God's Will for Your Life (Romans 12:1-8)

  • even though I attended church since I was a child, it wasn't until about nine years ago that I discovered the principle which has brought the greatest amount of freedom and release in my ministry
  • as I entered pastoral ministry, I found that the work was immense, and many of my pastor friends were discouraged and somewhat ineffective
  • I knew that God had given me certain spiritual gifts, because after all, I was training to be a pastor
  • but I never honestly expected anyone else to do ministry in the church
  • sure, we needed people to collect the offering and change diapers in the nursery, but beyond that, what could members of the congregation do?
  • they hadn't taken Hebrew and Greek
  • they had never been to seminary
  • I picked up from other pastors that all they were good for was the things that I didn't want to do, getting back once again to changing diapers in the nursery
  • I was pretty sure you didn't need to know Hebrew and Greek to do that

  • but as I said, the work was immense
  • I would open the mail, type the bulletin, answer the phone, preach the sermons, visit the sick, call those who were absent, advertise the church, participate in every program
  • when something was wrong with the building, people came to me

  • but then I discovered, and more importantly, began to practice a principle which has literally made ministry more fulfilling, rewarding, and less tiring for me
  • what's more, my ministry became exponentially more effective
  • I began to discover that I couldn't do the job alone
  • I began to put into practice what I already knew about spiritual gifts
  • slowly, I helped those around me discover their spiritual gifts and began to release ministry to them
  • to my astonishment, ministry began to take place without me
  • people who had never taken Hebrew or Greek began to discover that God had created them uniquely to fulfill a certain role in the church that I couldn't hope to fill
  • more ministry was taking place, morale in the church increased, my satisfaction in ministry became fuller, and our goals in the church were being realized
  • all because I began equipping people to do the work of the ministry rather than doing the work of the ministry by myself

  • Napoleon once pointed to a giant map of China and said, "There lies a sleeping giant. If it ever wakes up, it will be unstoppable"
  • as I stand before you this morning, I say to you that the church is a sleeping giant
  • each Sunday, its pews are filled with members who are doing little besides attending regularly and financially supporting the church
  • to be fair, that's all they've ever been asked to do
  • but God has far greater expectations for every Christian
  • God expects every Christian to use his or her gifts and talents in ministry
  • Rick Warren writes and I concur, "If we can ever awaken and unleash the massive talent, resources, creativity, and energy lying dormant in the typical local church, Christianity will explode with growth at an unprecedented rate"
  • the greatest need in evangelical churches is the release of members for ministry

  • a Gallup survey found that only 10% of church members are active in any kind of ministry
  • 50% of church members have no interest in serving in any ministry
  • and 40% of church members have expressed an interest in ministry, but they have never been asked or don't know how

  • to the 10% who are actively involved in ministry at Richview, I say two things: thank you, and help is on the way
  • you have already discovered the joy that comes from serving God
  • thank you for investing your life in service
  • hang in there - reinforcements are coming
  • we plan to lighten your load as more and more members share the ministry here at Richview Baptist Church

  • to the 40 % of you who have an interest in ministry but have never been asked or don't know how, I say - hang on, because we have a plan
  • in the coming months we will be giving you the tools necessary to discover your spiritual giftedness and to begin finding the joy that comes from knowing and using your spiritual gifts
  • beginning in January, we will be teaching a course called Network that will clearly guide you to discover your personal style, gifts and passion
  • it will end with a consultation that will help match your gifts to ministry opportunities within the church
  • we have a plan to provide ongoing on-the-job support and training
  • let me promise you that if you desire to serve God in this church - if you are one of this 40% who want to serve but have never been asked or don't know how - we will give you the tools and the training to get you active in ministry
  • and you will soon discover the joy that comes from serving God

  • let me pause and dream with you
  • if we can get the 10% who are already serving teamed up with the 40% who would like to serve, we will have at least 50% of people serving God using their God-given spiritual gifts within the coming year
  • stop and think what could happen if that took place
  • at least one-half of this congregation active in ministry
  • most pastors would think they had died and gone to heaven if this happened
  • the sleeping giant called the church will begin to show unprecedented power and effectiveness in ministry
  • imagine what could happen if within the next six months to a year, we become a church that is crying out to God for blessing and revival, while scores of us become active in lay ministry
  • I believe that as this happens God will bring more blessing to this church than we've ever experienced before
  • and what's more, it's doable
  • let's boldly go forward, and commit to prayer and to begin using our spiritual gifts, shall we?

