Here are two resources I found helpful this week.
Text: Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; 1 Corinthians 16:13-14
Main Point: Gender is created and broken but being redeemed.
It has been a particularly difficult week for our members. Several members were hospitalized. A couple suffered the death of a son. I had planned to start a series this week on manhood, womanhood, singleness, marriage, and the church. When I sat down on Thursday afternoon to begin writing this sermon, I struggled with what to say. Is it fitting to talk about manhood and womanhood when there are so many big and pressing issues? But then I started to think about what it means to be a man while incapacitated in the intensive care unit. What does it mean to be a man when he grieves? How do these men relate to their wives? What does God expect of them and what does Christ provide for them? There are no more pressing issues than understanding who we are in Christ Jesus. So, we press on with a look at biblical manhood today.
We will follow the pattern of creation, fall, and redemption. What are God’s purposes for creating male and female? How does sin effect the way we live as male and female? And how can we trust Christ to redeem our past and help us in the present? The truth for us today is that gender is created, broken, and being redeemed. My hope is that boys will grow into men because of Christ and those who are weighed down by their sins and failures will find freedom and strength because of Christ. Men, here is the call, because of Christ, be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love (1 Cor 16:13-14).
Let’s begin with what it means to be
I. Created Male
Turn with me to Genesis 1 and let’s read Genesis 1:26-31
- What it means to be male was established in creation
Before sin warped manhood, to be male meant to exercise dominion, with the female, over all creation. Men and women were made in the image of God to be a reflection of God. So prior to sin, there was male and there was female, and this distinction was very good and purposeful. Male and female were made to compliment one another in the tasks of stewarding creation and raising children.
Look over at Genesis 2:15-18 (read it).
Kevin DeYoung, in a recent article about gender, notes the pairs we find in creation prior to Adam and Eve. “We find other sorts of couples, like the sun and the moon, morning and evening, day and night, the sea and the dry land, and plants and animals, before reaching the climactic couple, a man and a woman. In every pairing, each part belongs with the other, but neither is interchangeable. It makes perfect sense that the coming together of heaven and earth in Revelation 21–22 is preceded by the marriage supper of the Lamb in Revelation 19. That God created us male and female has cosmic and enduring significance. From start to finish, the biblical storyline—and design of creation itself—depends upon the distinction between male and female as different from one another yet fitted each for the other.”
So, man by himself is not good. It is not good for man to be alone. He needs a helper that corresponds to him. The male and female differentiation is no accident. God has a good purpose in male and female being different; male and female were made to complement one another. Jonathan Leeman pushes us to consider, “God has established two different ways of being human, and they are both beautiful and good. Christlikeness therefore asks, ‘How can I best steward that particular assignment?’” In creation, by establishing male and female, God has established two different ways of being human.
One more passage in Genesis is helpful at this point of creation. Turn now to Genesis 5:1 and I’ll read Genesis 5:1-2 (read it).
The repeated truth is God created humanity as male and female. I am deliberately staying away from the different things men and women are commissioned to do because being male or female is prior to our doing anything as male or female. Being male or female comes before our feelings about being male or female. God established this male/female distinction at creation and conception. You are a male according to creation and
- Being male is established at conception
Christian writers Kendal Conner and Seth Stewart put this point plainly, “Our gender was created. Masculinity is a gift. We were men before we ever tilled one field or took one bite of fruit. We are men, not because we have done but because ‘God said…and it was so.’ Down to our chromosomes we are men.” What Conner and Stewart highlight is true: male or female is determined by the XX or XY sex chromosomes. The problem is that Conner and Steward do not go far enough.
We need to reach outside the Christian blogsphere to find some interesting research at the genetic level. Dr. Jenny Graves is the Distinguished Professor of Genetics at La Trobe University and is explaining research published by Gershoni and Pietrokovsk: “Gershoni and Pietrokovsk looked at how active the same genes are in men and women. They measured the RNA produced by 18,670 genes in 53 different tissues in 544 adult post mortem donors. They found that about one third of these genes (more than 6,500) had very different activities in men and women. Some genes were active in men only or women only. Many genes were far more active in one sex or the other. A few of these genes showed sex biased activity in every tissue of the body. More commonly, the difference was seen in one or a few tissues.” Dr. Jenny Graves wants us to see that the differences between male and female show up in a surprisingly high number of ways throughout our bodies because of the male/female structure of our particular genes.
Concerning men, while a male may feel more or less like what he considers to be a man, that person is male at the chromosome level and this male distinction is written throughout his genetic code. You are male or female due to creation and this distinction is made at conception.
Now we need to consider the problem we all face, created male has become fallen male.
II. Fallen male
- Being male is broken through the fall
I want us to think about the effects of sin on manhood in particular today. Romans 5 deals with Adam’s sin and Christ’s redemption. What are the effects of Adam’s rebellion and what are the effects of Christ’s obedience? Romans 5:12 says, “just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.” Every man is marked not by good and godly manhood but by dead and sinful manhood. The purposes for which God created manhood have been warped.
Ephesians 2:1-3 summarize the effects of Adam’s sin, “you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath like the rest of mankind.”
