Isaiah 58:1-12 // The Fast That God Desires

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Text: Isaiah 58:1-12, CSB

Prayer for Illumination

Almighty and Everlasting God, let us feast with gladness upon Your holy word that it may give us strength to love You and love our neighbor. In the name of Your Son, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.

Introduction

I never knew my great-grandfather personally. He went to be with the Lord when I was just 6 months old, but I’ve heard many stories about him and about his character.

One of the things that I hear about a lot is that when supper was on the table and there was only one piece of chicken or one piece of cornbread or one piece of whatever left, he would never take it. He always wanted someone else to have it, and I think that attitude of self-denial for the sake of others is what God is commanding here in Isaiah 58. Peter Leithart notes:

“For many throughout church history, fasting is bound up with hostility to matter and the body. We refrain from bodily pleasures of food and drink to train our souls in disembodied life.

That’s not biblical. The biblical fast, as Isaiah 58 puts it, is to share food with the hungry and clothing with the naked. The true fast gives good things away to those who don’t have them.


Biblical fasting, then, assumes the goodness of material things, and the propriety of pleasure. After all, if food and drink and clothing are evil, why would we want to share them? Isaiah’s fast assumes that creation is so good that we want everyone to have a piece of it.[1]

What we have in this passage is a distinctly different message about fasting than the one we hear on mainstream Christian media.

  • There’s very little teaching and preaching about fasting anymore, but when we do hear it mentioned, it’s not spoken of as a way to be more devoted to God, or as a way to refrain from our own resources so that we can share them with others.
  • Instead we hear it spoken of like a glorified hunger strike to “earn God’s favor” or to get God to “release” blessings into our lives as some false teachers on TBN or Daystar would tell us.

 

However, these people that Isaiah is addressing would probably fall right in line with all of that nonsense on mainstream Christian media because if we’re being honest, our human nature hasn’t changed much since Isaiah’s day.

 

  • Our sinful nature would like to believe that we can manipulate the blessings of God with a hunger strike and call it a fast, and believe that it will be acceptable, but this in no way resembles the fast that God has chosen.

 

As we look at the text, I want us to break it down in four parts:

  • V. 1 – God’s Command to His Prophet
  • V. 2-5 – God’s Accusation Against His People
  • V. 6-7 – God’s Instruction To His People
  • V. 8-14 – God’s Promises to His People

God’s Command to His Prophet (v. 1)

“Cry out loudly, don’t hold back! Raise your voice like a trumpet. Tell my people their transgression and the house of Jacob their sins.” – Isaiah 58:1, CSB

 

We need men and women in our day with a prophetic voice who will cry loudly and not hold back when it comes to the issue of sin.

  • Sin separates us from God, and to be separated from God is a fearful thing, and ultimately I think the reason we don’t see a lot of pastors talking about sin the way the Bible does is because they don’t believe God or they don’t believe God will keep His word in regards to all of the warnings that He gives concerning sin.

 

Ezekiel 18:1 is very clear: the soul that sins shall die. People are dead in their sins, marching aimlessly towards death, hell, and destruction and the only way they’ll be made alive is if someone cares enough to proclaim what God has spoken.

 

  • It’s a sad thing when we allow people into our pulpits who don’t believe that heaven and hell, life and death, salvation and damnation aren’t high priority issues, but I’ll tell you what is: winning at life, living your best life now, making sure every day is a Friday.
    • You can win in this life, and lose in the next life.

“Whoever tries to make his life secure will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it.” – Luke 17:33, CSB

Losing doesn’t sound like a bad idea. Now, does it?

This is the whole reason that Isaiah is commanded to cry aloud and not hold back. God’s people are trying to fast try to do all these acts of piety and religion, not for God, not for others, but for themselves.

 

  • They’re giving things away to get an ego boost in return.
  • They’re esteeming their lives and their egos of more worth or value than the people they’re supposed to be helping, and as a result, God doesn’t hear them!
    • It’s not as if God has a hearing problem. It’s not as if God actually can’t hear what’s going on, but God refuses to entertain the prayers of those who refuse to repent.

 

That’s why Jesus tells us that if we’re giving a gift to God, and we remember that someone has something against us, we can’t pretend like everything is okay. We have to leave our gift at the altar, make things right with our brother, and then give the gift. (Matthew 5:23-26)

That’s why Peter says in 1 Peter 3:7, that if a husband doesn’t treat his wife with honor and understanding, then God will not hear his prayers.

 

God isn’t going to entertain the prayers of people who think they’re going to get some kind of divine pat on the head for being good little boys and girls. Instead, God brings an accusation against them.

God’s Accusations Against His People (v. 2-5)

“They seek me day after day and delight to know my ways, like a nation that does what is right and does not abandon the justice of their God. They ask me for righteous judgments; they delight in the nearness of God.” – Isaiah 58:2, CSB

 

If we just look at verse 2, then they appear to be doing right, but as we continuing reading, we see that all of this is just for show.

 

“Why have we fasted, but you have not seen? We have denied ourselves, but you haven’t noticed!” – Isaiah 58:3a, CSB

 

They want God to be impressed with them.

 

  • “Look, God! Can’t you see all we’ve done for you!?”

 

And this is God’s response:

 

“Look, you do as you please on the day of your fast, and oppress all your workers. 4 You fast with contention and strife to strike viciously with your fist. You cannot fast as you do today, hoping to make your voice heard on high. 5 Will the fast I choose be like this: A day for a person to deny himself, to bow his head like a reed, and to spread out sackcloth and ashes? Will you call this a fast and a day acceptable to the Lord?” – Isaiah 58:3b-5, CSB

 

The accusation from God comes in three parts:

 

  1. They do as they please on their fast day.

They’re going through the motions. They don’t view their fasting as an opportunity to seek God. Instead they’re going about their day as they normally would, they’re committing the same old sins and transgressions that they normally would. They’re oppressing the same people that they normally would, but by golly, they’re in the temple every time the doors are open.

 

  • They make life harder for their workers.

 

In the temple, they’re worshipping, they’re leaving their offerings, and they’re making sure everyone knows that they’re fasting, but then they go to work and make life harder on the people around them.

“During Isaiah’s time, the temple in Jerusalem was standing room only. No one missed a service. They sang psalms – old ones, new ones, all kinds of psalms. They said prayers and gave offerings. What they did not do was let worship trouble their consciences. If they kept their distance from God, then they could also keep their distance from God’s children. They did not want to make connections between their worship and their neighbors. They ignored the poor and everyone else they wanted to ignore.[2]” – Brett Younger

 

Think about that one line that Younger said out of that quote though – “What they did not do was let worship bother their consciences.”

 

  • How many times have we done that? How many times have we refused to allow ourselves to be convicted, and we just shoved it off by saying, “Oh, that preacher is just trying to make me feel bad. He’s just using scare tactics.”
    • All the while, God’s word is doing it’s work on us, it’s piercing our soul and spirit, it’s dividing our bones and marrow and we just squirm in our seats and hope it’s over with, but the reality of the situation is that letting God’s word work on us is the best thing we could do.
    • If you take a 5 year old to get a shot, they’re going to sit there and squirm and probably cry because they’re afraid of the pain, but the truth is that the best they could do is just sit there and let it happen. It’s the same way with us. The best thing we could when God’s word pierces us is just sit there and let it happen because we’ll come out better on the other side. We’ll be more conformed to the image of Christ than we were before.

 

 

  • They think they deserve to be heard.

 

“You cannot fast as you do today, hoping to make your voice heard on high.”
– Isaiah 58:4b, CSB

 

Think about what Jesus says in Matthew 6 about the hypocrites and the Gentiles.

 

“When you pray, don’t babble like the Gentiles, since they imagine they’ll be heard for their many words.” – Matthew 6:7, CSB

 

  • When we think that we have a right to be heard because of what we do, then we won’t be heard.
  • A couple of weeks ago, Kirk preached on Joshua 7 about Achan storing gold from the enemy in his tent after God had spoken the people and told them to destroy everything.
    • We can’t expect the fruit of obedience when we pursue disobedience.

 

The accusation against God’s people is clear: they have an entitlement problem. They want to believe that they can be rewarded by worshipping God in the temple, and making life harder for their neighbors in the workplace.

 

  • When you’re in a place of authority over other people, it’s easy to let your ego get in the way, it’s easy to allow yourself to believe that you are better than those that you’re over because, after all, you’re in this position, and they’re not, but as far as God is concerned everyone’s on the same playing field.
  • Think about the people we interact with on daily basis – the guy working the drive-thru at McDonald’s, the cashier at the gas station, the electronics associate at Walmart. Think about what happens when they make a common mistake.
    • Do we get out of shape about it, threaten to call corporate get some fired? Maybe not. Do we shoot them dirty looks and wish no one else was around so we could give them a piece of our mind? Maybe. Or are we patient with them because God has been patient with us.

