Heb 13: Two Things Worthy of Imitation in Spiritual Leadership

2 Corinthians – Teaching #1: Repentance and the Reality of Spiritual Battle (pt3 of 3)

Instead of binding you with religion, Paul said, you were not bound under my leadership. Actually, as an apostle, I will allow myself to be bound for your sake. For the sake of church planting and missions, I will endure whatever hardships come my way because Satan doesn’t want God’s work to advance. If you are living sold out for God, suffering will come. Persecution will come. The world will hate you because of your love for Jesus. It’s guaranteed.

2 Cor 11
28 Not to mention other things, there is the daily pressure on me: my care for all the churches.

There will be suffering because of Satan’s hostility to the advancing of God’s kingdom in the world. But for Paul, the pastor, his greatest suffering came from attacks from within the church. He could handle the beatings and the starving and the imprisonment and being shipwrecked. What he had a hard time handling was spiritual attacks from Christians or from false teachers who turned Christians against him.

We have to recognize that when Christians fight and slander and mistrust, Satan is at work. 2 Cor 10:3-5–

2 Cor 10
3 For though we live in the body, we do not wage war in an unspiritual way, 4 since the weapons of our warfare are not worldly, but are powerful through God for the demolition of strongholds. We demolish arguments 5 and every high-minded thing that is raised up against the knowledge of God, taking every thought captive to obey Christ.

Similar idea in the next chapter, 2 Cor 11:13-14–

2 Cor 11
13 For such people are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. 14 And no wonder! For Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.

False apostles are not simply those who have their theology a bit off. They are deceitful workers of Satan himself. Doctrine is important. What we belief as a church is paramount. If we are not careful, we could cross over to the enemy side and unknowingly advance his agenda. It’s hard to tell between a true and false teacher because on the surface, they look very similar. Satan himself disguises himself as an angel of light.

We don’t talk about spiritual warfare enough. But any teaching that places an idea or a person in the position of ultimate significance in lieu of God has demonic origins. The deception enters–2 Cor 11:3–through our minds. Through a false teaching. A slight distortion of the truth. When that thought lingers, it becomes a stronghold.

If you think about all of your destructive habits or negative behavior, I can guarantee that you will be able to trace it back to some stronghold in your mind. A thought pattern. Take for example, a person who wronged you. You could have everything–family, career, money, friends–but why does our mind dwell on people who wrong us? We get stuck on unforgiveness. It becomes a stronghold. A thought pattern that you meditate on day and night. You become enslaved to it. Spiritually, because of that stronghold, God’s love, God’s forgiveness, His purpose for you life, none of it penetrates. Spiritual death eventually sets in.

I want you spend time praying through your strongholds. Thought patterns that you can’t let go of. Thoughts that dominate you and pull you down. You have to wage war in prayer against these strongholds.

Prayer is a powerful weapon that can demolish strongholds. How? 2 Cor 10:5, by–

2 Cor 10
5 …taking every thought captive to obey Christ.

First question to ask yourself, do you want to obey Christ? If you don’t want to obey Christ, then you will not have sufficient motivation to demolish every stronghold by taking every thought captive. Obedience is the fuel, the motivation for doing spiritual battle in prayer. If you can answer yes, I want to obey Christ, how do you take every thought captive? Take a thought–I’ll never forgive blank, I’ll never change in blank, I’ll never become blank, I will never experience victory in this area–take one of those thoughts and take it captive. Bring it to Jesus. Lord, you know I can’t forgive this person. I recognize this as a spiritual stronghold. Help me, Lord. In the name of Jesus, I break this stronghold. By the blood of Jesus, I take this thought captive. It is bound and taken care of in Christ. Protect me from having this thought again. I might not be able to forgive this person but you can, Lord. Please renew my mind with your Word, your promises. In Jesus Name, Amen

When a thought comes in, visualize the Word of God demolishing the fortress where this thought is allowed to live and thrive.

In closing, Paul would not be a popular preacher today. He did not talk exclusively about God’s love and grace and the fact that He has a plan for you. Isn’t God great? No, he called out sin when he saw it. 1 Cor 5 – when he saw a brother in an incestuous, adulterous relationship with his stepmother while his father was still around, he called that man out in front of the entire church and urged him to repent. Paul was not seeking the approval of men.

1 Cor 11 – when brothers and sisters were coming to the Lord’s table and eating up the entire meal so that other members of the church who came later starved, Paul called them to repent.

2 Cor 6 – when Christians were shacking up with non-Christians, he called the people to repent. He wasn’t afraid to grieve people. The full gospel involves both the depths of human sin and the greater love and grace of God that can cover our sin. When we preach the gospel, we have to speak about both sides–our sin and God’s grace.

