DashHouse.com

The Blog of Darryl Dash

This blog is about how Jesus changes everything. He changes:

Our relationship with God

Our relationship with others

Our vocations - how we live and work in this world

Our ministries

This blog exists to explore some of the ways that Jesus changes everything. It provides resources and articles that will help you think about the ways that Jesus can change every part of your life.

The Lord himself invites you to a conference concerning your immediate and endless happiness, and He would not have done this if He did not mean well toward you. Do not refuse the Lord Jesus who knocks at your door; for He knocks with a hand which was nailed to the tree for such as you are. Since His only and sole object is your good, incline your ear and come to Him. Hearken diligently, and let the good word sink into your soul. (C.H. Spurgeon, All of Grace)

Grasping the Gospel (Ephesians 5:15-21)

One of the greatest mysteries to me has been how to change so that I become a holy person. Here's how it looks in my life. There are certain temptations that I face on a regular basis. My track record of success with these temptations is dismally low. I've tried everything. When I fail, again, I usually feel guilty and resolve to try even harder next time so that it doesn't happen again. The next time the temptation comes, I find myself falling again. Except this time I feel even worse because my resolution to try harder didn't work.

Can anybody relate? I want to change, but my efforts to change myself don't work. And the harder I try to change myself, the more discouraged I become, and the guiltier I feel before God.

I've discovered, actually, that a lot of us get the first half of the gospel more than we do the second half. One of my favorite hymns puts it this way: "Be of sin the double cure. Save me from its guilt and power." I get that Jesus has saved me from the guilt of sin. If you have repented of (turned away from) your sins and trusted in what Christ has done for you at the cross, then you've been forgiven. He has taken all of your sins and given you all of his righteousness. I'm not saying this is easy to understand. There are riches here, and we'll never get to the bottom of comprehending this great exchange. But it's relatively easy to understand this half. As another hymn says, our sins, not in part but the whole, are nailed to the cross, and we bear them no more.

But I'll tell you what really trips me up sometimes: the part that Jesus' death and resurrection has not only saved me from the guilt of sin, but the power of sin. The Bible tells us that we have been set free from sin, and that sin no longer has dominion or power over us. I believe this, but is there anyone else who doesn't always feel that way? When I'm tempted, it sometimes feels like sin has a ton of power over me. I feel powerless to resist, and it leads to this cycle of failure. I'm tempted; I fail; I feel guilty and resolve to do better; I'm tempted again and I fail again, and feel even worse than before.

So when Paul says in the second half of Ephesians, "I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received" (Ephesians 4:1), I'm curious to hear what he's got to say. How is it possible for our lives to match our callings? Paul has given us the gospel in all its richness, and he's just told us to bring our lives into line with that gospel, so that there is no discrepancy between them. Our lives and the gospel match each other. How is that possible? I'm all over this, because sometimes it feels like I've tried everything, and no matter what I do, my life never matches the beauty of the gospel. The gospel is up here, and my life is down here. Sometimes it feels like my life can never be lived in a way that is worthy of the calling you have received.

In today's passage, Paul tells us how our lives can change. To the extent that we do what Paul says we should do in this passage, we will see our lives transformed. We'll see that our lives actually begin to resemble our calling. How can we change so that we are set free from the power of sin, and so that our lives actually match the gospel?

Paul actually gives three commands in this passage. They're hard to spot at first, because there are a lot of supporting clauses. We'll get to those too. Paul essentially gives us three sets of commands expressed as both positives and negatives. There are three things we need to do if we are going to stop the cycle of failure and live worthy of the calling we've received. Here's the first:

1. Pay close attention to living wisely

Verses 15 and 16 say, "Be very careful, then, how you live--not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil."

The main command is "Be very careful, then how you live." The command is that you take care to live as a wise rather than unwise person. Be accurate, precise, and pay close attention to the way you live. Be deliberate. This should get rid of the notion that all we have to do is "let go and let God." We don't change by being passive. There's effort and intentionality involved. We have to pay attention.

And what are we supposed to pay attention to? Paul says we're to pay careful attention to how we live. He says that we are to pay attention to choosing wisdom rather than foolishness in our lives. And I love how he practical he gets: he applies this to our time, saying that we've got to buy up the opportunities that we encounter, rather than squandering the opportunities that God gives us.

A few years ago we went tubing in the Elora Gorge. I don't know if you've ever been tubing before. It sounds like a lot of fun, and it is, but I basically remember only two things from our tubing adventure: rocks, and relief when the tube ride was over. We got in these tubes, and from that point on we were at the mercy of the current. The current kept on taking us to where all kinds of rocks were. Sometimes I'd see them coming and I would desperately try to change direction, and sometimes I would miss them. But I hit enough rocks that I started to get afraid, and those were only the rocks I could see. Then there were all the rocks underwater. I was afraid of hitting a rock and knocking myself out, and then being dragged down the river unconscious. It was not a fun experience!

To make it worse, my daughter, who was quite a bit younger then, was also on a tube. I think she did better than I did, but the whole time I was thinking, "If I'm having problems, how in the world is she doing?"

I was surprised to get to the end and discover that some people loved the experience and wanted to go again. I swore I would never repeat the experience in my life!

But as I think about it, there are some parallels between my tubing experience and what Paul says. The days, like the river, are evil. There are rocks that are above the surface, and there are rocks underneath the surface that can hurt or kill you. And there are two ways to live, just like there are two ways to go down the river. One is to be swept by the currents with little control over where you're going. If you do this, you're going to hit every rock going and you're going to endanger your life. The other is to live wisely, deliberately choosing your course so that you don't hit all the rocks. Paul says to pay close attention so that you are deliberate in the course you take, so that you aren't just swept along wherever the current takes you.

