GOD AND HIS LOVE
There is probably no better known verse of scripture than the words of our text for this morning. I speak of John 3:16 which is a passage that everyone can recite. Even little children can say it with ease. Let’s recite it together now. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” (NIV)
This text has been called by many names. It has been called everybody’s text, the littlest gospel, the gospel in a nutshell and the gospel in miniature. One preacher who was coming to the end of his career confessed that he had never preached from this great text because, he said, it was so great and so vast that he never felt he could do it justice. A little unusual, I’d say, but a true evaluation of the text.
There are not many preachers like that, for most of us preachers have preached from this text many times. There are likely none of you here this morning that have not heard numerous sermons from this John text.
John 3:16 is a great text and it does contain so much more than could be dealt with in any one or two settings, but for a few minutes this morning, let’s see what we can do with this great text.
THE PEOPLE OF GOD’S LOVE
The first thing we see in the text is the people of God’s love. The verse begins by indicating that it was the world that God loved. Jesus said, “For God so loved the world.” But let us translate that into a more personal term, and see that it was the people of the world whom God loved. People are the objects of God’s love not the impersonal universe, not the stars and galaxies, but the people.
In creation, people were the highest and climatic order of God’s creative activity. When God established the covenant, it was the people who were the object of his concern. This was also true in the period of the Judges and Prophets. In Jesus Christ, we see the ultimate expressions of God’s concern for the people. So when God loved, he loved the people of his created order.
So in the church today through its ministry, it is people who should be the object of all of our programs and activities. We must be people centered in all that we do. We must not be church centered, nor organization centered, nor liturgy or worship centered. All of these are important, but this is not to be the center of our focus. We, like God, must be moved to action because of our concern and love for people.
THE PUBLICATION OF GOD’S LOVE
We see also in our text that God loved us so that “He gave his one and only Son.” This is what we might call the publication of God’s love. How did God tell us he loved us? He did not write us a letter or send us a telegram, and he did not call us on the phone. He did not send us an email, or post anything on Face book for us; and he did not even send us a messenger. How did God make his love known to us? He came to us in the person of his son, Jesus Christ.
Revelation is an important part of our religion as Christians. Christianity is a revealed religion. In the Old Testament, God is revealing himself to his people. In the New Testament, however, we see the ultimate announcement of God’s love. “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord,” is what the angels said in announcing the birth of Jesus. John wrote about this when he said: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14) Jesus said, “He that has seen me has seen the Father,” and he also said, “I and the Father are one.” The ultimate publication of God’s love was in His Son, Jesus Christ.
So as we lift up Jesus Christ, God’s son, we glorify God. Jesus said, “And I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto me.” Paul said of Jesus, the Son that he has been “given a name which is above every name that at the name of Jesus ever knee shall bow and every tongue confess.”
In December, 1977, Gene Suoboda of Dayton, Ohio, hired an airplane to tow a 125 foot streamer across the city which said, “Judy, I love you. Will you marry me?” God did not emblazon it across the sky, but he did send His Son. The cross is God’s message to us in which God is saying in no uncertain terms, “I love you!”
THE PROGRAM OF GOD’S LOVE
Now as we continue to look at John 3:16, we see the program of God’s love. Jesus said, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son that whoever believes in him shall not perish.” There are two key words here.
The first key word is “whoever.” Jesus said through the spirit in Revelation 22:17, “The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come!” Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life.” Jesus also says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). ‘Whoever’ is a wonderful and powerful word. Whoever means that I am included and I am grateful for that whoever, for how else can I be sure that I am be included in God’s love. If God had not said that his love was for ‘whoever’ how can I know that I have been included. Maybe God does not like southern Americans or short people. Maybe he does not like bald headed people. But because God said ‘whoever’ I know I am included. and you know that you are included. Because of God’s ‘whoever’ we can know that God truly does love us.
