Freedom sermon series
United We Stand - 1 Cor. 3
Finding Our Place of Service - Romans 12
Sharing Christ with All People - Ac. 17
Sharing Christ in All Places - Ac. 1
Agreeing on the Basics - Church Life 101 - 1 Cor. 1
Jake, a game warden, was always amazed that Sam, a fisherman, showed up at the end of the day with two or three stringers full of fish. This happened even when all the other fishermen came back with only two or three fish. Now this particular lake was loaded with fish, but they seemed to elude the average fisherman, so there was no limit on number, only on size. And all of Sam's fish were big enough to bring home.
The curiosity of the game warden finally got the best of him. So on one occasion he said to Sam, "I'd like to know your secret." Sam, a man of not too many words, said, "Show up tomorrow morning."
The next morning, long before dawn, the game warden was there. Sam showed up and met him, started the motor, and thirty or forty minutes later they were out in some secluded part of the lake. It was important to Sam that no one else be around. When they stopped the motor, everything was as still as it could be. Jake decided to sit back, fold his arms, and watch Sam do his thing. Sam reached down in his tackle box, pulled out a slender stick of dynamite, lit it, and tossed it in the air. When it hit the level of the lake, there was an enormous explosion. In a matter of seconds, fish of all sizes began to float up to the top of the lake. Without a word Sam just began to row his way over and with his net pick up the largest fish and string them.
Jake screamed. "Wait! You break every rule in the book. I'm gonna throw the book at you. You'll be paying fines. I'm gonna stick you in jail."
About that time Sam reached in his box and pulled out another stick of dynamite. He lit it and tossed it in Jake's lap and said, "Are you gonna sit there watchin' all day or are you gonna fish?" - Max Lucado, No Wonder They Call Him Savior
One of the devil's greatest playgrounds for lies is within the walls of the church. If he cannot destroy us, and he cannot, he will seek to discourage us. Since he cannot have us in his service, he seeks to render us ineffective in God's service. It's like playing chess for a stalemate. He cannot put us in check, so he wants to keep us from being useful. He accomplishes this in many ways, and to tell the truth, it's not that difficult much of the time. With all the distractions in the world, our enemy has a wealth of resources.
Anything he can use to keep us from being active in God's work, is what he will use. He uses sports, television, hobbies, and even family. He takes those things that God gave us for good and causes us to become so obsessed with them that they keep us from having any time to do anything for God.
Then he gets those people that are particularly difficult to neutralize, sidetrack, or detour. They come to church, they try to live their lives in balance and they even give tithes and offerings. But he has his ways of neutralizing them. He tells these folks that if they really want to serve God, to be useful in the Kingdom of God, they have to change the course of their lives, quit their jobs, go to seminary and be ordained. The natural response, of course, to these kinds of obstacles is that because most people do not feel called to vocational ministry they are convinced they are not called to ministry. And that, my friends, is a lie. Let's make a distinction here and say that while Pastors, missionaries and the like are called to THE ministry, every Christian is called to A ministry. While it may not be your full time job, it is your lifetime calling. God wants you to be involved in ministry.
Every person within the body of Christ is called to do ministry. Most of us are familiar with Ephesians 2:8-9, which tells us how we are saved. But many do not know verse 10 which tells us why we are saved. The scripture says, "For we are His creation, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which god prepared ahead of time so that we should walk in them." A little bit farther in that same book, in Ephesians 4:11-12 scripture tells us that God calls Pastors to "for the training of the saints in the work of ministry." Simply put: God saved you so that He could use you in a ministry.
In the book of Romans, Paul makes a logical and detailed argument for the doctrine of Justification by Grace through Faith. In the first eleven chapters he clearly shows how we are not saved by works, but by God's grace and through the faith we place in Jesus Christ. So Chapter 12 is predicated or written upon the foundation laid in the first 11 chapters of the book.
Look with me at verses 1-8, we will be focusing specifically on verses 3-8 this morning.
(Note the word "therefore" this places what he is about to say upon the foundation laid in the preceding 11 chapters.)
Paul was writing to people who understood the imagery of sacrifice. If they had come out of a Jewish background they would have had the temple rituals to draw from, if they were coming out of a pagan background, there too they would have seen sacrifices, things laid on the alter and offered to the gods. A sacrifice was something that was given and could not be taken back. It was something that was costly and given as an act of worship. Paul tells them that since they have been saved by God's grace and not by anything they have done, they should, therefore, offer themselves to God as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God, which was nothing more than the rational response to what Jesus has done for us. It was and is a rational or reasonable service of worship. And when they did this, instead of being conformed to the world, out of which they had come, they would be transformed by having their minds renewed, so they could both understand (Prove means to find out, to understand through practice) and carry out the will of God.
