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)

The Congregation of the Righteous (Psalm 1)

This morning we’re beginning a fairly brief look at a small portion of Scripture that’s widely appreciated, but I’ve never done much preaching on it. Over the summer, I’m going to be looking at some of the psalms. In particular, I’ll be looking with you at the first few psalms. We’ll probably only have time to look at the first seven or eight if all goes well.

One of the reasons I want to look at the psalms with you is because they’re so important. Abraham Lincoln said of the Psalms: “They are the best. I find something in them for every day of the year.” Martin Luther called it “the Bible in miniature.” It’s the Bible’s longest book. It’s more quoted in the New Testament than any other Old Testament book. It’s probably the most popular book in the Old Testament, if not the whole Bible.

But that’s not the only reason I want to look at them with you. Most of the Bible contains teaching about God, or words of God to us. The Psalms are primarily human words to God or about God, rather than God’s words for us. However, they are also God’s word to us. Psalms provide a model for us. They teach us how to praise God, how to relate honestly to him, and how to reflect on what he has done for us. They invite us to enter into the experience of the psalmist. They address the mind through the heart. They cover every sort of experience and emotion we could have: praise, thanksgiving, but also doubt, depression and despair. It’s an incredibly valuable part of the Bible that helps us understand how we can encounter God in the middle of the mess of life. We need to know how to relate to God not just in the good times, but in every type of circumstance. The Psalms are going to help us with this.

Today, in particular, I want to look at Psalm 1. It’s hard to know where to begin with the Psalms because there are 150 of them. You could even break the Psalms down into sections. For instance, there are five books within the book of Psalms. Book one is considered to be Psalms 1 to 41. They’re all on different kinds of topics and themes. You could begin anywhere.

It’s important, though, for us to look at Psalm 1 first, because Psalm 1 is kind of a gateway to the rest of the Psalms. It’s not just randomly selected as Psalm 1; it’s put first because it’s a great introduction to everything that follows. In fact, if you were to open a handwritten medieval manuscript of the Psalms, chances are that you would discover this psalm - the first - written in ink without any number. It’s meant to be an introduction to the whole Psalter rather than just another psalm.

If you go to the airport, you can hang out anywhere you’d like in the concourses. But eventually you will reach a checkpoint. To go any further, you need to have pass through. They check your documentation and make sure that you belong on the other side of that gate. You either have to be traveling, or you need to be an employee of the airport. That’s what the psalmist is doing here. You are invited to join the psalmist on the other side of Psalm 1. But before you get there, you need to pass through the checkpoint here. The psalmist raises a matter of supreme importance. He wants to be as clear as possible before we go any further.

Here’s the message that he’s going to give us in this first psalm: Nothing is more important than belonging to the congregation of the righteous. Before you can talk about the Lord as your shepherd (Psalm 23), or about forgiveness (Psalm 51), worship (Psalm 100), or the mercies of God (Psalm 103), you need to start here. You need to make sure that you belong to the congregation of the righteous.

And to make his point, the psalmist is going to answer three implied questions in this psalm. So remember his point: Nothing is more important than belonging to the congregation of the righteous. Here are the implied questions he’s going to answer. One: what does it look like to belong to the congregation of the righteous? Two: what are the results of living this way? Three: what is the final destiny of those who live in the congregation of the righteous?

First question: What does it look like to belong to the congregation of the righteous?

Psalm 1:1-2 says:

Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the LORD,
and on his law he meditates day and night.

So here we begin with a description of what it looks like to belong to the congregation of the righteous. I want you to notice three things about this description.

The first is the very first word of the psalm: blessed. It’s one of those words you hear mainly in church or when someone sneezes. Part of the problem when you hear a word like blessed is that you don’t really know if it’s something that you want for yourself. We have a church near our house, and sometimes you see men and women wearing black robes walking around the neighborhood. Is that what it means to be blessed - to live in a church and wear black robes all day? It reminds me of the cartoon. Someone asks a man, “Are you a pastor?” and he replies, “No, I just look this way because I’m not feeling well today.” That’s the very thing that most of us would like to avoid. We’re really not sure that we want to be blessed, so right away we’re kind of wondering whether this is a good thing or not.

But we need to understand that this isn’t what the word blessed means here. The word really could be translated, “Oh, the happiness…” It’s about the joy that comes from God-given security and prosperity. It’s happiness that comes from well-being and rightness. He is the man or woman who enjoys God’s blessing. The Psalmist is saying that there is a path to happiness that is unique and that you can’t find anywhere else. It’s found in belonging to the congregation of the righteous, of knowing God’s smile upon your life. When you have this blessedness, you don’t need to go looking anywhere else. You have God’s smile; that is enough. So that’s the first thing you notice here. Joining the congregation of the righteous isn’t sentencing yourself to misery; it’s actually the path to true happiness.