Can I ask how deliberate you are in your life? I find that so many of us live on automatic pilot. We are not deliberate in what goes into our minds. We absorb culture's values because we read and watch all that our culture produces without much thought. We go with the flow and end up hitting all kinds of rocks that we could have missed if we had seen them coming, or if we hadn't just drifted with the current.

Paul is telling us that it's going to take careful, deliberate action on our part. I can't tell you how many times I've just drifted into temptation because I'm going with the flow. Paul says that we are going to have to be deliberate in choosing not to do certain things, because if we do them we will be setting ourselves up for trouble. We'll have to avoid some situations.

The best example I can think of is John Piper, a preacher from Minnesota. He doesn't watch TV, not because he thinks watching TV is wrong in itself, but because he doesn't want to go with the flow. He wants to be deliberate about what influences him. He says:

It astonishes me how many Christians watch the same banal, empty, silly, trivial, titillating, suggestive, immodest TV shows that most unbelievers watch--and then wonder why their spiritual lives are weak and their worship experience is shallow with no intensity.

Is this fanatical? Maybe if we make a rule that nobody can ever watch TV. That's fanatical. But it's not at all fanatical to suggest that we pay close attention to how we live and what influences us. That's not fanatical; that's biblical. We need to take care in how we live in practical matters like how we spend our time, what media we consume. As Paul said to Timothy, "Watch your life and doctrine closely" (1 Timothy 4:16). Pay close attention to living wisely.

So that's the first command. The second one needs a bit of explanation:

2. Grasp the gospel and what it requires

You're going to ask where in the world I got that from. Verse 17 says, "Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord's will is." Paul says that we are to avoid being foolish. The alternative is to understand what the Lord's will is.

The problem as we read this passage is that when we speak of God's will, we normally think it means trying to figure out what God wants us to do when we're making a decision. We think it's about personal guidance about God's immediate plans for our future: which person should I marry, which job I should take, which car I should buy, and so on. But that's not what Paul is talking about here when he talks about God's will.

What does Paul mean when he talks about God's will? In Ephesians 1:9-10 he said, "He made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment--to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ." What is God's will? To bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ. Paul also says it was God's will to adopt us (1:5). So when Paul says that we need to understand what the Lord's will is, he is saying that we need to understand the basic storyline of the gospel: that God is fixing what's broken in this world, reconciling sinners to himself, and creating a new humanity out of people who previously had nothing in common. In other words, we need to understand the gospel, and where we fit in with what God is doing.

In this sense, God's will is still the same today. God is still at adopting people. He still purposes to bring unity to all things in heaven and earth under Christ. He is still forming a new community of people. Understanding the gospel is crucial, because it leads to understanding what's required of us and where we fit in.

This is the theme of the entire book of Ephesians. Ephesians is steeped in what Jesus accomplished through his life, death, and resurrection, and what it means for the world. Paul teaches that it's the centerpiece of history, and that it has implications for all of life. Paul commands us to understand it and to reorder our entire lives around what God has done through Christ.

Understanding, by the way, is about much more than knowing. You can know something without really getting it. New Testament scholar D.A. Carson talks about when he was a boy. He was sick and in the hospital. One day he woke up and his mother was crying beside him in the hospital room. He said, "You really do love me!" Of course, she burst into tears and ran from the room. Carson always understood that his mother loved him. He had no doubt. But when he woke up and saw his mother crying, he grasped it. He really got it. Paul is telling us here to not just understand what the gospel and what it requires from us. He's telling us to get it, to really grasp it in the depths of our being.

Notice that the positive command is to understand this, and the negative command is to not be foolish. So the choice is basically this: either you know what God's up to and where you fit in, or you're a fool.

Say you're watching a movie and you can't understand the plot at all. The movie is not making any sense. This has happened to me. Now imagine that it's not because the plot is ridiculous, but the problem is with you. If the plot is sound, then either you're a fool, or you understand the director's will.

But the stakes are even higher for us, because we are not just watching God's cosmic drama; we are participants. So Paul says we must really grasp the plot of the drama so we can play our part well. We must learn the shape of the drama so that we can perform our parts in line with that plot. That's why it's so important for us to really grasp the gospel. That's why Martin Luther said, "The truth of the gospel is the principle article of all Christian doctrine...Most necessary is that we know this article well, teach it to others, and beat it into their heads continually." If we're going to change, we need to grasp the gospel.

So how do we change? We change by being careful in how we live, and by grasping the gospel and what it requires.

There's one more command:

3. Continually rely on the Spirit

It's easy to miss the last command in verses 18-21. It's all one long sentence as Paul originally wrote it. If you look carefully, though, here's the command: "Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with [by] the Spirit." The rest of this sentence - about singing, giving thanks, and submitting - are the results, what happens if we obey the command. Notice, by the way, that they can't be faked. You can fake a lot of things, but you can't fake being someone who sings, give thanks for all things, and who submits to others. It's too hard. But Paul says we will become people who do these things if we obey the command he gives us.

Here's the command: to avoid getting drunk, which was common in that society. Instead, rely on the Spirit. Allow the Spirit to fill you so that you are controlled by him. Continually rely on the Spirit and his power. We will change, we will sing, we will even submit to others as the Holy Spirit changes us. There's no way we can do it alone.

