Category Archives: Six Steps to Encouragement

1 Peter 1: The end of encouragement

In CHESS, it’s all about your END GAME. How you FINISH the game. You can have the best OPENING moves, and not make mistakes in the MIDDLE. But if can’t trap your opponent in checkmate, you can never WIN. I’m not much of a chess player. And I’ve only got a couple of ways of finishing off a game. Sometimes it even happens BY ACCIDENT. I’ll make a move, say “Check!”, and then realise it’s CHECKMATE!”But GOOD chess players are thinking about their END GAME almost from the first move. Every move they make, every pawn sacrifice, every strategic withdrawal, is setting things up for the END GAME.

And there’s lots of LIFE that’s the SAME. Some of you are studying to QUALIFY FOR A NEW JOB. And there’s books to read, and notes to write. Difficult things to understand, and long lists to memorise. You’re learning about something new. And, as fun as learning IS, there’s AN END to it. A PURPOSE. A day when the LEARNING is OVER. And the JOB begins. Which is what all the LEARNING is about. Or maybe you’re working on a project. (Knitting a jumper. Or getting fit and losing weight. Or painting the house.) And those things are FUN. But they’re not the GOAL. At SOME point, you FINISH. And you can begin ENJOYING what you’ve WORKED for. (You WEAR the jumper. Or you run the marathon. Or you live in your freshly painted house.)

And it’s the same with Christian life. We’re running a race. And, like ANY race, there’s A PURPOSE. A GOAL. A time when running will be over. And RESTING will begin. THE FINISH LINE. And, for Christians, the finish line is WHEN JESUS RETURNS. Returns to JUDGE. Returns to bring in his NEW CREATION. The life we were MADE for.

And, as we think about ENCOURAGEMENT (the words we speak to strengthen each other), that day will mark THE END of encouragement. Because all the hard work and struggle will be over, and the celebration can begin.

It’s like a running race. As long as the race is on, the runners need to be CHEERED – motivated – to keep going. To stick it out even though their legs are aching, their feet hurt, and their lungs are burning. To make it to the end. But once they cross the finish line, there’s no NEED any more. The race has ENDED. So the need for ENCOURAGEMENT is over.There’ll be CELEBRATION. Celebration that the runner MADE it. But it won’t be ENCOURAGEMENT any more.

Same with the CHRISTIAN race. One day, it will be OVER. When Jesus returns. Sin and death and hurt will be destroyed. The struggle will be done. And perseverance and faith and hope won’t be needed any more. And so ENCOURAGEMENT won’t be needed any more. Instead, we can begin CELEBRATION.

But there’s ANOTHER meaning for the word “END”. Not just FINISH. End can also mean “GOAL” or “PURPOSE” or TARGET. And if we think about THAT meaning of END. Then what do we mean by “the END of encouragement”? What is its GOAL, its PURPOSE? Then the answer is the same. It’s ALSO the day Jesus returns and sets everything right. That day is the FINISH LINE for encouragement, And it’s also the PURPOSE of encouragement. The TARGET of our encouragement of each other.

All through the Bible, the chief motivation, the main encouragement, to keep following Jesus is BECAUSE HE’S COMING BACK.

For example, 1 Corinthians 15:58. Paul’s just spent 57 verses talking about our resurrection. About death being destroyed when Jesus returns. And then he finishes in v58.

58 THEREFORE, my dear brothers, STAND FIRM. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, BECAUSE YOU KNOW THAT YOUR LABOUR IN THE LORD IS NOT IN VAIN.

In other words, “Keep going. Because it’ll all be WORTH IT.” That’s the GOAL of encouragement.

I could show you a lot more. But we’re going to look at 1 Peter ch 1. At how Peter points us to Jesus’ return, and then encourages us to RESPOND to that. A look to THE FUTURE. Which is an encouragement for THE PRESENT. And that’s a great example for how WE can encourage each other.

An imperishable inheritance

Let’s begin at v3 where God’s qualified us for something IN THE FUTURE. He wants us to look to the END GAME. There in v3. 3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into A LIVING HOPE through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 AND INTO AN INHERITANCE THAT CAN NEVER PERISH, SPOIL OR FADE-kept in heaven for you,

Whatever our circumstances might look like at the moment, our future is about a generous, eternal, glorious inheritance. Our BODIES might be PERISHING. Our houses and cars and food might SPOIL. Our beauty and our popularity might be FADING. But not our INHERITANCE – it can NEVER perish, spoil or fade. And we can COUNT ON IT. It’s a LIVING hope. An ALIVE hope. It’s real and it’s sure. Jesus WON our new birth by his resurrection. But he also makes our hope SURE by his resurrection. We can be SURE that if he defeated death for HIMSELF, then he’ll do it for us TOO. And it’s SAFE and SECURE because it’s KEPT IN HEAVEN (v4). Nothing can touch it. A global financial crisis, or a tsunami, or a political revolution. Nothing can break it, or cheapen it, or lose it. It’s SOLID and RELIABLE.

And then Peter tells us how that fact should ENCOURAGE us NOW. V6.6 In this YOU GREATLY REJOICE, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.

There’s REAL JOY to be experienced NOW even though, humanly speaking, there’s more reason to DESPAIR. That’s what OUR encouraging words should do for people.There’s JOY because the grief is only FOR A LITTLE WHILE. Compared to the inheritance that lasts FOR ETERNITY. Like getting a needle to cure a disease. The pain of a needle is for a second compared with the LIFETIME of health. Point one. We have an imperishable inheritance. So greatly rejoice.

Jesus Christ will be revealed

Point two: Not only are the trials BRIEF, they have a PURPOSE. To prove your faith is genuine. Life MIGHT be tough now. You MIGHT feel like giving up. But it’s not random, or bad luck. The encouragement is that God has a GOAL for it. And, once again, it’s encouragement that’s looking to THE END. The purpose is that the trials make us better prepared for the day Jesus is revealed. There in v7.7 These have come so that your faith-of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire-MAY BE PROVED GENUINE AND MAY RESULT IN PRAISE, GLORY AND HONOR WHEN JESUS CHRIST IS REVEALED.

Just like it takes FIRE to refine gold. To burn off all the impurities. And reveal the glorious beauty. Same with TRIALS. They burn off our independence and pride. They burn off our selfishness and self-reliance. And they leave behind a humble, gentle, trusting Christ-likeness that’s perfectly matched to Jesus himself. And so, when the perfectly humble, gentle, trusting, glorious Jesus is revealed on the last day, then we’ll be refined and ready and MATCHING. Just like HIM. And so all praise and honour will go to HIM… because of US.

That’s FUTURE. But it’s got practical implications NOW. It’s reason to rejoice IN THE PRESENT. Look at how Peter continues in v8.8 Though you have not seen him (yet), you love him (now); and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are FILLED WITH AN INEXPRESSIBLE AND GLORIOUS JOY (now),

The encouragement to be joyful, and to love Jesus NOW, is because of WHAT’S COMING.

The Salvation of your souls – the goal telosend of your faith

That’s two truths about the finish. And there in v8 and 9 we get a THIRD truth. You believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, 9 for you are receiving THE GOAL OF YOUR FAITH, THE SALVATION OF YOUR SOULS.

We trust him NOW because we’re receiving the GOAL of our faith THEN. And the word there for GOAL is “END.” The END of your faith. Its TARGET, its finishing line.

And what IS that goal? What is the conclusion or the target of our faith? It’s THE SALVATION OF OUR SOULS. Rescue from judgment. Saving from death into life.

And that means we can confidently trust God NOW because it’s what happened FOR JESUS. (HIS suffering finished in saving and glory.) That’s what the next paragraph is talking about. (there in v11). The prophets revealed God’s plan in Scripture that Christ would SUFFER. But that wouldn’t be the END. See it there in v11? They predicted the sufferings of Christ and the GLORIES THAT WOULD FOLLOW.

Glories followed trials FOR CHRIST. And so we can trust God NOW, and be joyful NOW, that it will be the same FOR US.

And BECAUSE that’s in the future, it means we should do something NOW. Look in v13 to find Peter’s NEXT encouragement.

13 Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed.

Notice the “therefore”. Because of what’s COMING – the salvation of your souls – do something IN THE PRESENT. Prepare your minds for action. The literal translation of the phrase “Prepare your minds” is “Gird up the loins of your mind.” Hitch up your skirts, and get ready to do battle. But do it IN YOUR MIND. Get your ATTITUDES right.

First. Be self-controlled. Because there’s a reckoning coming. An examination. And you want to be found ready. Prepared.

And second. SET YOUR HOPE FULLY on what you’ve got coming on that day. The grace of your INHERITANCE. The grace of your SALVATION. Make it a conscious decision of your MIND to look past all the sparkly, earthly things that attract us. Importance, comfort, acceptance, pleasure, control, power. But none of them LAST. And none of them SATISFY. Instead set your hope – focus your MIND- on what TRULY satisfies, and what TRULY lasts. That’s how you gird up the loins of your mind.

And what that looks like in PRACTICAL terms is seen in the next verse. V14.

14 As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. 15 But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do;

You don’t BELONG in this world. It WON’T LAST. So don’t CONFORM to it. Instead, imitate the one you’ve been created for. The one you’ll spend eternity with. Be holy as God is holy. Practical encouragement for TODAY that’s focussed on the END. The GOAL of our faith.

The Father is the impartial Judge

And the fourth pointer to the finishing line is there in v17. WE CALL ON A FATHER WHO WILL JUDGE EVERYONE’S WORKS IMPARTIALLY. That’s what’s waiting for us. JUSTICE. It’s REAL and it’s CERTAIN and it’s TRUSTWORTHY. There’s no DELAYING him. No BRIBING him, no DISTRACTING him from his goal.

And so that’s obviously got consequences for our behaviour IN THE PRESENT. V17.

17 SINCE you call on a Father who judges each man’s work impartially, LIVE YOUR LIVES AS STRANGERS HERE IN REVERENT FEAR.

Not in fear of the police, or the tax department, or popularity polls. But in reverence to the One who’s opinion REALLY matters. Live in fear of GOD. The impartial judge.

We’re STRANGERS here. Aliens. Our passport is from another country. And, ultimately we answer to another AUTHORITY. Our HEAVENLY Father is the one who sees every action, hears every word, knows every thought. The one who judge JUSTLY.

Which means we can let go of reacting to evil WITH evil. We can give up revenge, or jealousy, or complaining about the unfairness of a lack of justice. Because EVERYONE will receive EXACTLY WHAT THEY DESERVE from the impartial judge. So we can just get on with living our lives here in reverent fear of our heavenly Father ALONE.

You have been born of imperishable seed that lasts forever through the Word of God that last forever

And the FINAL pointer to the finish line is there in v23. 23 For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of IMPERISHABLE, through the living and enduring word of God.

God’s WORD lasts forever. If we’ve been born again, then we’ve been powerfully CHANGED by God’s word so that WE, TOO, last forever.THIS WORLD is only the BEGINNING. We were made for ETERNITY. That’s our NATURAL home. Not THIS world. We’re just PASSING THROUGH.

It’s like driving a top of the line Porsche around and around in the carpark at Westpoint. Then finally making it to the exit gate. It’s the finish line of the carpark. But it’s only the beginning for the Porsche. THE OPEN ROAD is what the Porsche is designed for. Where it can do what it was DESIGNED to do. Accelerate quickly, handle beautifully. Go FAST!Same with US. We’ve been born again of IMPERISHABLE seed, not perishable. The finish line of THIS life is REALLY the STARTING line.

And so, says Peter, into ch 2.

2:1 THEREFORE, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. 2 Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, 3 now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.

Get rid of all the stuff that’s about PERISHABLE things. Malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy, slander. And, instead, crave the stuff that’s IMPERISHABLE. Stuff that grows you for eternity. The pure milk of God’s powerful word. Crave that.

It’s like putting bike tyres on the Porsche, and filling it with lawn mower fuel. It’s not going to WORK. It’s not what it was DESIGNED to run on. Our fuel is the true spiritual milk of God’s Word. That’s GOOD and NOURISHING and POWERFUL. CRAVE that. HUNGER for it. FEED on it. And GROW. BE, TODAY, what you ARE. You’re made of imperishable seed. So LIVE like it.