Nobody’s captured this better, by the way, than John Piper. He’s coined a term: “Christian hedonist.” A hedonist is someone who pursues pleasure. You may be surprised by this, but Piper argues that we all should be pleasure-seekers. The only thing is, we need to realize that the true path to pleasure-seeking is to join the congregation of the righteous and to seek the blessing that comes from God. As the philosopher Blaise Pascal put it:

There once was in man a true happiness of which now remain to him only the mark and empty trace, which he in vain tries to fill from all his surroundings, seeking from things absent the help he does not obtain in things present. But these all are inadequate, because the infinite abyss can only be filled by an infinite and immutable object, that is to say, only by God himself.

So the psalmist is going to describe to us the path to true happiness, to true satisfaction and joy. Someone’s said, “The psalmist saith more to the point about true happiness in this short Psalm than any one of the philosophers, or all of them put together; they did but beat the bush, God hath here put the bird into our hand” (John Trapp).

Then notice the negative picture of what those in the congregation of the righteous do not do. They don’t walk in the counsel of the wicked; they don’t stand in the way of sinners; they don’t sit in the seat of scoffers. In other words, the righteous person is different. Many of us, I’m sure, watched the Stanley Cup finals a couple of weeks ago. You noticed the same thing that I did: the teams generally played better on their own ice than they did in the other team’s rink. A 2011 Sports Illustrated article found:

Home field advantage is no myth. Indisputably, it exists …. Across all sports and at all levels, from Japanese baseball to Brazilian soccer to the NFL, the team hosting a game wins more often than not.

You may be surprised why this is true. It’s not just the impact on team performance. The article says it’s the influence of the crowd on the referees:

Officials' bias is the most significant contribution to home field advantage. In short, the refs don't like to get booed. So when the game gets close, they call fewer fouls or penalties against the home team; or they call more strikes against visiting batters. Larger and louder fans really do influence the calls from the officials. The refs naturally (and often unconsciously) respond to the pressure from the crowd. Then they try to please the angry fans and make the calls that will lessen the pain of crowd disapproval. In the end, the refs' people-pleasing response can have an impact on the final result of the game.

Do you notice that? It’s not the cheers of the home crowd that makes a team do better. It’s the boos of the crowd that make a refs afraid to make a bad call. The psalmist notices the same thing. He says that the more we play on the other team’s ice, the worse it’s going to go for us. It’s usually a subtle thing. The more we’re taking our cues from people who don’t know and love God, the more we’ll be playing so that we don’t here their boos. It’s not usually an obvious thing. As Dale Ralph Davis says:

It may come in a rather bump-a-long fashion from teachers or friends or family - our spouses; it simply suggests that if you don’t think this way, you will not be thought sharp; if you don’t act this way, you will not be ‘cool’; if you don’t laugh at what we mock, we don’t want any part of you. Verse 1 is not merely description but warning, a sort of Old Testament Romans 12:2: ‘Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould’ (Phillips).

It reminds me of the 106-year-old who was asked what she likes about her age. She replied: no peer pressure. The psalmist acknowledges that we’re all taking our cues from somewhere; he says that if you’re part of the congregation of the righteous, you’re not taking your cues from people who aren’t living for God.

So where are you taking your cues if you belong to the congregation of the righteous? The cue is actually from delight, in verse 3. This is important. It’s not a grin-and-bear-it type of approach. It’s again a delight. You know what it’s like to choose something not out of willpower but delight. I was out the other night with a friend. I hadn’t seen Charlene all day. As I dropped him off, he invited me to come into his house for a while. I had two alternatives: to visit with my friend, which would have been an ok thing to do; or to go home and see my wife and kids, which would have been an awesome thing to do. I made the choice that gave me the most joy: I said thanks, but I’d better get going. I didn’t do it out of obligation; I did it out of joy. That’s what the psalmist is saying here.

What leads him to renounce all the ‘appeals’ of verse 1? To turn and walk away from it all? The pursuit of pleasure! He does it because he cares more for his pleasure than for his pressures! ‘But his delight…’ Note that last word. You are going to take your signals from somewhere, and he takes his from the torah of Yahweh rather than from the counsel of the wicked. (Dale Ralph Davis)

That’s what it means. To belong to the congregation of the righteous involves finding delight and joy in God’s Word. It’s not an obligation; it’s a continual source of delight. It’s a regular and consistent part of our life: we meditate on it day and night. J.I. Packer defines meditation:

Meditation is the activity of calling to mind, thinking over, dwelling on, and applying to oneself the various things one knows about the works and ways and purpose and promises of God.