It is right to understand the way the fall cuts us off from doing life with God, and we need to understand how the fall warps and bends what it means to be male and female. Our understanding of male and female is bent and our ability to live faithfully as male and female is broken. Instead of complimenting one another we exploit one another. Men, before Christ redeems us, we are dead, neglecting our calling as men. Following the ways of this world, we either give in to evil through passive manhood or we do evil through tyrannical manhood. We are drawn to what is not natural and we do what is not natural. The fall means our desires have been mixed up and sent the wrong way.
C.S. Lewis in his Space Trilogy, identifies Satan (or the prince of the power of the air) as the Bent One. As the Bent One, Satan’s goal is to lead our separation from God in to increasing acts of disobedience. The Bent One leads the dead ones and pushes them further and further away from life as God intended. The world, the flesh, and the devil do not want us to live as men.
Consider the effects of the fall on manhood. First, we reject God’s purposes for man and woman and try to establish our own purposes for male and female. God’s purpose for male and female is to work together in complimentary ways for the glory of God and the good of others. Male and female are co-laborers, brothers and sisters of equal worth, and complimentary roles. God created us to give ourselves for the good of others. But the Bent One makes the purpose of male and female a vehicle through which we try to find ourselves without God. Instead of giving ourselves for others, we use others to find ourselves. Instead of accepting responsibility for his own sin, Adam blames Eve. Instead of doing her good, Adam does Eve great harm.
Changing this death and destruction starts with admitting our inherent brokenness. In ourselves, we neither understand God’s purposes nor do we have the ability to fulfill God’s purposes. We miss God’s purposes for work and therefore reject work in laziness or we overwork in emptiness. We miss God’s purposes for dominion and therefore make creation a god to be worshipped or a meaningless resource to be exploited. We miss God’s purposes for sexuality and therefore make sexuality our identity or an evil to be suppressed. We miss God’s purposes for marriage and therefore make marriage the acquisition of a slave to order around or the embrace of a second mother who will provide for and protect us.
The reality of the fall means our understanding of, experience of, and identity in our genders are broken. We don’t understand, we are afraid, it doesn’t feel right, and we are unable. So, when a boy doesn’t know how to be a man, we are not surprised. When a male doesn’t feel like a man, we are not surprised. When a male doesn’t want God’s ways, we are not surprised. We are broken and in need of being remade. Let’s think about
III. Redeemed male
- Being male is redeemed through Christ
Let’s pick back up in Romans 5 verse 18. “Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 5:18-21).”
It is a humbling comfort to know that our sin has been paid for in Christ. I have sinned against God and against you when I gave into passivity and did not lead through hard things into good things. I have sinned against God and against you when I acted like a tyrant demanding that you serve me instead of willingly serving you. I have sinned against God and against you when sexuality was twisted into lust. I have sinned against God and against you when I made marriage about my good and not her good. I have sinned against God and against you when I made family a burden to be endured instead of a blessing to be cultivated. I have sinned against God and against you when I viewed women as lesser than men instead of necessary and complimentary to men. Men, how have you failed as a man? Do you know that Jesus has entered into that sin, taken it upon himself, paid for it, and conquered it so that you can live a new life? There is grace for all the awful things we have done in the past. There is forgiveness and fresh starts because Jesus is greater than our sin.
Part of what it means to grow as a man is repentance. Being a man is not taking our guilt upon our shoulders but believing our guilt has been laid on Jesus. Jesus came to die because you and I fail as men, brothers, husbands, and fathers. Growth as men is bound up in repentance and faith.
Have you talked with God about your sin? Have you confessed the deep, the dark, and the sinister? Have you brought your bent desires and thoughts before God to be judged and redeemed through Jesus? We each stand at a crossroads. Our culture says to give in to, cultivate, and celebrate that which is bent in us. The gospel says to confess, put to death, and mourn that which is bent in us. Either going along with our desires will give us life or putting our desires to death will give us life. Either Christ has conquered, or he has not. If Christ has been conquered, then we are on our own. If Christ has conquered, then we can trust him with our lives.
Here is the necessity of present grace. Jesus is the vine and we are the branches, apart from him we can do nothing (John 15:5). Apart from Jesus we can’t truly live as men. What then does it look like to trust Jesus with our masculinity? There is the everyday humility that acknowledges our weaknesses. We start each day looking to Jesus for help to be godly men. This is why we read and pray every day; we need wisdom and strength to live as faithful men. If you want to be a godly man, start with humility and faith. It’s the mindset that says “I don’t have what it takes to fulfill my responsibilities, but I know that Jesus does. So, I will read the Word and pray to the One who knows the temptations of a man and has defeated them all.”
There is present grace to overcome our weaknesses and there is present grace for the correct use of our strength. Men, generally speaking, why has God made us strong? Did God make us strong so that we can rape, pillage, and plunder? Many have thought this to be the case, but they are wrong. Did God make us strong so that we can expose and take advantage of the weakness of others? Many have thought this to be the case, but they are wrong. God created men with strength and Jesus redeems that strength so that we can provide for and protect others.
Boys, why has God made you fast and strong? Is it to shame the slow and take from the weak? Boys, you could be a great source of good if you used your strength for the good and the joy of others. Instead of beating up those weaker than you, Jesus has grace to lead you to build up those in need.
