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Jeremiah 29:11 in Context

Tuesday, March 02, 2021

If there is any passage that has attracted our country’s attention for the past five years or so, it is Jeremiah 29:11.  I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen a meme on Facebook that says, “’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord.”  Jeremiah 29:11 is everywhere, from coffee mugs to T-shirts.

Now, I’m certainly not opposed to the quoting of any Bible passage, but the sad truth is that this one frequently is misapplied by the quoters.  When we look at the isolated verse, it is so vague—talking about plans, a future, and a hope—that it could mean nearly anything.  Not surprisingly, the way that people use it often says much more about their plans for themselves than about God’s plans for them.

However, I’ve also seen people react to the memeification of this verse by denying that it has any applicability to us whatsoever:  “If you weren’t alive in 583 BC, this verse is not for you!”  I don’t think that’s right either.  This morning, then, I’d like to find a middle ground by considering Jeremiah 29:11 in context.

Even with a limited view of context, looking only at the few verses immediately around the passage, several deeply significant spiritual lessons emerge.  The first of these is that SIN HAS CONSEQUENCES.  We see this laid out in Jeremiah 29:10.  God tells the Jews that he is going to restore them to the promised land—but only after they spend 70 years in exile in Babylon. 

Though this might seem cruel, it is 100 percent the Jews’ fault.  God warned them repeatedly through the prophets that if they did not repent of their idolatry and greed, they would be taken into captivity.  To these warnings, the Jews did not listen in the least little bit.  They dared God to punish them, so He did.

Even in this, though, God’s purpose is instructive.  By allowing them to experience the horrible consequences of turning their backs on Him, He is giving them one last chance to learn their lesson.  Once they have learned it, He will return them to the land.

Our Father still teaches us this way today, just as we do the same for our children.  Some parents, sad to say, are more concerned with their children’s happiness than their children’s character.  Every time the kid fails or gets in trouble, there Mom and Dad are to rescue them from themselves and make it all better. 

If you do that, though, you end up with a spoiled, selfish kid with no capacity for handling adversity.  Instead, hard as it is, there are times when all parents have to let their kids fail, when we have to watch them suffer the consequences that come from doing what we told them not to do.  Sometimes, misery is the only thing that will penetrate that thick skull!

So too for us, of course.  God warns us repeatedly that sin is bad for us, that the devil hates us and wants to destroy us.  Sometimes we listen to the warnings; sometimes we don’t.  When we don’t, sooner or later, we will get a taste of how miserable sin is.  Sometimes, as with the Jews, the consequences of our sin last for decades. 

When God does this, though, when He teaches us through pain, we need to pay attention and mend our ways.  If we don’t, we may prove to be beyond all help.

Second, if we want to experience God’s plan and hope and future, we need to remember that REPENTANCE COMES FIRST.  This point appears in Jeremiah 29:12-13.  God is going to listen to the Jews, but only if they call to Him and come and pray to Him.  God will allow the Jews to find Him, but only if they seek for Him with their whole heart.  He isn’t going to restore them to the land because the time limit has run out.  He’s going to restore them to the land only once they come to terms with their spiritual failures.

Here’s where lots of people go wrong with Jeremiah 29:11.  They like the thought that God has a plan for them, but they don’t realize that we have the plan in book form, and it’s called the Bible.  They like the thought that they get to have God’s hope in their lives, but they don’t recognize that hope only comes from humbling themselves at the feet of Jesus.  They like the warm fuzzy meme that doesn’t demand anything from them, but they refuse to see that if we want anything from God, we have to surrender everything first.

In short, if we want to take comfort from the fact that God has a plan for us, we’ve got to stop acting like we have a plan for God.  He is not going to follow our plans.  He is not concerned with our wealth or our earthly happiness.  He is concerned with our holiness and obedience because he knows that those things are best for us. 

This week, then, let’s all of us ask ourselves a difficult question:  “Where do I need to repent?”  Where are we falling short from putting God’s plan to work in our lives?  Where are we keeping ourselves from the fullness of the blessing He promises by stubbornly clinging to our sin?  I guarantee you, that question has an answer for every person in this room.  When we are willing to confront the spiritual ugliness in our own hearts, His work of restoration can begin.

