I write unto you, young men, because ye have overcome the wicked one….I have written unto you, young men, because ye are strong, and the word of God abideth in you, and you have overcome the wicked one. Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passes away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever. (I John 2:13b, 14b-15)
In the First Epistle of John, the apostle addressed four distinct groups of people in different stages of maturity and development. For each one of these groups, he had a distinct message that was addressed according to their particular and distinctive level of development.
He wrote first to the infants in chapter two verse thirteen, “I write to you little children because you have known the Father.” In chapter two verse twelve, he wrote to children who are beyond the toddler stage — a distinction in the original Greek that is not apparent in the King James Version. “I write to you children because your sins are forgiven.”
In chapter two verse thirteen, he said, “I write to you young men.” Here, he was talking to adolescents who had reached puberty. They were in the achieving, accomplishing years of their lifetime. “I write to you young men because you have overcome the wicked one.” Finally, he addressed the fathers in the same verse. “I write to you fathers because you know Him who is from the beginning.”
I find it interesting that John started out with the infants and went full cycle all the way around to the old men in their retirement age who had completed all their accomplishments and had come to their sunset years. Of the infants, he said that they know the Father. Of the old men he said, “I write to you because you have known him that is from the beginning.” The old men come back to the same point as little children, “I write to you because you know the Father.”
It is amazing to me how this cycle goes through our lives. In the middle part of our years, we are at the place where we are accomplishing things and we are overcoming the devil. But in our infancy and in old age, we come back to the same root foundation, the main source of our life that is knowing Him who was from the beginning.
I want to address those who are ready to move into that area of their lives where they are accomplishers, achievers, and overcomers. I want to address them from what John has written to the young men, the ones who have overcome the devil. You are no longer children. You are not yet fathers. You are at that point where you are ready to take on life’s challenges, and you are ready to face life and to accomplish great achievements. You are like David at the point where he came up before King Saul and declared, “I’ll go fight Goliath.” David at that point had already fought a lion and a bear, but now he was facing a giant. You have already met many challenges and now you are ready to take on other challenges in your life. The Goliaths are there! But John wrote, “I write to you young men because you have overcome the evil one.” God wants you to walk into your future with courage and with confidence — the same way that David walked up to Goliath because he had already fought with the bear and with the lion.
Our generation seems to be centered in the “young man” philosophy. We see this young man, overcomers’ philosophy demonstrated in every area of life. Look at TV and the popular magazines; every picture, every message, and every advertisement epitomizes the young, virile achiever. This is even the picture we portray in the church. Just flip through a the leading Christian magazines. What do you see? All young men in their thirties and forties who are pastors with congregations numbering in the thousands. They are all vibrant young men who are on the front lines overcoming the wicked one.
Warnings to Young Men
When John wrote to these young men, he said something very interesting. He told them, “You are the young men. You are the conquerors. I write to you because you have overcome the wicked one.” But then in his writing, he said something that almost startles us. He said, “Love not the world, neither the things of the world.” It amazes me that we can be overcomers and conquerors, yet still love the enemy. We can be the ones who have overcome the wicked one and have defeated the devil, but still have a love in our hearts for the things that belong to the enemy’s camp. We have already learned how Joshua faced this same problem. When he marched around the city of Jericho until the walls came tumbling down, one of his men named Achan went into the enemy’s camp and loved the things he saw in the city. He said, “I must have some of this gold and some of these Babylonian garments.” He still loved the things of Jericho, even though he had marched around its walls thirteen times and he had screamed to the top of his voice to see the walls come tumbling down. He overcame the city of Jericho, but he still loved the things of Jericho, so he took them and hid them in his house. A few days later, the armies of Joshua were defeated at the battle of Ai — all because of this man who, even though he was an overcomer, still loved the things in the enemy’s camp.
We also know the story of King Saul who had the same problem because he went off and conquered the Amalakites but brought back some of the prize sheep and cattle and kept the king alive. His alibi to the prophet was that he had saved them for a sacrifice, and maybe he had — we don’t know. But still there was something inside him that loved those things of the enemy even though he had conquered the enemy. Even though he had overcome the external enemy, he had not overcome the enemy within himself! There was still love in his heart for the enemy and the things of the enemy.
We can overcome the wicked one, but we can still love the world and the things that are in it. Scripture tells us that the things that are in the world are the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. (verse 16)
We usually associate the lust of the flesh with sex. The lust of the eyes has to do with the things that we can look at, that we can have, that we can possess — the things that make your eyes bulge out when you go to the shopping mall. The pride of life has to do with our promotions, our desire to be somebody, and our need to have a title. The lust of the flesh — sex; the lust of the eyes — our salary and the things that it can get; the pride of life — our status and the position that it can buy. We must not love the “S”s: sex, salary, and status. We can still make the mistake of loving those things even though we are conquerors, even though we are overcomers.
Dr. Sumrall always said that there are three things that capture ministers: the gold, the gals, and the glory. What are those? The gold — our salary, the lust of the eyes. The gals — sex, the lust of the flesh. The glory — our status, the pride of life. It is not enough to be an overcomer of the wicked one; we also have to be those people who are overcomers of our own human nature that still loves the world and the things that are in it.
It is interesting to me how that John shifts from “love” to “lust.” Notice that he said that we love the world and the things of the world; then he immediately described the things in the world, calling them the lust of the eyes and the lust of the flesh. We try to think of lust and love as two separate entities. But when it comes to anything other than the agape love of God, our love or our attachment will immediately turn to lust. We have to be so very careful.
When we live our lives according to lust, we are chasing a mirage. Lust is never satisfied. People who give themselves over to lustful things go from one thing to another. They aren’t satisfied with just normal sex; they want to do something more bizarre, more titillating, more perverted or “kinky.” Why? Simply because lust is never satisfied — and not just sexual lust. If you want one dollar today, you are going to want two dollars tomorrow. If you get two dollars tomorrow, you are going to want three dollars the next day. There is no way to satisfy lust. John says that if you love the things of the world, it turns into lust, which is a cancer eating you up so that you’ll never have enough, no matter how much you get. Godly love, on the other hand, will satisfy. When we give love and receive love, we are complete and whole.
Very wealthy people usually have just one thing on their minds — getting more wealth. They always want to know how they can invest what they have so that it will bring a bigger return. It is because they are never satisfied in their lust for those things. Men who are after status are never satisfied. They want to be on one more board. They want to have one more degree. They want to be one level higher in the corporate structure. Their lust for power and position will never be satisfied, because they are chasing after a mirage.
Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever. (verses 2:15-17)
Paul told us that we can have the Word of God but not have the love of God abiding in us when he wrote in I Corinthians chapter thirteen that there is the possibility of speaking in tongues without love and the possibility of prophesying without love. Paul even went so far as to say that there is the possibility of giving our bodies to be burned without love and emptying ourselves of all our substance without having love. There is the possibility of having the Word of God without the love of God abiding in us. If we have the love of the world, we cannot have the love of God at the same time. We may be able to memorize verses and know a verse for every possible situation in life, but John said that the important thing is that we have the love of God. If we don’t have the love of God, we will have the love of the world that will produce insatiable lust. John saw the young men that he addressed as achievers. Twice he called them achievers — overcomers. He wanted them to overcome the wicked one but to also make sure that they do not fail through loving the world and failing to have the love of God abiding in them.
The thing that makes the difference between success and failure, between overcoming and being overcome, between loving and lusting, between putting up and shutting up is our perspective. We have to have the right perspective. John told us that if we focus on the things of this world we will find out that they are temporary and will eventually pass away.
I remember the beautiful sporty Mustang car that I had when I was in college. It was the rage! All the girls went “Ooo” when they saw it, and all the guys went “Ah” when they saw it. It was as sporty as they come: maroon with little gold racing stripes, imitation mag wheel covers, light package on the front with the little fog lamps — just plain cool! That is until the day it was turned into scrap metal on the freeway just outside Baltimore! Talk about a compact car! Now it is nothing more than a shell of rust in some junkyard somewhere. The American Dream always winds up in the junkyard. If we love the things of the world, they will eventually wind up in a junkyard. Everything we have is going to wear out or go out of style. Everything we have is going to become useless because it is only temporary.