It is an activity of holy thought, consciously performed in the presence of God, under the eye of God, by the help of God, as a means of communication with God.

Its purpose is to clear one's mental and spiritual vision of God, and to let his truth make its full and proper impact on one's mind and heart.

It is a matter of talking to oneself about God and oneself.

It is, indeed, often a matter of arguing with oneself, reasoning oneself out of moods of doubt and unbelief into a clear apprehension of God's power and grace.

That’s what we do when we belong to the congregation of the righteous. We find our happiness in God; we take our cues from him and from his Word rather than from the wicked; we continually apply his Word to all of our lives.

Second question: What are the results?

What does it look like when we do this? Verses 3-4 say:

He is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.
The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff that the wind drives away.

You know that the best way to communicate something is often through a picture. You can describe something, but it helps to see it. Here the psalmist gives us two pictures. The first picture is of those who belong to the congregation of the righteous. The second picture is of those who belong to the congregation of the wicked.

First: what does it look like to belong to the congregation of the righteous? When the psalmist wrote this, people knew how hard it was to grow a tree. The climate in Israel was dry. The only way that something like a tree could thrive is if it had a constant supply of water. Vegetation flourished around natural streams or canals. So he gives us a picture here of a tree that’s planted close to the banks of a river. The roots reach down and draw nourishment from the water. That is a great picture, the psalmist says, of the person who belongs to the congregation of the righteous. He or she is like that tree, drawing nourishment from God himself. You could capture the picture here in two words: stability and vitality. Stability, because the tree is planted securely. It’s healthy and it’s not going anywhere. We live in an old neighborhood. Some of the trees were there before any houses were around, and some of those trees are probably going to be there after the houses are torn down. That’s stability. But there’s also vitality: fruitfulness, leaves that don’t wither; prosperity. The psalmist says that those in the congregation of the righteous have a stability and a vitality that you can’t find anywhere else.

It’s a contrast, by the way, to what the life of the wicked looks like. The picture there is of chaff. If you had some grain back then, you’d want to separate the lightweight and useless chaff - the husk of grain. You’d put the what on the floor. Horses would tread on it and separate the grain from the husks. You’d then take a fork or shovel and throw the grain into the air. The grain is heavier, so it would fall to the ground. The useless chaff would be blown away with the wind. The psalmist says that this is what it’s like to belong to the congregation of the wicked. If you are part of the wicked, then you’re not characterized by stability and vitality. You’re characterized instead by dry, dusty, windblown impermanence. You could use the words rootlessness and ruin.

You don’t always see this. Sometimes it doesn’t look this way. This, of course, doesn’t mean that those in the congregation of the righteous never have problems. They do. But it means that there’s a stability and vitality in the lives of those who have found their joy in God that you can’t find anywhere else. It reminds me of the book of Ecclesiastes, which we studied earlier this year. Apart from God, there’s impermanence. I can take you to believers who are in their 70s and 80s - some of them are here - and who have been through very trying times, but they are stable and vital because their roots have stayed connected to the source of nourishment that has sustained them their entire lives.

That’s what it looks like to belong to the congregation of the righteous: to take our cues from God rather than the wicked, and to delight in his Word. And that’s what the results are: stability and vitality. There’s one more question.

Third question: What is their destiny?

You may have heard that they came out with a study this week. Harvard University researchers found that the type of foods we choose to eat may have a bigger impact on weight control than portion sizes. They found that if you eat certain types of foods, even in small quantities, you will gain weight over time. For instance, for every additional daily serving of potatoes people ate, they gained more than 1 1/4 pounds over a four-year period. There is a trajectory to these things. Over time, you will see that present decisions lead to long-term results.

Here’s what we see in this passage. There are long-term implications to whether you are part of the congregation of the righteous, or whether you join the wicked. Verses 5 and 6 say:

Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
for the LORD knows the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish.

This is why this psalm is so serious. This is not some game we are playing. The psalm asks us to consider what we will do when the end comes.

As you know, William and Kate are in Canada this week. There are all kinds of preparations to get ready for them. You can bet that a host of people right now are working hard to get everything ready so that when the moment comes, every event will be ready.

The psalmist says that some will not be ready for the time when the judgment comes. It’s a scary picture for the wicked. They will have no justification (they won’t stand); they won’t have any communion with those who are righteous; nor will they remain (they will perish). In contrast, God knows the way of the righteous. This is ongoing. It doesn’t mean that God just has some knowledge of the righteous. He continues to know them; he sees every step they take, every twist and turn. It means that God is intimately and personally concerned with the steps that they take.