  • but this morning I want to speak primarily to the 50% of people who are here this morning and have no interest in serving in any ministry
  • and from Romans 12, I would like to share three principles that should help get you off the bench and into ministry
  • if these three principles don't do it for you, I don't know what will
  • these are three principles that should make every believer just scream to begin using their God-given spiritual gifts in ministry
  • PRINCIPLE NUMBER ONE: SPIRITUAL GIFTS ARE INDISPENSABLE TO KNOWING GOD'S WILL FOR YOUR LIFE
  • as you're aware, Romans is one of the richest books in the Bible for doctrine
  • in the first 11 chapters, Paul provides wonderful doctrinal underpinnings for our justification in Christ and the sanctification through the Holy Spirit, and our glorification
  • in chapters 9 through 11, Paul tackles the mystery of Israel's rejection of Christ and the sovereignty of God
  • and chapter 12 begins with the application
  • in light of this great salvation that God has provided, this is how you should live
  • and Paul says two things in verses 1 and 2:
  • (Romans 12:1) Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God--this is your spiritual act of worship.
  • (Romans 12:2) Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing and perfect will.

  • Paul says, in light of God's great salvation, there are two things that only make sense, that are only logical as a result of what God has done
  • first, present your bodies as a living sacrifice
  • second, yield your minds to progressive transformation and renewal
  • and the result, according to verse 2, is that we will be able to prove by testing how good, pleasing, and perfect God's will is for our lives
  • in other words, we will discover how good and delightful it is to live according to God's will as we experience purity of action and p urity of thought

  • most people stop at verse 2
  • the only problem is that verse 3 begins with a "For," which ties the next thought to verses 1 and 2
  • and Paul begins to write in verses 3 to 8 of spiritual gifts
  • and the point is this: in light of God's salvation, it's only logical that we practice purity of action, purity of mind, and also that we discover and use our spiritual gifts
  • what's more, discovering and using our spiritual gifts is inextricably connected with God's will, which verse 2 tells us is good, pleasing, and perfect

  • let me simplify it for you
  • if you aren't using your spiritual gifts, you're not in the will of God
  • you haven't yet discovered how good, pleasing, and perfect God's will is for your life
  • you don't know the joy, the peace, the pleasure that comes from serving God the way that he designed you to
  • it's not even enough to be pure in mind and pure in your actions - if you're not serving God using your spiritual gifts, which is a reasonable consequence of all that God has done for you - you're just not cutting it
  • spiritual gifts are indispensable to knowing and fulfilling God's will for your life

  • and I don't need to tell you that the more we're in God's will, the more we experience joy in the Christian life
  • the closer we are to what God designed for us, the more we experience the joy and satisfaction that comes from God
  • if you're not yet using your spiritual gift, you're missing out
  • you actually gain by using your spiritual gift - you gain a knowledge of God's good, pleasing, and perfect will in your life
  • I'm telling you, it's God's will for your life
  • if you're one of the 50% who don't want to minister within the church, you're missing out
  • the church misses out, but so do you
  • you'll never discover all that God has planned for your life until you begin to serve the way God designed
  • that's the first principle in the passage that should make us want to begin using our spiritual gifts in ministry

  • PRINCIPLE NUMBER TWO: SPIRITUAL GIFTS ARE INDISPENSABLE TO VALUING OURSELVES PROPERLY
  • read with me Romans 12:3
  • (Romans 12:3) For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.
  • (Romans 12:4) Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function,
  • (Romans 12:5) so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.
  • (Romans 12:6) We have different gifts, according to the grace given us.

  • every believer must know what his spiritual gifts are and what his ministry is to be
  • listen to me: it is not wrong for a Christian to recognize his or her gifts and the gifts of others
  • but it is wrong to have a false evaluation of ourselves

  • Paul says in verse 3, "Don't think of yourself more highly than you ought"
  • don't go around overrating yourself and performing a ministry you can't do
  • there are people who couldn't preach their way out of a paper bag; they shouldn't be preachers
  • there are believers who don't have any interest or ability with children; they shouldn't be Sunday school teachers
  • there are some in the church who don't like people; they shouldn't be greeters
  • one of the saddest things in the church to see is a believer trying to exercise a gift they don't have