 

So, God’s accusation against His people are clear, but so are His instructions.

 

God’s Instruction To His People (v. 6-10)

“Isn’t this the fast I choose: to break the chains of wickedness, to untie the ropes of the yoke, to set the oppressed free, and to tear off every yoke? 7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, to bring the poor and homeless into your house, to clothe the naked when you see him, and not to ignore your own flesh and blood?” – Isaiah 58:6-7, CSB

 

The fast that God chooses does five things things:

  1. Sets Free Those Who are Bound (v. 6)
    1. Verse 6 is a picture of freedom – breaking chains, tearing off yokes, untying ropes, etc. We know that Jesus is in the business of setting people free, and if that’s the case, then we as Jesus’ people should also be in the business of setting people free.
  2. Feeds Those Who Are Hungry – “share your bread with the hungry” (v. 7)
  3. Shelters the Homeless – “bring the poor and homeless into your house”
    (v. 7)
  4. Clothes the Naked (v. 7)
  5. Makes You Available to People – “not to ignore your own flesh and blood” (v. 7)

 

Fasting isn’t simply about giving up food, it’s about giving up our resources and rights for the benefits of others.

 

  • The most powerful example of this is Jesus Himself.

 

“Adopt the same attitude as that of Christ Jesus, 6 who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be exploited. 7 Instead he emptied himself by assuming the form of a servant, taking on the likeness of humanity. And when he had come as a man, 8 he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death— even to death on a cross.” – Philippians 2:5-8, CSB

 

We look at this picture of Jesus emptying Himself, becoming a servant, dying on a cross, and we might be tempted to think that he went through all that so that we wouldn’t have to go through all of that, but that’s not the case.

 

“Jesus didn’t die on the cross simply so that we wouldn’t have to, but he died on the cross so that we would take up our cross and follow Him.” – Dallas Willard

 

  • When you take up your cross and follow Jesus, then you go to die with Him.

 

Think about what Paul says in Galatians 2:20.

 

“I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” – Galatians 2:20, CSB

 

Think about each word and each phrase of that verse. Paul is saying very clearly that He died with Christ.

 

Back in Romans 6:3, Paul uses the same language of death and resurrection when he says that all of us who were baptized in Christ was baptized into His death, and we were baptized into His death so that we could be raised into newness of life.

 

  • The more you follow Christ, the more you lean into Christ, the more die to yourself, the more you do those things, the more you are living in the newness of life.

 

The more you find yourself living in the newness of life, the more you realize that you don’t need the material things that you thought you needed.

 

  • Yes, you need a house, but maybe you don’t need a 5 bedroom, 4 bath, 3 story house.
  • Yes, you need a vehicle, but maybe you don’t need a 2019 Lincoln Town Car.

Fasting and celebrating Lent is an opportunity to examine what you can afford to live without and share with others, but it’s also an opportunity to see what has a hold on us.

 

“More than any other discipline, fasting reveals the things that control us. This is a wonderful benefit to the true disciple who longs to be transformed into the image of Jesus Christ. We cover up what is inside of us with food and other things.[3]” – Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline

 

Once you see what’s controlling you, once you see what you can live without, then God makes a promise in verses 8-10.

 

  • It’s interesting to me that God isn’t simply calling us to a fast, He’s calling us to genuineness. He’s calling us to honesty.
    • These people that God is talking to may be able to live without food for a while, but they can’t live without power. They can’t live without prestige. They can’t live without privilege, and God says that if you really want to fast, then giving up your food isn’t good enough, you’ve got to give up these things too, and when you do, you get the benefits and promises listed in verses 8-10.

God’s Promises to His People (v. 8-14)

“Then your light will appear like the dawn, and your recovery will come quickly. Your righteousness will go before you, and the Lord’s glory will be your rear guard. 9 At that time, when you call, the Lord will answer; when you cry out, he will say, ‘Here I am.’ If you get rid of the yoke among you, the finger-pointing and malicious speaking, 10 and if you offer yourself to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted one, then your light will shine in the darkness, and your night will be like noonday. 11 The Lord will always lead you, satisfy you in a parched land, and strengthen your bones. You will be like a watered garden and like a spring whose water never runs dry. 12 Some of you will rebuild the ancient ruins; you will restore the foundations laid long ago; you will be called the repairer of broken walls, the restorer of streets where people live.” – Isaiah 58:8-12, CSB

 

Verses 8-12 in this chapter is a picture of how God intends for us as His people to live.

 

We are to be a people who fill in the broken gaps of the world with our love and kindness, specifically the same love and kindness that God has shown us in Christ.

 

The best illustration I can think of how this might work is that there’s a giant pot hole in the road that goes to and from our apartment in Lamar. That pothole is an area where the road is broken and in need of repair, and the best thing the city could do is fill that part of the road with new asphalt.

  • Well, as the church when we see brokenness, we need to do what we can repair it. When we give to the women’s shelter, when we give to the Main Street Mission, when we get a motel room for a homeless couple, we’re filling a need, we’re repairing the broken walls as it says in verse 12.

Conclusion

Fasting isn’t simply about subtracting from your life, it’s about adding to your life in place of what you subtract.

 

  • You fast from food so that you can add worship, prayer, and devotion.
  • You take time away from normal things that might bring you pleasure (that may not be wrong in and of themselves) so that you can seek a higher pleasure only found in God.

 

In the late 1700’s the Puritan preacher, Thomas Chalmers, preached one of his most famous sermons, “The Expulsive Power of a New Affection,” and the whole idea of this sermon was that it isn’t enough to simply abstain from sin, from worldly pleasures, from the love of the world, we have to replace those things with something else, namely a desire for God.

 

The question I want to leave us with this morning, is do we desire God?

 

If you fear that you do not desire God enough, and I think that’s a healthy fear to have, then you can pray, “God, increase my desire for You!” And that’s a prayer I believe He will honor.

 

  • It’s like the man who said, “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.” We can say, “Lord, I love You, but I want to love You and desire You more.” Let’s pray.

Closing Prayer

Heavenly Father, we hear these words from Isaiah 58, and we are convicted to the very core of our being because we are guilty, but by Your grace, You set the guilty free. We are like the woman caught in adultery, except we’re caught in selfishness, greed, pride, lust, and every other vice and fault we can think of, and like that woman, You tell us, “I do not condemn you, go and sin no more,” and that’s what we want. We don’t want to continue in our sin. We want freedom, true freedom that only comes from You. Set us free to love You and serve You. Set us free from carnal pleasure and desires. Give us a desire love You and love one another. Give us the grace and strength to love those that seem unlovable so that they can come to know You and be apart of Your family that we call the Church. We ask all of these things in the name of Your Son, Jesus Christ, who taught us to love one another. Amen.

____________________________

  1. Leithart, Peter, and Peter Leithart. “Fasting and Pleasure.” Patheos, Patheos, 6 Sept. 2017, www.patheos.com/blogs/leithart/2008/12/fasting-and-pleasure/.
  2. Brett Younger, “Homiletical Perspective: Isaiah 58:1-9a (9b-12),” Feasting on the Word, Year A, Volume 1, David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, editors. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010).
  3. Foster, Richard J. Celebration of Discipline: the Path to Spiritual Growth. HarperOne, 2018.

A Life Made Possible: A Review of ‘Hannah’s Child’ by Stanley Hauerwas

Hannah's Child Review

I don’t know that I could rightly identify as a Hauerwasian. I am a Calvinist, and I am quite happy to be in that camp. However, I knew he was the real deal when I read a quote that’s often attributed to him – “Jesus is Lord, everything else is bullsh*t.” When I first read that I knew I had to, at the very least, discover his background. After all, what is it that would cause him to such a conclusion and state it in the way that he did?

Hauerwas is a Texan by birth and the son of a bricklayer by trade. Through the course of certain life events (I’ll let you read the book to find out what those events are) he would end up in Divinity School not even knowing whether or not he was a Christian.

Maybe I’m wrong in what I’m about to say or maybe I’m just reading myself too much into his story, but it seems to me that in this book, Hauerwas not only takes us on his journey of faith but also provides an often critical commentary on Christendom in America from his raising at Pleasant Mound Methodist Church in rural Texas to his current home at the Church of the Holy Family in North Carolina, and everywhere in between.

For example, here’s an excerpt from Chapter 1.

“Pleasant Mound Methodist was Methodist, but like most folks in that area we were really Baptist,

(As the pastor of a Cumberland Presbyterian Church in Arkansas, I feel that deeply. 😏)

which meant that even though you had been baptized and become a member of the church, you still had the be “saved.” Baptism and membership were Sunday morning events. Saving was for Sunday nights. Sunday night was an hour hymn sing, a time for “personal prayer” at the altar rail, a forty-five minute to an hour sermon, and then a call to the altar for those convicted of their sin. If you came to the altar, it was assumed that you struck up a new relationship with God that was somehow equivalent to being saved. I wanted to be saved, but I did not think you should fake it.”

