Living Life in Anticipation – Part 4
|By: Dr. Michael Easley; ©2007|
|How should we “do life” in the Christian community as we await the return of Christ?|
Living in Anticipation – Part 4
This message was recorded at the Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove in Asheville, North Carolina. Through the ministry of The Cove we’re training people in God’s Word to win others to Christ. It’s our goal to develop Christians who experience God through knowing Him better, knowing His Word, building godly relationships and helping others know Him. We trust that this message will strengthen your walk with God and help you experience Him right where you are.
Our brother who asked a question yesterday about the generation; it’s from Matthew 24:34. It’s mentioned in each Gospel except John, and that’s the question about this generation will not pass away. It’s the word genea, generation. And the best I could come up with; there are two main views. One believes it has to do with Israel will not cease to exist until all that Christ has prophesied occurs. That’s one view. The other view that I think makes a little bit better contextual sense, Jesus is not talking about that audience. He’s talking about the generation that will be in play when these events begin. So, for what it’s worth.
All right, we are in 1 Thessalonians and we’re wrapping up chapter 5 this morning. The unique thing about teaching a book of the Bible as opposed to topics is that you come across topics you wouldn’t normally teach. Because if you’re going to do six “How To” sermons, or five “Better Life” sermons, which is all fine, well and good, you then piecemeal the passages you want to use to support and defend and illustrate those points. But the unique part about teaching through a book of the Bible is you come across some things; it’s not always what do I get out of it for me, but what does revealed Scripture tell me that I need to be about and to do? And this is one of the reasons I’m so committed to teaching expositionally, not that I don’t teach topically, but I believe that diet should be an exposition of the text, not just, you know, taking things we like to talk about.
In this section, in chapter 5 verses 12 through the end of the chapter, we are living in community. We’re talking about, Paul’s teaching the Thessolinicans how you, we use the cliché “do life”, how you live as a body of believers in a community of fellowship. To review a little bit of the book of Thessalonians, Paul talks about being chosen by Christ as an apostle of His. And he’s traveled to Berea, to Athens, to Corinth. He stayed about 16 months and was chased out. And in Corinth where he is staying he is waiting for Timothy to bring back this reconnaissance, news about the church of Thessalonica. And so he can’t go back because of the fear on his life. And he hears these images of what the gospel’s doing, how the message of what Paul did is taking root, and Timothy becomes the emissary.
I don’t know if you think through this from time to time, but Acts 1:8, of course, when Jesus said, “You’ll be My witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the remotest part of the world,” it’s like taking a rock and chucking it into the pond and the gospel’s going to go global. In the book of Acts in 1:8 is a little outline of the whole book geographically and theologically of the issues of taking the gospel into Judea, into Samaria, and into the remotest part of the earth. If you then take the three missionary journeys, those maps in the back of your Bible—that are just like the introduction you refer to all the time—if you look at those journeys each one expands Judea, Samaria, the remotest part of the earth.
So what Christ told them in Acts 1:8 becomes actualized through Paul, the greatest missionary in some respects who ever lived. And his passion of course to go to Rome, to go to Spain, to take the gospel everywhere he could possibly take it. And when you see the Billy Graham Library, I think back on the apostle Paul. I think, how did one guy plant so many churches? Well, because God’s Spirit sent him to do it. And those churches were established by Paul, and certainly millions will be before Christ because they heard the gospel through one man named Billy Graham.
Well, when Paul gets the letter from them he addresses issues of their fear, their worry about what happens when people die, their worry about the Second Advent. And Timothy brings the message back and forth. And Timothy brings the news of their faith, their hope, their love, that they’re growing. And it’s a great encouragement to Paul that he went there and planted this church. Some argue it was only about three weeks he was there. And there’s a good argument for that. And yet this church took traction and took off and was growing and dealing with some pretty interesting questions.
Now one of the things we’re going to read about here, let me just go ahead and read verse 12 to get us oriented: “But we request of you, brethren, that you appreciate those who diligently labor among you, and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction.” Now, you know, probably, that Paul’s letters are almost 50/50, 50% theology and doctrine and pretty heavy stuff, and then almost always about half practical application. And if you think through his letters and just go through them, Ephesians 1, 2, 3, you know, they’ll wind your watch theologically. And then chapter 4 he gets very practical. And we see the same thing here in this section of the book; it becomes very practical application. So the foundation is theological; the doctrine is laid out. Now, what do you do with it? How do you live? So what? And that’s the section we’re looking at this morning.
The leaders of the church, “those who diligently labor among you,” I believe are the office of the elder. It goes back to the synagogue model from Exodus 18 when Moses’ father-in-law comes in and sees him getting worn out and says you need to appoint faithful men. And we have that model then in the first century. I believe the synagogue model is the model for the local church. Jesus, of course, is a Jew; He comes up in that system. Paul goes to the synagogues in the cities. So we learn a great deal about the polity of the local church. Acts 11:30 they send in charge of Barnabas and Saul to the elders. Acts 14:23, when they appointed elders in every church. So part of this church planting motivation of Paul is they look for leaders. More than likely they were Jewish leaders when they were in a synagogue. When they were Gentiles they had a little more work to do to get them up to speed.
There are two primary words; you know this, used in your Bible to talk about elders, presbuteros and episkopos. Presbuteros we get the word “presbyter;” episkopos we get the word “Episcopalian,” or as my dad calls them whiskey-palians. First Timothy 3, Titus 1 and 1 Peter 5 give us the snapshots about the character, the quality, the kind of person that the elder is supposed to be. Episkopos and presbuteros are used a little interchangeably, but I do believe there’s a distinction between the terms. Presbyterian, the presbuteros, literally means older. He’s been around the block awhile. Paul warns about making a young man, a neophyte, don’t make a neophyte a leader because he’ll get arrogant and he’ll be proud and he won’t know how to lead.