Young men, teenagers, why has God given you these hormones? Why do you feel this frustration, this fear, this anger, this loneliness? Young men you were not made for yourself; you were made for others- you were made for God and for your brothers and sisters. The Bent One wants you to conquer and force into submission and take for yourself. Christ calls you to serve, and give, and sacrifice so that others win.
As we close, I want to give you a definition of manhood and womanhood that we can build on in the days ahead. These definitions are from John Piper.
At the heart of mature masculinity is a sense of benevolent responsibility to lead, provide for and protect women in ways appropriate to a man’s differing relationships.
At the heart of mature femininity is a freeing disposition to affirm, receive and nurture strength and leadership from worthy men in ways appropriate to a woman’s differing relationships.
Men, this is a call to learn. We need to learn to obey all of Jesus’ commands. We need to learn how to be men and we need to learn how to relate to women. We need to learn how to be churchmen and how to relate to one another. We need to learn how to be husbands and how to relate to our wives. We need to learn how to be fathers and how to relate to our children.
Let’s start with God. Men, let’s pray and ask God how we are doing. Ladies, please pray for the men around you to be honest and willing to hear what God’s word says about our sin. Where there is sin, let us confess it and entrust it to Christ. Where there is a weakness, let us pray and ask for Jesus’ help to overcome it. Let’s start with asking God how we are doing. Then maybe a more difficult challenge, ask the most influential woman in your life how you can grow as a man. Commit to not making excuses, being defensive or getting angry. Sons, ask your mother and work with your father. Husbands, ask your wife. Fathers, ask your children. Men, ask a friend. Hiding our weaknesses and overcompensating with selfish strength must stop. In the place of selfish sin there must rise up a Christlike power that willingly dies for the good of others. May the women in our lives find the good of godly manhood.
Because of Christ, be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.
https://www.9marks.org/article/biblical-manhood-and-womanhood-or-christlikeness/ (accessed 4/9/2021)
https://bmcbiol.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12915-017-0352-z (accessed 4/9/2021)
John Piper, What’s the Difference? Page 22.
- How did God comfort, challenge, or correct you today?
- When does a boy become a man?
- What is your definition of biblical manhood?
- How does female help us define male and how does male help us define female? Think of the other complimentary pairs in creation.
- What happens when men are valued and women are devalued? What happens when women are valued and men are devalued? How can we keep equal value and different but complimentary callings?
- How would you talk to a son or grandson who thinks he is a girl or a daughter or granddaughter who thinks she is a man?
- How have you experienced the fallenness of manhood? As a man, where are you living out your fallenness as a man? Consider your work, dominion, sexuality, and family. What does repentance look like?
- How does Jesus’ work on the cross address your failures as a man or a woman?
- How does Jesus’ death and resurrection fuel your obedience as a man or a woman?
- Ask the influential woman in your life (your mother, wife, child) how you can grow as a man.
Facing your own mortality
Main Point: Self-sacrifice with Christ is gloriously fruitful
Looking at this church, the best thing that can happen is for me to die. Looking at my marriage and family, the best thing that can happen is for me to die. Selfish self-centered Paul is a taker who does only harm. The best thing for me and for you is for selfish-me to die and be born again. When self-centered Paul dies, and Christ-centered Paul is born again then my life can become fruitful. Salvation is the transformation from protecting self and taking life to sacrificing self and giving life. Salvation is dying to emptiness so that we can live with Christ who is sufficient.
You are like me, we will either live life to get or live life to give. You will either live because you are empty or live because you are full. For the empty person, other people are a means to an end; you exist to fill me, affirm me, or please me. For the Christ-centered person, other people are the end. With Christ, I can build you up, rejoice with you, weep with you, and seek your good. Christianity is living dependent on Jesus for the good of others.
Think about the relationships you are in, are you there as a giver or are you there as a taker? Think about the way you do relationships, are you protecting yourself and negotiating for bigger and better friend deals? Why are you on social media, are you seeking validation for your work, your looks, or your complaints? Are you trying to find life or are you there as a source of life?
The good news is there is a better way of living than being a well-groomed parasite. The bad news is that finding this life and joy will mean being undone and being remade. Let’s look to Jesus, listen to Jesus, and trust Jesus.
Read John 12:20-36. The emptiness in us often leads to Jesus
I. We want to see Jesus
Augustine, an old dead pastor, said we all have a God shaped hole in the center of ourselves and we are all trying to fill that emptiness with something. Some people try to fill the emptiness inside with success and some try hanging on to their failures. Some try alcohol, some try pleasure, and others try video games. Some try shopping for clothes, cars, or homes. Hopefully, eventually,
- Our wants drive us to Jesus
Look with me at verse 20, “Now among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks. So these came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and asked him, ‘Sir, we wish to see Jesus.’” Now these Greeks want more than a photo op; they want a meeting with Jesus. And why is that? Looking back at verses 12-15, we see that the triumphal entry recently occurred when Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem turned into a public parade full of worship. Verses 17-18 tell us the crowd that saw Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead was there in Jerusalem and talking about the miracle. So, it is likely that these Greeks saw the way Jesus was treated, heard about the raising of Lazarus, and wanted to get a meeting with Jesus. Maybe the Greeks had questions, maybe they wanted to see a miracle. Why do you want a meeting with Jesus? Why are you here?