With this simple paragraph, Hauerwas puts into perspective and reveals that how we view corporate church gatherings in the South is just plain weird. (After all, the early church didn’t have hour long hymn singings from their Heavenly Highway Hymnal in the first few centuries. 😏)

As we follow Hauerwas up into the north (or as we might call it “Yankee territory”) he seems more at home in the churches in the north where ideas like church membership and the sacraments are treated with more gravity. Although Pleasant Mound (later named Pleasant Grove) would always be a special place, sometimes the place you call ‘home’ changes.

I can relate to that. My grandfather was the pastor at an independent Full Gospel church in a small town called Blackwell. Blackwell was known for it’s bar and two liquor stores. Hardly anyone knew that there were churches there, and honestly, I think that the churches were to blame for their own obscurity. God knows there was no shortage of people there to love and share Jesus with.

However, that little church was my home. The church disbanded and we left, but to this day, I still take drives to see the building and reflect on that wonderful place that I called home.

One of the most remarkable things that I was able to take from this book is how Hauerwas dealt with his first wife, Anne. His wife had some severe mental sicknesses that caused her to be irrational and often caused her to go into fits where she believed that she was in love with other men. Eventually, this led to their divorce, but for the time that they were married it was amazing to read about how gracefully and patiently he dealt with her. I think the reason that he put up with her behavior as long as he did was because they had a son together, and he was trying to keep the family together for his sake.

As someone who has been close to someone with severe mental disorders, his experience has informed my own, and has been a helpful guide for me in dealing with people who have mental illnesses but refuse help or treatment. Although, I don’t think Hauerwas would believe his work to be instructional, it truly has been instructional for me.

One other thing I would like to note about this work before I close out this review is his treatment of the terrorist attacks on September 11th, 2001.

“I knew we were in deep theological trouble as soon as politicians and commentators made the claim that September 11th had forever changed the world. Most Americans, Christian and non-Christian, quickly concluded that September 11th was a decisive event. That was exactly the problem. For Christians, the decisive change in the world, the apocalyptic event that transformed how all other events are to be understood, occurred in A.D. 33. Having spent decades reading Yoder and four years writing the Gifford Lectures, it was clear to me that September 11th had to be considered in the light of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.”

Time magazine would ask Hauerwas to write an article about the war on terror for their February 23, 2003 issue. For context: Stanley Hauerwas is an advocate of Christian non-violence. This means all war, from his perspective, is evil and can in no way be considered just so his perspective would be an altogether different one from many of the Falwell’s, Graham’s, and Jeffress’s of the nation who proudly made sure their voice was heard.

Here’s an excerpt from his article.

“G. K. Chesterton once observed that America is a nation with the soul of a church. Bush’s use of religious rhetoric seems to confirm this view. None of this is good news for Christians, however, because it tempts us to confuse Christianity with America. As a result, Christians fail to be what God has called us to be: agents of truthful speech in a world of mendacity. The identification of cross and flag after September 11th needs to be called what it is: idolatry. We are often told that America is a great country and that Americans are a good people. I am willing to believe that Americans are a good people. I am willing to believe that Americans wants to be good, but goodness requires that we refuse to lie to ourselves and our neighbors about the assumed righteousness of our cause. That the world is dangerous should not be surprising news to Christians who are told at the beginning of Lent that we are dust. If Christians could remember that we have not been created to live forever, we might be able to help ourselves and our non-Christian brothers and sisters to speak more modestly and, thus, more truthfully and save ourselves from the alleged necessity of a war against “evil.”

Although I’m not certain if I would call myself a pacifist or an advocate of Christian non-violence, I can definitely sympathize with his arguments, and when I read this paragraph I gave it a loud and hearty “AMEN!”

Hauerwas concludes his book by saying that his life was made possible by people who prayed for him. I find that statement to be true in my own life. Like Hauerwas, my life is a result of the prayers of my family. I don’t think I would be who I am had not my grandparents prayed for God work in and through my life.

So, would I recommend this book? If you don’t have the patience to wade through talk about the academic politics, then run far, far away, but you would like to read a compelling story about a theologian finding himself in the world of theology and academia, then by all means, read. I thoroughly enjoyed this work, but I also know that not everyone enjoys the same things that I do.

But if you decide to try it out and can’t wade through the politics and academic language, then just read the first two chapters, and then jump to the back of the book and read the last three chapters. I promise, you’ll get something positive out of it.

 

On Wearing Your Ash for a Hat

Ashhat

When I start this discussion, I want to be very clear. I love Ash Wednesday, and I love the season of Lent. (If you grew up under an evangelical rock like I did and are unfamiliar with these terms then here’s a good article to get you started, and here’s another one.)

Ash Wednesday and Lent are times when we can reflect on our sin and brokenness, and be thankful for God’s grace working in and through our lives to conform us to the image of Christ.

However, something I’m not a big fan of is people who go to an early Ash Wednesday service in the morning or maybe they receive ashes sometime around noon and then they wear their ashes on their forehead in public all day long.

I think receiving the ashes is a helpful reminder that we are sinful creatures that deserve death, and the ashes remind us that we will return to the dust from which we came. However, wearing them in public shows people that you’re celebrating Lent, and if people know that you’re celebrating Lent, then they know that you are fasting from something.

Jesus very plainly tells us in His Sermon on the Mount that we shouldn’t make our righteousness obvious to people.

“Whenever you fast, don’t be gloomy like the hypocrites. For they make their faces unattractive so that their fasting is obvious to people. Truly I tell you, they have their reward. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that your fasting isn’t obvious to others but to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” – Matthew 6:16-18, CSB

 

If we have to practice our righteousness before others in order for it to be valid, then we prove that our righteousness is not genuine, and if our righteousness is not genuine, then it’s not a righteousness that comes from Christ.

In Isaiah 58, God speaks through Isaiah to condemn the way that God’s people were fasting. They were giving up their food just fine, but they couldn’t give up their power, their greed, or their mistreatment of others. They finally ask in Isaiah 58:3, “Why have we fasted, but you have not seen? We have denied ourselves, but you haven’t noticed!”

And then God gives them the answer: “Look, you do as you please on the day of your fast, and oppress all your workers. You fast with contention and strife to strike viciously with your fist. You cannot fast as you do today, hoping to make your voice heard on high.”(Isaiah 58:3-4, CSB)

In The Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster notes that when we fast we really become aware of the things that have a stronghold on us. (I’m paraphrasing.) If we can give up food, but we can’t give up power, privilege, or prestige, then what do we really live off of? Where does our life come from? Are we genuinely seeking God or are we just wearing our ash for a hat?

From Isaiah 58 to Matthew 6, and even up to now, people haven’t changed that much, but God’s word to them still remains the same. If we’re going to fast during Lent, we should do so biblically, and to fast biblically is to fast discreetly, and we should give up the things that matter – our wills, our desires, and our own righteousness.

Instead, we should seek after God’s will, God’s desires, and God’s righteousness. Do we care about what God cares about? Do we want the same things that God wants? Lent is the perfect time to pray, fast, open our Bibles, and listen to Him.

2 Timothy 4:1-5 // Our Mandate for Ministry

MFM

[This sermon was preached on the evening of Friday, March 8th at the 2019 Spring Meeting of the Arkansas Presbytery by Candidate Logan Dixon.]

Text: 2 Timothy 4:1-5

Prayer for Illumination:

Shine within our hearts, Loving Master, the pure light of Your divine knowledge, and open the eyes of our minds that we may comprehend the message of your Gospel. Instill in us, also, reverence for Your blessed commandments, so that having conquered sinful desires, we may pursue a spiritual life, thinking and doing all those things that are pleasing to You. For You, Christ our God, are the light of our souls and bodies, and to You we give glory together with Your Father who is without beginning and Your all holy, good, and life giving Spirit, now and forever and to the ages of ages. Amen. [1]

Introduction:

That prayer for illumination that we just prayed is adapted from a 4th century liturgy of John Chrysostom.

 

From what we know about Chrysostom, he was a bold preacher of the word. He was an orator of his day, and earned the nickname “Bishop Golden-Mouth” because he was able to explain the text of Scripture so well that even the most impoverished and unlearned communicant could understand the Gospel.

 

You have to understand that in the 4th century almost everyone was illiterate, and even if the Scriptures were mass-produced at time (which they weren’t) it wouldn’t have done anyone any good. They couldn’t afford a copy of the Scriptures nor could they read them. All they knew was what was spoken in the homilies by their pastors and bishops, and what was presented in baptism and the sacraments.

 

Everytime the word was preached, every time they witnessed a baptism, and participated in the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, they heard and participated in the proclamation of the Word of God.  

 

And if there’s ever a time when we need a bold and clear proclamation of the word of God, it’s now. It’s today.