The second key word in this part of John 3:16 is the word, ‘believes.’ Belief and unbelief has become a classification of people. To believe is to receive what God has already done for you. God’s program of love involves two things: whoever and belief. This means that anyone who will can be saved. God has elected to save all men, but not all men will decide to ask for his forgiveness and salvation.
Ebenezer Wooten, a Scottish preacher, was approached after a revival service by a young man who asked, “Mr. Wooten, what must I do to be saved?” The preacher shocked him when he said, “Nothing, absolutely nothing, young man, you are too late for that.” The young man replied, “You mean there is no chance for me?” The preacher said, “I did not say that. You asked what you must do and my answer was there is nothing you can do. Jesus has done it all on Calvary.”
Salvation is for everyone and that includes you and me. It is possible for all to receive God’s love by faith – by just receiving, and accepting, what God has already done in Christ Jesus.
THE PURPOSE OF GOD’S LOVE
Now let us see one final thing about this great text, and that is the purpose of God’s love. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” This answers the question of why God loves us so. He loves us because he does not want to see us perish, and he wants us to survive and to have eternal life. God loves us and so he wants to give us eternal life. This means that if we will accept this eternal life which God offers us in Jesus Christ, we will not perish.
The term ‘perish’ is often used in connection with extreme hunger and thirst. The Bible proclaims Jesus as the bread of life and as the water of life. People who are without Christ are starving and thirsting to death. “But God demonstrates his own love for us in that: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” God offers us eternal life, not life for a moment, or a day or even a year. He offers us eternal life.
The story is told when the printer was printing Martin Luther’s translation of the scriptures, that pieces of the printer’s work would occasionally fall carelessly upon the floor of his shop. One day the printer’s little girl came into the shop and picked up a piece of paper containing some of Luther’s translation of the Bible on which she found just these words, “God so loved the world that he gave.” The rest of the sentence had not yet been printed, or was laying somewhere else on the floor. It was a veritable revelation to her. For up to this time she had always been told that the almighty was to be feared and dreaded and could only be approached through penance. The new light thrown upon God’s nature by the scrap of paper that had fallen into her hands seemed to flood her whole being with a radiance, so that her mother asked her what was the reason for her joyfulness. Putting her hand in her pocket, she pulled out the piece of crumpled paper with the unfinished sentence of scripture on it and handed it to her mother. The mother read it and was perplexed saying, “He gave? But what was it he gave?” For a moment, the girl was puzzled, then with a quick intuition, said, “I don’t know, but if He loved us well enough to give us anything, we need not be afraid of Him.”
The purpose of God’s love is that all men should know that God loves them.
Dr. A. C. Archibald, in his book entitled, Man to Man, tells the story of Captain Connelly who ran a rescue mission in one of the large cities of this country. It seems that one night while he was on a tour of inspection, he went into the barracks where the children were housed, and standing there listening to them sleep, he heard the cries of a little girl who was crying softly to herself. Quietly he stepped farther into the room, and made his way to the place from which the sobs were coming. He discovered that it was a child whose parents were dead and who had no relatives. Connelly stooped over and said, “Are you sick, dear?” “No, Sir,” said the child. “Have you had enough to eat?” “Oh, yes, Sir.” “Then what is the matter, my child?” “Oh, Sir, Sir,” she said, “I want someone to love me. I am all alone, and I want someone to love me!”
That’s the cry of the world today. The world wants some-one to love them. And we know that God loves them, but we must tell them that God loves them or the world will never know it. Wouldn’t it be sad if the people of the world died not knowing that God loves them simply because we never told them? It would be a tragedy of tragedies!
What I have been trying to do this morning is to tell you clearly that God loves you. However, you can never really know God’s love until you experience it for yourself. I have told you about it, but you must experience it. You must accept God’s love for you.
A little boy got on a streetcar with an open bucket of honey. That was quite an undertaking for the young man. Streetcars did not provide a very smooth ride. The streetcar was full and the boy had to stand up, which was a real challenge for him. When the streetcar was moving, he held on; but when it stopped he would turn loose of his hold put his hand on the bucket of honey, and put one finger in the honey. As the streetcar started to move again, he would take the finger out of the honey and put it in his mouth, sucking off the honey, and then he would hold on again to steady himself.
