Suggested Preaching Program for
• Sunday Mornings
Continue the series on the lives of those who occupy Faith’s Hall of Fame in Hebrews 11.
• Sunday Evenings
Conclude the series on “The Witnessing Church in the Book of Acts.” These messages set forth the manner in which the early church responded to the Master’s invitation to discipleship. We can and should follow the example of these victorious disciples.
• Wednesday Evenings
The Epistle of James provides the biblical basis for the Wednesday evening messages.
Sunday Morning, October 4
Title: Abraham: The Faith That Obeys
Text: “By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went” (Heb. 11:8).
Scripture Reading: Genesis 12:1 – 7
Hymns: “O God, Our Help in Ages Past,” Watts
“When We Walk with the Lord,” Sammis
“I’ll Go Where You Want Me to Go,” Brown
Offertory Prayer: Heavenly Father, you are the source of all that is good and worthwhile in our lives. We respond to your goodness with gratitude and with generosity of heart and hand. Today we bring our material substance and offer it to you as an act of worship. Receive these tithes and offerings and add your blessings to them that your kingdom might come and your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.
Genuine faith is not only something we believe, but something we behave. True faith is something we do. Genuine faith is more than intellectual assent to a creed or to a system of religious dogma.
“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). Genuine faith involves a positive response to God’s plan and purpose for our lives. Is your life pleasing to God? Are you achieving in your own experience the divine destiny chosen for you?
Abraham gave expression to his faith by hearing the call of God and obeying. The call involved a separation from his family and a dedication to God’s will: “Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will shew thee” (Gen. 12:1).
Abraham’s faith in God expressed itself in loving obedience. He “obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went.” Disobedience to the call of God would have placed him in a nameless and forgotten grave. The decision to trust and obey the known will of God was the solid foundation stone for the superstructure of a great life.
At first Abraham’s obedience was only partial. He lived at Haran until after the death of his father (Acts 7:4). The best kind of obedience will neither procrastinate nor question the wisdom of God. Ultimately, Abraham’s obedience was complete. “And they went forth to go into the land of Canaan; and into the land of Canaan they came” (Gen. 12:5).
Disobedience to the calls and commandments of God is an insult to the truthfulness of God. Close examination reveals that each of God’s commandments, being motivated always by love, contains a promise. To disobey is to imply that God is untruthful and untrustworthy.
In the covenant relationship, Israel was to express their faith by obedience (Exod.19:5 – 6). A study of Israel’s history reveals that disobedience was the result of refusing to trust in the goodness of God. Unbelief and disobedience not only endangers the individual but also the welfare of others.
Disobedience to the will of God is an act of self-destruction whether that disobedience be individual or collective, as in the case of a nation or a church.
Abraham had the wisdom of believing that his highest happiness was to be found in loving obedience to God’s will even though he was unable to give a rational explanation except on the basis of his faith.
I. Glad obedience gives assurance of sonship (1 John 2:3 – 7).
A. We enter into sonship by faith (Gal. 3:26). The salvation experience is possible for one and for all under any and all earthly circumstances, for it is by grace through faith rather than by ceremony or ritual.
B. While it is faith that gives us the privilege of becoming the children of God, loving obedience gives us the inward assurance that we are indeed God’s children. First John was written specifically to believers to impart the assurance of salvation: “These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God” (1 John 5:13). Among the things John had described as distinguishing characteristics of the children of God was loving obedience.
As Abraham’s faith expressed itself in obedience, if our faith is genuine, it will express itself in obedience.
John says, “Hereby know we that we are in him.” “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves” (2 Cor. 13:5 NIV).
II. Glad obedience makes prayer a transforming experience (1 John 3:22 – 24).
In the book of Genesis, we find several conversations between God and Abraham. We cannot know exactly how all of this took place, but we can be safe in assuming that these dialogues took place between Abraham and his Creator as a prayer experience, for Abraham was deliberately seeking to obey God’s commandments. At times the initiative was with God. Possibly God took the initiative in every instance. Because of Abraham’s desire to be obedient to God, he was much more open to hear the divine communications.
A. Is your prayer life a disappointing experience? Has God answered your prayers? Have you found prayer to be an enriching experience? Does anything happen when you pray? Have you been disappointed by either God’s seeming inability or unwillingness to answer your prayers?
B. Prayer was designed for the obedient. There is no basis in either the Scriptures or in experience for one to believe that God intended for us to use prayer as a means of getting that which we would selfishly like to have. Jesus intended and commanded that we pray for the things that are needed for the advancement of God’s kingdom work. By prayer we requisition that which is needed not only for the welfare of our own souls but also that which will advance the kingdom of God on earth.
Prayer is like a business credit card. A company will issue a credit card by which an employee can obtain various Services or funds for company use. The employee is guilty of a criminal offense if he uses this credit card for personal use. If we are living and serving in obedience to the command of God, we can come before the throne of grace in the name of Jesus and requisition divine resources in a dialogue rather than in a dry and unsatisfying monologue.
Perhaps a part of the emptiness of your prayer life and your failure to receive answers from God is to be traced to a lack of obedience. For to be obedient is to live in communion and to enjoy communicating with the eternal God.
III. Glad obedience is a proof of our love.
Jesus appealed to the high motive of love as the basis for obedience on the part of his disciples. This is recognized by all as the highest motivation. He said, “If ye love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15). He also said, “Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you” (15:14).
A. By our obedience we prove our love to God. There is no substitute for obedience. The words of our lips are empty nothings unless with our lives we recognize and obey the commands of our loving Lord. Jesus made this very clear: “He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him” (John 14:21).
B. By our obedience we prove our love for God to others. Each child of God is expected to bear a testimony with lip and life concerning the goodness and grace of our wonderful Savior. It is impossible to give voice to a convincing testimony to the unsaved unless they can see the results of glad obedience in our lives.
Continuous glad obedience is a powerful testimony to the unsaved concerning the worthwhileness of the life of faith. Obedience will authenticate and recommend our testimony as we seek to persuade others to become followers of the Lord Jesus Christ. Disobedience will nullify that which we would like to accomplish.
May God bless you with the faith and wisdom to understand that all of God’s commands are motivated by his divine love for us and for others. These commands contain promises either expressed or implied. People with no faith hear the commands of God and consider, hesitate, and refuse to respond. They decide to walk by their own wisdom and to seek their highest well-being in human resources and achievements alone. These people cannot possibly please God.
People of faith hear the commands of God, consider them, and then commit themselves. They consider the character and the nature of God. They consider the loving purposes of God. They commit themselves to a life of trusting obedience.
God is Somebody rather than something. He is worthy of our obedience. Obedience to his will is the highway to a glorious testimony.
Sunday Evening, October 4
Title: Prayer in the Witnessing Church
Text: “Peter therefore was kept in prison: but prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him” (Acts 12:5).
To understand the uniqueness of the early church, we must see that church in prayer.
A visitor was once being conducted on a tour through the various facilities of a huge church. The guide said, “We will now visit the power room.” The visitor assumed that they were going to see the heating and cooling facilities of the church. Instead, he was led into what appeared to be an assembly room. There were present a number of people in prayer. The tour guide then observed, “This is the room where the power behind the program of this church is generated.”
One of the greatest weaknesses in the life of the contemporary church is the neglect of prayer. This explains why we have failed to make a greater impact on today’s world evangelistically, morally, and socially.