That is why the psalmist begins here. There is nothing more important than understanding that before you can enter into the rest of the psalter, you know where you stand. There are really only two ways to live. There’s no middle ground. You can choose to be blessed by taking your cues from God and delighting in him; if so you’ll have stability and vitality, and God will know you. Or you can choose the path of the wicked, which is choosing rootlessness and death and judgment. It’s that stark. That’s where the psalms begin.

So let’s close here by asking you to examine your life. There’s nothing more important. Nothing is more important than belonging to the congregation of the righteous. But then I want to remind you that in all of history there has only ever been one person who has met the ideal of the godly person represented in the psalm. This is good news for us. The reality is that the best among us falls short. The good news is that we have a Savior who can transform us into the type of people we read about in this psalm. He is able to take us regardless of our past and forgive us of our sins, and transform us so that we can be people who delight in God’s Word and who are planted like these trees. I invite you this morning to join the congregation of the righteous - to discover the joy that comes as we enter into the psalter. Nothing, the psalmist says, is more important than belonging to the congregation of the righteous.

The Training and Instruction of the Lord (Ephesians 6:1-4)

In September of 2006 George Barna released a sobering study. Following interviews with more than 22,000 adults and 2,000 teenagers from across America, he revealed that the majority of twentysomethings who are raised as Christians subsequently abandon the faith. He found that:

...most twentysomethings disengage from active participation in the Christian faith during their young adult years—and often beyond that. In total, six out of ten twentysomethings were involved in a church during their teen years, but have failed to translate that into active spirituality during their early adulthood.

Another survey by LifeWay found that “Seven in 10 Protestants ages 18 to 30 — both evangelical and mainline — who went to church regularly in high school said they quit attending by age 23.” Still another study (from Church Communication Networks) said that up to 94 percent of Christian teens leave the church within a few years of leaving high school.

This is alarming! Writing on these studies, local pastor and blogger Tim Challies says, “Each of these studies appears to show that Christians are doing a very poor job of reaching the children in their midst.” The most important thing we can do for our kids is to introduce them to Jesus Christ, and to his transforming power. It’s vastly more important than anything else we can do as parents. But the statistics say we’re doing a bad job of this.

So this morning I want to look at a familiar passage of Scripture. My intent this morning is not to tell you anything you don’t already know. I want to remind you of some things. More important than that, I want to encourage you who are parents to make this a priority in our lives.

So let’s read the passage, and then let me make some applications. The passage is Ephesians 6:1-4. Paul has been applying the amazing truths of what God has accomplished in Jesus Christ to families. The gospel, he says, changes our marriages and our families. And in chapter 6 he turns our attention to parenting. He says:

Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.

Three things this morning. First, an assumption. Second, a transformation. Third, an obligation.

An Assumption

It’s important to begin with an understanding of what Paul is assuming in this passage. Paul does not begin with practical parenting advice. We’re jumping in at the end of the book. Paul is now applying what he has said earlier about the gospel. He’s spent most of the book explaining what God is up to in this world. He’s explained God’s eternal plan to choose and adopt us, to exalt Jesus Christ, to take spiritually dead people and make them alive, to reconcile Jews and Greeks to become one people. You cannot apply chapters 4-6 of Ephesians until you understand chapters 1-3 of Ephesians. All that Paul is doing in this passage is unpacking what he’s said earlier about the gospel.

So here’s the assumption: before you can apply what he’s about to say about parenting, the assumption is that you have been changed by the gospel. In other words, you can’t pass on what you don’t have. Tim Challies, again, touches on this in his comments about the sobering statistics I just read to you:

Looking at the evangelical landscape in the United States (where these studies were performed) and in Canada, I see that the majority of children, and probably the vast majority of children, are raised in churches where what they hear is a false gospel or a gospel that has been emptied of all that makes it the power of God for salvation. We should not be at all surprised that children abandon this kind of a counterfeit gospel as soon as they are able to. I would do the same.

Shortly after my son was born a friend gave me this little bit of wisdom: “Kids are amazing bull–- detectors.” A bit crude, but the point was well-taken. Through 11 years and 3 children I’ve seen that this is exactly the case, though I do not express it in quite the same way. Children are amazing at unmasking hypocrisy; they are not easily fooled. You may fool them for a moment, but not for a lifetime. They will believe in Santa and the Tooth Fairy and Jesus when they are young. Sooner or later, though, they need evidence that these characters truly exist.