 

  • When so many voices are vying for our attention, when we have so many deceiving spirits trying to lure the people of God into falsehood and deception, we need to only hear one voice and that is the voice of God, and the only way to know what God has said is to open the book that He has given us.

 

“What more can He say than to you He has said, to you who for refuge to Jesus have fled?” – How Firm a Foundation

 

 

 

Context

I want us to think about the context for our passage this evening.

 

Paul writes two letters to Timothy over the course of Timothy’s ministry in Ephesus, and Paul’s first letter is general instructions about prayer in worship and the standards for pastors and elders in the church, and how the church should handle the financial support of widows.

 

This second letter that we’re reading from is much more personal. Paul knows his time is up and he’s probably asking himself, “If I’ve got one final word to say to a young pastor, to a son in the faith, what would I say?”

 

  • Really, it’s a profound question. If you knew your time was close, what would you say to a person or people that you knew you would influence.

 

Based on the reading of our passage, Paul’s final message to Timothy is clear: Preach the Word. This is what we’ve been called to do, this is our mandate for ministry.

 

This is what many of you have been charged with. You were ordained to word and sacrament. This is what I’m working towards right now as a candidate. I’m working towards getting ordained to word and sacrament.

 

Every time a pastor, an elder, or any person serving as pulpit supply such as myself stands behind this sacred desk our only obligation is proclaim what God has spoken in His Holy Word.

 

But before we really look at Paul’s charge to Timothy, let’s look at how he builds up to this statement. All throughout chapter 3, we get two pictures that Paul paints.

 

  • A picture of evil, and a picture of good.
  • A picture of chaos and a picture of order, specifically God’s order.

 

Look at chapter 3, where Paul describes the chaos.

 

“But know this: Hard times will come in the last days. 2 For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, proud, demeaning, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 unloving, irreconcilable, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, without love for what is good, 4 traitors, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5 holding to the form of godliness but denying its power. Avoid these people.

6 For among them are those who worm their way into households and deceive gullible women overwhelmed by sins and led astray by a variety of passions, 7 always learning and never able to come to a knowledge of the truth.” – 2 Timothy 3:1-7, CSB

 

In these 7 verses, Paul uses 19 words or phrases to describe the kinds of people that Timothy will be up against.

 

  • It’s almost as if Paul is using these words to take us on a tour through a wide gulf of immorality. 
  • Have you ever been on a guided tour through a museum? Paul is taking Timothy on a guided tour through a museum of the kinds of people that oppose the Gospel, and every exhibit he points to just gets worse and worse.  
    • Wife and I were on our honeymoon in Branson, and she wanted to go through the Talking Rocks Cavern (“big scary hole”). I had never been through a cave, and the lower we got, the deeper and darker it got, and one point the tour guide turned off what little light we had to show us how dark it was, and I couldn’t see in front of my face. I was gripping her hand the whole time, and this is what Paul is doing by describing at length those who deny, reject, or twist the message of Jesus Christ.

 

  • And probably the worst part about all of it, is this these aren’t simply secular pagans, these are people who claim to be believers. These are the kinds of people that will infiltrate the church. That’s what Paul says in 3:5, they’ll hold to a form of godliness, but deny the power thereof.

 

Over the last two weeks at Mt. Carmel we’ve been walking through 2nd John, and this last Sunday we talked about the antichrists and deceivers of the world. However, these antichrists that John talks about didn’t come from the world, they went out from the church.

 

“Children, it is the last hour. And as you have heard that antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. By this we know that it is the last hour. 19 They went out from us, but they did not belong to us; for if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us. However, they went out so that it might be made clear that none of them belongs to us.” – 1 John 2:18-19, CSB

 

And so, Paul tells Timothy that the way he’s going to know these people is the fact that they won’t have the same fruit.

 

  • They’ll have a form of godliness like we mentioned, but they’ll deny its power by the way they live. 
  • And they won’t stop there, the text says that they will “worm their way into households and deceive gullible women overwhelmed by sins and led astray by a variety of passions. 
    • People can be led astray by their passions. We live in a time where truth is relative, I can have my truth, you can have your truth, and as long as we “tolerate” each other we can can get along hunky-dory. Anything can be true, you just have to “feel” that it’s true. Your passions just have to tell you that it’s true.

 

However, God’s word tells us a different story. God’s word tells us that we live in God’s world, and the only valid truth that we have is the truth that He establishes.

 

“Regardless of a man’s system, he has to live in God’s world.” [2]
― Francis A. Schaeffer, The God Who Is There

  • And it’s not a matter of “well, that’s true for us because we’re Christians,” No, that’s just the truth. Period.

 

Now, here’s the good news. Paul doesn’t just leave us there. It’s not as if we’re a bunch of sheep thrown to the secularist wolves.

 

If we look back at 2 Timothy 3:8, Paul tells us what will happen to these people.

 

“Just as Jannes and Jambres resisted Moses, so these also resist the truth. They are men who are corrupt in mind and worthless in regard to the faith. 9 But they will not make further progress, for their foolishness will be clear to all, as was the foolishness of Jannes and Jambres.”
– 2 Timothy 3:8-9, CSB

 

In these two verses, Paul summarizes Exodus 7 and 8 where Moses goes before Pharaoh, and as a sign to show that God is with him he has Aaron throw down his staff, and it turns into a snake.

 

Well, Pharaoh’s heart is hard so instead of relenting, and accepting this as a sign from God, he calls for Jannes and Jambres (his personal wizards, his Hocus Pocus hitmen) to throw down their staffs and they also turn into snakes, and then according to Scripture, Aaron’s staff swallows both of their staffs, and of course it makes them look bad in front of Pharoah. (Exodus 7:12)

 

  • And Paul says that this is exactly what’s going to happen in the end. These false teachers, these immoral people can’t win, and the reason they can’t win is because they’re visitors trying to win on the home turf.  
  • Here’s what I mean by that: Jesus spoke about this kind of situation when he gave us the parable of the wheat and tares (Matthew 13:24-30). He tells us that the master planted good seed, but an enemy came in and planted bad seed, and then when Jesus explains the parable, He tells us that the field is the world, and there’s coming a day then the master of the field will come and separate the wheat and the tares. 
    • Why? Because the tares don’t belong in the field. Antichrists, deceivers, and false teachers don’t belong in the Church. They are intruders and trespassers in God’s world,  and I would go as far as saying that allowing the foolishness of such people to be known is one of the ways in which the tares are separated from wheat.  
  • God, in due time, allows the tares to go forth teaching what Paul calls “the doctrine of devils,” and when they do that, their foolishness will soon be made known to all as we just read in 2 Timothy 3:9.

 

So, in verses 1-9, in 2 Timothy 3, Paul paints of picture of the ungodliness that will rear it’s ugly head in the church, and Paul says, “Don’t follow their example, don’t go their way,” and then in verse 10, he says, “Instead remember what you have learned.” “Take all these examples of ungodliness and replace them with examples of godliness that you have learned.” Look at 2 Timothy 3:10-17.

 

“But you have followed my teaching, conduct, purpose, faith, patience, love, and endurance, 11 along with the persecutions and sufferings that came to me in Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra. What persecutions I endured—and yet the Lord rescued me from them all. 12 In fact, all who want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. 13 Evil people and impostors will become worse, deceiving and being deceived. 14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed. You know those who taught you, 15 and you know that from infancy you have known the sacred Scriptures, which are able to give you wisdom for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, 17 so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” – 2 Timothy 3:10-17, CSB

 

Paul directly addresses Timothy 8 times. He makes it clear to Timothy in no uncertain terms that the ball is in his court.

 

  • Timothy has been equipped with the truth since he was a child. He not only knows what is right and what is wrong, but he knows the consequences of either choice.  

 

  • So, this is where it comes down to us. We’ve got the secularism of the world on one side, and we’ve got the Scriptures on the other side. Now, where are we going to go?

 

  • It comes down what we trust more.  
    • So, here’s my argument for why we should trust the Bible: The Bible reads the world, but the world can’t read the Bible. Here’s what I mean: everything the Bible says about what’s in the world has been true since the day it was penned, and is still true now. Yet, what the world says about the Bible is wrong and inconsistent. 
    • The world tells us that the Bible can’t be trusted, the world tells us that the Bible is a fairy tale book, the world tells that this book isn’t God’s word, that there is no God, and we just made everything up to control people with fear.  
    • Yet, the Bible tells us that the world and it’s lusts are passing away. (1 John 2:17). The Bible tells us that the world has a Creator, and evidence for our Creator is all around us, and when we refuse to worship Him, we are suppressing the truth with our unrighteousness and we are without excuse. (Romans 1:18-23)

 

Just turn on the TV, get on YouTube, or pick up the newspaper, and it won’t take you long to find someone suppressing the truth with their unrighteousness by trying to pick a fight with a God that they allegedly don’t believe in, and if all this nonsense stayed out there in world it would be one thing, but unfortunately this has somehow found its way into the pulpits of some of our churches.