John wrote to the young men saying, “You are young men and you have overcome the wicked one, but I want to tell you one thing: don’t get caught up in the love of the world. If you love the world, you can get trapped by the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life. If you do that, you don’t have the love of the Father in you. If you don’t have the love of the Father, everything in life is going to be temporary. When it all winds up on the junk heap, you’re going to say, ‘Where did my life go?’ On the other hand, if you love the Father, you will wind up being one of the old men in the kingdom of God with the knowledge of the Father who was from the beginning.”
It is important that we focus our lives. It is important that we get our perspective not on our ministries, not on our accomplishments, not on what we are doing — but on the love of the Father. If we keep our focus on the love of the Father, then we will still be able to accomplish our goals, but our achievements will be in an eternal perspective. We have to focus our lives on knowing and accomplishing the will of God. If we focus our lives on the will of God, we will be able to do something that will last for eternity. If we don’t focus our lives on the will of God, no matter what we do, it will become nothing; it will only be temporary.
I want to suggest some ways that we can focus our lives so that we become accomplishers for the kingdom of God. In the book of Deuteronomy chapter twenty-eight, verse thirteen, Moses wrote,
And the Lord shall make thee the head and not the tail, and thou shalt be above only and thou shalt not be beneath. If that thou harkenest to the commandments of the Lord thy God that I command thee this day to observe and to do them.
Moses says that we would be the head only and not the tail. Obviously, everybody can’t be the first in everything; everybody can’t be the valedictorian of the class; everybody can’t be the president of the corporation; everybody can’t be the pastor of the church; everybody can’t be the first in everything — but each person can be number one in something. Each of us can be the head in the one thing that God has called us to be; we can be the head in knowing and doing the will of God for our own lives.
Get Off to a Good Start
We are called out by God as special people for special leadership positions in the thing that we are to do. Some of us may become apostles, some prophets, some pastors, some teachers, some evangelists. Whatever we are, we are to be excellent in that place. We are to be the head in that place. We may be in the ministry of helps, but we can be the best helpers that there ever were. Whatever our positions are, we are to be the head. One of the things that we have to recognize about getting to the top is that to get to the top, we have to start at the bottom. That is the reason the scripture tells us that we are not to despise the small things. (Zechariah 4:10) We may start at the bottom, but the bottom is only the first step toward the top. We have to keep in perspective that we must first find the will of God for our lives; then, if we have the love of God in our hearts, wherever we are, it is only a step toward the next place and eventually the best place!
First Corinthians 12:28 tells us about the ministry of helps. The ministry of helps is always a good place to move into because it can be our training ground — our kindergarten, so to speak. Most of the great men in history have started in the ministry of helps. Through all my years administering at a Bible college, I have noticed that those students who come in and volunteer to help do all the menial jobs are the ones who eventually wind up being people of significance, of importance, and of accomplishment. I remember one young man who used to come every morning before school and stop by my office to ask if there was anything that needed to be taken to or set up in the classroom. That young man was offered an associate pastor’s position in a very large church immediately upon graduation. Because he was willing to start out in the ministry of helps, he developed inside of himself the ability to go a little higher and eventually all the way to the top. My advise to those young men who want to be great achievers is to be servants, be willing to help, be willing to do something for other people. In Matthew 23:11, Jesus said, “But he that is the greatest among you shall be your servant.” If we want to accomplish, if we want to go to the top, we have to be servants.
Do you know why oil always floats on top of the water? It has less density. Do you know why there are some Christians who don’t get to the top? They are too dense. God doesn’t want us to be dense! God gave us brains, and He wants us to use them. Some of us are too dense to be servants; therefore, we never rise to the top.
Another key to finding our way to the top is humility. Matthew 18:4 says, “Therefore, whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of God.” Humbling ourselves as a little child is the key to becoming the greatest in the kingdom of God. Luke 9:46 gives us another key,
And then a dispute arose among them as to which of them would be the greatest. And Jesus perceiving the thought of their heart took a little child and sat him by him and he said, whosoever receives this little child in my name receiveth me. And whosoever receiveth me, receiveth him who sent me. For he who is least among you will be the greatest.
We have to be willing to be the least and the most unimportant. Not drawing attention to ourselves is the key to becoming the greatest.
We have to come to the place where we don’t desire to be first. If we have the pride of life, the desire for being first, we will never make it to “first place” in God’s eyes. It is only after we get beyond the desire to be first that God can promote us to that place. God has a way of promoting those who do not try to promote themselves. We cannot go the conventional, traditional route to get ourselves promoted. We have to come to the place where we don’t even desire to be promoted. Then, and only then, is when our promotion will come. “And he sat down and he called the twelve and said to them, if anyone desires to be first he will be the last and the servant of all.” (Mark 9:35) If you desire to be first, you are going to wind up being last. But he who is willing to be last is the one whom Jesus will make the first. “For many who are first will be last and the last will be first.” (Matthew 19:30) To get to the top, we have to be willing to be at the bottom. You have to overcome the pride of life that cries out for the number one spot.
Faithfulness is another key for being the person whom God can use — the one whom He can elevate to the number one spot. In Matthew chapter twenty-five, Jesus told the story of three men who were left in charge of their master’s affairs while he was away. One was given one talent to care for; he hid it. Another man was given two talents that he doubled. The last one was left with five talents that he invested and turned into ten. When the master returned, he said, “Oh, you have taken my five and made ten out of them. Well done! Good!” When he reviewed the case of the man with one talent, he took that one talent away from him and gave it to the one who had ten. I cannot imagine that the man who had invested the five talents was going around saying, “Gee, I wish that I had that other talent that my friend is not using.” I cannot imagine him as greedily wanting that other talent and thinking, “I wonder how I can get that talent away from that guy? After all, it’s buried. He is not using it. It is no good to him. I would like to have it!” Instead, he just simply put himself to the task of doing the thing that was handed to him. The result was that the master said, “Well done! You are a good and a faithful servant. You have been faithful over a few things, I am going to make you master over many. Here, take this talent from the other fellow who hasn’t used it. I’ll give it to you also.” The steward in this parable is not described as one who wanted to be the master. He wasn’t being faithful for the opportunity of becoming great. He was being faithful simply because it was the right thing to do and because he knew that it was the will of God. It was when he was doing what he knew he was supposed to do that his master said, “I’m going to reward you by making you master over much.” The moral of the story is that we must not focus on trying to “get” to a position, but rather on doing the job that has been set before us — and doing it well. When we do our work well, we will get rewarded with another position. Even when we have a God-given desire for a certain position or a revelation that it is to be ours, it is not our place to reach out for it. Jesus said that if we desire to be first, we are going to wind up being last. But if we are content in being last, He can make us first.
The Apostle Paul added some excellent advise concerning how we are to carry out our responsibilities. He wrote in Ephesians 6:6, “Not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart.” In Colossians 3:22, he furthered his advise with, “Servants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh; not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but in singleness of heart, fearing God.” We are to obey our masters in all things. We don’t just do the major things or enough to get by. If he gives us a list a mile long, we must do every one of the things on the list with thoroughness. We must not do our work just to pass the inspection — as men pleasers or with eye service, or according to human standards — but as if we were doing it for the Lord Himself. The scripture tells us that if we want to be successful in life, we have to go beyond just pleasing our employer; we have to go beyond eye service. We have to do our work wholeheartedly as if the Lord Himself were inspecting it. Paul used the terms “sincerity of heart, fearing God.” “Sincerity” means “without wax.” In Paul’s time, it was a very popular custom to decorate the homes and gardens with statues. One problem in purchasing these works of art was that there wasn’t much light in most of the shops where they were sold, so it was difficult to see if there was a chip or crack in the white marble figurine. Since all flaws were filled in with wax, the statue might look good when it was in the dim light of the shop, but the wax would show up once the statue was placed outside in the sunlight. The honest storekeeper would mark the “irregulars” or “seconds” as such, but the first quality statues would be labeled “sincere” to show that they were without wax, with no cracks or blemishes. Paul told us that we must serve God with sincere hearts, not glossing over any imperfections or shortcuts. If we do a good job but we have an attitude of “I’m doing this good job because I want a promotion,” we don’t have a sincere heart. God wants us to do a good job in everything simply because that is the will of God for our lives. If He can see us do a good job at the basement level, He will move us to the first-floor level. If we do a good job at the first-floor level, He will move us to the second-floor level. Eventually, He may even move us to the executive offices. But if we have the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life, we aren’t sincere. We can be those who have overcome the devil, but we don’t accomplish much for the kingdom of God because we still have a love for the world system and the world’s way of doing things that keep us from being sincere in our hearts and accomplishing what God wants us to accomplish.