You need somebody who’s been around the block; who’s shown their Christian life to be pretty straight and solid. I like to say he’s raised a couple of teenagers. Parenting is easy until the hormones kick in and then you don’t have a clue what you’re doing as a parent. You make it up every single day. And so how did he, how did his wife, how did they live through those teen years? And I had this thing in my head, late 30’s early 40’s (Paul). Timothy was probably in his 40’s. But the idea is older, that he should be older.
Now the word episkopos, if you listen to it carefully, the word skopos is tucked in there. What does that sound like? A scope. What do you do with a scope? You overlook, you oversee. Epi is over; skope, look—overseer. And the word’s translated “bishop” for some reasons I won’t get into, but the idea is it’s a person who oversees something. So the words, although interchangeable, I think do have some distinctions. Number 1: they are an office not a gift. The role of a church leader is not a gift. You may have a gift of leadership, but the role of a deacon or a presbyter or a session or an elder, whatever your church might call them, this is not a gift; this is an office that they are elected to, they are appointed to. And every church has different polities.
Duane Liftin, I had him at Dallas Seminary before he went off to Cambridge and later Wheaton. Duane Liftin taught a course on Pastoral Leadership and he said you can have the best polity, meaning how you do church, and the wrong people and have a disaster. You can have the worst polity and the best people and have a good church. I’ve never forgotten that. I’ve probably quoted that 1,000 times. The best polity and the worst people and have a disaster; the worst polity and good people and have a good church. And it underscores this is about the character of the individual, the kind of person you put in those offices and the kind of people you vote on perhaps as the congregation or as a pastor and we need to be careful.
Fred Smith said, “The time to fire someone is before you hire them.” And whenever our guys talk about elders I go, wait a minute. We’re going to take some road trips with this guy. We’re going to farm team him. We’re going to give him some assignments. I don’t care what anybody says about him, we need to get to know him really well. I want to be in his home for dinner. I want to see how he deals with his wife and kid. If they snipe at each other I want to know, because you don’t put this guy out there if he’s not a good godly man. When I would commission elders at one of our churches I would go through this big thing and I’d say, when we finish this service we’ve just stamped the word “example” on your forehead. Are you ready for that? That’s why it’s not an office that should be eagerly sought after, but prayerfully considered.
“But we request of you brethren that you appreciate or respect those who diligently labor among you, and have charge over you,” there’s the episkopos notion, “in the Lord and give you instruction; and that you esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Live in peace with one another.” So let’s think a little bit about respecting and esteeming these elders, these leaders. The address is to brothers, so we’re talking to the church now. The request is to appreciate them, to respect them. We’re urged to know their worth. We’re urged to honor them.
We have a culture that dishonors everybody. I don’t think anybody other than a Hollywood star gets any honor for a while, and that’s so fleeting today. I mean, can you name any heroes? Do we have a name that America would say he or she is a hero today? Our culture’s changed such a great deal. So we need to think of it differently. If you’re an attorney and you have some young upstart attorney coming out of law school, he or she works for your firm and they’re, got vinegar and vim and they’re excited and they’re going to change the world with law. And you’ve been practicing law for 30 years, baby. I mean, you can help them, right? If you’re a financial planner that’s been around the block; if you’re a doctor who’s been down the block; if you’re a teacher who’s been around the block; you can offer. And unfortunately the younger generation doesn’t always appreciate, esteem, those who are older. That’s, you know, that’s just a given. Get over it. But we can work to honor as Christians those who are older and who have a profession or something.
So that’s the notion here about the church leader. We respect him. We honor him. We talk about pastors. We talk about community group leaders, small group leaders. We use all sorts of language, but the injunction here, those who you would call in your church political structure leaders, earn and deserve and command your respect. Know them and esteem them. Three reasons we’re given in the text: Number 1: they diligently labor among you; number 2, they have charge over you; and third, they give instruction, or some of your Bibles might say they admonish you.
They diligently labor among you. It’s the same word used for physical labor. It’s the same word used for evangelistic labor. Do the work, Paul told Timothy, of the evangelist. It’s a very interesting verse, by the way. Unless you’re a gifted evangelist, you do the work of the evangelist. I watch these snippets of Billy Graham’s life. There’s no question he’s a gifted evangelist. And we were talking last night about who’s the next Billy Graham. Where are the next Billy Sundays and D.L. Moody’s and, you know, the next great leaders? We always wonder that. I try to share the gospel. I do the work of the evangelist. I am not gifted at it. I’m lousy at it.
And we always tell sitting-on-the-plane stories, right. So I sit on the plane and I’ve got my Bible, doing my Bible study and that’s worse than putting a 45 pistol on your little lap tray. You open your Bible on a plane today, buddy, you’re going to get looks. I mean, you’re going to have people give you the sneers. And I have this big Bible because I can’t see anymore, and I just put it out there. And I got my pens and I put my earphones in, and once in a while someone will ask some questions. And I try not to be a, you know, a multilevel marketing guy. I try just to be matter of fact about it. And sometimes I get into a discussion and we’ll have a good discussion. One time this guy, I mean, he was so close to the kingdom I felt like Agrippa. He was so close to the kingdom and he said this is the most interesting conversation I’ve had in my life. And that was as far as I could get it.
You know, if Billy Graham had been on that plane that guy would have come to Christ. He would have shared Christ with the guy beside him. That guy would have shared Christ with the woman behind him. She would have shared Christ with her whole family. They would have come to Christ. The flight attendants would have come down and they would have come to Christ. They’d have gone into the pilot’s cabin and they would have come to Christ. They’d have landed the plane early on a lake and baptized everyone by immersion in the name of Jesus and flown to their destination and had a revival.
But we work at it. God is not concerned about your success, He’s concerned about our faithfulness. That’s so liberating to me. He’s not concerned about you being successful. He’s concerned about you being faithful. “Diligently labor among you.” Calvin says “All idle bellies are excluded from the number of pastors.”
