MESSAGE FOR AUGUST 24, 2003
(15th in a series of messages on the mission of Christ’s church)
This week we continue our series of messages on the mission of the church. We have now spent 15 weeks on this topic because it is so central to our lives and the life of our church. Because the material we have covered these past few weeks is so foundational for virtually everything we do in the church of Christ, we want to spend some time reviewing and expanding on those truths this week. We must linger here awhile because if we don’t get this, we will never be faithful to the Great Commission. I won’t be citing many of the specific texts from which we drew these truths but tapes and manuscripts are available for you and I encourage you to study the biblical arguments. We began by proving from the Scriptures that if a believer or a church is not impassioned for the mission of the church here and to the nations there is something seriously wrong with them. In a recently published article, John Stott said of the exploding church in Africa, Asia and the Latin world, “They naturally take to evangelism and new converts are expected immediately to witness to Christ their Savior.” He describes them as having a “holy boldness and freedom in both worship and witness.” Mission and evangelism should be a “natural” not an alien activity for us. Believers are equipped by God through the Holy Spirit to be naturally bold in their witness for Christ. We gave many biblical proofs to validate this claim. We then moved on to examine several biblically anchored reasons why a person or church that should be zealous for the spread of the gospel is not. The central biblical reason why a person or church is not impassioned about the greatest cause is because they possess little or no zeal for God’s glory.
We saw from the bible that there is an unbreakable link between on the one hand, being zealous for God’s glory and on the other, being zealous for the spread of the gospel to our neighbors here and to the uttermost parts of the earth. A Holy Spirit-induced passion for the glory of God is the nuclear fuel rod that generates the spiritual zeal for personal evangelism and missions. If we have as the overwhelming passion of our heart a desire for God’s glory then we WILL be zealous for personal evangelism and missions because it’s as the gospel is spread and obeyed that God’s glory will be spread. Just to stoke our own fire for God’s glory through mission, let’s just mention just a few of the ways God is glorified as the gospel is spread. First, God will be glorified as this earth is more and more populated with worshippers who will through their obedience to him will daily offer up their lives to Christ as living sacrifices, which is their spiritual worship.
Second, God will be glorified as dead, rotting spiritual corpses chained to the gloomy dungeon of sin and death are transformed by his redeeming power into living, vital believers who are liberated to live as worshippers and adopted children of God. Third, God will be glorified as the power of Jesus and his cross-spilt blood is manifest as He destroys the condemning, enslaving, deceiving, and murderous works of the devil in life after life of those who truly follow Christ. Fourth, God will be glorified as he saves every single one of those whom he had predestined for salvation from before the foundation of the earth. As the Good Shepherd calls his sheep, his elect people to himself from every corner of the earth and they respond in God-given, saving faith, his glorious sovereign power in the salvation of sinners will be exhibited. Fifth, God will be glorified as more and more people by his grace choose to count all things in this life as loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Him as their Lord for whose sake they have lost all things that they might gain HIM--their greatest treasure. As that happens the fame of the One whose glory we are zealous for will redound throughout the heavens and spread here and to the nations. Sixth, as more people gladly and with joy suffer the loss of family and friends and fortunes and their very lives—as they are willing to be tortured and beaten and killed for the sake of the Name, He will be shown to be worthy of everything we could ever possibly give for him.
Seventh, God will be glorified as his original promise to Abraham is fulfilled--that is, that all the people groups of the earth will be blessed through him and through his seed, Christ. As Christ’s church obeys the Great Commission, which was given to fulfill this promise to Abraham, God’s faithfulness to that ancient promise will be put on display when in heaven people from every nation and tribe and language and people are present before the throne of God to the praise of His glory. The prospect of these glorious things occurring should make our pulses quicken, our hearts stir and our feet GO wherever he compels us as we are fueled by a passion for God’s glory being displayed in these ways and others like them. That’s what a passion for the glory of God will do for us as individuals and a church as we increasingly grow in that desire. This is a GOD-centered, immovable, unfading motivation for missions and evangelism.