This is so true. One of the reasons, humanly speaking I became convinced of the truth of the gospel is because I saw it clearly displayed in my family. Our kids have a powerful ability to know whether we’re dragging them to church because it’s something we think we should do, or whether it’s real in our lives. They know how our faith is real even by how we talk. Think of this example. C. John Miller writes in his book Outgrowing the Ingrown Church:

I once overheard a visitor to one of our services tell this story to a young father. He said, “This morning you brought your child to be given over to the Lord. I did that once too. But let me urge you from the bottom of my heart, don’t do to your child what I did to mine. As he grew up, he listened to me criticize the pastor year after year. As a consequence, I turned off my boy to the church and to ministers, and today he is far from God.”

It goes both ways too. The kids of pastors can tell by the way their parents talk if this is real or not.

So let me begin by saying that Paul is making an assumption here. The assumption is that parents must be transformed by the gospel themselves so that it’s real in their lives before they can pass it on to their children. I don’t want to make this assumption this morning. So let me ask you: is it real? Are you truly a Christian? Is your heart this morning warm towards God? Do you marvel that Jesus Christ has died for your sins? This is where it starts. Your kids will be able to tell whether it’s real in your life or not. The assumption is that you can only pass on to your kids what you yourself possess.

A Transformation

Secondly, in this passage we also see a transformation. In that day, the rights of fathers were staggering. Men in general had a lot of rights, but children could change all of that. They tied you down. They were considered a nuisance. They were expensive, inhibited sexual promiscuity, and made easy divorce a lot harder. As a result, many in that day did not want children. But even if you did have children, the father’s rights would be almost unlimited. A father could sell his children as slaves. He could make them work in the field, even in chains. He could punish them how he liked, and could even inflict the death penalty on them. And this power extended over the life of his children no matter how long they lived. A Roman son never came of age. His father had rights over him as long as the father lived.

When a child was born, the child would be placed before the father. If the father stooped and raised the child, the child was accepted and raised as his. But if he turned away, the child was rejected and literally discarded. Sometimes the baby would be picked up by those who trafficked in infants; and raised to be slaved or to work in brothels. Other times they were left to die. One Roman father wrote to his wife, “If - good luck to you! - you have a child, if it is a boy, let it live; if it is a girl, throw it out.”

And then Paul comes along and, like Jesus, elevates the value of children in an extraordinary way, so that fathers have a sacred responsibility to their children. Paul says in this passage that fathers have responsibilities to their children. This is so important today because fathers do still sometimes go AWOL on their children. Fathers can tend to be passive. But Paul lays on us dads here the obligations we have to our kids. He refuses just to talk about rights; he reminds us that there’s a transformation in our relationship that leaves us with very clear obligations.

But he also transforms things from the children’s perspective. Why should a child obey the father? Not because of the father’s rights, but because it is pleasing to the Lord. Paul brings God into the relationship.

This means that our parenting is no longer a private issue between us and our kids. Paul teaches us there that parenting is a spiritual obligation. We are responsible before God as fathers. We don’t have a whole bunch of rights; we have a spiritual obligation before God to do our part.

There’s an assumption that the faith we’re trying to pass on is real in ourselves. And there is also a transformation in our relationship so that we see ourselves as fathers before God. We’re no longer passive or able to parent as we please. Our kids are on loan, as it were.

So my second question is this: Do you see parenting - particularly fathering - as a sacred duty before God? The way that you father is an issue with which God is concerned. There’s a transformation in our parenting relationship because God is very concerned.

Remember the stats I quoted at the start of this sermon. If these are true, and if we aren’t doing our job as parents, we need to step up. We need to be doing our job. We are failing our kids and failing God if we don’t.

An Obligation

Finally, there’s an obligation here. Verse 4: “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”

Parents usually go wrong in one or two ways. Some parents are too strict. Paul addresses this in the first phrase: “Fathers, do not exasperate your children.” It’s significant, but the way, that he mentions fathers here. Don’t let anyone tell you that parenting is a mother’s job! But then Paul corrects a mistake that is common in parenting: that parenting can be so strict that children are exasperated and crushed by the demands. Paul doesn’t want this. He wants an atmosphere of grace in which our kids are allowed to flourish.

The distinguished painter Benjamin West tells the story of one day when his mother went out, leaving him in charge of his younger sister. While she was out, he discovered some ink and decided to paint his sister’s portrait. When his mother came back there was an awful mess. She walked in, said nothing about the ink stains all over. She picked up the paper on which he had drawn the portrait and said, “Why, it’s Sally!” and then she stooped and kissed him. Benjamin West said, “My mother’s kiss made me a painter.”