Finally, though, we see that GOD WILL DELIVER.  Let’s read Jeremiah 29:14 together.  Look at the promises here:  “I will be found.”  “I will gather.”  “I will restore.”  This is all the more impressive in its historical context.  If you glance at the beginning of the chapter, you’ll see that Jeremiah wrote this during the reign of King Zedekiah, the last king of Judah, after Jeconiah, the previous king, and many of the nobles and artisans of the land already had been carried captive. 

In other words, Judah at this point is almost completely under the control of the Babylonian superpower.  Indeed, God already has warned them that even the people now remaining in the land will go into exile too.  Once that happens, there is no earthly reason to hope that the Jews ever will return to the land or that they even will continue as a distinct people.

However, God promises this pathetic, doomed remnant that they will have a future and a hope, and so they do.  The Babylonian tyranny is overthrown, and the exiles return to the land of their fathers—all on the timetable that God foretold.  What would have been impossible for any human agency was nothing to God.

The same holds true for us.  Many of us struggle with burdens that seem impossible for us to overcome.  We’ve had a rotten relationship with that spouse or family member for decades, and we can’t imagine that it ever will get any better.  We feel like we’ve made such a mess of our lives that there’s no way that we can ever get things put back together.  We’re fighting a battle against sin, and we feel like we’re constantly losing.

You know, we might be right.  Those things might be impossible for us, but they are not impossible for God.  He is the great Deliverer, and nothing is impossible with Him.  He provides the strength we need to overcome in our struggles, and He provides the grace we need to overcome in our failures.  Judah hoped in Him and was not disappointed.  If we hope in Him, we won’t be disappointed either.

Guided to Christ

Friday, February 12, 2021

In this congregation, we are committed to imitating the simple faith and the simple practices of the church of the first century.  There are some things that distinguish our time from theirs.  For instance, none of us have miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit.  However, the essentials of our faith remain unchanged.  The same gospel that saved them still saves us, and it operates on the human heart in the same way.

There are many passages in the New Testament that illustrate this timeless truth.  Today, however, we’ll be examining a text from this week’s Bible reading.  It is Acts 8:26-39, and it tells the story of the conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch. 

There is a miracle in this narrative, but interestingly, it happens after the eunuch obeys the gospel and has nothing to do with his decision to do so.  Everything that Philip did to bring the eunuch to the Lord is something that we can do too.  This morning, then, let’s see how we can learn to be more effective personal workers as we consider how the eunuch was guided to Christ.

There are three main elements in this story that lead to the eunuch’s salvation.  The first of these is AN OBEDIENT DISCIPLE.  We see the obedience of Philip described in Acts 8:26-29.  The Holy Spirit tells him to go hiking out into the desert.  He does.  The Spirit tells him to strike up a conversation with a complete stranger.  He does that too.

We might read this story and think that personal work would be a whole lot easier if we too got instructions from the Holy Spirit.  Of course, the thing is that we have received instructions about evangelism from the Spirit!  Just as Philip had to obey if he wanted to save the eunuch’s soul, we have to obey our instructions if we want to save the souls of those around us.

The first of these, according to 1 Peter 3:15, is that we have to be ready at any time to give a defense of the hope that is within us.  In some ways, this is easier for us than ever before.  As long as we’ve got our phone with us, we’ve got a Bible with us too. 

The question is whether we can use the word of God to teach others how to please God.  If we go out to eat after services, and somebody recognizes that we came out of church and asks us to explain the Bible to us, would we be able to do that?  Could we show them book, chapter, and verse that explains who Jesus is, what His death means, and how people can be saved from their sins through Him?  Brethren, if we can’t do that right now, we aren’t ready, and we need to study, study, study until we are ready.

Second, we have to be opportunistic.  As Colossians 4:3 shows, we have to pray for opportunities and have the love for others and zeal for the Lord to walk through those doors when they open.  Everywhere Paul went, he found opportunities to teach because he was looking for them.  If we have a heart like his, we will find opportunities too.

Our second main element in the salvation of the eunuch is AN EAGER SEEKER.  Let’s keep reading, in Acts 8:30-35.  Both in this section and in the context preceding it, the eunuch comes across as a stand-up guy.  He has several characteristics that add up to him being open to the gospel.

The first of these, and something that always will be present in those who come to the Lord, is zeal for God.  When the text tells us that the eunuch came from Ethiopia to Jerusalem to worship, we read right through that, but it’s actually really impressive. 

