Sermon series: Godly Virtues

  1. Honesty: The Complete Virtue - 2 Kings 12

  2. Godliness: The Serious Virtue - 1 Corinthians 10

  3. Contentment: The Learned Virtue - Philippians 4

  4. Usefulness: The Impact Virtue - Luke 5

  5. Endurance: The Resilient Virtue - Romans 5

Scriptures: Luke 5


She wanted to help, and so, because she was a nurse, she joined eighteen other medically trained people and journeyed to a poverty-stricken third-world country to help alleviate suffering.

After working sixteen hours every day for two weeks, the clinic doors closed. Utterly exhausted, she headed toward the bus for home. Glancing up, she saw hundreds upon hundreds of sick and injured people waiting outside the clinic for treatment they would never receive. She began to weep.

"What's wrong?" asked the nurse walking along with her.

"We haven't even made a dent in the need. What's the use? Have we done any good at all?"

As she turned to enter the bus, a hand tugged at her sleeve. There stood a man she scarcely recognized. Several days before his face had been distended and grotesque from a number of abscessed teeth, his feet so swollen with edema that he couldn't put on his shoes. They'd given him antibiotics and later pulled the abscessed teeth. Now he stood before her - smiling, pain free, with shoes on his feet. He smiled widely, thrust a small bouquet of flowers into her hand, and said simply, "Thank you for saving my life."

As the two nurses boarded the bus, the one said to the one who had been crying, "It looks like you made a difference for that one."

On the bus, the young nurse glanced out at the now dark harbor as a single light came on. Then another. And another. Until the other side of the harbor was ablaze with light. God whispered to her heart, "This is how you make a difference - by treating my little ones - one person at a time."

Everyone wants to be useful - to be helpful, to make a difference, to make an impact, to leave the world better than we find it. No one wants to squander their life. To waste it in foolish and trivial pursuits. We want to make that investment that will make an eternal difference. To champion a cause. To bring a little kindness. To promote a needed change. Even if it is only one person at a time we want to make a difference.

I. A story of obedience

Simon was no different. He had been out on the Sea of Galilee all night fishing. As his boat lumbered in from the fishing expedition his stomach was not only empty, but so was the vessel. It had been a frustrating night of much work but no luck. He and the others stretched the nets out on the beach to clean out the sea weeds, barnacles, and debris. He hurried because he was frustrated and ready to go home dreaming of a better tomorrow and hoping for a bigger catch.

The cove where Simon and his partners, James and John, docked their boats was a picturesque site. The white sandy beach sloped gently up from the cool blue water into a hill around the cove that formed something similar to an amphitheater. This serene, little inlet protected the boats from the winds. Simon was fortunate that his family had claimed years before this ideal location.

As the fishermen were placing the now cleaned and dried nets back onto their boats, a commotion from over the grassy knoll could be heard. Simon looked up as a throng of people were walking toward the boats. And out in front was a slender, yet ruggedly handsome man, walking with a steady gait. As the crowd got closer, Simon recognized the leader of the pack as Jesus. Earlier Simon had met Jesus. He had witnessed this young prophet heal his mother-in-law of a high fever. There was something special about this man. He was a difference maker.

As Jesus arrived to the water's edge he turned and addressed the crowd. He taught them with authority, not as the Pharisees. His explanations of the Scriptures brought the words to life. His message was articulate and captivating. He had a unique way of making the common and ordinary into significant meaning. People were inspired and moved by his message.

So much so that the crowd grew larger and larger on this cool morning. As they pressed for room to hear this teacher the crowd was now forcing Jesus into the shallow water at the edge of the cove. Simon and the others had perfect seats, in their boats, away from the crowds. Jesus seeing an opportunity asked Simon if he use his boat as a platform. "Simon, if you row out a ways, then everyone can see and hear." Simon agreed. From this vantage point Jesus continued the lesson.

Picture in your minds the scene: The crowd on the beach and banks that enclose this harbor while Jesus is setting in a boat teaching. Where was Simon? Simon was in the boat with Jesus. Simon was a captive audience. Who were the people watching? They were hearing Jesus, but they were watching Simon. How would he respond? What would be his reaction?

Was that the only reason for making the request of Simon? Why had Jesus come to this cove, at this time of the morning? Jesus wanted an audience with Simon. Jesus wanted Simon to hear this message. The crowd was bystanders. While they did not know it they were eavesdropping on a conversation Jesus wanted with Simon. This was a conference between Simon and Jesus.