Paul says, in essence, “Don’t err by being too strict and exasperating your children.” Once again, this comes back to the gospel. If you get that you are loved by God because of his sheer grace, that grace will begin to affect your parenting. There’s a great new book out called Give Them Grace: Dazzling Your Kids with the Love of Jesus. The author says that we sometimes give our kids the wrong impression that God is only pleased with us when we’re good. She writes:

Grace, or the free favor that has been lavished on us through Christ, ought to make our parenting radically different from what unbelievers do. That’s because the good news of God’s grace is meant to permeate and transform every relationship we have, including our relationship with our children. All the typical ways we construct to get things done and get others to do our bidding are simply obliterated by a gospel message that tells us that we are all (parents and children) both radically sinful and radically loved. At the deepest level of what we do as parents, we should hear the heartbeat of a loving, grace-giving Father who freely adopts rebels and transforms then into loving sons and daughters. If this is not the message that your children hear from you, if the message you send them on a daily basis is about begin good so that you won’t be disappointed, then the gospel needs to transforming your parenting too.

But then he confronts the other way that parents go wrong: by being too lenient. “Bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.”

Training is a word that refers to discipline. Some parents err by not being disciplined appropriately. Paul has already said not to be too harsh, but here he says not to go to the other extreme and let your children do whatever they want either.

But Paul doesn’t stop there. He also mentions the instruction of the Lord. What does this mean? A lot of us want our kids to learn about the Lord. That’s why we bring our kids to church and to Sunday school. But Paul here says that the primary responsibility for this belongs in the home. It is ultimately the parent’s job - ultimately, according to Paul, the father’s job - to instruct children in the way of the Lord.

A pastor - formerly a youth pastor - complained that parents would often call him in frustration, wanting him to do something to fix their teenagers. He grew increasingly frustrated, because for years these parents had been teaching them that church and the Lord come somewhere on the list after sports and school and everything else. For years, these parents had been teaching their kids that God is not a high priority. These parents had been instructing their children, but not in the way of the Lord.

Paul says that it’s our job to instruct them in the Lord. This means making the Lord a priority in our schedules, and also in our home lives. This means that your kids will know whether your faith is genuine or not. They’re more likely to be excited about the Lord if you are excited about the Lord.

It also means that we will learn family worship. Most parents today don’t take the time to read the Bible, pray, and worship with their children. In 1647, Christians were so concerned about this that they raised the alarm and said, “If we don’t start worshiping at home, we’re going to lose our kids!” And they were right. So they instructed pastors and elders to begin inquiring about family devotions. If they found out that a father was not leading his children in family worship, they would talk to him privately. If he didn’t respond, they would actually begin church discipline against him.

Were they fanatics? Maybe - or maybe they were just on to something. Maybe they knew that parents are responsible for disciplining children, and instructing them in the Lord, and that failure to do so is catastrophic. We should care about our children’s relationship with the Lord just as much as we care about any other area of their life. It’s more important than almost anything. It’s got to be a priority.

Listen: I can’t tell you how important this is. And the statistics say we’re not doing a good job of it. The most important thing we can do is to be transformed by the gospel, and then to introduce our kids to the gospel that has changed us so radically.

Three questions:

  • have you been transformed? is the gospel real in your life?
  • will you see your fathering and parenting as something that is a sacred responsibility, something with which God is very concerned?
  • what will you do to fulfill your obligation to parent in a way that is both dripping with grace, and that is taking deliberate action to train and instruct your kids in the ways of the Lord?

Let's pray.

Father, may the gospel become real in our lives. I pray that we would be so transformed by your amazing grace that our kids can’t help but know that the gospel is real. I pray that we would take our responsibility seriously, as a sacred trust from you. I pray that our relationships would drip with grace because we’ve experienced your grace. And I pray that every parent here would take specific action to train and instruct our kids in the ways of the Lord. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

How to Fight (Jude 1:17-25)

Some of you, like me, can remember when the seatbelt law came into effect. Some people had a hard time accepting the law that you have to wear seatbelts. One man, a New Zealander named Ivan Segedin took it to an extreme. The police ticketed him 32 times over five years for failing to use his seat belt. Even though this was costing him big money, he refused to buckle up.

Finally, instead of obeying the law, the man decided to rely on deception. He made a fake seat belt that would hang over his shoulder and make it appear that he was wearing a seat belt when he wasn’t. His trick worked. He didn’t get anymore tickets. But then he had a head-on collision. He was thrown forward onto the steering wheel and killed. His fake seat belt couldn’t save him.

If there’s a moral to this story, it’s this: When tested, what’s fake won’t save you.

