Suggested Preaching Program for
• Sunday Mornings
Hebrews 11, Faith’s Hall of Fame, provides examples of those who lived the life of faith in their generation. God would have us to listen to the testimony of each of these witnesses (Heb. 12:1) for a message that can deepen our faith and encourage greater faithfulness.
• Sunday Evenings
“The Witnessing Church in the Books of Acts” is the theme suggested for Sunday evenings. The messages present the early church as it responded to the commission of the risen Lord to be witnesses to all people, from the hometown to the uttermost parts of the earth. It is hoped that by these messages individuals will be encouraged to witness.
• Wednesday Evenings
“The Work of the Holy Spirit” is the theme for Wednesday evenings this month. Believers are encouraged to recognize and respond to the Holy Spirit who has come to abide within their hearts.
Wednesday Evening, September 2
Title: What Should I Believe about the Holy Spirit?
Scripture Reading: Acts 2:1 – 21
Some believe that the Holy Spirit is an influence. Others believe that the Holy Spirit is the Word of God. But we know that the Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity.
I. The Holy Spirit is the divine Spirit of God.
A. Mystery surrounds the Trinity — God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit. W. Herschel Ford says, “The Holy Spirit is God in the human heart.”
B. Personality is ascribed to the Holy Spirit.
1. The Holy Spirit helps us in our infirmities and helps us to pray as we should (Rom. 8:26 – 27). Only a person could do this.
2. The Holy Spirit is capable of being grieved (Eph. 4:30). Only a person can be grieved.
3. Peter said Ananias had lied to the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:3).
4. The Holy Spirit is said to exercise his will in the matter of his bestowal of spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 12:11).
C. The personal masculine pronoun is used in referring to the Holy Spirit (John 14:16 – 17, 26; 15:26).
II. The Holy Spirit brings about the miracle of the new birth.
A. The Holy Spirit convicts of sin (John 16:7 – 11).
B. The conversion experience is described as a renewing of the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5).
C. The Holy Spirit leads us to the Savior (1 Cor. 12:3; Rev. 22:17).
D. The Holy Spirit gives assurance of salvation to the believer (Rom. 8:16).
III. The Holy Spirit fills the place in the life of the believer that the living Christ filled in the life of the apostles (John 14:16 – 18).
A. The Greek word translated “another” means “another of the same kind.” The word translated “Comforter” refers to one “called to walk by the side of.” Jesus is promising that God will give to them the Holy Spirit who will be to them what he had been.
B. “Whom the world cannot receive.” The word translated “receive” can also mean “seize or arrest.” Jesus is promising that the unregenerate world will not be able to arrest and crucify the Holy Spirit, for the Holy Spirit will dwell within believers’ hearts.
C. “I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you” (John 14:18). In these words Jesus is promising that by his ascension he will step through the curtain of invisibility that he might come back in Spirit to be with them always.
The Holy Spirit does not ordinarily work where his person and presence are ignored. Trust in him for guidance and cooperate with him as he seeks to do his work in you.
Sunday Morning, September 6
Title: The Life of Faith
Text: “Without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him” (Heb. 11:6).
Scripture Reading: Hebrews 11:1 – 6
Hymns: “Have Faith in God,” McKinney
“My Faith Looks Up to Thee,” Palmer
“Faith Is the Victory,” Yates
“’Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus,” Stead
Offertory Prayer: Holy Father, you have given us a multitude of undeserved blessings. You have given us the opportunity to be alive. You have given us an experience of your grace and love, your power and mercy, which we are eager to share with all people everywhere. Help us to give unto them a living demonstration of what it means to be a Christian. Help us to give unto them the glad testimony of our lips. And now as we bring our tithes and offerings to you, we do so as an indication of our desire to be completely yours and in an effort to help others around the world come to know your love. Amen.
Do you face the future with your heart filled with fear, or do you face the future with your heart filled with faith in the goodness of God and in your own ability, with the help of God, to meet life in a victorious manner?
There are many things in today’s world that could contribute to anxiety in the mind of each of us if we were to concentrate our attention on our difficulties and problems rather than on our responsibilities and opportunities.
In the midst of a great worldwide depression, President Roosevelt said in his inaugural address, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” When people forget God, they either tremble in fear as they face the future, or they are strongly tempted to make a flight from danger, which takes them away from their place of duty, responsibility, and opportunity. Dr. W. F. Powell, a pastor in Nashville, Tennessee, in the last century, expressed this truth as follows:
When faith in God goes, Man the Thinker loses his greatest thought.
When faith in God goes, Man the Worker loses his greatest motive.
When faith in God goes, Man the Sinner loses his strongest help.
When faith in God goes, Man the Sufferer loses his securest refuge.
When faith in God goes, Man the Lover loses his fairest vision.
When faith in God goes, Man the Mortal loses his only home.
Let us determine to walk by faith with the living God, who has always proven faithful in meeting the deepest needs of those who trust him and obey his loving commandments for their lives.
I. Faith in faith.
One must have faith in faith to walk the way of faith victoriously.
A. Many people do not have faith in faith. The wise man admonishes: “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths” (Prov. 3:5 – 6). All of us are tempted to put our confidence in our own human wisdom and understanding. We apply the scientific and logical methods both to the problems of life as well as to the possibilities of the future. If we achieve success by leaning on our own understanding, we become egotistical and conceited. If and when we fail, we experience depression and despair.
B. Many people lean on the counsel of the ungodly. The happy man, the successful man, the spiritual man, is one who stays away from the counsel of the ungodly (Ps. 1:1). The ungodly man is he who forgets God, ignores God, or rejects God. He approaches the problems of life as if God did not exist or as if God were unconcerned and unavailable to help.
We live in a day that places tremendous emphasis on the use of the scientific method for solving the problems of life. Not for one moment would I detract from the achievements and the contributions of the use of this method. I would, however, appeal to the reverent use of this method in the spiritual realm (John 7:17). The scientist poses a question, makes an assumption, and performs an experiment to test his or her hypothesis. If people want to find the real meaning of life, they need to try living the life of faith as an experiment to discover if God really does exist. When people put their confidence in the invisible God and seek to live according to the divine plan, they discover in the laboratory of personal experience the reality of him who is invisible to the human eye.
II. Faith and faithfulness.
A. Real faith is more than intellectual assent. Genuine faith, victorious faith in the living God, is not to be equated with mere intellectual assent to the existence of an eternal God. The book of James emphasized this fact by stating, “Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble” (2:19).
B. Faith produces faithfulness. Throughout the Bible and throughout Christian history, people of faith have been people of action. They have been people of moral and spiritual achievement. When people put their full confidence in God, they accept God’s way as their way and God’s plans as their plans. Hebrews 11, often called Faith’s Hall of Fame, presents us with a beautiful display of the fruits of genuine faith. In each instance, faith manifested itself in terms of faithfulness, commitment, and involvement in the will and work of God.
1. Faith caused Abel to worship with his best (Heb. 11:4).
2. Because of his faith, Enoch walked day by day with God (Heb. 11:5).
3. Because of his faith, Noah responded to God’s warning (Heb. 11:7).
4. Because of his faith, Abraham walked in obedience to the commandment of God (Heb. 11:8 – 10).
5. Because of his faith, Joseph resisted the temptations of moral impurity in order to be pleasing to God (Heb. 11:22; Gen. 39:9).
6. Because of his faith, Moses identified himself with the unfortunate in their efforts to achieve freedom and liberty to worship God (Heb. 11:24 – 27).
III. The necessity of faith.
The foundation of all spiritual progress is rooted in our faith, while the explanation for most of our failures can be found in our lack of a real faith in the living God.
A. The undoing sin of ancient Israel was that of no faith or of little faith. They either refused or neglected to take God at his word and to depend on him to be faithful to his promises. A lack of faith caused their hearts to tremble in fear at the prospect of entering the Promised Land. Because they refused to trust God and to move forward in obedience to his commandments, they were destined to wander in the wilderness for forty years. With the exception of Caleb and Joshua, only those who were too young to be held responsible for their nation’s refusal to trust God had the privilege of entering the land that God had promised for them (Num. 14:28 – 34).
B. Jesus continuously sought to instill within the hearts of his disciples a great faith in God.
1. He sought to encourage faith by his Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:25 – 34).
2. He sought to encourage faith by the parables he told.
3. He sought to increase faith by the miracles he performed.
4. No doubt on many occasions he spoke words similar to those recorded by John: “Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me” (John 14:1).
5. Jesus repeatedly put forth efforts to make faith in his triumph over death a transforming conviction in the lives of his apostles (Acts 1:3).