If either the church or the individual Christian is to make an impact on today’s world for Christ, we must rediscover the power that comes through praying, and we must restore prayer to the place that it occupied in the life of our Lord and his apostles. It is interesting to observe the prayer habits of the early church as shown in Acts.
I. Prayer in the upper room.
A. They responded to the Lord’s command to tarry by giving themselves to prayer and supplication. “These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren” (Acts 1:14).
B. They prayed to God to rule and to overrule in their actions that the will of God might be done (Acts 1:24).
II. Prayer and the day of Pentecost.
A. It was earnest, heart-searching prayer that prepared the hearts of the early disciples for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1). There can be no question that today we are strangers to the divine power that the Holy Spirit makes available to those who genuinely pray (Luke 11:13). It is both futile and disappointing to labor in the energy of the flesh when we could be laboring in the energy of the Spirit of God.
B. Prayer not only preceded and prepared for Pentecost, but prayer continued to be the regular habit of these early disciples (Acts 2:42). For them, prayer was not an opportunity to say, “Gimme, Gimme,” to God; instead, it was a form of communication in which they not only conversed with God but in which God was able to do his work within their lives.
III. The hour of prayer.
“Now Peter and John went up together into the temple at the hour of prayer, being the ninth hour” (Acts 3:1). There were set times for going to the temple for prayer.
A. The church. The modern church desperately stands in need of having recurring times when the members come together to give themselves to prayer. This would be good for the individual church. Every sincere participant would be greatly blessed, and others would experience the results of this kind of intercessory prayer.
B. The individual. Individual Christians need to have a definite time for prayer if they are to deepen their own spiritual lives and permit God to communicate with them on a continuing basis. If we do not have stated times when we appear before the throne of grace, we will most likely discover that we have been neglectful.
IV. Prayer in the time of difficulty.
The early church found itself facing what appeared to be insurmountable difficulties from time to time. Their problem was not that of an inadequate budget or untrained leadership; their difficulty was that of the malicious opposition of both the religious and political establishments of the day. They were treated as if they were a subversive organization, and they were commanded to refrain from further activities associated with bearing witness to Jesus Christ (Acts 4:1 – 3). It is interesting to note how they reacted to this opposition (4:23 – 31). Had they not prayed in the time of difficulty, they would not have had the courage, wisdom, or power to do what they were able to do.
V. The manner of their praying.
A. They engaged in united prayer (Acts 1:14; 4:31; 6:6; 12:5). By so doing they encouraged the faith and devotion of each other. There is power and joy that come through united prayer that are not to be found in private prayer.
B. They prayed in private (Acts 10:9; 27:22 – 25). Each individual must go apart into a private place to have communion with the heavenly Father. Jesus said that we must not only enter the closet, but we must shut the door to be alone with the heavenly Father. We must shut out that which distracts and interferes in order that we might both speak and hear, for real praying is a dialogue rather than a monologue.
C. They engaged in public prayer (Acts 16:25). Paul and Silas did not try to conceal their prayers or praises to God from the other prisoners. In the presence of all they prayed, and God heard. They were not only comforted in the jail, but they experienced a joy that made an impact upon the jailer, who later was to say, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:30).
VI. The results of praying.
A study of the book of Acts reveals some of the fruits of the prayers of the early church. If we examine these, perhaps we likewise will be encouraged to give ourselves to prayer.
A. Great boldness (Acts 4:31). Many modern followers of Christ are timid and hesitant about bearing any kind of Christian testimony. This disappoints the Savior and deprives non-Christians of the help they need, namely, faith in the Lord. We need a holy boldness like that of the early church.
B. Great unity (Acts 4:32). In our day tremendous emphasis is placed on unity among Christians. The early church, largely because of their prayer life, was said to be of “one heart and one soul.”
C. Great power (Acts 4:33). The early disciples of our Lord did not have political power, economic power, or social power, but they did have spiritual power. They were “plugged in” to the power of God. They were not dependent on brain power or muscle power. They were effective because they labored in the energy of divine power, which is still available to those who give themselves to prayer.
D. Great grace (Acts 4:33). The grace of God was upon them. They responded to God, not on the basis of human merit, but on the basis of God’s love and mercy toward sinners. They became the bearers of this grace to the hearts and lives of others. Grace characterized their relationships with each other. They were gracious even toward their enemies.
E. Great generosity (Acts 4:34 – 37). An unparalleled attitude of generosity permeated the life of the early church as they shared with each other according to their needs. This was an uncoerced, voluntary sharing on the part of those who had plenty with those who did not.
While the degree of generosity practiced by the early church is without parallel since those days, the church would be a much more dynamic force in the world if its members were characterized less by selfishness and more by generous giving.
The church that does not give itself to prayer is already out of contact with its Commanding Officer. Christians who enter the day’s work without first talking to their Lord are like soldiers who would go into battle without weapons or carpenters who would go to their job without tools.
May God help each of us to rediscover the importance of prayer and restore it to the place it should have in our lives.
Wednesday Evening, October 7
Title: James, a Servant of God
Text: “. . . a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ” (James 1:1).
James, the half brother of our Lord, calls himself “a servant of God, and of the Lord Jesus Christ.” In the Greek, the word is doulos, which means slave. Thus we are in reality slaves of God. Servants have more freedom than slaves do. Servants can quit work if they choose. Servants have definite work and leisure hours. They can bargain for higher wages, and they are free to express displeasure with present income. Servants can quit one place of Service and go to another employer. On the other hand, slaves have none of the privileges of a servant. Slaves are purchased possessions of their masters with no will or time of their own. The word doulos thus reveals how completely we are to yield ourselves to the Lord.
James is not the only biblical character described as a slave or servant of God.
I. Abraham was the servant of God.
A. God appeared to Isaac and said, “I am the God of Abraham thy father: fear not, for I am with thee, and will bless thee, and multiply thy seed for my servant Abraham’s sake” (Gen. 26:24).
B. “And he remembered his holy promise, and Abraham his servant” (Ps. 105:42).
II. Moses was called the servant of God more times than any other.
A. “And Israel saw that great work which the Lord did upon the Egyptians: and the people feared the Lord, and believed the Lord, and his servant Moses” (Exod. 14:31).
B. “So Moses the servant of the Lord died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the Lord” (Deut. 34:5).
C. “Now after the death of Moses the servant of the Lord it came to pass, that the Lord spake unto Joshua the son of Nun, Moses’ minister, saying, Moses my servant is dead; now therefore arise, go over this Jordan” (Josh. 1:1 – 2).
III. Caleb and Joshua were the servants of God.
A. “But my servant Caleb, because he had another spirit with him, and hath followed me fully, him will I bring into the land whereinto he went; and his seed shall possess it” (Num. 14:24).
B. Joshua 24:9 and Judges 2:8.
IV. David was often called a servant of God.
A. “On the eighth day he sent the people away: and they blessed the king, and went unto their tents joyful and glad of heart for all the goodness that the Lord had done for David his servant, and for Israel his people” (1 Kings 8:66).
B. “Unto his son will I give one tribe, that David my servant may have a light always before me in Jerusalem, the city which I have chosen me to put my name there” (1 Kings 11:36).