Secondly, they have charge over you. They are superintendents. The word is used in 1 Timothy 5:17. Elders who rule is the same word. They have charge over you. Hebert writes, “Their position does not stem from ambition, but spiritual maturity.” They have charge over you in the Lord. Listen to Hebrews 13:17: “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls”—What a concept! “They keep watch over your souls”—“as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy, not with grief.” Oh man, I wish that was true. “For this would be unprofitable for them.”
I have a friend, Dr. Alan Hull. He’s a retired surgeon, lives in Ft. Worth, Texas. He was an elder of the church that Cindy and I, when I was going to Dallas Seminary, we attended a little church called Trinity Fellowship in north Dallas. Ed Blum was the teaching pastor, elder, and Alan Hull was one of the elders. And they had this, you know, no one was the senior elder or the chairman, but everyone knew Alan was. And Alan was this Canadian guy and he has this little wry smile about him. Alan is one the most godly men I’ve ever known in my life. Alan’s name was quoted all the time in this church. Dr. Hull said this. Dr. Hull said that. Dr. Hull said this. It always blew my mind. Many times I have gone back to Dallas. In fact, last summer I was with him and I still respect him. And of course, he says, “Oh, Michael, you have a bad memory. You have confused the facts.” He just denies it all. But he is one who has charge and he has had charge over me and I seek his counsel.
The third reason to give respect is they give you instruction. Some of you might be in the counseling field or you might know the word “nouthetic.” There’s a notion of nouthetic counseling. That’s what this means. Nouthetic is more at teaching and instruction, rather than just unpacking and trying to help a client find out why they feel the way they feel and understand some of their history and their dynamics and their genograms and all helpful tools. Nouthetic is the idea, okay, let’s identify these are the issues and problems. Now, let me teach you how to navigate and negotiate and work through those. It’s just a different modality, but that’s where the word comes from, from our language to teach and instruct them.
First Corinthians 4:14, “I do not write these things to shame you, but to admonish you.” Henry Morris writes “While the tone is brotherly, it’s big brotherly.” I’m going to teach you. You ever have your mother or grandma say “I’m going to learn you something”? That’s the line of nouthetic. They have instruction over you. And, you know, it is their job sometimes to give them a dose of admonishment. If elders don’t give you a dose of admonishment they’re not doing their job.
I shared in many occasions one of my graduate school professors and Dr. Hull had admonished me on a number of times. One particular time I had only been in the church ministry about two years in Texas and I was in kind of a malaise and, you know, cranking out two sermons a week to a handful 120 people. And, you know, all they wanted to do was have a nice little sermon, sing a few songs and go to the cafeteria. That’s all they wanted to do. And I was just, you know, full of juice and vim and vigor, a 28-year-old, and I want to change the community for Christ and lead people to Christ and see our church grow and, you know, all that kind of nonsense that they teach in seminary.
So I’m with this little church, they’re wonderful people, but I’m just banging my head against the wall. So I made an appointment to go see Dr. Hull. And I drove to Dallas, about a 40 minute drive, and I went in his office. And there were two Subway sandwiches wrapped up and he’s got this phone on and he’s signing stuff. He’s got an assistant there with papers. And there’s papers all over his desk and he’s like a one-armed paper hanger and he’s just working and working and working. And he says, “I’ll be with you in a minute.” And he’s talking and he’s, you know, got another doctor on the phone talking about a patient, and on and on and on.
And he finally puts the phone down, the woman walks out and he goes, “There’s your sandwich, eat it. I’ll be with you in a minute.” So I’m munching on my po’boy waiting for Dr. Hull to give me a minute. And finally he says, “How are you doing? What do you want?” And I start just talking, about four or five minutes of whine. And he looks over his reading glasses and he says, “Did you come here to whine?” He says, “What do you want?” And I kind of whined a little more and he took his glasses off, he says, “Michael,” he says, “do you have a question for me? Do you want something from me? If you’ve come here to whine, I don’t have time. But if you want something, let me know. Take your sandwich and go home.”
He admonished me that day. And I walked out and I went, he’s exactly right; I’ve got to clarify what my problem is. Now, that’s nouthetic, and I think sometimes we need that. I mean, I’m all about validating feelings, but you don’t want to get any warm fuzzies from Dr. Hull, brother; you ain’t going to get them. You’ll die first. And those kinds of men have had huge influence in me. Sometimes I need a kick in the seat and that’s the idea.
Number 1: we are to respect our leaders. Verse 13: “You esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Live in peace with one another.” Secondly, we are to esteem these leaders, verse 13. Esteem them very highly, an extra dose. Ephesians 3:20, “Far more abundantly than we ask,” the same language. “Live in peace with one another,” the next phrase. A healthy church is a church that lives at peace with one another. There’s sniping going, there’s a little backbiting, a little gossip. You know, I have this theory that whispering is rarely good. If you’re in the hallway in the church and you’re whispering, it’s probably not good. Now it could be okay; it could be you’re talking about a problem you have. But I would bet, well, let’s be generous, seven out 10 times it’s just gossip. Seven out of 10 times you’re whispering it because you don’t want anybody to hear what you’re saying for all sorts of obvious reasons.
Warren Weirsbe summarizes this passage of “accept them, appreciate them, love them, obey them.” That’s pretty good. Accept them because they’re God’s gift to the church. Appreciate them because they’re faithful servants of Christ. Love them because we’re supposed to; they’re over us and obey them. Hebrews 13:17, obey your leaders and submit to them. Appreciate them. Accept them. Appreciate them. Love them. Obey them.
Now, the question becomes, okay, I don’t like my elders. They’re not godly men. I don’t like our leaders and our pastors and they aren’t the quality and character of all that. Well, I can only say this; if we don’t pray for them and love them and support them and honor them and esteem them, we have no right to ever confront them. Now, if we’re praying for them, if we’re honoring them, if we’re loving them, if we’re respecting them, we’re speaking well of them, and if they’re not qualified, there are proper ways to deal with it, and you go to them in love. You go to them in Galatians 6 perhaps, not sin necessarily, but you go to them in love.