A man riding on the streetcar saw what the boy was doing and decided to have some fun with him. He asked the boy what he had in the bucket. He was informed that it was honey. The man asked the boy, “Is it good?” “Oh, yes,” said the boy. “How good is it?” the man asked. “It’s very good,” said the boy. Then the man said, “Oh, you can do better than that. Now tell me just how good is the honey?” At this the boy took the bucket of honey in both hands, held it out to the man and said, “Here, see for yourself!”
That’s what I am saying to you this morning. God loves you and he loves you very much. He loves you so much that he gave his Son who died for you on the cross of Calvary. But you can never know just how much God loves you until you experience his love for yourself.
I ask you today to come to Christ and experience God’s great love for yourself.
Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues, deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. (NIV)
Religion is not so much the outward expression of religious experience in ritual and liturgy and ceremony as it is the inward experience of grace and its reflection in our daily lives.
You might think that this sermon will be a definition of religion. That will not be the case, for James in our text is not defining religion, as much as he is discussing and describing religious life. James is suggesting that real religion will be characterized by certain qualities of life. The finest ritual and the purest liturgy you can offer to God is service to the poor and personal piety.
When we think of religion, we are sometimes guilty of thinking, as did those to whom James wrote, that religion consists of outward things. We must not equate the body of religion with the spirit of religion. Real religion does not lie in elaborate vestments or in noble liturgy or in magnificent music or in passionate preaching; but it lies in practical service to mankind and in personal purity. It is possible for us as a church to be so taken with the beauty of our building, and the splendor of our worship that we have neither the time nor the money, nor the desire for practical Christian service. This is what James is condemning. This is what Micah was condemning in Micah 6:6-8 when he said:
With what shall I come before the Lord,
and bow down before the exalted God?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousand rivers of oil?
Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God?
It is easy for us to mistake form for reality, and when we do, we count beads and call it prayer. We may attend church regularly; we may support the church with our tithe and time, and still not be really religious.
Let us see what James is saying about real religion in these words from James 1:26-27.
A CONTROLLED TONGUE
James begins by affirming that a person who is really religious will control his tongue. Real religion will be characterized by a controlled tongue. Look at what James wrote in verse 26:
Those who consider themselves religious, and
yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues
deceive themselves, and their religion is worth-
The tongue is pictured here as an instrument that is in need of control. It is like an unruly horse that needs a bridle and bits to bring it under control. It is not like an old horse that is so tame it can be handled by a child. The tongue is like a wild stallion which must be tamed. It must be controlled. James assumes that Christian principles can and will control the tongue.
James says that when the tongue is not controlled then any religions activity is a waste of time. It is “worthless.” If we extol the grace of love and speak hatefully, who is going to believe that we know anything about love at all? If we speak of God’s love for all people and we speak disparaging-ly about some people, who is going to believe anything we have to say about God’s love? The words we speak are extremely important. Jesus said in Matthew 12:36-37:
But I tell you that everyone will have to give
account on the day of judgment for every
empty word they have spoken. For by
your words you will be acquitted, and by
your words you will be condemned.
We do have tongue problems in our contemporary age and I am not talking about speaking in tongues as is practiced in some churches today. The tongue problem of which I speak is in our everyday language. Vulgarity is as common place as hamburger. Gossip is a continuous problem which is as deadly as snakebite. The use we make of our speech is very important. We speak the truth, but do it in an indiscriminate manner, and thus contribute to the problems of another.
Sometimes it is the lack of speech that creates problems. We are silent when we should speak up, and because of our silence wrong is not checked and evil is not stopped. The emphasis here is on controlling the tongue. I once knew a man who had been known to tell a lie occasionally. In a discussion this particular person and his problem with the truth came up, and someone observed that when you talk as much as he does, you are bound to miss the truth occasionally. The emphasis here is on controlling the tongue. The tongue is a powerful instrument. It is a powerful instrument for good and evil depending on whether it is controlled or uncontrolled.