We are told to do our work heartily as to the Lord and not unto men because we may be able to get our work done and pass it by our bosses without their detecting that we didn’t do it correctly or with our full intensity — but God always knows. Therefore, we must always do our work as unto the Lord so that it will be the very best we can do.
Not only does God want thoroughness, but He is also looking for the person who is willing to go a little bit beyond what he is called to do. He is looking for the person who is willing to go the second mile. Jesus illustrated this point by saying,
But which of you, having a servant plowing or feeding cattle, will say unto him by and by, when he is come from the field, Go and sit down to meat? And will not rather say unto him, Make ready wherewith I may sup, and gird thyself, and serve me, till I have eaten and drunken; and afterward thou shalt eat and drink? Doth he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded him? I trow not. So likewise ye, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do. (Luke 17:7-10)
He went on to say that if the Roman soldier demanded them to go one mile, they should go two. Just think about Jesus’ illustration: There is a servant who worked in the field all day long. At the end of the day, he came in from having plowed the field in the hot sun for hour after hour, and the boss came in from doing whatever masters do. It was dinnertime, and both the boss and the servant were hungry. Do you think the master was going to say, “Oh, servant, you have worked hard out in the field. Why don’t you go relax, kick your shoes off, prop up on the lounger, and pop in a CD while I fix us a tuna sandwich. When I have everything prepared, the two of us will sit down and eat.” No matter how fair that may seem, things don’t work that way. The servant will be the one who will cook the dinner, set the table, and clean up after the meal. Jesus told us that this is the same way it is for us in the kingdom of God. When we have done everything that we know to do, we still ought to be standing ready at attention before God saying, “Lord, I feel like I’m unworthy because I have only done what you have told me to do. I’m here ready to receive something else.” God is looking for people who very thoroughly do everything they are told to do and then stand at attention ready for another assignment. Too many times we come to the end of our list of assignments and say, “Boy, You really have worked me, God. I’m ready for a vacation!” Our attitude says, “This is all that You have demanded, and this is all that You are going to get!” But God is looking for those who not only are totally thorough in those things they have been sent to do, but they are also looking for extra assignments. These are the people He wants to honor.
In Luke 22:26, Jesus told us that He is looking for those people who are teachable and are able to learn the principles of God. There are those people who are not teachable and do not understand the principles of God. God can speak to them but they stay straight on their own given path. Their attitude is, “This is my way of doing it.” How many of us find ourselves thinking and acting like this? God says that we will prosper by giving away what we have, but if we still insist on holding on to what is in our hands because we see it as our harvest rather than as our seed. Sometimes, we just don’t catch on. God wants people who are teachable. He wants people who will respond, “I will do that. Whether it makes sense to the natural man or not, I am willing to do it,” when He speaks to them.
Another quality that God expects in those who are to be achievers is single-mindedness. We can learn a lot about the single-minded person by seeing what James said about the double-minded person in the first chapter of his short epistle.
If any of you lacks wisdom let him ask of God who gives to all liberally and without reproach and it will be given to him. And let him ask in faith with no doubting for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord. He is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. (verses 5-8)
If we have two opinions about things, we are never going to accomplish anything for the Lord. So often we have two opinions. We have one opinion when we are in a church service where there is rejoicing, lively music, and loud preaching from a persuasive man with a fiery message at the pulpit; then we go outside the building and have an entirely different opinion. James told us that we can’t be double-minded. If we have two thoughts about something, then we will be unstable — just like a wave on the ocean. In the ocean surf near shore, it is almost impossible to get our footing because by the time we stand up from being knocked down by one wave, the next one rolls in and bowls us over again. If we get beyond the breakers and ride the waves going up and down, we wind up getting seasick. That’s because there is instability and a lack of solidity. James tells us that this is the way people are when they are double-minded. For example, some people talk about healing, believe in healing, and preach about healing, but then fall apart when they get a negative doctor’s report. We have to be one way all the time: we should either believe in healing all the time or believe in doctors’ reports all the time; we should either believe in prosperity all the time or we should believe the bankbook all the time. We need to get one opinion and keep that one opinion about life all the time. God wants men who are single-minded. If we aren’t single-minded, we are still attached to the world rather than attached to the Word of God. In Matthew 6:24, Jesus told us that it is impossible to serve two masters. Some of us want to serve God on one hand and serve the devil on the other. This verse in the King James Version talks about mammon — the god of prosperity, greed, and money — in other words, the lust of the eyes. Jesus said that if we serve mammon, we will hate God; and if we serve God, we will hate mammon. We can’t love both; we can’t serve both; we must be single-minded; we can’t be double-minded.
God is also looking for people who have another key — obedience.
But what think ye? A certain man had two sons; and he came to the first, and said, Son, go work to day in my vineyard. He answered and said, I will not: but afterward he repented, and went. And he came to the second, and said likewise. And he answered and said, I go, sir: and went not. Whether of them twain did the will of his father? They say unto him, The first. Jesus saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That the publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you. (Matthew 21:28-31)
There were two sons; one said he would work, and the other said that he would not. The one who refused to go must have thought, “I really feel badly about talking that way to my daddy. I’d better get out there and get the field plowed.” The one who said, “Oh, sure, I’ll be right out there to do the job,” got sidetracked and never got to the field. Jesus asked which one pleased the father: the one who talked or the one who worked? Obviously, it was the one who worked. Then Jesus added that there will be tax collectors and harlots who will enter the kingdom of God before a lot of church members because too many of us church folk are like the second son when we say that we are going to do something but we don’t follow through. Perhaps a missionary speaker calls for people to give their lives to missions, and we want to respond. Then we think about not having all the conveniences of life and not having hot water and living in a country where we would have to learn a foreign language — and we take our hands down. Or maybe we decide to give a thousand dollars for his work, and we make the first hundred-dollar payment but somehow fail to get the other nine hundred dollars to him. Jesus said that it is not a matter of what we say we are going to do it; it is a matter of actually doing it. He is looking for people who can make a decision and follow through with it to the end. God is looking for people who are obedient. Those are the ones He draws close to Himself.
Again, the most important thing is to abandon our worldly ties. If we still have the love of the world, we do not have the love of the Father in us. Obviously, sin is going to keep us from being in the place where God wants us to be, and it will keep us from advancement in the kingdom of God. Sin is going to keep us from winning the race. We can’t break the Ten Commandments and expect God to honor us with a place in Heaven and the kingdom of God. But the author of Hebrews tells us that there are other weights — not necessarily sins — that easily beset us and weigh us down. These things may not necessarily be wrong; they may not necessarily be sinful — but the very fact that they are attached to us keeps us from accomplishing the things that God wants us to accomplish. We may pay too much attention to some of our possessions; if so, we need to cut them loose from us so that they won’t weigh us down. We may be in some relationships that are not necessarily sinful, but we need to cut loose from them to be totally free to serve the Lord. There may be some attitudes that we need to drop if we want to advance with the Lord. The Bible says that these things can be weights. They may be good; they may even be religious; they may even be “churchy” — but if they keep us from really loving God, if they take up our time, if they take up our finances, if they take up our thinking, if they take up our attention, if they take up our energy — they need to be cut loose. If the love of the world is in us, then the love of the Father is not.