Cindy talked with a leader in our church this past week, and she thought about it for a week on how to talk to this person. And she went and sat with her and she asked her some opening questions and she said, “Can I just make some observations about a meeting that you led recently?” And she said, “Sure.” And Cindy just made some factual observations about a meeting. She said, “Now, I know this is not what you intended to communicate, but this is what we all heard.” And she pointed out some things to that young woman, and she said, “Wow!” Now Cindy did it in love. She did it carefully. She thought about it. She didn’t go in there and give her a piece of her mind. She just said, “Let me make some observations about how you’re leading this area of ministry.” And the woman said to her, when she left, she said, “Would you like meet with me once in a while to help me?”
Now see, that’s when you’re honoring those who are in leadership, because Cindy’s not going to sharp elbow and say “Get rid of that person. They’re, you know,…” because we’re all in process, right. And I think that’s the way we approach. And, of course, if they don’t respond well there’s a whole other story we don’t have time for.
We hear a lot, and rightly so, about good leadership. And we hear a lot today;… I am disturbed that churches are reading more books about CEO’s than about the Christian leadership. And I’m concerned. I love all this stuff I read, and most all of it that comes down the pipe and because I have to, and half the time I’m reading it. Why don’t we just study what the text says about being a good guy, the leader? And we’re always, forgive me, a whoring for the next successful thing. And that’s why I’ll be a dinosaur and just teach the Bible. God has ordained leadership for His church. He’s given us structure for it. We are imperfect men and women and we have to navigate and live in community.
Last year Cindy and I were talking to the church at Fellowship about whether we wanted to come there. And we had a visit and I sat with the elders for a number of different settings. And I walked away after my first impression, I said, “You know what, Cindy? They love God. They love their families. And they love this church.” That’s a pretty good crop of elders. Not perfect guys. Some of them are more involved than others. Some of them are too involved. But they’re good men. They love Christ. They love the Lord. They love their families and love the church. And so those are the leaders in our church.
One of my good friends was an elder at Immanuel Church where I served, and he worked more than I, and I was paid full time. He worked more than me. And he would meet with me at 6:00 in the morning at this terrible restaurant, the only place that was open. And he always had papers and he wanted to do business. And he’d meet at night and he’d want to have extra meetings. And I said, “John, John, John,” I said, “Come on, man, let’s just go have lunch, can’t we.” And he’d just, “Oh, we’ve got to get this done. We’ve a lot of work to do.” And so he was a great elder because he moved, he’d press me. One day I said, “John, you know, you work at the church all your spare time. This is like your hobby.” And he leaned back, I can still see him leaning back. He said, “What do you want me to do, play more golf? Go sit in front of the TV?” And, boy, did he upbraid me. He’s exactly right. What better thing than to spend his life trying to help the local church? And wow, did he help our church in an extraordinary way! It’s practical stuff, isn’t it? Love them, honor them, so forth and so on.
Well, we move into verses 14 and 15, which really talks about always seeking good. Let me read it? “We urge you therefore, brethren, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with everyone. See to it that no one repays another with evil for evil, but always seek after that which is good for one another and for all people.”
Now, I don’t know about you, but I like stories of revenge. I came across a recent book by Mitzi Szereto called Getting Even: Revenge Stories. This is what the flyleaf of the book says: “If you’ve ever been betrayed this book is for you. Getting Even is a collection of stories about the passion and the sweetness of revenge. If you need a lesson in love, or to end love, take a cathartic trip through the murky waters of vengeance with these unsettling stories.” Boy, I bet that sells. I also found a few websites, www.revengelady.com, www.revengeguy.com, and www.makehimpay.net, stories of revenge for your shorn lover.
“We urge you therefore, brethren,” is a summary statement of exhortations to help one another. And Paul gives three various scenarios. These aren’t exhaustive, but they’re inclusive. They cover a lot of ground if we understand these three. First, admonish the unruly or the idle. We saw it again in verse 12 just a second ago. This is the warning of their conduct or lack of good conduct. Idle and unruly means they’re out of line. It’s a military term in a march when you’re out of line. You admonish them to get back into line.
A friend of mine is an enlisted army man. And in the army they marched these guys just, I mean, endlessly. And he said, “You can almost fall asleep marching,” you know, “because you’re just doing it for hours upon hours upon hours.” And they were supposed to turn left and he turned right. And they stopped the whole thing and his sergeant just shouted, you know. He says, you never forget your drill sergeant’s name, you know. And so he sends him and he goes, “Cramer, go out there and find a rock.” So he runs and he gets a rock. And he goes, “Put it in your right hand. That way you’ll remember what right is. I don’t want to ever see you without that rock.” And for five weeks he had to carry this rock in his right hand. And then about the day before they were out of boot camp, “Cramer, I’m going to turn around. I don’t want to ever see that rock again.” He chunked it as far as he could. I said, “Don’t you wish you kept it?” He goes, “No!”
Turn right; he’s out of line, get back in line. Admonish the unruly. Second Thessalonians 3:6 says the same thing: “If anyone is not willing to work, don’t let him eat.” Boy, that’s a great verse for your kids. Any of your kids, some of you are older and your kids are gone, but any of your kids hate to work when they were young? All kids love to work? My kids, they think it’s like capital punishment to do a little chore, so I give them lots of chores. They just hate me for it. Sweep the garage. What would take five minutes takes two and a half hours, and they don’t even do it right. And so I say, “Sweep it again.” I say, “Why are there cobwebs on all the corners where you swept? They didn’t grow there in between you sweeping.” And we have this ongoing battle. They hate to work. I love this: if you’re not willing to work, don’t let them eat. I try to teach my kids to work. I really do. My oldest got it. My second got it. The two younger ones are still in process. But to teach them to work, to take initiative, to, this is admonishing.