A COMPASSIONATE HEART
James continues by saying in verse 27that real religion will also be characterized by a compassionate heart. He said:
Religion that God our Father accepts as
pure and faultless is this: to look after
orphans and widows in their distress.
The King James Version translates the last part of this verse “to visit the fatherless and widows.” The word “to visit” means more than just to call on someone for a friendly visit. It means to visit with the intention of assuming responsibility for the person with the purpose of providing help. Thus the New International Version from which I am reading has correctly translated it “to look after the orphans and the widows.” The prophet wrote in Zechariah 10:3: “for the Lord Almighty will care for his flock, the people of Judah.” This is the passage in the KJV that says “the Lord of hosts hath visited his flock the house of Judah.” So it is easy to see that “to visit” does not mean to make a casual, friendly visit, but it means to care for, thus assuming responsibility. When Jesus restored the life of the son of the widow at the entrance to the city of Nain, the people said, “A great prophet has appeared among us,” and “God has come to help his people” (Luke 7:16). The King James Version translates the last part of this verse, God hath visited his people.
When James said we were to visit with the view to help the orphans and widows, he was speaking of them as a representative group. They stand for all of those who have needs, whether they be temporal or spiritual. Widows and orphans were without a base of power or support in the society of Jesus’ day and were therefore dependent on the religious community for help. They could not get unemployment and there was no government program available to help them. They had no other source of help. Judaism had been good about caring for these victims of society. The early church continued in that same ministry, and the church today must also continue in this ministry of compassion.
Those who did not share this compassionate concern were not considered by James as being religious. The Priest and the Levite in the Good Samaritan story would have considered themselves to be religious, but James would not. James would say, “No. No. No way!” If we do not demonstrate compassionate concern, we are not religious, no matter how many outward forms of religion we may perform.
Here is a church located in the downtown area of a city. It meets in an old building. In an apartment on the second floor of the same building in which the church is located there lives a family that is literally starving to death. What about this church? What about the members of this church and the quality of their religion? If they don’t act compassionately toward this family, James would not think much of it. It is useless, says James. But we are all guilty, for we spend thousands of dollars on our places of worship as Americans, while the poor perish in the alleys behind our buildings. Southern Baptists spend more money on interest on our buildings in a year than we do on missions support through both the North American and International Mission Boards. James had no sympathy for those who sing songs of the faith while widows and orphans suffer.
The church that would be the church in America today must program and plan to meet the needs of people. This must become second nature to us as congregations and as individuals. What has happened to us is that we have turned this over to the government. We say the government will do it, but government has no Christian compassion and no Christian message. The government may be humanitarian, but it is not Christian; and it may be benevolent, but it is not loving.
When we let the government do what we should be doing, we are increasing the cost and decreasing the effectiveness of our help. In government there has to be a bureaucracy to do anything. And in this kind of set up you have to allow for high overhead, waste and graft. For every dollar the government spends on welfare, the church could do the same amount of help for about half the money. It is time for the church to become a responsible institution and to begin to care, to love, and to serve the needy in the name of Christ. With the overhaul of the Welfare System which occurred some years back, there have been many changes, and there will be many more changes in years to come; and there will be deserving people who will fall through the cracks. The church must be ready to step up and reach out to these people in compassion and understanding.
A CLEAN LIFE
James continues his discussion of real religion by saying that those who are really religious will also have a clean life. In the last part of verse 27, he said:
Religion that God our Father accepts as pure
and faultless is this: to…keep oneself from
being polluted by the world.