The end of encouragement

Until we come to that final day when all those things will begin. When we’ll receive our inheritance. When Jesus Christ will be revealed. When we receive the salvation of our souls. When the impartial Judge delivers his verdict. When our imperishable life begins. On THAT day, encouragement will be ENDED. There’ll be no more NEED. Because the GOAL of our encouragement has arrived. Because the race will be over. (And the struggle. And the HOPE.) And joy and life and intimacy and celebration will begin. Which is what we were MADE for.

Let’s ENCOURAGE each other with these words. Hebrews 10:23

23 Let us hold UNSWERVINGLY to the HOPE WE PROFESS, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may SPUR ONE ANOTHER ON toward love and good deeds. 25 Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us ENCOURAGE one another-AND ALL THE MORE AS YOU SEE THE DAY APPROACHING.

What a day THAT will be!

 

 

 

Colossians 1:3-14: The Place of Prayer: Six Steps To Encouragement 6

We’ve been looking at SIX STEPS TO ENCOURAGEMENT. Today we come to the SIXTH step. PRAYER. Which should really be THE FIRST step – at least when it comes to the PROCESS of encouraging. Because it’s only GOD who can change people through us. It’s vital we connect with HIM. That we ask for HIS help, HIS wisdom. For HIS PURPOSES to be worked out in us.

Prayer is both the SIMPLEST thing in the world, and also the MOST DIFFICULT. I know that’s true FOR ME. It’s often the LAST thing we turn to, rather than the FIRST.

But if Jesus found it necessary to pray, then who are we to think we don’t need it?

We’re going to look at an example of Paul’s prayers this morning. Colossians ch 1. It’s great because it helps us see the big picture. It helps us see things from God’s perspective. Helps us see how the few simple sentences we mumble to another person can have eternal and heavenly consequences.

We might wonder whether the VOTE of one person can do much. But this passage teaches us that the ENCOURAGING WORDS of one person can have a GREAT impact as God answers our prayers!

Look for, and give thanks for, the work of God’s words in people’s lives.
First thing this passage teaches us is to LOOK for, and GIVE THANKS for the work of God’s words in people’s lives. There from v3.
3 We ALWAYS THANK GOD, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, 4 because we have heard of your FAITH in Christ Jesus and of the LOVE you have for all the saints- 5 the faith and love that spring from the HOPE that is stored up for you in heaven and that you have already heard about in the word of truth, the gospel 6 that has come to you. All over the world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing, just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and understood God’s grace in all its truth.

He’s thanking God – because God’s DOING something in the Colossians. Epaphras (in v7) might have been the PERSON who preached the gospel to them – but it’s GOD who’s producing the FRUIT in their lives. So he doesn’t thank Epaphras.

The Colossians HEARD it, they UNDERSTOOD it. And God gave them FAITH to TRUST it. He gave them LOVE to share with people around them. He gave them HOPE to fuel their perseverance and their witness.

Paul looking for the work of God in people’s lives, so he can be thankful to God. It would have taken a lot more effort for Paul to find out information than it does FOR US. But he chases up Epaphras, his mate who founded the church to find out SPECIFICS.

Paul hadn’t even MET these Christians. See there in v4 – he’s only HEARD about their faith. But he prays for them ALWAYS. Not constantly. But EVERY TIME he prays. You’ve got to be ORGANISED to do that.

How well do YOU know specific things about people to pray for? To give THANKS for? We don’t need to know everyone’s intimate secrets. But church should be an open, honest place where we’ve got a rough idea about how people are going. About what their struggles are. Where God’s doing good work. Where we can THANK him.

But some of us don’t even know EACH OTHER’S NAMES. It shouldn’t BE like that.

Home groups are designed so you can get to know each other better. And provide a more comfortable setting to share some of those details.

If you’re NOT in one, JOIN one. It’s GOOD for you. It’s good for US ALL.

Ian’s starting up a new one next term. See him.

But if you’re already in one, don’t sit back, resting on your laurels. When it comes time to SHARE in those groups – be prepared to SHARE. Share some SPECIFIC details. Make yourself vulnerable. Specific GOOD things to THANK God for. Specific CHALLENGES you want God to WORK IN.

That’s when Home Groups will start working the way they’re SUPPOSED to. When they move from being simply a BIBLE study group. When people openly share their lives with each other. That’s when the SUPPORT and the GROWTH and the ACCOUNTABILITY begin.

But that’s only the FIRST step – the people you know HERE AT CHURCH. How well are you doing at seeking out information, and praying for people OUTSIDE your immediate circle? YOUR family, YOUR church, YOUR work?

How wide is your vision when it comes to prayer? Does it stretch to the other side of Sydney, other denominations, the other side of the world? Does it stretch beyond the urgent and immediate to the IMPORTANT? The BIG things?

A couple of years ago Gordon ran a prayer seminar, and one of the models for prayer he talked about was to imagine your life as a series of concentric circles.

The INSIDE circle represents YOU. Personal issues, interactions you have, people you’re meeting – both requests and thanks for answered prayer. You start off praying there. The NEXT circle out represents your FAMILY. Then you move out to your CHURCH, then your community or your city. Then finally you pray for your WORLD. For Christians on other countries, for missionaries. Even for people you’ve never MET.

And so, as you work your way out, you’re able to pray for a whole RANGE of concerns. Close and distant. Small things and large. Immediate and more long-term.

If you only stick to the first or the second circle. Your view of the world is unbalanced. Your view of God’s WORK is unbalanced. The world ISN’T centred on you. And God’s on about much bigger concerns than just your close circles.

Recognising that actually gives us GREATER confidence in praying for our close circles. Because we can see God working on a much bigger scale. We catch a better glimpse of his power and his love. That’s what Paul reminds the Colossians there in v6. The gospel’s not just at work in THEM. ALL OVER THE WORLD the gospel’s bearing fruit!

But it takes a bit of organisation to be INFORMED about concerns outside your immediate circle.

Perhaps it takes a church MISSIONS group who can regularly provide information on missionaries around the world. Perhaps organise activities to raise money for them. Keep us up to date with prayer points. Things to PRAISE God for as well as requests. I reckon that would be GREAT for a couple of people to take on. See me if you’re interested.

Individually, you can be subscribing to magazines, reading books. Or even checking websites regularly that inform you of God’s concerns across the world.

Learn from the example of Paul. Look for, and give thanks for, the work of God’s words in people’s lives. And look BROADLY. So your view of GOD can be just as big.

2. Pray for people to be filled with a knowledge of God’s will
Point Two. When you’ve recognised what God IS doing in people, your prayer for him to do it MORE will be more CONFIDENT. Look at how Paul turns from thanks to petition in v9. It’s really only a prayer for ONE THING. Have a look at it.
9 For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and ASKING GOD TO FILL YOU WITH THE KNOWLEDGE OF HIS WILL THROUGH ALL SPIRITUAL WISDOM AND UNDERSTANDING.

Is this just a prayer that the Colossians would know what job to do, or who to marry? It’s not a bad thing to limit God’s will to those sorts of guidance questions. And it’s wonderful when God DOES guide in those ways. But it’s not the main way the Bible speaks about God’s WILL.

Like in Ps 40:8
8 I desire to do your WILL, O my God; your LAW is within my heart.”

God’s WILL is his REVEALED will. His LAW. His decrees. We already HAVE his blueprint for how he wants us to live our life. All that we need to follow God’s WILL is there in the Bible.

Paul’s prayer is that these people would be so filled with God’s WORD, that it would be bubbling out in the way they speak and think and act. That the pattern of God’s actions and attitudes down through history would be stamped onto their lives. Whatever they did. And wherever they were.

In other words, that they’d be speaking WORDS OF ENCOURAGEMENT to each other.

Whatever we do when we meet together, we should NEVER outgrow spending serious time and energy and attention studying and reading and applying God’s word together.

It’s how we learn God’s WILL. And it’s how we can learn what God’s words are that we can speak to each other in encouragement.

And so, Paul’s prayer is that God would FILL THE COLOSSIANS WITH THE KNOWLEDGE OF HIS WILL with all spiritual wisdom and understanding.

It’s a prayer WE need to pray. For OURSELVES, just as much as for OTHERS. Not only that we would KNOW our Bibles – that’s the THEORETICAL.

And that we’d know how to SPEAK it to each other. By listening first, and then speaking with wisdom and courage. Like we learned last week.

But also that God would give us a glimpse into his DESIRES – A glimpse into his character that lies BEHIND his commands. A HEART knowledge.

To be filled with the knowledge of God’s will is to know something of The LOVE that drives God to want to see the gospel spread. The HOLINESS that mourns our sin and weakness and rebellion. A glimpse into his PATIENCE that wants to keep giving people another chance, long after OUR patience wears out. A peek at the JOY he feels when his people lovingly and faithfully follow his ways.

But to pray that God would fill us with the knowledge of his will with all spiritual wisdom and understanding isn’t just about HEAD knowledge. And it isn’t just about HEART knowledge. It’s a prayer that God would show us how to APPLY that truth in the hundreds of specific situations we all face each week – that’s a PRACTICAL knowledge.

So that you live worthy of the Lord, and please him,
Situations that take WISDOM so we can respond in ways that bring HONOUR to God. You can see that’s the POINT of Paul’s prayer because of how he goes on to describe what this will LEAD to. The GOAL he has in mind. Look there in v10.
10 And we pray this (that they’d know the will of God) in order that you may LIVE A LIFE WORTHY OF THE LORD and may PLEASE HIM IN EVERY WAY: etc

We need to know God’s will not so much so we can steer the right path through life. But so we can live a life that MEASURES UP and PLEASES him WHEREVER THE PATH TAKES US.

To drive LEGALLY, and WITH PATIENCE in whatever car we choose to buy. To work HARD and HONESTLY in whatever job we’re in. To get on with our neighbours in whatever suburb we live in.

To live a life that’s WORTHY of the Lord. I don’t think we grasp the WEIGHT of that – the weight of living under an EXPECTATION.

It’s something Prince Harry and Prince William have had to live with. Living a life that’s WORTHY of a WINDSOR – worthy of ROYALTY. And occasionally, naturally, they haven’t been able to measure up. And they’ve been caught doing what OTHER NORMAL people do. Go to nightclubs, get drunk and get up to mischief.

But it’s not the sort of life that’s WORTHY OF ROYALTY.

Does it weigh heavily on YOU that you live a life that’s WORTHY of the Lord. That’s FITTING. Are you conscious that your thoughts and actions and words needs to be measuring up? So that they might be PLEASING to God?

Paul goes on to describe what that sort of worthy and pleasing life LOOKS LIKE. Four characteristics.

bearing fruit in every good work,
Have a look there in v10. First, a life that’s WORTHY of the Lord BEARS FRUIT in the form of GOOD WORKS. Christians do good works. Attitudes and actions of love for all the saints – that’s up in v4. Or v6, all over the world the GOSPEL is bearing fruit and growing. That’s the good work of SHARING JESUS with the people you meet.

growing in the knowledge of God
The second way we please God is there at the end of v11. That we would be growing in the knowledge of God.

It seems like there’s a cycle going on here. Paul prays that they’d grow in the knowledge of God’s will so they can live a worthy life and bear fruit, which means they’ll be growing in the knowledge of God.

God’s WILL for you is to know HIM better. Not just through his WORD, but through obeying him, you learn BY EXPERIENCE about his goodness, and his faithfulness, and his love and his mercy.

Being strengthened with all power so that you may have great endurance and patience
The third aspect of a pleasing life is there in v11.
strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience,

Knowing God’s will leads to having POWER. But it’s not the power to defeat armies. Claim mighty victories. Win gold medals. A pleasing life is one that is strengthened by God’s power to ENDURE with PATIENCE. That looks with HOPE to the reward God’s promised. As you stick it out in the tough times.
It takes a STRONG man to endure ridicule and suffering without retaliating. A REAL man.

It takes a STRONG woman to deal with negative comments and criticism and suffering without complaining or becoming bitter or taking sides.

God’s will is for you to be STRENGTHENED so you might have great patience and endurance.

Do you pray that for yourself? Do you pray it for OTHERS?

Joyfully giving thanks
Paul’s fourth descriptor is there in v12. Joyfully giving thanks.
11 being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have GREAT ENDURANCE AND PATIENCE, and JOYFULLY 12 GIVING THANKS TO THE FATHER,

How does joyful thanks go with great endurance and patience? How can you ENDURE a TRYING SITUATION at the same time as being joyful and thankful?

The ONLY way you can do it is if you’re trusting in a God who’s SOVEREIGN. Who IS in control. Who’s dealt with your PAST, who’s got your PRESENT in his hand, and who’s PROMISED you a secure future.