 

The question for us as pastors, pulpit supply ministers, and elders is this: are we going to stand our ground as believers on the truth of what God has said or are we going to bow to the pressure of a world that has no idea what truth even is?

 

In the face of pressure and persecution, Paul’s words to Timothy are God’s words for us now: PREACH. THE. WORD.

 

  • The preached word has power, and I think we forget that. We replace biblical sermons with programs and conversations because that’s what people want now, but there’s no power in ideas and imaginations of men, but THERE IS POWER in what saith the Lord.

 

“For just as rain and snow fall from heaven and do not return there without saturating the earth and making it germinate and sprout, and providing seed to sow and food to eat, 11 so my word that comes from my mouth will not return to me empty, but it will accomplish what I please and will prosper in what I send it to do.” – Isaiah 55:10-11, CSB

 

During the days of the Reformation, someone asked Martin Luther to explain the amazing success of the message of justification by faith alone. It was a good question because this message spread like wildfire across Europe even though Luther himself spent time in and out of prison. How could one man have changed the course of history?

 

Luther looked at the man who asked him the question, thought for a minute and said, “While I slept or drank beer in Wittenburg … the Word did the work. I didn’t do anything. The Word did it all.” That’s beauty of the word of God, it has power precisely because it is God’s word. There’s nothing that we do to give it power.

 

  • There’s nothing that we can do to make the word of God more or less effective.  
    • Samuel Taylor Coleridge was a poet from the romantic era in the 1800s. Something many people may not know about him is that he was a Unitarian minister, and when someone asked him about the inspiration of Scripture he said, “I believe Scripture is inspired because it inspires me.”  
    • Let me say emphatically that that IS NOT how we, as Christians, are to view Scripture. The Scriptures are not inspired because they appeal to our subjective view of inspiration. They are inspired because when we read Scripture, we are reading the very words of God, and it behooves as Christians, specifically as Cumberland Presbyterians to return to a high view of Scripture.

 

Our very own Confession of Faith tells us, “God inspired persons of the covenant community to write the scriptures.  In and through the scriptures God speaks about creation, sin, judgment, salvation, the church and the growth of believers. The scriptures are the infallible rule of faith and practice, the authoritative guide for Christian living.” (1984 Cumberland Presbyterian Confession of Faith, 1.05)

 

Did you catch those three key words in there? Inspired. Infallible. Authoritative.

 

My question to us is: do we still believe that?

With all of that in mind, I want us to examine two points from the text. First, the content of Paul’s charge, and the reason for Paul’s charge.

The Content of Paul’s Charge (v. 2, 5)

“Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; rebuke, correct, and encourage with great patience and teaching… But as for you, exercise self-control in everything, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.” – 2 Timothy 4:2, 5, CSB

 

If we wanted to, we could really break this down and exposit every clause that Paul says, but the main thing that Paul charges Timothy with is to be ready armed with the Word.

 

  • If you’re gonna be ready with it, then you’ve got to stay in it. If you’re going to be armed with a gun, you better know how to use that thing. It’s no different. It’s no different. We have to live with the Bible.  
  • As long as I live, I don’t think I’ll ever forget what Chris Anderson said at the last Presbytery meeting, “we have to live with the Bible in one hand and the Confession of Faith in the other hand.”

 

While preaching over this same text, J. Ligon Duncan said, “There are a lot of people who think that preaching is some sort of a moral deliverance on some relevant subject, with pious advice and counsel. But Paul says that preaching is heralding the divinely authorized message of God to a sinful and needy world, and that the way to do that is to preach His word, to explain His word, to apply His word.” [3]

 

In medieval times, when a king wanted his kingdom to know something he would send out heralds, and those heralds were to go out to every part of the kingdom and say whatever the king had given them to say. They couldn’t compromise the message. They couldn’t insert their own thoughts or opinions. If they didn’t like the message, they couldn’t change it.

 

  • We are in a similar situation as those heralds were. We have the word of God, and our responsibility is to proclaim it loudly and clearly, and to watch it go forth with power and authority.

The Reason for Paul’s Charge (v. 1, 3-4)

There’s actually two reasons for Paul’s charge. Reason #1 is found in verse one.

“I solemnly charge you before God and Christ Jesus, who is going to judge the living and the dead, [at] his appearing and his kingdom:”
– 1 Timothy 4:1, CSB

 

The first reason for Paul’s charge is that when Christ returns, He will return as a judge.

 

  • He will not only judge those who hear the word preached, but He will judge those of us who teach and preach the word. James 3:1 tells us that those of us who teach will receive a more strict judgement than those who do not. 
    • In 2nd Peter 2, the Apostle Peter describes in graphic detail the judgement that Jesus Christ Himself will place upon those who are false teachers. 
  • Jesus will also judge those who believe those false teachers. In Revelation 2, when Jesus has John write to the church at Thyatira, He tells them that they have tolerated the woman Jezebel to teach, and that He has given her time to repent, but if she doesn’t repent, He will throw her onto a sickbed ALONG WITH her children (in this case, those who believe her teaching). (Revelation 2:22)

 

Paul is reminding Timothy that God will hold him accountable if he doesn’t stick to the truth of Scripture.

 

The second reason for this charge is found in verses 3-4.

 

“For the time will come when people will not tolerate sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, will multiply teachers for themselves because they have an itch to hear what they want to hear. 4 They will turn away from hearing the truth and will turn aside to myths.” – 2 Timothy 4:3-4, CSB

 

The second reason for the charge is because the world isn’t going to stop twisting the truth, and creating false narratives for people to believe in, and as long as that’s the case, the church should be a place where the truth is preached.

 

In a world full of shifting sand, the church should be preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ as the only foundation that people can build their lives on.

 

My hope and my prayer for us as Christians, as Cumberland Presbyterians, is that we would never abandon or trade the truth of God’s Word. We must remain to be a people who are committed to the truth of Scripture.

 

Let’s pray.

Closing Prayer

Heavenly Father, this is Your Word, and we are Your people. Send the Holy Spirit to embed this word deep within us so we would never lose sight of it. Let us live out the truth of Your Word so that when the cares of this world would come against us, we will not be choked out, but by Your grace we would live strong and free with the strength and freedom that comes through, Your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.

___________

  1. From the 4th Century liturgy of John Chrysostom, adapted by M.D. Bush
  2. Schaeffer, Francis A. The God Who Is There. InterVarsity Press, 1998.
  3. “Preach the Word.” First Presbyterian Church, Jackson, Mississippi, 29 May 2005, http://www.fpcjackson.org/resource-library/sermons/preach-the-word.

Thoughts on the Fallout from UMC General Conference 2019

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Prelude

I’m not a Methodist. I was one for a very brief period of time, but I am not one now. The United Methodist Church was my introduction to many things that I hold near and dear to heart now – traditional liturgy, church architecture, the Revised Common Lectionary, a Wesleyan zeal for holiness, but again, I’m not a Methodist now.  These days I am a very concerned Cumberland Presbyterian pastor. I am on the outside looking in, but I feel that very soon I could be on the inside watching my denomination fight the same battles.

This isn’t over….

I’m happy to see our brothers and sisters in Christ in the United Methodist Church take a stand for the truth of God’s Word. I’m thrilled to know that their leaders are taking a stand for the truth about God’s standards for leadership within the body of Christ, but I’m in pain.
I hurt because I know that the battle isn’t over for them. There will be detractors and rebels who will fight every chance they get to trample on what “thus saith the Lord.” I would encourage my UMC pastor friends not to be deceived, these rebels are the antichrists of the Apostle John’s day who sought to overthrow the truth of the Gospel. The Apostle Paul described them to a tee when he said, “For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, proud, demeaning, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, without love for what is good, traitors, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to the form of godliness but denying its power. Avoid these people.
 
For among them are those who worm their way into households and deceive gullible women overwhelmed by sins and led astray by a variety of passions, always learning and never able to come to a knowledge of the truth.” (2 Timothy 3:2-7, CSB)

False Narratives Abound

The LGBT wants to create this false narrative that the decisions made in this conference were unloving and full of hate. However, every time someone came to the microphone in support of the Traditionalist Plan you could hear fully grown adults chanting, singing children’s songs, and wailing in protest every time someone tried to speak that they didn’t agree with. The Chancellor had to stop several times to try to calm them down or have someone repeat something that they had very clearly said into the microphone.
When I noted my observation at how immature this was I was chastened by a UMC pastor to “please show them respect” when I in fact made no disrespecting comments. All I did was observe their behavior. (I wonder: if I were to tell that same UMC pastor that I’m hurt (and I am because I know this fight will continue), would I be allowed to scream at the sky and act like a child or would it be inappropriate because I’m doing it for the “wrong” side?)
We are living in an age where stating truth is disrespectful, and anything other than a full blown endorsement is considered hate.
The LGBT community wants to create the false narrative that anyone who supports this plan does not love them, and does not believe that they are created in the image of God, and that is simply not the case. (I would call this a form of ‘virtue signaling,’ but they would have to have some idea of what virtue is first.)
Those who support the Traditional Plan are taking a stand for what God has spoken concerning marriage and concerning His standards for those who are to take positions of leadership within Christ’s church.
We shouldn’t have to explain this. We shouldn’t have to defend why Christians are taking a stand for the Word of God. We shouldn’t even have to have this conversation, but we are.