Maybe you have been wronged and you feel like Jesus owes you an explanation. Maybe you’re sick and you want Jesus to heal you. Maybe you’re guilty and you want Jesus to forgive you. Maybe you’re poor and you want Jesus to make you rich. Maybe you’re lonely and you want Jesus to be your friend. Maybe you’re weak and you want Jesus to be your bodyguard. It’s ok. Let’s own the fact that our wants drive us to Jesus. But let’s also be clear that Jesus thinks that Jesus’ death is what we really need.
- Jesus’ death gives us what we need
Ok, these Greeks (that means they were not Jews) go to Philip (probably because he has a Greek name) and ask for an audience with Jesus. Philip goes to Andrew about it, and they both go to Jesus with the request. Jesus then gives a strange response. Look at verse 23, “Jesus answered them, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.’” Up to this point, Jesus was clear that his hour has not yet come (2:4; 7:30; 8:20). Now that the Greeks have come, now that the nations are coming, Jesus understands that the hour of his death has arrived. Look over at John 13:1, “Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.” The coming of the Greeks signals not more teaching or more miracles but Jesus’ climactic work. It is time for Jesus to die, rise again, and return to his place of glory with the Father.
That Jesus’ death is for the healing of the nations is made clear in John 12:31-33. Look down at John 12:31-33, “‘Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.’ He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die.” Jesus’ death will lift him up as he is crucified on that terrible cross. Jesus’ death and resurrection will sever the tyranny of sin and Satan; Jesus is the means by which we can escape slavery to sin. Jesus’ death will also proclaim his glory and his goodness as the nations see his death and resurrection as the only way we are reconciled to God.
So, Jesus’ miracles do not give life to us. It is Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection that are the means to life. Through his death and resurrection, our sins are removed, we are reconciled to God, and we are empowered to live for the glory of God and the good of others. We need the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus to truly live life. Consider
II. The glory of giving life through death (23-25)
We have a partial picture of the glory of giving life through death in the glory of being an organ donor. The website donors1.org reports that one organ donor can save up to eight lives. That’s why Angela and I are organ donors, our deaths can bring life to as many as eight people. But while being an organ donor has a glory, it is a glory that pales in comparison to the glory of Christ’s gift. So, for the sake of clarity
- Glory is bound up in resurrection not popularity
The crowds are flocking to Jesus by the thousands. In our day, Jesus would be the subject of every viral video, the lead story of every news page, and the cover of every newspaper while trending on Twitter. So, why did Jesus reject the wave of popularity instead of riding the wave of popularity? It is because Jesus came to die and rise again. Jesus did not come to be popular. A popular Jesus helps no one but himself. Jesus came to give his life for us; Jesus came to define life for us. Jesus did not come to take life from us or to use us to make a life for himself. Jesus came to die and rise again.
Remember, it was at Lazarus’ tomb that Jesus uttered the phenomenal words, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” (John 11:25-27). Jesus understood that his death and resurrection are the only means by which our guilt can be removed and our slavery to sin could be broken. Transformation, life with God, requires Jesus’ death and resurrection so,
- The most fruitful thing Jesus did was die
Look again at this little parable in John 12:24, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” Jesus is the grain of wheat. If he never dies, he will remain alone. If he dies, he will bear much fruit. How does that work?
Mark 10:45, “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Jesus understood that the purpose of his coming is to restore you to God. The cost Jesus must pay is his life. Thinking in terms of a fire, Jesus didn’t come to put out the fire. Jesus came to exhaust fire’s ability to burn. Jesus conquered death by going through death and defeating it. Thinking in terms of slavery, Jesus didn’t come to fight a war but to buy us back with his very life. Thinking in terms of our sin, the only sufficient payment for our offence is life in hell or the life of the Son of God. By dying, by giving himself for us, Jesus secures eternal life for us.
Think of the members of this church. Jesus, that one grain of wheat, fell into the earth, died, and is bearing much fruit. Multiply these brothers and sisters by the millions throughout the ages and that one grain of wheat is bearing much fruit. So death is fruitful but
- Self-preservation is self-destruction
Look now at John 12:25, “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” Love and hate is a Jewish way of talking about priorities and ruling principles. To love something is to be ruled by it, to be devoted to its protection. To hate something is to ignore it or count it as inconsequential.
Jesus is not saying that if he hates the fullness of God in himself and despises himself then he will get to keep what he despises for all eternity. Think, if you hate your migraine then you will keep your migraine for eternity. Instead, Jesus understands that if he preserves his life and protects his life and refuses the cross then he will reject the will of his Father, forfeit the salvation of the nations, and ultimately be lost himself. This is unthinkable and impossible! Instead, let’s read Philippians 2:5-11.
By losing his life, Jesus accomplishes the Father’s will, secures the salvation of the nations, and is returned to his rightful place of glory and honor above every other name. Glory and good come only through death. Jesus shows us that self-preservation is self-destruction, but self-sacrifice is gloriously fruitful. Jesus proves the glory of giving life through death and Jesus empowers
III. The glory of giving life through death (26)
Let’s read verse 25 again and go on to verse 26, “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.”