We often hear messages about faith that make us feel that having faith is the end to which we as Christians are to strive. On the contrary, the Peter admonished us to that faith should be considered as simply the starting point–the launching pad–for our Christian life. He tells us to begin with faith and to add to it virtue. (II Peter 1:5)
These next few pages share some meditations on several Christian virtues to which we should give some attention if we want to truly develop our Christian lives to the next level of faith. I have used the spelling of the word “faith” to help select several qualities for the focus of the study.
We are all desirous of being “overcomers” and “more than conquerors.” Unfortunately we too often feel that we can achieve these spiritual qualities through some “spiritual microwave” quick fix, such as having some anointed spiritual leader lay hands on us or going on an extended fast. We seem to have forgotten (or maybe never learned) that in order to overcome, we must endure–all the way to the end. In describing the Christian life we are called to, Jesus said, “Ye shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake: but he that endured to the end shall be saved.” (Matthew 10:22) The quality that keeps us on task to the point that we can be said to be enduring and eventually overcoming is called faithfulness. When St. John was given a vision of the victorious army of the redeemed returning with Christ for history’s final conquest of evil–overcomers at their best–he listed only three qualifying requirements. While two of these qualifiers are totally at God’s own discretion, one is under the control of the individual. The only character trait listed which the individual Christian can develop in order to be numbered among the overcomers is faithfulness!
These (Antichrist’s forces) shall make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb shall overcome them: for he is Lord of lords, and King of kings: and they that are with him are called, and chosen, and faithful. (Revelation 17:14)
The world is full of Christians who began the race eventually dropped out. Because they could not stay on focus, they lacked the staying power necessary to succeed. Because faithfulness is one of the major attributes that equips an individual for the “long haul,” it is one of the main qualities God is looking for–and requiring–in His servants. “Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful.” (I Corinthians 4:2) Psalm 101:4-8 contrasts God’s pleasure with the faithful and His contempt for those who lack this quality. A froward heart shall depart from me: I will not know a wicked person. Whoso privily slandereth his neighbour, him will I cut off: him that hath an high look and a proud heart will not I suffer. Mine eyes shall be upon the faithful of the land, that they may dwell with me: he that walketh in a perfect way, he shall serve me. He that worketh deceit shall not dwell within my house: he that telleth lies shall not tarry in my sight. I will early destroy all the wicked of the land; that I may cut off all wicked doers from the city of the LORD.
Notice all the contrasting options this passage offers when listing those who lack faithfulness: the forward (or perverse) of heart, the wicked persons, those who slander their neighbors, ones with high looks and proud hearts, those who work deceit, and those who tell lies. Not only do the those who are fail to qualify as the faithful lack the admirable quality of being able to stick to the task, they actually display a long list of negative and destructive attributes. There doesn’t seem to be a middle ground where you can be a good guy in every area except that you are just a little short on your loyalty. Notice how Jesus described the person who lacked faithfulness:
The Lord said, Who then is that faithful and wise steward, whom his lord shall make ruler over his household, to give them their portion of meat in due season? Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing. Of a truth I say unto you, that he will make him ruler over all that he hath.
But and if that servant say in his heart, My lord delayeth his coming; and shall begin to beat the menservants and maidens, and to eat and drink, and to be drunken; The lord of that servant will come in a day when he looketh not for him, and at an hour when he is not aware, and will cut him in sunder, and will appoint him his portion with the unbelievers. And that servant, which knew his lord’s will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. (Luke 12:42-47)
As soon as the servant of the Lord abandons faithfulness, he becomes abusive (beating the other servants), self-indulgent (eating and drinking to excess), negligent concerning his responsibilities (not looking for the master to whom he is responsible), faithless (he is listed among the unbelieving), rebellious (knowing the Lord’s will but not doing it), and careless about his faith (being unprepared for the return of the Lord). Who would have thought that so much depended upon our being faithful? Normally, we think that there are only temporary and immediate short-ranged consequences if we let our responsibilities slide. We think that our actions are either of no consequence at all or that they will produce only be a small ripple effect.
For example, we know that we should be faithful in our tithing, but we feel that there will not be any really big consequences if we fudge a bit one week. We may think, “Sure, the church will be out a few dollars; but what does that matter? Everyone else is giving, and there may even be a visitor who will drop a little something extra into the offering plate. Besides, what does my offering have to do with the total budget of the church anyway?” The thing we fail to recognize is that when we hold back on our tithing we are actually inviting the devourer into our lives. In Malachi 3:11, God obligated Himself to the task of rebuking the devourer away from the lives those who tithe. As soon as we fail in our faithfulness to this responsibility, God’s “hands are tied” so that He can no longer resist the devil for us. When the devourer rushes in, he will certainly begin to eat up our finances, but do you think he’ll stop there? Of course not, he will eat up any and everything he can get to: our health, or relationships, and–as we can tell from the parable we just read–our character!
If we fail in our faithfulness to a daily prayer life, we may think that there will not be any significant repercussions; however, the Scriptures teach something dramatically different. According to Romans 8:26-28, praying in the Spirit is the key to having everything in our lives work out profitably. The converse would be equally true; we should not be too surprised if everything starts to go south immediately if we fail to pray.
Likewise the Spirit also helps our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. And he that searches the hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because he makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:26-28)
While practicing faithfulness in small matters will help to us develop a greater sense of responsibility, unfaithfulness concerning even the slightest of our obligations will lead us to shirk more important responsibilities. Jesus said, “He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much: and he that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much.” (Luke 16:10) Failing in our faithfulness has more than just a simple ripple effect. A more accurate illustration could be drawn from a little story we learned at our mothers’ knees about the little Dutch boy who held his finger in the dike to keep the city from flooding. The breach in our faithfulness may look like a tiny hole, but it will soon make the whole dam collapse and we will be inundated!
While we are busily pursuing more flashy spiritual manifestations, it may be very easy to overlook the “wallflower” quality of faithfulness. According to Proverbs 20:6, “Most men will proclaim every one his own goodness: but a faithful man who can find?” While the average man is busy “putting on airs” trying to make himself look good and cover up the fact that he has perverse a heart, is wicked, slanders his neighbor, is proud, works deceit, and tells lies; the faithful man lives a simple, unassuming life which may make him almost melt into the background. He may not stand out as a superstar to men, but–and this is an all-important “but”–he will attract the attention of God.
When we have God’s attention, we become targets for His blessings. In His parables, Jesus repeatedly spoke of the promotion which the Lord has in store for those He considers to be faithful.
His lord said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord. (Matthew 25:23)
The Lord said, Who then is that faithful and wise steward, whom his lord shall make ruler over his household, to give them their portion of meat in due season? (Luke 12:42)
Advancement, finances, and spiritual fulfillment are the inheritance of those who are deemed faithful and dependable. God rewards faithfulness because it shows stability. Because He knows that a faithful person is trustworthy, He will entrust him with gifts, privileges, and responsibilities. He knows that the faithful person will be with Him when He needs him and that he will take on any responsibility with the same care he has consistently shown.
I’m reminded of the words of the late Dr. Lester Sumrall, “God is looking for a North Star, not shooting stars.” Though we never “ooh” and “aah” when we see the North Star like we do when we see a shooting star blaze across the skies, the North Star has served navigators for centuries as a dependable reference point to chart their courses. When this great man of faith–who had proved himself faithful from the time he entered the ministry at seventeen–was seventy-five years of age, God asked him to begin a new phase of ministry. When he told the Lord that He should commission a younger person to be responsible for feeding the world’s hungry, the Lord responded, “You are finally mature enough for me to trust you with the job.” While many others had marveled the world with their instant stellar successes as pastors, missionaries, Christian broadcasters, and Christian authors, Br. Sumrall’s years of consistently plodding along and his North-Star stability in these areas of ministry had proven him fit for God’s next assignment.