You can see that’s what Paul’s got in mind as he goes on
joyfully 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light (That’s our FUTURE). 13 For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness (that’s our PAST) and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins (that’s our PRESENT).

That’s God’s WILL for us. We need to be filled with a knowledge of that will. That’s the perspective we need. That insight into God’s plans. We need it to speak God’s words of encouragement to each other. So we need to be PRAYING it for each other.

Mercedes Ruehl is a great stage and screen actress. She’s one of the few actresses to win a Tony Award for the stage, and an Oscar Award for the screen in the same year (for Lost in Yonkers and The Fisher King).

She tells the story of how she was first captivated by acting. She was in primary school in the 1950’s, and her family was in New York visiting relatives. As they drove through Times Square, on the spur of the moment her parents decided to see if they could get tickets to The Unsinkable Molly Brown.
“I remember waiting in the car,” says Ruehl, “while my mother ran up to the box office. The only tickets left were for box seats. Box seats! Right beside the stage.
“As we watched the play, I couldn’t take my eyes off its star, Tammy Grimes. She must have felt my adoration, because at one point she looked up and held my eyes. It was probably for no more than one second, but it seemed like ten seconds. I always felt that was my OFFICIAL INVITATION TO BE AN ACTRESS. With her gaze I WAS TOUCHED LIKE A KNIGHT ON BOTH SHOULDERS WITH A SWORD.”

God’s gaze is on us. His purpose for us, his WILL for us, is to live a life worthy of his calling. To bear fruit. To be strengthened. To joyfully give thanks. To share in our inheritance in the kingdom of lights.
And he’s given us HIS official invitation to JOIN him in working towards that purpose in OTHERS. As we PRAY for people to KNOW that will, and as we speak his words to BRING it ABOUT.

How to say what you say: Six Steps to Encouragement 5

Today is week FIVE of a six week series on Encouragement. And one of the key verses is Eph 4:15. And it sums up the point of the series. It says we’re to be “SPEAKING THE TRUTH IN LOVE, so we’ll, in all things, grow up into Christ.”

 

We’re not just to be speaking THE TRUTH. But speaking the truth IN LOVE. Which is what we’re focussing on TODAY. HOW to say what we say.

 

The REASON we speak, the MOTIVE, is because we LOVE the other person. We want their BEST. Which is, that they grow up in Christ. Whether they’re Christian or not. WHOEVER we talk to – our goal is to move them FURTHER ALONG THE ROAD TO CHRIST than they were before our conversation.

 

That’s WHY we speak.

 

But the WAY we speak also to be in love. Our MANNER is to be loving. We’re to treat people the way we want to be treated.

 

It’s all very well having the right things to SAY to encourage people. But if you don’t say them in THE RIGHT WAY, they’ll be useless. In fact, they’ll be WORSE than useless. They can DO DAMAGE.

 

Consider this example from the Bible study DVD. (Conversational blooper 3)

 

On the surface at least, everything he SAID was truth. Biblical. He was probably even WELL-MEANING. But he didn’t show much LOVE. At the very LEAST it was just a lack of WISDOM.

 

So how can we avoid that sort of conversation? Which is FAR from encouraging. Instead, how can we BUILD people up. Rather than TRIP them up?

 

The plan today is to bring together wisdom from A WHOLE RANGE of different Bible verses. Which we’ll move through fairly quickly. So, instead of Bible-flicking, we’ll have them on the screen.

 

We’ll look at some things to consider BEFORE you start speaking. And then some advice once you BEGIN to speak.

 

Before you speak

Pray for words and courage

First things first. BEFORE you speak. PRAY. VITAL. OBVIOUS. And yet we often FORGET it.

 

Paul was probably the best evangelist we’ve ever known, other than Jesus. But HE still wanted people to pray for him. Eph 6:19

19 Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.

 

Paul wants prayer for WISDOM. That he’ll say the right words. More than that, he wants GOD’S words. Words that are POWERFUL TO CHANGE. Words that are right for the situation.

 

And he prays for COURAGE. He was ALREADY in chains. There were serious CONSEQUENCES for speaking up about Jesus. So he wanted COURAGE.

 

We can pray for the same sorts of things. For wisdom and courage. It doesn’t have to be a LONG prayer. It can just be a quick “arrow prayer” as you begin talking to someone. “Dear God, I want to show LOVE to this person. I want to build him up. Help me to be WISE. Give me the right WORDS. And give me COURAGE to speak.”

 

We’ll think more about praying NEXT week.

 

Be quick to listen and slow to speak.

Second hint before we start speaking. James 1:19: Be quick to listen and slow to speak. It’s probably the best bit of advice I’ve learned. Us husbands learn a good lesson when we learn our wives often don’t need a SOLUTION to their problem. They need to be LISTENED to.

 

Lots of people I notice talk WAY too much. God gave you two ears and only one mouth FOR A REASON. To listen TWICE as much as you talk.

 

It’s too easy to jump in quickly and give advice before you’ve really understood where someone’s coming from. Listen WELL. Work HARD at it. Concentrate. Look at the person. Ask questions. Reflect back what they’re saying to make sure you’ve understood what they’re saying.

 

The more you know about the person, the better you know what to say. The more time you’ve got to think about how you’ll say it. The more time you’ve got to pray.

 

And when someone knows you’ve listened, they’re more likely to listen to what YOU’VE got to say.

 

Third piece of advice before you start talking. Romans 12:15. “Rejoice with those who rejoice. And weep with those who weep”.

 

Jesus partied when there was a party on. Life was worth CELEBRATING. God’s given us A WORLD full of good things to enjoy and give him thanks for. And we’re following Jesus when we enjoy people and food and experiences.

 

And when it comes to rejoicing with those who rejoice. Don’t be JEALOUS or ENVIOUS. Don’t be A WET BLANKET. Give hugs. Give congratulations at good news. Tell them how FANTASTIC the news is.

 

But Jesus also wept with those who wept. As Jesus saw the funeral mourners for his good friend Lazarus, Jn 11:35 tells us very simply “Jesus wept.” And he even knew how it would turn out. But love mourns with mourners.

 

A joy SHARED is a joy DOUBLED. And a problem SHARED is a problem HALVED. Show that you love the person by RECOGNISING the emotion they’re feeling. And feeling it too.

 

If someone shares bad news that knocks you for a six, and you don’t know what to say. Say THAT! “Oh no, that’s TERRIBLE news. I’m just knocked for a six. I don’t know WHAT to say!”

 

Mourn with those who mourn. Don’t dismiss it, or make light of it. Or give a quick, textbook answer. Often we do that because we feel uncomfortable.

 

And don’t COMPETE by sharing a BIGGER problem. That’s not EMPATHY, it’s THOUGHTLESSNESS. I’ve heard some SHOCKERS at hospital. Visitors sharing about gruesome operations they’ve heard of with the patient. Trying to make them feel better, but in reality they’re just not listening. And not mourning with the patient who’s mourning.

 

And show your weeping by offering PRACTICAL HELP. Share the load. Earn the right to speak. They won’t CARE what you KNOW until they KNOW that you CARE.

 

They’re all things to do before you even open your mouth. Pray. Listen. And weep with those who weep.

 

When you speak

Base everything you say on the gospel.

After you’ve DONE all those things. Only THEN should you speak. And the Bible’s got plenty of hints to give THEN, TOO.

 

Probably the BIG idea is to BASE EVERYTHING YOU SAY ON THE GOSPEL.

 

One passage that gets across that idea is Philippians 2:1-5. Everything – speaking, or doing, even our ATTITUDE – is done in RESPONSE to what Jesus has done for us. Based on the gospel.

2:1 If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. 4 Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:

 

If WE’VE been shown grace, then we should RESPOND with a message of grace to OTHERS.

 

Basing what we say on the gospel means reminding people who’ve sinned that FORGIVENESS IS ALWAYS AVAILABLE. That no sin is too big. That no one can fall too far for God to lift him up.

 

It means reminding people who’re broken that Jesus came to HEAL broken people. That this world won’t ALWAYS be broken. That one day pain and mourning and tears will disappear. Defeated forever.

 

Basing what we say on the gospel means reminding people to be THANKFUL for what we have. That grace is never earned or deserved. That the Christian life is lived in RESPONSE to what Jesus has done, not to EARN his favour.

 

It means never writing someone off.

It means we’re never JUDGMENTAL or CONCEITED. Because we know WE’RE SINFUL AS WELL. It means serving unconditionally because that’s how Jesus treated US.

 

Christian really should be the LEAST judgmental of ALL people. Because we recognise we have a fundamental problem we can do nothing about. And yet, often, we’re the MOST judgmental.

 

If we’ve been shown GRACE, we should be GRACIOUS.

 

Base what we say on the gospel.

 

Next point is to keep the big things big, and the small things small. Matthew 6:33 says

33 But SEEK FIRST HIS KINGDOM AND HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS, and all these things will be given to you as well.

 

The context is that Jesus is teaching not to worry about food and drink and clothing. We could add not worrying about jobs, friends, parties, holidays, what colour curtains or doona covers to buy.

 

Sometimes as people talk about their worries, or about God’s guidance, the right thing will be to say, “Well the Bible doesn’t really talk about whether you should be a nurse or a gardener. It doesn’t talk about whether you should holiday in Australia or overseas. And it doesn’t talk about whether you should buy a red car or a green car. But it DOES talk about how God’s kingdom matters more than ANYTHING ELSE. Which job can you serve Jesus best in? Where can you build his kingdom on holidays? What’s the best KINGDOM use for your money?

 

I heard about a single lady who took an overseas holiday. Spent a lot of money. But she booked up half a dozen missionaries she knew in different countries to visit on the way. She spent a few days with each one, encouraging them. She had A GREAT time. And she encouraged friends who REALLY NEEDED it. She was about putting God’s kingdom FIRST.

 

Keep the big things BIG, and the small things SMALL.

 

Mt 18:15-20: Be considerate, firm, and transparent,

Third, if you HAVE to correct someone, be CONSIDERATE, FIRM, and TRANSPARENT.

 

I said earlier the best lesson I learned is to be quick to listen and slow to speak. That comes pretty EASILY for me. You don’t offend many people just by LISTENING. What’s HARDER is to CORRECT someone. To speak up and tell someone they’re continuing in unrepentant sin. And they need to CHANGE.

 

It’s difficult, I think, because I want to be LIKED by people. I don’t want to upset people, or for someone to be ANGRY with me. But that’s just plain selfishness and sin.

 

But if I genuinely LOVE someone. And I want them to grow in maturity. If I truly want to seek God’s kingdom FIRST. Then I’ll RISK it. Risk the abuse and the broken relationship. Because RESTORING someone is WORTH the risk.

 

Matthew 18:15 tells us how to go about it.

15 “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. 16 But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’  17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

 

FIRST UP, you go BY YOURSELF. That’s CONSIDERATE. It’s not making their sin a public thing. It’s giving them the chance to turn back IN A PRIVATE WAY. Hopefully, if you’ve done that prayerfully and lovingly and wisely – that will be the end of it.

 

But if there’s no change, you’re to be FIRM. Sin matters. Because you LOVE the person. It’s in THEIR BEST INTEREST to be corrected.

 

So this time, take one or two OTHERS along. Not gossips, or immature Christians. But people who are RESPECTED. People who can back you up, and make sure everything is done TRANSPARENTLY. That everything’s ABOVE BOARD.

 

And, especially if it’s a sin that been done TO YOU, they can be independent, and back up that you’re not just over-reacting. Or looking to get revenge.

 

Once again, hopefully, THAT will be the end of it. The person will respect the larger group. And come to his senses.

 

But if not, you need to step it up a notch. Make things PUBLIC. Take it to the WHOLE CHURCH. Which hardly sounds considerate. But you’re doing it because sin matters, and because you love the person.

 

And, once again, the hope is that THIS FINAL WARNING will do the trick. The person will recognise the love and the wisdom in numbers, and turn back.

 

But if the public announcement still has no effect, then you’re to treat him as a non-Christian. Which I don’t think means you ABANDON them. Write him off. It means you keep up CONTACT. Perhaps even make MORE contact. But you just don’t EXPECT Christian behaviour from them any more. Everything you’ve done has shown you this person isn’t LIVING like a Christian. And so your encouragement moves towards EVANGELISM instead. More important they recognise Jesus as Lord FIRST before they worry about BEHAVIOUR.

 

When we correct or rebuke people, be considerate, firm and transparent.