Anybody know how far it is from the capital of the ancient kingdom of Ethiopia to Jerusalem?  I didn’t either, so I looked it up on Google Maps, and it’s a little over 2000 miles, about the same distance as from Nashville to LA.  This is long before the days of planes, trains, and automobiles, too, so we’re looking at something like a month of hard, dangerous travel, one way.  The eunuch did all this to worship at Jerusalem, even though they wouldn’t even let him in the temple because he was a eunuch!  As if that weren’t enough, we see him spending his time on the journey back by reading from Isaiah.

Equal to his zeal, though, was his humility.  Despite his zeal, he doesn’t act like he’s got it all figured out.  Instead, he knows what he doesn’t know, he’s willing to ask Philip for help, and he doesn’t dismiss the truth about Jesus because of his preconceptions.

Now, this might seem like a fairy-tale prospect, but let me tell you—the vast majority of the people I’ve brought to the Lord have been like this.  They cared enough to learn, and they were humble enough to learn.  If either one of these attributes is absent, we aren’t going to get anywhere. 

The final element of our conversion story is IMMERSION IN WATER.  Let’s finish up our reading for the morning with Acts 8:36-39.  The first thing that strikes me about this story is that as Luke tells it, the one who introduces the subject of baptism is the eunuch.  Somehow, somebody who didn’t understand that Isaiah 53 was about Jesus now knows that he has to be immersed in water.  How’d he figure that out?

Once we ask the question, the answer is obvious.  In the course of preaching Jesus to him, Philip also tells him about baptism.  From this, we must conclude that it’s impossible to preach Jesus without preaching baptism, and that somebody who doesn’t preach baptism isn’t preaching Jesus.

Second, this passage is vital to our understanding of the nature of Bible baptism.  The eunuch is traveling through the desert.  It’s safe to assume that he had water with him.  If not, he’s not going to make it back to Ethiopia!  Nonetheless, in order to be baptized, he waits until he sees a body of water by the side of the road, goes down into the water with Philip, and comes back out of the water.  Despite the misuse of the word “baptism” today, that doesn’t fit with sprinkling or pouring.  It only fits with immersion, burial with Christ under the water.

Now, I’m sure that many of you have heard, as I have, that you can prove that Bible baptism is immersion by looking at the Greek word for “to baptize”, which is baptiz┼Ź, and means “to immerse”.  That’s true, but I don’t like using that argument, just as I don’t care for proving any point by arguing from the Greek.

Let me explain why.  None of us are ever going to study with a non-Christian who is fluent in koiné Greek.  As a result, they have no way to determine whether we’re telling them the truth or not.  Even if they believe us, their faith will be in us and in our Greek dictionary instead of in the Bible. 

However, we can take them to Acts 8 and show them the eunuch going down into the water and coming up out of the water, and they can understand that for themselves.  When we teach them that way, we’re not only teaching them the truth.  We’re teaching them how to find the truth in the word of God.

Let There Be Light: Wisdom Over Folly

Tuesday, February 02, 2021

One of the most unusual accounts of the creation in the whole Bible appears in Proverbs 8:22-31.  The speaker claims to have been with God since before the beginning, but it isn’t Jesus, and it isn’t the Holy Spirit.  Instead, as is true throughout Proverbs 8, the speaker is the personification of wisdom.

As Clay pointed out last week, when God said “Let there be light,” it was an orderly act.  However, we see here that it was a wise one too.  Ultimately, it is God’s wisdom that underlies God’s order.  Any foolish toddler can destroy, but only the wisdom of God can give structure to the creation.

Even today, God’s light operates in our world to enlighten us.  This is true in a physical sense.  It’s much easier to walk through the woods at noon than in the middle of a pitch-dark night! 

However, it’s also true spiritually.  As Psalm 119:130 says, “The revelation of Your words brings light.”  Our physical eyes can’t see the light radiating from the Bible, but the eyes of our heart can!  This morning, then, let’s consider how the light of God brings us the wisdom to overcome folly.

If we want God to illuminate us, the first thing that we must do is to CHOOSE THE RIGHT SOURCE.  Consider the contrast that Paul draws in 1 Corinthians 2:6-7.  Here, he distinguishes between two kinds of wisdom:  the wisdom of this age and its rulers on the one hand and the hidden wisdom of God on the other.