So, what do we do?

We pray.
We pray for those standing up for the biblical values of the Traditional Plan that they will have the strength to speak hope and grace to their people this Sunday and every Sunday moving forward.
We pray for those are beguiled by Satan to repent and believe the truth of the Gospel. We need to pray that the veil would be lifted off of their eyes so that they may see all of God’s Word as the final authority for the faith and practice of God’s people.

Revelation 3:14-22 // The Church that is Lukewarm

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TEXT: Revelation 3:14-22, NIV84

  • This ends the reading of God’s Word.
  • The Word of God for the People of God.

PRAYER FOR ILLUMINATION:

Eternal God and Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ, grant us Your Holy Spirit who writes the preached word into our hearts so that we may believe it, and be gladdened and comforted by it in eternity. Glorify Your Word in our hearts. Make it so bright and warm that we may find pleasure in it, and through Your inspiration think what is right. By Your power fulfill the Word, for the sake of Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord. Amen. [1]

 

INTRODUCTION:

I love the Rocky movies and Rocky 3 is one of my favorites. In Rocky 3, Rocky Balboa has been the heavyweight champion of the world for several years. The once obscure and impoverished street fighter from Philadelphia is now living in a Hollywood style mansion. He’s enjoying a life of wealth, fame, and self-indulgence. The day he plans to announce his retirement, he is challenged by an unknown behemoth named Clubber Lang played by Mr. T.

Rocky accepts the challenge. He trains for the fight in a circus-like atmosphere. He signs more autographs than he hits punching bags.


Meanwhile, Clubber Lang is in a meat locker, punching sides of beef and knocking around dock workers.

When the fight time comes, we might wonder whether Rocky can reach down and pull out one final victory, even though he is no longer at his peak.

Clubber Lang destroys Rocky in just three rounds, humiliated and dejected, Rocky tries to figure out what went wrong.


Apollo Creed, his opponent in the first two Rocky movies, tells him what his problem is. He said, “You used to have the eye of the tiger. You used to be hungry to win. You used to have the want-to. You used to be willing to pay the price to train. You used to fight with abandonment. You used to, but winning led to fame, and fame led to affluence, and affluence led to indulgence, and self-indulgence led to weakness, and weakness led to defeat.”

This morning as we look at the church at Laodicea, we will see that they have a similar problem. They are affluent, they are confident, and according to Jesus they say that they have need of nothing, but as we see their big problem is that they’re in denial about their condition.

When it comes to getting help for drug or alcohol addiction we’ve always heard that the first step to help is admitting that you have a problem. Well, the church at Laodicea doesn’t seem believe that they have a problem, and the you can’t help people that won’t admit that they have a problem.

 

Even when Jesus saves us, He first causes to see that we have a problem, and He is our solution. So, the first thing that needs to happen is that the church needs to see is their problem.

 

As we look at the text, we’ll see 2 Problems with the Church, 3 Things The Church Needs, and 3 Signs of Hope for the Church. So, if you’re keeping count, we have 8 points to cover.

 

2 Problems with the Church (v. 15-17)

“I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other!16 So, because you are lukewarm–neither hot nor cold–I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” – Revelation 3:15-16, NIV84

 

Problem #1: Lukewarm

Sometimes in order to understand what a text means we have to rule out what it doesn’t mean first.

  • When Jesus is saying “You are neither hot nor cold, I wish you were one or the other.” What we think that means is that Jesus wants would rather us be red hot, on fire for Him or He would rather us be cold and completely against Him, than to be completely indifferent, but that’s not the case.

  • Jesus isn’t talking about our passion, or how we might feel about Him. He’s talking about our usefulness.

Laodicea was a city that had two major springs near it, one was a hot spring that came down from Hierapolis, and the other was from a cold spring that came down from the side of Colossae, and by the time the water came together from where they would pipe it in near Laodicea [2] it became lukewarm and it was undrinkable. [3]

 

On a hot day, you can use a cold glass of ice water to cool you down, and you can use hot water to shower with, but you can’t hardly use lukewarm water for anything.

 

Here’s another way of thinking about it: here in the south, we consume a lot of tea. We can drink iced tea or we can drink hot tea. (Whenever we go to a mall in Little Rock or Fort Smith, my wife loves going to Teavana and getting different kinds of hot tea to make at home.) Hot tea and cold tea are both pretty good, but who likes lukewarm tea? Nobody.

 

Jesus is saying, “If you’re hot I’ll use you, if you’re cold I’ll use you, but I won’t use you if you’re lukewarm. I’ll spew you out of my mouth.”

 

  • The main question for us is: Do we want Jesus to use us?

 

If we want Jesus to use us, then we have to be honest about who we are, and that leads us to the second problem.

 

Problem #2: Self-Deception

“You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.”
– Revelation 3:17, NIV84

 

This is the source of all their problems. This is the very reason that they are lukewarm. When the people in Laodicea looked at themselves, they saw the perfect church. They were wealthy, powerful and they had arrived.

 

  • The city of Laodicea itself was so wealthy that when an earthquake hit in 61 AD and destroyed the whole city, Caesar offered troops, money, resources, and anything else he could think to help them rebuild. They refused all of it, and they rebuilt the city on their own. They didn’t need anyone’s help. They were self-sufficient. Now, there’s nothing wrong with being self-sufficient in the sense that you live on your own, pay your own bills, drive yourself back and forth, etc.

  • It’s one thing to not have to depend on other people in that manner, but when you have so much that you think you don’t need what God has to offer, then you’ve got a problem.

 

They looked at their position, their possessions and their power and they said, “We have everything!” Reality is that they were indifferent, apathetic, and unmoved and they believed they were in good shape.

 

You can be sure that the road to destruction begins when you say, “Nah, I’m good, fam. I don’t need Jesus.” Every time we think that we don’t need Jesus, every time we think our own righteousness, and our own works are enough to satisfy God, it’s because we have deceived ourselves.

If we were Laocedia and we were listening to this being read in our church, this is where we need to start asking ourselves, “Okay, what needs to be done to change this?”

  • Well, Jesus, in His mercy, tells us what to do.

 

3 Things We Need

“I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.” – Revelation 3:18, NIV84

 

There’s three things here that Jesus says we need, and gives the reason as to why we need each of these.

Faith Worth More Than Gold

Here’s the question: what kind of gold is Jesus offering? Obviously this represents something. Jesus isn’t giving us real gold… you know, unless you believe the prosperity gospel.

 

  • I believe gold here represents faith. Jesus gives us faith as a gift, and not only does he give it to us freely, but it’s a real faith that can be put to the test because Jesus says that it’s gold that’s been refined in the fire.

  • In 1st Peter 1, Peter talks about how we can rejoice now in the inheritance that Jesus because we will suffer trials, and he says in 1 Peter 1:7, “These [trials] have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.”

Jesus is telling us to get faith from Him that can be tried in the fire. What does this look like? It looks like that man in Mark 9 who says to Jesus, “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.” That’s how you get more faith. You go to the source of faith Himself, and say, “Lord, I need more faith. Help my unbelief.”

 

Clothed in His Righteousness

The next Jesus wants give us is “white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness.”

  • These clothes white clothes are the righteousness of Christ.

We already talked about it a little bit earlier, but in Genesis 3, Adam and Eve cover themselves up with fig trees, and God decides that that’s not good so Genesis 3:21 tells us, “The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them.” The assumption is that God kills something and uses the death of whatever animal this was from to cover up Adam and Eve’s shame.

  • Why couldn’t they have just sewn together fig leaves? Because the work of their hands would never be good cover themselves up before God.

 

In Genesis 4, Adam and Eve have two boys. The boys names are Cain and Abel.

 

Cain is a tiller of the ground, Abel is a keeper of the animals in the field.

 

So, they both bring God sacrifices of their respective jobs. Abel sacrifices an animal, and Cain brings a sacrifice from the ground.

 

Well, God accepts Abel’s sacrifice, but not Cain’s. Why? Nothing died! Cain didn’t kill anything. Cain thought he could get by with the work of his hands, and that didn’t cut it. Something or someone has to die in order for your sins to be atoned for.

 

Well, for us, in this administration of the covenant, Jesus has died in our place for our sins, and He says, “Your righteousness isn’t good enough. Wear mine.”

