Well, here we are in a new year. It’s been only a week and most of us have probably already broken those new year’s resolutions that we made. How did Jesus say it? The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. How true it is!
Last week, we learned about the power of perception and how setting that directs the course of our lives; our thoughts, attitudes, and behaviors. This week, God is going to try to correct our perception toward what it means to live for Him. If you’re like me, you may have thought that you got it and understood clearly what it means to live life as a follower of Jesus. You may have thought that you knew what it looked like to live out faith in God. This morning, God might just be radically changing exactly that.
The title is “Magnificent Wisdom” and it started from that parable of Jesus about being a wise builder. After all, I firmly believe that each and every one of us want to be wise builders who build on the rock, Jesus Christ, and not on sinking sand. Why else would we be here this morning listening to what God is speaking and seeking after Him if we didn’t?
I believe that all of us want to live successful lives and not build up our lives just to watch them crash down all around us when the storms of life come rolling in. We want the work that we do to stand the test of time and withstand the opposition that this broken world brings our way.
Now the Bible speaks quite often about wisdom. James teaches us the comparison of what godly wisdom versus worldly wisdom looks and acts like. Proverbs is packed full of practical wisdom of how to handle just about every situation from raising children to co-signing loans to sexual temptation.
However, God specifically wants to give us wisdom in the area of ministry this morning. Ministry, simply meaning, serving others. God often had an issue with those who were leading His people. They often went astray and lead His people right along with them. They also were very often hypocritical and did not, as Jesus put it, practice what they preached. He wasn’t shy about calling them out on it, either!
We turn this morning to a time when exactly this was happening. God was speaking through Isaiah to the leaders of His people warning them to change their ways before they reached their certain destruction. The good thing for us is that we can learn from their mistakes. We can learn how to correctly minister to others and not miss out on God’s blessings. For time’s sake, we’ll skip ahead here:
7 And these also (the leaders) stagger from wine
and reel from beer:
Priests and prophets stagger from beer
and are befuddled with wine;
they reel from beer,
they stagger when seeing visions,
they stumble when rendering decisions.
8 All the tables are covered with vomit
and there is not a spot without filth.
9 “Who is it he is trying to teach?
To whom is he explaining his message?
To children weaned from their milk,
to those just taken from the breast?
10 For it is:
Do this, do that,
a rule for this, a rule for that;
a little here, a little there.”
(KJV: For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little)
I don’t mean to burst the bubble of those who use this quote for their method of Bible study and life application. However, the original Hebrew reveals that this quote was actually a mockery of those teachers. It’s similar to me saying that people teach saying, “Blah, blah, blah.” Now there isn’t necessarily anything wrong with building precept upon precept and line upon line and a little here and there and it can be a good method or principle to grow in our knowledge of God.
However, these are baby fundamentals and we shouldn’t cling to this type of teaching for long. As Isaiah said, this is the type of teaching and a message for infants and it won’t bring much maturity at all, in fact, if we don’t move on from it, it will lead to our spiritual death. Spiritual maturity comes not primarily from an understanding of the words of God, but through a relationship with God.
Do’s and don’ts rules are good, but they are no substitute for relationship. Without a relationship with Jesus, without experiencing and understanding His great love for us, we will misunderstand His heart and reasoning for do’s and don’ts. Do’s and don’ts do not bring freedom, only Jesus does this. Do’s and don’ts rules on their own birth dead religion, critical judgment, exclusivity, and man-made traditions. Do’s and don’ts rules through a relationship with Jesus births life and grace, and inclusiveness, and freedom.
How does God choose to respond to this religious, watered-down version of faith? He chooses instead to work through someone else!
11 Very well then, with foreign lips and strange tongues
God will speak to this people,
12 to whom he said,
“This is the resting place, let the weary rest”;
and, “This is the place of repose”—
but they would not listen.
Do’s and don’ts cause us to do the work of changing ourselves to fit someone’s mold of what we should look like. A relationship with Jesus allows Him to do all of the work to truly transform us into the unique individual that He created us to become. We find rest in Jesus, but weariness through religion. What will become of God’s people when they choose religion over relationship?
13 So then, the word of the Lord to them will become:
Do this, do that,
a rule for this, a rule for that;
a little here, a little there—
so that as they go they will fall backward;
they will be injured and snared and captured.
God will hold them to their own standard and they will always fall short of it. Man-made religion formed by rules will always be a snare, a relationship with Jesus will always set the captives free!
14 Therefore hear the word of the Lord, you scoffers
who rule this people in Jerusalem.
15 You boast, “We have entered into a covenant with death,
with the realm of the dead we have made an agreement.
When an overwhelming scourge sweeps by,
it cannot touch us,
for we have made a lie our refuge
and falsehood our hiding place.”
16 So this is what the Sovereign Lord says:
“See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone,
a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation;
the one who relies on it
will never be stricken with panic.
We now know that this tested and precious cornerstone, this sure foundation is none other than Jesus. He quoted this about Himself and then said, “Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.” (Matthew 21)
Jesus broke the covenant with death and even defeated death itself to set us free. He fulfilled the law entirely, ever do and don’t rule, so that we might receive life and grace to fulfill it as well instead of death for not following it.
Now, this is where God teaches us this magnificent wisdom of what it truly looks like to live out our faith. This is what it truly looks like to minister. This is how our perspectives need to be reformed in our attitudes toward service to others.