 

Galatians 6:1-5: Have soft hands, broad shoulders, and small heads.

Next, Galatians 6 adds a few extra points to this. We’re to have soft hands, broad shoulders, and small heads. Which would be a funny looking body. But it’s talking about attitudes and actions. Let me show you what I mean. V1. We’re to have SOFT HANDS.

6:1 Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should RESTORE HIM GENTLY.

 

The word for RESTORE is used for setting broken bones, or for mending nets. It’s about straightening up. About bringing back to full health. Turning them around to head in the right direction.

 

And we restore someone GENTLY. Being considerate for their feelings. Not harshly or publicly, or sarcastically or critically.

 

And don’t do it to GET EVEN either. If someone’s mentioned something about YOU, it’s not restoring gently to say. “Patience! Who are YOU to talk! You should have heard the way YOU talked to your kids last week!”

 

Have soft hands.

 

And have BROAD SHOULDERS. V2. Share their load. DON’T leave it between them and God. V2.

2 CARRY EACH OTHER’S BURDENS, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.

 

It’s a BURDEN for that person to be walking in sin. You can HELP by ADDRESSING it. By taking responsibility for his godliness when perhaps he’s feeling too weak to do it himself.

 

It’s not EASY to do those things. To have broad shoulders and gentle hands. It takes an emotional commitment to KNOW someone well enough to address their sin, and to bear their burden.

 

And it takes TIME AND EFFORT to do that GENTLY. Easier just to flick off an email, or an SMS, or make a sharp comment. Much harder to take the time to LISTEN, and speak patiently. And then support and follow-up and pray.

 

Third, have a SMALL HEAD. Don’t be PROUD. The end of v1 says, “Watch yourself, or you also may be tempted.”

 

Which COULD mean, when you point someone’s sin out to them, watch out or you may be tempted by the same sin they’re falling into. But I think the more LIKELY sin is the one of CONCEIT. Of JUDGING someone, and thinking you’re better than THEY are. Look at how it continues down in v3.

3 If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. 4 Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else, 5 for each one should carry his own load.

 

Sometimes it’s just BUSY-BODIES who point out people’s faults. Not because they want to restore people gently. But because it makes THEM feel better about themselves if they can point out the weaknesses of OTHERS.

 

There can be a finger-pointing LEGALISM about the way some Christians go about showing people their faults and mistakes.

 

But Paul says wise encouragers will test their own actions. They’ll have SMALL HEADS. They’ll take a good look at their MOTIVATIONS when it comes to correcting others. To make sure it’s out of LOVE, rather than PRIDE.

 

They’ll be concerned for their OWN responses and actions. Carry their OWN load when it comes to giving an account to God. And not try to improve God’s impression of them by comparison to anyone ELSE.

 

Don’t argue, trust God

And the FINAL point about how to say what we say to encourage is DON’T ARGUE, TRUST GOD.

 

Sometimes we can be SO SURE our opinion is right. SO SURE the person needs to take our advice. So committed. That we KEEP PUSHING. We PUSH and ARGUE and NAG.

 

The gospel is a message of GRACE. We drag it backwards if we’re UNGRACIOUS. No point winning the argument if you lose the friend.

 

Arguing and pushing the point forgets that it’s GOD’S words we’re communicating. They’ve got power to change people. God’s the one who does the work.

 

At SOME point, after all the prayer and grace and patience and love, and there’s STILL no change, we need to give up arguing, and give it over to God.

 

At SOME point, more arguing just becomes A LACK OF FAITH. Listen to the old man Paul’s wise counsel to the young Timothy. The fruit of a lifetime of experience. Some of Paul’s final words before he died. 2 Tim 2:24.

24 And the Lord’s servant MUST NOT QUARREL; instead, he must be KIND to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. 25 Those who oppose him he must GENTLY instruct, in the hope that GOD will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.

 

It’s GOD who grants repentance. As he uses US, speaking his powerful words, to change people. To bring them to repentance. And grow them into Christ.

 

Go, and ENCOURAGE one another. Get off the bench. Get into the game. Take a risk.

 

SPEAK THE TRUTH IN LOVE, so we’ll GROW UP in all things INTO HIM WHO IS THE HEAD, THAT IS, CHRIST. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, GROWS AND BUILDS itself up IN LOVE, as EACH PART DOES ITS WORK.

 

Psalm 68: May God Arise!

Today is week FOUR of our series on CHRISTIAN ENCOURAGEMENT. Which is about speaking the truth in love to build people up so they become more like Jesus. Judy put it well in a Facebook comment not so long ago. Encouragement is to strengthen a person’s will and heart to follow their God-given purpose.

 

We’ve looked at how GOD speaks. About how his words are powerful to change things. To change his world. And to change US. And we’ve seen that, through us, God’s words can change OTHER PEOPLE TOO.

 

And that’s what encouragement is: speaking God’s powerful words to people so they’ll CHANGE.

 

Last week we saw how SPEAKING THE GOSPEL to each other produces change. Speaking the message about our sin, and about God’s salvation in Jesus. And about our need to RESPOND to that. God USES those words to make us new people. He gives us the power to die to the old self, and live a new life. With new attitudes and behaviour. With a new direction and purpose and set of priorities.

 

Today we’re going to look, in a bit more detail, at the things we say to encourage. The TOPICS we RAISE. The SPECIFIC WORDS and IDEAS WE USE. Lots of places we could look, but we’re turning to PSALM 68.

 

It’s set back in the reign of King David. About 1000 BC. A fairly good theory is that it’s about God’s people, the Israelites, celebrating the arrival into Jerusalem of the Ark of the Covenant. The big gold box the people carried through the wilderness.

 

Jerusalem’s the new capital. King David’s living there. And now God’s arrived too.

 

It’s a time of CELEBRATION. Because the Ark is a symbol of God’s throne. Of God RULING over them. And of being WITH them.

 

And the Psalm’s probably being sung by the whole city as the procession carrying the Ark moves through the streets.

 

So it’s not DESIGNED as a lesson in the sorts of things to say to encourage each other. But it works pretty well for that purpose.

 

And I think there’s TWO REASONS for that.

First, what’s being said, or sung, is in THE CONTEXT OF CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY. It’s God’s people singing to God’s people. That’s always been God’s chosen way for us to live. Connected to his people. That’s how we stay strong.

 

And encouragement works BEST when it’s in the context of Christian community. Perhaps you’ve got personal experience in how that’s true. I know it’s true FOR ME.

 

The second reason this Psalm works so well to encourage is because it’s GOD-centred, not HUMAN-centred. Which is what sets CHRISTIAN encouragement apart from OTHER sorts of encouragement.

 

The shops and internet are full of self-help books and DVD’s and seminars. All designed to help you achieve YOUR GOALS. To ENCOURAGE you to dream big. To set your eyes on what you want out of life, and then to go and GET IT.

 

And, at ONE level, it all looks like ENCOURAGEMENT. But it’s all about YOU. It’s an empty mine shaft. It’s chasing after the wind. All that effort chasing what you THINK you want. And then, on the off-chance you actually GET it, you find it doesn’t actually SATISFY. Because you’re NOT the centre of the world.

 

But Christian encouragement is pointing people to the REAL CENTRE. To WHO GOD IS. What he’s like. What HE wants for your life. Because your life is NOT all about YOU. Not about your little dreams, your shallow desires, your petty concerns and complaints. It’s about HIM, and about what he wants us to do and to be.

 

That’s a goal that’s WORTH chasing. WORTH encouraging people towards. It’s a prize that WILL satisfy.

 

And it’s encouragement like THAT  Psalm 68 can help us with.

 

So, they’re just two observations to make about this Psalm before we start. Christian encouragement works best;

in the context of Christian community

And when it’s God-centred, not human-centred.

 

So let’s look at the Psalm together.

 

Begin with prayer

First thing to notice is it BEGINS WITH PRAYER. Which is ALWAYS a good place to start. Whether you’re encouraging someone, or whether you NEED to be encouraged. Because it’s putting God in his rightful place. It’s recognising that HE’S the One who controls the events of your life. Who controls the difficulties as well as the good times. And YOU DON’T. Look at v1.

May God arise, may his enemies be scattered; may his foes flee before him. 2 As smoke is blown away by the wind, may you blow them away; as wax melts before the fire, may the wicked perish before God. 3 But may the righteous be glad and rejoice before God; may they be happy and joyful.

 

Our first instinct when things go wrong is for US to jump into action. For US to arise, and fix the problems. But this is a prayer that GOD would arise.

 

God doesn’t need our help. He doesn’t need our plans, or our ideas. He’s powerful, and just, and good. And he ACTS when we pray.

 

Whatever it is we’re worried about, it’s only as difficult as SMOKE or WAX to God.

You’re sitting around the camp fire, the smoke drifts into your eyes. It hurts. But all it takes is a puff of wind in the right direction and it’s all gone.

Or wax. Looks solid enough. You can make HUGE candles out of wax. All sorts of shapes and colours. But put them anywhere near a flame, or a heater, or even a strong LAMP, and before long, they’re nothing more than a soggy puddle.

 

That’s the sort of truth we need to encourage each other with. Whatever the enemy, God’s got the power to SCATTER it – as easy as WAX OR SMOKE.

Chronic sickness or pain? Smoke!

Lingering sin? Wax!

Despair, or frustration? Smoke!

Loneliness, or persecution? Wax!

 

And prayer is what RECOGNISES that about God. And calls on him to ACT like that. “May God ARISE! May his enemies be scattered!” What a great prayer! WE can’t do it. But HE CAN!

 

And the thing about PRAYER is the more we learn to PRAY, the less we WORRY. Because we’re learning to rely on the God who IS powerful like that.

 

Daphne’s shared with me how she used to worry a lot about her family. All sorts of dramas you might know something of. But she’s learning to PRAY MORE. To just give it over to God. Whether it’s in the lonely hours of a sleepless night. Or the crazy busyness of tragic day. When she PRAYS, she’s leaving it with him. And that makes things a lot easier.

 

Encouragement begins with prayer.

 

PRAISE: Encouragement to respond to God correctly (4; 32-35)

After that prayer, the people turn their attention to EACH OTHER. In v4 they encourage each other TO RESPOND TO GOD CORRECTLY.

4 Sing to God, sing PRAISE to his name, extol him who rides on the clouds– his name is the LORD– and REJOICE before him.

 

Praising God. And rejoicing in him. That’s the fitting way to respond to God. To recognise his qualities, to name them and then direct your attention and thanks to him.

 

And v4 is ENCOURAGEMENT because it’s singing to EACH OTHER to recognise who God is, and to respond to him correctly.

 

It’s FITTING – God DESERVES it – because of WHO HE IS. And we can praise him INTELLIGENTLY because we know what he’s like. He’s REVEALED himself to us. We’re not left in the dark. Forced to INVENT a god.

 

What’s the NAME where to praise? V4. His name is the LORD. Capital letters “LORD” means it’s God’s PERSONAL name in Hebrew – Yahweh. The God who IS. “I am who I am” is one translation of that name Yahweh.

 

And it’s his COVENANT name. Yahweh is the God who makes a COVENANT with his people. The God who makes promises and KEEPS them. That’s why it’s fitting to PRAISE him and REJOICE in him.

 

And we NEED reminding of God’s character. Because when we FORGET what God’s like, and things are tough, our whole outlook changes. We COMPLAIN. We doubt his love or his wisdom.

 

When we forget what God’s like, and things are tough, we try to FIX THINGS OURSELF. We forget to PRAY. And we STRESS.

 

And so part of encouragement is to URGE EACH OTHER to respond to God correctly. To remember what he’s like. To take our eyes of ourself, and fix them on HIM. To PRAISE AND REJOICE in him. IN SPITE of your circumstances. Paul put it like this in Philippians 4.

4 Rejoice IN THE LORD always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. THE LORD IS NEAR. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, PRESENT YOUR REQUESTS TO GOD. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds IN CHRIST JESUS.

 

That’s encouragement. Pointing us TO GOD. And urging us to respond to him correctly.

 

And YOU can encourage people like that. The people in this Psalm did it just by SINGING. So can you. Think about the songs we sing. Lots of them are sung to EACH OTHER. To remind ourselves of who God is. And how we should respond to him. So SING them consciously to the people around you.

4 Sing to God, sing PRAISE to his name, EXTOL him who rides on the clouds– his name is the LORD– and REJOICE before him.

 

Person and Performance

And then the people continue singing to each other. Fleshing out WHY it’s fitting to praise God. Reminding each other of specific aspects of God’s CHARACTER, and his ACTIONS. His PERSON and his PERFORMANCE.