This is vital for us to recognize.  It warns us that not everything we encounter that claims to be wise truly is wise.  There’s the wisdom of God, which is genuine, but there’s also the wisdom of earth, which is a demonic counterfeit. 

I guarantee you, brethren—the devil is constantly trying to get every one of us to buy into counterfeit wisdom.  We hear this counterfeit wisdom on the lips of worldly people.  We see it on the screens of our TV’s and computers.  The more we pay attention to those things, the more we set our hearts on the concerns of this life, the more the devil will be able to reduce our wisdom to foolishness.

The only way to counteract this constant erosion of wisdom in our lives is to replenish it from its divine source.  We need to pray for wisdom, constantly, and we need to seek out wisdom in God’s word. 

Speaking of God’s word, I want to challenge you to find some wisdom in our daily Bible reading this week.  For the first time this year, it will take us away from Acts—into James, in fact.  When first I noticed that, I was a little perplexed.  “Why did Clay put that there?” I asked.  Then, after I finished the reading, I understood. 

I’m not going to tell you why he did that.  Instead, this week, as you’re going through the reading, try to figure out what James has to do with the early part of Acts 8.  I think you’ll find that it puts some familiar passages in a whole new light!

Second, if we want to benefit from God’s wisdom, we must LET THE EYES OF OUR HEART BE ENLIGHTENED.  Look at Ephesians 1:17-19.  First of all, notice the connection between light and wisdom here?  Receiving a spirit of wisdom is the same thing as having our hearts be enlightened.

In order to understand this passage, though, I think we also need to unpack the Greek concept of the heart.  This isn’t about the blood pump in our chests, nor is it even about our emotions, the way that we use “heart” metaphorically in English today.  Instead, the Greek “heart” is a concept that our language really doesn’t have.  It refers to the times when our feelings and our thoughts come together.  In English, we might call it our mind-and-heart.

Thus, when Paul says that he is praying for them to know the hope of their calling, the wealth of their inheritance, and the greatness of God’s power, he’s not praying for them to develop some disembodied intellectual understanding.  He’s praying for them to get those things, so that those concepts are not only intellectually interesting but also emotionally powerful. 

Our second assignment for the week, then, is to spend 15 minutes meditating on a passage, trying to get it.  Meditation, of course, is a perfectly Scriptural concept.  There’s nothing New-Agey about Bible meditation.  It’s just taking a text and dwelling on it, turning it over and over in our minds, savoring it.  We can do this in the shower, when we’re out for a walk, or even when we’re sitting on the couch right before bed, thinking about the day’s events.  Anytime can work, really.  It’s a no-big-deal process, but it can help us to enlighten the eyes of our hearts.

Finally, we can choose the light of wisdom in our lives by WALKING THE BRIGHT PATH.  This comes from Proverbs 4:18-19.  By the way, if you want to pick a passage to meditate on but don’t know which one to choose, this one would be an amazing choice! 

Notice the contrast here between two walks:  a bright walk and a dark walk, a wise walk and a foolish walk.  The path of the righteous gets brighter all the time, so that constantly you can see more clearly.  However, the path of the wicked stays completely dark.  As a result, you remain ignorant of what’s in front of you and trip over all kinds of stuff.

This idea should be familiar to us.  We all know the layout of our own homes, and when the lights are on, we walk around without any problems.  However, turn those lights off, and suddenly home becomes a minefield.  In my own house, I will generally still know where all the major items of furniture are, but if the kids left out a stool or a pair of shoes or, heaven forbid, a pile of Legos, I might end up crippled for life!

That’s what it means to be a Christian.  We walk in the light instead of the darkness.  We see.  We know.  People in the world don’t know because they don’t have their pathway lit by God. 

This week, then, when you encounter some difficulty or problem, pause to let God illuminate the solution.  Pray about it.  Ask yourself if the Bible offers any guidance.  If we will only look for God’s wisdom in this way, I think we will be amazed at how problems that seem insoluble and complex suddenly become very simple.  The devil loves darkness and confusion, but God brings clarity and light.

Obeying God Rather Than Men

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

In our Bible reading this week, we are going to encounter the story of the final confrontation between the apostles and the Sanhedrin.  The Council demands that the apostles stop preaching Jesus, but, as Acts 5:29 famously records, they reply, “We must obey God rather than men.”

In these words, we find the reason why totalitarian governments never like Christians.  Their authority cannot be total as long as we acknowledge an authority greater than theirs.  However, I also have seen brethren claim that they are allowed to resist our government in defense of their inalienable Constitutional rights.