But Paul did not merely identify sins. He gave us a model to follow in prayer to be victorious over our stubborn, besetting sins. Let’s put this into practice by taking every thought captive in order to obey Christ. Let’s ask God to awaken our eyes to the reality of spiritual battle so that we wouldn’t merely mouth words of repentance. We need to be aware of Satan’s schemes and to battle sin in our lives on our knees.

Matt 26 – Jesus is Worth It: Love Extravagantly (pt3 of 3)

Underlying Judas’ betrayal, the motivation behind why Judas said, why wasn’t this money given to the poor was his love of money. Let’s call it what it is. Money was his idol. Judas didn’t love the poor. He didn’t love Jesus. He was ready to betray Jesus for $1,000. That’s how much Jesus was worth to him. Jesus was so cheap in his eyes.

We look at this despicable, treacherous act of betrayal and we think, we’d never do that. We would never sell a human being, much less the Son of God, for a measly $1,000. If you are thinking this way, then you don’t know yourself. You don’t know the power of money to grip your heart. You don’t Scripture, which is filled with plenty of warnings about the deceitfulness of wealth.

Take for example 1 Tim 6:6-10.

1 Timothy 6
6 But godliness with contentment is a great gain. 7 For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out. 8 But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. 9 But those who want to be rich fall into temptation, a trap, and many foolish and harmful desires, which plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and by craving it, some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.

These verses apply directly to Judas. Judas loved money more than Jesus. It was his love for money which ultimately caused him to betray Jesus and lose his faith. No one can serve two masters. God or money. Money is the only thing that Jesus warns us to watch out for because it is on par with God in the sense that it has the potential of enslaving and controlling us like no other idol. A paltry sum of $1,000 compared to the infinite worth of Jesus Christ. It’s unthinkable. But it happened to one of the 12. The same thing can happen to us if we are not careful.

What Mary did stands in stark contrast to what Judas did. You can’t juxtapose two more opposite responses to Jesus–one of considering Jesus to be so worthy, so worthwhile, so worth it that Mary would pour out $25K in an instant and the other of betraying, selling cheaply, murdering the Son of God for $1,000 bucks. You can’t put two more opposing responses side by side.

Jesus praises Mary for her expression of extravagant love. Listen to what he says in Matt 26:13–

Matt 26
13 I assure you: Wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told in memory of her.

Why is this act to be proclaimed wherever the gospel, whenever the life of Jesus is preached? Because Mary demonstrates how all of us should respond to Jesus. The only appropriate response to Jesus is extravagant love. Absolute surrender. Giving our very best. Laying down our idols at the feet of Jesus. Giving it all. Mary gets it. Therefore, wherever and whenever the gospel is preached, Mary’s story will be told alongside the gospel in memory of her.

It doesn’t end there. We have to notice the verse that came right before, v12–

Matt 26
12 By pouring this fragrant oil on My body, she has prepared Me for burial.

It’s awesome to consider what is happening here. Mary, Martha and Lazarus are throwing Jesus a thank you dinner. They were not among the inner circle. They might have heard some sermons from Jesus about his imminent death. But like the 12, they had no idea that the end was so near. To think, Mary’s extravagant act of love to Jesus was more than a thank you dinner. It was much bigger in its spiritual significance. The timing of it was such that her act was a symbolical preparation for Jesus’ actual, physical death and burial.

Sometimes, we think what we do for the Lord is no big deal. We just surrender what he asks to surrender. We sacrifice because he asks us to sacrifice. We serve because there is someone in need. We preach and lead somebody to Christ because that’s what Jesus asks us to do. And we think it ends with our obedience or meeting a need or serving someone and that’s the end of the story. Like Mary, it’s just a thank you dinner. People will eat, Jesus will be touched and go home.

Be encouraged–in Christ, whatever we do may have ripple effects that continue on for eternity. Our surrender, our sacrifice, our obedience today, these things that seem momentary may far outlast the moment. We never know what our obedience today will reap tomorrow or next year or decades from now. Your life and my life matter. Our obedience matters. Even what we think is a small sacrifice or a small act of obedience may be multiplied and the ripple effects could continue for generations to come.

For Mary, she broke the alabaster jar and poured out every last drop of the oil. She did not hold anything back. Every time the gospel is preached, this is the only proper response. Laying down everything else. Pouring out every last drop. Maybe when you first heard the gospel, you had this type of response. Lord, you died for me. I repent of my sins. I lay down my life. I surrender. I give up. I’m tired of leading my own life. I want you to lead now. I trust you. I will follow you all the days of my life. Things were crystal clear when we heard the gospel for the first time and responded.