 

And those two categories take up most of the rest of the Psalm. His CHARACTER and his ACTIONS. And sometimes they’re a bit hard to separate. Because we know WHAT GOD IS LIKE, partly, through WHAT HE DOES.

 

For example, v5 and 6. The people sing to each other;

5 A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling. 6 God sets the lonely in families, he leads forth the prisoners with singing; but the rebellious live in a sun-scorched land.

 

Wonderfully comforting and encouraging words for hurting people. But the reason we KNOW God’s character is a father to the fatherless and a defender of widows. Is because that’s HOW GOD HAS ACTED. His PERFORMANCE reflects his PERSON. History has SHOWN how he sets the lonely into families, and sets prisoners free. Individuals, tribes. Even NATIONS. And so, we can RECOGNISE him as a compassionate and rescuing defender of the weak.

 

It’s encouragement because it reminds those who feel weak or lonely or imprisoned what God’s like, and how he treats them. It points them to the source of strength who can bring them through the difficult time. And so it CHEERS THEM ON as they struggle, so they can TRUST him, and WALK WITH him, in the struggles.

 

Kerryn McCann won the 1992 Commonwealth Games marathon. In 1996 she was back again. And this time the Games were held in Melbourne. With the finish inside the MCG. With 1 km to go she was side by side with an African runner. She enters the stadium and a HUGE ROAR of AUSSIE support lifts her. She sprints home and wins by 15 m. (show video)

 

That’s what encouragement is. Your people lifting you, bringing you home when you’ve run a marathon. Cheering you on as you struggle. Because they’re WITH you as you fix your eyes on the prize.

 

And the way we’re lifted here in this Psalm is by remembering God’s person and his performance. His character, and his actions.

 

The cheering continues in v7-14. It’s a summary of God’s powerful salvation. How he rescued his people out of Egypt, how he brought them through the desert, and settled them in the Promised Land. How he scattered the nations who lived there. And then provided for his people. No other god has acted on behalf of his people like THAT.

 

Then v15-18 describe the Ark of the Covenant coming into Jerusalem. Even the majestic mountains of Bashan are jealous of little old Mt Zion. Because that’s where God’s chosen to dwell. His Ark is in Jerusalem – a sign that GOD HIMSELF is WITH his people. No other god lives among his people like GOD does.

 

And if that was true of ISRAEL. HOW MUCH MORE is it true FOR US. God’s NEW covenant people. When God came in FLESH, and lived among us. And then who gave us all his Spirit to be with us ALWAYS.

 

That’s the God we praise and rejoice in!

 

Then v19-23, we swing back to God’s CHARACTER. V19. EVERY DAY, he bears our burdens. No holidays. No compassion fatigue. Just non stop support.

 

Which is WONDERFUL. But it’s small potatoes compared to the truth in v20.

20 Our God is a God who SAVES; from the Sovereign LORD comes escape from DEATH.

 

The writer was thinking mainly about EARTHLY enemies, and victory in BATTLE – you can see that in verses 21-23. But how much GREATER is the saving from death God brings US. Not just salvation from PHYSICAL death. Which only has meaning for THIS life. But salvation from SPIRITUAL death. Which has meaning FOR ETERNITY.

 

Saving us from death by providing the substitute who DIED IN OUR PLACE. And it was THAT SUBSTITUTE, Jesus, who said (Jn 11:25)

“I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; 26 and whoever lives and believes in me WILL NEVER DIE.

 

Our God is a God who SAVES.

 

V24-27 give us hints about the historical setting. The procession’s getting closer to the city. It’s making its way along the streets with musicians and singers and maidens. Rulers and ordinary people, all united as one PRAISING GOD. The God who dwells among his people.

 

Nation to nations

And from v28-35 we get a hint of HOW special this event is. It’s not just some local tribal religious ceremony. The scope of this is WORLDWIDE. God created the whole Universe, so it’s fitting that the praise of only ONE nation won’t be loud enough.

 

The writer looks forward to God’s promise (v29-31) that, one day, KINGS will bring their gifts of tribute to God. NATIONS will bow down before the God who MADE them.

 

It happened when Jesus came. He lived, he died, he rose again. And he ascended to God’s right hand where he rules over EVERY NATION. Where people of EVERY nationality and language can join in the chorus. Including US AUSSIES! The chorus of praise to the victorious God who wins the victory over his enemies. And rescues his people. And who lives with us, and bears our burdens.

 

The writer of this Psalm praised God when he could only see a GLIMPSE of that victory. And yet FOR US, this side of Christ, we can see it much more completely and richly. Our EXPERIENCE of God is more complete and rich. And so our PRAISE AND REJOICING should be more complete and rich.

 

How are you DOING at that? Are you singing it? Speaking it to each other? Are you PRAYING it? In spite of the difficulties of those you know, are you focussing their attention on GOD? On his PERSON, on his PERFORMANCE?

 

Let me close by drawing your attention to one final verse. Jump back up to v11. I’m guessing you probably didn’t even NOTICE it as we read over it. I certainly didn’t. The picture is of the winning king returning from battle, and announcing the word of victory. And the people REJOICING in that news. And declaring it to those they met. V11 says

1 The Lord ANNOUNCED the word, and great was the company of those who PROCLAIMED it:

 

God the King declares the victory, and his people PROCLAIM it. And while for God’s OLD Testament people, the victorious announcement came by Moses, or by prophets or judges. For US, God’s victory announcement has come from God’s SON. From Jesus, who by his death and resurrection defeated a far greater enemy than Egypt or Canaan or Babylon. But who defeated Satan and sin and death.

 

In Colossians 1 Paul describes the victory Jesus won. V18.

18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

21 Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. 22 But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation-

 

The Lord has ANNOUNCED the victorious word. And now we live to PROCLAIM it. Paul continues down in v28 of Col 1. What this victory means for him.

28 WE PROCLAIM HIM, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. 29 To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me.

 

And that’s OUR JOB TOO. We may not all be Pauls. But we can all proclaim to each other that Jesus HAS won the victory. We can teach  and correcting and ENCOURAGE. So that we might all be presented perfect on that final day. Mature, complete. That we might cross the finish line as VICTORS. With the encouragement of our fellow racers ringing in our ears.

 

That’s something worth LABOURING at.

 

Six Steps to Encouragement 3: 2 Corinthians 5:11-6:2: God’s fellow-workers

This is the THIRD week in a five week series on ENCOURAGEMENT. Which is how we can ALL speak God’s word to each other in love, so that we grow in maturity.

 

We’ve seen how GOD is a speaker. How he communicates with words. And how his words are POWERFUL.

 

And we’ve seen that God’s words have changed US. And that through US, they can change OTHERS, TOO.

 

The Change

And that’s what we’re going to look at in a bit more detail TODAY. How God can use US to change other people.

 

It’s the BEST THING about this job. I get FRONT ROW POSITION to watch God’s word CHANGING PEOPLE.

 

(DEAN gets front row position to watch HOUSES change. Walls go up and roofs go on. Windows and bathrooms and light fittings go in. That’s pretty exciting change. But, as good as Cape Cod extensions are, it’s change that’s not THAT IMPORTANT.)

 

(Gordon and Jo get to watch people grow in their ability to speak English. Which is EXCITING! And people’s lives REALLY CHANGE for the BETTER. But it’s not THAT IMPORTANT.)

 

But I love MY JOB because I get FRONT ROW POSITION to watch God’s word CHANGING PEOPLE. And I get to be PART OF IT.

 

But it’s not just ME who gets to watch it, and be part of it. We ALL do. We get to see God’s word changing US. Or our kids. We see it changing us in home groups or youth Group or Kids church. We see it changing non-Christians into Christians. We see it changing people sitting NEXT TO US here in church from week to week.

 

Sometimes it’s slow and gentle and small. Like a tree growing bigger. And the changes in people are GRADUAL. And you can only see them over the long haul.

 

Sometimes it’s change that’s violent and fast, like a tornado. Or an earthquake. RADICAL change, where God turns someone’s life on its head.

 

And, unfortunately, sometimes, like Jesus promised, it’s THE OPPOSITE. Sometimes, God’s word LOOKS to be powerful, but just like a seed that’s fallen on rocky ground, or among weeds, the change doesn’t LAST. And people go back to their old lives. They fall away.

 

And that’s the TOUGHEST part of the job.

 

But in OTHER spots, the seed lands in good soil. And the seed GROWS. It PRODUCES FRUIT. The roots of the message grow DEEP into people. And they’re convincingly, thoroughly, and lastingly changed. And there’s nothing more exciting than THAT!

 

Right in the middle of the section we just read, Paul puts it like this. 2 Cor 5:17.

if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the OLD has gone, the NEW has come!

A new creation!

The old worry and fear about THE FUTURE  is replaced by a new ACCEPTANCE AND PEACE.

The old temper and anger  replaced by a new gentleness and humility.

The old idols of work and money and acceptance and pleasure  replaced with a deep joy in knowing Christ and being known by him.

Selfishness replaced by love.

Pride and self-centredness replaced with servant-hearted sacrifice.

Foolishness in decisions replaced with a balanced, godly wisdom.

An insecure shyness replaced by a quiet confidence in Christ, and a willingness to give new things a go.

Attitudes of thinking you were good enough for God replaced with a genuine recognition of sin, of repentance, and an grateful amazement at the wonder of grace.

 

I could embarrass some of you by naming you. But I won’t. But I can honestly look around at you this morning, and see each of those changes in people out there.

 

And that’s EXCITING! But it’s also encouraging and challenging, too. Because as I look at all of those things happening, I’m challenged to look at MYSELF. To ask whether I’m displaying those same changes. Those same attitudes and actions.

 

So what’s the powerful Word God speaks that can bring about change like that? It’s THE GOSPEL. The message about Jesus. About his life, his death. About his resurrection. And about our response to that. That’s the gospel.

 

And that’s not something you hear ONCE, and then move onto something else. It’s not like the key that opens the front door of the house. You get in, and then you put it in your pocket and forget about it. It’s not like that .

 

You can’t say “I heard the gospel at a Billy Graham crusade in 1977. That’s when I became a Christian. I don’t need to hear that anymore. That’s for non-Christians.”

 

The gospel is a message we need to keep speaking to each other over and over again. To keep REMINDING ourselves of who we really are. Of how helpless and hopeless. How UNDESERVING we are of grace. And how GOOD grace is. Of how GLORIOUS Jesus is. And how everything is for HIS glory.

 

1. The message

Let’s see how Paul puts that message. As he speaks to the Corinthians. It’s a message that he speaks to NON-Christians. But it’s also a message he CONTINUES to speak to the church. And to US. WE need to keep hearing the message of the Gospel. Because that’s what God uses to CHANGE us. Pick it up in the middle of v14.

…we are convinced that ONE DIED FOR ALL, and therefore all died.

 

One short sentence. But it summarises what Jesus did. And then what WE do to respond to that. First, Jesus. And the point he’s making is that there’s been A SUBSTITUTION. ONE person dying IN PLACE OF many. One died FOR all.

 

We’re sinful people who deserve judgment. Eternal separation from God. But rather than leave us where we DESERVE, God bridges the gap himself. He sent Jesus who willingly gave himself as a sacrifice. In obedience to his Father. To take the punishment we deserved.

 

That’s what it means that ONE died FOR ALL.

 

Like what happened with Sergeant Michael Lyddiard in Afghanistan in 2008. He’s a bomb disposal specialist who was called to examine a roadside explosive device. He made sure the area was evacuated. Then began to disarm it. Risking his life to save others.

 

But the bomb suddenly exploded. He was seriously wounded. Apparently losing an eye and a leg. But because he’d cleared the area, everyone else was saved. He bore the brunt of the explosion. TOOK ITS DESTRUCTIVE FORCE ON HIMSELF. SO THAT OTHERS WOULD LIVE.

 

Same with Jesus. He died in our place. To take the destructive force of God’s wrath on himself. So that we might be saved its effects.

 

Down in v18, Paul puts it a different way. God’s made us new (v17) by RECONCILING us to himself. Making us his friends. Through Christ. God’s the one who bridges the gap caused by our sin. Jesus takes the wrath, so we can move from ENEMIES to FRIENDS.

 

That’s what JESUS does. Then back up in v14, we see OUR RESPONSE. (One died for all) and THEREFORE ALL DIED. Somehow, our response is TO DIE. Which is explained in v15.