What are we to make of this tangle?  Clearly, there are times when we must put the kingdom of God above the kingdoms of earth.  Equally clearly, there are times when we must submit to the laws of the earthly governments where we reside.  However, there also are edge cases between these two extremes.  How do we know what to do when?  Let’s look to the text of Acts 5 for some guiding principles as we try to figure out when to obey God rather than men.

First, we must SUBMIT AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE.  We see the apostles exemplifying this in Acts 5:25-26.  After the angel frees them from prison, they return to the temple and begin preaching to the crowds again.  The temple guards show up to re-arrest them, but they quickly realize that they might touch off a riot if they do.  Instead, the guards nicely ask the apostles to come with them. 

The apostles are not idiots.  They know they might be going to their deaths, and they can get away with refusing for now, thanks to the crowds.  However, rather than resisting, they do as the guards ask.  Even under extreme circumstances, they continue to submit to earthly authority.

This principle should guide our interactions with the government too.  Romans 12 tells us to be at peace with everyone so far as it is possible with us.  Romans 13 commands us to submit to the government and pay our taxes.  As a rule, Christians must obey earthly law.

Sadly, in our country these days, a lot of people seem to think that they only have to obey the laws they like, and this is true on both left and right.  I spend a fair amount of time on gun-enthusiast boards these days, and there are lots of people who talk about their plans to disobey the federal firearm regulations they see coming.

That kind of disobedience is not for us.  It does not matter if we think the taxes are too high.  We pay them.  It does not matter if we think a law is foolish, oppressive, or unjust.  We obey it.  It does not matter if we think government officials are a bunch of crooks and jackbooted thugs.  We honor them.  Human justifications are never a reason to disobey human governments.  We obey them because we obey God.

Second, we OBJECT ONLY TO CONTRADICTION.  Look at the contradiction that appears in Acts 5:17-21, 27-28.  The angel tells them that they have to proclaim the whole message of life, but the high priest says they can’t preach about Jesus anymore.  It is impossible for the apostles to honor both God’s instructions and the high priest’s instructions.  Something’s got to give, and the apostles choose to disobey the high priest.

There are a couple of things worth noting here.  First, only the law of God allows the Christian to disobey the government.  I’ve seen a lot of brethren recently arguing that they can ignore the government sometimes because of the Constitution.  Well, yes and no.  We do have the right to challenge some governmental action on the basis of our Constitutional rights, much like Paul used his rights as a Roman citizen. 

However, the way we do that is through a lawsuit, not through defiance of the law.  If we sue and the courts find against us, or if courts already have decided the issue, we must abide by that result.  In our system of government, the courts, not the people, interpret the Constitution.  To refuse to obey the government because of what we think our Constitutional rights are is not righteous.  It is sin and lawlessness.

Second, a direct contradiction must exist.  It is not enough that the government is putting our tax dollars toward an evil end, or that the government is doing something we think is ungodly.  Instead, for Acts 5:29 to apply, the government must forbid us to do something God requires or require us to do something God forbids. 

For instance, let’s say that over the next couple of years, the federal government repeals the Hyde Amendment, so that federal funds can be used to fund abortions once more.  In fact, let’s say that the government gets into the abortion business itself and starts opening and running its own abortion clinics. 

I would not be at all happy about that.  I believe that the Bible teaches that abortion is evil.  However, so long as the government is not actively demanding that Christians have or perform abortions, the conditions of Acts 5:29 have not been met.  We must continue to honor the government.

Finally, if we resist, we must RESIST RIGHTEOUSLY.  Consider the apostles’ example in Acts 5:40-42.  Even though they have done nothing wrong, the Sanhedrin has them beaten because they preached Jesus.  In response, they do two things.  First, they rejoice that they suffered on account of Jesus.  Second, they continue to preach.

Here, we see that the Bible limits both the circumstances under which we can resist and the means that we can use.  This is actually a Bible-authority issue.  One of the great themes of the New Testament is that Christians don’t fight back against oppressive governments.  When Peter draws his sword to defend Jesus in the garden, Jesus tells him to put it up.  When Saul of Tarsus was ravaging the church, no one fought back against him.  It is never, ever godly for Christians to rebel.

