It's my privilege to be with you today. On behalf of the Executive of the Toronto Association of the Fellowship, congratulations on celebrating 60 years of ministry. We rejoice with you that God has been faithful these past 60 years, and we pray that God will continue to bless this church in the years to come. We pray that the best years of Wilmar Heights Baptist Church are still to come.
Have you ever had this happen to you? I went to Starbucks recently and ordered a Venti decaf coffee. When it came to me, I looked in the cup and saw that they had left room for cream. Not just a little room; they'd left a good inch or so at the top. I may as well have ordered a smaller size, because that's all I got. I drink my coffee black, so that inch of space at the top is wasted space.
Sometimes when this happens I have the gumption to ask them to fill it all the way up to the top. This time I didn't, so I went over to the milk and filled the rest of the cup up with milk. I don't even drink my coffee with milk in it, but I figured that I'd better get my money's worth anyway.
This morning I want to ask you, individually and as a church: How full do you want God to fill your cup? Do you want God to fill up your cup leaving lots of empty space, or do you want God to fill up your cup right to the top? The reason I'm asking this is because the theme of this coming year for your church is overflow. It's the prayer of your leaders that God would pour out his blessings on this church to such an extent that there isn't enough room to hold all the blessings. In particular, your leaders are praying that God would bless the evangelistic ministry of this church so that people who are currently far from God become followers of Jesus Christ. That's a prayer that's worth praying, and on this anniversary we're asking God to bless the evangelistic impact of this church.
As I prepared for this morning, I kept coming back to a passage of Scripture that speaks of overflow. It's found in Luke 6:37-38:
Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.
Did you catch that? The image is of someone going to the market to buy some grain. You give the merchant some money, and then you hold out your container to be filled with that grain that you've just purchased. Some merchants are going to be stingy. They will fill your container almost to the top and hope that you will accept this and walk away. But that's not what happens in this case. In this case, Jesus speaks of a merchant who gives you a good measure. But he doesn't stop there. He presses the grain down in order to fit more in there. But then he goes even further. He shakes the container to try to settle the grain so he can fit even more in. Have you ever seen the label on a cereal box, "Contents may settle"? It's so that you don't complain that you got a half-empty box. In this case the merchant shakes that container so that everything settles so he can put even more in.
But he doesn't stop there. We then read that the grain is running over. The merchant is so interested in giving you grain that it actually begins to spill over. As you're holding the container, it begins to run into your lap. In those days you may go home holding your cloak as a container so that it can hold the rest of the grain. How do you like that image? How do you like this as a picture of God's generosity and blessing on your life and as the life of the church?
Today I want to ask what it will take for Wilmar Heights to experience that kind of blessing. This passage tells us. This passage gives us three characteristics of people whom God blesses extravagantly. I'm going to give you these three characteristics and then summarize them in one over-arching characteristic, and then ask you to respond.
How can we overflow with God's blessing? Three ways:
One: Rather than hating your enemies, love them.
Look at verses 27 and 28 with me:
But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also...
Does anyone here have any enemies? I bet that somebody’s face just entered your mind. Can you think of anyone you’d hate to meet in the supermarket? Is there anyone who’s hurt you so badly that you think about them almost every day, even though they hurt you a long time ago?
I don’t think of myself as someone who normally has enemies, but a couple of things happened this month that made me realize that I do. Last Saturday I attended a graduation. It was a great occasion, and I enjoyed it. After the service I was walking through the foyer when I locked eyes with someone who hurt me a couple of years back. I don’t think I harbor any grudges, but as I looked at his eyes it all came back. I kept on walking because the last thing I wanted to do was to engage in a conversation with him. I didn’t think I had any enemies, but then I realized that I did.
I recently got an email alerting me to the fact that my name had shown up on a website somewhere. I followed the link and began reading what someone had written about me. It was horrible. The worst part was that whoever wrote it hadn’t signed their name. I knew from what was written that it was one out of about a dozen or so people, but I had no way of knowing who it was. The next time I was with that group of people, I remember looking at them. Is it you? Could it be you? I began to imagine ways that I could find out who was responsible and give them what they had coming. I don’t think that I have enemies, but these two recent events reminded me that I am sometimes tempted to hold grudges and resentment against people who have wronged and hurt me.
What do we do when someone hurts us? Jesus says here: love your enemies. Later on, in verse 37, he says, “Forgive, and you will be forgiven.” Do you believe that?
In 1993, a young man was shot to death during an argument. The young man was an only child. The killer was only 16, but was tried as an adult and sentenced to just over 25 years. The killer was eventually released and moved back into his old neighborhood - right next door to his victim’s mother. Listen to what the news story says:
How a convicted murder ended-up living a door jamb away from his victim’s mother is a story, not of horrible misfortune, as you might expect – but of remarkable mercy.
A few years ago Mary asked if she could meet Oshea at Minnesota’s Stillwater state prison. As a devout Christian, she felt compelled to see if there was some way, if somehow, she could forgive her son’s killer.
“I believe the first thing she said to me was, ‘Look, you don’t know me. I don’t know you. Let’s just start with right now,’” Oshea says. “And I was befuddled myself.”
Oshea says they met regularly after that. When he got out, she introduced him to her landlord - who with Mary's blessing, invited Oshea to move into the building. Today they don't just live close - they are close.
Mary was able to forgive. She credits God, of course - but also concedes a more selfish motive.
"Unforgiveness is like cancer," Mary says. "It will eat you from the inside out. It's not about that other person, me forgiving him does not diminish what he's done. Yes, he murdered my son - but the forgiveness is for me. It's for me."
N.T. Wright puts it this way:
Think of the best thing you can do for the worst person, and then go ahead and do it ... Think of the people to whom you are tempted to be nasty, and lavish generosity on them instead.