 

And whenever Jesus gives us His righteousness to put on that’s a theological term called “imputation.” R.C. Sproul defines it this way, “Imputation means that the righteousness of Jesus is counted for me the moment I believe in Jesus Christ. That’s what Luther said. That that righteousness an “iustitia” alien—an alien righteousness. A righteousness that’s “extra nos.” A righteousness that’s apart from me, it’s not mine inherently. It belongs to Christ. And what Christ does is when I put my trust in Him, He imputes or counts to me His righteousness. And on the basis of that imputed righteousness, God declares me just right now.[4]

 

The third thing that Jesus wants to give us is salve for our eyes. 

 

Sight for Vision and Direction

This is the root problem for Laodicea, and it could be the problem for some of us, they’re blind, and Jesus wants to give them sight.

The third thing Jesus wants to give us is eyesalve so that we can see.

If you study the history of Laodicea as a city, then you know that all of these things – gold, cloth, and eyesalve – are all things had and produced in abundance. They were wealthy, they produced the finest cloth, and they were the leading producer of all kinds of medicines.

So, Jesus says, “If you think what you have is good, what I’m offering is better.”

Jesus says, “You can only heal people’s bodies, you can only appeal to their materialistic wants, but what I have is for their souls, people actually need what I have.”

And when we realize that, that’s when our eyes are opened. And the beauty of that, is that we Jesus opens our eyes we not only see where we are, but where we are going.

  • Jesus wants the church at Laodicea to see that if they continue to down this path of pride and self-sufficiency, then they are headed straight for destruction.

But see, out of all the problems with the church, there’s still three more things that should give us hope.

 

3 Signs of Hope for the Church

A Warning of Chastisement

“Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent.” – Revelation 3:19, NIV84

Compare what Jesus says here to what Solomon says in Proverbs 3.

“My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline and do not resent his rebuke, 12 because the Lord disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in.”
– Proverbs 3:11-12, NIV84

If you fast forward to Hebrews 12 in the New Testament, the author of Hebrews actually tells us what it means for us to be disciplined and chastised by the Lord.

 

“In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. 5And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons:


  “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline,
      and do not lose heart when he rebukes you,
  6because the Lord disciplines those he loves,
      and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.”


7Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? 8If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. 9Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! 10Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. 11No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” – Hebrews 12:4-11, NIV84

 

The writer of Hebrews seems to be telling us that God allows hardships in our lives for the sake of disciplining us.

So, when Jesus tells the church at Laodicea “whom I love, I rebuke and discipline,” he’s giving them the rebuke now, but the discipline is coming, and the discipline is coming in the form of hardships.

The Church has had it easy, but it will not always be that way. That’s one of the reasons why this letter is so relevant for our day. We’ve had it easy, and we’ve got it easy now, but it will not always be this way and we need to be ready.

The fact that Jesus is giving this rebuke is a sign that He’s still holding on to them. They are still his, and He’s not letting go.

The second sign of hope is that He invites them to fellowship.

 

An Invitation to Fellowship

“Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.” – Revelation 3:20, NIV84

We’re all familiar with the painting of Jesus standing on the outside of the door, and we all know the symbolism of the painting and how there’s no doorknob because we have to let him in, etc.

But this invitation is to the church. We’ve heard evangelists take this verse out of context and tell us, “Oh, sinner, just open the door to your heart and let Jesus in. Can’t you see that He’s knocking on your heart’s door?” Listen, every once in a while Jesus kicks down some doors.

Jesus is showing up and saying, “I’m at the door and I’m coming in. You can either fellowship with me and benefit from that fellowship or you can be like Laodicea and believe that your own resources are good enough.”

Jesus has told several churches so far that He is coming and they had better be ready, but here Jesus is telling Laodicea that He’s so close that He’s at the door, and they had better be ready to fellowship with Him.

 

  • Jesus is coming to dinner, and He’s the bread of life. If we want life, then we need to run to Jesus and feed off of Him. We can’t feed off the world expect to be sustained. We have to take our food from Jesus, and the good news is that Jesus is inviting us to do just that.

    • He’s not withholding Himself. John 6:37, “Everyone the Father gives me will come to me, and the one who comes to me I will never cast out.” That’s a promise straight out of Jesus’ mouth.

 

The Promise for Overcomers

“To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne. 22 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” – Revelation 3:21-22, NIV84

 

If we’re being honest with ourselves, we hear that and we think, “How can I possibly overcome when I feel like I’ve been defeated so many times by temptation, by sin, and by my suffering. Sometimes I feel like that soil in Mark 4 where the seed of the word has been choked out by the cares of this life. How can I overcome?”

  • If you’re fighting on your own, then you never will overcome, but if you trust in Christ, then you will overcome because He already has.

 

“…those who are conformed to Christ in his trials and victories shall be conformed to him in his glory; they shall sit down with him on his throne, on his throne of judgment at the end of the world, on his throne of glory to all eternity, shining in his beams by virtue of their union with him and relation to him, as the mystical body of which he is the head.” – Matthew Henry

 

How are you conformed to Christ? By being made new. If you’re a new creature in Christ, then this victory is already yours. All you have to do is trust Him.

 

So, the next logical question: how can we trust Him?

 

Look at what Jesus says about Himself at the end of verse 14: “These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation.”

  • CSB – “originator of God’s creation”

 

According to what the Apostle Paul says about Jesus: He is God’s ‘yes’ and ‘amen’ to everyone of His promises. (2 Corinthians 1:20) How do you know God will keep His word? Because Jesus, who is Himself God in the flesh, died and rose again.

  • Revelation 19:11 even tells us that one of the names of Christ is Faithful and True. So, can you trust Him? Yes, you can.

 

Let’s pray.

 

Closing Prayer

Heavenly Father, sometimes we’re flawed, we’re faulty and we’re unreliable, but Lord, You are Faithful and True. You are consistent when we are not. If you change us, and conform us to the image of Your Son, then we’ll be faithful and true to You. Lord, we are physically made in Your image, but conform us spiritually to the image of Your Son, in His in holy name we pray. Amen.

_________________

  1. Luther’s Prayer to Receive the Word
  2. NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible
  3. Sermons and Outlines, https://www.sermonnotebook.org/new%20testament/Revelation%203_14-22.htm
  4. “An Alien Righteousness.” Ligonier Ministries, http://www.ligonier.org/blog/alien-righteousness/.

Revelation 3:7-13 // The Church that Jesus Vindicates

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TEXT: Revelation 3:7-13, NIV84

  • This ends the reading of God’s Word.
  • The Word of God for the People of God.

PRAYER FOR ILLUMINATION:

Almighty God, we bless You for the things we have read today concerning our Lord Jesus Christ. We pray that You would direct our meditations in light of the knowledge of Your glory in the face of Christ. We we would see Jesus, and it’s in His name we pray. Amen.

 

INTRODUCTION:

There’s one thing from last week’s message that I want to clarify.  Go back to Revelation 3:3 from last week’s passage. Look at the a clause.

“Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; obey it, and repent.”
– Revelation 3:3a, NIV84

What’s Jesus talking about? I believe He’s talking about the Gospel. I believe He’s talking about the good news concerning Himself, and concerning His kingdom. Now, we don’t often think about the Gospel (the good news) as something that needs to be obeyed, but it is.

  • Even the Apostle Paul says so in 2 Thessalonians 1:6-10.

“God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you 7 and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. 8 He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9 They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power 10 on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marveled at among all those who have believed. This includes you, because you believed our testimony to you.” – 2 Thessalonians 1:6-10, NIV84

 

So, why am I bringing all this up? I feel after looking at today’s passage in Revelation 3:7-13 that the church at Philadelphia is one that has obeyed the Gospel.

 

  • They have believed God, and it has paid off for them. Believing in God and staying faithful to Him always results in a divine reward. It may not result in an earthly reward, but it will always result in a divine reward.

 

CHRIST’S CHARACTER

So, first thing we’ll see here is how Jesus presents Himself to this church.

 

“To the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open.” – Revelation 3:7, NIV84

 

First of all, we need to see Jesus’ character. Jesus is holy and true, and it’s for these reasons you can trust Him. Not only that, but He describes Himself as holding the key of David.

 

  • Philadelphia was highly populated with Jews, and so most of the converts coming into the church at this time were Jews.

 

And because there were a lot of Jews in this area, they would often persecute the Christians, and they would hold it over their head that they were the ones that God brought out of Egypt, they were the ones that God provided for, etc.

 

  • And technically, they weren’t wrong that God had done all those things for their people, but He provided them a way of salvation in Jesus as their Messiah and they completely rejected Him.

  • In Deuteronomy 7:7-8, God describes His election of the people of Israel by saying, “The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. 8 But it was because the Lord loved you…”

The Jews were using their election as a weapon, but it was in the plan of God the whole time to have a people worshipped and loved Jesus as their Messiah, and it all has to do with the fact that God loved us before the very foundations of the world were laid according to Ephesians 1.