As Simon sat there spell bound, Jesus quickly brought his talk to a stirring conclusion and said to Simon, "Let's go fishing. Launch out into the deep and let down the nets." Notice that Jesus is not suggesting obedience; he is demanding it.

"Jesus," Simon hesitated, "we've been fishing all night. But, because you say so, I will do it."

Notice what Simon did not say. He did not say, "Jesus, don't you tell me how to fish. I'm a professional. You're an amateur." He didn't say, "Jesus you stick to preaching and I'll do the fishing. I know the best fishing spots and the most favorable conditions for making a big catch." He didn't say, "Don't you know that the night is the best time to catch fish on the Sea of Galilee. And the best fishing is in the shallow water along the Sea's edge, not in the deep water." He didn't ask any questions. He didn't listen to his feelings. I'm sure he was dog-tired and ready for a hot breakfast and a warm bed. Simon, simply, obeyed.

Jesus was still teaching a lesson. Simon did not realize it. But it was a lesson on obedience and difference making. While there are certain rules for fishing, there are rules that are higher. These are God's rules. I believe that all of God's rules are designed to protect us from harming ourselves, to keeping us from hurting others, or to rescue us from wasting our lives. This lesson in usefulness was to keep Simon from wasting his life. It was a test to see if he had what it took to make a difference.

He had just heard Jesus talk about the laws that keep us from squandering what God has given us, such as, being the salt of the earth, being the light to the world, staying clear of the applause of men, doing good deeds constantly, letting people know that he lives in you. In a phrase, God was calling Simon to be a difference maker in the world.

Out of respect for the one he knew as "Master," he did as he was asked. And the catch was so large that the other boat had to be summoned for help. In fact, the catch was of such massive proportions that both boats began to sink. The fishermen worked in slack-jawed amazement at what they were viewing. These men had witnessed a miracle. They were in the presence of deity. Simon knew it. This was no mere man. This Jesus was not simply a preacher with the power to heal; he was Lord of the sea and the fish, of every realm, of the entire universe. Simon threw himself down at the feet of Jesus in fear and trembling. Jesus said to him, "There is no reason to be afraid. But, do you want to spend the rest of your life catching fish or do you want to invest your life in something bigger? You have only one chance to make your life count. You can make a difference in this broken world. What will you do?"

Simon pulled his boat to shore still stuffed with the largest catch of fish in his life, and walked away from it to follow Jesus.

What a story.

II. Moving beyond wastefulness to usefulness

Found in this story are some truths and insights that will help us to move beyond wastefulness to usefulness, to make a difference in our world. The key is obedience.

A. The ticket to freedom is obedience

It's a hard one to swallow. We think we know all there is to know about freedom. We want to believe that we are a liberated people. We learned a long time ago that freedom comes from avoiding the rules, changing the rules, even breaking the rules. But, obedience, following the rules, violates everything we have taught.

But for the Christian, freedom comes through yielding our will to God and obeying a set of rules. Jesus stated it clearly, "If you love me, you will obey what I command" (John 14:15). Jesus did not mince words. Obedience to Christ and his words is one of the most distinguishing marks of a Christian. As with Simon, Jesus is not suggesting obedience; he demands it. Following Christ involves another kingdom, the kingdom of God. A kingdom has a king and a follower is obedient to that king - Jesus. Throughout the Bible there are written commandments, most notably the Ten Commandments. Notice very clearly those are commandments not suggestion.

B. Obedience demands action

Allow me to state that negatively, never let mere listening substitute for action. Peter had heard the message of Jesus. He was a captive audience. But, Jesus as with all of his listeners desired for him to do more that simply listen. He wanted him to act.

Remember the story of the tightrope walker who was rolling a wheelbarrow back and forth across Niagara River on a tightrope. Thousands of people were shouting him on. He put a two-hundred-pound sack of dirt in the wheelbarrow and rolled it over, and then he rolled it back. Then he turned to the crowd and said, "How many of you believe that I can roll a man across?"

Everybody shouted! One man in the front row was very excited in his professed belief. The tightrope walker pointed to his excited professor and said, "You're next!"

You couldn't see the man for dust! He actually didn't believe it. He said he believed it, he thought he believed it - but he was not willing to get in the wheelbarrow.