In my own life, I have seen the product of faithfulness. I, 1986, I made a dedication to pray for the religious freedom for the nation of Nepal. At that time, the country was a Hindu nation, ruled by a king who was worshipped as a reincarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu. Buddhism was accepted because Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha, was born in Nepal; however, every other form of religion — especially Christianity — was forbidden. it was illegal to even own a Bible in the country and many believers were suffering all forms of persecution including imprisonment and beatings. I Faithfully fulfilled that commitment every day until the news broke in 1990 that the king had granted a new constitution that included the provision of religious freedom. Since that declaration of freedom, I’ve had the privilege to not only pray, but to also see the fruit of my prayers in that I have been able to visit the country annually and watch the Body of Christ grow form a few simple believers to a massive army of God within the country
When we stop to think about it, faithfulness is not only the quality God is desiring in us; it is the quality in God which makes us able to depend upon Him. Hebrews 10:23 declares that the reason we can have faith in God is that He is faithful, “Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised).” If God were not faithful, we would have no grounds for believing in Him or trusting His word. In other words, we could not have faith. Hebrews goes on to illustrate this principle by reciting Sarah’s testimony of conceiving a baby when she was ninety years old. “Through faith also Sara herself received strength to conceive seed, and was delivered of a child when she was past age, because she judged him faithful who had promised.” (Hebrews 11:11) Her faith was defined as simply trusting in the faithfulness of God. When all is said and done–at the literal conclusion of human history–Jesus Christ is identified with two outstanding qualities; one of which is His faithfulness! “And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he doth judge and make war.” (Revelation 19:11)
Before we get too excited and insist that the word “altruism” isn’t in the Bible, let me mention that neither are “rapture,” “leadership,” “revival,” or “motherhood”; but that doesn’t make them any less spiritual topics. In fact, the two alternative words which could be used to define this topic are also missing from the pages of the holy writ: “selflessness” and “servanthood.”
Altruism is giving of oneself for another’s sake without expecting anything in return. Jesus taught a parable to illustrate the difference between the truly altruistic person and the one who has his own self-gratifying ulterior motive.
I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep. But he that is an hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth: and the wolf catcheth them, and scattereth the sheep. The hireling fleeth, because he is an hireling, and careth not for the sheep. I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine. As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep…Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. (John 10:11-17)
Jesus did not reserve altruism for Himself, but taught that this self-sacrificing quality should be the crowning mark of every Christian’s life. “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another…Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (John 13:35 & 15:13)
In Philippians 2:3-8, Paul admonishes us concerning having the qualities of altruism manifest in our lives. Through the wording he uses (let), the apostle implies that altruism is not something that we have to make happen in our lives; rather, it is something which will produce itself if we simply get out of the way and let it come to the surface. Since altruism is literally personified in the Lord Jesus, who lives in and through us (Galatians 2:20), this divine quality is cradled on the inside of us just waiting for us to let it come out.
Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others. Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.
The apostle continued in the second chapter of Philippians to talk about his plan to send Timothy to check on the local believers. He states his reason for the choice of Timothy, “For I have no man likeminded, who will naturally care for your state. For all seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ’s. But ye know the proof of him, that, as a son with the father, he hath served with me in the gospel.” (Philippians 2:19-22) Of everyone whom Paul knew–including many great Christian leaders–there was only one who demonstrated altruism. Certainly it is not human nature to live selflessly. However, as believers, we do not live by our human nature, but by the very nature of God implanted in us. Though we–like Timothy–may stand alone against the common current, we can let altruism define our lives. In fact, it is not only the case that we can; the truth of the matter is that we must! According to the parable of the separation of the sheep and goats (Matthew 25:21-46), altruism is the determining factor as to who will be invited into the kingdom prepared from the foundation of the world and who will be cast away into the everlasting fire that was prepared for the devil and his angels. Those who will be offered eternal bliss are the ones who have passed the test of feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the imprisoned and afflicted, and showing hospitality to the stranger. But the amazing point of this story is that they don’t remember having done these acts of benevolence. These acts of kindness were true altruism–charitable acts done without keeping record in order to receive reward or recognition.
The Macedonians demonstrated this quality when they gave support to the sufferings church in Jerusalem.
Moreover, brethren, we do you to wit of the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia; How that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality. For to their power, I bear record, yea, and beyond, not as we hoped, but first gave their own selves to the Lord, and unto us by the will of God. (II Corinthians 8:1-5)
In spite of (and possible because of) their poverty, they liberally extended themselves beyond the limits of what they could afford and begged Paul to take their offering to the needy brethern. What a contrast with the wealthy man who came to Jesus seeking to become a disciple but turned away sorrowfully because the Lord asked him to give his possessions to the poor. (Matthew 19:16-22)
Paul exemplified altruism in his ministry to the Corinthian church, and to all believers.
Behold, the third time I am ready to come to you; and I will not be burdensome to you: for I seek not yours, but you: for the children ought not to lay up for the parents, but the parents for the children. And I will very gladly spend and be spent for you; though the more abundantly I love you, the less I be loved. But be it so, I did not burden you: nevertheless, being crafty, I caught you with guile. Did I make a gain of you by any of them whom I sent unto you? I desired Titus, and with him I sent a brother. Did Titus make a gain of you? walked we not in the same spirit? walked we not in the same steps? Again, think ye that we excuse ourselves unto you? we speak before God in Christ: but we do all things, dearly beloved, for your edifying. (II Corinthians 12:14-18)
I have coveted no man’s silver, or gold, or apparel. Yea, ye yourselves know, that these hands have ministered unto my necessities, and to them that were with me. I have shewed you all things, how that so labouring ye ought to support the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive. (Acts 20:33-35)
Even before the time of Christ, those people who seriously followed after the heart of God demonstrated altruism in their lives and ministries. Samuel’s farewell speech demonstrates his sacrificial life style.
Samuel said unto all Israel, Behold, I have hearkened unto your voice in all that ye said unto me, and have made a king over you. And now, behold, the king walketh before you: and I am old and grayheaded; and, behold, my sons are with you: and I have walked before you from my childhood unto this day. Behold, here I am: witness against me before the LORD, and before his anointed: whose ox have I taken? or whose ass have I taken? or whom have I defrauded? whom have I oppressed? or of whose hand have I received any bribe to blind mine eyes therewith? and I will restore it you. And they said, Thou hast not defrauded us, nor oppressed us, neither hast thou taken ought of any man’s hand. And he said unto them, The LORD is witness against you, and his anointed is witness this day, that ye have not found ought in my hand. And they answered, He is witness. (I Samuel 12:1-5)
If such servanthood could be demonstrated in the lives of characters in the Old Testament, how much more should we, as New Testament believers, anticipate to manifest this quality–even though it may be alien to the world in which we live.
With such alluring pitfalls awaiting you, you need a divine bodyguard to constantly protect you. In reality, God has given you not just a bodyguard, but two. The Living Bible translation of Psalm 25:21 names them, “Assign me Godliness and Integrity as my bodyguards, for I expect you to protect me.” Having a bodyguard means the difference between life and death. When President Abraham Lincoln’s bodyguard stepped out of the box in the Ford Theater to visit the rest room, our sixteenth President was vulnerable and soon lay on the floor subject to John Wilkes Booth’s bullet. President Ronald Reagan, on the other hand, survived an assassination attempt upon his life in 1981 when James Brady bravely threw his body as a human shield in front of John Hinckley Jr.’s bullet. So it is with your life and mine, if Godliness and Integrity are not our bodyguards on constant duty, we are subject to the enemy’s attacks.
The term “integrity” means completeness. It implies a harmony or complete relationship with oneself. A person of integrity is one who is in harmony throughout his total personality. He doesn’t think one thing and say another. He doesn’t act one way and feel another. Integrity doesn’t allow you to be dishonest or compromising. The term “godliness” may better be translated uprightness, meaning equity. This means to be truthful and fair to all men. Godliness demands that you live like God in from of your fellowmen not treat them like the devil. Integrity is being honest with yourself. Godliness is being honest with others. These two traits in your lifestyle will keep you safe from the assassination attempts of the world, the flesh, and the devil.