C. Without faith it is impossible to please God (Heb. 11:6). The refusal to trust God is a denial of either God’s ability or willingness to do that which he has promised to do. This is not only an insult to God’s integrity; it is an expression of an attitude of human self-sufficiency that cuts people off from the resources God wants to make available to them.
Faith is the human response to God that makes it possible for God both to forgive our sins and to grant us the gift of eternal life (John 3:16; 10:10). Trusting Jesus Christ as the Savior who died for our sins clears the way for God to remove the condemnation that our sin has created (John 3:17 – 18) and to bestow the gift of everlasting life on us (John 3:36). The absence of this faith or the refusal to believe causes one to die under the penalty of his sin (John 8:24).
Genuine faith in God is essential for the forgiveness of sin and the receiving of eternal life, and also for the victorious walk of life (2 Cor. 5:7; 1 John 5:4).
IV. The growth of faith.
Faith in God, like faith in a person, is a dynamic thing. It is never static or dormant. This faith is both the gift of God and the work of the individual.
A. The testimony of Scripture. “So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 10:17). Faith has been described as containing three elements: knowledge, mental assent, and trust. As we read the Word of God, we gain information concerning our God (Heb. 11:3) who cares for us (v. 6) to the extent that he has come to us in the person of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 5:19 – 20).
B. The testimony of the saints. In both the Word of God and in Christian history, we read of those who had personal experiences with the living God. In the biographies of the dead and from the lips of the living, we hear testimonies concerning the trustworthiness of God. These testimonies should contribute toward the growth of our faith.
C. The testimony of personal experience. If you will but recall your own personal experiences with God, no doubt your faith in him will deepen, and you will be encouraged to trust him more lovingly and more loyally as you face opportunities, responsibilities, and uncertainties.
You will agree with the poet who said:
Have faith in God, He’s on His throne;
Have faith in God, He watches o’er His own;
He cannot fail, He must prevail;
Have faith in God, have faith in God.
If you have not yet responded in faith to Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, then let me gently but strongly suggest that you receive him into your heart as a guest, as an honored friend, as a physician for the soul. He is the only one who can both meet your deepest needs in the present and make perfect provisions for your future in eternity. Trust him today and determine to trust him through all of your days.
Sunday Evening, September 6
Title: The Commission to the Witnessing Church
Text: “But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
Among the terms that the risen Christ used to define the major task of his church was that of witnessing: “Ye are witnesses of these things. And, behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high” (Luke 24:48 – 49). Before his ascension to the Father, the Lord gave his church the divine strategy for world redemption: “Ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you; and ye shall be my witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
The activity of the apostles was described in terms of witnessing: “And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all” (Acts 4:33).
What is the meaning of the term “my witnesses”? What is the nature of a winning witness? How does the modern Christian, who is not an eyewitness of the redemptive acts of the Christ, bear a convincing witness for the Lord Jesus in contemporary society?
I. Basic assumptions concerning Christian witnessing.
Certain basic convictions must be kept in mind if the modern Christian is to bear a saving witness. The absence of these convictions eliminates all motivation for witnessing.
A. Humankind’s greatest need is for an experience with God that communicates the forgiveness of sin and imparts the gift of spiritual life.
B. God is a God of love and grace and has adequately provided redemption from sin and has given eternal life through Jesus Christ to all who receive him as Lord.
C. People are sinners by nature and by choice. They are lost, separated from God, and do not know the way home. While dead in trespasses and sin, they may be aware that something vital is missing in life, but they most likely will not realize that their deepest need is that of a right relationship with God. Being dead to spiritual reality and being helpless to save themselves, they must have the aid of someone who can tell them the gospel story.
D. The initiative in all spiritual experiences is with God. Nonbelievers will not seek God until they are sought by God. It was God who “so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). Salvation is of the Lord in its incipient stages just as much as it is of the Lord in its glorious consummation. It is God who is seeking to save the unsaved, and the personal testimony of a disciple is an instrument used by God to impart faith to nonbelievers.
E. While the initiative is always with God, the individual believer has an essential part in the divine plan for rescuing people from the waste, tyranny, and wages of sin. The eternal God, in many and diverse manners, spoke in the past through the prophets. He has spoken his ultimate and final Word in and through his Son. Individual followers can both rejoice and tremble over the privilege and responsibility that they have of being bearers of the good news of what God has done and of that which God wants to do in the lives of all of those who will receive and trust the Savior.
F. God’s will is that all of his children would be communicators of the purpose and power of his love for people. This divine purpose was revealed in a most gripping manner as Peter interpreted the divine activity on the day of Pentecost: “In the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams: and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy” (Acts 2:17 – 18).
When one keeps in mind that the prophets were primarily spokesmen for God, interpreters of the divine purposes and activities and communicators of the divine truth rather than mere predictors of future events, the privilege and responsibility of being a personal witness takes on additional significance. In the Old Testament economy, only unique individuals were to be spokespersons for God. The Spirit came upon prophets, priests, kings, or military leaders to enable and empower them for some specific task. In the post-Pentecost period, the disciples came to the conviction that every disciple was to witness to what Christ had done in his or her life.
The necessity for a continuing witness by the church is dramatized when one faces the fact that the world is never more than two generations away from being pagan. The matter of witnessing is not an optional matter with the individual follower of Christ. Personal witnessing is imperative. The Great Commission makes such a witness mandatory. Every follower of Christ should be a witness in all places at all times to all persons in all ways. Elton Trueblood has stated this forcefully: “Evangelism is not a professionalized job of a few gifted or trained men but is, instead, the unrelenting responsibility of every person who belongs, even in the most modest way, to the Company of Jesus” (The Company of the Committed [New York: Harper and Brothers, 1961], 55).
II. The meaning of witness.
Due to the confusion in their minds about their role in the process, many modern disciples of the Lord have never made a direct contribution toward helping another person come into a saving experience with Jesus Christ. While lack of experience, fear of making a tragic mistake, timidity, lack of faith, worldliness, and many other factors may enter the picture, it is highly possible that many hesitate to respond to the Lord’s purpose for them to serve as witnesses to his saving grace because they have a false concept of what is expected of them. We need a rediscovery of the basic meaning of the task of witnessing to and for our Lord.
In the book of Acts, the words “witness” and “testify” are used in thirty-five different instances to describe both the task and the mission of the early church. The Greek verb martyreo, “to witness,” describes “personal testimony to the content, truth, and urgency of the gospel message. The witness is a person who is in a position to know the things of which he speaks and so can attest their truth. He is a person whose testimony is needed by others if they are to know that truth and accept it” (Floyd V. Filson, Three Crucial Decades [Richmond: John Knox, 1963], 36).
The witness with which the early church was charged was testimony to the actual occurrence of the redemptive acts of God. The early Christians interpreted this to mean a verbal testimony based on what they had seen with their eyes or handled with their hands or experienced in some indisputable manner. This command carried with it the obligation to interpret what God was doing in these events and to explain the meaning of such to those to whom the testimony was given.
The apostles possessed a witness that was recognized as authoritative in the early church. They were witnesses not only of Christ’s teachings, but of the events surrounding his death and resurrection. This was the crowning testimony concerning the action of God in the revelation of Jesus Christ.
That this was the case finds dramatic expression in the description surrounding the potential successor of Judas Iscariot. He must have had firsthand knowledge of the entire ministry of Jesus, but the absolutely essential qualification was that he must be able to “witness with us of his resurrection” (Acts 1:22). The apostles had seen the risen Christ repeatedly. They could testify with complete confidence that he had risen from the dead. As they bore this testimony, adding one bit of evidence to another, there were many who were convinced by the Holy Spirit that indeed Jesus of Nazareth was the promised Messiah, and they responded with faith in him that brought forgiveness of sin and transformation of their lives.
After emphasizing in a most graphic manner the necessity of the church’s giving an “incarnate witness” in the form of transformed lives that serve as channels for the grace of God, Dr. Findley B. Edge has pointedly spotlighted the nature of Christian witnessing in a comparison with the modern courtroom witness.
A. First, “in a court of law the task of the witness is simply to relate the pertinent facts as he saw or experienced them” (A Quest for Vitality in Religion [Nashville: Broadman, 1963], 143). A witness is not allowed to argue or to put pressure on the jury. He or she is to bear testimony to the facts and let the jury arrive at a decision. Edge concludes from this truth that
It would be well if we could replace the term “soul-winner” with the term “witness.” Strictly speaking, “soul-winning” is the work of God, not man. Whether the individual to whom we witness comes into a saving relationship depends upon the encounter he has with Christ under the convicting power of the Holy Spirit. The danger is that a person who views himself as a “soul-winner” sometimes invades the sacred arena where God and man face each other for possible encounter and surrender. In his zeal to “win a soul to Christ” through subtle pressures, he induces the individual to “make a profession” which may be only verbal and superficial. The Christian’s witness will be as fervent and intelligent as he can make it. But the response the individual makes is his own responsibility.