What about the 10th time you heard the gospel? Or the 100th time? Is your response as radical after the nth time of hearing the gospel as it was the very first time? The same level of thrill and gratitude and amazement and wonder and love expressed from the core of our being. Extravagant love gushing forth from our very souls that we experienced the first time. Is your heart still capable of responding to the gospel in the same extravagant, radical way today?

Growing up, my parents used to tell me, everything in moderation. Too much of a good thing is bad, they said. When I was born again as a sophomore in college and they saw my zeal for Jesus, they told me the same thing. Everything in moderation, even faith in God. I know they meant well and in many cases, this is good advice to follow. Too much food is bad. Eat in moderation. Having fun is good, but too much pleasure seeking can kill you. Generally, this is good advice. But when it comes to God, I have to disagree with them. There is nothing moderate about the Christian life. Weren’t you willing to give up everything when you first accepted Christ into your heart? Has the radical demands of the gospel changed? Or have you and I changed?

If any voice tells you to moderate your love for Jesus, don’t listen. Let your affections for Jesus be lavish. If any voice tempts you to want to be rich monetarily as your highest aim, don’t listen. Jesus is your treasure, and all that money can buy cannot compare to him. In response to the worth of Jesus, Mary’s heart was full of wonder and thankfulness and joy overflowing in lavish demonstrations of affection. And Judas’ heart felt none of that but valued money more than he valued Jesus. Mary loved Jesus. Judas loved money. Mary’s heart corresponded to the treasure that Jesus is. Judas’s heart contradicted the treasure that Jesus is.

When you buy a drink at the movies and they charge you $5 for a coke, you think, what a waste? You can get a case of 24 cans at Costco for that price. It’s a waste because what you are willing to pay and the actual cost doesn’t match. Brothers and sisters, it’s never a waste when we give our all to Jesus because how can our best ever measure up to the infinite worth of Christ?

Mary gets it. Lavish love, extravagant love is the least she can do in light of Jesus raising her brother to life and forgiving her sin and promising the gift of eternal life. Check yourself. Are you grateful for Jesus today? How is your gratitude being expressed? Before talking about ministry and missions and service to others, how is your relationship with Jesus? Is it characterized by this kind of joy and reckless abandon and surrender? Giving Jesus your best because he is totally worth it.

Lastly, consider the fact that this anointing happened in a room full of people who were there for this thank you dinner. Not your usual dinner, but a dinner where 16 ounces, pound of oil were poured out. Even a pinch of perfume is powerful enough to envelop a person with a haze of odorous fragrance for an entire day. Some guys make the mistake of treating cologne like it’s deodarant. They haven’t showered so they spray it on. This is not a pinch, but a pound of perfume. The house must have been filled with the fragrance of the perfume. Heartfelt worship of King Jesus is never merely private. It always spills over onto others—one way or the other. The lavish, heartfelt, sacrificial, grateful display of affection was for Jesus. But, everybody around them must have been blessed. Focus on loving Jesus the best way you can and people around you will take notice. Jesus Is worth it. Let’s love him extravagantly each day the best we can.

Matt 21, 23 – Deceived by a Figless Fig Tree (pt2 of 3)

How does Jesus respond to this kind of spiritual leadership?

8 “But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have only one Master and you are all brothers.

There are no masters and disciples among us. We’re all brothers and sisters. There is only one Master and his name is Jesus Christ.

Same logic in v9-10.

9 And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. 10 Nor are you to be called ‘teacher,’ for you have one Teacher, the Christ.

One Father in heaven and one Master/Teacher, Jesus Christ. Jesus is the head of the church and he is the only person to whom we submit ourselves to wholeheartedly. Christian leaders, we should never demand blind loyalty and unquestioning submission from our sheep. Only Jesus can demand this level of obedience from anyone.

Why is Jesus worthy of our absolute and total obedience?

11 The greatest among you will be your servant. 12 For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

Jesus is worthy to be obeyed because he humbled himself to the lowest point. He was the humblest man who ever lived because He was God and yet he allowed himself to be crucified. He was obedient to death, even death on a cross. He humbled himself. Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. We can choose to humble ourselves and in due time, God will exalt us. Or, we can try to exalt ourselves, even in the arena of church or ministry. If we exalt ourselves, God will humble us.

Now we get to the seven woes. When you see the number 7, look for a pattern. The technical term is chiastic structure. Jesus as a master teacher doesn’t just randomly list 7 bullet points. Even the structure communicates something significant. There is a mirroring going on in this section. Woe #1 mirrors woe #7. Woe #2 mirrors woe #6. Woes #3 and #5 mirror one another. Woe #4 stands on its own. It stands in the center. It is most important. In the interest of time, I want to focus on this fourth woe because it pulls all the rest together.