Now, as you and I grow in our understanding of the will of God, several things are going to take place.
I. Be satisfied in what God has called us to be
We must have a spirit of humility. Notice that before we can do something for God, we must become what God wants us to become. That is to say, before we can do anything for Him, we must have allowed Him to do something for us: namely, to change us. Before he addresses our actions, he addresses our attitudes.
Humility – that spirit that neither boasts of our own gifts nor is jealous of another.
Sound judgement – Neither thinking too little of yourself (listen to yourself, how does God feel when we say such self-deprecating things? Is it not an affront to His ability to work through us?) nor too much of ourselves.
When we have a proper opinion of ourselves, and only then, can we be satisfied to be all God wants us to be, nothing more, nothing less.
The issue here is that within the kingdom of God there are those who want to be more than God wants them to be and there are those who are satisfied to be less than God wants them to be.
Those who want to be more, often are driven by the same kind of ambition and motivation that drives the world. The desire to be more than God has called them or gifted them to be.
Pride will do this – this is what happened to Eve in the garden of Eden. She was not satisfied to be the wife of Adam and the special creation of God, Satan tempted her by telling her that if she ate of the fruit she could become LIKE God.
We live in a day that has produced Christian superstars, preachers who have booking agents and demand huge fees to speak. Christian recording artists that act like rock stars and all of this has a tendency to create within the body of Christ the idea that there is some spiritual benefit to being famous for Jesus or being "somebody" in the Christian world. Can you imagine what the apostle Paul would say to this?
To be a Christian means to serve like Jesus served. Though He was and is the Son of God, he was willing to wash the feet of His disciples. Though He created all things, He was willing to be nailed to a tree He had created, by men He had created because it was what the Father had called Him to.
All God wants you to be is what He's called you to be, nothing more, nothing less. All He wants you to do is what He's called you and gifted you to do, nothing more, nothing less. And that's no small calling. Too many chiefs and not enough braves makes for a very dysfunctional tribe.
There are others, and their numbers are legion, who are willing to do less than God has called them to do.
We live in a society with a strong consumer mentality. "What's in it for me" is the question of the day. Many people come to church with the same mentality. What's in it for me, what does the church have to offer me, how can you meet my needs? But that is not the attitude that Jesus had. In fact, that is the exact opposite of His attitude.
Others do less than God has called them to do out of fear – they are afraid of failure. The reason they are afraid is because they are attempting to do God's work in human strength.
This was the problem with the disciples in Matthew 14 when Jesus came walking on the water. They reasoned within themselves that since people cannot walk on water and since they were people, they, therefore could not walk on the water. Only Peter had the courage to trust Jesus to sustain him and to step out of the boat and walk on the water, it took faith to do that.
There are different aspects to faith. There is a faith that saves, and there is a faith that serves. This is the faith that serves.
Look in the last part of verse 3, "God has distributed a measure of faith to each one."
You've got to exercise your faith, trusting God to do all He has promised He will do through you. Not trusting in your own strength, but trusting in His strength.
Folks it will talk faith to be all that God wants you to be, nothing more, nothing less.
Secondly, notice that
II. We must work in unity for the common good
We live in a country of individuals. A place where individual rights have come to mean more than corporate well being. Individualism has gone to seed and come back as selfishness. Each person looking out for themselves instead of seeing themselves as part of a larger whole.
In his book, Bowling Alone, Robert Putnam addresses the collapse and revival of the American community. He argues that the United States has lost much of the social glue that once allowed our society to cohere, and that we are in danger of becoming a nation of strangers to one another, without adequate social bonds. He chronicles the decline of civic and social organizations in the United States, and makes a plea for the need to see them revitalized. One of the topics he addresses is religion. Putnam says, "Over the last three to four decades Americans have become about 10 percent less likely to claim church membership, while our actual attendance and involvement in religious activities has fallen by roughly 25 to 50 percent."
He goes on to say, "In effect, the classic institutions of American civic life, both religious and secular, have been 'hollowed out.' Seen from outside, the institutional edifice appears virtually intact – little decline in professions of faith, formal membership down just a bit and so on. When examined more closely, however, it seems clear that decay has consumed the load bearing beams of our civic infrastructure."