C. “I will defend this city, to save it, for mine own sake, and for my servant David’s sake” (2 Kings 19:34).
V. Elijah was the servant of God (2 Kings 9:36; 10:10).
VI. Isaiah was the servant of God (Isa. 20:3).
VII. Job was the servant of God (Job 1:8; 42:7).
VIII. The prophets were the servants of God (2 Kings 21:10; Amos 3:7).
IX. The apostles were the servants of God (Rom. 1:1; Phil. 1:1; Titus 1:1; James 1:1; Jude 1).
X. Epaphras was the servant of God (Col. 4:12).
XI. All Christians are to be the servants of God.
“Not with eyeService, as men pleasers; but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart” (Col. 3:22).
One of the highest honors the Scriptures can bestow on a man is to call him the servant of God. Today each follower of Christ should aspire to the honor of being a true servant of the Lord Jesus Christ. Like Moses the lawgiver, we also can be servants of God. Like David the shepherd boy, the sweet singer of beautiful psalms, later to be king, we can be servants of God. Like Caleb and Joshua, God’s soldiers, we can be servants of God. And like the apostles who were faithful witnesses, we can be servants of God.
Sunday Morning, October 11
Title: Abraham: The Patience of Faith
Text: “These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth” (Heb. 11:13).
Scripture Reading: Romans 4:18 – 25
Hymns: “My Faith Looks Up to Thee,” Palmer
“Faith Is the Victory,” Yates
“He Leadeth Me,” Gilmore
Offertory Prayer: Holy Father, you have bestowed upon us rich and bountiful blessings in more ways than we can enumerate. You have been gracious and merciful to us. We thank you for every manner of blessing. We come now to give you our tithes and offerings, acknowledging you as the giver of every good and perfect gift. May your blessing be on these offerings for the advancement of your kingdom and for the blessings of the lives of our fellow humans. Amen.
Abraham is known as the father of the faithful. He became the friend of God because he trusted God not only at the beginning of his life but throughout all of his life; persistently and continuously he trusted God.
In writing to the Roman Christians, Paul paid tribute to the faith of Abraham and called attention to the patient persistence of his faith even when all of the evidence would have indicated that his faith was unjustified. He became a spiritual giant because “he staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God; and being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform” (Rom. 4:20 – 21).
By faith, Abraham was initiated into a living relationship with the eternal God. By faith he walked with God and talked with God. He believed even when he could not see and others could not understand. May God grant to each of us not only initial faith but patient faith that keeps on believing and trusting.
I. Abraham’s faith gave him a vision of God.
“By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king: for he endured, as seeing him who is invisible” (Heb. 11:27).
If God is — then God is of supreme importance. To Abraham, God was very real; with the eye of his faith, he saw God. With the ear of his faith, he heard the voice of God.
A. “He went out” (Heb. 11:8). Because Abraham’s faith made God real to him, he obeyed the call of God to leave his home and his country.
B. “By faith he sojourned in the land of promise” (Heb. 11:9). Throughout his entire lifetime, Abraham was a stranger and a sojourner in the land of promise. He was unable to possess it though he believed with all of his heart that God had given it to his descendants.
C. By faith “he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (Heb. 11:10). Abraham was more concerned about the city of God than he was about the cities of the country in which he lived.
God had taken the initiative and had revealed himself to Abraham. God does this today through the gospel as it is proclaimed both by the church and by individual Christians. By faith Abraham responded with obedience and worship.
As Abraham journeyed, we read, “and there builded he an altar unto the Lord, who appeared unto him” (Gen. 12:7). The altar was a place of prayer, praise, communion, and sacrifice. It was through worship that Abraham nourished his faith. Because he exercised faith, he moved forward. God was able to do mighty things in him and through him.
II. Abraham’s faith included a concept of eternity.
If eternity is, then eternity is all important.
A. “He looked for a city” other than the cities of the Canaanites (Heb. 11:10). He sojourned as a stranger in this land of promise with his eyes on God. A lyricist expressed the thought in the following way:
This world is not my home; I’m just a-passing through,
My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue;
The angels beckon me from heaven’s open door,
And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.
— Albert E. Brumley
Students are compelled to live and work in the present with faith in the future. Great expense and effort are involved in securing a college education. Because of their faith in the future, both parents and young people put forth the effort necessary to secure an education. Similarly, Abraham’s faith led him to look beyond this life to the future eternal city of God. We would be wise if we lived in time with the issues and values of eternity in mind.
B. A vision of eternity will encourage a willing detachment from the perishable present. Each of us lives under the painful pressure of the present. It is exceedingly easy for us to follow the example of Abraham’s nephew Lot, who, instead of living for eternal values, decided that immediate material success was of supreme importance. The life of Lot is a dramatic illustration of the fact that one can succeed in time and be a total failure in the things that really matter.
C. A vision of eternity will encourage an enthusiastic investment in the permanent future. There is a vast deal of difference between the ant and the grasshopper. The grasshopper lives only for the present. He fills his stomach day by day without any consideration for the future. In contrast, the ant lives in the present with the future in mind. With great industry he engages in cooperative activity to prepare for the future. Instead of living like the grasshopper, people of faith will invest their time, talents, treasure, and testimony in that which is of eternal significance.
Faith is a telescope that brings the distant future into the present. Faith enables one to see things in the future that are hidden from the eyes of those who have no faith. Faith would tell us that our future is wrapped up in the present.
III. Abraham’s faith in the promises of God lifted him into spiritual greatness.
Ours is a day that emphasizes instant Services. We are in a tremendous hurry. Most of us are like the proverbial horseman who mounted his steed and rode off in four different directions and arrived nowhere all at the same time.
In this day we are looking for a quick way to get the job done. In this day of instant gratification, some of us are looking for instant success. We are guilty of trying to find easy, convenient, inexpensive ways by which we can achieve spiritual greatness. We need to be reminded that there are no instant giant oaks.
Abraham’s patient faith and continuous trusting and obedience made it possible for God to work wonders in him and upon him.
A. Abraham believed that God is. “Without faith it is impossible to please him; for he that cometh to God must believe that he is” (Heb. 11:16).
B. Abraham believed that God was concerned “and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him” (Heb. 11:6).
C. Abraham kept on trusting in the God who is trustworthy and dependable. It was the persistence of his faith that caused him to become the father of the faithful, the friend of God, and the spiritual forefather of each of us who know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
Abraham went to his death trusting in the promises of God. These promises sustained him and challenged him. He discovered in his own experience that God is trustworthy. May God grant you, not only the faith to begin the Christian life, but also the faith to continue a life of loving and trustful obedience.
Sunday Evening, October 11
Title: The Motives of the Witnessing Church
Text: “And daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ” (Acts 5:42).
Jesus warned against the peril of shallow motivation in the Sermon on the Mount. He reminded us that we must not give our gifts in order to receive the glory of people (Matt. 6:1 – 4). He also warned us against praying to receive the applause of people, for prayer is to be a conversation with God rather than a speech to be heard and admired by people (Matt. 6:5 – 6). He warned us against displaying our personal piety by revealing our private spiritual disciplines so as to win the approval of people (Matt. 6:16 – 18). Jesus, in modern terminology, was talking to his disciples about proper motivation. He was declaring that all religious actions and Services should be motivated by the single desire to please God.
A motive is that which moves. What the mainspring is to the watch, the motive is to the Christian. What the motor is to the automobile, the motive is to the Christian.