Do you want to overflow with God’s blessing? Then forgive extravagantly. I could spend an entire sermon or more on this one point, but there’s even more.
Rather than holding on to possessions, give them away.
Jesus says in verses 30 to 34:
Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.
If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount.
And then he says in verse 38: “Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”
Do you believe this? Are you beginning to see how impossible this is? Maybe this is the reason why we’re not overflowing right now. Most of us aren’t living like this! I was recently having dinner with someone. I even paid for the dinner. I’m trying to eat healthy, so I didn’t order fries, but they did. I thought I would help myself to some of their fries, and it didn’t go well. I began to think, “What a nerve! I’m the one who bought this dinner in the first place!”
One of the greatest tests we face is how generous we are with our stuff. We can fake a lot of things, but it’s hard to fake this one. Here Jesus commands us to live with radical generosity: giving extravagantly and generously without any thought of how it will benefit us. The Bible calls for radical generosity on our parts: to our families, to other believers, to the ministry of the church, to those who aren’t Christians, and even to our enemies.
Let me give you a test that I’ve been using recently. I heard a sermon recently that talked about tipping. I hated it. The guy said that if you are a Christian, you should be tipping with radical generosity. Here’s what he said:
For example, radical generosity – people who tip waiters way beyond what they deserve – requires a gospel explanation. Go to the same restaurant regularly, and even if they’re having a terrible day and their service reflects that, blow them away. Give them an amazing tip. Do that a few times. Eventually they’re going to realize that something’s different about you – because nobody tips according to bad service, they only tip if they got something good for it. But the gospel tells us: we got something good that we don’t deserve for our bad service. That’s gospel-tipping… it gives me an opportunity to talk about the gospel. (Jeff Vanderstelt)
What about if they give you bad service? How should you tip then? Well, how did God treat us when we were undeserving?
Since I heard this message, I’ve been working on my generosity. Last Sunday I took the family out for lunch. When it was time for the bill I pulled out my iPhone and figured out 15% of the pretax amount. That’s what I used to give. I was tempted to write that number down, but instead I gave more, and it hurt. It’s revealing that I have a stingy heart. It reveals the hold that money still has on my heart. I’m working on it.
Do you want to overflow with God’s blessing? Then instead of hating your enemies, love them. Instead of holding on to your possessions, give them away.
There’s one more way that Jesus says that we can overflow with blessing:
Rather than always looking at what is wrong with others, see what is wrong with yourself.
Look at verse 37: “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven.”
This is one of those verses that is frequently misapplied. This verse does not mean that we should never notice the faults of others. How do we know this? In just a few verses, Jesus is going to tell us to observe the fruit of people’s lives, because we can discover their true natures when we observe their behavior. Jesus is not telling us to be undiscerning or to not evaluate others.
Here’s what Jesus is condemning: he’s condemning a harsh, judgmental attitude that is always finding fault with others. Jesus is telling us not to usurp God’s place in judging and condemning other people. Don’t always be critical and find fault. Show mercy to others even when they don’t deserve it.
This was illustrated for me last week with the horrible news story of a former pastor being charged with the murder of his wife. How do you respond to that? I have no idea whether he is guilty or not. The courts will eventually decide that. But I can tell you the reaction of two of the most godly people I know. One wrote this:
It's surprising how quickly we condemn. Man I know recently charged with murder. Doesn't a hoping love require we pray he's found innocent?— Paul Martin (@PastorPWMartin) May 3, 2012
Another, a pastor friend, expressed interest in going to visit him in prison. Understand; neither one is being naive. Neither one pretends to know the facts of the case. But both are slow to rush to judgment. Both recognize that we should be slow to rush to judgment, and that we should show undeserved grace to even those who are guilty. After all, Jesus points out, we are in need of grace and forgiveness ourselves. Show the mercy you want to receive from God. Nobody here could withstand God’s scrutiny if he didn’t show us grace.
How can we live with God’s blessing? By loving our enemies rather than hating them; by giving away our possessions instead of holding on to them; see what’s wrong with yourself rather than looking at what’s wrong with other people.
If we live this way, Jesus says, “it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.” Do you want radical love? Then love others radically. Do you want radical generosity? Then love others radically. Do you want radical grace? Then extend radical grace to others. If we live that way, Jesus says, we will overflow with his blessing.
I hope you can see this morning that nobody here is capable of living this way. This is like saying you’ve got to run a marathon in half an hour, or setting the high-jump bar at twenty feet and telling you to give it your best. The only thing that gives me hope is verses 35 and 36:
...your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.
Do you realize what this passage is describing for us? Jesus is describing the characteristics of God himself. Loving? God extends his love to enemies. “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Generous? “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32). Gracious? “For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more” (Hebrews 8:12).
There’s been only one person who has ever kept these commands to extravagantly love, give, and extend grace: it’s Jesus. And I’m convinced that the only way to see these qualities develop within us is to keep coming back to what God has done for us. How can we overflow with God’s blessing? By living in light of God’s extravagant grace. Let me say that again: How can we overflow with God’s blessing? By living in light of God’s extravagant grace. The more we see what Jesus has done for us, the more we’ll be prepared to love others. And the more we see Jesus, and the more we extend grace, the more God will pour out his grace upon us until we’re overflowing.
God is not a stingy God. God doesn’t pour the cup until it’s 3/4 full and then stop. God has lavished his love, his gifts, and his grace upon us. And Wilmar Heights, God wants that love, that giving, that grace to be reflected in the way that you live and serve. I pray that this would be a church that overflows with God’s blessing, because this is a church that lives in the light of God’s extravagant grace.