as well: “We loved you so much that
we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our
lives as well, because you had become so dear to us.” Far from using
them to minister to himself, Paul gave himself to minister to them.
Unfortunately, some Christian leaders are both self-serving and autocratic.
The more their authority is challenged, the more they assert it. As
servant-leaders in the body of Christ, we all need to cultivate more the
tender love and self-sacrifice of a mother.
5. Leaders must be directive (vv. 10-12)
You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and
blameless we were among you who believed. For you know that we dealt with
each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging,
comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into
his kingdom and glory.
Paul also related to the believers in Thessalonica like a father. He did
this both by example and by the approach to and content of his teaching. As
for his example, they, together with God, were “witnesses… how
holy, righteous and blameless” he had been among them. Paul,
evidently seeing his example as part of his paternal duty, continued:
“For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with
his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives
worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.”
Paul seems to have in mind here the educational role of fathers, who, in
addition to setting their children a consistent example, should also
encourage, comfort and exhort them. In Paul’s case, he found himself
urging the Thessalonians to live worthily of God and his kingdom. Since it
was part of his teaching that the kingdom of God has both a present reality
(e.g. Col. 1:13) and a future glory (e.g. 2 Thess. 1:5; 1 Cor. 6:9), we may
assume that Paul appealed to the Thessalonians to live a life worthy both
of their position in Christ now and of the full glory they would have in
Christ when he returns.
6. Leaders must proclaim the gospel (v. 13)
And we also thank God continually because, when you received
the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human
word, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is indeed at work in
you who believe.
In the New Testament, the most common word for preaching means
to act like a herald who makes a public proclamation. The verb carrying
this meaning occurs in 2:9, “we preached [heralded] the gospel of God
to you,” and the concept lies behind what Paul says here in v. 13
where there is a deliberate interplay between “God,”
“us” and “you.” What you heard “from
us” (the apostle), you accepted as the word “of God,”
which is effectively at work “in you.” The message came from
God through the apostle to the Thessalonians and was changing them.
For Christians, Jesus is the Living Word of God, and it is the message
about Jesus that is the Word of God (the gospel). This is what Christian
leaders are to proclaim from Scripture. The apostles (like Paul) used the
Hebrew scriptures to make this testimony about Jesus. Today, we use the Old
Testament and the writings of the apostles (the New Testament) for the same
purpose. To proclaim this Word, showing its relevance and applicability to
our lives, is the high calling and commanded duty of all Christian
Paul is a marvelous example of a Christ-centered, gospel-focused
servant-leader. Though we are not called to Paul’s exact ministry,
all of us who are leaders within the church should follow Paul’s
example, seeking to embrace the principles of leadership so evident in his
letter to the church at Thessalonica.
May we all lead well with Jesus. Amen.
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