- To serve Jesus is to follow Jesus
Who do you serve? If self is your god then you will serve self. If Jesus is your God then you will serve Jesus. If you serve self, you will think about you more and more. If you serve Jesus, you will think about Jesus more and more. Now, it’s easy to stand up and say, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” Anyone can say the words, “I serve the Lord.” But the proof of serving the Lord is following the Lord. The proof of being a Christian is not in mere words but in the imitation of Jesus. A nominal Christian, a person who is Christian in name only, is seeking to keep his life of selfishness but call it Christianity. This will never work. If you try to protect your life, then you will lose your life. So, we follow Jesus. And where did he go?
- We follow Jesus to the cross
Again, in verse 26, “If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also.” Now, we want to jump ahead to honor, glory, and eternal life. It is wonderfully true that the destination for all those who serve and follow Jesus is the presence of God for eternity. But let’s remember that the way to glory is through being humbled. To be where Jesus is, is to be crucified. We follow Jesus to the cross.
Christians are crucified. Christians don’t protect their lives; Christians give their lives. In Matthew 10:38 Jesus says, “whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” We find life through death to self with Jesus. Jesus doesn’t allow us to protect our money, position, and popularity. Jesus doesn’t encourage us to protect ourselves. Jesus commands us to sacrifice our money, position, and popularity. Jesus calls us to lose our lives just like he did. And there is a great reward
- Our daily dying with Christ for others leads to honor
Look at the end of verse 26, “If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.”
Just like today, the people of Jesus’ day struggled with their reputations. Look over at verse 42, “many even of the authorities believed in him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God. Flip over to John 14:23, “Jesus answered them, ‘If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.”
A choice lies in front of you. You can choose to protect your life and your reputation and your status. You can want to meet with Jesus but refuse to serve, follow, and be with Jesus. If you seek glory and life from people, then you will receive all the glory and life people are able to give. Or you can choose to sacrifice your life and your reputation and your status. You can serve him, follow him, and be with him. If you seek glory and life from Jesus, then you will receive death plus all the glory and life Jesus is able to give. Jesus holds out to us the promise of eternal life.
The reality we must struggle with today is
- Life is found only through self-sacrifice
You are that grain of wheat. If you protect yourself then ultimately you will lose yourself. This is a paradox: to protect yourself is to perpetually press the self-destruct button. If you are practicing self-preservation and get into a relationship, then you can never be truly or fully you. Self-preservation means you cover your weaknesses and make excuses for your sins. Whether we are talking about God or others, if your relationship is built on spin, you will be found out and cast out. The loss we fear eventually comes when we hold back our true selves. God calls us to honesty, to repentance and faith. Listen, if you hold back your true self, you will be a bitter grain of wheat left all alone. You will be safe, but your life will be empty, fruitless, and ultimately a loss.
To love is to protect and lose. To hate is to sacrifice and gain; the grain is multiplied. Think with me about the reality that life is found only through self-sacrifice. Let’s celebrate all that Jesus has done and all that Jesus is doing. Without Jesus we will never be able to reject a life of self-preservation and embrace a life of self-sacrifice.
First of all, Jesus proves that the single grain dying will produce a great harvest. Jesus proves this way of life. Listen to Revelation 7:9, “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’” Ha! It works, if the grain falls into the earth and dies it bears much fruit!
Second, Jesus empowers joyful self-sacrifice in us. The fruit Jesus bears is the multiplication of his life in us. The call to Christ is the call to draw life from him. To think like a Christian is to start with repentance, we need to see and turn away from our selfish demands. Do you see where you are looking to others and demanding, “Give to me, affirm me, sacrifice for me, and do I want”? The selfish person runs from relationship to relationship or job to job or church to church trying to find life but only bringing destruction. Stop and look behind you. What is in your wake? If your past is marked by burned bridges instead of built bridges then you have a problem. Repent of selfish self-preservation, demanding your will be done, then believe in Jesus for the forgiveness of your sin. Jesus’ death for you is more than sufficient for all the gasoline and matches you’ve spewed out.
So, the Christian is marked by repenting, believing, and following. To serve Jesus, is to follow Jesus, is to be where Jesus is. We are heading to heaven and the new earth with Jesus. We are heading to Jesus by way of the cross. This means the best thing for my family, marriage, and this church is the death of my selfish self. Selfish self-protecting Paul will do only harm. What is needed is death and new birth. My family, marriage, and this church need a self-giving Paul. The best thing for your family, your neighbors, and your coworkers is the death of selfish-you and the birth of giving-you. This is not physical suicide; it is crucifixion by faith.
You are a grain of wheat. If you refuse to die to your self you will remain alone. But if you will look back those 2000 years to Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection you will live. Jesus’ resurrection proves he has life enough for you. But are you willing to stop trying to be the center of your universe? Are you willing to confess all the ways your selfishness has brought destruction to yourself and to your family? Repent of your sin, put your faith in Jesus, and you will live. Through the death of your selfish-self and through the resurrection life of Jesus you can bear much fruit.