I love the balance here. Some people say that we don't do anything to change. Just let go and let God. We're completely passive. Paul says this isn't true at all. We need to be very deliberate and careful in how we live, and we have to work hard at grasping the gospel and what it demands from us. But it's not just our work, because we can't do it alone. We must also rely continually on the Spirit. Salvation is God's work alone. He saves us, and we contribute nothing. But we must work out our salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12).

Notice, by the way, four things about the command to be filled by the Spirit:

  • It's a command. We can choose to not be filled by the Spirit and instead rely on our own strength. It's like the guy who threw a chainsaw down because it just wouldn't work for him because he didn't realize he had to turn it on. We can choose to live without power, but it will be frustrating. Paul commands us instead to rely on the Spirit's power.
  • It's plural. Paul is not commanding selected individuals to be filled by the Spirit. It's not an elite level for really spiritual people. Paul commands all of us to rely on the Spirit's power. It's a command for all of us.
  • It's passive. In a sense, Paul's saying, "Let the Holy Spirit fill you."
  • It's continual. It's a present imperative, which means "go on being filled." It's not a one-time thing. It's supposed to be an ongoing experience.

So change, Paul tells us. And don't just change by resolving to do better in your own strength, because then you'll be caught in an endless cycle of frustration and failure. Instead;

  • Pay attention. Don't just go with the flow.
  • Understand the gospel and how you fit into what God is doing. Really grasp it.
  • And rely on the Spirit's power. Don't try to live on your own.

And we will become people who are changed.

So Father, we pray for those who have been caught in a cycle of failure and frustration. We confess to you that we often get frustrated with ourselves because we haven't changed. I pray that you would give us hope today that through the gospel, through what Christ has done, we can be changed.

May every person here pay close attention to the gospel. May every person here really grasp to the depths of their being what you're up to. May they grasp the riches of the gospel, and how their lives fit into what you are doing. And may they then rely on the Spirit's power, and experience change. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Why We Preach (1 Timothy 4:1-16)

Okay, I have a bit of a test. I'm going to read four statements for you, and I want you to tell me what they have in common. Ready?

  1. Dogs are really the same as cats.
  2. The Toronto Maple Leafs are a great football team.
  3. We are all descended from pirates.
  4. Left socks always have to go on before right socks.

So let's see who knows what these statements all have in common. Anyone?

[get answers]

The biggest thing that these statements have in common is that they are wrong. All of them are flat out wrong. Dogs are not the same as cats; they're much smarter! The Leafs are not a great football team; they're not even a great hockey team. We are not all descended from pirates, although there's a chance that I am. And you are allowed to put on your right sock first if you want to. Nothing wrong with this.

Let me give you four more statements to see if you can find out what they have in common.

  1. It really doesn't matter what you believe.
  2. We all worship the same God.
  3. I get to decide what's right for me.
  4. Nobody knows what happens after we die.

Anyone know what these statements have in common? They actually have a lot of things in common. They're all pretty popular. There are probably people in this room who believe at least some of these things. If I say that they're wrong, then someone will probably tell me that this is just my opinion. Besides being popular, they're also wrong.

The reason that I bring these four things up is because the passage we just read from 1 Timothy tells us three things that are important for us to know. Here's the first:

We're going to be tempted to believe some wrong things.

That's the first thing we need to understand. The passage we just read teaches us that we are going to be tempted to believe some wrong things.

As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain persons not to teach false doctrines any longer or to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. Such things promote controversial speculations rather than advancing God's work--which is by faith. (1 Timothy 1:3-5)

The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. (1 Timothy 4:1-3)

Here's what Paul is saying in these verses: you are going to be tempted to believe some wrong things. People are going to stand up in church and teach them. They are going to be believed by some people. The people who believe these things are essentially going to walk away from the faith. We are going to be tempted to believe some wrong things.

Nobody is really sure what wrong things were being taught in Ephesus. People have some ideas. It's called the Ephesian heresy. In a way it's not important what the exact heresy was. It is important, though, to realize that we face our own heresies in our own day. And the Bible says you're going to be tempted to believe some wrong things.

The reason I bring this up is because a lot of people don't even think there is such a thing as wrong beliefs. A lot of us are tempted today to think that it's all a matter of perspective, and that all of us see different parts of the truth, and nobody sees the whole picture. We may even think it's arrogant to say that one view is right and other views are wrong.

But there are all kinds of problems with this. For one thing, the minute you say that it's true that there's no such thing as truth, you've contradicted yourself. The minute you claim to have universal insight into the fact that universal insights are wrong and arrogant, you've become wrong and arrogant yourself. Not only that, but nobody lives that way. If the bank accidentally takes $50 out of your bank account, I don't know anyone who would say, "Well, you have your perspective and I have mine." No, you'd say, "Give me my $50 back!"

So the Bible tells us that we're going to be tempted to believe some wrong things. Here's the second thing that it tells us:

Some of these wrong things are going to be dangerous.

You see what this picture is? A shipwreck. A friend of mine found a map of Newfoundland that showed all the shipwrecks. He couldn't believe how many there were. I went on Wikipedia this week and counted 48 shipwrecks in Ontario alone. Each one involved danger, loss of wealth, and loss of life. You can lose everything in a shipwreck.

Paul writes to Timothy that some have believed false teachings and "so have suffered shipwreck with regard to the faith" (1 Timothy 1:19). Do you know what Paul is saying here? You're going to be tempted to believe the wrong thing, and this is dangerous. It doesn't matter if you believe the Leafs are a great football team or not. It doesn't matter if you think you're descended from pirates. It's weird, but it won't really hurt you. But believing the wrong things about God and what he teaches in the Word is dangerous. It could lead you to shipwreck your life. It could change your eternity.