  • Chuck Swindoll tells the story of animals who organized a curriculum of running, climbing, swimming, and flying
  • to make it easier, all animals took all the subjects
  • the duck was excellent at swimming, but slow in running, so he had to drop swimming to work extra hard at running
  • the rabbit started at the top of his class in running, but developed a nervous twitch in his leg muscles because of so much make-up work in swimming
  • the squirrel was excellent at climbing, but failed flying class because his teacher made him start from the ground up rather than from the treetop down
  • the eagle was disciplined for being a non-conformist
  • Swindoll concludes:
  • "The...moral of the story is a simple one - each creature has its own set of capabilities in which it will naturally excel - unless it is expected or forced to fill a mold that doesn't fit...."
  • God has not made us all the same - he never intended to!
  • God planned and designed the differences, unique capabilities, and variations in the Body
  • God has placed you in his family and given you a set of gifts that makes you unique
  • your gift mix pleases God completely - nobody else is like you
  • and when you operate in your giftedness, you will excel, the whole church will benefit, and you will experience incredible satisfaction

  • so don't overrate yourself, and don't undervalue yourself
  • verses 3 to 6 tell us that all of us are different within the body
  • we all have gifts, and each one of us is necessary to the proper functioning of the body called the church
  • so relax
  • enjoy who you are, and let others who are different from you continue to be themselves as well

  • some of you this morning need to heed Paul's command in verse 3 to think of yourself with sober judgment
  • stop trying to be someone else
  • stop trying to exercise gifts you don't have
  • but some of you have been selling yourself short
  • you've depreciated yourself
  • you argue that you don't have something to offer
  • understanding and using your spiritual gifts is essential to valuing yourself properly within the body called the church

  • PRINCIPLE THREE: SPIRITUAL GIFTS ARE INDISPENSABLE TO UNDERSTANDING OUR UNIQUE ROLE WITHIN THE CHURCH
  • (Romans 12:6) We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man's gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith.
  • (Romans 12:7) If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach;
  • (Romans 12:8) if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.
  • in coming weeks, we're going to look at the list of the gifts more carefully
  • but as we read verses 6 to 8, it's refreshing to read the diversity of gifts that God has given the church
  • just as there are diverse needs within the church body, so God has given a diverse abundance of gifts to meet these needs
  • and every believer has a share in the ministry

  • let me tell you that there are gifts I have that you might not have
  • and I guarantee that you have gifts that I don't have
  • there are things that you can do so much better than I can
  • I am gifted in preaching/teaching and leadership
  • some of you are much more gifted in the areas of serving, encouraging, showing mercy, and so on
  • am I threatened by this?
  • not at all, because I realize that I have a unique role, and you have a unique role

  • but wait a minute
  • I'm the pastor here
  • I'm supposed to have all the gifts
  • not a chance!
  • just one more reason why the pastor shouldn't do all the ministry, because there is no way that one person could meet even a fraction of the needs in the church as well as a congregation who know and are using their gifts
  • C. Peter Wagner writes, "Just as important as knowing what gift God has given you is knowing which gifts he hasn't given you. Many Christians try for years to function with gifts they never had in the first place, and this doesn't do the Lord's work much good. It's like trying to hear something with your knee or throw a ball with your nose. Knees and noses are better off doing other things"

  • Pau l says, if God has given you the gift of serving, then serve
  • if God has given you the gift of teaching, then teach
  • if God has given you the gift of encouraging, then encourage
  • if God has made you a leader, then lead
  • imagine a church in which leaders led, teachers taught, merciful people showed mercy
  • watch out for a church like that!

  • but central to this is understanding that God has given you a unique role within the church
  • it's God's will for your life that you serve him using your gifts
  • you need to use your spiritual gifts in order to properly value yourself properly
  • you need to discover your spiritual gifts to understand your unique role within Richview Baptist Church

  • if you're one of the 10% who are already using your spiritual gifts, thank you
  • help is on the way
  • we will soon have an army of gifted people to come alongside you and lift some of the weight you're carrying
  • if you're one of the 40% who would like to find and begin using your spiritual gifts, I promise you: we have a plan that will allow you to enter fruitful and fulfilling ministry very soon
  • we will equip you, and you will be used of God in this place
  • but if you're one of the 50% who have no interest in serving God using your gifts, let me tell you: we need you
  • there is something you can offer to Richview that no-one else can
  • there is a unique contribution that is necessary to this church that no-one else can make
  • and if you step off the sidelines, and enter ministry, you will be used of God in ways you haven't imagined
  • and Richview will become one of those churches that maybe once was a sleeping giant, but now has woken up and become unstoppable
  • let's pray