Many motives affect our lives: (1) selfishness — everyone likes to feel important; (2) self-gratification — we like that which pleases us personally, and we like to have our own way; (3) self-interest — it is human nature for each of us to look out for the best interest of self. We find it easy, even if unconsciously, to ask, “What’s in it for me?” One does not have to be an expert in motivational research to know that the above motives are inadequate for those who would invest their lives in the Service of God and others most effectively.
As we study the book of Acts to discover what it was that made the early church so effective, we find that they did not serve purely out of love. They were human beings like us, and they served out of mingled motives rather than the pure motive of love for God and love for others.
The early church achieved one success after another in what appeared to be an impossible assignment with tremendous handicaps. The book of Acts is a thrilling success story. What were the motives of the early Christians? Can we have the same motives today? Why did the early Christians witness so faithfully?
I. They discovered the joy of being a bearer of good news (Acts 2:41 – 47; 5:42; 8:8).
In obedience to the command of the Lord, they spread by word of mouth the good news of his death and resurrection. They proclaimed God’s love for sinners and his desire to forgive sin. They could not conceal the good news that death had been defeated and that the grave had been robbed of its victory. This was such wonderful news that it brought joy to their hearts to bear it. For them, witnessing to the saving acts of Jesus Christ was natural. Not to have done so would have been unnatural, inhuman, and unchristian. They received great inward joy through witnessing.
II. They recognized and responded to the authority of the crucified but risen and living Lord (Matt. 28:18b; Acts 2:36; 5:29).
The early Christians believed that God had resurrected Jesus Christ from the dead and had bestowed upon him the authority of lordship. They believed that this gave Jesus the right to issue orders and to command their time, talents, testimony, and treasure.
These early Christians believed that it was right for them to obey Christ even if this obedience brought them into disfavor with both religious and civil authorities. At the risk of being imprisoned and beaten, they chose to obey the Lord.
Many modern Christians consider obedience as being optional. There seems to be little recognition of the present lordship of Jesus Christ. Consequently, disobedience characterizes the modern Christian more so than does obedience.
It was a strong sense of duty, the desire to be obedient, that helped motivate the early church to be a faithful witness to their generation.
III. They suffered the shock of persecution (Acts 8:3 – 4).
It was the shock of persecution that scattered the early Christians. They were very nationalistic and felt that Christianity was a Jewish movement. They were prejudiced against Gentiles to the extent that God put forth special efforts to reveal that the Gentiles were also included in his love and purpose of redemption (Acts 10). Had it not been for the persecution that “stirred up the nest” in Jerusalem, it is highly possible that Christianity never would have gained worldwide significance. The early Christians went everywhere preaching the Word, not because of the compulsion of compassion, but because they were scattered by persecution.
IV. They were surrendered to the leadership of the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:29; 10:19; 11:12; 13:2; 16:6).
The Holy Spirit came into the church on the day of Pentecost to equip each believer to be a spokesperson for God (Acts 2:17 – 18). He came to lead, guide, and teach the disciples as the Lord had taught his apostles (John 14:26). The book of Acts is the dramatic account of divine initiative on the part of the Holy Spirit and human cooperation on the part of our Lord’s disciples. They lived and labored in fellowship with and in the power of the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is still in the heart of each believer and in the church to carry on the work of the Lord to this day. We need faith to believe that he is present; we need to surrender to him for cooperative endeavors. We need to pray for his power as one of God’s best gifts (Luke 11:13).
V. They believed that all people away from Christ were lost from God and did not know the way home (Acts 4:12).
Have you ever been lost in a wilderness or desert? Were you ever lost as a child in the park or in a large department store? Can you remember the fright that filled your heart when you recognized that you were separated from loved ones and that you were in a position of danger?
The unbelieving world knows that something is wrong, but many do not know what it is. People have a deep, unsatisfied longing in their hearts that the world with its treasures and pleasures cannot satisfy. The Bible teaches and experience verifies that Jesus Christ provides the clue to the mystery and meaning of life.
The early church believed that people were lost from God and living under the condemnation of sin. They believed that humankind’s only hope of forgiveness was through faith in Jesus Christ. They believed that they had been entrusted with the good news that would make it possible for people to be saved from a hell hereafter and to a heaven where the deepest longings of the heart would find full satisfaction in continuing fellowship with God. Because they wanted all people to be saved, they continued to bear their witness.
It was the natural, normal, and proper thing for a Christian to talk about the joy and satisfaction of knowing Jesus Christ as Savior both in time and for eternity. Consequently, day by day and week by week in the temple, in the synagogues, on the highways and streets — anywhere and everywhere — these early disciples bore their witness. With mingled motives, they loved, they labored, and they lifted men and women toward God. May the same motives command our intellect, our emotions, and our energies in the Service of God and of a needy world.
Wednesday Evening, October 14
Title: Are You Short on Wisdom?
Text: “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him” (James 1:5).
Life was exceedingly difficult for those to whom James addressed his wonderful epistle. A small Christian minority, even in their places of greatest strength, they were scattered abroad throughout the Roman Empire. They were misunderstood, and in many instances they were the subjects of ridicule and persecution. It was vary difficult to know how to be master of circumstances as they faced the trials of life from day to day. Because of these circumstances from which they could not escape, the inspired writer poses a pointed question and makes a practical suggestion.
I. Do you have a shortage of wisdom?
James was not seeking to be academic. This question did not arise out of theoretical speculation. He was aware of the difficult situation in which his readers found themselves. By his question and suggestion, he informs them of his awareness of their need for divine insight.
A. Wisdom is more than the possession of knowledge. A person can have all the facts and still not know what to do with them.
B. Wisdom is more than understanding. One can have all the facts and be sympathetic with the people involved and still not be able to know how to utilize both his knowledge and his sympathy.
C. Wisdom has been defined as divine insight or divine intelligence. It has also been defined as sanctified horse sense. James was raising the question concerning whether his readers had a Christian interpretation of the circumstances of life as they faced it.
II. The source of wisdom.
“If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God” (James 1:5). James declares without any hesitation that God is able and eager to provide people with both an understanding and an interpretation of the problems and possibilities of life. The writer of the book of Proverbs stated it in the following manner: “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. Be not wise in thine own eyes: fear the Lord, and depart from evil” (3:5 – 7). Instead of being proud and conceited, we are to recognize our need for God’s guidance. If we will trust him, we are given the promise that he will make our paths straight.
A. God imparts wisdom to those who, in a prayerful and meditative manner, read his Word with an attitude of expectancy.
B. God imparts wisdom through the leadership of his Holy Spirit who dwells within the hearts of believers (1 Cor. 2:10 – 11).
C. God grants us wisdom through experiences of worship.
D. God grants us wisdom through the counsel of mature Christian friends.
E. God grants us wisdom as we dedicate our mental processes and our intellectual capacity to his leadership.
III. The promise of wisdom.
“Let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally” (James 1:5). As God appeared to Solomon and heard his prayer for wisdom, so God will hear our prayer for wisdom (1 Kings 3:5 – 10).
A. James was speaking of this promise of wisdom on the basis of his own personal experience.
B. The book of Proverbs assures us that wisdom is available to those who desire it (1:2 – 9).
IV. Receiving the wisdom of God.
A. The wisdom of God comes to those who genuinely pray. “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God” (James 1:5). God has provided guidance through the ages for those who consult him with a sincere desire to walk in his ways.
Many of us lack wisdom because we have neglected to ask for it. As a Service station attendant will not insist that you receive a road map, even so God will not push his thoughts or his ways into a person’s thoughts without that person’s consent and request.