If you go to a drugstore and pick up a prescription, it comes with all kinds of warnings. My favorite was from a drug I was asked to take twenty years ago. One of the possible side-effects was black hairy tongue. I'm not kidding. You can look it up. It's a fungus. In case you're wondering, I never took the prescription.

There ought to be warnings about what we believe. What you believe can be dangerous. If you believe the wrong thing about God and about the gospel, it can be fatal. Children in the Netherlands dug up this really cool thing in the ground. They actually played with it for months before somebody realized what it was: an unexploded shell filled with explosives from World War II. The authorities came in and blew it up before it could hurt anyone. They didn't know the danger of what they were dealing with.

We're going to be tempted to believe wrong things, and some of these things are going to be dangerous. They can shipwreck your life. They can explode on you. They're far more dangerous than you realize. This is a huge danger for churches.

Paul tells us what to do about it.

So the church must devote itself to Scripture.

Every week, somebody gets up here and opens the Bible and teaches. Why do we do this? Because this is how Paul teaches us to handle the danger of false teaching, of believing the wrong things:

  • If you point these things out to the brothers and sisters, you will be a good minister of Christ Jesus, nourished on the truths of the faith and of the good teaching that you have followed. (4:6)
  • Command and teach these things. (4:11)
  • Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching. (4:13)
  • Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers. (4:15-16)

Let's try to follow what Paul is saying here. We are going to be tempted to believe some wrong things. Some of the things we're going to be tempted to believe are not only wrong, they're dangerous. They could kill us. And yet people right inside the church are going to try to get us to believe them. And the way to respond to this is to focus on God's Word as a church. Point out what the Bible teaches. Command and teach what the Bible teaches. Publicly read the Scripture as a church. Preach and teach the Bible. Be diligent. Continually grow, and persist in doing this. And if we do this as a church, we can save ourselves and also those who listen to us.

This is Paul's prescription for us. The best way to make sure we are believing the right things, and avoiding the wrong things, is to focus on God's Word as our authority. That's why every Sunday someone stands up here, and open God's Word. It's not because I have anything to say. It's because the Bible has something to say to us. It's not only that we read it; it reads us. It reveals things about us that we need to know. It makes us wise for salvation. It teaches us, reproves us, corrects us, and trains us so that we become competent and equipped for every good work.

It's also why it's our authority. Do you know what a norm is? A norm is the standard by which everything else is measured. A couple of hundred years ago, people knew what a meter was. It was one ten-millionth of the distance between the North Pole and the equator at the longitude of Paris. But if you wanted to decide what a meter was in real life, that definition wasn't too useful to you.

So in 1799, they made a platinum bar. It became the international standard for what a meter is. It became the norm by which everything else was compared. If you wanted to find out what a meter was, you had to compare it to this bar.

In a sense, that's what the Bible is for us. It's the standard by which everything else is measured. It's how we know what is right and wrong and what we should believe. It's why we preach. Because we'll be tempted to believe wrong and dangerous things, focus on God's Word. As someone has said, "Preaching is not sharing or chatting but rather proclaiming with authority and passion the truth of God's Word about Jesus."

So let's close this off this morning. Do you realize that you're going to be tempted to believe all kinds of wrong and crazy things? Do you realize that what you believe actually matters? If you believe the wrong things, it can actually shipwreck you.

If you do, I hope you'll see why we preach every week. And I hope you'll also see the one we're preaching about, the one that all of Scripture is about: Jesus, who is the Word , who offered his life for us. Paul says that if we do these things, and persist in doing them, that the preacher will save both himself and his hearers.

So let's review. You'll be tempted to believe what? Wrong things. These wrong things will be what? Dangerous. And the solution? Focus on the Bible, and on Jesus who is revealed through the Bible.

Father, thank you for your Word. Most of all, thank you that your Word corrects our wrong beliefs and leads us to Jesus. May we be a church that uses Scripture as our norm, that is devoted to God's Word. We pray in Jesus' name, Amen.

What We Proclaim (2 Corinthians 4:1-6)

Today as a church we're celebrating our fiftieth anniversary. This is a moment to look back and give thanks for all that God has done in our past. But this morning I also want to use our anniversary to remind us of what is at the core of our ministry as a church. I want to do this because it's very easy for me to forget, and if it's easy for me to forget, then there may be some others who have the same problem. So I want to preach to myself today as much as I want to preach to anyone else.

This morning I'd like to ask a simple question: What is at the heart of our ministry as a church? If someone was to ask, "What is Richview Baptist Church all about?" how would you answer? Would you say it's about the preaching or the music or the friendliness or our seniors residence? All of these are very important. But what's at the core of our ministry?

Then there's a second question: how would you define success for our church? Would it be a certain attendance level at Richview? Or feeling like things are really happening? Would it be certain programs that we've always wanted to get going, or our reputation in the community?

What is at the heart of our ministry as a church? And when would you consider Richview to be successful?

I don't know how you would answer, but this morning I'd like us to look at how the apostle Paul answered. Paul was writing to the Corinthians, and some of the Corinthians didn't have much time for Paul. To them, Paul's ministry was a failure. They questioned his motives, implying that he was benefiting financially from his ministry. They questioned his courage, wondering if he could really handle confrontation face to face. Most of all, they questioned his success. If you looked at Paul, you wouldn't be overwhelmed by his accomplishments. Most of the time, people rejected what he preached. If he put together a resume, the resume would be filled with more failures than successes. By their measurements, Paul was a failure, and you get the impression that they were surprised Paul didn't see it that way too.