The King James Version has this as “unspotted” – that we should keep ourselves unspotted by the world. This is a familiar Biblical figure of speech. It is said that the Lamb of
God was offered as a sacrifice without spot and blemish and that Jesus will present the church without spot and blemish to the Lord God. So we are to live without spot. We are to live unspotted and unsoiled lives. The word world in the last of verse 27 is not people; but it is synonymous with evil as it refers to the way of the unredeemed. There is more to what James is saying than a clean life; it is a clean heart that is called for. It is one thing to have a clean cup on the outside, but it is something else, and it is something more important, to have a clean cup on the inside.
The Psalmists said in Psalm 51:10:
Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
This indicates that there is a relationship between a clean heart and a changed life. There is a relationship between a pure heart and the power to live victoriously. It is easy for us to become so involved in “doing” that we forget the necessity of “being.”
The late Dr. Maltbee Babcock, distinguished pastor of the Brick Presbyterian Church in New York City, was approached by a physician who was a member of his congregation. The physician, a good friend of the pastor, was concerned about his pastor’s health, for he had been working very hard and needed some relaxation. As he handed Dr. Babcock some theater tickets, he said, “Take these, you need the recreation of going to this play.”
When the pastor looked at the tickets he saw that they were to a kind of play which he could not conscientiously attend, so he graciously said, “Thank you, but I cannot take them. I can’t go.” “Why not?” asked the physician, “You’re tired and need some time to relax.” “Yes, I am tired,” replied the pastor, “and I do need some recreation. But doctor, you are a surgeon. Before you operate you scrub your hands most thoroughly until they are anesthetically clean. You wouldn’t dare perform surgery with dirty hands. Well, I am a servant of Christ. I deal with precious human souls, and I too wouldn’t dare do my work with dirty hands.”
The point is clear, and it does not apply just to ministers. It applies to every Christian. The religion of the New Testament calls not only for wholesome speech and positive deeds, but it also calls for a life that is clean and pure.
James is simply echoing the declaration of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount when he told us that piety exhibits its presence in us. He said that we rank among the blessed of God when we are “merciful,” and when we are “pure in heart.”
THE PURPOSE OF GRACE
Jesus Christ. . .gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good. (NIV)
The story of Jesus is one of the most familiar stories known to man. There is perhaps no story more often repeated than the story of Jesus. There is little wonder that this is true. Just look at what Jesus did.
He was born a very lowly birth to very average parents. He lived an obscure childhood with only one notable thing occurring – he amazed the teachers of Israel by his knowledge and understanding at the young age of twelve. He launched his public ministry by performing one of his many miracles when he turned water into wine while attending a wedding in Cana of Galilee. He gathered around him a small band of followers and taught them, preparing them to carry on his work after he was gone.
At the age of thirty-three he was falsely accused and illegally crucified. He was buried in a borrowed tomb which was unable to hold its victim, for on the third day, he arose from the grave, thus accomplishing his most dramatic miracle.
What Jesus did is well-known. It has filled volumes of books, and it has been the subject of many sermons and lectures over the centuries. But what he did is not our concern today. We are interested in knowing why he did what he did. What is the purpose of God’s grace as revealed in Jesus Christ? Why did Jesus die on the cross when “He could have called ten thousand angels” to deliver him from the cross?
HE CAME TO SET US FREE
Why did Jesus come into the world? Why did Jesus go to the cross? Paul said in verse 14 of our text that Jesus:
Gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness.
You will also note that in verse 11 Paul said: “The grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people.” Jesus came to set us free from the bondage of sin. We understand this language when we realize that we were slaves to sin. Jesus said in Matthew 6:24, “No one can serve two masters…you cannot serve both God and money.” By this we understand that in our original condition we were slaves to Satan and sin. Jesus added to this understanding in John 3:18 where he said, “whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” Here Jesus shows us again that our original state is that of a sinner. We are condemned already. Paul says in the book of Ephesians that we are transferred from darkness into light. Here Paul is clearly showing that originally we were in sin, and in darkness.