Everyone's a Minister (Ephesians 4:7-16)

  • please open your Bibles this morning to Ephesians 4:7-16, the passage we read earlier

  • if there's anyone who understands church growth dynamics in North America, it's Lyle Schaller
  • he's written numerous books on church growth
  • listen to what he writes:
  • "One of the most common signs of a passive church is a congregation that employs staff members to carry out all of the ministries of the church. That enables the vast majority of adults in the congregation to enjoy a relatively passive role, sitting back, listening to inspiring sermons, wonderful choirs, while paid staff members do all the work"
  • and he goes on to say:
  • "While it is easy to underestimate the value of staff, and many churches are not staffed for growth, one of the basic causes of passivity in many congregations is the ‘Let's hire a gun' syndrome."
  • if we are going to avoid being a passive church, we need to actively avoid this "Let's hire a gun" mentality
  • and move towards a state of affairs where the most visible and highly satisfying aspects of ministry are not built around what paid staff do, but what the laypeople of the congregation do

  • and so this morning, I want to paint a picture for us of what would happen if we lived according to Ephesians 4
  • what would happen if we dug out this seminal passage on how a church should function
  • I'm convinced that we've got it wrong in our churches today
  • it's no secret that the church in general today is ineffective and has lost its influence
  • a drive through a community is depressing: mainline churches are dwindling, and more conservative churches are not doing much better
  • within many churches, there is little sense of excitement or awe over what God is doing
  • growth is not taking place at all, or if it is, very little of that growth is conversion growth

  • a large part of the problem, I believe, is that we're not living according to the biblical model of how a church should function
  • I want you to look with me at this crucial passage, which gives us four important principles on how a church should function
  • PRINCIPLE NUMBER ONE: GOD HAS GIVEN EVERY BELIEVER A SPIRITUAL GIFT
  • (Ephesians 4:7) But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.
  • Paul has just been talking about the unity of the church, but in verses 3 to 6
  • in verse 7, he switches gears
  • within the unity that God has designed within the church, Jesus Christ has apportioned a rich variety of spiritual gifts and he has given one of these grace-gifts to every single one of us
  • within the unity of the church, there is a rich diversity of talents and abilities, and each believer is a participant

  • you'll notice that verse 7 says, "to each one of us grace has been given"
  • Paul used this term in the previous chapter, saying that God gave him a grace to "preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ"
  • in this context, grace means a special endowment for service - a God-given ability to serve
  • Paul is not talking here about saving grace, but grace for ministry
  • Paul is essentially saying, "To each of us a ministry has been given"

  • the Bible is clear here as well as in Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, and 1 Peter 4 that this is the experience of every believer
  • all believers have received God-given abilities that can strengthen the entire church body
  • other passages amplify what is taught here and list a wide variety of spiritual gifts
  • there's not an inclusive list in Scripture
  • in fact, there are six lists in the New Testament, and these lists are quite different
  • listen to some of them: speaking gifts, serving gifts, teaching, encouraging, leading, showing mercy, administration
  • God has given the church an amazing variety of spiritual gifts, and they are all tokens of his varied grace

  • Paul even says in verse 7 that these gifts have been given "as Christ apportioned it"
  • according to Paul, Jesus Christ has measured and dispensed these gifts just what is needed to make the full measure of the body of Christ
  • it's encouraging to know that Christ has given exactly the right gifts to you and to the church for what is necessary to be accomplished

  • I've heard believers argue that they don't have a spiritual gift, or if they do, they say that it's not the gift they would have chosen
  • there might be some here this morning who question whether they have a spiritual gift or not
  • but believe me: the Bible says you have one
  • it's your responsibility to use it
  • in coming weeks, we're going to look more at the subject of spiritual gifts - what they are, and which gifts you may have
  • I'm going to do some in-depth teaching on how you can use your spiritual gift for God's glory
  • one of the best kept secrets is that using your spiritual gift is not only a service to others and a way to glorify God, but it is also intensely satisfying for you
  • I'll even say that I imagine most of you here already know what your spiritual gift is
  • you already know that there's something you have already done that you really enjoy and have found to be effective, whether caring for somebody, giving sacrificially, teaching
  • but make no mistake - you have a spiritual gift if you are a believer in Jesus Christ

  • PRINCIPLE TWO: A PASTOR'S JOB IS NOT TO DO THE WORK OF THE MINISTRY
  • (Ephesians 4:11) It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers,
  • (Ephesians 4:12) to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up
  • God gave apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastor-teachers for what purpose?
  • not to do the work of the ministry, but to prepare God's people for works of service
  • not to do the work, but to prepare God's people to do the work