15 (And he died for all), that those who live SHOULD NO LONGER LIVE FOR THEMSELVES BUT FOR HIM WHO DIED FOR THEM and was raised again.

 

Our response is to LIVE FOR HIM. To no longer live for ourselves. To DIE to that person. And, instead, to LIVE FOR Christ. That’s what it means to be CHANGED. To be a NEW PERSON (v17).

 

And that’s the gospel. The message we need to keep speaking to each other.

 

The messenger

The second point in the outline is to do with THE MESSENGER. Paul’s the one in view here. But what he says about himself is no different from what’s expected of ALL CHRISTIANS. Because God’s preferred method of delivering his message  – his offer of a fresh start – is through ONE person telling ANOTHER person. There in v18- we’ve already looked at the FIRST half.

18 All this is from God, who reconciled US to himself through Christ and GAVE US THE MINISTRY OF RECONCILIATION:

 

Whoever’s been RECONCILED, is given the MINISTRY of reconciliation. It’s part of the deal. It’s “US” who’s been reconciled. So it’s “US” who’s been given the MINISTRY of reconciliation.

 

Ministry sounds like a fancy word just for professionals. Like a government portfolio – minister of reconciliation. But it’s actually just the word for SERVANT. Or even SLAVE might be a better translation. God gave ordinary people the job of being SERVANTS. Slaving away, offering his message of reconciliation to OTHERS. SERVING them in that way.

 

Is that how YOU think about yourself?

 

V20 gives it a different title.

20 We are therefore Christ’s AMBASSADORS, as though God were making his appeal through us.

 

An ambassador’s an officially-appointed representative. That’s what Christians are –GOD’S OFFICIAL SPOKESMEN AND WOMEN. “As though God were making his appeal through us!” That’s a heavy responsibility.

 

Many people’s only experience of what GOD is like is by looking at YOU. By listening to YOU!

 

What sort of ambassador are you?

 

The same word that’s used of Christ standing in OUR place. Is used of US standing in Christ’s place.

 

“One died FOR all (that’s v14 and 15). And in v21, God made him who had no sin to be sin FOR us”. That’s Jesus standing in OUR place.

 

But then v20 says this. We are ambassadors FOR Christ. Same word. (Our versions don’t have the word FOR). As though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you ON CHRIST’S BEHALF (it’s same word again- FOR Christ) – be reconciled to God.

 

Christ has stood up for US. OUR job is to be standing up for him. He made the tough decision – took the hard road – for US. Let’s do the same for HIM.

 

And if you’re tempted to take that for granted, listen carefully to Jesus’ warning. Lk 9:26

26 If anyone is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.

 

He’s stood up for US at the cross. We’re to stand up for him in THIS life. And then he promises to stand up for US on judgment day.

 

We’re AMBASSADORS. Let’s do our job of representing well.

 

The THIRD description Paul uses of the messenger really flows from the SECOND. If we’re ambassadors for God, then that makes us his FELLOW-WORKER. There in Ch 6:1.

6:1 As God’s FELLOW WORKERS we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain.

 

God’s got a message to get out. And he’s given the responsibility, in normal situations, to US. He’s making his appeal through us. We implore people ON Christ’s BEHALF.

 

Just stop for a moment, and THINK about that. Working alongside the God of all the Universe! God’s CO-WORKER! How WEIRD that an infinitely powerful God would choose to use people LIKE US to work WITH him. Surely, it would be much more EFFICIENT if he did it all himself. But he’s chosen to work with US.

 

It’s a great comfort – that all of the resources of heaven are backing us. God’s Spirit guiding us, giving us courage. Giving us the words to say. Opening the eyes of people we talk to, helping them understand.

 

We don’t HAVE to get the whole message out every time. We don’t HAVE to push the point. Close the deal. We don’t HAVE to stress over whether we’ve used the right words. We might sow the seed, but only GOD can make it grow.

 

It’s a COMFORT. But it’s also a great CHALLENGE. That God wants to work WITH you and THROUGH you and ALONGSIDE you.

 

But to DO that, you need to start WORKING. To pick up the tools. To take your light from under your bushel. To open your mouth. To break down barriers. To build bridges. To mend fences.

 

God’s waiting. With all the resources of heaven. To help you. But you’ve got to take the step to SPEAK. God uses words, and he works when WE use words, TOO.

 

Do you recognise the WEIGHT of that responsibility? You may be the only Christian some of your friends and acquaintances WILL EVER KNOW!

 

Or with CHRISTIANS. People here at church. Are you sitting back, waiting for OTHER PEOPLE to say those encouraging things? Perhaps NO ONE’S doing it. Perhaps there are people here this morning who are close to walking away from it all, and they’re hanging out for someone to NOTICE. For someone to ASK. And then to actually look like they’re INTERESTED in LISTENING TO THE ANSWER.

 

Are you sitting back, only talking to the same people each week? The people you feel most comfortable with? Or sticking to the TOPICS OF CONVERSATION you’re most comfortable with..

 

Go on. Toughen up. Take a risk. Go out on a limb. Build a bridge. Don’t risk Jesus being ashamed of you, because you’re too embarrassed to speak up.

 

Write the card. Make the phone call. Pull out the Bible at the dinner table with your family. Remind someone of what’s so good about God. Tell them what you’ve been reading in the Bible. Invite them to pray.

 

Get below the surface. Open up about yourself. Be vulnerable, so someone else will be more confident to open up about themselves.

 

Introduce yourself to someone new. Invite someone to lunch. Or out for coffee. Or a beer.

 

Say thank you. Give reasons. Make a list of what you appreciate in someone. And TELL them. TELL them you’re praying for them. And PRAY.

 

How well are you DOING at that? Individually? How well are we doing that as a church? How can we be doing that better?

 

What do OUTSIDERS say about us? Or maybe more importantly, what do people who’ve been here for YEARS say? People who are part of the furniture? Would THEY say we’re doing well? That we’re working hard? Or would they say we’ve dropped the ball? Got soft and flabby?

 

And let me give you the encouragement to do it by sharing Paul’s MOTIVATION. What put the fuel in his tank to live the life he lived. And see if it can motivate YOU TOO.

 

The Motivation

Paul was certainly PASSIONATE about his message. V20. He IMPLORES people on Christ’s behalf. It’s a strong word. We PLEAD with you. Or Ch 6 v 1 – we “URGE you not to receive God’s grace in vain”.

 

Paul knows the danger. And rescuing people is a matter of life and death. Like surf life savers on the Gold Coast. The swell is huge. Rips on both sides of the flags. And overseas tourists are just playing around in the water, unsuspectingly. Then suddenly, they’re dragged out to sea by the rip. And before they know it their lives were in danger.

 

They didn’t realise it. But the lifesavers can see exactly what the surf was doing. What the danger was. And they’re PLEADING with the people. URGING them. Stay between the flags. Get out of the danger zone. They’re blowing whistles. Waving arms. Helping people out of the water.

 

Same with Paul. As a minister – a servant – of reconciliation Paul IMPLORES people on Christ’s behalf. BE RECONCILED TO GOD. As Christ’s ambassador, he PLEADS with people GET RIGHT with God.

 

That’s a NEGATIVE motivation. So people DON’T end up in judgment. But the CLEAREST indication of Paul’s motivation comes from v14. Have a look at it with me.

14 For Christ’s love COMPELS us, because we are convinced that one died for all...

 

Paul’s driving motivation was the unshakeable confidence that Jesus had died FOR HIM. Taken his place. Died HIS death. Simply out of LOVE.

 

That’s because he’s SPEAKING THE GOSPEL to himself.

 

And so he spoke the gospel to OTHERS, TOO. His whole life DRIVEN by the desire to see OTHERS rescued. From the moment he was converted. The instant he’d received his fresh start, he wanted OTHERS to get that same chance.

 

He was COMPELLED by Christ’s love.

 

James Johnson was on board the ship Dunbar when it tried to enter Sydney Harbour in 1857. But, in the fierce storm, the captain mis-judged his approach. By the time he saw the sheer cliffs of South Head looming out of the mist, it was too late. The ship smashed against the rocks. Absolute tragedy – 121 people on board died.

 

But James was the one person who survived. He was plucked from a tiny ledge on the cliff he was clinging to.

 

But that experience MOTIVATED James Johnson to be the FIRST LIGHTHOUSE KEEPER for the lighthouse that was eventually built on that spot.

 

He was a man who knew the danger. But he also new the WONDER of being saved. He was filled with gratitude for having life. And so he was motivated to want to save others as well.

 

If you’ve known the wonder of a fresh start. The delight of experiencing Christ’s love and God’s forgiveness. If you’re CONVINCED of the reality of being God’s friend. If you’ve spoken the gospel to YOURSELF.

 

Then let that motivate you, energise you, to implore people on Christ’s behalf… be reconciled to God. Speak it to OTHERS so they might be encouraged. Built up. So they might walk more closely to Jesus, and follow his purposes better.

 

One of the passages in the study this week was Ephesians 4. And I’ll finish with these verses. About how Christ gave gifts to his people – gifts of prophets and apostles and teachers and pastors and evangelists. And the point of gifts like that (V12 of Eph 4) was

12 to prepare GOD’S PEOPLE (that’s ALL of us) for works of service, so that the body of Christ MAY BE BUILT UP (that’s the goal in EVERYTHING we do) 13 until we ALL reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and BECOME MATURE, ATTAINING TO THE WHOLE MEASURE OF THE FULLNESS OF CHRIST.

14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. (In other words the goal is that we’ll all be STABLE and SOLID) 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, (all of us) we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, AS EACH PART DOES ITS WORK.

 

What a picture! What a goal! May God work that in US. Amen.

 

1 Thessalonians 2:1-16: God’s word changes us and others

It makes all the difference when you’ve been entrusted with a powerful message to deliver.

As the rains fell in Queensland, and the Wivenhoe Dam overflowed, and the Brisbane River rose, emergency workers in Brisbane streets delivered the powerful message to residents. “The floodwaters are coming. They’ll be here in a matter of hours. It’s CERTAIN. Your house will be covered. Take whatever you want to save, and GO! You CAN’T stay here!”

It makes all the difference when you’ve been entrusted with a powerful message to deliver. It made a difference to the CONFIDENCE of those messengers. They’d been authorised, they had the POWER, to remove people who wouldn’t leave. It was FOR THEIR OWN SAFETY. No ifs or buts. The messengers didn’t care whether they were liked or not. People’s LIVES depended on the powerful message being delivered.

And it made a difference to THEIR SENSE OF PURPOSE. They knew what their job was. No mucking around. No time to waste. No distractions. This message was their NUMBER ONE PRIORITY. Everything else came SECOND.

And it made a difference to HOW HARD THEY WORKED. Their message was, without exaggeration, a matter of life and death. And so it didn’t matter if they had to work an hour overtime, or two, or even a double shift. There wasn’t time to stop for lunch. No time to read the paper.

It makes all the difference when you’ve been entrusted with a powerful message to deliver.

And God has spoken A POWERFUL WORD. His very own flood warning and rescue advice. The gospel about his Son Jesus. Who can rescue us from the coming disaster. It can bring us LIFE when we were headed for DEATH. It can CHANGE us.

And he’s ENTRUSTED it to US to deliver to OTHERS. And when THAT happens, it can CHANGE THEM TOO.

What sort of a difference does that make as we go about delivering that powerful message? What difference does it make in our attitudes? In our actions?

Is it a message as URGENT as the floodwaters racing down the Brisbane River? Or have we forgotten its POWER? Forgotten its URGENCY?

Is being changed by the message just a matter of OPINION, or taste? Like whether you wear a red shirt or a blue shirt? Doesn’t really make a difference? Or is it a matter of life and death?

It made a difference for the Apostle Paul and his co-workers. And I want to use Paul’s letter to the church at Thessalonica as a case study.

Acts 17 gives us the background. It tells the story of how Paul first turned up in Thessalonica, and went to the Jewish synagogue. And how he told them all about Jesus. How he was Israel’s Messiah. And how it had been God’s plan for Jesus to die and rise again. He proved it from the Scriptures, and he did it over three separate Sabbaths. And the result was THE MESSAGE WAS POWERFUL TO CHANGE. V4 says

4 Some of the Jews were PERSUADED and joined Paul and Silas, as did a large number of God-fearing Greeks and not a few prominent women.

But that’s where the trouble begins. Because it’s not a popular decision. Plenty of the OTHER Jews are JEALOUS. And they race off to drag Paul to the courts. For turning people away from Judaism.