But Jesus came to set us free from this natural bondage of sin. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:21, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Peter wrote in 1 Peter 2:24: “He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.” And Paul speaks of our being freed from death and hell in Colossians 2:13-15. Paul also wrote to the Corinthians that we are bought with a price (1 Corinthians 6:20). All this indicates that through Jesus Christ we are freed from sin.
In freeing us from sin, we are freed from the bondage of self and selfishness. When we are locked into a selfish frame of reference, we are slaves to ourselves and slaves to sin, but in Jesus Christ we are conquerors of both our sin and our selfishness. William Barkley says about this, “The grace of God schools us…to live a life of self-mastery.” Understanding one’s self is important. The grace of God frees us from a self centered understanding of life to an openness about life, so that we can put others and other understandings of life ahead of ourselves.
Why did Jesus come into the world? Why was God’s grace poured out upon us? It was to set us free from sin and sin’s limitations. This is the past tense of grace. The grace of freedom has come. God’s acts of redemption have been done and it is for all men. All one needs to do to receive this gift of freedom is to receive Jesus Christ as savior. And how do you receive Jesus Christ? You receive him through faith. Grace is like water and faith is like a water hose. Your yard is parched from the dry heat and sun of the summer. There is water and there is the garden hose. To get the water that is available you must connect the garden hose to the faucet, the source of water. Faith is the garden hose that connects you to the grace of God. If you will through faith connect to the grace of God, you can be set free. If you accept Jesus Christ through faith you will be free indeed.
HE CAME TO SET US APART
Jesus not only came to set us free, but he also came to set us apart. Paul wrote in our text that Jesus came:
To purify for himself a people that are his very own.
The phrase, “a people that are his very own,” is translated in the King James Version, “a peculiar people.” It means a people who are set apart or reserved for a special purpose, which means that we are a special people. The term Paul uses here is used in secular Greek for that part of the spoils of battle which the conquering king sets apart specifically for himself. Through Jesus Christ we become fit to be the special possession of God. Through Jesus we become good enough to belong to God. Please note that we within ourselves are not good enough to belong to God; it is through Jesus Christ that we are good enough to belong to God.
Paul also wrote to the Corinthians, “You are not your own, you were bought at a price” (1 Corinthians 6:20). We belong to God. We have been set apart for God’s special purpose. During my years as a pastor, more than a few young women have said to me as they left the worship service holding out their hand with the palm down, “Look what I’ve got!” What she had was an engagement ring. That ring is a sign for all to see that she has been chosen. She is taken. She has been set apart as a certain fellow’s special girl friend and his potential wife. So we have been set apart to be God’s special people.
Paul also wrote in 2 Corinthians chapter 6 and verses 14 and17:
Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what
do righteousness and wickedness have in common?
Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?. . .
Therefore come out from them and be separate, says
And then in the first verse of the next chapter he wrote:
Let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates
body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for
As Christians we are set apart, we are chosen as God’s special people.
This is the basis for the church as we know it today and as it existed in the New Testament era. The church is the “called out ones.” In fact the word church means “called out.” It is a “called out assembly.” The Christian (the freed man) is freed to serve Christ. How do we serve Christ? We serve him best as we serve him through his church. There is an often repeated phrase and a true saying, “We are known by the company we keep.” The man who is a Christian will be known as a Christian as he associates with Christian people in the church.
The problem of isolation and exclusivism was a real problem in Israel, and it was a real problem in the new Israel which is the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ. And it is a problem for the contemporary church. Paul is very clear on this point. The grace of God is for all men. The church must also sound this clear note of universal salvation, putting to death the spirit of isolation and exclusivism.
Christ Jesus was a mediator between God and man. Christ reached up with one hand to God and out to mankind with the other, and as he strained to pull his hands together he was joining God and man. And as he strained thus bringing man and God together, he said, “It is finished.”
So we must use our hands to reach up to God and to reach out to man. That’s what we have been set apart to do. We have been set apart for this very special purpose. And what is that purpose? It is the purpose of Christ. Jesus said, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10).