Now, if we're failures, then it's important to recognize that we're failures. We don't want to be like the preacher who complained to his preaching professor that he only got a C on his sermon. The professor told him, "That's fine, I'll give you an A instead, but don't forget - you're still a C preacher." We need to be willing to face the truth, and if we're failures, then it's important for us to know that we're failures.

But it's also important to know what failure is and isn't. If you take a course, you get a syllabus at the beginning of that course. That syllabus tells you what you're going to cover in the course, and what you're going to be marked on. And then it tells you what weight will be given to the various assignments and exams. This helps you as a student understand what success is going to look like in that course.

This morning we have kind of a syllabus before us for our church. This passage tells us what is and isn't important for our church. This is going to help us make sure that we are focusing on the right things, so that when God evaluates us, we will be found to have passed.

So what I want to do this morning is to ask us to honestly evaluate our church, and if necessary to refocus our energies on the right things so that we will be in line with what God expects from us. Paul tells us two things that aren't important, and that we shouldn't focus on, as well as the one thing that truly matters.

So first, let's look at the two things that don't define success in God's eyes.

Here's the first: God does not measure our church's success by the response we get from people. Paul says in verse 1, "Therefore, since through God's mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart." You have to ask, why is Paul saying this? Why is Paul basically telling them, "Don't worry, I'm not discouraged. God has called me to this ministry, so I'm doing okay."

Once in a while, someone will ask me if I'm getting discouraged. It's sort of like when you're feeling really good, and someone says, "You don't look too good. Are you feeling okay?" You feel like saying, "I was feeling great until you asked!" But evidently some people were wondering if Paul was really doing okay, or if he was starting to get bogged down.

And here's the reason why. Paul's ministry could not be considered a success if you looked at the number of people who rejected his message. Most places where he preached, some responded, but most rejected him. And a lot of the time they never rejected him politely. He was beaten. There were riots. He was run out of town. It would be easy to get discouraged because of this alone.

There were also lots of people in the church who were against him. You could call Paul's relationship with the church in Corinth complicated. They had teachers in that church who had badmouthed Paul. Paul went to straighten things out with them, because the Corinthian church was in open rebellion against him. Paul had a choice what to do, and he chose to be humiliated and leave rather than retaliate as an act of mercy. But he called the visit painful. Paul wrote them a tearful and severe letter, which led to most in the church coming to their senses. But still, as Paul wrote, there were some who continued to reject Paul and his message.

So Paul really couldn't consider himself successful if you measured success if you looked at the number of people who rejected his message. It was a problem, even within the church.

I want to be careful here, because what I'm about to say can be used as an excuse. There are churches and ministries that are ineffective and use something like what I'm saying as an excuse. In fact, some take smallness as a badge of honor, as if there's something wrong with a church if it's big.

What I'll say is this: we face a temptation to change our message so that it's more palatable. Do you ever think read the Bible and cringe and think, "Oh man, that's not going to fly. That might actually turn people away. We may have to soften that a bit." Paul knew about this temptation too. He speaks about it in verse 2:

Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone's conscience in the sight of God.

The word "distort" there was used in Paul's day of merchants who used to take wine and water it down. He says that he refuses to do this with God's Word. He refuses to downplay parts of the gospel that are hard for people to swallow.

Why wasn't he willing to change the message of the gospel? Because he says that the problem is not with the message. The problem is spiritual. He says in verses 3 and 4:

And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

The problem is never with the gospel that we have received. We don't have to play fast and loose with the gospel message. If we are proclaiming the gospel, we need to remember that Satan is at work. He is hardening hearts so that people can't see the beauty and truth of the gospel. The gospel divides. It always has. It divides people into categories. Some accept it, and some flat out reject it.

So Paul says he's not losing heart even if people reject his message, because success isn't measured by how many people accept or reject the message. This means that even if Paul looks like a failure because people reject his message, he's okay with that. God doesn't measure our church's success by the response we get from people.

There's a second thing that Paul mentions that doesn't define our success as a church. This is going to sound strange at first. God does not measure our church's success by our church's appeal. I told you that would sound strange, so let me explain.

When I tell people about Richview, I want to tell them about the things I like about this church, and there are a lot of things. I want to tell them that you people are real, that there are people from various ages and cultures. I like to tell them that you're friendly without faking it, and that there are people here you can count on to help out whenever there's a need. I want to tell them that you are accepting of people who are different from you. There are all kinds of things that I want to tell them.

But someone has said something of pastors that is probably true of churches as well: "Of the various temptations which beset the Christian minister, one of the chief and deadliest is the temptation to preach himself." In other words, one of our biggest and most deadliest temptations is to proclaim the greatness of our church, to make our church the message.

It's easy to do this. In fact, it's almost impossible not to. The sign in the window highlights the things people might like about our church. Pretty soon we begin to build ministries around the things that people really like about us. I heard of one church this week that doesn't list their pastors or staff on their website; they list "personalities" along with trivia about what they like to eat for breakfast and what they would do if they didn't work at the church. It's easy to begin to do this: to make ourselves the message. But as John Calvin said, "He that would preach Christ alone, must of necessity forget himself." There is a very real sense in which we need to say to people, "Richview is not the point. We are not the point. We have something - someone - much better to talk about!"