The story is told of a relief worker at a rest home who was constantly telling the people how thankful she was for everything. After a terrible ice storm the night before, the lady reported to work at 6:00 a.m., as prompt as ever. When asked how she made it in to work in such a storm, she replied, “I only love two blocks from here at the bottom of the hill. The sidewalk was too slick to walk on, so I just crawled on my hands and knees through ice and snow to get here. Here I am and I am so thankful.” They asked why she was so thankful. After removing her wet coat, she answered, “It was dark and nobody could see me.”
In our lives, there is always something we can be thankful for and something that we can praise God for, no matter what the situation may be.
A student came to me recently with a pressing problem. In the last few days he had been tormented by lustful thoughts. My answer to his problem was, “Praise the Lord!”. He could praise the Lord out of the devil’s schemes and to overcome temptation.
The Book of James tells us to react with joy when temptation comes. “My brethren, count in all joy when you fall into divers temptations knowing this that the trying of your faith worketh patience but let patience have her perfect work that ye may be perfect and entire wanting nothing”.
Paul makes a similar statement when he talks about tribulation.
Not only do we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God, but we “glory in tribulations also knowing that tribulations worketh patience and patience experience and experience hope” (Romans 5:2-4).
From these verses, it is easy to see that these great apostles of the Church didn’t count temptation and troubles as occasions for discouragement. Rather, temptation was an occasion for praising the Lord. Joy and rejoicing were their responses when Satan tried to get them down. They knew that they needed strength and they must have remembered what Nehemiah had said that “the joy of the Lord is your strength”. Paul had proved that joy rather than discouragement was the better response to trouble when he and Silas were in the Philippian jail in Acts 16. They had been beaten, imprisoned and held in chains. But at midnight when everything is the darkest, they were singing and praising God. Through their praises, an earthquake delivered them from the jail. These apostles could rejoice and praise God through their troubles because they saw that the final result of all soulical temptation and physical tribulation is a stronger spiritual character. James claimed that the final result was “wanting nothing”, and Paul saw that it was “having nothing to make you ashamed.” These apostles saw that not only does the believer need to praise God during temptation and look for God to work out a stronger spiritual character, but they saw that the believer needs to stand on his own two feet, so to speak, during these temptations. Paul called for Christians to put on the whole armor of God to do everything possible to stand against temptation (Ephesians 6). James called for the believers to submit to God, resist the devil and then draw near to God (James 4:7- 8). How beautifully these apostles sandwiched the believers’ fight against the devil between statements about living close to God. They both encouraged us to fight the devil from a place of protection in the Lord. We are to stand on our own two feet, but on ground that has been established by Christ. Paul emphasized this point when he said, “Wherefore, let him that thinks he stand take heed lest he fall”. “There is no temptation taken you but such as is common to man but God is faithful who will not suffer you to be tempted above that which you are able but will with the temptation also make a way of escape that ye may be able to bear it” (I Corinthians 10:12-13). If we try to stand alone, we will fall. But if we stand in Christ, we will always be able to match the temptations.
If Rule #1 of enduring temptation is to praise the Lord, then Rule #2 is to get close to Jesus while fighting the devil. Peter and the author of Hebrews also agreed with this second rule. “The Lord knoweth how to deliver the Godly out of temptation” (II Peter 2:8). “For we have not a high priest which cannot be touched with the feelings of our infirmities but was in all ways tempted like as we are yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of God that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in the time of need” (Hebrews 4:15-16).
Troubles are a part of the walk in the Spirit. Paul reminded the Galatians that walking in the Spirit meant constantly encountering and overcoming temptation. “This I say walk in the Spirit and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit and the Spirit against the flesh and these are contrary to one another so that ye cannot do the things that ye would but if you are led by the Spirit you are not under the law” (Galatians 5:16-18).
James adds a new Beatitude __ that of enduring temptation.
“Blessed is the man that endureth temptation for when he is tried he shall receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to them that love him” (James 1:12).
Even Jesus was tempted. Being full of the Holy Ghost, Jesus returned from Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness being 40 days tempted of the devil. “And when the devil had ended all the temptation, he departed from him for a season. And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit into Galilee and there went out a fame of him through all the region round about.” What a beautiful difference Luke describes in Jesus’ life as a result of his enduring temptation, from being filled with the Holy Spirit to being empowered by the Holy Spirit. Since this is the end result of temptation, how easy it can be to praise God and stand with Christ while the devil tempts. When we understand that while we are in the middle of spiritual warfare that we can praise God, we are able to draw ourselves into a place where we come out on the other side with a stronger stance, a purer life and a relationship that is closer to Jesus. We can then rejoice and not be upset because we are in a trial, not joy that you are in the struggle, but joy that there is a better prize set for you when you come to the other side.
Praising God is an absolute necessity to being an overcomer. Praise is an actual form of warfare. “The Lord inhabits the praises of his people” (Psalm 22:3). When we praise God, we establish a place for the Lord to live. “In the presence of the Lord there is fulness of joy” (Psalm 16:11). “The joy of the Lord is our strength” (Nehemiah 8:10). From the strength that we receive from the Lord as a result of the joy, we know that we can “do all things through Christ Jesus who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:12). Our praise establishes the presence, which brings the joy, which produces the strength with the end result that we are victorious in all things. Praise warfare is a very important key that we must have. We go into spiritual warfare with an attitude of total victory. Prayer is the propelling force to get us through. Praise warfare establishes strength in our lives.
II Chronicles Chapter 20 tells the story of Jehosophat, which is familiar to all of us. The armies of the enemies were approaching. Israel was far outnumbered. So Jehosophat declared a fast and sought the Lord for his intervention. The Lord answered, “Do not be afraid nor dismayed because of this great multitude for the battle is not yours but God’s . . . You will not need to fight in this battle. Position yourselves, stand still and see the salvation of the Lord who is with you.” And all the people of Israel worshiped the Lord.
God called them to the same revelation that he gave us in Ephesians Chapter 6 concerning spiritual warfare. endures forever’.” Praise and worship are the important elements that won the victory for Jehosophat. Victory is a result of our praise. Jehosophat did indeed have his army dressed in array, ready for combat. Paul tells us to “take on the whole armor of God.” We don’t just act like there isn’t a battle. We get dressed for the battle even though we know that God will do the fighting. We must equip ourselves with our battle gear.
“And when they began to sing and praise, the Lord sent ambushes against the people of Ammon, Moab and mount Seir who had come against Judah and they were defeated.” Ammon and Moab got confused and started fighting the army of mount Seir, they then fought against themselves until they destroyed one another. It took three days to carry off all the spoils of war. On the fourth day, they worshiped God and returned to Jerusalem “with joy for the Lord had made them to rejoice over their enemies” (verse 27). James tells us to “count it all joy,” not because we are to have the struggle but because we come out from the struggle stronger than when we went in. When Israel, Judah and Jerusalem went in to fight the battle, they did not have that three days of loot and booty in their hands. They came into the battle with a concern in their soulical man. They sought God. When they finally came to the place to where that they worshiped God, they had faith in God, they drew nigh to God, they used their prayers to propel their spiritual weapons forward and they went into the battle. Instead of losing their houses, land and families, they returned home with so much goods that it took them three days to gather it all up. They came back better than when they went out to fight. James tells us that when we come to the temptation or trial, to come to it with rejoicing because on the other side you will be better off for it and “not being ashamed.” They came back full of rejoicing because not only had their enemy been defeated, but they also came back to Jerusalem with great wealth.
There is a victory that we will establish when we warfare through praise. There was a battle, there was a struggle, there was warfare. But the Israelites only had to stand and watch it happen and observed and came forth more than conquerors. Jehosophat came home that day more than a conqueror. He did not have to fight the battle, he just reached out and took the reward from the battle. God tells us that we need to be that way.
Moses numbered the warriors from 20 years old (Numbers 1:3), but the Levites, the priestly tribe, he numbered from one month old (Numbers 3:29). I think that tells us that we are to begin to serve in our worship relationship and in our priestly role the moment we are born again. The warrior position is something that you grow into, but the priestly position is something that you start immediately. It is a very important place.
