— Brother Phil Enlow: You know, I was thinking this morning, or this week, I guess, about the service and what the Lord might want to have emphasized and my mind went back to the last couple of weeks, but particularly two weeks ago when the emphasis of the Lord was on the Book of Hebrews.
But the message that the writer gave to the people, the burden that was on his heart, was the fact that there needs to be a persevering faith in our service to God…that it’s not just that we’re gonna live a easy, smooth life, but rather there needs to be this ‘never quitting’ kind of spirit that always has a confidence toward God and always goes forward. And, that’s an awesome truth.
I’m so glad though, that the Bible has a balance in its rendition of truth and the truths that God would have us to understand. There’s always this incredible balance. And you know, as I thought about that, it would be easy for us to take that, or for someone to take that business about persevere and say, oh God, that sounds like a dull, horrible life.
You know, we’re gonna just hang on by the skin of our teeth and maybe we’ll get there, and it’s just gonna be kind of miserable on the road, on the journey. But, you know, I’ve just got to put one foot in front of another and just got to suck it up and keep going. How many of you think that’s the kind of life that God wants us to have? No, that’s not it at all, is it?
And I was trying to think of this in terms of what Jesus said. He said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (NIV). Now how in the world do you reconcile that with the reality of what we go through in the world, and yet, here in America we go through so little, compared to many of our brothers and sisters who are in incredible places of difficulty and challenge and suffering? How do you reconcile all that?
And again, I believe this is the balance that the Lord wants us to understand. And I’ll just trust the Lord to guide me through this. I thought of the Book of 1st Thessalonians, and there’s a passage, there’s a very short passage in chapter 5 that kind of came to my mind in this regard, and it has to do, not just with the fact that we’re supposed to be persevering, but how does that work? What does that look like?
And you know, is it this kind of ‘oh God, I’ve got to get through this’ kind of thing, or is there something deeper? Is there something more real that God wants us to enjoy?
Look at 1st Thessalonians. It’s either the first or second book that was actually written in the New Testament era. You remember how we’ve talked about in the past that when they went out and preached the Gospel, they preached from the Old Testament, exclusively. There was no New Testament. They simply gave the…they showed the fulfillment of Christ and all that He’d done, right through the Old Testament, from the beginning to the end, and preached Christ and then preached the message that He’d given, and that was it.
But as the churches began to be formed, then the occasion arose for putting down on paper these things, and writing to encourage. And what had happened here in the church of Thessalonica was…you remember how Paul and Silas had gone out on the second missionary journey, and along the way Timothy, young Timothy, had joined them in the ministry, and so, they came to a place where they wanted to go one direction and the Lord said, no, go another. And then Paul had that Macedonian vision. “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” So, they went.
And one of the main places they went was Philippi, and you remember what happened in Philippi. It’s recorded in chapter 16 of Acts, and that was where they had ministered for a while and God performed miracles and all of a sudden, people just began to riot against them, and they were thrown into prison and beaten.
And at midnight, you remember the account of how God shook the prison and wound up being the salvation of the Philippian jailer. But right after that, they actually left Philippi…spent a short time there, founded a church, left it in the hands of the Lord and went on.
The next place they went was Thessalonica. And, in the early part of chapter 17, you find out that they basically spent about three weeks there. How to plant a church…well, let’s just go for three weeks and see what God does. Well, God did something amazing, didn’t He?
They went into the synagogue on three successive weeks, but it wasn’t just the Jews that they influenced. There were some among the Jews who believed, but there was a great number among the Greeks. And it mentioned some of the prominent women in the city there that came to Christ and began to be a fellowship of believers.
And all this happened in three weeks. I mean, it’s amazing what God can do, if God’s the one doing it. You know, you can build up a program and establish a tradition and have a personality and you can build a religious organization, but this was something that God did. And His power came in and revealed the truth of the Gospel to hearts and changed people.
So, they had convictions that were able to stand in a context of tremendous opposition and persecution. This was not just, well, glad you found something you like, neighbor. This was real…invading Satan’s territory and experiencing great opposition, and of course, you remember what happened… how there were folks there that stirred up a riot. And, there was a terrible riot against Paul and Silas and the believers, and they actually…the brothers actually sent them away.
So, after three weeks, they are, all of a sudden, they are leading a brand-new group of people that had just come out of…on the one hand, vain traditions of the Jews, on the other hand, a heathen religion, and just basically commending them into God’s hands.
And so, they went on and they went to Berea after this. And you remember how the Bereans there, at least they considered the scriptures. But over time, they moved on from there and they sent Paul away, ahead of them by himself, to Athens. And so, it was while Paul was in Athens…so this is not very long after that, that he actually wrote back to the church.
And the occasion was, obviously he had had them on his heart and his mind, he’d thought about them, and said, oh God, please help them. You know, we weren’t able to be there with them. Lord, is this gonna work? Are they gonna stand?