B. Second, the legal witness is permitted to give testimony only to those facts or events that he or she has personally seen or heard. No witness is expected to know all of the facts in a given case. It is noteworthy that according to Mosaic law, testimony was to be accepted only when it was confirmed by a second witness. While the testimony of one witness for Christ might be adequate to convince an unbeliever that he should forsake the life of sin and unbelief and receive Christ as Lord, it is usually the combined testimony of many witnesses over an extended period of time that finally culminates in the decision of the individual to become a believer and confess and follow Christ. “Each is important because each can add, in some unique and irrevocable act, to the cumulative evidence” (Trueblood, Company of the Committed, 67).
C. Third, Edge is right in saying that “the legal witness has a responsibility to testify; he has no other choice.” In the legal system of our nation, testimony of reputable witnesses can set the innocent free or help convict the guilty of their crimes. The absence of witnesses or the silence of those who have pertinent evidence can mean that the innocent could suffer for crimes of which they are not guilty and the guilty could be set free to prey upon the unsuspecting public.
Christians have no option in the matter of being witnesses. The only choice they have is whether they will be good witnesses or poor witnesses. By the very nature of our salvation and by virtue of the world’s great need for Christ, followers of Christ should rejoice at the privilege of bearing an effective witness.
D. Edge concludes his comparison with the statement that “the legal witness must have some firsthand knowledge of, or contact with, the case under consideration.” Even so, only a person who knows Jesus Christ in an experience that results in the forgiveness of sin and the impartation of the divine life can be a witness for the Lord. If one has no experience with the Lord, he or she has no testimony to give.
III. Method and motivation.
We should constantly study the New Testament illustrations to improve our methods of witnessing to the saving power of the living Christ. The witnessing of John the Baptist, the personal interviews of Jesus with various persons, the accounts of apostolic witnessing in Acts, and the testimonies of those to whom Christ ministered illustrate the many ways of telling the gospel story. All of these interviews are so interesting and so different that it is difficult to select one as an example.
No one method will work in all cases, for lost people are different and have a great diversity of personal needs. There are many modern Nicodemuses who are religious but are ignorant of essential religious experience. Modern-day Zacchaeuses, rich and self-sufficient, live lonely, miserable, and conscience-striken existences in nearly every city of our land. Modern-day Sauls, zealous for God but blind to the truth of the wonderful Savior, still walk the road toward Damascus. Some people under the burden of a guilty past need someone who can tell them of a Savior who takes the sting out of death and robs the tomb of its power.
Many regard themselves of no value to the kingdom of God and, like lost coins, need to be recovered to usefulness. Others are forlorn, helpless, and afraid like lost sheep and need to be brought home to the fold. Still others are wasted and ruined by sin and are in the grip of despair as they return to the Father. These ones need to be assured of his forgiving grace. Those who would bear a winning witness will, out of their own personal experience with Christ and knowledge of the Scriptures, wrestle to fit the transforming truth to unredeemed souls.
Again, if you want to be a witness to the Christ, you must learn to work with the Holy Spirit. One of the major factors that contributes to an ineffective witness is the lack of sensitivity to the work of the Holy Spirit in human personality. Personal witnesses need to do their very best in the matter of skillful planning, making tactful approaches, using persistent persuasion, and employing the most effective methods in witnessing; but in the final analysis, it is the Holy Spirit alone who can present Christ to the hearts of the unsaved in a convicting and converting manner. Witnesses are human instruments that the Holy Spirit needs, but in the experience of salvation, the last word is always spoken by the Holy Spirit.
With a message that can save the world morally, physically, intellectually, personally, economically, socially, and eternally, the church needs, not only the best methods for communicating that message, but even more it needs the motivation of a mighty divine thrust out into this world.
Companionship with a living Lord and the power of the Holy Spirit combined with a consciousness of the world’s desperate need for Christ provided the early church with a mighty motive that thrust them into their world with a winning witness for Christ. This was the driving force of the first witness. No opposition could deter them. No resistance could discourage them. No persecution could stop their witness.
Jesus Christ is still alive. God is not dead. The Holy Spirit is still present in the hearts of believers. It is time to obey. It is time to bear a witness.
Wednesday Evening, September 9
Title: The Deity of the Holy Spirit
Text: John 14:16 – 18
The Holy Spirit is more than just an influence. Scripture teaches that he is a person and that he possesses all of the essential marks of a personality.
Some of us have difficulty thinking of the Holy Spirit as a person because he is spirit and invisible. It might be helpful for us to ask ourselves, “Will I cease to be a person when I experience physical death?” At death we depart from our physical being, which is our earthly dwelling. We retain the marks of personality — intellect, emotions, and will. The Holy Spirit possesses all of these.
I. The perfections of divinity are ascribed to the Holy Spirit.
The attributes of God are the attributes of the Holy Spirit.
A. Eternity. “How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” (Heb. 9:14).
B. Omniscience. “God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God” (1 Cor. 2:10 – 11).
C. Omnipotence. “Truly I am full of power by the spirit of the Lord, and of judgment, and of might, to declare unto Jacob his transgression, and to Israel his sin” (Mic. 3:8).
D. Omnipresence. “Whither shall I go from thy Spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence?” (Ps. 139:7).
II. The works of divinity are ascribed to the Holy Spirit.
A. The work of creation is his. “And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters” (Gen. 1:2).
B. The work of regeneration is his. “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (John 3:5).
C. The work of resurrection is his. “But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you” (Rom. 8:11).
D. The Holy Spirit is the source of the miraculous. “But if I cast out devils by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God is come unto you” (Matt. 12:28).
III. The worship of divinity should be given to the Holy Spirit.
A. We are baptized in the name of the Holy Spirit (Matt. 28:18 – 20).
B. Seven times in the book of Revelation, obedience to the Spirit’s admonition is insisted upon (Rev. 2 – 3).
C. The Holy Spirit aids us in our prayers. “Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered” (Rom. 8:26).
D. The Holy Spirit may be sinned against. “But whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come” (Matt. 12:32).
With deep reverence we should consider our response to the person and presence of the Holy Spirit of God. He will do his work within us if we will but trust him and cooperate with him.
Sunday Morning, September 13
Title: A Dead Man Speaks to the Living
Text: “By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts: and by it he being dead yet speaketh” (Heb. 11:4).
Hymns: “O God, Our Help in Ages Past,” Watts
“Faith of Our Fathers,” Faber
“Give of Your Best to the Master,” Grose
Offertory Prayer: Our heavenly Father, we come to you in faith to offer ourselves to you. We bring our very best and dedicate it as a token of our gratitude for your many blessings and as an indication of our interest in the advancement of your kingdom. Out of our abundance we share with the needy. We do so as an act of worship through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
The inspired writer of the book of Hebrews reaches back into the history of Israel and calls into the witness box various heroes who lived by faith (Heb. 12:1 – 2). Each of these is permitted to speak a word of challenge and cheer to the living. The writer is seeking to encourage the people of his generation to live a life of faith and faithfulness in the midst of trial.
The cloud of witnesses are not spectators who idly view the struggle of God’s people: they are testators, heavenly cheerleaders, who would encourage each believer and servant of God to trust in the dependability of God to meet the deepest needs of his or her life.
The saints of God whose achievements are recorded in both sacred and secular history will speak to us today if we will but put forth the effort to listen (Matt. 13:9). Our text speaks of the immortality of influence. It is recorded that though Abel lived at the dawn of history, he lived a life of faith that resulted in faithfulness, and by his life “he being dead yet speaketh.” Our text declares that our life is capable of communicating something significant: (1) We speak to those about us, our contemporaries in business and social contacts; (2) we speak to our children and to other members of our family; and (3) we continue to speak after our tongue has grown silent.
What is your life communicating? Does your life impart good news that blesses, or does it communicate that which brings harm into the lives of others?
I. Abel speaks of a life of faith.
A. Faith is a response to God and to his will for our lives. Genuine faith is more than mental assent to the reliability of biblical truths. It is a responsiveness to God’s revelation of himself through Jesus Christ and the testimony of those who have known him and lived with him.
B. Saving faith is a believing response to the gospel (1 Cor. 15:1 – 4). The gospel is infinitely more wonderful than good advice; it is the good news of God’s love for sinners. It is the good news of how Jesus Christ died on the cross for our sins. It is the good news of how he conquered death and the grave and arose triumphant and is alive for forever. The gospel is the good news of how people can experience spiritual birth and know the eternal God as a loving Father through faith, confidence, and trust in the living Christ.