I don't want to imply that we aren't important. Paul does say that he's part of the message, and so are we. He says at the end of verse 5 that he proclaims "ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake." You know what a servant is? A servant is someone who puts aside their own self-interest to serve others, who takes a lower position for the sake of a higher purpose. Paul says that the thing that he proclaims is that he willingly sets aside his own self-interest for the sake of something better, and he calls us to follow his example.

Theologian and Anglican bishop N.T. Wright talks about showing up early for an appointment with the head of an organization. He had met her once before, but it had been a long time, and he wasn't sure he would remember what she looked like. A porter met him at the front door, and handed him to an assistant. The assistant took him up two grand flights of stairs and through an imposing door. There he met a well-dressed woman who walked up to him with a smile and outstretched hand. She looked familiar. There, he thought, my memory isn't so bad. She wasn't exactly what he had remembered, but she wasn't that far off. He shook her hand and said, "How very good to see you again." She looked surprised, walked across the room to an inner door, lightly tapped on it, and opened the door. There, in the middle of the room, was the woman he had some to see. She hadn't changed a bit. N.T. Wright had mistaken a personal assistant for the head of an organization.

We must never let people mistake us for Jesus. We are one of Jesus' office staff. We are simply porters, servants, secretaries, and assistants. We take people by the hand and introduce them to Jesus. We don't keep people in the outer office and talk about ourselves. If we did that, we would be disloyal. As Wright says, "Our job is to make Jesus known, and then to keep out of the way, to make sure we don't get in the light."

The treasurer of the Billy Graham organization was on an elevator with Billy Graham when another man in the elevator recognized him. He said, "You're Billy Graham, aren't you?" "Yes," Billy said. "Well," the man said, "you are truly a great man." Billy immediately responded, "No, I'm not a great man. I just have a great message."

So, Paul says, we don't judge success in ministry by how people respond, or even by how remarkable we are. We aren't the point. We are only servants who introduce people to the one who is the point. We are not a great church; we just have a great message.

So what, then, should we be about? What does it mean to be assessed and found faithful as a church? Paul tells us in verse 5.

Our church is measured by how much we make of Jesus.

Paul says, "For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord." Spurgeon said, "'Christ Jesus the Lord' is to be the great theme of our preaching; and when it is so, we naturally take our right position with regard to our hearers, as Paul and Timothy did: 'and ourselves your servants for Jesus' sake.'" Another time, Spurgeon said, "I take my text and make a bee-line to the cross." Our church is measured by how much we make of Jesus.

We need to ask ourselves if we, in every aspect of our church's life, we are doing this. Dietrich Bonhoeffer studied for a year in New York City. He visited a number of churches there, and this is what he concluded: "One may hear sermons in New York upon almost any subject; one only is never handled, namely, the gospel of Jesus Christ, of the cross, of sin and forgiveness."

We have nothing to offer except for Jesus. And the Jesus we proclaim is not Jesus the life-coach, CEO, copilot, or moral example. We preach Jesus Christ as Lord: the one who created all things, who was born as a baby, who lived a perfect life, offered himself as a perfect sacrifice for our sins, ascended to heaven, and who will return one day to judge the living and the dead. It's him that we proclaim.

So on this, our fiftieth anniversary, we could do nothing better than to commit, or recommit, to make much of Jesus.

You may be here this morning for all kinds of reasons, but what we want to do most is to welcome you, to tap lightly on the door, and to bring you in to introduce you to Jesus. If you have not yet met him, then there's nothing I want more. I want you to know him, to know forgiveness, to experience the power and new life that comes only from him. Everything else is secondary. I'd love for you to know Jesus.

If you've met Jesus, and if you're part of this church, then I would like nothing more than for us to resolve that for the next fifty years, we won't focus on what people think of us. We won't focus on our personal appeal or our church's appeal. We'll focus on becoming servants of others so that every person and every ministry is about Jesus, so that they will never say, "What a great church." Instead they will say, "What a great Savior."

I ask nothing more, Father, than for the privilege of being servants who make much of Jesus. We ask that he would be lifted up among us, that he would be the centre, that he would be the theme of our preaching and the theme of the church. To paraphrase George Whitefield: "Let the name of Richview perish, but Christ be glorified. Let Jesus be our all in all so that He is preached. I care not who is uppermost. I know my place...even to be the servant of all." May what Charles Wesley wrote of Whitefield be true of us:

No party for himself he ever desired;
His one desire to make the Saviour known,
To magnify the name of Christ alone.

Now You Are Light (Ephesians 5:3-14)

I want to ask you a very important question, one I hope you've thought about. What sins are we tempted to commit within our society? In other words, if you were going to commit some sin, what particular sins would you be likely to commit just due to the fact that you live in Toronto in 2009?

The assumption is that we live in a certain context that makes some sins more acceptable or powerful than others. Our culture gives us some opportunities for trouble that other cultures don't offer. What temptations do we face in our culture that are especially strong?

Let me give you two temptations that I think are especially strong living in Toronto in 2009. It's not like they aren't temptations anyway, but our culture makes two of these temptations especially strong.

One is sexual sin. I was standing in a Wal-Mart in December, and on the front of a bridal magazine I read the title of a story: "Why sex gets even better once you're engaged." If you're not yet married, and would like to remain a virgin until you're married, it's now seen as kind of quaint. But even if you don't do anything, it's hard to avoid seeing things on the magazine rack, on TV, the Internet.