Finally, he writes…and this is all recorded in the earlier chapters of 1st Thessalonians…he talks about how the power that he saw demonstrated, how evident it was that this wasn’t just a work of man, but God had come on the scene and built real, genuine, supernatural conviction in hearts that changed lives. And he talks about how the Apostles themselves conducted themselves among them and how they responded. And it was such a blessing to him.
But finally, he says, in chapter 3, we couldn’t stand it any longer so I sent Timothy to find out what was going on. I want to make sure you guys are okay. And so, he reports the fact that Timothy has just come back and given a wonderful report, and praise God, that makes our joy full, and what a glorious thing it is.
So then, from chapters 4 on, he begins to exhort them, what it means to live for Christ. He talks about how that God has called us to live holy lives, to leave the sexual, licentiousness of the culture around them behind them, and offer themselves to God in a holiness, and live according to God’s purposes. Then he goes on and he exhorts them about many things.
But the exhortation that I was most interested in came in chapter 5, when he lists a whole lot of things. But before I get to the particulars, there is a scripture that we have used many times that absolutely overshadows, it gives a context in which all of these exhortations…you should do this, you shouldn’t do that, and all that…all those fall under the context, or within the context of what he says in chapter 5, verse 23.
“May God himself, the God of peace…” (NIV). Isn’t that a wonderful thing? “…The God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.” Praise God!
You know, it’s so easy to look at exhortations in scripture, this is the kind of person you should be, this is what you should do, and then to feel, oh God, one more thing…and I can’t do it. I’m just so…Lord, okay, I’ll try hard, but You know…and then just live under this, almost like it’s turned into a law.
But thank God, the context for all of this is what you’re doing is putting yourself in the hands of a God who has promised that He’s started what He’s done and He’s gonna finish it, and He’s gonna carry it through. So, you’re in the hands of one who is absolutely true and faithful in His promises.
You know, he’s just talked about the fact that we don’t even have to worry about people that die in Christ. Yes, we grieve, but we sure don’t grieve like those who have no hope, because we know that there’s coming a day when Jesus Christ will come in the eastern skies and every one who is His will be gathered to Him. The dead in Christ will rise first and so forth, and then we’ll be caught up together with them in the clouds. What a hope that we have!
And he exhorts them in the meantime to live, to put on the armor of God. This is the first reference we have to Paul referencing putting on armor. And to live sober lives, serving God, and to live as people who are awake and alive and know what’s happening. We’re living in a context…we don’t have to be buried in what’s happening in the world and how to explain it, we live in something that’s greater, with a deeper understanding.
But the passage that I came to that just seemed to jump out at me begins in verse 16. There are three verses there, very short exhortations. And the first one is a very simple one. “Be joyful always.” Be joyful always! Now, you put that in the context of living in a world that does not supply joy from our experiences, and especially if you’re serving Christ and you live in a world where the Devil hates you and is gonna stir up every kind of trouble that he can. And there are all kinds of trials and difficulties that we’re called…and yet, he says, “Be joyful always.”
How many of you think that this means we go around with a pasted smile on our face and act joyful? But I’ll tell you, I believe with all my heart, if we put this in the whole context of scripture, there is a joy that you and I can have. It’s not just gritting our teeth and saying, okay, I’m gonna hang on ‘til He gets here. This is living with a joy, a genuine joy, that comes not just from the outside and from trying to ‘be’ joyful, and act joyful; this comes from the heart. And that’s what God wants.
And, again, the greatest example that we have of that is our Lord Jesus. And He talked to the disciples…the night before He was crucified there was a long series of speeches, I guess, is a word, but exhortations where He teaches them and prepares them and then He prays for them. And one of the things He talks about is the fact that He has walked in His earthly life according to the Father’s will. He didn’t come to do His own bidding. He came to carry out the Father’s will.
And as a direct result of walking in harmony with the Father, there was a joy that He had on the inside. And He talked to the disciples and said, I want you to have the same thing. I want you, as I have walked, carrying out His commands, I want you to carry out Mine so that you can have My joy. God wants us to have a reservoir of something in our hearts that is so real that it becomes the dominating principle of our lives, despite the things that happen to us on our journey.
And so, He prays that same thing over in chapter 17. I won’t turn over to it, but last week we mentioned His prayer for unity. Well, I will turn over there. Let’s go ahead and read it. John chapter 17…verse 13, “I am coming to you now…” Now He’s talking to the Father. “I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them.”
I’ll tell you, God wants us to have something on the inside that’s real. Something that…that isn’t dependent upon circumstances. And my God, this is an issue for every one of us. We are dependent, far more than we might like to think, on our circumstances. And we can say, oh I’m trusting God, but I’m miserable. And a lot of us live in that far too much, far too…well, far too much.
You know, I thought about Job. It’s easy to think of him because if you’re following the reading plan that takes the Bible in its chronological order, and I know Ron is shaking his head because he does the same thing, this is the time of year you’re reading Job, because he was one of the oldest characters in the Bible.