  • in today's context, there is some controversy as to whether some of these offices listed in verse 11 exist any longer
  • I won't get into this controversy this morning, but it's clear that one of these offices does exist: the last one mentioned, that of pastor-teacher, or teaching pastor
  • the construction in the Greek shows that this is one office, not two
  • if you want a job description for a pastor, this is a good place to look
  • contrary to what many people think and how many churches operate, a pastor's job is not to do the work, but to prepare God's people for works of service

  • how different from the models we usually have of our churches!
  • one model is the pyramid model, with the pastor perched precariously at the top, with various leaders beneath him
  • John Stott puts it humorously: many people's idea of church is a bus: one bus driver and many drowsy passengers who only ring the bell and say, "It's time for me to get off"
  • these aren't the models for what church is to be!
  • the biblical model is leaders equipping laity to do the work of the ministry
  • it is the heart of the biblical model
  • businesses are now discovering it, but it isn't a business model - it's a biblical one

  • in fact, in this passage, there are really only two things the pastor is supposed to do
  • this isn't an exhaustive list, of course - there are many other passages that reflect on the role of a pastor
  • but if the pastor isn't doing these two things, he's not fulfilling his role as a pastor
  • the first thing is to teach
  • one of my primary roles has to be to feed God's people - to teach the Word of God
  • the faithful teaching and application of the Word of God is absolutely essential to the well-being of a church
  • many churches need to say to their pastors, "Stop doing our job! Give up some of the ministry to the congregation, and take that time you'r e spending doing our job, go into your study, and prepare and deliver teaching that will change lives within the congregation"
  • one of the commitments that I will make to you is that I will always strive to ensure that you are well-fed from the Word of God

  • the second essential for a pastor in this passage is that he prepare God's people for works of service
  • to properly condition, equip, and prepare God's people for service
  • one of my primary tasks has to be to mentor, train, support, and encourage you to use the gifts God has given you to serve him and others at Richview
  • that's my job description

  • the minute I begin to get involved in a multitude of ministries, the minute I begin to act like the man at the circus who spins plates on a stick, and keeps running back and forth trying to keep all the plates spinning without dropping any on the floor, do me a favor
  • pull me aside and remind me, "Pastor, we don't want you spinning all those plates in the air. We don't want you doing the work of the ministry. Simply teach the word of God, and equip us to do the ministry"

  • now, in some churches, it doesn't count if it isn't done by the pastor
  • specifically, the senior pastor
  • to use a sports analogy, it's as if a team is playing baseball but only the pastor's runs get scored
  • if the pastor isn't personally involved, it hasn't happened
  • I'm not arguing that the pastor should be completely aloof from everything, but churches everywhere would be more effective if they realized the pastor's job isn't to do the work of the ministry, but to equip God's people to do the work of the ministry
  • the amount of things that are done would be exponentially greater
  • and God would receive more glory

  • PRINCIPLE THREE: MINISTRY BELONGS TO EVERYBODY
  • you know what happens when the pastor starts doing what God intended
  • people begin to ask, "Why isn't the pastor doing this or that?"
  • I can guarantee you that if I do what this passage says, some people will complain that I'm not doing my job
  • it's because their models of what a pastor does is not based on biblical teaching, but it's based on their observations of how the church has operated this century
  • Paul teaches here that a fundamental shift in mindset must take place
  • we must realize that ministry belongs to everybody in the church
  • the pastor is not the minister; we all are ministers
  • read verse 16
  • (Ephesians 4:16) From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
  • the church grows numerically, and it is held together by what everybody supports
  • the emphasis here is the word every
  • it is God's intention that every member of the congregation does the work, and as everyone does their part, the church is built up in unity, in love, in size, and in strength

  • we don't have time to look at other passages, but if you look at other texts like 1 Corinthians 12, you will discover that every person has a unique role to play within the church, and every person is necessary
  • use your gifts and minister - you are God's servant in this place
  • (1 Peter 4:10) Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms.
  • (1 Peter 4:11) If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.