Since we have seen that is true, the question we have repeatedly asked is, “how can I, by God’s grace develop an increasing passion for the glory of God?” We saw from the scriptures that we grow in our passion for God’s glory first by asking him for an increasing zeal for his glory in our lives and to the nations. That request should be at the top of our daily prayer lists. Second, we saw that we should come again and again to the word of God, which is the furnace of God’s glory on earth. As we take more and more of his word into our hearts through study and meditation and memorization we are scooping hot coals of a God-centered passion into our lukewarm hearts. Third, our zeal for God’s glory is increased as we spend healthy doses of time regularly asking God for a new and deeper understanding of the vileness of our sin and from that truth-filled understanding of ourselves, look to the glory displayed at the nuclear core of God’s glory, the cross. As we, from that position of being helpless, wicked, unlovable wretches, repeatedly look to the cross and see the ultimate demonstration of God’s holy hatred toward our sin and at the same time, his unsearchable love for us in Christ. As we frequently meditate on the astonishing contrast between the overwhelming wickedness of our sin-blackened hearts and the perfect righteousness of Christ that has been given to us by God as a substitute for our vileness. As we spend time thinking and meditating on what it is to have our sins as red as scarlet being made white as wool through the blood of Christ—those truths will in a way that no other truth can, cause our hearts to boil over with a passion for the glory of God.
As we have in the last two weeks been examining ways we can by God’s grace develop an increasing zeal for God’s glory we have looked at the crucial biblical truth that this is a fight. Developing a zeal for God’s glory is at times an intense spiritual struggle. Having a passion for God’s glory does not happen unintentionally or by the passage of time. There are 80 year-olds in church who have no more passion for God and his glory than that big rock out there and there are 15 and 20 year-olds who are absolutely incendiary in their passion for God’s glory because they by God’s grace are fighting to have it. We have seen that this is a fight because at the fall in Genesis three humanity rejected living for God’s glory in favor of living for their own self-centered glory. And even when a person is born again, his/her sinful flesh still pulsates to the wicked rhythm of self-worship. We saw that one way to fight against this sinful tendency is to see our sins not only as violations of God’s law but for what they are at their root—idolatrous expressions of self-worship. We must see our sins as direct and rebellious challenges to God’s absolute and exclusive right to our worship and allegiance. When we sin we are replicating the cosmic treason at the fall because we are arrogantly choosing to worship/glory in ourselves instead of God by making our selfish desires the center of our world.
We expose that sinful root of our sin by asking God, “WHY did I just lie or cheat or steal or lust or fly off the handle?” When God shows us our idolatrous hearts we can find genuine brokenness before him and the godly sorrow that brings repentance. From that posture we can receive the blessings of the cross--genuine forgiveness and cleansing and the spiritual strength to crucify the sinful attitudes, desires and actions of our wicked flesh. Another crucial element in this fight to develop a zeal for God’s glory is one we spoke of last week. That is, we must fight against the satanic lies that this dark world spreads and which our sinful flesh longs to cling to. These lies, if we allow ourselves to believe them, will choke off our desire for a passion for God and his glory. Last week we saw from the scriptures that one of the lies that is most effective in tearing down our hunger for God and his glory is: Living for God and his glory brings less joy and is less satisfying than living for self. Our sinful flesh loves that lie because it that feeds its ravenous appetite for self-centered, earthly pleasures and many of us live lives that, despite our protests to the contrary, reflect that lie. If we are not sure whether we have swallowed that lie, here’s a simple test. What is it that we find the most delight in? What is it that brings us the most joy? Is it time in the study of God’s word? Is it in time spent alone closeted with God in prayer? Is it in times of meaningful, Christ-centered fellowship with other believers who encourage us in our walk with Christ? Is it meditating on the things of God and living in praise and worship to God? Can we with honesty say that those things, those occupations are what we treasure most? If they are, then we will spend more time and more money and more energy on them than we do on other things.
In Matthew 6:19 Jesus draws a straight and unbreakable line between what we treasure the most and the effect that treasure will have on how we spend our time, money and energy. He says, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” D.A. Carson rightly summarizes this text by saying, “…the most cherished treasure subtly but infallibly controls the whole person’s direction and values.”[Emphasis mine] As we’ve quoted before, “What we really believe we DO—all the rest is just religious talk.” We may profess until we are blue in the face that we treasure Christ and his kingdom more than anything else but if that is not reflected in how we spend our money and how we spend our time and how we spend our energy, then we are simply blowing smoke and we are living out the lie that living for self is more satisfying than living for God.