C. Faith is the gift of God, and it is also the work of humans. Genuine faith always presupposes an act in which God reveals himself (Rom. 10:14). The writer declares, “faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 10:17). In response to the question, “What shall we do, that we might work the works of God?” Jesus replied, “This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent” (John 6:28 – 29).
Abel would encourage each of us to respond to the light and to the knowledge of God that we now possess.
II. Abel speaks of faith and worship.
A. Genuine faith and real worship are inseparable. Genuine faith, like genuine love, must find a means of expressing itself. Because of faith in his heart, Abel sought both the presence and pleasure of God through every channel that was available to him.
Genuine worship is something infinitely more than just going to church. Genuine worship is not to be confused with an endless chain of activities, but real faith will express itself in an active manner.
B. Abel worshiped God. Worship is the ascription of worth to one who is of supreme worth.
Do you worship the God of Abel, Abraham, and Paul, or have you permitted the god of success to seize first place in your ambitions and activities? Some worship their work and ascribe to it supreme worth. Others worship pleasure and search for one thrill after another. Some worship laziness and are content to live at the expense of others.
III. Abel speaks of faith, worship, and excellence.
The record in Genesis states, “And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof” (Gen. 4:4). From this text we can assume that Abel brought of the very best that he possessed as an offering unto the Lord. Malachi indicted the people of his day with bringing the very sorriest of their beasts as a sacrifice to their God. With satire and irony, he suggests that they bring the same kind of gifts to their Persian rulers. He seeks to shame them because of the emptiness and cheapness of what they were offering to God.
A. Abel gave thought to his offering. With the highest part of his mind and the deepest part of his heart, he came to offer a more excellent sacrifice than did Cain.
B. He was not thoughtless and careless about that which he offered to God (cf. 2 Cor. 9:7). Abel’s worship was not subject to moods or impulses. He was not seeking a cheap, inexpensive bargain way to gain the favor of God. Like David, he refused to offer to God that which had cost him nothing (2 Sam. 24:24).
C. Abel’s sacrifice was a deliberate and purposeful act of worship. He brought the very best in faith as a response to God. A poet has suggested that we, like Abel, through faith, give our very best to God.
Give of your best to the Master,
Give of the strength of your youth;
Throw your soul’s fresh, flowing ardor
Into the battle for truth:
Jesus has set the example,
Dauntless was He, young and brave;
Give Him your loyal devotion,
Give Him the best that you have.
Give of your best to the Master,
Naught else is worthy His love;
He gave Himself for your ransom,
Gave up His glory above;
Laid down His life without murmur,
You from sin’s ruin to save;
Give Him your heart’s adoration,
Give Him the best that you have.
— Howard B. Grose
IV. Abel speaks of divine approval.
It is wonderful for a believer to know deep within that he or she has God’s approval. This assurance came to Abel (Heb. 11:4). Cain speaks to us of divine rejection, but Abel speaks to us of divine approval (Gen. 4:4 – 5).
A. Cain did point out the possibility of divine disapproval. The motive behind Cain’s offering was wrong. He did not offer in faith; his sacrifice was not a genuine response to God.
Present-day believers can go through the motions of worship and giving and fail to receive divine approval.
1. Thoughtless and careless worship does not receive divine approval.
2. A gift designed to purchase the approval of God when we are mistreating our fellow human beings will be rejected (Matt. 5:23 – 24).
3. Ostentatious gifts that are presented out of the desire for the applause of people will not bring the approval of God (Matt. 6:1 – 3).
4. Gifts that are presented grudgingly or simply out of a feeling of necessity bring no delight to the heart of God (2 Cor. 9:7).
5. Acts of worship or sacrificial gifts not motivated by love bring us nothing (1 Cor. 13:3).
B. Abel assures us of the possibility of divine approval.
1. He offered his gift in faith as a genuine response of his heart.
2. He offered in humility and love.
3. He did what he could, and it was acceptable (Col. 3:17).
In faith let us respond to God. Let us offer up to him, as an act of worship, all that we do and all that we are. The pastor’s sermon should be a gift offered up in worship. The special message in song from the choir should be an act of worship. The lesson presented by the teacher should be an act of faith and an experience of worship.
Have you heard what God would say to you through Abel today? Trust God with all that you are and all that you have. Give him your best if you want to experience his best.
Sunday Evening, September 13
Title: The Nature of the Witnessing Church
Text: “But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
The early church bore a magnificent witness to the redemptive acts of the Lord Jesus Christ. This was to be their primary function according to the commission of our living Lord in the words of the text.
In spite of many limitations, the disciples enjoyed fantastic success in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and unto the ends of the known world of their day.
In this day, in which the church is under severe attack by enemies on both the inside and the outside, it is encouraging for us who love the church to reexamine and rediscover the nature of the witnessing church during the apostolic period. To do so can both rebuke us and encourage us. We need both.
I. The early church had an incorrect and incomplete understanding of its mission (Acts 1:6).
For some time following the day of Pentecost, the early church was primarily a Jewish institution. They retained their narrow nationalism and the prejudices that went along with such. This is evident by the question that was raised shortly before our Lord’s ascension: “Lord, will thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6). At this point in history, even the apostles did not recognize the universal scope of the plan of redemption that had been wrought on the cross and in the empty tomb.
A. There was much to be learned even by the apostles. This should remind us that we do not have exhaustive knowledge of the plan and purpose of God for our day. All of our church members need to learn who they are, what they are to do, and how they are to do it.
B. There is much to be taught to the members of the church. Complete evangelism calls for the instruction of the new converts in all of the teachings of the Lord. The church is commissioned not only to make disciples and to mark these disciples in baptism, but to lead them toward maturity by a continual program of instruction concerning what it means to be a follower of Christ in this day (Matt. 28:20). The work of the apostles is described as “teaching” no fewer than fifteen times.
II. The early church was the recipient and the steward of a divine commission (Acts 1:8).
A. This commission to make disciples to the ends of the earth was based on love (John 3:16). God loves sinful people in spite of their sins.
B. This commission to evangelize is based on the lordship of Jesus Christ because of who he is, what he did, and what he can do if we are willing to respond with loving obedience. We must cease interpreting the Great Commission as applying primarily to international activity and recognize that the Lord would have us to be constantly at work and making disciples in our own individual world. Someone has said:
Some must go.
Some must let go.
Some must help go.
All of us must get going.
III. The early church gave itself to united and persistent prayer.
A. Acts 1:14: “These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren.”
B. Acts 4:24 – 31: They met opposition and persecution on their knees with their hearts clinging to the promises of God.
C. The apostles enlarged the organizational life of the church and by so doing involved more people so that they might not be diverted from prayer and the ministry of the Word. Acts 6:4: “But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word.”
D. Acts 12:5: “Peter therefore was kept in prison: but prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him.” The early church believed that it was possible for them to communicate with God through believing prayer. As one studies the book of Acts, he or she cannot help but discover that at times their praying was more of a dialogue than a monologue. Not only did they talk to God, but they listened when God was speaking to them.
IV. The early church witnessed in the energy of the Holy Spirit.
A. The Holy Spirit promised (Acts 1:8). John the Baptist said of the Coming One, “He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire” (Matt. 3:11). The Gospel of John records many promises by the Savior concerning the coming of the Holy Spirit (John 14:16 – 18). The word translated “Comforter” literally means “one called to walk by the side of.” The Greek word translated “another” means “another of like kind.” This “Comforter,” this one called to walk by the side of, was actually to dwell within them, for Jesus said, “for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you” (v. 17). This is a promise that was to be fulfilled on the day of Pentecost. The Holy Spirit was to be to the church what Jesus Christ had been to the apostles.
B. The Holy Spirit present (Acts 2:4). The second chapter of Acts is a dramatic description of what happened on that day when the Holy Spirit entered the church to authenticate it as the instrument of God and to empower it for a ministry of witnessing to an unbelieving world. People who had been ordinary up to this point became the mighty servants of God, for they labored in the energy of God’s Spirit.
This divine energy, this power from God, this power of God, is absolutely essential if a church is to bear a winsome and winning witness in today’s world. The Holy Spirit still resides in the church in the heart of each believer. He will manifest himself in a mighty way when his presence is recognized and when the church is responsive to the will of its Lord.
V. The early church had a program of conservation (Acts 2:41 – 42).
A. The new converts were led to accept baptism, and thus they identified themselves as belonging to Jesus Christ.
B. They continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship. Continuously they were communicating the teachings of Christ and sharing their experiences one with another in a mutually stimulating manner.