  • it's important to realize that ministry in the Bible is never a special office
  • it never just refers to ordained clergymen
  • it's never used in the sense of being a professional
  • ministry doesn't refer to special office, it refers to special function
  • a function that you and I and everyone else can act on according to the gifts that God has given us
  • ministry belongs not to the pastor, but to you - to the laypeople

  • PRINCIPLE FOUR: LAY MINISTRY LEADS TO PERSONAL AND CHURCH GROWTH
  • and verse 16 tells us what happens:
  • (Ephesians 4:16) From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
  • here Paul uses the analogy of the church as a body, with Christ as the head
  • and we are different parts of the body
  • and Paul says, as each part does its work, look what happens: the church grows and builds itself up in love
  • individually and collectively, we grow

  • as everyone does their part in the church, the church is built up in unity, love, size, and in strength
  • the church is basically composed of many members varying in gifts, differing in background
  • and God uses us together and not separately

  • there's a paragraph I'd like to read to you
  • this paragraph describes the church
  • the paragraph reads like this:
  • "Between 1787 and 1795, Baptists became the largest group of Christians in America. They did it without a home mission board or society, national convention, state convention, or seminary. They did it with small missionary organizations and lay preachers, most of them not paid a salary. They were without formal theological training. Some of them had been licensed to exercise their gifts by little Baptist churches. The Presbyterians, Episcopalians, and Congregationalists insisted that they were not clergy at all, but untrained, undisciplined laymen who should be at home working instead of out preaching. Between 1795 and 1820 the Methodists overtook and surpassed the Baptists in total numbers. They did it with lay preachers, going everywhere sharing their faith, forming discipline small groups and gathering those small groups into churches. There never has been nor will there ever be multiplication of disciples and churches apart from the mobilization of laity to do the ministry."
  • I'll read the last sentence again:
  • "There never has been nor will there ever be multiplication of disciples and churches apart from the mobilization of laity to do the ministry."

  • I guarantee that there are two things necessary if Richview is to move ahead
  • the first is that we get down on our knees and cry out to God
  • and the second is that in reliance on God, we begin using our spiritual gifts

  • I end with what I said at the beginning
  • imagine if we acted like an Ephesians 4 church
  • imagine if every single member here actively served God using a spiritual gift
  • imagine being energized by God for fruitful, passionate service within the church
  • it can happen!

  • I haven't given you the full picture this morning
  • in two weeks, we're going to begin looking in more detail at spiritual gifts and lay ministry
  • I am going to challenge you from God's Word to get involved
  • what I would like you to do is to begin dreaming
  • what I would like you to do is to ask the Spirit of God to birth new ministries within your heart
  • we aren't here yet, and most experts say that it takes about five years to fully liberate the laity within a church
  • but we're going to steadfastly move in that direction and invite you to join us

  • what has God placed within your heart?
  • in your wildest dreams, what do you think God is purposing for you and your ministry at Richview?
  • I invite you to come off the benches and join us on the front lines
  • who knows what will happen!

  • at a Navigator's conference many years ago, the main speaker was a retired army veteran
  • he talked about the difference between those men who fought in the front lines, compared to those responsible for the rear echelon ministries
  • here's what he said
  • he said the guys on the front lines didn't complain much
  • they were too busy fighting the enemy
  • camaraderie was built quickly; people had to work together
  • it was a matter of life and death
  • they took their objectives and strategy seriously
  • successful execution was imperative
  • little things like how good the food tasted didn't matter significantly
  • what mattered was that they were still alive to eat food

  • but once you went a few miles behind the front, however, attitudes changed drastically
  • back there, griping was a way of life
  • men complained about everything - food, the weather, the commanding officers
  • something was wrong with everyone and everything

  • so it will be in a local church
  • backbenchers will become the gripers
  • but if we are all involved in frontline ministries, we will be engaged in making an important contribution
  • being in the battle isn't always fun, but it sure beats frittering away time and talent on the backbenches
  • this is what God intends for us, so start dreaming, and join us

Secrecy

  • (Matthew 6:1) "Be careful not to do your 'acts of righteousness' before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.
  • (Matthew 6:2) "So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.
  • (Matthew 6:3) But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,
  • (Matthew 6:4) so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
  • (Matthew 6:5) "And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.
  • (Matthew 6:6) But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
  • let's pray

  • well, tonight we deal with a temptation that comes to those who are progressing in holiness
  • we've been talking these past few weeks about some of the spiritual disciplines necessary if we're going to become fully devoted to Jesus Christ
  • we've talked about some practices that are essential if we're going to grow: celebration, slowing, servanthood, confession
  • we're still going to talk about some others in coming weeks: Scripture, prayer, and fasting
  • but if we begin to practice these disciplines, there's almost a secret ingredient that is necessary to make all the other ones effective