23 Listen and hear my voice;
pay attention and hear what I say.
24 When a farmer plows for planting, does he plow continually?
Does he keep on breaking up and working the soil?
25 When he has leveled the surface,
does he not sow caraway and scatter cumin?
Does he not plant wheat in its place,
barley in its plot,
and spelt in its field?
26 His God instructs him
and teaches him the right way.
27 Caraway is not threshed with a sledge,
nor is the wheel of a cart rolled over cumin;
caraway is beaten out with a rod,
and cumin with a stick.
28 Grain must be ground to make bread;
so one does not go on threshing it forever.
The wheels of a threshing cart may be rolled over it,
but one does not use horses to grind grain.
29 All this also comes from the Lord Almighty,
whose plan is wonderful,
whose wisdom is magnificent.
Living out our faith before God doesn’t look like a cookie-cutter image of someone else. We think that if we go to church on Sundays and don’t lie, cheat, or over-drink, that we’re good in the eyes of God. This is by no means what God requires of us! Sure, these might be the end result, but they are not the point! What does God say about such a people?
The Lord says:
“These people come near to me with their mouth
and honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
Their worship of me
is based on merely human rules they have been taught.
We do not do the same things over and over again thinking that this is what God requires, thinking that this is what ministry looks like, thinking that this is what it means to serve God and others. In fact, actually doing these things looks nothing like that type of religious repetitiveness!
Living out our faith is an adventure. When we choose to follow Jesus, every day holds something new and different. We might be plowing and breaking up soil over here, planting in rows here, scattering all over there, watering over there, carting over there, riding over there, walking over there, threshing over there, beating with rods over there.
Why? Because different people have different needs. Different people are in different places in life. You may be laughing and joking with one person and crying with another. You may be correcting one person and encouraging another person. You may be praying with one person and listening to another person. That’s why Paul said:
1 Corinthians 3:5-7
5 What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. 6 I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. 7 So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.
Ministry is all about the needs of others and what resources I have. If you aren’t ministering in this way, then you are totally and completely missing out on God’s will and purpose for your life. If you think that God has called you to be nothing but a plow breaking up ground, then you are going to be destructive in most of your ministry in life.
You are going to go around tearing up and destroying the work that others have done to carefully plant and water and protect. Your ministry may have been effective a few times with a few people, but that doesn’t mean that this your forever calling in life. We need to be like Jesus and look to His lead being whatever we need to be and doing whatever we need to do.
In the church, we have a tendency to see success in something that we do and then choose to keep on doing that same thing over and over and over and over and over again and then wonder why attendance drops off and wonder why it isn’t effective anymore. We, of course, begin to blame people instead of stopping and seeking after God to see what He is doing here and now.
If Israel would have walked around every city that they ever encountered seven times expecting the walls to come crashing down, they would have failed every time but once. If Jesus would have spit in the dirt and rubbed the mud on every blind man’s eyes, He would have failed every time but once.
If the disciples would have commanded every paralyzed person to pick up their mats and walk, they would have failed every time but once. If Jesus would have spoken into every tomb and said, “Come out!”, He would have failed every time but once. If the priests would have walked into the Jordan river at its flood stage, they would have drowned all but once.
Success in ministry isn’t about a method or a formula. This speaks to the third core value of New Hope this year that will be amended to our constitution next week; being Spirit-Lead. Success in ministry is this according to Jesus:
Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.
Success in ministry is obediently doing whatever God calls you to do here and now. Success in ministry is being truly Spirit-Lead! This is God’s magnificent wisdom in action!
Sure, I might feel that I’m most effective working with older children in ministry. However, if there is a need in the nursery, youth group, or adult growth group, I’ll do it. I’m not going to limit my God by my own view of myself. In fact, in my weaknesses, God is the strength. I’m not going to miss out on the opportunity to be the hands and feet of Jesus just because of my comfort zone. I’m not going to be a stumbling block to someone else’s faith just because of my strong opinions.
What does God require of me?
1 Kings 2:1-3
1 When the time drew near for David to die, he gave a charge to Solomon his son.
2 “I am about to go the way of all the earth,” he said. “So be strong, act like a man, 3 and observe what the Lord your God requires: Walk in obedience to him, and keep his decrees and commands, his laws and regulations, as written in the Law of Moses. Do this so that you may prosper in all you do and wherever you go
What God requires of us is to walk in obedience to Him. Now for David and Solomon, they simply had the written Law of Moses. Today, we have the Holy Spirit, the very presence of God dwelling within us. We walk in obedience not to dead letters written centuries ago, but to the living, breathing author of that law dwelling inside of us.
Now don’t get me wrong, that obviously means that He is not going to tell us to act contradictory to the words that He wrote through the scriptures. However, we do not live alone by ancient written words, we live in relationship with the Living Word of God. Those ancient words come alive within us because the One who spoke both them and everything into existence speaks them to you and I.
Do you want to prosper in all that you do? Do you want to prosper wherever you go? Then walk in obedience to God and you will. Do whatever the Spirit is leading you to do here and now. Don’t get caught up in the way things went before. Don’t worry even if you did it that way before and failed. If God is calling you to do it, then do it.
This year, be transformed by God’s magnificent wisdom and watch as God moves in and through you like never before. Simply cooperate with Him and follow His lead casting off the past and the former ways and embracing the new thing that God is doing here and now!