C. “And in breaking of bread.” This can refer to fellowship around the family table, or it can refer to the observance of the Lord’s Supper. Most likely it refers to both.
D. Prayer was continuous. They discovered in experience the delight and the value of communicating with God through prayer. By having the habit of prayer, they were in constant contact with the Savior.
Each church can truly be a spiritual organism, the body of Christ, a witnessing community, if its membership will respond to the Great Commission in dependence on the energy of the divine Spirit, and if they will keep the channels of communication open through prayer.
Wednesday Evening, September 16
Title: The Work of the Holy Spirit Relative to the Lost Person
Text: “When he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment” (John 16:8).
Our attention is usually focused on the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of God’s children. It would be helpful to recognize that the Holy Spirit also works on the hearts of people who need to be converted to Christ.
There is a work in the hearts of unbelievers that can be performed only by the Holy Spirit. Recognizing this will save believers from the agony of frustration and encourage them to depend on the Holy Spirit to do his gracious work.
I. The Holy Spirit convicts unsaved people of their need for salvation (John 16:7 – 11).
Many sincere believers would like to see their unsaved friends become professing Christians, but they hesitate to attempt to bear a witness concerning Christ, for they feel that they must point out their friends’ sins and shortcomings. The truth is that only the Holy Spirit can speak to hearts and reveal the need for the holy purity that comes through Jesus Christ. Would-be witnesses must depend on the Holy Spirit to achieve this objective in the hearts of unsaved friends.
A. The Holy Spirit convicts of sin (John 16:9).
B. The Holy Spirit reveals to unbelievers their need for the personal righteousness of Jesus Christ (John 16:10).
C. The Holy Spirit reveals to unbelievers that the judgment of God is upon sin and upon sinners who refuse to repent and believe for salvation (John 16:11).
II. The Holy Spirit does his convicting work through human instrumentality (John 16:7 – 8).
III. The Holy Spirit uses disciples as they use the Word of God (John 14:26; 15:26; 16:13).
IV. The Holy Spirit invites unsaved people to come to Jesus (Rev. 22:17).
It takes the Holy Spirit to make the invitation real (John 6:44).
V. It is the Holy Spirit who applies the redemption of Jesus Christ to the hearts of believers and brings about the miracle of the new birth (Titus 3:5).
If we will trust the Holy Spirit and depend on him to do his work, we will be less fearful and much more effective at bearing witness to those who need Christ as Savior.
Sunday Morning, September 20
Title: Enoch: The Walk of Faith
Text: “By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God has translated him: for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God” (Heb. 11:5).
Scripture Reading: Genesis 5:21 – 24
Hymns: “Walk in the Light,” Barton
“Footsteps of Jesus,” Slade
“When We Walk with the Lord,” Sammis
“Follow On,” Cushing
Offertory Prayer: Heavenly Father, we approach your throne of grace this day in faith believing that you are the giver of every good and perfect gift. We believe that you are at work in all things to bring about good to those who love you. With the gratitude of our hearts and with the praise of our lips, we also offer to you the fruits of our labors in tithes and offerings as an act of worship. May your blessings be on these offerings that others may come to worship you in spirit and in truth. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
The desire for approval is one of the strongest motives that affects a person’s attitudes and actions. In early childhood a child desires the approval of his or her parents. As that child enters school, he or she labors to deserve the approval of teachers.
It is normal for teenagers to desire the approval and the applause of the group to which they belong, and this inward desire for approval explains many of the attitudes and actions that often bring bewilderment to parents. In the process of courtship, both the young man and the young woman eagerly seek to win each other’s approval that they might be acceptable as marriage partners.
Inside marriage it is always wise for both partners to work that they might retain and maintain the approval they gained during the courtship process. When a young person enters the business world, he or she seeks to labor so as to have the approval of his or her employer.
This desire for approval is one of the basic drives of human nature. It is of vital importance that we use great wisdom in our choice of those whose approval we desire. If we seek only our inward selfish approval, this will vitally affect our happiness and our actions and attitudes. If we seek the applause of the wicked and not the godly, we will have to do things that are contrary to the will of God to win approval.
The words of our text declare that Enoch lived and labored that he might have the approval of God. It is said that “before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God” (Heb. 11:5).
Enoch did not win the approval of God accidentally or incidentally, for it was under the most unfavorable circumstances that Enoch walked with God in such a manner as to hear the words of divine approval. Notice also that Enoch walked with God and enjoyed his approval and praise while walking a common way of life. There is nothing to lead us to believe that Enoch was a professional, vocational servant of God. Very definitely he did not retire from society as a recluse to spend his time in prayer and meditation.
The writer of Hebrews says, as he marshals these great heroes of faith into a position where they can bear their testimony concerning the faithfulness of God, that it was by faith that Enoch had pleased God. Just what does this mean? Is it possible for us to please God today? Is it possible for us to have the inward testimony, like Enoch, that our life and ministry are pleasing to our heavenly Father?
If Enoch could walk with God, then you and I can walk with God. The passage was not written merely that we might have the historical record of what happened in the past. It was written to show us what we can do if by faith we make the same response that these characters who walked through the pages of the Bible made.
I. Enoch’s walk with God.
A. Enoch was acquainted with God. To him God was real. Instead of having some information or knowledge about God, he knew God.
1. We can gain information about God by reading the Bible. The Bible is a record of God’s activities in which he reveals himself to humankind under all circumstances and conditions.
2. We can learn about God through the testimony of others who know him.
3. We really come to know God through faith in Jesus Christ. There is no way by which a person can come to know God other than through faith in Jesus Christ.
B. Enoch acknowledged both the person and presence of God. To him God was something infinitely more than a principle behind the universe. To him God was a personality. The writer of Hebrews states this most forcefully in words that contain one of the best definitions of faith to be found in the New Testament. The writer declares that “God . . . is” (Heb. 11:6). God not only is, but he is vitally concerned about us and responds to our faith by richly rewarding us.
Enoch did not ignore God. Nor did he forget God. The writer of Proverbs tells us to “trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not on thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths” (Prov. 3:5 – 6).
Many of us miss the joy of walking with God because we ignore him and forget him. Consequently, we walk in our own way, which often leads to disappointment and disaster.
C. Enoch was in agreement with God. “Can two walk together, except they be agreed?” (Amos 3:3). People did not walk across the desert together accidentally. They walked together only when they were in agreement with each other or when they had a definite appointment at some place.
Repentance is the response in which a person pledges to agree with God and accepts his divine viewpoint.
People must be in agreement with God if they want to walk with God. We will never be Christian in our conduct until we accept the mind of Christ and think as he thought. When we agree with our Savior in our habits and attitudes, it will follow like day follows night that our actions will remind others of Jesus Christ.
D. Enoch appreciated and adored the God with whom he walked. The Bible does not say that Enoch walked with God because of fear of the consequences if he refused. We are left to infer that he walked with God because he found a deep joy and satisfaction in his presence.
It is in the gospel, the good news of God’s love for sinners, that we discover the loving character and gracious Spirit of the God with whom Enoch walked. To know him as Savior is to love him. To know him through continued fellowship is to love him more and more.
II. The believer’s walk with God.
In the Old Testament we read that “Noah walked with God” (Gen. 6:9). God said to Abraham, “Walk before me” (Gen. 17:1). The psalmist vowed, “I will walk before the Lord in the land of the living” (Ps. 116:9).
In the New Testament the walk of the believer is described in a number of ways. If we are acquainted with God through faith in Jesus, if we will acknowledge his living presence, and if we are in agreement with him, it is possible for us to walk with an abiding awareness of his presence. The characteristics of the believer’s walk are described in a number of different ways in the New Testament:
A. It is a walk of faith. “For we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7). If we want to walk with God, we must believe that Jesus Christ died for our sins and arose victorious over death and the grave, and that he has come into our hearts as Savior and Lord (Rom. 10:9).
B. It is a walk of newness of life. The walk of the believer will be different from the walk of the unbeliever. Paul declares that because of the believer’s death to a life of sin and the symbolic burial of that old way of life, “like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:4). This means that the new convert, as well as the older convert, will deliberately “play dead” when he is tempted with evil (Eph. 4:17).
C. It is a walk in the Spirit (Gal. 5:16). By walking in the Spirit we are to progress from one stage of life to another and from one place to another consciously led by the Holy Spirit who came to dwell within the heart of each believer at the time of conversion (Titus 3:5; 1 Cor. 3:16). God is a Spirit, and those who would walk with him must have faith to believe in his eternal abiding presence. The Holy Spirit provides counsel and courage as well as wisdom and strength for the task of life if we will but trust him.