B. We must pray in faith. We must believe sincerely that God is the source of wisdom. We must believe that God is able to give us understanding and insight into the circumstances of life. We must believe that God in his grace is eager to bestow this wisdom upon us. When, in faith, we commit our way to God, we must proceed on the assumption that he will give us guidance through the day and that when tomorrow comes he will be there to continue to guide us even as he guided the children of Israel through the wilderness when they had faith to follow.
If we hope to live successful lives on this earth, we must humble ourselves and ask for God to fill us with his wisdom. He promises that when we ask, he will provide; but it is up to us to diligently seek his wisdom in his Word and through the filling of his Holy Spirit. When our lives manifest his wisdom in humility, others will see and be drawn to him.
Sunday Morning, October 18
Title: The Sermon of an Egyptian Mummy Case
Text: “By faith Joseph, when he died, made mention of the departing of the children of Israel; and gave commandment concerning his bones” (Heb. 11:22).
Scripture Reading: Genesis 50:24 – 26
Hymns: “Lead On, O King Eternal,” Shurtleff
“Faith Is the Victory,” Yates
“I Will Sing of My Redeemer,” Bliss
Offertory Prayer: Father, once more we thank you for your continued mercies toward us. Morning by morning, new mercies we see. Make us mindful of your greatness, and we will give you the praise. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
In faith’s Hall of Fame one verse each is given to Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph. William Barclay reminds us that there is one thing in common that links these three heroes of faith together in the mind of the writer of Hebrews. In each of these three cases, the faith that is illustrated and dramatized is the faith of a man to whom death was very near. By faith each of these three was able to face the future with courage and optimism. Genuine faith enables a person to look forward and to see the future as under the government of God and blessed with the presence of God.
Isaac pronounced his blessing upon Jacob shortly after he had said, “Behold now, I am old, I know not the day of my death” (Gen. 27:2). He faced the future with a faith that caused him to pronounce a blessing upon his son.
The blessing of Jacob upon the sons of Joseph is recorded in Genesis 48:9 – 22. In the conclusion of this blessing, Jacob said to Joseph, “Behold, I die: but God shall be with you, and bring you again unto the land of your fathers” (Gen. 48:21). Because of this faith that enabled him to visualize the future, Jacob blessed Joseph and his sons with the following words:
God, before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac did walk, the God which fed me all my life long unto this day, the Angel which redeemed me from all evil, bless the lads; and let my name be named on them, and the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac; and let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth. (Gen. 48:15 – 16)
His faith was a telescope by which he could look into the future and see the potential of the decisions and actions of the moment.
When Joseph, the prime minister of Egypt, was near death, he required of the Israelites an oath that they would not leave his bones in Egypt. They promised that they would take his bones with them when they returned to the Promised Land. They were faithful to this oath and four hundred years later took his coffin back to the land God had promised (Exod. 13:19).
The record declares that as the children of Israel reached the Promised Land, “the bones of Joseph, which the children of Israel brought up out of Egypt, buried they in Shechem, in a parcel of ground which Jacob bought of the sons of Hamor . . . for an hundred pieces of silver” (Josh. 24:32).
All of these men died with their faces toward the future. They trusted God. They walked with God. They talked with God. They obeyed God. Even though they had these blessed experiences, they never fully entered into the inheritance that God had promised, yet their faith kept them looking to the future.
By the oath that Joseph required of the children of Israel and by the presence of his mummy case, he continued to bear witness concerning his optimistic, forward-looking faith. As Abel’s life continued to speak after his death, so joseph continued to speak to the people by means of this mummy case.
I. Joseph’s mummy case reminded them that they were the people of God.
A. Joseph could have had a splendid monument among the Egyptians. Like no other people in the ancient world, the Egyptians believed in magnificent monuments and burial chambers for the departed great. Because of the unique contribution that Joseph had made, he could have assumed that he would be enshrined among the greatest in Egypt.
B. Joseph desired to be identified with the people of God even in his death. He had no desire for Egypt to be the final resting place of his bones. He wanted to accompany his people in their return to and entrance into the land that was to be their inheritance. By means of this wish he gave expression to his faith in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He deliberately chose to disassociate himself from Egypt, its rules, its gods, and its customs even beyond death.
With all of their faults, the Israelites were the people of God, and Joseph wanted to remind them of this relationship constantly. Joseph believed that as the people of God, they should be different from the Egyptians. For them to become the people that God wanted them to be, they would need to be reminded of their relationship to him and of the obligations that accompanied that privilege.
Today, as in few instances in the past, the church as the people of God is under attack. It is being criticized and maligned. While much of this criticism is deserved, it might be encouraging if we will recognize that God’s people have never been perfect. They are always journeying toward becoming God’s ideal people. By means of his mummy case, Joseph would not only have his bones returned, but he would remind the people that they were the people of God in a very special way.
II. Joseph’s mummy case was a constant reminder of the promises of God.
A. God had made some great promises to Abraham and his descendants (Gen. 12:1 – 3). These promises had been repeated to Isaac and Jacob. The people of Israel had responded to these promises and walked by faith, though weakly at times, and expected the fulfillment of these promises. As time went by, they discovered the faithfulness of God in the keeping of these promises.
B. Today the church constitutes the children of Abraham. The New Testament teaches that those who trust Jesus Christ as Lord are the spiritual descendants of Abraham. As such we are the recipients of the promises, and we also are responsible for assuming the obligations that accompany this position of privilege. “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light: Which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy” (1 Peter 2:9 – 10).
Our Lord has promised to be with us if we engage in redemptive activity even as God promised to be with Abraham (Matt. 28:20). By faith we need to respond to this promise and obey his commandment to bear a continuing witness.
God has made many precious promises to his children in connection with the privilege of prayer. He has promised his children the divine power they need for accomplishing his work in the world. He has promised us victory over death and an endless fellowship with God and his saints when this life is over.
As Joseph’s mummy case reminded the children of Israel of God’s precious promises, we should let the Bible, the church, and the transformed life of faithful believers remind us that the promises of God are directed to us. Only as we do so will we be encouraged to work by faith.
III. Joseph’s mummy case was a loud reminder of the presence of God.
A. In the house of Potiphar, Joseph had experienced the presence of his Lord. God had blessed Joseph’s efforts, and even Potiphar observed that the blessings of God were upon him. “And his master saw that the Lord was with him, and that the Lord made all that he did to prosper in his hand” (Gen. 39:3).
That Joseph lived in an awareness of the abiding presence of God is dramatically illustrated by his reaction to the wife of Potiphar in her efforts to seduce him into immoral relations. Joseph responded as one who was aware that his life was lived in the presence of God. He was exceedingly eager to please God. In response to the lustful suggestions of this immoral woman, Joseph replied, “There is none greater in this house than I, neither hath [your husband] kept back anything from me but thee, because thou art his wife: how then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?” (Gen. 39:9).
B. God was with Joseph in prison. Perhaps there is no fury like that of a woman scorned. Joseph found himself falsely accused and unjustly imprisoned. God never forsakes those who trust him and obey him, and the record states, “But the Lord was with Joseph, and shewed him mercy, and gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison” (Gen. 39:21).