When this happens in the body of Christ, it is what we call division. Imagine each brick in the fireplace insisting that it does not need the other bricks. How ridiculous. Paul addresses this issue here, this tension between being an individual and yet being a part of the larger body as a whole.
Each member of the body is an individual. It is important to understand our individuality without sacrificing our sense of community. This is one of the reasons many of our Asian brothers and sisters in Christ have been so effective in their church life. While they have not abandoned their right to be an individual, they have laid it aside long enough to work for the common good of the community of faith to which they are attached.
We all have different gifts. I have the gift of preaching and leadership; others have the gift of music or the gift of service. While some folks think pastors have all the spiritual gifts, that is not true. It takes everyone working together if the body is to function properly.
First Corinthians 12 clearly states that while there are different gifts, all are through the same Spirit and all are to be used to the common good.
Paul introduces a parallel thought here: While the members are individuals, together they are a single body. There is a plurality of members, a diversity of functions, but a unity of purpose and a oneness in the same body.
The unity of the body consists in the diversity of the members. It is only in a body that has diverse parts that there can be unity. A body that is all hands or all eyes or all mouth, would be dysfunctional. A body that had a liver where a heart should be or a toe where a nose should be, would be dysfunctional. Only when there is diversity, working in unity, does the body function as it should and get things accomplished.
Chuck Swindoll, in his book Hope Again gives one of the best definitions of unity. He says, "Union has an affiliation with others but no common bond that makes them one in heart. Uniformity has everyone looking and thinking alike. Unanimity is complete agreement across the board. Unity, however, refers to a oneness of heart, a similarity of purpose, and an agreement on major points of doctrine.
As individual members we must work in unity for the common good of the Body of Christ.
III. We must serve God according to His gifting
We must do it in proportion to our faith. You can only do as much as you trust God to do thorough you. You must exercise your gift in accordance to the measure of faith God gives you. Like a muscle, faith grows when it is exercised. If your faith is weak, you need to use it more. The more you use it the stronger it gets, and the stronger it gets the more you will accomplish within the kingdom of God. Your success and impact upon the body of Christ and the world at large will depend upon how much faith you exercise and how much you let God use you to His glory.
How much grace has God given you and when worked out in very practical terms, how much ministry would that grace produce? Our problem is that most of us do less than we have been gifted to do. If we were to serve God in proportion to the power of His Spirit working in us, can you imagine what we'd get done?
Secondly - According to the spiritual gift given – One of the more difficult things for many Christians is contentment with the gift God has given them. It is human nature to think that what someone else has is better than what we have. Go to the preschool area and observe the children as they wrest toys from each other, all because they think that what someone else has is better than what they have.
What Paul is saying is that we are to be 1) content with the gift we have been given and, 2) to work in that area of gifting. The eye cannot pick things up any more than the hand can see. Only working in concert with each other does the body function properly. Likewise, only when members of the body of Christ function according to their God given purpose and giftedness will the body function properly.
IV. How do we accomplish this?
Allow me to suggest three things we can do to fulfill the ministries to which God has called us and for which He has gifted us.
A. We must be part of a local body of believers
Connected to the body
Accountable to the body
Strengthened by the body
Minister within the body
B. We must understand God's will for our lives
Knowing God's will for our individual lives is imperative if we are going to fulfill our God given ministries. When we find God's will it will be in agreement with:
Your gifts and calling
Your heart desire
C. We must exercise faith and fulfill our ministry
Expect God to show up
During the height of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln often found refuge at a Presbyterian church in Washington, D.C. He would go with an aide, sit with his stovepipe hat in his lap, and never interrupt the meeting because the congregation would all be in a dither if they knew the president had come to sit in that midweek meeting. He sat off to the side, near the pastor's study, as the minister would open the Scriptures and teach God's Word and would lead the congregation in worship. The war was tearing the nation apart and tearing his soul. Having just lost his own son, Lincoln was on the bottom, and he needed solace and sustenance.
As the pastor finished his message and the people began to leave, the president stood quietly and straightened his coat and took his hat in hand and began to leave. The aide stopped him and said, "What did you think of the sermon, Mr. President?" He said, "I thought the sermon was carefully thought through, eloquently delivered." The aide said, "You thought it was a great sermon?" He said, "No, I thought he failed." "He failed? Well, how? Why?" To which the president replied, "Because he did not ask of us something great." - Bruce Larson, What God Wants to Know
Friends, God wants us to do something. He want us to get our hands dirty, to get involved, to give it all we have. Have you come to sit there and watch, or are you gonna fish?