D. It is a walk of love (Eph. 5:2). To have Christian love toward others is to have a permanent, unbreakable spirit of goodwill toward others. Jesus gave to his disciples a new commandment: “Love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (John 13:34 – 35). It is this type of Christian love that every church needs to demonstrate, not only within its own fellowship, but among the unbelievers in its total environment.
E. It is to be a walk in the light (1 John 1:7). The apostle says, “But if we walk in the light as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.” This is a walk of faith and fellowship, of faithfulness and fruitfulness.
Have you been neglecting the privilege of walking and talking with God? If so, you would be wise to recognize the joy you have missed. It would be most profitable to you and to others if you would rejoin him in faith and righteousness.
If you have never known the joy of walking with God, then let me suggest that today you invite Jesus Christ to become not just a guest but a permanent dweller in the home of your heart. He will provide you with guidance and help without which you are bound to miss not only heaven at the end of the way but the highest possible happiness here and now.
Sunday Evening, September 20
Title: The Message of the Witnessing Church
Text: “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36).
Dr. James S. Stewart has said, “The first axiom of effective evangelism is that the evangelist must be sure of his message. Any haziness or hesitation there is fatal” (A Faith to Proclaim [New York: Scribner, 1953], 12).
The early church was absolutely certain of its message.
I. The sources of the message of the early church.
A. The Old Testament Scriptures (Acts 2:25 – 31). With his feet firmly planted in the Scriptures, Peter’s heart was filled with the Psalms and his mind full of the Prophets, and he preached Jesus Christ as the saving Lord to those who had crucified him.
B. Personal experiences with the living Christ. The living Christ had manifested himself “alive after his passion by many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3; cf. 10:41). The early Christians were eyewitnesses as well as verbal witnesses to the fact that Christ Jesus was risen from the dead: “This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses” (Acts 2:32). They conceived of their task in terms of bearing a verbal testimony of witness that Jesus Christ was alive and able to save. “And we are his witnesses to these things; and so is also the Holy Ghost, whom God hath given to them that obey him” (Acts 5:32).
C. The inspiration of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:16 – 18). The Holy Spirit came into the church, as had been predicted by the prophet Joel, to enable them to understand both what Jesus had taught as well as the Old Testament Scriptures (John 14:26).
II. The content of the message of the early church.
The early church had only one message, and that message was Jesus Christ. Their sermons were saturated with Jesus Christ. Their conversations were permeated with thoughts concerning Jesus Christ. If the church of today would fulfill the purpose of God, both in its community and in the world, it must proclaim Jesus Christ and bear continual witness to his mighty redemptive acts.
A. Christ was proclaimed as the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy (Acts 3:13 – 18; 13:32 – 33; 26:22 – 23). The early church believed that in fulfillment of prophecy the eternal God had clothed himself in a human body and had come to walk in their midst in fulfillment of the hopes and dreams and predictions of the prophets.
B. They proclaimed that Jesus Christ had died on the cross to deliver humankind from the tyranny and penalty of sin (Acts 2:22 – 32; 3:14 – 16; 10:34). The death of Jesus Christ on the cross was an incomprehensible event to the apostles. For them his death was a public disgrace, a great political tragedy, and a personal disappointment. Following the resurrection and Pentecost, they came to see Christ’s death as the supreme exhibition of God’s love for sinners. They entered into a full experience of the salvation made possible by the sacrificial substitution of the Lamb of God whom God had sent to take away the sin of the world.
C. They bore witness to the fact that Jesus Christ had conquered death and the grave (Acts 2:24, 32, 36). The greatest surprise that the apostles ever experienced was discovering that the tomb was empty and that Jesus Christ had conquered death and the grave. This convinced them beyond any shadow of a doubt that he was in truth the Son of God (John 20:28; Rom. 1:4) and gave wonderful meaning and significance to all that he had said and done. The assurance of his living presence gave reality to worship and made prayer meaningful and sacrificial Service a delight. They proclaimed a message with a voice of ten thousand trumpets that death had been defeated and that the grave would no longer be able to retain its victims.
D. They proclaimed Christ Jesus as the triumphant Lord of their lives (Acts 2:36). He had conquered sin, death, and the grave. Exalted to the right hand of God, he had been appointed by the heavenly Father to be the Lord over all. These early disciples recognized and responded to his sovereignty. They believed he had the right to lay claims upon them and to issue orders that were binding upon them. In gratitude and love they responded.
E. The early church assumed that Jesus Christ was present with them in great power (Acts 3:6, 16). The church of today desperately needs to believe that the triumphant Lord is faithful to the promise that he made to be with us always (Matt. 28:20).
Those who respond to the leading of the Spirit and put forth an effort to bear their testimony, to share their faith, to speak a good word for Jesus Christ, discover that he is present. He always has been. He always will be. We need to pray for faith to trust his promise, and then when we obey we will discover that he is as close to us as our breath.
III. The communication of the message.
A. They bore their witness personally (Acts 2:14; 7:2 – 56; 8:4).
B. They bore their witness boldly (Acts. 2:22 – 23).
C. They bore their witness with expectancy (Acts 2:40).
D. They bore their witness joyfully (Acts 4:33).
Paul was proud of the message he had to proclaim concerning Christ, for Christ had never disappointed him in any way. Jesus never disappoints those who yield their hearts to him. Jesus Christ, because of who he was, what he did, and what he can do, is the only message for the modern church.
Wednesday Evening, September 23
Title: The Work of the Holy Spirit in the Believer
Text: “What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?” (1 Cor. 6:19).
Many modern-day believers are like those in Corinth who were unaware that in the conversion experience the Holy Spirit of God had taken up residence within their hearts. Due to the lack of information concerning this gracious work of God, they neglected to respond to him and cooperate with him.
Paul wrote to the Galatians concerning the gift of the Spirit to every believer (Gal. 4:6 – 7).
I. The Holy Spirit dwells in the heart of the believer (1 Cor. 3:16).
The body of the Christian becomes a sanctuary for the Holy Spirit. As such we should recognize its value and its importance to the work of God. As the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit, the body should not be considered evil. The body is the tool the Holy Spirit can use to bring honor and glory to God.
II. The Holy Spirit gives assurance of salvation to the believer (Rom. 8:16 – 17).
As the parents of a newborn child speak words of endearment by which they identify themselves and their relationship to the child, even so the Holy Spirit of God comes into the heart of the new convert to speak with a still, small voice concerning the living relationship that has been established with God the Father (Gal. 4:6).
III. The Holy Spirit dwells within to help us bring our minds and lives into harmony with God’s will (Phil. 2:13).
The heavenly Father does not expect us to lift ourselves to spiritual maturity by pulling at our own bootstraps. The Holy Spirit comes into our hearts that he might reproduce within us the mind and character of Jesus Christ (Phil. 2:5; Gal. 5:16).
IV. The Holy Spirit attempts continually to teach us things concerning Christ and his will for us (John 14:26; 15:26; 16:13).
V. The Holy Spirit desires to empower us for effective service (Acts 1:8).
VI. The Holy Spirit will help us to have an effective prayer life if we cooperate with him (Rom. 8:26 – 27).
The book of Acts is a dramatic success story of human and divine cooperation. The disciples believed in and responded to the Holy Spirit’s leadership and guidance. May God grant us to do likewise.
Sunday Morning, September 27
Title: Noah: By Faith He Heeded the Warning of God
Text: “By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house; by the which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith” (Heb. 11:7).
Scripture Reading: Genesis 6:5 – 17, 22
Hymns: “Brethren, We Have Met to Worship,” Atkins
“Ye Must Be Born Again,” Sleeper
“Yield Not to Temptation,” Palmer
“Why Do You Wait?” Root
Offertory Prayer: Heavenly Father, today we offer to you the love of our hearts and the praise of our lips. We bring to you our time, talents, and treasures and recognize all of them as gifts of your grace. As we bring our tithes and offerings, help us to do so as an indication of our desire to place our everything upon the altar in your Service. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
We can react to the crises of life in a great variety of ways. We can permit fear to capture the citadel of our soul and react by fleeing from our responsibility and our opportunities, or we can react in faith and stand steady under pressure. Those of us who are Christians should meet every situation with faith in both the goodness of God and in his abiding presence to help us in every time of need.
The recipients of the letter to the Hebrews were in the midst of great trials. They were the victims of persecution and all of the inconveniences and cruelties that accompany being in religious, political, and economic disfavor. The writer of this tremendous book encouraged them to trust in God and to be faithful to his good purpose for them. With inspired selectivity, he calls forth a list of spiritual heroes from the pages of the Old Testament to speak a word of challenge and cheer to those who were now experiencing great difficulty.