Jesus calls us today to come and die so that we can live. My prayer for you is that you will see his life and his greatness so that your death and resurrection with him makes perfect sense.
- In what way did God comfort, challenge, or correct you today?
- When have you seen a relationship destroyed through self-preservation?
- When have you seen a relationship strengthened through self-sacrifice?
- How does Jesus give us the resources we need to lose ourselves for the good of others?
- What is the difference between being in a relationship to find life and being in a relationship as a source of life?
- Why did Jesus reject the wave of popularity instead of riding the wave of popularity?
- Explain how Jesus shows us that self-preservation is self-destruction, but self-sacrifice is gloriously fruitful.
- What does Philippians 2:5-11 teach us about relationships?
- To be where Jesus is, is to be crucified. Are you there? What is the evidence?
- What is the reward for those who serve and follow Jesus? What does that look like?
- How does Jesus prove that a single grain dying will produce much fruit?
- How does Jesus empower joyful self-sacrifice in you?
- How does Galatians 2:20 play out in your every day life?
A servant’s heart
A steward’s eye
A shepherd’s back
A Place at the Table
Text: Matthew 22:1-14
This parable gives us at least four requirements for participation in the kingdom. These four things must also be present in us for us to participate in the Lord’s Supper. Who may come? Who gets a place at the table? First,
- The willing have a place at the table (v3)
In verse three, we see the people are invited to come but they would not. The people were unwilling to come; this speaks to the level of desire. Simply put, they do not want to celebrate the king’s son, so they decide they will not come.
Concerning the Lord’s Supper, you must be willing to share a meal with Jesus and his church. There needs to be a desire to fellowship with Christ and his church. The Lord’s Supper is for those who see Jesus’ value and want to celebrate him.
Our specific prayer is “Jesus, we gather in your name, we gather as your church, so that you will be with us. Jesus, we want to be with you. You have invited us, and we are willing to come.
So, who may come? Those who are willing and those who are paying attention.
- Those who are paying attention have a place at the table (v5)
Again, the king sends out his servants and they announce that everything is ready. But, verse 5, “the people paid no attention and went off, one to his farm, another to his business.” They ignored the king’s invitation. They had better things to do than celebrate the son with the king. If at first, they were unwilling, now they are uncaring.
Concerning the Lord’s Supper, it is those who are paying attention to Jesus who have a place at the table. To put it in the language of 1 Corinthians 11:29, “they discern the body.” To discern the body is to make a careful judgment. Those who see the value of Jesus and feel their need for Jesus are invited to come.
So, what if you see other things as more important than Jesus? Maybe you are thinking, why should I slow down and do this silly ceremony with these people? I really need to get to work. Should I test myself to see if I value Jesus? I tested my bank account and I need to get out of here and get to it. But friend, money is a terrible god and work is a tyrant of a master.
Our specific prayer is, “Father, show us your glory in the face of Jesus Christ so that we value Jesus above all else. Show us why Jesus matters. Provide for us and care for us.” Those who are paying attention to Jesus have a place at the table.
Who may come? Third,
- Those who accept the invitation have a place at the table (v8)
Willing and paying attention escalate into going to the feast. I do not want to, and I do not care, escalate into I hope he dies. In verse 8, the king says to his servants, “The wedding feast is ready, but those invited were not worthy.” They demonstrated their unworthiness by rejecting the invitation. Paul and Barnabas told the Jews the same thing in Acts 13:46, “It was necessary that the word of God be spoken first to you. Since you thrust it aside and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold we are turning to the Gentiles.” These people looked at Jesus and said, “I don’t need you.” Rejecting the invitation demonstrates unworthiness. Accepting the invitation demonstrates worthiness.
Now hold up. Does our access to Jesus depend on our worthiness? Like, if you are spiritual enough or good enough then you can come? Praise God, no! “Let not conscience make you linger, Nor of fitness fondly dream; All the fitness he requireth Is to feel your need of Him.” Our worthiness is our emptiness. To eat the Lord’s Supper is to boast of our weaknesses. Our worthiness is our willing, wanting, and going. I will arise and go to Jesus, He will embrace me in his arms; In the arms of my dear Savior, O there are ten thousand charms. Worthiness is demonstrated in those who feel their need and accept the invitation. Our worthiness is demonstrated in feeling our emptiness and going to the celebration.
Who may come? Fourth,
- Those with the proper clothes have a place at the table (v12)
By the king’s orders the hall is filled, but with good and bad. A man is found there with no wedding garment, so the king has him bound and cast into hell because many are called, and few are chosen. What’s the deal here? Is God a snob that only accepts wealthy people who can buy expensive clothes? No, this guy knew he was going to a wedding, but he didn’t get ready.
This takes us back to 1 Corinthians 11:28-29, “Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. This is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.”
How then do we judge ourselves? Or, how can we tell if we are wearing the proper clothes? We can think like this: Are you willing to celebrate Jesus’ death and resurrection that restore you to God? Do you want to celebrate Jesus’ death and resurrection that restore you to God? Are you paying attention to Jesus because you feel your need for him? The simple summary of all these is the question have you been baptized? Do you want to be with Jesus, and have you been joined to Jesus through baptism? Is Jesus your righteousness and your hope? If so, come and eat with Christ at his table. Judge yourself, are you empty and looking to Jesus to be filled? Are you willing? Are you wanting? Are you paying attention? Do you have the proper clothes? If you feel your need for Jesus, then come and celebrate with his church.