 

  • God electing love that He has placed us is not meant to be used as a weapon. It’s to make us humble.

  • There are some people, and some of those people are here this morning who might say, “Of course God loves me, I’m nice, I’m cute. I do everything right. I’m in church every Sunday morning. I pay my tithes on the gross and not the net. Why wouldn’t God love me?”

  • But the very thought of God’s electing love should make you say, “Me? He really loves me? He knew I would be a screw up and He loves me anyway?”

 

He loved us before we even knew what love was.

 

  • Listen, “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so” not “Jesus loves me this I know for I deserve it”

 

James Burton Coffman does a really good job of summing up the situation in Philadelphia:

“Secular Israel is still in power [in this part of the world] over the Jews in a religious sense, still pretended to have final right of determining who should or should not enter heaven, sternly resisting the claims of the Christians that they, the Christians, were the true Israel of God. To enforce their claims, the Jews cast out of their synagogues all Jews who accepted Christ… This passage emphasizes the truth that, “It is Christ alone… who can give men entrance into the messianic kingdom.” “Christ speaks as He by whom alone comes entrance to the Church, the spiritual house of God.” The imagery of “key of David” and other expressions here is from Isaiah 22:25, where the king of Israel deposed Shebna and appointed Eliakim as the chief-steward.” – James B. Coffman

The implication is clear: Jesus is showing the church at Philadelphia that He is the true king, and He holds the key of David.

  • So, what does the key of David mean? Think about it like this: This is Jesus’ authority to open and close the kingdom of heaven, and he’s saying to this church here: “The door is wide open! Go out into the highways and byways, and compel people to come in.”
  • So, what’s Jesus saying to us at Mount Carmel? “The door is wide open! Go out into the highways and byways, and compel people to come in!”

 

Jesus hasn’t sustained this church since 1883 just so we can have a neat little place for our family. This church isn’t simply for our individual families, it’s for His one big family, and we have an opportunity to invite more people into the family of God.

 

CHRIST’S COMMENDATION

“I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.” – Revelation 3:8, NIV84

 

I think the second part of verse 8 is very profound – “I know you have a little strength.”

 

  • I asked you last week if you had an active and living faith. I didn’t ask you if you had a lot of faith, or even strong faith. All I asked you was if your faith was active and living. Why? Because that’s all it takes.

 

“The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” 6 He replied, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you.”
– Luke 17:5-6, NIV84

 

So, what’s the idea that Jesus is communicating? He’s telling us that our faith isn’t based on how we feel or how big it may be. It’s not about the size of our faith, it’s about the object of our faith.

We may have a little strength, and we may have a little faith, but as long as our little faith is in our great big God, then He will supply all of our needs. (Philippians 4:19)

 

Jesus commends them more by saying, “yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.”

 

They’re not like the church at Sardis that blends in so well that they’re not persecuted. They’re not compromising like Thyatira. They are faithful.

 

So, if we’re going to be faithful like them, what do we need to do?

 

  • We need to keep God’s word, and be faithful to His name.

 

Keeping God’s Word

  • Mainline liberal churches are dying, and churches with a more faithful approach to Scripture are growing.

 

When Mark Driscoll started Mars Hill Church in Seattle it, they didn’t start the church with the intention of it being a big church. They just wanted to start a Bible study because there weren’t that many churches up there to begin with, and the few churches there were, didn’t even act like they believed in the authority of Scripture.

 

They interviewed a newly married couple that started attending there not to long after Mars Hill started and the husband said, “I’ve been church since I was a little kid and this is the first place where the pastor actually reads more than half a verse when he preaches.”

 

  • We have to be faithful to the word of God if we’re going to be the kind of church that Jesus commends.

 

And not only do we have to be faithful to the word, but we have to be faithful to Christ’s name.

 

Faithful to Christ’s Name

Jesus tells the Church at Philadelphia at the end of verse 8, “you have kept my word, and have not denied my name.”

This means that the message we preach is Jesus. Paul said we preach Christ crucified. That’s it! (1 Corinthians 1:23) The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the only way that people are saved, and if they turn their backs on us and reject us let be because they are rejecting Jesus.

I am reminded of what Paul said in his introduction to Romans.

“Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God  2 the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures 3 regarding his Son, who as to his human nature was a descendant of David, 4 and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord. 5 Through him and for his name’s sake, we received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith.” – Romans 1:1-5, NIV84

This is what it means to be faithful to His name!

  • The Holy Spirit empowers us to speak the same Gospel of God the Son that God the Father had promised since the beginning of redemptive history.

  • This message goes back to Genesis 3:15 when God told Satan, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; He will crush your head and you will strike his heel.”

 

And the most beautiful part is that the Gospel is not God’s Plan B! Satan was already defeated as soon as he got Eve to partake of the forbidden fruit.

 

  • Our Gospel, our message that we preach, is Christus Victor! Jesus is victorious over Satan, over sin, over death, and over Hell! And it’s because of His victory that we can bow before Him and call Him Lord.

 

So far, we’ve looked at Christ’s Character, and Christ’s Commendation, but now we’re going to see The Church’s Vindication.

 

THE CHURCH’S VINDICATION

“I will make those who are of the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews though they are not, but are liars – I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you.” – Revelation 3:9, NIV84

 

If you remember, when we covered The Church in Smyrna, in Revelation 2:8-11, the problem there as well was that there were these people who were Jews and Jesus says they are of the synagogue of Satan. Jesus says that they claim to be Jews and they are not.

 

  • The issue is not that they are pretending to ethnic Jews and they’re actually Gentiles, the problem is that they are trying to cast doubt in the face of Christians by flouting their heritage.

  • This shouldn’t be too hard for us to imagine since this is exactly what happened during Jesus’ ministry in John 8.

    • In John 8:39, the Pharisees were claiming that because they were sons of Abraham they’ve never been enslaved to anyone, and Jesus took them to school, and told them that they were actually children of their father, the devil. (John 8:44)

    • So, this begs the question? Who are the real sons of Abraham? Who are the real Jews? This might ruffle some feathers, but real Jews are those who believe that Jesus is the Messiah. I’m not going to walk through it right now, but that’s what Galatians 3:6-29 tells us. Abraham believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness (Galatians 3:6) and so those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham. (Galatians 3:9)

This church is living in Philadelphia, among a people thrive on oppressing them, and yet, Jesus says that these false Jews will fall at their feet and acknowledge that Christ has loved them as His own people.

I think Sam Storms is spot on here when he says, “Literally, Jesus says he will “give” these false Jews of the synagogue of Satan to the church at Philadelphia, i.e., he will cause them to bow down at their feet and to know that Jesus has loved them. Does this imply that these Jewish opponents will become Christians? Some say Yes and contend that the “open door” of v. 8 pertains specifically to evangelistic opportunity and success among the Jewish population of the city.[1]

Oppression in any form is an opportunity to love our enemies and share the Gospel with them. 

One of the most interesting things about verse 9 is if you know the Old Testament fairly well, then you remember that there are many promises about the Gentiles coming to bow down before Israel in the last days, like in Isaiah 60:14 where it says “they” (the Gentiles) will call “you” (the Israelites) “the city of the Lord, the Zion of the Holy One of Israel” and yet, here in Revelation 3:9, Jesus seems to be saying the opposite that these Jews are going to bow down at the feet of these believers.

 

But what Sam Storms believes is that what the Old Testament prophets like Isaiah saw was the fulfillment of the Church as God’s people, and that there will be Jews who come into the Church because they finally see Him as their Messiah and their Savior.

 

And this is ultimately our goal. We want people to see Jesus in us, and realize, as Augustine said, that’s there’s a God-sized hole in their hearts and only Jesus can fill it.

 

CONCLUSION

Maybe you’re here this morning, and you realize your need for Jesus.

Maybe you already see your need for Jesus and you’re already following Him faithfully, but you need more power, more strength, and more encouragement.

I’m not going to walk you through the Sinner’s Prayer or have you sign a card, but I will pray for you and with you if you would like. We have elders here who will pray with you and for you.

Maybe you need healing, we believing in anointing with oil, and we believe that the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much, and that the prayer of the faith shall save the sick.

We believe all of these things because Jesus has done all of these things for a lot of us in this room at one time or another. Let’s pray.

 

CLOSING PRAYER

Heavenly Father, we think about the promise You spoke to your prophets when You said, “I will be their God, and they will be my people” and we think, “That’s us? Really? We’re the best You could come up with?” But we quickly realize that You didn’t choose us because we were the best or even because we were good, but You chose us in Christ before the foundations of the world because You loved us. We don’t have to understand it, but we have to accept it for what it is.

______________

[1] Storms, Sam. “The Letter to the Church at Philadelphia (3:7-13).” Sam Storms: Oklahoma City, OK, http://www.samstorms.com/all-articles/post/the-letter-to-the-church-at-philadelphia–3:7-13-.