And so, we know how Job reached a point in his life where he was doing his best to serve God in a world that was beginning to move away from it as it already had. I believe this was after the flood and no doubt it was after the Tower of Babel, but almost certainly before Abraham. So, the flood and all of that was a fairly recent memory. They knew about God. They knew about God’s judgment. And so, there were a lot of people…there were people among the people of that era that knew about God and they served Him with what they knew.
And the Lord Himself was the one who brought to the Devil’s attention, His servant Job. Have you considered Him? And so, the Lord allowed Satan, as we know, to do some, to bring some terrible circumstances in Job’s life. First of all, he loses his whole family. He loses all his possessions and he still says, “The LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.” (KJV).
Wow! How many of us could do that? I mean, that takes a confidence. That takes a faith. So, there was something that was real in Job’s heart and his life. But then, the Devil is allowed to touch his health, not to take his life, but to make him miserable with pain and suffering. And then, it hits the fan. And then, old Job is really having a time, isn’t he? And we see the emotions break out.
And then, he’s got some friends there that aren’t any help. His wife’s no help. “Curse God and die,” is her advice. And some friends come along and they’re gonna explain it all to him. Have you ever had friends like that? You know, every one of us, we are subject to taking our understanding of things…what we think we know about God, what we think we know about truth and then trying to explain our circumstances based on what we know. Good luck with that!
And that’s exactly where they were. And they’re sitting there trying to philosophize and go through every bit of supposed theological knowledge that they had and the three friends…I mean, talk about being stuck in a simplistic, legalistic way of looking at things. All they could see was, you have suffered calamity! It’s obvious! We know that God judges and He punishes the wicked and He blesses the righteous! You’re experiencing all this. Come on, come clean, Job. You know you must have sinned. All you have to do is confess your sin and God will make you prosperous again and everything will be great and grand.
Well, that’s a pretty limited view of God. You know, one thing that was kind of obvious. This was really a second-hand knowledge, wasn’t it? None of these people had ever really had an encounter with God. They heard from Noah and others about this God. They knew that He was serious. They knew that He judged sin and so they had this little simplistic, world, worldly centered view. You know, my circumstances are dictated by how I deal with God and how I obey Him, and I do what I know He likes, and I avoid what He doesn’t, and that’s kind of what life is about.
And so, they were just constantly pestering him. You know this is what it is. Look at the wicked. They do wickedly. Their children go hungry. And on and on and on they go with these long, windy speeches. And Job says, I haven’t done anything. I’ve done everything I’ve known to do.
But you know, I noticed something in Job, too. Job is still subject to a lot of this same second-hand thinking. Not only that, he’s living a life of fear. How many of you think God wants us to live a life where we’re afraid of Him? And we do what we do out of…oh my God, I’m afraid to make a mistake. He’s gonna beat me down. He’s a powerful God and I’m just afraid of Him.
Oh, God wants to take us beyond that. Oh, thank God, He doesn’t want us to serve Him that way. And I see in the account of Job…I see a lot of me, I see a lot of us, but how God had a purpose…Satan obviously wanted to bring him down. But God had a purpose of taking this one man that he saw was so zealous to try to do what was right and please Him, that He wanted to lift him out of a place of serving Him out of this fear. He wanted Job to have a knowledge of God and to know that there’s a bigger picture than just worldly prosperity and circumstance.
I mean, even Job is wrestling with the fact that…he’s trying to tell his friends, look, it’s not as simple as you’re saying. Don’t you know that there are people that are wealthy and wicked and they’re just doing fine, and their lives are great? And don’t you know that there are good people that have bad things happen to them? I mean, it’s not that simple.
But the mistake that Job makes trying to make sense of the world and what’s happened to him…the thing that he really falls in the ditch on is, he is so convinced of his own righteousness. He’s basically saying, all I need to do, if He’ll just get with me, I can plead my case. I can tell Him that I haven’t done anything wrong. What’s going on?
That’s not a good place to be, because we’ve got a God who knows a little bit more than we do. He has a bigger picture and a larger purpose. He knows what He’s doing. And so, that was the mistake he finally makes. He begins to question God. He begins to say, I’m not so sure that He really is just. I know I haven’t done anything!
I mean, you think of the fearfulness of a man whose kids have a party, and what’s his reaction to that? He says, they might have sinned. I better offer a sacrifice. I mean, there’s this fearfulness in everything that he’s doing. Yes, he wants to please God, but it’s so distant, God is just somewhere out there and I’m afraid of Him.
And so, God begins to take him through all of this. And what is God’s approach to…when He finally shows up on the scene and he talks to Job? Job, where were you when I founded the earth? Tell me all about it. And He goes through all of creation and the stars and the creatures and all of that. Where were you?
And Job, all of a sudden…he’s just standing there…oh my God, I think I know stuff. My perspective is so limited. This is an amazing God. He has purposes beyond what I can imagine. And in all of this, at the very end of it…Job repents of what he did.
And I’ll tell you, there’s a God who came right to him. He was not ready to smack him down because you didn’t do everything perfectly. This was a God who was looking for a reason to lift someone up and to bless them.