We’ve been looking at the book of Jude. Jude wanted to write a letter to the church about our common salvation. He wanted to major on what’s real about our faith: the story of Jesus Christ, the Son of God who became man, and who died for our sins and rose to give us new life. But Jude knew there was a problem. He’s writing to a church that has fake seatbelts in use. He’s writing to a church that’s left this common salvation, this faith once for all delivered to the saints, and has instead substituted fake teaching. If you haven’t been here, I hope you’ll take a chance to read the entire book. Jude’s explained why this is a problem we need to be concerned about.

By the way, this is not just a problem for them. Charles Colson, president of Prison Fellowship, says, “Most Christians do not understand what they believe, why they believe it, and why it matters.” For two years, Colson asked mature believers to name the fundamentals of the faith. Most of them, he says, looked surprised and perplexed. They came up with a short list. Colson has stopped in the middle of some of his speeches, and asked the audience, “What is Christianity anyway?” At one church in the Bible belt, there was silence for what seemed to be a full minute before three or four painful answers. Colson concludes, “Our ignorance is crippling us.”

Remember: when tested, what’s fake won’t save you. So today we come to the end of Jude. Jude has been explaining why it’s so important that we don’t accept false teachings. But Jude doesn’t spend all of his time condemning false teachers. Today he’s explaining to us how we can respond to false teachings. He says we need to take three steps to hold on to what’s real. Here’s the first:

1. Don’t be surprised by false teachers.

Throughout this letter, you get the impression that Jude is not conveying new information. He’s reminding us of something. For instance, in verse 5 we read: “I want to remind you, although you once fully knew it…” (Jude 1:5). Then we read in verses 17-19:

But you must remember, beloved, the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ. They said to you, “In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions.” (Jude 1:17-19)

What he’s saying is that we need to remember that this is to be expected. Don’t be surprised. We have been adequately warned. For instance:

I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. (Acts 20:29-30)

Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons… (1 Timothy 4:1)

But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. (2 Timothy 3:1)

I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles, knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. (2 Peter 3:3)

All throughout the New Testament, we’re warned that in the last days - the days between Jesus’ death and resurrection and his coming again - false teachers and scoffers will periodically appear. It is expected. Not only that, but they won’t come from out there. They will arise from within the church. Scripture consistently warns us to expect this and to guard against it, because it’s going to happen. Jude says: don’t let it surprise you.

The other day I was at home when I heard someone at the door. I had just made myself very comfortable, which is usually when I hear someone knock at the door. So I got up and grumbled and opened the door to see who was there. I didn’t recognize him at first, which made me squirm when he kind of grunted at me and pushed past me to enter the house before I invited him in. He was already in my house when I remembered who he is, and that Charlene had told me he was coming at that very time. If I was smart I would have called to remembrance that he was expected, and that he was going to come into my house whether I invited him in or not.

Jude is saying something similar. False teaching is coming whether you’re prepared for it or not. You can get comfortable and be unprepared when it comes. But if you’re smart, you’ll remember that you’ve been told to expect it, and you’ll be prepared to deal with it when it comes. Don’t be surprised, he says, by false teaching.

2. Keep yourselves in God’s love.

This is fascinating. How should we respond when the false teachers come? We know they’re coming. Do we go on the defensive, building moats and walls so that the false teachers can’t get in? Do you go on the offensive, attacking at the first sign of false teaching? There is room for this, but the first thing he says is this: keep yourselves in the love of God. Secure your own spiritual position. Before you can address the false teachers or the false teaching, make sure that you are secure. He writes:

But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. (Jude 1:20-21 ESV)

I want you to notice a few things here.

First, there’s only one command here: “keep yourselves in the love of God.” He then describes some steps we can take in order to keep ourselves in the love of God: building ourselves up in our most holy faith; praying in the Holy Spirit; waiting for Christ’s return. We’re to do these things in order to keep ourselves in God’s love. By the way, it’s a good description of some of the things that we need to build into our lives if we’re going to keep ourselves in God’s love. We do well to devote ourselves to growth in the faith, to prayer, and to live in light of Christ’s return.

Second, this is not a command to individuals; it’s a command to a church. He doesn’t say to keep yourself in the love of God; he says to keep yourselves. I need this reminder. We don’t do this alone. We are responsible to do this together. One of our main purposes as a church is to keep ourselves in the love of Christ.

There’s one more thing I want you to notice. Jude addresses his letter in verse 1 to “To those who are called, beloved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ.” If you are a Christian, you are somebody who’s called, and who’s kept for Jesus Christ. You’re being guarded and kept by and for Jesus Christ. But here in verse 21 he says, “keep yourselves in the love of God.” Which is it? Are we kept, or do we keep ourselves? Yes. God has done everything we need in the Christian life; we need to respond. God keeps us; we keep ourselves in what God has done for us in Christ. It’s a beautiful picture of the Christian life. God has done it all: we need to keep ourselves firmly planted in what God has done.