But most of us think this is automatic – that God just gives us the gift of winning others to him. It is not and he does not. Jesus said to his disciples, “Come follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”
Our attitude is a lot like that expressed by Frank Howard while he was the football coach at Clemson University in South Carolina. It seems that at the beginning of practice one week, the first string and the third string quarterbacks were both hurt and not able to play the next weekend. This meant that the second stringer was now the starting quarterback. Not long into the practice, the second string quarterback who was now the starting quarterback hurt his knee and was out. At this Howard stopped practice and called the team together. As they all gathered around him, he put his arm around the shoulder of the fourth string quarterback and asked him, “Son, do you believe in magic?” The boy answered, “Well, sort of.” At this the coach waved his fingers in the face of the young quarterback and said, “You are now a first string quarterback!”
A lot of us think the Christian life works the same way. It does not. We are set apart for God’s glory, and we must work hard at bringing glory and honor to his name.
HE CAME TO SET US ON FIRE
Not only did Jesus come to set us free and to set us apart, but he also came to set us on fire. Paul said in our text that we should be:
Eager to do what is good.
The King James Version and the Revised Standard Version says that we are to be “zealous for good deeds” or good works. Listen to what the scriptures say about what we are to do. Jesus said in Matthew 28:19 “Go and make disciples of all nations.” Jesus also said in John 4:35 “Open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest.” And Paul said in 1 Corinthians 3:9, “We are God’s co-workers.”
We have been given a great place in the work of the Kingdom, and this should excite us. I heard about a town lazy man who was seen running down the street. I don’t know why, but someone had the audacity to stop him and ask where he was going in such a hurry. His reply was that he was going to get a job, for his wife.
Many of us are like that in our Christian commitment. We are excited about letting someone else do our work for us. But that’s not what Paul says is the purpose of God’s grace. Christ did not come so we could be spectators in the work of his Kingdom. We are all to be excited and enthusiastic about the work committed to us. If we are to do the work of Christ effectively, we must have compassion and vision and excitement and commitment to the task Christ has given us.
But we are not in this thing of serving Christ alone. God has promised us his power. God will help us.
The story is told about a do-it-yourselfer who went into a hardware store early one morning and asked for a saw. The salesman took out a chain saw from the shelf and commented that it was their “newest model, with the latest in technology,” and he added that it was guaranteed to cut ten cords of firewood a day. The customer thought that sounded pretty good, so he bought it on the spot.
The next day the customer returned, looking somewhat exhausted. “Something must be wrong with this saw,” he moaned. “I worked as hard I could and only managed to cut three cords of wood. I used to do four with my old saw.” Looking confused, the salesman said, “Here, let me try it out on some wood we keep out back. They went to the woodpile, the salesman pulled the cord, and the motor went Vvvvroom, the customer leaped back and exclaimed, “What’s that noise?”
The man who was trying to saw wood without the power of the saw to help him is very much like you and me when we try to do the work of Christ without the power of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus came to set us on fire, to give us enthusiasm for his work, and to give us power to do it.
I read about a coal miner who was listening to a speaker talk about the wonder of God’s creation. He spoke of the wonder of coal in the earth and how it can release heat and energy for man. The cynical old miner said, “Yes, but looks like he could have put it closer to the top.”
That attitude may be far too typical of many of us today as we think of the purpose of God’s grace. God’s grace is wonderful, but let God propagate it. It’s too hard for us to be ministers of his grace. It’s too much to expect us to be faithful in supporting him and his church in attendance, in tithes and offerings, in service and in leadership. If God wants it done, let him do it. It’s too much to expect us to do.
But Jesus had a different idea about this. He said, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you” (John 20:21). Jesus also said, “You will be my witnesses” (Acts 1:8). Without us God’s grace can never realize its purpose or its potential. The church, this church, is never more than a generation away from extinction. Remember:
Christ has no hands, but our hands
to do his work today.
And remember the mosquito that never gets a pat on the back until he goes to work.
So let us go to work!