Strengthening the Churches
Text: Acts 15:36-41
As a church, we are working our way through the Book of Acts. Acts is in the New Testament, right after the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, then Acts). And Acts is the story of how the Holy Spirit formed the church and began multiplying churches through the nations. Acts is the story of evangelism, conversions, baptisms, discipleship, and church planting. The kingdom of God is advancing.
Each week we see how Acts is exciting and painful. We see the first missionary journey, and that is exciting. We see the debate over the gospel, and that is painful. In Acts 15 we see the church in Antioch flourishing; that is exciting. In Acts 15 we also see the beloved Paul and Barnabas get in an argument and part ways; that is painful.
As we seek to make decisions as the church, as we choose men and choose between men, may God protect our unity and give us strength. May each of us do our part to protect the unity of the Spirit. Our goal, like Paul and Barnabas, is to strengthen the churches. May we be careful because passionate and costly work often gets messy. Read Acts 15:36-41.
There is an instinct in Paul and Barnabas that needs to be recaptured by Christians today. Here it is
I. Churches need checking on (v36)
Look at verse 36 with me, “And after some days Paul said to Barnabas, ‘Let us return and visit the brothers in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are.’” Now why does Paul suggest this, and Barnabas agree with this? Because
- The most natural thing to do is drift away from Christ
The first missionary journey included the area called Galatia. Galatia is made up of cities where Paul and Barnabas proclaimed the word of the Lord. In Galatians 1:6 Paul writes, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel.” Jesus said the same thing to the church in Ephesus, “I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first” (Rev 2:4).
The most natural thing to do is drift away from Christ. In Galatia, they were tempted to turn to obeying the old covenant laws about food and circumcision for their security thinking, we are good Christians because we do life like this. How about us? How are we tempted to drift away from Christ? What good things are we moving from doing because we are saved to doing to be saved? Listen, every good thing has the potential to become an idol that we depend on. So, instead of bringing the life of Christ to our work, church, marriages, and families, we try to draw life from our work, church, marriage, and family. You’re in danger if you define being ok as work is ok, family is ok, or the church is ok.
We need healthy churches where each member is depending on Jesus; Jesus makes us ok. We need churches full of members who take responsibility for the health of the members. We need healthy churches made up of thirsty Christians who are drinking each day from the Word of Christ. We need healthy churches where the members are sharing Christ daily with one another. Churches drift from Christ so,
- We must pay close attention to Christ (Hebrews 2:1)
Hebrews 2:1 says, “we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it.” How often do you pay attention to your breathing? Probably when you can’t breathe or when the doctor puts the stethoscope on your back and tells you to take a deep breath. We don’t pay attention to breathing. Living life for God with Christ is not like breathing. Drifting from Christ is like breathing; we just do it naturally. Church, we must pay close attention to Christ.
Mambrino needs to be Colossae not Galatia. The church in Galatia drifted quickly away from Christ (Gal 1:6). But the Colossian church was marked by good order and firmness of faith in Christ (Col 2:5). Consider, how does Christ shape your friendships, your work, your singleness, and your ministry? Are you willing, wanting, paying attention to, and clothed properly? Are you in your roles taking off sin and putting on the likeness of Christ? Are you gaming with Jesus? Are you working with Jesus? Are you doing relationships with Jesus? Every day read, pray, and give away. We must pay attention to Christ because he has much to give through us. And we must embrace good order. In particular
- Christ gives elders to exercise oversight in the church (Acts 20:28)
Acts 14:23 tells us that Paul and Barnabas appointed elders in every church. So, when Paul and Barnabas went back to see how the brothers are doing, they would have checked on the elders. One of these elder checkups is recorded in Acts 20. There Paul tells the elders, “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.”
Elders are not focused on buildings and budgets but on God’s blood-bought sheep. Are the elders healthy? Are the elders paying attention to Jesus? Are the elders caring for one another? Are the elders caring for the sheep? Jesus places elders in a position of authority to look after the spiritual health of the flock. To raise up healthy sheep, elders must devote themselves to the word and prayer. So please pray constantly for our elders to be men who feast on the word so that we can be men who feed the church with the word. Churches need checking on and
II. Caring for the churches can get messy (vs37-39)
We worked through the details of this passage back in October, you can listen again on the facebook page or through my blog. Let’s review the big pieces here
- Paul and Barnabas had a sharp disagreement
These faithful brothers had a heated argument over the best way to accomplish the mission of checking on the churches. What we need to see here is that unity does not happen because we all love Jesus and love the church. Unity is something that we must fight for. Now, I understand that you are going to do some things and want some things that I don’t like. You must understand that I am going to do some things and want some things that you don’t like. Our commitment in our disagreements is to ask and not assume. We must commit to being quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry (James 1:19). We want to hold onto our hurts and hold onto our anger but James 1:20 tells us to hold onto the word. The word will do far better work than our anger. So, when you join a church get ready for disagreements and commit to working for unity with patience. Unfortunately, in Acts 15, Paul and Barnabas could not work it out so
- Paul and Barnabas separated
The issue for Paul and Barnabas was a young guy named John Mark. John Mark quit on Paul and Barnabas during the first missionary journey. Instead of sacrificing and staying with, John Mark quit and went home (Acts 13:13). Now that Barnabas and Paul are getting ready to go again, Barnabas wants to take John Mark but Paul refuses.