The study of history can be a most profitable experience if one reads, not only in order to understand the past, but to gain insight into the present and to what the future most likely holds. Have you ever wondered what George Washington would have to say to our country today if he could address the nation? How would Abraham Lincoln counsel us?
If we would find biblical stories profitable, we must let the characters of the past speak to the present that which they discovered about God in the laboratory of human experience. For while circumstances change, God remains unchanged. What he was, he is. What he did in and through his people, he will do today and tomorrow if we will but respond in faith and cooperate with him.
Today let us listen to the testimony of Noah, who by faith built an ark in obedience to God while all of his countrymen laughed at him. Genuine faith will cause us to be faithful to God and to fear him. Paul says concerning the unbelieving and the ungodly, “There is no fear of God before their eyes” (Rom. 3:18).
Since faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God, we need to be reminded that the Bible contains many promises from God to his people. These promises are made to those who have faith. Have you discovered these promises and claimed them for your own life? We also need to recognize that the Bible contains many warnings from God. Have you, like Noah, recognized and responded to the warnings of God? How would you respond if you knew that God had spoken a word of warning to you? Like Noah? Or like Noah’s neighbors? “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you — unless, of course, you fail the test?” (2 Cor. 13:5 NIV).
I. God constantly warns us against danger.
A. The destructive nature of sin. From the beginning of time, God has warned man against the destructive nature of sin. Some of the first instructions given to Adam in the garden were words of warning. “But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die” (Gen. 2:17). Adam and Eve did not heed the warning of God. Genesis 3 tells us of their unbelief and of their fall under the destructive power of sin. By their attitudes and actions of unbelief, disobedience, and greed for equality with God, they committed spiritual suicide and polluted the spiritual fountain from which the whole human race was to flow.
The Bible is a record of God’s continuing activity to save people from the ravages of sin. If we will respond to God’s warnings and accept his gracious invitation with confidence and cooperation, we can be delivered from the awful tyranny of sin.
B. The peril of self-deception. God warns us concerning the peril of self-deception: “There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death” (Prov. 14:12), and “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes: but he that hearkeneth unto counsel is wise” (12:15). Repeatedly the Scriptures would say to us, “Be not deceived” (1 Cor. 6:9; Gal. 6:7).
C. The certainty of God’s justice and wrath. We place so much emphasis on the love and mercy of God that we underemphasize the other side of his nature — his wrath. Because God does love, he cannot tolerate that which violates his own nature and that which destroys humans who are the crown of his creation.
God is a moral God, and our universe is constructed on a moral basis. The universe itself is in opposition to people who flagrantly break the laws of God and the laws of society. Sin by its very nature brings punishment into the lives of sinners. In the Old Testament, we read, “Be sure your sin will find you out” (Num. 32:23). This verse does not teach that all of our sins will be found out by others, but it does declare that our sins will find us out.
Many of the laws of God are what is known as self-executing laws. This means that they carry with them the seed of their own punishment, and that it is impossible for a person to sin and escape suffering. The tragedy is that others suffer also, not for our sin but because of our sin. The writer of the book of Ecclesiastes observed, “For God shall bring every work unto judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil” (Eccl. 12:14).
II. Have you recognized the warning of God?
God speaks in a great variety of ways to those who have ears to hear and to those who sincerely desire to escape the way of self-destruction.
A. Have you let the written Word of God speak to your mind and heart? The psalmist said, “Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee” (Ps. 119:11). The habit of memorizing selected passages of Scripture can be most profitable for both the individual and for the family as a whole. To do so provides the Holy Spirit with a divine channel of communication to our hearts in the time of need that is bound to come for each of us.
B. God may speak a word of warning to us through the fall of someone else. Occasionally we see the tragic results of the carelessness of those who ignore traffic signs and signals. At times the traffic offender is the victim, but in many instances others also suffer. Paul had something like this in mind when he said, “Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness, considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted” (Gal. 6:1).
There are many wrecks along the highway of life. Each of these could speak a word of caution and warning to us if we but have eyes to see and ears to hear.
C. God may speak a word of warning to us through some godly, devout person. It may be in the form of advice or even rebuke. Jesus instructed the members of the early church to be compassionately concerned both for the individual and for the church when one of the members falls into sin (Matt. 18:15 – 17). The church would be a dynamic moral force in today’s world if it was compassionate enough for its own to follow the instructions of its Lord. We miserably fail to obey him and to please him when we resort to harsh criticism instead of exercising compassionate concern for the wayward.
D. God will speak words of warning to you through the Bible lessons of your teacher and through the sermons of your pastor.
E. God has placed the Holy Spirit within your heart, not only to lead and empower you for Service, but also to warn you of the presence of spiritual danger. “Quench not the Spirit” (1 Thess. 5:19). “Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh” (Gal. 5:16).
III. Noah’s response to the warning of God.
A. Noah believed God. He took God at his word. He did not assume that God was speaking just to hear himself talk. He knew that God was not teasing him or merely trying to frighten him.
We need to study the Word of God, not as ancient history, but as God speaking to us in the present.
B. Having heard God speak a word of warning, Noah was “moved with fear.” This was a godly fear. He was not scared of God in the sense that he wanted to run away from him, but he had a reverent regard for both the truthfulness and the power of God to do what he had said he was going to do. Noah was moved by fear for the welfare of his family, and consequently he prepared the ark in obedience to the instructions of God.
We need to rediscover and reactivate an attitude of wholesome fear of the Lord. The wise man said, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (Prov. 1:7). He also said, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (9:10), and “The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life, to depart from the snares of death” (14:27). There is no hope for the person who does not have a wholesome and reverent fear of God.
C. Noah’s faith and fear led to action. He made decisions that were decisive both for himself and for his family. How have you reacted to the warnings of God?
IV. God’s words of warning.
A. The wages of sin is still death (Rom. 6:23). From the beginning of time, the big lie has been, “You can sin and escape suffering” (cf. Gen. 3:4). People continue to fall for this line of the Evil One and swallow it hook, line, and sinker. Sin not only violates the conscience and deadens the will, but it brings about the death of all that is finest and best within the human soul. Sin separates people from God, from their fellow humans, from their families, and from their better selves.
B. There is judgment to come. Without apology or hesitation, the Bible says that one day we all shall stand before God to give an account of our deeds. God would have us meet him on the basis of his mercy rather than on the basis of his justice. We read, “God . . . now commandeth all men everywhere to repent: Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead” (Acts 17:30 – 31).
C. The law of the harvest is still in force. “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap” (Gal. 6:7). It is the law of nature and of God that a person reaps according to the law of kind. We reap what we sow. “He that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting” (v. 8).
D. God warns us that there is no escape for those who neglect to repent and believe. Someone has said, “The shortest road to hell is by the highway of tomorrow.” “Boast not thyself of tomorrow; for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth” (Prov. 27:1).
Now is the time for all wise and sensible persons to pay attention to the warnings of God and to respond by faith to his invitations and promises. The cross is God’s stop sign and red light and barricade on the road to ruin. I urge you to respond to his mercy and love and forgiveness while you have time and opportunity.
Sunday Evening, September 27
Title: The Holy Spirit in the Witnessing Church
Text: “But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
The book of Acts is a dramatic narrative of divine power and human enterprise. It presents a series of illustrations of what a witnessing congregation can accomplish when empowered by the Holy Spirit.
A study of this book of early Christian history can provide us with the key to the secret of power and progress so that in the providence of God we too may follow in their train in this generation.
I. The promise of the Holy Spirit.
A. The promise of the Father (Acts 1:4). Jesus encouraged his disciples by assuring them that they were to be the recipients of the promised Spirit. Among the messianic promises of the Old Testament were predictions of a time when God would pour out his divine Spirit on all flesh as he had poured it out on individuals in Israel (Joel 2:28 – 29).
B. The promise of the Savior (Acts 1:8). The disciples, selected and called out as the nucleus of his church, were commanded to tarry in the city of Jerusalem until they were endued with power from on high. With an incomplete and inadequate understanding of his purpose for them, Jesus commanded them not to concern themselves with authority but to wait until they should receive the energy of the Spirit of God, which was to come upon them and fill them on the day of Pentecost (Acts 1:7 – 8).
Peter explained the events that took place on the day of Pentecost as being the fulfillment of this promise and declared the Holy Spirit to be the ascension gift of Christ to his church (Acts 2:33; cf. John 14:16 – 18).
II. The presence of the Holy Spirit.
On the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit became the dominant reality in the life of the early church and in the individual lives of the disciples. There are more than forty references to the Holy Spirit in the first thirteen chapters of Acts.