  • part of the problem is that we get glimpses of the beauty of perfect holiness
  • but right away a thought pops into our head: "Imagine how others would hold us in high esteem if we were like that"
  • I like the words of Don Carson: we start out for the goal of pleasing the Father, but it's soon traded in for its pygmy cousin, the goal of pleasing men
  • we start off with the goal of genuine holiness, and end up settling for external piety
  • the irony is: the greater the demand for holiness, the greater the opportunity for hypocrisy
  • and that's why tonight's spiritual discipline is so crucial to our spiritual lives
  • because we can end up doing the right things for all the wrong reasons

  • the ancient Greeks called an actor who spoke through a mask, "The Hypocrite"
  • the word came to be used for a person who was pretending to be something he or she was not, particularly someone who pretended to be pious without really being so

  • you see this problem all through the Bible
  • but specifically in the passage I just read
  • Jesus says it's possible to do our acts of righteousness - giving, praying, fasting - before other people, in order to be noticed
  • the verb, to be noticed, is related to the term from which we get theatre
  • it's possible to be a play actor in the area of spiritual disciplines, impressing ourselves and even others, but certainly not impressing God

  • John Calvin believed that in all virtues the entrance of hypocrisy was to be avoided, since there is no work so praiseworthy as not to be in many instances corrupted and polluted by it
  • in other words, hypocrisy can ruin even the greatest virtue

  • it's interesting that Jesus' words that we read tonight, from the Sermon on the Mount, come right after Jesus has said:
  • (Matthew 5:48) Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
  • right after commanding us to be perfect, Jesus tells us not to try to impress others with our righteous deeds
  • I THINK THIS BRINGS UP THE WHOLE AREA OF WHAT IS CALLED "IMPRESSION MANAGEMENT"
  • the whole area of living for other people's approval, instead of God's approval
  • Jesus' gives us some examples in giving, fasting, and praying
  • but isn't it true that we all give a lot of thought to what others think about us?
  • a lot of people live in bondage to what others think of them
  • call it what you will - "approval addiction" or "people pleasing"
  • John Ortberg writes:
  • If we find ourselves often getting hurt by what others say about us, by people expressing other than glowing opinions about us, we probably have it. If we habitually compare ourselves with other people, if we find ourselves getting competitive in even the most ordinary situations, we probably have it. If we live with a nagging sense that we aren't important enough or special enough, or we get envious of another's success, we probably have it. If we are worried that someone might think ill of us should he or she find out we are an approval addict, we probably are.

  • sociologists tell us that we carry inside ourselves a mental representation of a group of people by whose judgment we measure our success or failure
  • it's called "the generalized other"
  • "Our ‘generalized other' is a composite of all the Siskels and Eberts in our life whose thumbs up or thumbs down signal carries emotional weight with us" (Ortberg)
  • our parents, peer group, neighbors, co-workers - we all evaluate ourselves based on what we think they think about us
  • our identity becomes wrapped up in whether or not we think they think we're attractive, productive, and important
  • if being busy seems important to them, we act busy
  • if making money is important to others, then we make money
  • if knowing important people is the key, then we drop some important names

  • this leads us to all sorts of negative consequences
  • a sense of failure - we never feel like we measure up
  • comparison - always measuring ourselves against other people
  • deception - shading the truth in order to make ourselves look more favorable
  • resentment - resenting the people whose approval we seek

  • when we live for other people's approval, that's all we get
  • (Matthew 6:1) "Be careful not to do your 'acts of righteousness' before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.
  • if you live for the applause of other people, then that's all you'll get
  • and the problem is, the applause of people is fickle and fleeting
  • it will never really satisfy the spiritual man or woman
  • if we live our lives for the applause of others, we're setting ourselves up for a lifetime of disappointment
  • it's a little like our jobs - if we work for Dominion, we're not going to get paid by Loblaws
  • and if we work for the approval of people, don't think the pay - the approval - is going to come from God
  • Jesus said, "You will have no reward from your Father in heaven"

  • in the final analysis, what really matters in life is that we please God
  • that our lives bring approval and affirmation from him
  • and the audience of one