Now, this is talking about the local church. If they’re unruly or they’re idle, get them to work. Idle hands are the devil’s workshop, the old line. You know, if you’re serving, if you’re involved in the community, if you’re doing stuff you’re not going to be idle. You get off the couch, get off the Internet, get off the Facebook, get off the texting. The whole new set of diagnostics going around with texting and Facebook and twittering. And the culture is being more and more pulled away into this little formal thing, informal thing, where there’s no depth of relationship; little snippets, but there’s no intercourse of communication. Social networking and it’s only a little snippet. And we’re raising a culture that I think is in peril of understanding how to have a relationship. And we’re to admonish the unruly. We’re to “learn” them: Go to work. My boy, Devin’s working at Chic-fil-A. And it’s the best thing in the world because he’ll listen to his boss at work when he won’t listen to me, right. Because it’s about getting that 30 cent raise and he likes that money in his pocket. That’s a good motivation for him at this stage in life.
Number 2: to encourage the fainthearted. How do we help one another? We admonish the unruly and the idle. Secondly, we encourage the fainthearted. We talked about encouragement already. Fainthearted here means small soul, a person who’s despondent, or perhaps anxious, or perhaps fragile, or struggles a lot of the time. Now that’s not to say we all don’t struggle. I believe we do. Some are better at denial than others, but we all struggle at different times. Some are quick to work through problems, maybe they’re in denial. But be that as it may, the point here is we’re to encourage those who are fainthearted.
Encouragement, as I said last night, is a powerful, powerful, powerful unused gift, to say an encouraging word. When I bought my first home, my dad is a very handy individual. He’s a master of no trades, but jack of all. And he can build a lot of things, and he’s a pretty good basic carpenter. And for whatever reason, when I bought a home my dad gave me a vice, a bench vice. It’s a guy thing. I don’t understand it, but it’s this big old bench vice. And then when he came to visit me in my new home we had to build a workbench. Now, my dad’s from a depression mindset, which means you never buy anything. So we built the workbench with what lumber we had around, which consisted of 2X4’s. And it was a good workbench and we built it high because I’m tall and I hate leaning over.
But the problem was we didn’t have a decent table top or some really substantial lumber to put the vice on. We had a quarter inch piece of plywood which is not sufficient for a top. You need three fourths of an inch. But it’s all I had and you don’t buy anything. And there were new homes being built around. He goes just keep trolling and when you see some old lumber out there you’ll find some they’re going to throw out, pick up some lumber. That’s how I was raised. And so one day I’m driving home and I go through and sure enough there’s a bunch of 2X12’s laying there and I go up and yeah, it’s trash. I throw them in my old car and I take them home. And then one day I found a piece of three fourths ply and I put it in my car, and I put that three fourths ply on there. And I found 2 2X12’s and I put them on both sides of that thing and I put big old three eighths inch bolts in there, and I mounted that vice on there.
You could have put a Volkswagen on the end of that workbench and it wouldn’t have leaned. And that what it means: to encourage that vice. That’s what the word means, to build up. Encourage one another and build one another up just as you are doing. And when someone’s fainthearted and they’re soul is thin and they’re weak and they’re fragile and they’re easily hurt, we want to build them up. We want to encourage them, put some 2X12’s around them, encourage them in huge ways.
The power of a hand written note I will never understand. For years I have cranked out one, three, five a week. I have little things that, you know, I just write a note, for years. And I don’t do it to say anything about me. I try to encourage people who are having a hard time. There was a gentleman years ago who called me in the middle of the evening and he was all distraught, and their only daughter had come up pregnant. And you would have thought their world, I mean, you would have thought she was killed. This poor couple they over-parented her. She’s a beautiful young lady, they had great plans for her and she got pregnant with a little townie boy in the college town she was going into, and they were devastated. So I finished dinner and drove over to their house and I spent about an hour and a half with this family, just holding their hands and praying with them and saying, “You know, this isn’t the end of the world. Just give it some time.”
Well, we had left the next day to go on vacation, and I was studying Proverbs. And a couple of Proverbs just popped into my mind for this family, and I took out a piece of paper from the place we were staying, and I wrote them a fairly long note. And I wrote out the Proverb and I said I’m praying this for you and your wife today and your precious daughter, and da, da, da, da. And then I folded it and I mailed it. Never thought a thing about it again. If I see that man to this day he opens his Bible and he says, “I still have that note you wrote me.” And in God’s great kindness this young man came to Christ, then he got a good job. He’s providing for his family well. And I go on their Facebook page and they’ve got three of the most beautiful grandchildren in the world. And the coolest thing is this young couple will be empty-nesters and have a lot of life in front of them because they started when they were 16, or 17, whenever she was when she got pregnant. But that’s the good side if you make it.
Encourage the fainthearted. Romans 15:1, “Now we who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of those without strength,” look at this, “not just to please ourselves.” We think about that in the context of the stronger/weaker brother, but, boy, that last phrase gets me, “not just to please Michael.” I’ve got to bear the weakness of some people around me. You can do a whole lot worse than if you left this week at The Cove and you made the decision, “I will encourage someone, one person every single day. I will choose to say something good to one person every day.” Maybe in a note, maybe in an email if you’re an email person. I don’t think email has the same power of a hand written note. I don’t understand that, but I just don’t think it does. I know when I receive a hand written note versus an email, even if the email’s personal, it’s quick; it seems a little cheap. I don’t know how to explain it. Of course, with postage the way it is I’m sending more emails than I used to. But just, what if you said, as a result of this three days at The Cove, I’m going to commit, the first thing I’m going to ask in the morning, “Lord, who could I encourage today?”