A. “What meaneth this?” (Acts 2:12). The crowds that thronged Jerusalem had no idea about the nature and significance of that which was happening to the 120 disciples who had been tarrying in obedience to the commandment of the risen and ascended Christ. They heard “a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind.” It was not a wind but rather the sound of a wind. They saw upon the disciples “cloven tongues like as of fire.” This was indeed an astonishing sight. The crowds were further amazed as they heard these Galileans speak in tongues that were intelligible to so many foreigners who were in Jerusalem at that time. It was only normal that they should ask, “What meaneth this?” and that some would surmise that they had been drinking.
B. Peter explains and interprets.
1. “Be this known unto you” (Acts 2:14). By the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Peter explained the strange phenomenon that they had experienced and witnessed as a fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy.
A devout Israelite would recognize these cloven tongues of fire as being a visible symbol of the presence of Israel’s God, for the Lord had led the children of Israel out of bondage “by day in a pillar of a cloud . . . and by night in a pillar of fire, to give them light” (Exod. 13:21).
When Solomon had dedicated the temple, we read, “The fire came down from heaven, and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices; and the glory of the Lord filled the house” (2 Chron. 7:1). This manifestation of the presence of God produced a profound effect on the children of Israel. “When all the children of Israel saw how the fire came down, and the glory of the Lord upon the house, they bowed themselves with their faces to the ground upon the pavement, and worshipped, and praised the Lord saying, For he is good; for his mercy endureth forever” (2 Chron. 7:3).
When Elijah faced the 450 prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel, the answer to the crucial contest between Baal and God was to be by fire. Elijah challenged, “The God that answereth by fire, let him be God” (1 Kings 18:24). Following the contest, we read, “And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces: and they said, The Lord, he is the God; the Lord, he is the God” (1 Kings 18:39).
The events associated with Pentecost were intended by God to make a profound impression on both the early church and their contemporaries from all nations who were assembled in Jerusalem. By these strange and mysterious symbols, God was placing his divine stamp of authentication on that which Jesus had done and taught and the message that the early church was to proclaim, beginning in Jerusalem and going out into the uttermost parts of the earth.
2. “This is that” (Acts 2:16). Peter announced both to his fellow believers and to those who came to see and hear that they were actually experiencing the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecy spoken through Joel. He declared that the Holy Spirit was to come upon all flesh to equip and empower believers to be witnesses of the mighty works of God. The early church was in the process of doing so at that very moment (Acts 2:11).
We are to understand in this context that prophecy is not limited to prediction but is primarily to be thought of as “speaking for God.” This the early church did with great enthusiasm and effectiveness.
III. The purpose of the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit came to equip and empower the early church to bear a continuing witness to the truth as Jesus had done during his earthly ministry. Luke, the author of Acts, declares that in writing his gospel he set forth that which “Jesus began both to do and to teach.” In Acts he sets forth what the living Christ through the Holy Spirit continues to do in and through his church, which is his body in the world.
A. Witnessing in Jerusalem (Acts 1 – 7). The first seven chapters are a dramatic account of how these early believers, in the power and energy of the Holy Spirit, bore a winsome witness to Christ in Jerusalem.
B. Witnessing in Judea and Samaria (Acts 8 – 12). These four chapters describe how the Holy Spirit led the members of the early church to break across caste and color lines to bear witness to people quite different from those whom they normally would consider the objects of God’s love.
C. Witnessing to Gentiles (Acts 10 – 11). In these chapters the Holy Spirit led these early Christians to begin bearing witness to Gentiles, who were normally considered as pagan outcasts outside the circle of God’s concern.
D. Witnessing unto the uttermost part of the earth (Acts 13 – 28). The early witnesses moved outside the boundaries of the area known as the Holy Land. They bore a powerful witness to the Jews who were dispersed, and when these Jews refused to continue to hear, they shifted their focus to the Gentiles. The book of Acts tells us how the church changed from a Jewish body to a body that was to become almost completely Gentile.
IV. The power of the Holy Spirit.
The supreme qualification for bearing a winning witness was and is to be filled with the Spirit of God. “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Eph. 6:12).
A. The early believers received a new insight into God’s purpose (Acts 2:16 – 36). Jesus had said concerning the Holy Spirit, “Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth” (John 16:13). This the early church experienced both on the day of Pentecost and in the days that followed.
B. They were given a new liberty of utterance (Acts 2:4, 11). They became effective communicators of the wonderful works of God speaking in clear, simple, forceful ways.
C. They were given a new power of persuasion (Acts 2:37; 4:33; 6:10). Only the Holy Spirit could have enabled them to speak in the manner that brought conversion to the hearts of the hearers.
D. They experienced a new boldness in witnessing (Acts 2:22, 36; 4:29, 31). They had an inner compulsion to bear their personal testimony and to believe in Jesus as Lord. A. T. Pierson says that this “Holy Spirit boldness was due to Holy Spirit fullness.” Many of us believe that it is the lack of the power of the Holy Spirit that causes the present-day church to limp when our Lord would have it to be leaping to the task of witnessing to our world.
V. The path to Holy Spirit power.
If one reads the New Testament reverently, he cannot help but come to the conclusion that the person and work of the Holy Spirit is something other than a subject for historical research. The Holy Spirit is present today with power to do all that has been done and all that needs to be done to make the church effective in today’s world. The big question is, “How?”
A. Faith. The Holy Spirit does not work where his presence and purpose are ignored. We do not need to pray for his coming, for he has already arrived. We do need to recognize that he is present in the heart of each believer and present in the congregation when these believers assemble.
If we did more waiting upon the Lord and more worshiping before we attempted to witness, the results would be different. He who does not believe that the Holy Spirit is present to help and guide will never attempt to do anything except that which is humanly possible.
B. Obedience. The Holy Spirit came on the day of Pentecost upon a group of disciples who were committed to obeying the command of the living Lord. The Lord had commanded them to tarry, and they responded with trusting obedience. The Holy Spirit’s power is declared to be the gift of God to those who will obey (Acts 5:32). The power of God flows in and through hearts and lives that are not grounded by selfishness and disobedience. If we are willing to let the Holy Spirit take over, he will make us over.
C. United prayer. The early church witnessed in great power largely because they believed in united prayer. They cooperated in prayer, and when the power of God came upon them, they wielded a mighty spiritual impact upon their generation.
A reverent examination of the prayer life of your church may reveal why the fire does not fall when the pastor preaches.
If we would labor in something other than the flesh, we must respond to the Holy Spirit in faith and obedience. He will work in us and through us if we are but willing to cooperate.
Wednesday Evening, September 30
Title: Walk in the Spirit
Text: “This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh” (Gal. 5:16).
Paul wrote to the Galatian Christians to encourage them to make a proper response to the Holy Spirit that they might not live on the level of their lower nature. He informed them of the struggle that would continue between the Spirit of God, who came into their hearts at the time of conversion, and the lower nature with its sinful appetites (Gal. 5:17 – 21). It was his earnest desire that they experience the full harvest of the fruit of the Spirit (vv. 22 – 24). That they might be assured of such, he encouraged them to “walk in the Spirit.”
I. To walk implies progress.
It is not the will of God that we remain as we are or where we are. God would have us to walk forward toward maturity and fruitfulness.
II. To walk implies direction.
God would not have us to go backward from our task and our opportunities. Neither would he have us to walk in aimless circles. By his Spirit he would lead us in the paths of righteousness and fruitfulness as he led Paul. We read how the Holy Spirit guided his walk: “Now when they had gone throughout Phrygia and the region of Galatia, and were forbidden of the Holy Spirit to preach the word in Asia, after they were come to Mysia, they assayed to go into Bithynia: but the Spirit suffered them not. And they passing by Mysia came down to Troas” (Acts 16:6 – 8). The Holy Spirit will guide our walk in a similar manner if we are sensitive and responsive to his leadership.
III. Walking in the Spirit.
There are at least five ways in which we know the Spirit wants us to walk. We can count on him to assist us in every way possible.
A. The Holy Spirit will help us to walk worthy of our Christian calling (Eph. 4:1).
B. The Spirit will help us to walk differently from the unsaved (Eph. 4:17).
C. The Spirit will help us to walk in love (Eph. 5:2).
D. The Spirit will help us to walk as the children of light (Eph. 5:8).
E. The Spirit will help us to walk in wisdom (Eph. 5:15).
The Holy Spirit dwells in the heart of the believer. He is as close to you as your breath. By faith recognize his presence. Respond to his leadership, and walk forward into the future with courage and cheer, for God has wonderful things in store for you if you seek to “walk in the Spirit.”