It’s the same sort of reaction converts to Christianity endure TODAY in many parts of the world. They’re ostracised, discriminated against, imprisoned, beaten, even PUT TO DEATH.

But God’s word is POWERFUL, and it convinces people, and gives them LIFE, DESPITE persecution like that.

And the Jews from Thessalonica are persecuting PAUL. He and Silas manage to escape to Berea, about 70km away. But the Jews don’t give up. Word reaches them where Paul’s ended up, so they chase him down to Berea, and try to start a riot THERE. Once again, Paul manages to escape. HE’S safe, but he’s left behind the brand new Christians in Thessalonica. They’re at the mercy of those zealots who’d chased him all over the countryside.

And before long, only a matter of MONTHS, he makes it to Corinth, where he sits down and writes a letter back to the church in Thessalonica. Because he wants to make sure they’re STANDING FIRM. That the persecutors haven’t got to them.

And that’s the letter of 1 Thessalonians we’re looking at today.

And what jumps out from the first two chapters is that GOD’S WORD’S BEEN POWERFULLY AT WORK.

Powerful in those delivering the message (2:1-12).

First, it’s been POWERFUL IN THOSE DELIVERING THE MESSAGE. Have a look there from v4 of ch 1.

4 For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, 5 because our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with POWER, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction.

Paul’s MINISTRY was powerful because his MESSAGE was powerful. And God’s WORDS are powerful because God’s SPIRIT uses them to change people. He produced DEEP CONVICTION in the hearers. Who we’ll come back to in a moment.

But if you jump down to ch 2 you can see how the message was powerfully at work in Paul and his co-workers. V1.

2:1 You know, brothers, that our visit to you was not a failure. 2 We had previously suffered and been insulted in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we DARED to tell you his gospel in spite of strong opposition.

It makes all the difference when you’ve been entrusted with a powerful message to deliver. It meant Paul could show COURAGE. He didn’t care about opposition. His personal safety wasn’t a priority.

And because he trusted the power of the message, he didn’t have to jazz it up, develop a sales pitch. V3.

3 For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you.

Or there in v5

5 You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed-God is our witness.

Paul had been entrusted with a powerful message, so he could present it TRANSPARENTLY. Trust the PRODUCT, rather than THE PITCH.

And he could do it with PURE MOTIVES, because it was his number one priority. Nothing else mattered. Pleasing PEOPLE counted for nothing. Building his own reputation, or empire didn’t matter. It was all about pleasing God, the one who’d appointed him to the task. V4.

we speak as men APPROVED BY GOD to be entrusted with the gospel. We are NOT TRYING TO PLEASE MEN BUT GOD, who tests our hearts.

God’s word had CHANGED Paul and his co-workers. They’d recognised God’s love and faithfulness, and so their response was to PLEASE GOD in everything they did.

ANOTHER change God’s word had caused in Paul and his co-workers was THEIR CHARACTER. God, by his Word, was making them more like Jesus. And that showed itself in the WAY they presented the message.

They were GENTLE like a mother with her children (v7). They didn’t push their own opinion. When you’re confident in your powerful message, you let the MESSAGE do the work.

There’s a saying of US President Teddy Roosevelt that fits “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” While he was talking about political policy, it can just as easily apply to EVANGELISM. When it’s THE POWERFUL MESSAGE OF THE GOSPEL you’re speaking, you don’t NEED to shout it. You can be gentle and compassionate and quiet. And let the MESSAGE do the work.

And because the gospel was working in Paul and his co-workers, they treated the people as Jesus would. V8. They DELIGHTED to share their lives with the Thessalonians. It wasn’t just a JOB to them. There was a GENUINE LOVE. They weren’t TARGETS or PROJECTS, they were FAMILY.

And, v9, they worked HARD. Some people put in big hours at work, because they get PAID the big bucks. But OTHER people work night and day at something simply because THEY LOVE IT. Like a painting, or a craft, or reading a great book, or building some furniture.

Some people get a new computer game, and spend 24 hours STRAIGHT playing one level after another. Just to get to the end. They work HARD because they LOVE it.

And Paul and his co-workers LOVED the people. So they worked HARD. They didn’t want to be a burden as they shared the message. V9.

9 Surely you remember, brothers, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you.

“Night and day” probably means they worked normal jobs during the DAY to support themselves, so they could spend EVENINGS talking to people about Jesus. Burning the candle at both ends. You’ve got to LOVE it to do THAT.

And finally, the power of the message showed itself in the BLAMELESSNESS of Paul and his co-workers.

It’s the dodgy scam-artists who have to resort to tricks and cons. Because they know they’ve got nothing worth selling.

I was looking around at joining a gym a few weeks ago, and one gym gave me the big sales pitch. “If you JOIN TODAY, you’ll save the $200 joining fee.”

When I hear a deal like that, my first assumption is they’re trying to RUSH me. They don’t WANT me to think about it. To make an informed decision. Perhaps they’ve got something to hide.

In the end I went to ANOTHER gym where the girl showed me all the facilities, explained stuff to me, and then said, “Go away and THINK about it. You can see what we’ve got. Every gym’s different. Decide if we’re a good fit.”

And that’s the approach Paul takes. Because he’s CONFIDENT in the produce. Look there in v10.

10 You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and BLAMELESS we were among you who believed. 11 For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, 12 encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.

All in all, Paul’s message MADE A DIFFERENCE in his life. Let me ask you, What difference is the gospel making IN YOUR life?

I’m sure you’ll SAY it’s a valuable message, and it’s powerful. Even believe it with YOUR HEAD. But how’s that SHOWING itself in your character? In your attitudes to others? In your priorities? In how you pray, and what you pray FOR?

How does it show itself in the sorts of things you talk about during the break at church? In catching up with people who haven’t been around? If you believe the gospel has power to CHANGE, then PROVE it! Prove your confidence BY YOUR ACTIONS.

If it’s not making a difference in your life, maybe that’s why it’s not making a difference in the lives of the non-Christians you’re trying to share Jesus with. They’ve got to see it working IN YOU before they can trust that it will work for THEM.

Powerful in those receiving the message (2:13-16)

That’s the FIRST area the gospel is powerful in- those DELIVERING the message. But the whole reason Paul’s rejoicing. The whole reason he’s writing to the church in the first place. Is because the gospel’s been powerful in those who’ve RECEIVED it.

Back in ch 1, Paul’s CONVINCED God’s chosen the Thessalonians because (v5) the gospel came with POWER as well as words. That power was the Thessalonians’ UNSHAKEABLE CERTAINTY of the truth of the message. DEEP CONVICTION. Which was just as well, because they moved on in their Christian walk DESPITE SEVERE SUFFERING.

Paul had heard of the persecutions. The Jews had made life difficult. They couldn’t get to PAUL, so they took it out on the new Christians. But the power of the message was seen in their HEADS, their HANDS and their HEARTS.

With their HEADS, they were deeply convicted (v5). Determined to remain FIRM.

With their HANDS, v6, they became imitators of Paul and his co-workers, and of Jesus. The gospel changed THEIR WAY OF LIFE.

And with their HEARTS, they welcomed the message with JOY given by the Holy Spirit. From a human point of view, there was every reason to DESPAIR. Persecuted, ridiculed, alienated from their people, expelled from the synagogue, shunned and despised. Perhaps even beaten.

But God’s Spirit had given them life and hope. He’d given them peace and forgiveness. Reconciliation and purpose and contentment. He’d given them an ETERNAL security. And that all meant they were JOYFUL.

Give me JOY any day over HAPPINESS. They’re not the same.

Joy is FAR RICHER than happiness. Happiness depends on your external circumstances. But joy comes from somewhere ELSE. Joy brings a different perspective to your external circumstances. Even IN SPITE of them.

For the Christian that comes from the Holy Spirit. Who works through the power of the GOSPEL to remind us of OUR DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVE. How much we mean to God. How huge his grace towards us is. How undeserving we are. How dead we WERE. And how alive we ARE. And how rich his eternity for us will be.

And that’s the message that caused the Thessalonians to welcome the message with JOY.

But it wasn’t JUST good news. The way we might feel happy because we heard tomorrow would be SUNNY. But Paul’s news brings the change WITH IT. The news itself has the power to CHANGE. A bit more like a letter that arrives, not just telling you you’ve won the lottery, but giving you the account number and the password to ACCESS the money. The news is powerful to implement the change.

And the way it works with the gospel is explained over in ch 2 v13. The words are powerful to change because they’re GOD’S words. 2:13.

13 And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is at work in you who believe.

The message of the gospel isn’t someone’s opinion, or a sales pitch, or a technique for self-improvement. It’s the words of God himself.

God SPOKE and there was LIGHT. He SPOKE and land and sea came into being. He SPOKE and life entered Adam’s body.

And he speaks TODAY. He speaks about his Son. He speaks of sin and judgment. Of justice and grace. Of LIFE AND DEATH. He speaks, and eyes are opened. He speaks, and new life comes. He speaks, and lives are CHANGED.

And it worked that way with the Thessalonians. Paul KNEW the message was powerfully at work in them (2:14) because they’d CHANGED. They’d suffered for their faith, and STILL STOOD STRONG. V14.

you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God, WHICH IS AT WORK IN YOU WHO BELIEVE. 14 For you, brothers, became imitators of God’s churches in Judea, which are in Christ Jesus: You SUFFERED FROM YOUR OWN COUNTRYMEN the same things those churches suffered from the Jews,

When people look AT US. Do they see evidence of the gospel powerfully at work in us? Is it CHANGING us?

Unlike what SOME churches will teach, the evidence of God’s power at work in you ISN’T wealth or health. Paul wasn’t rejoicing because the Thessalonians were now the richest and fittest group of people in the city.

When people look at us, do they see evidence of the power of God’s word in us? Do they see people STANDING STRONG in the face of tragedy?

Do they see PATIENCE in the face of suffering or poverty?

Do they see STRENGTH and ENDURANCE in the face of sickness or relationship breakdown?

Do they see HOPE in the face of unemployment or financial insecurity?

Do they see A SELFLESS SERVICE AND GENEROSITY FOR OTHERS in the face of deep problems of our own?

THEY’RE the signs that God’s word is working powerfully in us.

And when we begin to SHOW that to the people around us, we’ll begin to see God’s word working powerfully in THEM, TOO.

Psalm 33: God the Speaker

Words are POWERFUL. Take for example the words spoken by Robert Menzies, Prime Minister of Australia, speaking in 1939. “It is my melancholy duty to inform you officially that, in consequence of a persistence by Germany in her invasion of Poland, Great Britain has declared war upon her, and that, as a result, AUSTRALIA IS ALSO AT WAR”.

Just like that. A few simple words is all it took. Millions of lives affected. Lives lost. Economies ruined. Homes destroyed. Children orphaned. Borders re-drawn. History pages written.

The right person, speaking the right words, at the right time, has immense power.

It was 25 years ago. I was nineteen. Halfway through uni. Dad and I were walking the Overland Trail in Tasmania. From Cradle Mountain to Lake St Clair. We were lying in our tent one night trying to get to sleep, and he said to me, “Son, I’m very PROUD of you.” And then he mentioned a few specifics.

It wasn’t the FIRST time Dad had said an encouraging thing to me. Nor the LAST. And they were only A FEW words. But they stuck in my mind. Dad had obviously been thinking about it for a while. There was nothing in the immediate context that caused him to say it. But it was obvious he’d been THINKING about it. And then gone to the trouble to SAY it. That meant a lot to me. And I can still remember it.

Powerful words like that can keep you going when you feel like giving up. They can confirm that you’re making the right decisions. Or standing up for the right things. They can be as simple as encouraging you that someone NOTICED what you did. That you made a difference WITH SOMEONE.

I wonder whether YOU can remember POWERFUL WORDS someone’s spoken to YOU. Perhaps face to face, or over the phone. Even in a letter or a card. I know people who’ve kept cards for DECADES because THE WORDS mean so much to them.

But not all powerful words have a POSITIVE effect. Words are just as powerful TO HURT. And these are often the hardest to forget of all.

“You’ll never amount to anything!”

“You’re stupid!”

“You’re fat!”

“Who would want to be friends with you?”

“I don’t want you on my team”

“I’ve found someone else. I want a divorce.”

Hurtful words like these are perhaps even MORE powerful than GOOD ones. Which is all the more reason to THINK CAREFULLY about the words we use.