  • JUST TO SHOW I'M NOT MAKING THIS UP, LET'S LOOK AT SOME OTHER PASSAGES THAT TALK ABOUT THIS
  • (1 Corinthians 4:2) Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.
  • (1 Corinthians 4:3) I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself.
  • (1 Corinthians 4:4) My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me.
  • Eugene Peterson translates this: "It matters very little to me what you think of me, even less where I rank in popular opinion. I don't even rank myself. Comparisons in these matters are pointless."
  • for Paul, the opinion of others didn't matter
  • he didn't even care about his own opinion of himself
  • what mattered was his acceptance from a higher court: "It is the Lord who judges me"

  • imagine being liberated from the need t o impress anyone!
  • imagine our sense of esteem not resting on whether someone notices how smart, attractive, or successful we are

  • Paul writes to the Galatians:
  • (Galatians 1:10) Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.
  • whose approval are you seeking - others' or God's?
  • do you spend your life trying to please everyone, or do you simply live to please God?

  • there's another verse that is very disturbing:
  • speaking of those who wouldn't publicly confess their faith in Christ, John writes:
  • (John 12:43) for they loved praise from men more than praise from God.
  • driven by ego and pride, and tied to the approval of others, these people lost out on the approval of God

  • HOW CAN WE FREE OURSELVES FROM APPROVAL ADDICTION?
  • how can we stop being people-pleasers?
  • how can we avoid the trap of becoming hypocrites - performing our righteous deeds simply for the applause of others?
  • one of the answers, I believe, is what is called the spiritual discipline of secrecy
  • secrecy means that we stop living for the fame, justification, and attention of others
  • it means that we learn to love to be unknown, satisfied to serve God without the thanks or acknowledgement of others
  • that we will be content to serve in obscurity - as long as God knows, we won't care
  • it means that we place our public relations department entirely in the hands of God
  • we let him decide when our deeds will be known and when our light will be noticed

  • secrecy doesn't get much attention as a spiritual discipline, but it's a crucial one to practice
  • Jesus spoke in Matthew 6 of doing good deeds and making sure no one finds out about them
  • he tells us that our good deeds should be so secret that we don't even congratulate ourselves on how well we're doing:
  • (Matthew 6:3) But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,

  • every once in a while, do something good and make sure that nobody notices
  • resign, John Ortberg writes, from impression management
  • stop trying to get other people to think well of you - don't even live for their approval
  • as you practice the spiritual disciplines, don't draw attention to yourself - practice them as quietly and as humbly as you know how

  • it's a fact of life that acts done to impress cease to have value as spiritual disciplines
  • prayers offered to impress others have no value in making you a more prayerful person
  • gifts given so that you have your name publicly recognized don't actually make you a more generous person
  • live simply for the approval of God, and not of others

  • one other thing:
  • get your reward from God
  • a lot of us serve, hoping that the service will bring us some sort of reward
  • we take up some task in the church, hoping that somebody will notice and thank us, perhaps give us some recognition
  • it's nice to be thanked, but don't live for the applause of others
  • be content, if God wills, to toil unnoticed and unappreciated by others, knowing that God notices, and he is the only one who really counts

  • Jesus applies this in three specific areas:
  • YOUR GIVING
  • don't give to create the impression that you are a generous person
  • give generously - but you know what, let only God know how generously you're giving
  • YOUR PRAYING
  • don't pray to other people - pray for God
  • when we bow our heads in prayer, we're not impressing other people - we're talking to God
  • I think Jesus would ask some of us how much we pray in secret, in private, without anyone knowing
  • he's not condemning all public prayer - Jesus prayed in public himself - but how much are you trying to impress others by praying publicly?
  • AND FASTING
  • we're going to talk about this in a few weeks, but don't practice this or other spiritual disciplines to impress others
  • simply live to impress God

  • Jesus tells us what happens when we practice the spiritual discipline of secrecy:
  • (Matthew 6:4) Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
  • I want to close this evening's message by asking you to think of something you can do to secretly serve God, or somebody else, without anyone noticing
  • maybe God is calling some of you to steadfastly refuse to blow your own horn this week
  • refuse flat out to make yourself look good
  • don't try to impress anyone - leave that job up to God

  • maybe there's something you can do in secret that will help somebody out
  • break into somebody's backyard and mow their lawn anonymously
  • stick some money into an envelope and secretly deliver it to someone who needs it - don't even let them know how it got there
  • send an anonymous card to someone who needs a little encouragement
  • sign up again to serve in that position where you never get acknowledged and nobody ever appreciates you

  • and do things in private that make you a stronger Christian
  • pray consistently this week in secret
  • make it something just between God and you
  • and God, who sees in secret, promises that he will reward you