What he’s saying, essentially, is to keep yourself anchored to how God has loved you in Jesus Christ. “Moving ahead in the Christian life often involves looking to the past…The foundation must be secure before the building can go up. We can never grow away from our roots; we can only grow through them” (Douglas Moo). The best thing we can do in a world of fakes is to make sure that we have what is real. The best antidote to false teaching is for us to continually be keeping ourselves in God’s love, to continually be growing into the truth. So don’t be surprised; secondly, keep yourselves in God’s love.

3. Reach out to those who are going astray.

Finally, Jude gets to how to respond to the false teachers and those who are being led astray by them. He’s spoken honestly and directly about the danger. Having been reminded to expect that false teachers will come, and having been encouraged to keep ourselves in God’s love, Jude now tells us what we are to do with the false teachers. He divides them into three groups and says:

And have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh. (Jude 1:22-23)

There are three groups we need to be concerned with:

First, he addresses those who doubt. He’s probably talking about some in the church who have started to be swayed by the false teaching. They’re wavering in their commitment to the faith once for all delivered to the saints. They have doubts about the Bible, about the Christian faith. They have questions. They want to know if the Bible is true, if we can trust what we’ve received. Jude says: have mercy on these people. Be helpful to them. Build relationships with them. Your relationship with them should be characterized by mercy. I’m sure you can think of people who fit into this category. You have the opportunity to invest in their lives if you have mercy on those who doubt.

Second, he addresses a second group. He says, “save others by snatching them out of the fire.” These people, it would seem, have gone further down the road with the false teachers. They’re in danger of judgment, characterized by fire. Some have been so influenced by false teaching, Jude is saying, that they are teetering on the edge of hell. We need to snatch them and save them before it’s too late.

When we encounter someone who has departed the faith, we can’t just give up on them. God does restore people. One pastor had a friend who walked away from the Christian faith and began living a very immoral lifestyle. He went and visited his friend. Afterwards he was so drained that afterwards he pulled out this verse and with tears in his eyes reminded himself that God still does save wayward sinners, and that his counsel still might bear fruit in his friend’s life. Jude calls us to do this. When people walk away from the faith, they’re in danger of judgment. Contend for them. Save them by snatching them out of the fire.

Then there’s one final group. He says, “to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh.” By the strength of the language it seems like Jude is talking about the false teachers themselves. They’ve abandoned themselves to false teaching, but they’re not beyond redemption. Jude says to show mercy to them. Pray for them. Treat them kindly. But also be cautious. Be on guard. He talks about the garment stained by flesh. He’s talking about the clothing worn closest to the body. This is pretty graphic. He’s talking, in essence, about clothing that’s been stained with human waste. Show mercy to them, he says, but be cautious. As one person put it:

One is working on the edge of the fire, so to speak. Not only are those being rescued at risk, but the rescuers are endangering themselves. Sin is deceitful enough that those trying to help others could themselves get trapped. That is no reason not to “show mercy,” but every reason to have fear. (Peter H. Davids)

When responding to false teaching, you need to do some triage. Your response will differ depending on which type of person you’re dealing with. Reach out to those who are going astray, but be wise in how you do so. Pay attention to the danger that you could be in as you reach out to those who are going astray.

We really need this book. We need this because he’s addressing an ongoing problem. We will face the same issue that Jude addresses. We need to be able to recognize false teaching, and to know how to respond. Today he’s reminded us how we are to respond to false teaching. Don’t be surprised. Secure your own position by keeping yourselves in God’s love. And then reach out to those who are going astray. This, Jude says, is how we’re to respond when we encounter false teaching.

Let me remind you why this is so important. We can’t afford the luxury of fake seatbelts. Remember: when tested, what’s fake won’t save you. We need what’s real. We need the real gospel, but we also need to know what to do when we encounter what’s false.

What I love about Jude is that he finishes by tethering us to God. At the end of the book he reminds us that, although we have a role to play, our hope is not in our ability to hold on to God, but in God’s ability to hold on to us. At the end Jude reminds us that although we have every reason to doubt ourselves, we have no reason to doubt the one in whose love we are kept. So Jude closes with a benediction that tells us that God accomplishes for us, and what we offer him in response.

First, what God accomplishes for us: “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…” Then, what we offer to God in response: “…be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.” Here we have, in the middle of the danger that we too could stumble, the assurance that God is able to keep us from stumbling. We have assurance that God is guarding us. As Paul said: “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6).

We face a danger, and the danger is real. When tested, what’s fake won’t save you. But there is someone who’s real, and when he grabs on to you you’re safe forever.