What is the difference between praise and worship? Praise is the recognition of God for what he has done. We praise him for his mighty acts and the things he has done. Worship is acknowledging him for whom he is and we praise him for whom he is.
When the spies came into Jericho, Rahab actually praised the people of Israel. She said, “We have heard the report of how you walked through the Red Sea on dry ground. We have heard of what you did to King Sihon and Og. We have heard how your God has provided for you and brought you out of Egypt with a high hand” (Joshua 2:9_10). She went through the many repetitions of what she knew God had done for his people. She acknowledged the greatness of Israel through fear. There was not yet a love relationship between her and God, but she still praised him for what he had done.
Worship is adoration for that person for whom he is. You recognize who he is and not just for what he has done. Worship means “to count the worth” — not to count the accomplishments, but to count the value. Praise is centered on accomplishments. We praise God for his mighty acts. But in worship we begin to express our relationship to him and how much we love him and value our relationship to him.
There are several different things that may happen in our lives that could keep us from being true worshipers of God. One hindrance to worship and praise is having little or no knowledge of what the Word of God has to say about him. If we will enter into his presence with rejoicing, we must enter in the way he has outlined. If we want to do that, there are a few Scriptures to study and begin to put into practice. The Psalms are full of the praises of God and full of instruction in how we can enter in.
In Psalm 96:1 and Psalm 98:1, we are told to sing a new song unto the Lord. If we want to praise him from our own heart according to what he has done for us, what better way than to create our own words in tune to fit our feelings toward his personality. It doesn’t have to be elaborate, just sincere. In I Corinthians 14:15, Paul speaks of singing in the Spirit and with the understanding.
In Psalm 150, we are taught to praise God with al types of instruments and playing songs of worship. Also in verse 4, we are told that dancing is a form of worship. Like any other form of worship, dancing is not to be performed to the gratification of the flesh, but to the glory of God. It is a willful act of worship, a deliberate gesture of adoration. In Psalm 95:6, we are taught to kneel and to bow down before the Lord in worship. In Psalm 63:4, we are instructed to lift our hands unto the Lord. Also, in I Timothy 2:8, Paul speaks of lifting up holy hands. In Psalm 47:1 it tells us to clap our hands and to shout unto the Lord. There are many ways to worship, but we cannot know about them unless we search the Scriptures. One hindrance in being a worshiper of God is not knowing what the Scripture says. There is a whole denomination that doesn’t believe in having music in church, but the Word of God commands us to praise him on the psaltery and harp. The Word commands us to praise God with the timbrel and the loud sounding cymbal. There is another denomination that only sings the Psalms. They believe that you can’t write songs in any modern period. But the Book of Psalms specifically teaches us to “sing a new song” to the Lord, to keep creating new songs unto the Lord. If we are ignorant of the Scriptures, then we are ignorant of what to do and how to do it and then we miss our real ability to worship God.
The second reason that some are not real worshipers of God is that they have no real revelation of Christ. A revelation of Christ comes to us not by our works or our own efforts but through the Spirit by the outworking of grace in our lives. Paul received the revelation of Christ on the Damascus Road and that changed the course of his life forever and that revelation of Christ birthed life into Paul. The revelation of Christ began on the Road to Damascus, but grew and grew until there as a very intimate settled relationship over the years. It is the same in every normal Christian life and in every Christian who is following on to know the Lord. The relationship gets richer and, therefore, the worship gets deeper. How can you worship Christ if there is no initial revelation? How can you help but worship him if that revelation unfolds more and more each day? The more that you see Christ, the more you will worship him. But if you don’t see him, then you cannot enter into worship.
The third reason that many do not have true worship and are not able to worship in Spirit and in truth is because they have no true love for Christ. If there is no real love for Christ, all worship and praise is mere words and actions and is not accepted by God. If our love for Christ is real, we will long to please him and be in his presence. It is important to be accepted by those whom we love. If we long for fellowship with Christ, he has told us exactly how and if our love is true and serious, then we will go to any lengths to please him. When we love Christ, we will long to be with him and in those precious times alone with him, we will find our love for him growing and we will surely find that “thy loving kindness is better than life.” Worship is naturally born out of a true relationship and love for Christ. Without deep love, there is no deep worship.
A fourth area that stops us from being true worshipers “in spirit and in truth” is sin in our lives. Sin separates us from God. We cannot truly worship him with unforgiveness, bitterness or resentment in our hearts. The sacrifice he accepts is a “broken and contrite heart” (Psalm 51:16-17). Therefore, we must deal with sin in our lives before we can worship him in purity. Many times as we enter into his presence, his great light will zero in on something that we need to deal with. If we follow his spirit to cleanse us, we can freely worship him with no condemnation. If we withhold, there will be no release or acceptance, no matter how long or how loud we praise him. Sin in our hearts will separate us from God.
A fifth major area that keeps people from entering into true Spirit worship before God is tradition. Religious tradition is one of the most binding hindrances to those who would be true worshipers of God. In the Scripture, we read about many forms of worship, but we can quickly reject them if they don’t fit into what we have always been taught. If it is commanded in the Word, then it is God’s desire for us to do it. That’s why he took the time to have it recorded and passed down from generation to generation. Many things we are taught are viable and according to the Word of God, but many things restrict and put limits on our relationship to him. The bonds that keep us from entering into God’s best, need to be broken and cast aside. Make sure that everything lines up with the Word, whether tradition or breaking from tradition. Man puts us into categories and each category worships their own way. But God did not write to one part of his family to be silent before him and write separately to another part of his family to shout and rejoice with a song and dance. He said both things to all his children. There is a time to be silent and there is a time to shout and to praise with a loud voice. Be bold enough to follow the Word of God and to break from some of the traditions that keep us from praising our Lord and worshiping him in Spirit and in truth. We have to break free from traditions of men. Jesus rebuked the Pharisees because they were bound by traditions of men. You can be shouting and dancing, but it may not be worship, he may be just Pentecostal tradition. Or you may be very, very quiet and it not be religious tradition at all, but true worship to touch the heart of God. When it is real worship before God, it can be loud or it can be quiet. It is a matter of tuning into the Holy Spirit.
We have a general pattern of worship and praise in our services. Generally, we start out with the “fast” songs and move to the “slow” songs. That usually works because of our own soulical nature. When we come into the service, we need to get pumped up and moving. But when we move from the soulical man into the spirit man, then we want to move into worship. But that’s not always the case. Sometimes the Holy Ghost may want you to start off with a slower pace and once you have come into the presence of God, then all heaven breaks loose and you can’t help but sing, dance, jump and shout. We have to break free of the traditions of men and do whatever the Spirit is dictating for us to worship in Spirit and in truth.
Personal inhibitions are a sixth major hindrance to worshiping God. How many times have I been in a service and wanted to lift my hands in worship, but just didn’t do it because I was afraid of what other people would think? Was I just trying to appear super-spiritual? Or when someone else had their hands lifted and their mouths open, but all I felt was to stand silently in awe of the presence of a Holy God. Personal inhibitions are a derivative of pride. What difference does it make what others think? Dr. Sumrall would say, “Another man’s head is a very funny place to keep your happiness.” In worship we seek to give God pleasure, not to prove or disprove our spirituality to those around us. Many may be shy and find it difficult to outwardly express what is in their heart, but go ahead and begin those feelings outwardly when you are in the closet alone with the Lord. And then when you are released to worship him fully, you will find it easier and easier to join in when you are in a public service with the congregation. Then there are those who are a little more exuberant outwardly and the call attention to themselves instead of directing the worship to the Father and blending in with the worshiping congregation. These things need to be dealt with in our own lives too and to be brought into balance to cause worship times alone or corporately to glorify God to the very highest.
A seventh major hindrance to really worshiping God is a lack of our will to do it. Hands that hang down and feeble knees must be strengthened lest they be turned out of the way, according to the Book of Hebrews. A lack of will or interest will definitely hinder worship. It will stop it all together in the life of one who is apathetic concerning worship. But there are those who are callous and do not intend to worship God fully according to his Word. Many are complacent and have to desire to learn the scriptural methods of praise and worship; instead they pursue their own method. But just remember it is not in the Spirit and in truth and it is not acceptable.