C. God was with Joseph in his first contact with Pharaoh. Joseph’s faith while in prison was what eventually led him by a providential course into the presence of Pharaoh, where he was requested to interpret a dream that was disturbing the ruler. At no time previous was Joseph more aware of God’s presence. In response to Pharaoh’s request for an interpretation, Joseph said, “It is not in me: God shall give Pharaoh an answer of peace” (Gen. 41:16).
As God had been with Joseph through his varied and exciting career, by the presence of his mummy case, Joseph wanted to bear a witness to the abiding presence of God with Israel. By this symbol he continued to serve as a challenge to their faith.
IV. Joseph’s mummy case was a constant reminder of the purpose of God.
A. Salvation for Israel. God loved the people of ancient Israel and proposed to deliver them from the waste of idolatry and to the joy of a life of worship of the one true and living God.
B. Salvation for a lost world. God did not select Abraham and his descendants to be his pets and to be the recipients of his grace for their personal and private enjoyment. From the beginning of redemptive history, God was intending to reach the whole human race.
The Old Testament and much of the New Testament contain a record of how far short the people fell below a proper response to God’s gracious purposes for them. In spite of the failures of God’s people through the ages, God has not failed, and he continues his efforts to reach and to bless our needy world.
C. Salvation for you. Joseph’s mummy case and all that it signified concerning God’s presence and God’s purposes for his people was pointing to the great salvation that some of us have found in Jesus Christ.
By means of a mummy case, Joseph spoke to the people. By means of a cross and an empty tomb, the gracious God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ offers to you the gift of forgiveness, the joy of eternal life, and the fruit of a blessed fellowship if you will but trust him and follow him as Joseph did.
Sunday Evening, October 18
Title: The Witnessing Church Faces Opposition
Text: “And at that time there was a great persecution against the church. . .” (Acts 8:1).
We live in a day in which the church is being opposed in a number of ways. Christians are persecuted in a number of countries around the world. In the Western world, where Christianity is the dominant faith, the church faces more subtle opposition.
From the very beginning, the church has faced opposition and difficulty. The apostle Paul both encouraged and put the leaders of the church at Ephesus on guard lest they be overly discouraged by the difficulties that the church was to experience after his departure. The church had experienced satanic opposition from its very beginning. Likewise, today the church, the institution Jesus promised to perpetuate, faces satanic assaults from both the outside and the inside (Matt. 16:18).
I. Difficulties on the outside of the witnessing church.
A. At the very beginning the Jewish hierarchy sought to crush the witnessing church.
1. The Sadducees (Acts 4:1 – 2).
2. Saul personified the attitude of the Pharisees (Acts 8:1 – 2).
3. The energies of the king were enlisted against the church (Acts 12:1 – 2). For the modern church to face similar opposition would require the combined ill will of the leading political parties in conjunction with an attitude of disfavor on the part of both the federal and state governments.
B. Pagan groups with vested interests opposed the witnessing church.
1. The owners of the slave girl were violently opposed to the redemptive activities of Paul and Silas (Acts 16:16 – 23).
2. Demetrius and the silversmiths were greatly incensed by a new faith that affected their financial interests (Acts 19:24 – 41).
C. Jewish bitterness hampered missionary outreach.
1. In Iconium the Jews stirred up the Gentiles (Acts 14:2).
2. This opposition followed Paul to Lystra and Derbe (Acts 14:19).
3. It was continued in Thessalonica (Acts 17:5).
4. Paul found opposition in Berea (Acts 17:13).
5. Opposition was encountered in Corinth (Acts 18:12 – 18) and in Jerusalem (Acts 21:27) as well.
The apostle Paul was the victim of this bitterness and hostility, and he suffered greatly at the hands of those who thought they were doing a noble Service for God (2 Cor. 11:24 – 28). Some of us must blush when we measure our dedication and determination to do God’s will by that of these earlier followers of our Lord. Will we be able to take it if the day comes when the church is persecuted from the outside as it was during the early days of its existence? Persecution has always brought great agony, but it has also purified the church by pruning off superficial, uncommitted followers.
II. Difficulties on the inside of the witnessing church.
We live in a day in which the church is being severely criticized by both friend and foe. Friends of the church are often terribly disturbed by the failures and shortcomings of the church. Some experience great depression if they measure the church as it is by what it ought to be.
Without any desire to salve our conscience or to lull ourselves to sleep in complacency, but rather to encourage us to believe that all is not lost, let us examine some of the “inside handicaps” under which the early church bore such a beautiful witness to its world.
A. Its leadership was immature and selfish and expressed a desire for personal glory in the hoped-for coming kingdom (Acts 1:6 – 7). Even the apostles had a shallow concept of all that Jesus intended to accomplish through them. The church is something more than just an organization of fallible human beings. It is an earthen vessel through which the creative Lord would carry on his redemptive work in spite of immaturity and selfishness.
B. The early church also suffered under the handicap of what appeared to be a very shameful beginning. We often forget that Christ, the founder of the church, was betrayed by one who was considered to be a part of the inner circle of his closest associates. The organizer of the church had experienced condemnation as a criminal before both the ecclesiastical courts of the Jews and before the legal court of the Roman government. With these handicaps the church lived and labored and established in the hearts and consciences of multiplied thousands of people a faith in the Savior whom they proclaimed as “Conqueror over death and the grave.”
C. Some of the members of this early fellowship were guilty of insincerity and deception (Acts 5:1 – 11). The judgment of God fell on Ananias and Sapphira in order to register once and for all the divine opposition to insincerity, deception, hypocrisy, and falsehood. To make a personal application of this passage would cause many modern-day believers to tremble with fear. In spite of this kind of handicap on the inside, the church still moved forward.
D. The early church was plagued with both racial and religious prejudice that created a division within the fellowship (Acts 6:1 – 7). Racial and religious prejudice have been continuous problems in hindering the witness of those who would proclaim Christ as the Savior of all people. In spite of these handicaps, the church has made progress through the centuries.
E. The witnessing church faced the handicap of financial problems due to a famine (Acts 11:22 – 30). One of the greatest handicaps of the modern-day church is the lack of financial resources necessary to render a ministry of mercy and to meet the expenses of missionaries who should be sent to areas of spiritual destitution. These needs could be met if the membership of each church would live by the principle of generosity rather than letting greed dominate their thinking.
F. Surprising as it may be, one of the problems that the early church faced, at least in some areas, was that of popularity (Acts 14:8 – 9). There were some who wanted to jump on the bandwagon without realizing what it really meant to be a Christian. The modern-day church faces the problem of some who join because it is the popular thing to do. They consider themselves to be Christians merely because they have joined the congregation.
In spite of these and many other handicaps on the inside, the early church bore a winning witness that caused thousands of people to receive Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Let us face our generation, not in an attitude of defeat because of the weaknesses and failures of people, but with a genuine faith in the dynamic power of the living Christ.
III. The witnessing church was triumphant.
A. They realized their indebtedness to a crucified Savior.
B. They were obedient to the risen Lord.
C. They were gripped by the power of the Holy Spirit.
D. They rejoiced in the privilege of suffering for their Savior.
E. They had faith in ultimate victory.
It would be foolish for us to give up the ship because of handicaps, difficulties, disappointments, and outright opposition. God’s family has always been and will always be a human family. Let us thank God and determine to do a better job than we have in the past.
Wednesday Evening, October 21
Title: The Peril of Self-Deception
Text: “Do not err, my beloved brethren” (James 1:16).