People who live that way will not be able to hear, much less respond to a call to missions even if they have been gifted in areas like business or agriculture or medicine or preaching or other areas that are desperately needed to minister to the nations. And the reason for their spiritual deafness is, as we saw last week is because if you believe that lie then you will think, “If God called me to be a missionary, I would be miserable.” Or, to put it another way, “When God asks a person to be radically obedient to him—to sacrifice for him—he is at one and the same time calling them to be miserable.” That’s a lie and those kind of lies perpetuate the idea that living for God and his glory is less joyful or satisfying than living for self must be fought against and we gave three biblical truths with which we war against those lies. The first is God both commands and expects his children to pursue joy. We saw many texts where God commands his children to be joyful. We saw from 1 Peter 1:8 that this joy God expects of believers is “inexpressible and filled with glory.” This is a profound joy—a God-sized joy that simply cannot be found in anything this world has to offer. Nothing in this world is large enough to give that kind of joy. In Philippians 4:4 Paul commands us we are to “rejoice in the Lord ALWAYS.” So this joy is commanded, it is profound in its power and it is something we are to have always. The biblical command and expectation is that this deep, GOD-centered, not family-centered, not circumstance-centered, not even ministry-centered—God-centered joy will be a way of life for the believer irrespective of our life circumstances.
We see this even in the word used in the original language for “joy.” The word for joy is “chara.” That is very significant because the New Testament word for grace is “charis.” Do you hear that those words come from the same root, namely “char”? That’s not simply an interesting coincidence! The point is that the etymology of the word forces us to conclude that there is an unbreakable connection between the joy of the believer and the grace of God. The words themselves tell us that joy is simply the natural expression of a life that has genuinely experienced the grace of God. Joy grows out of grace—grace is the root of the flower, joy is the blossom. In light of that truth, we need to ask, “are we blossoming?” How are we doing in the joy department? A life lacking in joy carries with it devastating implications. If you don’t have joy as the blossom of your life then there is either no root of grace, which means you have not experienced saving grace, or there is a horrible disruption somewhere between the root of grace and the blossom of joy.
We saw from John 15 that one of the reasons God tells us to obey him is so that we would have joy. Jesus says in 15:11, “These things I have spoken to you—[namely, to continue to live in God’s love through obedience to his command] that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” One of God’s desires for us is that we be filled with His joy and the way to be filled with His joy is to obey his word. Think of it as a graph. His word is at point “A” on the graph. His joy is at point “B” and the line that connects his word to his joy is our obedience and the whole graph is drawn over the field of his grace because everything—his word, his joy and our obedience are all gifts of his grace. Obedience is an expression of our worship to God while our disobedience is an expression of our self-worship. Obedience brings joy; disobedience brings shame. It can’t be true that living for God and his glory brings misery when in fact God calls us to obey him so that we might have joy.
A second truth we said we must use to war against the lie that living for self is more satisfying and joyful than living for God is when you pursue joy by seeking after this world’s self-centered pleasures we find emptiness and the source of true joy is choked off. We used the self-centered, pleasure seeking exploits of King Solomon as exhibit “A” to prove this. God uses both Solomon’s enormous appetite for worldly pleasure and his unparalleled capacity to pursue worldly pleasure to show us that the road to worldly pleasure is a dead end street. It brings no joy. Solomon has made the most exhaustive search humanly possible for all of us and he has answered the question definitively. His own testimony of his empty, pathetic life in the midst of unequalled earthly pleasures should serve as an example and a warning to us when we are tempted to vainly pursue joy in the things of this earth. Jesus takes us even further and tells us that not only will the unrepentant pursuit of this world’s pleasures bring us emptiness and shame; it also dooms us to hell. He tells us in Luke 8:14 that the “riches and pleasures of this life” are like thorns, which choke off the main pipeline of life and joy—the word of God. When we pursue satisfaction in the riches and pleasures of this world we are clogging up the pipeline that runs between our joy-starved hearts and the joy-inducing word of God. When we pursue the riches and pleasures of this life, we are practicing self-worship and self-worship is utterly incompatible with the joy filled life of God-worship.
The third truth we use to fight against the lie that living for self is more satisfying than living for God is really a natural extension of the first two truths. That is our pursuit of the glory of God and our pursuit of joy in God are the same pursuit. The bible teaches that when we pursue God’s glory and when we pursue our joy in God, we are on the same set of railroad tracks. Our desire for God to be glorified in our life and our desire for joy in God piggyback on one another. Let me make three brief points to prove that. First is one we covered last week and that is that the ultimate source of our joy is God. Psalm 16:11 says that “in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” A person who is on the right path in their pursuit of joy is walking toward God because that’s where our joy is found—in God. The second point is that God finds joy in glorifying himself in our lives through his grace. As we live in dependence on his grace for our joy, God is supremely glorified. We may not think of God as a God of joy but the scripture doesn’t hesitate to speak of him in those terms. Psalm 104:31 says, “May the glory of the LORD endure forever; may the LORD rejoice in his works.” Notice the Psalmist not only speaks of the Lord expressing joy through rejoicing, he connects that joy to the enduring glory of the Lord.