It takes wisdom to know when to enforce hard consequences and when to give the grace of a second chance. Paul stuck with consequences; John Mark quit on us and cannot be trusted. Barnabas stuck with encouragement; John Mark needs a second chance. Who was right? It is hard to tell. A better question for us is how do we know when to separate? The easy answer relates to the gospel and doctrine. If the church preaches another gospel and supports false doctrine, then there must be gracious clear confrontation. If the elders will not repent and return to the true gospel then you must separate; leave and join another church. But what about issues of philosophy? Paul and Barnabas separated because they could not agree on the best way to accomplish the mission. No church council is needed; you can’t chapter and verse this one. Remember, they agree on the work that needs to be done. Their issue is who has the best way of accomplishing the work.
If after careful conversations, the two parties cannot submit to one another according to Ephesians 5:21, then a separation should happen. In these rare and unfortunate cases, it is better to separate and get to work than it is to get stuck in argument after argument after argument. And to be clear, missionaries may use separation as a way to move forward but marriages can not. Disagreements are not biblical grounds for divorce.
Looking at Paul, Barnabas, John Mark and how their relationship came back together, we see that
- We are responsible but God is sovereign
It is comforting to know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose (Rom 8:28).
God works even our disagreements for good, but John Stott is right, God’s providence is no excuse for quarreling. God’s providence is a comfort in times of disagreements (253). God used the confrontation from Paul and the encouragement from Barnabas to restore John Mark. Paul writes to the Colossian church, “Aristarchus my fellow prisoner greets you, and Mark the cousin of Barnabas (concerning whom you have received instructions—if he comes to you, welcome him” (Col 4:10). The Mark who should not be allowed on board is now the Mark who should be welcomed in.
Paul writes to Philemon, “Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends greetings to you, and so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, my fellow workers.” The Mark who Paul would not work with is later listed among Paul’s fellow workers.
And the grand finale of God’s amazing grace, 2 Timothy 4:11, Paul writes “Luke alone is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry.” Welcome him. He’s a fellow worker. He is very useful to me.
What happened? I know, at the least, John Mark was restored by God’s grace and by the discipling of a man named the Son of Encouragement. There can be restoration after the most bitter of disagreements. So, ask for God’s grace. Maybe you are the Paul who needs to confront. Maybe you are the Barnabas who needs to encourage. Maybe you’re the John Mark who needs to be restored. In the end, God works all things, even disagreements for good. Trust the Lord and do the work.
And what is the work Barnabas and Paul are after?
III. Churches need to be strengthened (vs39-41)
It is right to assume that Barnabas and Mark are doing in Cyprus what Paul and Silas are doing through Syria and Cilicia, verse 41, strengthening the churches. Brothers and sisters,
- Our souls are strengthened by grace (2 Tim 2:1-2)
My hope is that the Lord’s Supper was a meal that reminded you of God’s grace and Christ’s sufficiency. My hope is that we feel how easy and dangerous it is to drift away from Christ so that we pay close attention to him. 2 Timothy 2:1-3 says, “You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.”
We live in bodies and in a world where drifting is natural and temptations are everywhere. But there is strength for us in Christ Jesus. He will protect you. He will provide for you. He will strengthen you. He will use you, use your suffering, to help others. This church, these sufferers, need you to strengthen us with the word of his grace. Let’s join our voices and commit together to following Jesus and helping one another follow Jesus.
Every other god will leave us empty. Every other master is a tyrant. Who do we follow? We follow Jesus. No turning back, no turning back.
If you want to listen to the sermon, “When Christians Disagree,” you can watch it on the church Facebook page by clicking here. The sermon was preached on October 25, 2020 and starts at the 20 minute mark.
- In what way did God comfort, challenge, or correct you today?
- How does the parable of the wedding feast in Matthew 22:1-14 help you understand the Lord’s Supper?
- What do you gain from celebrating the Lord’s Supper with the church?
- What makes a person worthy of celebrating the Lord’s Supper?
- What do you do, or what is helpful, as you prepare to celebrate the Lord’s Supper with the church? How do you examine yourself (1 Cor 11:28)?
- When has a good thing in your life become an idol? What happened?
- How does depending on something other than Jesus (even good things like work, family, and ministry) ruin us in the end?
- How does Christ shape your friendships, your work, your singleness, your marriage, your family, or your ministry?
- What should it look like for elders to pay close attention to themselves and the flock? Why does this good order strengthen the church?
- Is there a time when you knew you should fight for unity in the church but did not? What would you do differently next time?
- What does it look like for a church to fulfill Ephesians 5:21 and the members submit to one another?
- How does the sovereignty of God comfort us in hard disagreements (Rom 8:28)?
- How have the members strengthened you? How can you work to strengthen others?