The Church needs a clear understanding of worship; not soulish worship, but pure spiritual worship. We can worship our own way, but it is too often based on how we feel rather than how God desires to be worshiped. I have seen people broken by entering in with a congregation that was worshiping purely with their whole heart. Through the expression of love and adoration in the presence of God as he comes among them, lives can be changed and wounds mended. It is the anointing in the midst or worshiping people that can break the yolks, even yolks of bondage that hinder true worship and praise. But the hour cometh and now is when the true worshipers shall worship the Father in Spirit and in truth for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is Spirit and they had worship him must worship him in Spirit and in truth.
True worship is a form of warfare. True praise is a form of warfare. When we enter into true worship and true praise, we will find that God fights the battle for us. I have seen people healed just during the praise and worship time. I have known of people that while the congregation was standing worshiping God, people in wheelchairs, without realizing it stood up and worshiped God. They didn’t realize it. They were just standing up to worship God and their healing came. I have known of so many people get baptized in the Holy Spirit during praise and worship, the praise just began flowing out of them and they were filled with the Holy Spirit. People are delivered and saved through praise and worship. When I was in college, a group of us was worshiping the Lord and a college girl leaned over to me and said, “This is so wonderful! How can I get what all these people have so I can enter in?” She was immediately born again. No one had preached a salvation message. It was the first time she had been in a meeting like that. But yet, she was touched. Spiritual warfare was going on. The devil had her soul in his bondage, but his power over her was broken because worship is a form of spiritual warfare. It is the time that we are able to stand still and see God fight our battles.
In 1873, William Linkhall was hauled into county court in Robison, North Carolina by his fellow Methodists who charged that his singing had disrupted the church services week after week. Among his offenses to the ear was the fact that Linkhall kept singing long after the rest of the congregation had stopped. Things got so bad that finally the minister refused to go on singing. Asked to remain silent, Linkhall refused protesting that church singing was a part of his duty to God. Linkhall was found guilt of a misdemeanor and ordered to keep quiet in church. Instead, he appealed to the State Supreme Court, which overturned the conviction. Even in Linkhall’s singing was as awful as charged, the court ruled that the State has no business disciplining him. So, it doesn’t matter how awful your singing might be, you have a legal right to do it and God is pleased with it.
I recently had two incredible experiences–the kind of things that make you walk away with your head spinning wondering if they really happened. The first one was remarkably bad; the second encounter was astonishingly refreshing and encouraging. But the amazing thing is that both these experiences were with the same person!
The episode began with a simple phone call from a nationally-known leader in the Body of Christ. Our conversation had to do with a question concerning his ministry that a mutual friend of ours had raised. It was apparently a very touchy issue with him, and he felt that the person may have gone to me concerning it. As the conversation progressed, the minister’s disposition went south while his voice went north. Before long he was yelling at me and even using a few words that don’t belong in a Christian vocabulary. Now, it is important to remember that I was not technically involved in the matter; my only connection was that he was concerned that our mutual friend may have discussed the matter with me. As the phone conversation–if you could call his rather one-sided display of vehemence a conversation–progressed, the minister made a rather big jerk out of himself. When he finally hung up, Peggy and looked at each other in astonishment. We would have been surprised that any civilized adult human being would have pitched such a tantrum; but we were really amazed when it comes from a man of God.
The second encounter came a few weeks later when this same minister invited me to lunch. Although I was really unsure that I wanted to face him again, I was willing to do anything I could to bring peace and restoration; so I accepted the invitation. I must admit that I was very apprehensive as I approached his table at the restaurant. As you can imagine, the conversation began a bit guardedly and slowly. But as soon as the ice was broken, this very prominent gentleman began to humbly admit his error and apologize for his rude and immature behavior. Unlike we all too often try to do, he offered no excuses. He simply said that he was wrong, that he had acted in the flesh, and that he had repented to the Lord and was now asking for my forgiveness. I would never have dreamed that I would have seen such an important church leader humble himself so contritely.
My problem wasn’t that I lacked faith in God’s ability to work in the heart of this man; rather, my problem was that I doubted the human ability to genuinely respond to the Lord’s dealings and to follow through with such transparent humility. I doubted that this man–or, any person, for that matter–was big enough to pull off all the masks, admit his fault, and ask for forgiveness.
I believe that this minister stepped into a new dimension of ministry by making that giant step of humbling himself. I know that when we talk about ways to advance in our callings, we discuss such qualities as faith, courage, prayer, confession, diligence, hard work, study, being mentored, etc. But one of the almost universally overlooked keys to advancement is the step this minister took as we sat over a plate of Japanese tempura–humility.
Humility is listed in the scripture as the key to both physical and spiritual blessings. According to II Chronicles 7:14, humbling ourselves is one of the keys to getting God’s attention so that He will hear from heaven and forgive our sins and heal our land. In Isaiah 57:15, God is described as actually making His residence with those who have contrite and humble spirits; furthermore, He promises to revive the spirit of the humble and the heart of the contrite ones.
According to Solomon, humility is one of the keys to riches, and honor, and life (Proverbs 22:4). He further adds that honor will uphold the man with a humble spirit. (Proverbs 29:23) To get the full impact of what this man was saying, we have to remember exactly who he was and what his life was like. This passage was penned by the man who brought Israel to the pinnacle of her existence with more territory under his domain that any other king in the history of the nation. He was the one who brought the kingdom to her zenith in terms of wealth by making silver as common as stones in the city of Jerusalem. He also brought the country to her apex in terms of international recognition and respect, exemplified by the legendary visit from the queen of Sheba. If there was ever any man in history who could legitimately pat himself on the back, it would have been this man. Instead, he confessed that humility–not any form of prideful self-promotion was the key to advancement.
The New Testament authors echo Solomon’s wise counsel. The apostle Peter admonishes us, “Be clothed with humility: for God resists the proud, and gives grace to the humble. Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time.” (I Peter 5:5-6) James seems to eliminate the wait for “due time” when he writes, “God resists the proud, but gives grace unto the humble…Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up.” (James 4:6-10)
Of course, the greatest teacher on humility was the Lord Jesus Himself who took a little child and used him as an example for those disciples who were vying for the highest places of leadership in the kingdom of God, “Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:4) He went on to say, “Whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted.” (Matthew 23:12) Jesus not only talked about humility, He walked it out in His daily life. He gave up the splendor of heaven that made Solomon’s opulence look like a shantytown and humbled Himself by taking upon Himself human flesh and submitting to the cruel and humiliating death on the cross. (Philippians 2:8) By His own confession, the life that He lived while on earth was “meek and lowly in heart.” (Matthew 11:29)
The most dramatic example of Jesus’ life of humility is portrayed in the familiar story of the washing of the disciple’s feet. Today, I’d like us to look at a couple of facts concerning this story which may not be quite so familiar. The first is found in the introductory statement of the narrative, “Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He was come from God, and went to God; He rose from supper, and laid aside His garments; and took a towel, and girded Himself. After that He poured water into a basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith He was girded.” (John 13:3-6) Jesus’ act of humility was not performed in a void, but in full awareness of His divinity. The second point I want to notice is in the introductory statement to the dialog that followed the footwashing. “He that eats bread with me hath lifted up his heel against me.” (John 13:18) Judas, the disciple who had already determined to betray the Lord, was one of the men before whom Jesus had humbly knelt to wash his soiled feet. True humility can only be birthed out of a confidence in our relationship with God that supersedes any fear we may have of those before we humble ourselves.
Jesus said, “If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example that ye should do as I have done to you. Verily, verily, I say unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him. If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them.” (John 13:14-17) If we want true happiness, fulfillment, and advancement in our Christian life, we must learn how to humble ourselves before our brothers and sisters.
Let’s make humility such a constant part of our Christian lives that we don’t startle others (like the gentleman in the opening paragraph of this story did me) when we display it in our relationships with them.