God rejoices as he is glorified in us through his grace to us. We see this in our salvation particularly. In the parable of the lost things, what is God’s response to finding a lost sheep? Jesus says in Luke 15:7 that, “Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” God gets joy when a sinner repents—when his saving grace is displayed through the gift of repentance. In the parable of the prodigal son, Jesus pictures God as the father of the prodigal and he places on the Father’s lips these words when the prodigal comes home [v.23] “And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.” Jesus re-emphasizes God’s joy in his saving work to the older brother who represents the Pharisees who resented God’s saving sinners. He says in verse 32, “It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’” Jesus through this parable is saying to these Pharisees, “Come and rejoice with me at the salvation of this sinner.”
The fact that God is the source of our joy and God finds joy in glorifying himself through his grace to us is what prompts John Piper to say, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.” That’s our third point: God is most glorified in us when we are looking to Him as our joy, as our treasure, as our satisfaction. If we want God to be glorified in our lives then we need to spend ourselves seeking after our joy in Him. Let me repeat that-- If we want God to be glorified in our lives then we need to spend ourselves seeking after our joy in Him. Have you ever thought of that? One reason for this is because, as we have seen—when we are looking to God as our source of joy, we have by God’s grace begun to function as he created humanity to function in the garden before the fall. Adam and Eve looked to him alone as their source of joy and satisfaction and they found him to be supremely sufficient to give them inexpressible and constant joy. In the fall, in their arrogant desire for self-glory, they looked to themselves and what THEY could do to find joy and found that instead of joy or glory, they found shame and emptiness. But now because God is most glorified in us when we are looking to Him for joy—God is even more glorified in redeemed saints than he was in Pre-fall Adam and Eve. This is because Adam and Eve did not have nearly the need of God’s grace that we do. They were not condemned but apart from Christ we are. They were not dead in their sins, but apart from Christ we are. They were not running after idols, but apart from God’s grace we do. They were not imprisoned and tortured by Satan, held captive to the power of sin, but apart from the work of Christ, we are. We have so much more need of God than they did. We not only need his sustaining grace (as they too did before the fall), we also need his saving grace. We need God to moment by moment restore to us through Christ what they rejected at the fall. As we more and more look to him in our great need for joy He is glorified in our lives.
We see this connection between our joy and God’s glory in several texts, which place these two together in the context of the end of our salvation when we see him. Texts like First Peter 4:13 where Peter tells a suffering church, “But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.” Rejoicing now as we share in Christ’s sufferings will enable us to rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed when we see him. Notice the link between our joy and the revelation of God’s glory. Jude 1:24 says, “Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy…” Again, notice the merging of our joy and God’s glory. Paul says in Romans 5:2, “Through Him [Christ] we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.” Our rejoicing is fused with our hope of the revelation of God’s glory.
What this means, among other things is that we never need to be ashamed of pursuing joy. We were created for God’s glory and we were also created for joy in God. Do we believe that? Our problem is, as many have pointed out, not that we pursue joy, but that we often look for it in all the wrong places—in our family, our work, our toys—the earthly idols we substitute for God. It’s as we pursue joy in God that we will find it and as we develop a passion for the glory of God we will also be increasing our passion for God-centered joy. If we truly seek to be joyful in God, that will naturally lead us to be missions minded because God is glorified as the gospel is spread and since the pursuit of our joy and his glory are one pursuit, we will find joy as we do whatever our part is as a church and as individuals to fulfill the Great Commission. If you are not experiencing joy, ask yourself—“What am I doing to seek after the glory of God?” Because if we are living biblically it’s the same question ultimately as “What am I doing to pursue joy?” If you are not seeking to develop a passion for God’s glory then you are at one and the same time closing the door to joy. The most joy-filled Christians are those believers who are most actively obeying the Great Commission for the glory of God. The degree to which we are not seeking to fulfill the Great Commission we are at the same time through our disobedience saying “no” to joy. If you want to joy, pursue it in God and specifically by seeking his glory through the Great Commission here and to the nations. May God give us the grace to pursue his glory and find our joy in Him.
Page last modified on 9/18/2003
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