23 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. 24 You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.

During Jesus’ day, there was a debate as to how far the law of tithing should extend. The consensus was to include green veggies and garden herbs. Jesus does not condemn this level of observance in matters of tithing to include even small things like these vegies and herbs. But Jesus does condemn fussing over these relatively unimportant matters while neglecting the more important matters of the law–justice, mercy and faithfulness. He likens this to trying to strain out a gnat but swallowing a camel. Both are unclean creatures. Who would want to eat a gnat or a camel? You don’t want to eat either but at least the gnat is tiny. A camel is huge. How can you focus on a tiny gnat when we are ignoring the huge camel that is going down your throat. Tithing your side salad is so insignificant compared to justice, mercy and faithfulness.

This illustrates a fundamental failure on the part of the religious leaders to discern the main thrust of Scripture–justice, mercy, faithfulness, loving God, loving neighbor, the Great Commission, the gospel. And when the main thrust of Scripture is lost, then everything unravels as evidenced by the other 6 woes. Truth is mis-represented, leading to a corruption of the people and utter spiritual blindness. Blindness to the point that they could not recognize true revelation when it comes supremely in the person of Jesus the Messiah.

This leads us back full circle to Matt 21:18, the section that speaks about the fig tree.

18 Early in the morning, as he was on his way back to the city, he was hungry. 19 Seeing a fig tree by the road, he went up to it but found nothing on it except leaves. Then he said to it, “May you never bear fruit again!” Immediately the tree withered. 20 When the disciples saw this, they were amazed. “How did the fig tree wither so quickly?” they asked. 21 Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and it will be done. 22 If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.”

Jesus condemning a fig tree seems a bit random at first glance. Jesus was hungry and he goes to a fig tree. And apparently, he expected to find a fig to eat, but there is no fig present. There again is the reference to fruit. For this event to make sense, we have to understand how fig trees grow. Fig trees grow by first producing figs and then the leaves come out. So if a fig tree has full leaves, it’s a sign that a fig must be present.

In the gospel of Mark, the same incident is recorded. And we learn that it was not fig season. So it’s odd that this particular fig tree would have leaves. Because again, full leaves are a sign that fruit is present. But the presence of full leaves in this case was false advertising. It was all show. There was no substance. No fig. And Jesus curses the tree so that others would not be fooled and go to the tree like he did looking for fruit.

Jesus uses this fig tree as an object lesson for the religious leaders. You guys are just like this fig tree. You have all the leaves, but there is no fruit. The Jewish religious system had become a man-centered enterprise, devoid of God’s presence. Essentially, it was empty, dead religion. Just like they had turned the temple moments before, from a house of prayer into a den of thieves, Jesus switches metaphors and uses this figless fig tree to be a sermon illustration for the spiritual state of Israel.

What an important lesson Jesus has wrapped up in this fig tree. There have been churches which have stood prominent in numbers and in influence. But a humble dependence on Jesus has not been maintained, and the Holy Spirit has left them. All that is left is a vain show of a fruitless profession. And these churches adorn every block in this country. They may be run very efficiently and have great programs. But they are dead, and every year they become more and more decayed.

May it never be so here at the Hill, at this church. We are small in number at present. And there is a humility that comes from being small and unimpressive in the eyes of the world. There is a dependence on Jesus that may go away as God adds to our number, and this body grows to be a considerable size of men and women professing to be converted. But unless godly, Spirit-generated fruitfulness is present in our midst, what good would it be? We might have a thriving ministry one day, but what good would this be without the Spirit of God? We might have a large membership one day because living things ought to grow, and one day we might have many outward ministries to serve our community. But what does it matter without the spirit of prayer, the spirit of faith, the spirit of grace? I pray that we would never end up like this tree. We might have eloquent professions of faith among us and yet be worthless in the sight of the Lord because the secret life of piety and devotion to Christ are gone.

This is the lesson of the text, but I do not want you to consider this text only in terms of churches and organizations and institutions. May we apply this truth soberly to our own hearts. The reason why we go over salvation testimonies deliberately, carefully, painstakingly for our prospective membership candidates is because we want to make sure that your profession of faith was not just mere words. In too many churches, someone comes forward and makes a decision and everyone hugs them and congratulates them and the person who made a decision never questions their salvation for the rest of their lives. They might stop going to church for decades or they might be committing blatant sin year after year, but they always point confidently to the decision they made when they were a child or a teenager. We may profess Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, but only fruit validates that the profession is one born out of a genuine conversion.