Communicating with words is part of what it means to be human. Some of us like talking a lot, others are quieter. But using WORDS is part of what it means TO LIVE LIFE. To REMOVE words COMPLETELY is un-natural. It’s cruel and painful.

People stranded on their own can go crazy with no one to talk to. Tom Hanks ended up talking to his volleyball Wilson in the movie Castaway. In prison, solitary confinement for long periods of time is cruel, inhumane punishment. Interacting with other people – hearing and speaking words – is a large part of what makes us human.

And God’s MADE us that way because that’s what GOD is like TOO. He’s made us IN HIS IMAGE. To be RELATIONAL because GOD is relational.

And we communicate with words because GOD communicates with WORDS. The God of the Bible is a God who SPEAKS. Who speaks with intelligible, self-revealing words. Who communicates to us about what he’s like. What his WORLD is like, including US. And how we can PLEASE him.

In fact, we KNOW that God’s like that only because he’s TOLD US. He’s given us his WORD, the Bible. So we can KNOW him.

We almost take that idea for granted. But when we compare OUR God with how other religions think about God, we realise how DISTINCTIVE that is. He’s not a god you can only feel or sense from nature, in some sort of fuzzy, unclear way. He’s SPOKEN. In WORDS. To prophets. In dreams. By angels. In his written word, the Bible.

And he’s not a god who HIDES himself from people, playing cosmic hide-and-seek. Who makes it difficult. Who only the most holy and dedicated can find. Who only reveals himself after pilgrimages or holy retreats or special sacrifices. In fact, he bridged the gap between heaven and earth. Sending his Son – the ULTIMATE Word, to communicate and to bring change.

And he’s not a god who’s harder to pin down than jelly. A post-modern elephant in a roomful of blind men. With everyone arguing about what he’s like. He’s not ONE thing to ONE person. And SOMETHING else to ANOTHER. Because he’s TAKEN OFF THE BLINDFOLDS. He CAN be known. Because he’s SPOKEN to us in WORDS.

This is a series of talks about ENCOURAGEMENT. About using the words we speak to each other. TO BUILD EACH OTHER UP.

But it’s not just ANY nice words. For ANY purpose: to talk about the weather, or pets, or the cricket. We’re not simply about making each other FEEL BETTER. To feel warm and fuzzy. We’re interested in CHRISTIAN encouragement. BIBLICAL encouragement. Which I want to define as SPEAKING THE TRUTH IN LOVE WITH THE GOAL OF BUILDING UP PEOPLE IN CHRIST-LIKENESS.

SPEAKING THE TRUTH IN LOVE WITH THE GOAL OF BUILDING UP PEOPLE IN CHRIST-LIKENESS.

Notice there’s a WHAT, a HOW, and a WHY in that definition.

The “What” is we speak THE TRUTH. Christian encouragement NEVER involves lying, or sugar-coating the truth. It’s saying what’s RIGHT even if it’s DIFFICULT. It’s NOT Christian encouragement to tell someone continuing in sin “That’s ok. Whatever you think is right. It’s up to you to make your choices. I’ll support you whatever you do.”

Encouragement is saying “No, that’s WRONG. God says it’s SIN. It’s going to lead to your HARM.”

That’s the WHAT. Encouragement is speaking the TRUTH. There’s also a HOW in Christian encouragement. Remember our definition? SPEAKING THE TRUTH IN LOVE WITH THE GOAL OF BUILDING UP PEOPLE IN CHRIST-LIKENESS.

The HOW is “IN LOVE”. Love is saying to your friend who’s continuing in sin “You’re WRONG. I love you ENOUGH to tell you. Enough to RISK losing your FRIENDSHIP to keep you from harm. Let me HELP you make a different choice. I’ll support you as you make the changes.”

Speaking the truth might sometimes be difficult for the person to hear. But if we do it IN LOVE. Because we’re genuinely seeking THEIR GOOD, then it will be ENCOURAGEMENT. Even if the hearer may not appreciate it at the time.

And that brings in the THIRD aspect of our definition of encouragement. The WHY. Christian encouragement always HAS A GOAL. Speaking the truth in love WITH THE GOAL OF BUILDING UP PEOPLE IN CHRIST-LIKENESS.

That’s why we’re here on earth. To give glory to Jesus, and TO BECOME LIKE HIM. So that’s the goal of all our conversation with people.

And it’s such an important goal for God that he hasn’t left us to make it up on our own. He’s given us HIS WORDS to do the job. Because while our words are powerless, unreliable, and foolish. GOD’S words are always powerful, trustworthy and wise. They ALWAYS achieve what he intends.

The whole Bible is about how God is A SPEAKER. How he communicates with power. About how his words bring CHANGE. Change to his world. And change to the lives of people. He’s changed US. God’s word has the power to change US.

And God’s made it so that THROUGH US, his word can change the lives of others. We can be CO-WORKERS with God in bringing CHANGE to people.

So, CHRISTIAN encouragement is based on the power of GOD’S word to change lives, not OUR words. And so, primarily, our words of encouragement should be based on, focussed on, directed towards, God’s word in the Bible. Most of our interactions together should have the opportunity to hear words from GOD. Because they’re the ones that have the POWER to encourage us, to build us up in Christ-likeness

(And, just as an aside we’ll come back to in following weeks, that definition for Christian encouragement applies equally to NON-Christians as it does to Christians).

(Our goal in speaking to non-Christians is ALSO to build them up in Christ-likeness. They’ve got to be INTRODUCED to Jesus FIRST. And so our words have THAT goal. Which is only the first step. After THAT, they continue that process of growing more like Jesus. So Christian encouragement applies just as much to EVANGELISM as it does to FELLOWSHIP.)

In the next five weeks we’re going to look in more detail at HOW we use God’s words to encourage each other. But today, we’re going to build the foundation.

If we’re going to have CONFIDENCE that God’s words have power to change. And that we can USE them to change people. We’ve got to look at GOD the SPEAKER.

God the Speaker

God’s Words are Self-revealing

The FIRST thing to say about God the speaker is that his words are self-revealing. God speaks for the purpose of telling us what he’s LIKE.

When he first spoke to Moses in the desert at the burning bush, he told him to take off his sandals because he was standing on holy ground. And then he said (Exod 3:6) “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.”

Then he goes on to tell Moses that he’s SEEN the misery of his people. That he’s going to RESCUE them. And that he’s SENDING Moses. All words that reveal something about what God’s like.

And then some time later, over in Ch 34, when Moses wants to see God’s glory, we’re told

5 Then the LORD came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the LORD. 6 And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, 7 maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.”

Or we could jump over to the New Testament, and hear how the writer to the Hebrews summarises all of God’s self-revealing words through history. Heb 1:1

1:1 In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. 3 The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being,

God used words to communicate to HUMANS. But his GREATEST self-revelation was in THE HUMAN WORD. The LIVING Word. When he sent Jesus, fully God, fully man. To show humans what God was like. A perfect visible, finite, containable HUMAN representation of an invisible, infinite, uncontainable God. The radiance of God’s glory. The exact representation of his being.

I can be CONFIDENT when I speak to others about what God’s like because he’s TOLD ME HIMSELF. And through his Son, I KNOW him PERSONALLY.

If I want to know what Barak Obama’s like, I don’t ask Ben or Belinda or Bruce, just because they’ve seen him on TV, or read an article in the paper. I can only REALLY know Barak Obama if I hear him TALK about himself.

Trustworthy

But even THAT’S not enough. A HUMAN can give a deceitful picture of himself. Pretend to be something he’s not. Not that a POLITICIAN would ever do that.

But God’s words are reliable. They’re trustworthy. Because he’s not like humans. In Numbers 23:19 God says this about himself through the prophet Balak

19 God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill?

Or again, in Ps 33. Verse 4

4 For the word of the LORD is RIGHT and TRUE; he is FAITHFUL in all he does.

When God SPEAKS, we can TRUST what he says.

Powerful to create and sustain

And when God SPEAKS, things HAPPEN. His words are POWERFUL. The Bible begins with God SPEAKING, and the world is created out of nothing. Gen 1:3

3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.

Ps 33:6 puts it this way:

6 By the word of the LORD were the heavens made, their starry host by the breath of his mouth. 7 He gathers the waters of the sea into jars; he puts the deep into storehouses.

And then it concludes with how we should RESPOND to a God like that.

8 Let all the earth fear the LORD; let all the people of the world revere him. 9 For he SPOKE, and it came to be; he COMMANDED, and it stood firm.

And he wasn’t just active BACK THEN. He CONTINUES to sustain the world by his word. “Sun, keep burning. Earth, keep orbiting. Gravity keep working. Heart, keep firing. Plants keep growing!”

Command and Bless

And God doesn’t just command HIS WORLD to keep working, he commands US AS WELL. He speaks to his creatures to command and bless.

That’s really the story of the WHOLE BIBLE, but we can follow the next few points through with Adam and Eve. God’s just created his world, with Adam and Eve as the cherry on the top. And then he Gen 1:28 we read,

28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

Blessing and command.

Judge

But the story of Genesis, as well as the rest of the Bible, is that humans chose NOT to obey God’s commands. We choose NOT to trust the words of the trustworthy God. That’s exactly the way the snake tempted Adam and Eve. “Did God REALLY say…?”

And when we distrust God, and disobey him. When we choose OUR way over HIS. God speaks to JUDGE. To pronounce JUSTICE. Gen 3:17

17 To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat of it,’ “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. 18 It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. 19 By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground,

Promise

And while things are TOUGH for Adam, and the rest of us who followed him, God doesn’t leave us on our OWN. He speaks to PROMISE us. To promise us protection, and life, to promise us a RELATIONSHIP.

The whole Old Testament is about God’s PROMISES. To Adam himself, then to Noah, then to Abraham. Promises to be his God, to make him the father of a nation, and to make him a blessing to ALL the nations.

And when we get to the New Testament God DELIVERS on his promises. He sends Jesus, a descendent of Abraham to bless the nations. To bring people from EVERY country back to God.

And God gives US promises that we wait for. Promises of an eternity with him in paradise. Without pain or crying or shame or blame or guilt or sin.

And we can wait with CONFIDENCE because we’ve seen that God keeps his word. The writer of Ps 33 finishes THIS way. V20.

20 We wait in hope for the LORD; he is our help and our shield. 21 In him our hearts rejoice, for WE TRUST IN HIS HOLY NAME. 22 May your unfailing love rest upon us, O LORD, even as we put our hope in you.

Trusting God’s name is trusting his CHARACTER. That he’ll DO what he SAYS. And that’s what the Christian life is about. Trusting God’s word. Waiting in hope. Walking through whatever life brings in dependence on God, who PROMISES to be WITH us, and provide what we need.

Powerful to save

And one final thing God’s words do. They’re POWERFUL TO SAVE. More on this NEXT week. But just to touch on it. All through the Bible we see God’s word being powerful to SAVE people.

And it worked that way with many of us HERE. SOMEBODY spoke God’s words to us. Explained his offer of forgiveness instead of judgment, of life instead of death, of friendship instead of being enemies.

It might have been a parent, or a friend, or a Sunday school teacher, or a camp leader, or a Youth Group leader. But SOMEONE spoke those words to us. And God USED those words to CHANGE us. To make us ALIVE.

In 2 Cor 4:6 we see the connection between the words God spoke to CREATE, and the words he speaks to make us ALIVE. To CHANGE us.

6 For God, who SAID, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.

God makes a CHANGE when his word does its powerful work in us when we come to know his Son Jesus. Jesus himself back it up. In John 5:24 he promises

24 “I tell you the truth, whoever HEARS MY WORD and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.

God’s word has the power to CHANGE us. And through us, it can change others, too. Do you BELIEVE that? Are you willing to PUT THAT INTO PRACTICE?

One of the challenges in the small group studies is to invite someone from church to meet up with you once a week for about half an hour. To read a bit of the Bible together, to talk about what you’ve learned. And then to PRAY for each other. That God’s word would CHANGE you.

(There’s some booklets distributed this morning to help you)

It could be a spouse, a friend, or someone in your Home Group. Even someone you don’t know very well yet. It might be someone younger than you, or older than you. Or new Christian, or one who’s been a Christian for DECADES.

Why not ask someone? Do you TRUST God’s promise that his word has the power to change? Put that trust to the test.

God’s spoken in a way we can TRUST. His word has the power to CHANGE us. And through us, it can change others, too. Let’s SPEAK God’s word to each other, encouraging each other, with the goal of building each other up in Christ-likeness!