In every culture, people experience sexual temptation. But in Toronto in 2009, we face new kinds of temptations, temptations that aren't faced in other cultures in other parts of the world. And certain things that used to be off limits are now very much tolerated or even expected. There are real temptations, and a lot of us are struggling. It's a particular challenge for many in today's culture.

I think you'll agree that sexual sin is a strong temptation within our culture. You may be surprised by the second temptation that I think we face that is unique within our culture, although in today's economy it's coming up a lot more.

We also face a temptation to be greedy. This one is more subtle. I have had people tell me that they are struggling with sexual temptation. I have never yet had somebody come to me and say, "Pastor, you have to help me. I'm struggling with greed!" Yet it's a very real problem, and most of the time we don't even recognize it as a temptation.

I bought a cellphone just over a year ago. It's a good cellphone. I can check my email, surf the web, even make a phone call on this thing. There's only one problem with this cellphone: it's not in iPhone. I really want an iPhone. Every few months, I start scheming of ways to get out of my cell phone contract so I can get an iPhone. Every few months, Charlene helps me see that my current cell phone is just fine, and I don't need to spend money to get a better one.

There's nothing wrong with having an iPhone, and having one doesn't mean you're greedy. That's not my point. My point is: why am I not happy with what I already have? Why am I always wanting more? And why, if I bought a cellphone, would I be really, really happy - until they came out with a new and better iPhone?

And if it's not a cellphone for you, it's something. We are continually tempted to be ungrateful for what we already have, and to convince ourselves that we need more. We need a better TV for the SuperBowl. We need a bigger house. We need a better car. In Toronto in 2009, we are continually tempted by the sin of greed - and most of the time we're not even aware that it's a sin.

It's important to know what temptations we face within our culture, because we are especially vulnerable in these areas. And in today's passage, this is exactly what the apostle Paul wants to talk about. Paul knew the dangers that the residents of Ephesus faced within their society, and he wasn't afraid to address them. And surprisingly, they were the same temptations I just mentioned: sexual sin and greed. Not every culture faces these temptations, but the Ephesians did, and so do we.

The people Paul writes to in Ephesians were Gentiles (non-Jews), and many of them had led immoral lives in the past. When you become a Christian, you don't escape all the influences from the past, and you're not immune to the patterns of thought you pick up from others. We all tend to absorb the way of thinking of the surrounding culture, and we're not even aware of it.

In Ephesus, sexual temptation was a real problem. Adultery, incest, and prostitution were common. There were brothels and other temptations. When you live in a culture in which these things are available and acceptable, it's hard not to be influenced, even if you are a Christian.

Greed was also a problem. Ephesus was a wealthy city. When Paul was in Ephesus, he was caught in the middle of a riot. The problem was that Christianity was hurting the local economy. They were afraid people would stop buying shrines to the goddess, and that this would hurt business.

I don't think I have to convince you of the parallels. We too have lots of opportunity to get involved in all kinds of sexual temptation, and we too are preoccupied with the economy and our personal financial freedom. We are not immune to the culture around us and the temptations that come with our culture.

How do we respond?

The Principle

Let's start by looking at the principle that Paul gives us. Paul says in verses 3 and 4:

But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for the Lord's people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving.

Paul tells us that extreme caution is needed, that there must not even be a hint of sexual immorality or greed among us. And Paul knows us well enough to know what might happen. We may avoid sexual immorality in our behavior, but still end up making off-color jokes. We aren't committing sexual sin, so we think we're okay, but can we ever tell a good off-color joke.

The principle is this: that we recognize the cultural temptations, and instead of asking how far we can go, we don't even start to go down the road of temptation. We set the tolerance level to zero.

This seems extreme, doesn't it? Last year we had a propane explosion in Downsview. One of the issues that came up was the amount of asbestos in the air. Officials were trying to reassure people that although asbestos was a problem, the levels were safe. Residents responded by saying: what level of asbestos would you consider to be safe? There's no such thing as a good level of asbestos! If you're breathing asbestos, it's not a good thing.

Paul is essentially saying here: how much sexual immorality and greed is safe for our souls? I mean, is there a certain level at which it becomes dangerous? Paul says that even a little bit of sexual immorality is like asbestos to the soul. Even a little bit of greed is out of place for a follower of Jesus Christ. So we need to turn down the dials of tolerance in our lives all the way down to zero. Even a little bit is too much.

Notice, by the way, that Paul anticipates some argument. Some are going to think Paul is a little extreme here. He says in verse 6, "Let no one deceive you with empty words..." Paul recognizes that some are going to say, "Come on, Paul. Get real." And that this is going to happen within the church. But Paul warns us in verses 6 and 7, "Because of such things [sexual immorality and greed] God's wrath comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be partners with them."

I know that most of us have drawn lines, and we've committed not to cross that line. We've said we'll do certain things but not others. We're okay with some levels. We'll read this type of magazine that shows this much but we won't read another type of magazine because that goes too far. We'll accept a certain level of greed, because everyone wants a bigger house, but we won't get too greedy. But Paul tells us to take that line and draw it right at the beginning. Don't even allow a little sexual immorality or greed into your life. And don't listen to anyone who tells you it's not a big deal.

The Explanation

If I stopped here this morning, you'd probably walk away unconvinced. Some of you may even think, "There we go. More commandments and impossible standards. Just what I expected." What I've said so far can lead you to believe that Christians are isolated, out-of-touch, prudish people who don't know how to have fun. "Christianity is a straight-jacket," you might be thinking. "No thanks."