The words of our text can refer to the thoughts presented in the preceding four verses in the first chapter of James, or they can point forward to the challenge of verse 17. For our purpose tonight, let us see them as a warning against the peril of self-deception.
James was dealing with the human tendency to yield to temptation. This is a continuing problem, and we will never in this life find a place of complete immunity from temptation. This should concern us particularly when we face the fact that we can be so easily self-deceived. The wise man said, “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes” (Prov. 12:15). And he also said, “There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death” (14:12).
Most of us rationalize ourselves into believing that everything we do is permissible under the circumstances. Paul warned the Galatians: “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap” (Gal. 6:7).
Are you aware of the peril of deception in your own life? It is of tremendous importance for you as well as for others that you not be in error at this point.
I. Some blame God for everything.
As strange as it may seem, some people even blame God for their sins. Adam was guilty of this, for he charged that if it had not been for the woman whom God had given to him, he would not have partaken of the forbidden fruit (Gen. 3:12).
Some people blame God for all tragedies. In blind resignation they say, “It is the will of God.” To assume this attitude is to do great harm to one’s conception of the character and nature of God.
James makes two statements about temptation.
A. God tempts no one to sin (James 1:13). While God may test people to bring out the good, he never brings about pressure to cause a person to yield to evil.
B. God cannot be tempted with evil (James 1:13). God does not respond to temptation as humans do. There is no way by which God can be lured into evil. No one should ever blame God for the evil that is in his or her own life or in the lives of others. Do not err by blaming God for your yielding to sin.
II. Some blame others for their failures.
A. Some blame heredity. They believe that their father or mother or other ancestors are responsible for the situation in which they find themselves.
B. Some blame their environment. They believe that the pressures of an evil society are responsible for their failures.
C. Some blame evil companions. It is said that birds of a feather flock together.
D. Some blame the Devil for their sins and failures. There can be no question that Satan seeks to tempt and destroy (1 Peter 5:8). To blame either God or others is not to solve the problem that we as individuals face in the matter of dealing with our sins.
III. Each one is responsible for his own sin.
“When he is drawn away by his own lust, and enticed.” (James 1:14)
A. To listen and to tarry in the time of temptation is to yield.
B. Evil desire within leads a person to sin as hunger motivates a fish to swallow the bait on the hook.
C. When evil thoughts are permitted to dwell in the mind, they stimulate destructive sinful appetites.
If we are to deal adequately with the perennial problem of temptation and with our tendency to yield, we must face up to our personal responsibility. We need to admit our responsibility for past failures and shortcomings. We will never solve the problem as long as we try to place blame on someone else. We can rejoice in the assurance that sincere confession can bring cleansing to the heart and to the conscience. We need to consecrate ourselves continually to God’s will. So do not err by failing to recognize who is responsible in the time of temptation.
Sunday Morning, October 25
Title: Moses: An Example of Faith and Action
Text: “By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter; choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season” (Heb. 11:24 – 25).
Scripture Reading: Hebrews 11:23 – 29
Hymns: “Trust and Obey,” Sammis
“A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” Luther
“How Firm a Foundation,” Keith
Offertory Prayer: Our heavenly Father, we acknowledge you as the giver of every good and perfect gift. We thank you for life, for opportunities, for responsibilities, and for the hope that comes to us through faith. Today we come offering ourselves to you. Consecrate these tithes and offerings as visible proofs of our faith and love that others might come to know your Son, Jesus Christ, as Lord and Savior. In his name we pray. Amen.
It is easier to illustrate genuine faith than it is to verbalize a worthy definition. The New International Version translates the Hebrews 11:1 definition like this: “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” The inspired writer declares that it is impossible to please God without faith: “Without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him” (v. 6 NIV).
As members of this congregation, we need to examine ourselves. Are we living the life of faith, or are we just fooling ourselves and attempting to fool others? To examine ourselves seriously can either be very disturbing or very gratifying.
We need the genuine faith that produces faithfulness. The faith that does not produce faithfulness is a faulty faith that needs correcting. We need the genuine faith that produces fruitfulness. It is one thing to hear the Word of God and to respond in a shallow, superficial manner that brings forth no fruit. It is something else to hear the Word and to respond fully and to bring forth fruit “multiplying thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times” (Mark 4:8 NIV).
We need the genuine faith that affects our decisions and choices. Real faith puts God at the center of the universe and at the center of one’s individual life. The will of God is permitted to influence our will. Faith causes one to take the long look and brings about a recognition that the future is wrapped up in the dangers and difficulties of the present.
The great heroes of the faith who are marshaled into the witness stand in Hebrews 11 do not seek to define faith so much as they seek to illustrate what faith should mean and what it can mean as one faces the struggles of life. In the inspired testimony concerning Moses, there are five dramatic examples of genuine faith.
I. The faith of Moses’ parents (Exod. 2:1 – 10).
A. Faith was stronger than fear. A devout, God-fearing mother, no doubt with the full cooperation of her husband, found that her faith enabled her to stand steady rather than trembling with fear in the face of the command of Pharaoh to destroy her son. Not only did her maternal instinct inspire her to preserve the life of her son, but it was faith that gave her vision, ingenuity, and a plan.
B. Faith gave Moses’ parents eyes with which to see the future. These parents recognized that if their people and their faith were to continue, the male child must be preserved. It was the faith of Moses’ parents during his infancy that made it possible for the future nation of Israel to have a deliverer and a lawgiver and a leader.
Present-day parents should earnestly pray for the faith to visualize the potential of the children that God grants to their care and custody.
II. Moses’ act of identification with his own people was an expression of genuine faith (Heb. 11:24 – 25).
A. Because of faith, Moses refused the popular place of luxury and pleasure. As the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, Moses could have had any pleasure or position of prestige his heart desired. In this day when there is such an emphasis on affluence and delight in luxury, Moses could have been considered the chief among fools to have given up so much. Instead of being foolish, history has declared him to be exceedingly wise because of his act of separation.
B. Moses chose to suffer affliction with the people of God. Only a genuine faith could have enabled him to visualize the future significance of this act of identification with a very unpopular cause. It is sad to contemplate how unwilling most of us are to identify ourselves with that which is not popular. Does this not indicate the shallow, superficial nature of our faith?
III. Moses withdrew from Egypt to wait as an act of faith.
A. A measure of values (Heb. 11:26). Because of his faith, Moses was able to visualize the treasures of God. He believed that the treasures of Egypt were counterfeit when compared with the treasures of the spirit that were to be reaped by one who would live a life of trust and obedience.
In a day when success is measured in terms of material values, it would be wise for each of us to take an inventory concerning our investment. The martyred missionary Jim Elliot said, “He is no fool who loses what he cannot keep in order to gain what he cannot lose.”
B. An act of boldness (Heb. 11:27). It would appear from the historical account of Moses’ departure from Egypt that he was moved by fear (Exod. 2:15). The writer of Hebrews understood his action as an expression of boldness and wisdom. It was impossible with his present resources and circumstances to bring about the deliverance of his people, so instead of seeking to lead an abortive rebellion, Moses departed to wait for a more appropriate occasion.
IV. Moses made arrangements for the Passover feast while still in Egypt (Heb. 11:28).
A. Blood on the door post (Exod. 12:12 – 48). In strict obedience to the command of God, the people were instructed to kill the Passover lamb, to take the blood of that lamb and to strike it on the two side posts and the upper door posts of their houses. Most likely Moses did not realize all that this symbolized, and certainly the people did not fully realize that this was a prophetic picture of the Lamb who was to be slain for the redemption of a lost race (John 1:29; 1 Peter 1:18 – 20).