Peter sat in the boat with Jesus. He listened to his words. He believed in him. But not it was time to act. And contrary to the tightrope walker he obeyed.

Obedience is faith in action. It is transposing the promises and provisions of Christ's words into service and obedient behavior.

Have you ever noticed that in the New Testament that Jesus never said to his hearers believe me? He always urged them "Follow me." In other words, he commands his hearers to get in the wheelbarrow. Don't just say you believe me, don't just say you know me, don't just say "I love you," get in the wheelbarrow and follow me. Peter Lord has said, "What I believe I do and the rest is just religious talk."

C. Obedience calls for moving out of comfort zones

Peter was comfortable fishing at night along the shore line. But to launch out into the deep during the day, that's another story.

Most people live in the shallow waters of life. They simply exist on a superficial level. There's little depth to their lives because they're content to just play around the edge, never going out into deeper water. Why? Because it's safer in shallow water. They think, "If I get out into the deep water there might be some waves. They might rock my boat, and it might overturn. So I'll just stay back here where it's safe and comfortable and piddle around.

God's call to obedience always involves risks, to leave our comfort zones, to step out into the deep. Only those people who are willing to follow their Lord's lead into the deep where the waters are over their heads ever really make a difference.

D. Obedience means doing things because Jesus says so, even when it doesn't make sense

There was nothing logical about returning to the open sea and fishing again for Peter. It was absurd. But Jesus say go and Peter said, which I think is the key phrase in this narrative, ". . . because you say so, I will let down the nets" (Luke 5:5).

Why can we take Jesus at his word and do what he asks simply because he says so? Because Jesus' perspective is greater than our perspective. God grants to us a limited perspective. Like the headlights reach on a car driven at night. He can see ahead, but only for a short way. Whereas God sees the whole road. Where we've been, where we are now, and where we are going. I can obey him because he sees all and knows all.

The most powerful test of obedience is do those things that don't make sense simply because Jesus says so.

E. Obedience in a little leads to opportunity in the big

The fact is Simon had obeyed Jesus. He obeyed him when Jesus asked to use his boat for a pulpit. He obeyed him when Jesus asked him to launch out into the deep. Now, he was in a position for greater usefulness and difference making by obeying Jesus to catch men for Christ. Jesus was calling Peter to the greatest task of all - sharing the good news of Jesus with other people.

Many people want to do something really big for God - the glamorous and attention getting jobs, but are unfortunately not obeying God where they are - the menial and behind-the-scene tasks. Until we are obedient in the little things God can't use us in the big things of life. The reality is that if we are not making a difference for God where we are then in all likelihood we will not make a difference for God wherever we are.

A baseball player knows that one has got to posses the skills to play in the minor leagues before they can play in the big leagues. Any manager knows that an employee must pay the price and perform the job at the entry level before they will be promoted to an upper level.

III. What's keeping you from obeying?

I don't know if you noticed, but in the story of Simon there was one physical feature that was present in every scene. Did you see it? It was the boat. The boats were at the water's edge. Jesus preached from the boat. The miracle was performed on the boat. Peter's confession was made on the boat. And the final scene Simon pulls up the boat on shore, leaves it behind to follow Jesus. I think that boat is highly significant in this story. Why? Because the boat represents Simon's livelihood, his business, his security, his peace of mind, his future. Simon had made his boat available to Jesus, and Christ had used Simon's business as a platform for ministry. That's great. That's needed. Too often we tend to separate the secular from the spiritual. We attempt to partition off our Christianity from our career. But, Simon's boat was what was keeping him from a life of total and complete obedience. His boat and what it represents was preventing him from living a fully devoted life of obedience.

What about you? What's your boat? What's keeping you from a life of usefulness? A job, a relationship, a security, a bank account, a drive for materialism, a fickle feeling that being a fully devoted follower of Christ is not exciting enough or would hurt your status? Come on be honest, what standing between you and a life of obedience? What's preventing you from making a difference for eternity sake?

When it comes to obedience there is no middle ground. Once we have heard the Lord speak, we either act on it or we don't. We either obey or we disobey. What will you do?

Rick Ezell is the pastor of First Baptist Greer, South Carolina. Rick has earned a Doctor of Ministry in Preaching from Northern Baptist Theological Seminary and a Master of Theology in preaching from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Rick is a consultant, conference leader, communicator, and coach.