Paul is actually a little more sophisticated than that in this passage. You see this in verse 5 where he says, "For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person--such a person is an idolater--has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God." We often skip over that middle phrase - "such person is an idolater" - but we shouldn't. Paul is telling us something important here.

What is an idol? An idol is actually one of the dominant images for sin in the Bible. It's the sin beneath all sins. What is idolatry, and why does Paul mention it here? Idolatry is taking a good thing and making it an ultimate thing. It's taking something that is good, and is even a gift from God, and making it ultimate in your life. So sex is good: it's a gift from God, and is designed as a gift within marriage. But it becomes an idol when we take it outside of its intended place. The irony is that we think we're becoming sexually liberated, but it actually leads to enslavement. Instead of enjoying sex as a gift from God, our sexual appetites begin to control us. Many of you may know what this feels like. It starts out as a desire to enjoy sex more, but in the end, your sexual appetites start to control you. It promises more than it ever delivers, and it leaves you feeling unsatisfied. Sex is a great gift from God when it's enjoyed as he intended, but when we turn it into an ultimate thing, an idol, it leads to our ruin. It's a terrible idol.

Or take the other issue, greed. There is nothing wrong with money. In fact, money is a blessing from the Lord. But when we begin to take money and make it an ultimate thing in our lives, it leads to idolatry and enslavement. Our whole lives begin to revolve around accumulating more and more stuff. We become driven to work. We end up in debt because we buy more than we can afford. And in the end, the stuff we accumulate lets us down. It doesn't satisfy us like we thought it would. We buy what we want, but it never delivers the happiness we hoped for, and soon it's out of date or in the way. Money is a wonderful gift from God, but it's a terrible idol. It leads to enslavement, not freedom, and not happiness.

So Paul is not writing in order to take away our fun. He's writing to bring us into line with the reality that God has created, and to save us from the horrible sin of idolatry. Paul also says that this isn't fitting for those who have been changed by Jesus Christ. He says it's "improper" in verse 3.

Not only that, but God's wrath is upon those who are disobedient, according to verse 6. Let me unpack this a little for you. If I looked over one day and saw a man hitting on my wife, how do you think I would feel? I would be less than happy. The reason is jealousy. We normally think of jealousy as a bad thing, but in this context it would be a good thing. A husband and wife are not supposed to be dispassionate about each other. I am jealous for my wife's affection, and will not share it with another.

The Bible frequently refers to God as a jealous God, who will not share his glory with another. Again, in God's case, this jealousy is a good thing. God will not sit idly by as his people worship sex or money instead of him. It not only leads to enslavement, but it also leads to God's judgment.

So that's why Paul gives us the principle: to have zero tolerance for sin. Don't even flirt with it; get rid of it from the get-go. And it's not because he wants us to be prudes. It's because this sin is idolatry, and idolatry leads to our enslavement and God's judgment in our lives. It's for God's glory and for our good that Paul tells us to stay away from these sins.

The Power

We've looked at what Paul says, and why he says it. We've seen that we must have zero tolerance for sin, even though our culture says it's fine. And we've seen why: because it's not just a matter of sinful acts; it's a matter of worship. Sinning in these areas means that we're taking a good thing and turning it into an ultimate thing, worshipping something other than God.

If you're like me, you're wondering how you're actually going to live this out. It's not really helpful to be told, "Don't sin anymore! Don't have sexually impure thoughts. Don't be greedy." You'd be right in saying, "Thanks a lot." It's like telling my dog to stop sniffing when we go out for a walk. He can't help himself. He's a sniffer. And I can't help myself. I'm a sinner.

But Paul doesn't just tell us to go and try not to sin. He reminds us of the gospel - that the power we need is not our own. We've been changed. He says in verse 8, "For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light." Notice what he doesn't say. He doesn't say that we used to be in the darkness, but we're now in the light. He goes further than that. He says that we actually used to be darkness, but now God has changed us. We are now light. What this means is that when we come to faith in Jesus Christ, God fundamentally changes us. We are new creatures. So we don't have to go out there and try to become light; that would be impossible. All we have to do is live in line with who God has now made us. "Live as children of light," he says. Live out the implications of the change that God has made within you.

Then he says in verse 14:

Wake up, sleeper,
rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.

There are lots of debates about what Paul is quoting here. Some think it's pieced together from various Old Testament passages, like Isaiah 60:1: "Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD rises upon you." Some think it's an Easter or baptismal hymn from the early church. Wherever it came from, Paul is reminding us that we used to be asleep. We used to be dead. That's our natural condition: asleep, dead, and in the dark. But if we have come to Christ, everything has changed. "Conversion is nothing less than awakening out of sleep, rising from death and being brought out of darkness into the light of Christ" (John Stott). We don't have to change; we need to come to the cross, and remember the cross, and live out what Jesus did for us then.

We don't have to change. Jesus has changed us. What we need to do is to remember the change, and live in light of that change.

So what sins have you been tolerating? Do you see this morning the problem with idolatry - that making good things into ultimate things leads to our enslavement and God's judgment? When we remember what Jesus has done for us, and that he has changed us from the inside out, then we will have the power to live in the light, because he's set us free from the power of sin.

Father, a lot of us don't feel free from sin. So we need to come to the cross. Thank you for the fundamental change that you make in us; that we have been changed. We were asleep, dead, and in the dark, and at the cross you make us awake, alive, and you bring us into the light.

May we live out the implications of what Jesus did at the cross. And may this lead to our freedom and to your glory. In Jesus' name, Amen.