You know, I spend a lot of time in doctor’s offices and waiting for tests and MRI’s and blood work and x-rays. And the staff who work in these places are some of the most, well, think about what they do for a living. They deal with sick, uncomfortable, you know, people. That’s all they deal with. And so every morning they’ve got an office full of sick, diseased, uncomfortable people, and they’re grouchy and crotchety and “the doctor didn’t do this” and “the doctor didn’t do that.” And so you try and see it from the gal behind the desk, the nurse that comes in, the man who comes in and draws your blood. You try to see it from that perspective. I learned a thing early on. You be really nice to these people and your medical care will go way up. In fact, if you go back to the same office often, take a dozen doughnuts next time. You will get better medical care than the government can ever give you. It’s like Floyd hugging those people behind the cafeteria. I am telling you take a dozen doughnuts next time. Take some flowers. Go by the grocery store, $6 and say “Look, I thought this would brighten your day because I know you deal with a bunch of sick whiny people all day long.”
I had a doctor back in Virginia who’s a Catholic individual. He tried so hard to help me, and I got this little card and I wrote a note to him and sent it to him. It was an HMO, it was a machine of people. He sees 60 people a day and he really did try to help me. He had great compassion. He couldn’t, but he tried. And I wrote him this note and I went back a month later to get some MRI’s and x-rays read about my back. And I went to his other office and he put them up. And I looked over there on his desk and you know how you get a card and kind of fold it and set it? And right by his computer was that card I had written him. I thought, wow! I didn’t say anything; I just saw the card there.
So then God just put this guy on my heart and I’ve prayed for him. I said, one day I said, “Dr. So and So,” I said, “and I know patient/doctor things kind of weird, but can I take you to breakfast just to say thanks for helping me?” And he said, “Sure.” Blew me away. So we met at this little place up in Seven Corners up in Virginia and we had breakfast about once a month. And I shared Christ with him till I was blue in the face, and he’d sneak into church sometimes where I served and he would never tell me. He’d sneak in and he’d hear a sermon; he’d buy the cassettes or the CD’s and never tell me. And over the years he came to Christ. And it just boggles my mind—because I wrote a card and said thanks for trying to help me.
You know, encourage people. Just encourage them. Encourage the fainthearted. If all you saw all day long were people with bad backs, who were in excruciating pain, how would you view the world? And that’s what these poor people do. There’s a difference between encouraging people who are discouraged and dealing with the unruly.
Third thing under here is help the weak. Help those who are weak. Here it means sick, literally, that they have a limitation or inability. If you’re around, if you know anything about heart problems, you’ll hear the word astheneo which means a weakness of the muscle or a weakness of tissue, astheneo is the loss of strength and that’s the word here. Help those astheneo. Mark 14:38, “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is,” same word. Jesus says your spirit’s willing, you want to pray, but your flesh is just weak, and so you fall asleep when you should be praying instead. It’s an inner poverty and we’re to help them.
William Neal says, here are some ways; the weak include, a lack of knowledge, a lack of courage, a lack of stability or purpose, an inability to endure. A person who is easily offended, who can’t take criticism, a person who’s unable to control their appetites or their impulses. Those are the kind of people we’re supposed to help, Paul says, help the weak. Acts 20:35, “In everything I showed you that by working hard in this manner you must help the weak,” same word, “and remember the words of the Lord Jesus that He Himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” You know that’s called the forgotten beatitude cause it’s not recorded in the gospels, but Paul quotes it there. It’s more blessed to give than to receive.
Help the weak. So who around you is weak? And I will make an observation. They’re always going to be weak. There are some people in my life, every time I see them coming, I take a breath and I say, “Jesus, You’ve got to help me,” because I want to admonish this person. But this is not the one you admonish. This is the one you’ve got to help. You got any very draining people in your life? I mean, you see them come and it’s like “Danger, Will Robinson! Danger Will Robinson!” We’re teaching creation right now in the church, and I’m a young earth guy. And you wouldn’t believe the hate mail I’m getting from the guys that believe in old earth. And they want to meet with me to straighten me out. And I go, okay, are these unruly or are they weak or are they just jerks? I mean, I don’t know what else,… can’t find the jerk word in the Bible, but I’m looking hard for it, you know.
I’m going, do I spend my time there? We’re going to have a meeting and we’re not going to change our opinion, and I’m not grinding the axe saying if you believe in old earth you’re going to hell, but you might. But I’m not. I’m saying, you know, I just don’t think that’s what the Bible teaches. You can, we can agree to disagree. And, boy, these guys are really, you know, they’re old earth guys and they’re scientists that think they’re smart. I say, well, I think the Bible smarter than you, I’m sorry. I’m a simpleton.
So we’ve got to help the weak. And then there’s other ones that come; in pastor circles we call them “face time.” Every single Sunday you preach they’re going to come down and have face time with you. And if you had a controversial sermon you have good long line. I like that. If you have a boring sermon nobody comes down. Then you feel, oh, gosh, I just bored your people; forgive me, you know. And you skulk home. Pastors go fetal on Sunday after they preach. They go home and they suck their thumbs. And they go, I did the worst sermon in the world. Oh gosh, why am I in this profession? They look in the paper for a job. I mean, every Monday morning a pastor’s trying to find another career. It’s true. It’s true, even guys like Swindoll, MacArthur. What else could I do in life, you know, because you just; oh, you beat your brains out to preach. You preach, you know it’s a terrible sermon, and you go home and, what did I do to these poor people? I preached in a church one time and on the pulpit it said “What are you trying to do to these poor people?” A pretty good reminder, a pretty good injunction. That’s a good question. I don’t have any idea what I’m trying to do to you.
So you have these people and they get in line. They want to talk to you. Years ago I made a decision. I said, you know, I’ve talked for 30-45 minutes at people and I better give them the time to talk to me. And I stay there sometimes till the lights are out. There was this one guy in Virginia, bless his heart, he was married. They didn’t have any kids. He had too much time on his hands. And he would come down and stand in line and he’d always have his Bible open. He’d ask these questions. And he’d go on and on and on and on, every Sunday. And there’d be five or six people deep and he’d just commandeer the time. And finally I said to him one time, I said, he came up. I put my hands on his shoulders. I said, I’ve got a favor to ask you. I’m happy to talk to you; you know that. Every single Sunday you come down here. Have you ever looked behind you? A lot of these people are guests, a lot of them are first time visitors, a lot of them are someone who wants me to meet their mom or dad, who came from out of town. I have a favor. Park yourself in that front row and let me say hello to the rest of these people. And he said, “I never thought of that.” I said, “Great, sit down and shut up.” And he did. Unfortunately he took me literally and he stayed there till the last one was gone, I still had to talk to him. Every time I saw him coming I went, “Lord, give me Your love for that man, because I do not love him. I don’t even like him, but I have to because I have to help the weak.” Because it’s not just please myself, Romans 15:1.