B. The Passover was to be observed annually. Even though God’s people were still in the land of Egypt, Moses gave them instructions that the Passover feast was to be a perpetual observance. He was thus demonstrating his faith in God and his purpose for the people in a distant future. Moses was able to do this because his eye was focused on him who is invisible.
V. Moses led God’s people in crossing the Red Sea (Heb. 11:29).
A. Israel was delivered. In obedience to the command of God, Moses led and the people followed. God performed a miracle in nature that enabled them to cross through the Red Sea as on dry ground. Through faith men find themselves doing that which otherwise would be impossible.
B. Egypt was destroyed. In attempting to follow where God had led the Israelites, the Egyptian armies were destroyed, and Israel escaped to realize God’s appointed destiny for them.
The life of Moses is a dramatic disclosure of the difference faith can make in one’s life. Are you living the life of faith? Are you deciding against that which may be enticing but would lead you away from God’s will?
Has your faith caused you to identify with those who are unfortunate and in need of a deliverer as Israel needed Moses? Has your faith led you to attempt that which is physically impossible on the basis of visible resources? Moses succeeded because his eye was on him who is invisible, and he had access to spiritual resources.
Moses knew God. He trusted God, obeyed God, and proved God to be dependable and trustworthy. You can too if you will.
Sunday Evening, October 25
Title: Stewardship in the Witnessing Church
Text: “And all that believed were together, and had all things common; and sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need” (Acts 2:44 – 45).
It is impossible for a modern church to duplicate and to reproduce in every respect the early church as it existed in the book of Acts. It would be useless to attempt to do so. The New Testament church that we find in the book of Acts was in many points very different from most modern churches. It possessed no property or buildings. Its leadership consisted, at first, of only the apostles. Its religious life consisted of daily Services rather than Sunday Services. The people met in homes to share in common meals, to listen to the instructions of the apostles, and to pray.
While we cannot duplicate the early church, there are many things concerning it that we should eagerly seek to imitate. We worship the same Lord. We are empowered by the same Spirit. We are charged with the same mission. We have the same privilege of prayer. The Lord who promised to be with them has promised to be with us.
The stewardship practices of this early church should challenge us to a deeper dedication both to the kingdom of God and to the welfare of our fellow humans.
I. The early church was characterized by a remarkable generosity.
A. They had all things in common (Acts 2:44).
B. They distributed to each other as they had need (Acts 2:45).
C. They contributed to the needs of widows and orphans (Acts 6:2).
D. They sold lands and houses to meet common needs (Acts 4:34; 5:1 – 11).
E. The mission church contributed to the relief of the older churches (Acts 11:27 – 30).
Two interesting facts should be considered as we measure this spirit of generosity by that which prevails in our modern churches. First, these early disciples were not commanded to practice the generosity to the extent that they did; their generosity was spontaneous.
Second, this generosity was repeated nowhere else during New Testament times, and neither has it been repeated except by very small groups in Christian history.
II. Is there a logical explanation for the generosity of the early church?
A. Did they follow the example of the Essenes? The Dead Sea Scrolls reveal that the Essenes lived together in a communal arrangement in which they shared all things in common.
B. Was this generosity encouraged by the expectation of the early return of the Savior? These early disciples eagerly longed for the return of Christ. They were hoping and praying that he would return immediately. This could be a partial explanation for their lavish generosity.
C. Could it be that they actually believed the teachings of Jesus?
1. Jesus had taught, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). Do you suppose that they believed Jesus to the extent that they practiced what he preached and discovered in their own experience that there is a greater thrill that comes through giving than there is through receiving? That it is more blessed to give than to receive cannot be discovered by reading a book. It must be practiced to be proven.
2. Jesus had cautioned against the peril of making investments that would perish, and he had counseled his disciples to make investments in the kingdom of God, where they would receive dividends of eternal significance: “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal” (Matt. 6:19 – 20).
3. Jesus had spoken one word of commandment — “Give” (Luke 6:38). The last of that verse is a promise: “Give . . . for with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again” (Luke 6:38).
Many modern-day Christians are overcome with a pocketbook protection instinct to the extent that they have a mental block when they hear the word give. Consequently, they miss the promise and the opportunity to discover the radiant joy that comes to the one who lives to give rather than to get.
D. The royal law of love. “If ye fulfil the royal law according to the Scripture, you shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well” (James 2:8).
1. The generosity of the early Christians was voluntary. It was uncoerced. They responded to human need because of love within their hearts.
2. The generosity of the early Christians was spontaneous. Because they had the power to meet human needs, they did so gladly.
One of our deepest needs is to be givers. Individually, our need to be givers is far greater than the needs of the church for our gifts. May God help each of us to be able to follow the philosophy of Jesus who said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).
Wednesday Evening, October 28
Title: The Generosity of God
Text: “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning” (James 1:17).
The warning against the peril of self-deception in James 1:16 can refer to that which precedes and to that which follows. Some have deceived themselves into believing that even temptation to evil at times comes from God. James 1:13 would affirm that this is never the case. On the other hand, some may be unaware that all good things are from God.
There are at least four stimulating thoughts in the words of this text.
I. God is the source of all good things.
We have a tendency to forget this or to ignore it. Some would even deny it. James affirms that God is the origin and the source of all good things.
God uses many different means and methods to bring good into our lives. The eyes of faith will see the grace of God in all that is good. The heart of faith will praise God for all good.
Back of the loaf is the snowy flour,
Back of the flour the mill;
Back of the mill the wheat, the show’r,
The sun and our Father’s will.
— M. D. Babcock
II. God’s gifts are always good.
God’s greatest gifts are inward and spiritual. They cannot be weighed on scales or measured with a yardstick. They cannot be evaluated in dollars and cents. Who can place a value on the gift of forgiveness and the assurance of divine sonship? Who can calculate the preciousness of the joy of knowing that heaven is to be our eternal home? Who can evaluate the priceless privilege of the opportunity to serve in the name of Christ?
God has given such a multitude of gifts that many of us do not recognize how generous he is. The psalmist spoke to his own soul and said, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits” (Ps. 103:2).
III. God’s gifts are always purposeful.
God does not bestow his greatest gifts upon us merely for our selfish enjoyment; usually he has a redemptive purpose in mind. To receive and utilize one of God’s good gifts causes the individual to drink more fully of the cup of God’s salvation. To respond and utilize God’s good gifts will have an uplifting and enriching effect upon the lives of the people around us.
Most parents are eager to bestow upon their children gifts that are not only enjoyable but that develop their capacities and abilities for a more complete life. This explains the increasing sales of educational toys. Parents are eager to give that which will be helpful. Similarly, every gift of our heavenly Father is designed and intended to make life fuller for the recipient. Every gift is bestowed to bless not only the recipient but also others through the recipient.
IV. God is always giving.
The later part of this verse speaks of the nature and character of God as being forever the same. God knows no change of rising or setting like the sun. There is neither shadow nor eclipse of his gracious and loving purpose.
As the Father of Lights, God is very different from the sun whose benefits we enjoy only during the day. Half of our time is spent in darkness. Unlike the sun, which shines on our part of the world only half of the time, God is ever present to give of his love, his mercy, and his guidance to meet the deepest needs of our lives.