Astheneo, I’ve got to help them. You know, if you become a doctor you sign on to help sick people. You might think you want to do it for different reasons, but if you’re going to be a doctor you’ve got to help sick people. You’re never going to have a patient come in and say, “Doc, I’m fine, just wanted to say hello!” They bring out the lists; here’s all the medicine’s I’m taking. Think about that poor doctor or PA or nurse that’s got to deal with you and me. Help the weak. Help the weak. That’s what our job is as a believer in Christ. We’re to help the weak. It’s more blessed to give than to receive.
Now think about life in the community. If instead of coming to church to get; I didn’t get anything out of the worship, I didn’t like the songs, I didn’t like the sermon. Instead of getting we came to say, how do I help the weak? How do I encourage the under encouraged? How that would change the community of the church that you walked in the door every Sunday. This Sunday you walk in the room and you and your husband, your wife if you’re married, look around, who are we going to help today? Who are we going to encourage today? You invite that single mom and her three unruly kids over to your house for dinner. You take that international person who’s scared out of their wits to walk in your all white church and you say, “Let me take you to lunch afterwards. Let’s hear your story. How’d you come to the States? How long you been here? Why are you, you got family back in your home? Tell me about yourself. What are you doing here?” It will change their life.
Cindy and I years ago started doing a thing on Thanksgiving, and we call it the highways and byways ministry. We had a little church in Grand Prairie, Texas, and there was a small Wycliffe contingency, these mostly little gray haired ladies who never married. And they were missionaries and they had, you know, a lot of them had just long illnesses. And they were godly, sweet little people, but they had no resources. They had no place to go and church was their only real home. And so they come to church on Sunday. And I said, “Hey look, let’s just open our house to anybody who doesn’t have a place to go on Thanksgiving.”
Now we had about maybe a 1400 square foot home in that day, and we had 21 people the first Thanksgiving; some singles, some, you know, older, and some widows. And we had the time of our life. And they brought some dishes and we brought some board games out and we did the typical, what are you thankful for. I mean, we directed it some. We led it. What are you thankful for? Give me three things you’re thankful the Lord’s done in your life and hear some of their stories, go around the table.
And at about 10:00 at night I’m flossing my teeth saying these people need to go home, honey, you know because they were still there. And I thought, wow, what a ministry. They had no place to go. So every year we did this. Well, our height was 36, I think. And one Thanksgiving my oldest daughter who was, I don’t know, fifth or sixth grade at the time, she said, “Dad, can we just have Thanksgiving just with our family?” And I looked at her mom and said, “Sure, let’s just do it with our family.” So we go through this whole thing, the turkey, the dressing, you know, 18 days to prepare for this 20 minute meal, you know. And then we finish and Hanna goes, “This is really boring.”
So the next Thanksgiving and ever since I think we have 35 or 36 coming to Nashville for Thanksgiving. And that’s been our family tradition. And a lot of them are highway and byway people. They’ve got no place to go. And I’ll cruise the halls on Thanksgiving and I’ll look around and I’ll see some lonely weak person I know has got no place to go and I’ll say, “Hey, what are you doing Thanksgiving?” Set one more, honey, not a problem. Now I’ve got a wife who learned to handle that. Early on she couldn’t, had to have 12 settings and 12 placemats and 12 chargers and 12 glasses and 12 everything, and we had to have enough food. She changed. Now it’s like I don’t care if we have enough food, just bring them. I said, “Honey, we don’t have any solo cups. So what?” Let’s go buy some. She’s gone a 180 on me, but we have a lot of fun.
Those who lack knowledge, lack courage, lack ability and purpose, lack ability, inability to endure, easily offended, can’t take criticism, unable to control their appetites or impulses, you and I are to help them. Who are you helping? Who are you encouraging? The final charge in verse 14 sums it all up, “Be patient with everyone.” This attitude captures all that he says in these admonitions and instructions. “Be patient with everyone.” So if you’re going to deal with the unruly and the fainthearted and the weak, you’ve got to be patient.
I learned as a parent I like to lecture more than my children like to listen. Lecturing feels good as a parent. I love to lecture my children. And now, in God’s kindness, I’ve learned I say one factual sentence and I walk away. I just give them one factual sentence. I took my 20 year old out the other day. And she started beauty school on Monday, and by the way, she loved it, and that was good news. She brought a girl home she just met. She brought her home to the house. We live close to where the school is. And Cindy cooked them a little sandwich and met this little girl and she was all excited about, yeah, we’re like busy all day. We don’t just sit there. We get up and we do things, and she’s all excited about it. We’ll see how long that last.
And I took her out to lunch the week before she went to school, and I said, “Jessie, I want to tell you one thing, this one thing, honey.” I said, “There’s going to be lots of drama in beauty school. You’re going to have some of the most dramatic people you’ve ever met in your life. You’re going to have some crazy girls and you’re going to have some girls like you that really want to do this as a profession. And you’re sucked into drama real easily.” And she knows that. She has a lot of fun at her own expense because she just everything, you know. The story’s this big, but it’s an epic movie when Jessie tells it, you know. And it gets bigger every time when she tells a story. “I just have one encouragement for you; don’t get pulled into the drama.” That’s all I told her. Any more information; too much information. She’s not going to retain it, not going to hear it. And so we talked. She talked about it Monday with her mom. She said, “Dad said, ‘Don’t get sucked into the drama.’” Now, I don’t know if that’s the right way to parent, but I just know that I fail most of the time so I’m trying something new all the time.
Be patient. The fruit of the Spirit does not manifest overnight. The “fruit” is singular, by the way. It’s love and all the rest is a manifestation of the fruit. It is not the “fruits” of the Spirit. One of the pet peeves I have, like the word “revelations.” It’s not the fruits of the Spirit, it’s the fruit of the Spirit and it’s love, which is joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness. It’s all manifestations of love. If you love you’re joyful. If you love you’re patient. If you love you are self-controlled. So the fruit of the Spirit takes time.
Paul exhorts the community with the power of pastoring. There are no senior pastors who do this all. And for those of you who are pastors, you listen to me, if you’re doing it all you’re not following the Word. It’s not your job to do it all. It’s a community. So have you moved into anybody’s life to help the weak, to encourage the fainthearted, to admonish, to instruct those who need help? And if not, why not? It might be a big step. It might be kind of scary. Colossians 3:12, “So then as those who have been chosen of God,” if you’re a believer in Christ you are chosen of God, “holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion.”
Interesting, that’s the injunction, of the first thing, “Put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, bearing with one another, forgiving each other. Whoever has a complaint just as the Lord forgave you so you also should forgive.” Verse 15, you know we end, “See to it that no one repays one another evil for evil, but always seek after that which is good for one another and for all people.” Always seeking that which is good. The NIV says, “make sure” or “be on guard” or “be careful,” all good renderings. So we’ve got an injunction here of non-retaliation. Don’t get even. Don’t take revenge.
I like revenge. Any of you know David Mamet, the filmmaker, playwright? He’s written about 800 plays. Some of his plays are extraordinary. He wrote the movie “Untouchables” if you remember that with Kevin Costner and Sean Connery and Andy Garcia. Another movie that Kevin Costner almost acted, but Sean Connery was brilliant in the movie. I don’t recommend it. It’s a pretty violent movie. Robert DeNiro was in it. But I loved the film, sorry. Elliot Ness is played by Costner, it’s based on a true story, loosely.
And there’s a scene in it where Elliot Ness, Sean Connery, has been killed by a guy named Vinnie. He’s murdered him and it was his friend. I mean it was Costner’s, Elliot Ness’ friend, John Malone. And so through a long chase scene—if you go to Chicago they actually have an Untouchable’s tour. You can pay $30 and they’ll take you in a van and show you where all these scenes were filmed and the building tops and the heights and stuff and they’ll take you up and they’ll show you where they filmed the jumps and stuff. It’s pretty fun—And so he chases them all over these Chicago buildings on the roof lines and stuff.
And at the end of it he’s finally caught, apprehended, and he’s going try to bring him back. And Vinnie makes this comment about how he killed John Malone and how he screamed. And Costner loses it and he takes him to the edge of the building. And Vinnie, he can’t, you know, “you can’t do this. You’re a fed, you’ve got to honor the law.” And he talks about it, “I wish you could have heard him scream,” and Costner pushes him off the building, and he screams and he goes, “Did he sound like that?” And Vinnie falls about 30 stories and hits his car. And then Kevin Costner goes back in the courtroom and Andy Garcia says, “Where’s Vinnie?” And Costner says, “He’s in the car.” I know I’m sinful, but I just love that. I just love that. You know, he got revenge. He killed his friend.
No one repays evil for evil. Always seeking good. Boy, it just dismantles us, doesn’t it? The Christian teaching is to turn our cheek, evil for evil, injury for injury, the talionic justice of the Old Testament is gone in Christ. There’s no more eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth, cut for cut. The general principle here is about doing good, not about getting revenge. At the end of the day God’s justice is better than man’s revenge.
Second, we’re told to seek after that which is good for one another and for all people. We’re still talking about community. Am I seeking good for another person? How do I help them? I read the proverb a while back; I forget the reference: When it’s in your power to do good, do it. When my kid comes in and asks me to do something for them, if it’s in my power, do it. Don’t say no. Don’t exasperate. Don’t wait. If it’s in my power to do good, do good. And the “one another”s, of course, come back here. Seek after, ongoing objective. Seek after, agatha here is the word “good.” If you’re named “Agatha” that’s what it means. Seek agatha.
Not long ago I was having coffee with a friend at the Starbucks. We were sitting outside, got down to maybe two ounces of coffee in the bottom of my cup, no cream, no sugar, just black coffee. We were sitting outside, and as a guy who’s worked in both sides of the food service, I hate to put drinks in a trash can, so I always pour out, you know, whatever it is before I put the cup in the trash can. So I’m sitting out there talking to my friend and I walked, you know, about the distance from here to the first row there, with my cup, and I poured the black coffee on the black top, not on the curb, not on the grass, but on the black top.
In the process of doing that I walked away and there were two guys sitting there, and this guy said, “You got it on my car.” And I said, “Really?” And I walked over there and I’m not exaggerating, there were like three, they weren’t even drops, droplets, right where the fender of the car comes down by the tire. And it was a very, it was like a $70,000 Mercedes. And I said, “I am so sorry. I apologize. Let me get a paper towel and wipe it off.” He goes, “You got it on my car.” I said, “I’m really sorry.” I said, “It’s just coffee, there’s no cream or sugar in it.” He goes, “You got it on my car.” And I laughed. I went, “You’ve got to be kidding me. It’s three little droplets of coffee.” And he got angry.
And at this point I went, well, paper towels are going to scratch the finish on this guy’s $70,000 car, so I can’t win here. And I said, “What do you want me to do?” And he went like this. Now at this point I’m Kevin Costner. I’m going to push him in the car, you know. I’m like, “You’ve got to be kidding me.” And I laughed and I went, “You’re kidding!” And his friend stood up and said, “This is no laughing matter.” And I was going, “You’ve got to be kidding me.” My friend at this time says, “Michael.” I turn around and he goes, “Give him the money.” And I said, “I ain’t got any cash.” And Bill pulls his wallet out, and all he had was a $20. He says “Give