In fact, rather than trying to defend our comfort through force of arms, we should rejoice in our suffering.  If we are persecuted for the cause of Christ, that is nothing more than happened to Jesus Himself, and it shows that we are walking in His footsteps.  If we were of the world, the world would love us back.  The more the world hates us, the more it shows that we are imitating Him.

Instead, rather than trying to use evil to overcome evil, rather than meeting violence with violence, we must overcome evil with good.  The only weapon that early Christians wielded was the sword of the Spirit—the word of God.  They blessed their enemies and prayed for their persecutors.  They suffered and continued to love.

Though this strategy seems weak in worldly eyes, it is very powerful.  In the first century, truth and love prevailed over persecution.  The more the enemies of the gospel tried to stamp it out, the more it spread.  They lost because they were fighting against God.  If we will follow Him today, He will be with us too, and none of our enemies, no matter who they are, will be able to overcome us.

Paul and Covetousness

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Just as we do today, the righteous men and women of the Bible struggled with temptation.  Sometimes, these struggles are well known, as with the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness.  At other times, though, they can escape our notice.  For most of us, this is the case with Paul’s spiritual battle with covetousness.

Consider, for instance, his description of his own sin in Romans 7:7-8.  It may be that covetousness was the first sin that Paul remembered committing.  At the least, it’s clear from this that covetousness was a sin that he struggled with.  By his own admission, sin produced in him coveting of every kind.

However, Romans 7 isn’t the last thing Paul has to say about covetousness.  In fact, his relationship with money is a theme that runs through many of his letters.  In his discussion of the subject, we learn how he fought back against covetousness and eventually overcame it. 

This is both heartening and instructive.  From it, we learn not only that overcoming our strongest temptations is possible, but also some strategies on how to do it.  With this in mind, let’s consider the way that Paul dealt with covetousness.

First, we see that Paul PUT UP GUARDRAILS.  Consider his words in 2 Corinthians 8:18-21.  Contextually, this passage is about the collection and protection of the contribution for the needy saints in Jerusalem.  Paul didn’t put all that money in his own wallet and go sailing off toward Antioch by himself.  Instead, he asked churches who contributed to appoint men they trusted to travel with him and see that the money reached its destination safely.

Much of the time, we use this passage to show the importance of being above-board in the way we handle church finances.  That way, people can know that somebody isn’t siphoning off their donations.  However, there’s more to it than that.  Notice that Paul says that he’s concerned not only with what is honorable in the sight of men, but also with what is honorable in the sight of the Lord.  He wants everybody to see that he’s doing right, but he also wants to prevent himself from doing wrong.

If we know that there’s a sin that we struggle with, we ought to make practicing that sin as difficult as possible.  Consider, for instance, the famous Pence Rule.  Throughout his political career, Mike Pence has refused to meet alone with a woman who is not his wife.  He’s caught a lot of flak for that, but you know what?  If you’re never alone with a woman who is not your wife, you are never going to cheat on your wife with another woman. 

I think that’s very wise, and throughout my preaching work, I’ve tried to follow a similar rule myself.  Through the years, how many preachers have met their downfall over a woman?  I do not want to add my name to that list!  Whatever our weakness may be, one of the best ways to defeat temptation is to leave no room for it.

Second, Paul is willing to SURRENDER LIBERTIES in order to defend himself from sin.  Look at what he says in 1 Corinthians 9:13-18, 24-27.  A few weeks ago, Clay cited vs. 24-27 in one of his sermons, and in passing, he mentioned that he was using the passage outside of its context.  That got me to wondering what the context was.  How exactly was Paul disciplining his body to make sure he didn’t lose his soul?

I believe the answer lies in vs. 13-18.  He sets out the principle that men who preach the gospel have the right to get their living from the gospel.  However, he himself does not do that.  It would be 100 percent lawful for him to seek support from the church in Corinth, but instead, he preaches the gospel for free. 

Contextually, he gives two reasons for this.  First, so that he doesn’t hinder the gospel.  Second, so that he isn’t overcome by sin himself.  To put things another way, Paul doesn’t want to establish a financial relationship with the church in Corinth because he is worried that such a relationship will open the door for covetousness.  He would rather reject the money he can claim than give sin an opening.

In the same way, brethren, we need to be honest with ourselves about whether surrendering some of our liberties will help us in our struggle against sin.  For instance, there is nothing wrong with a Christian having a smartphone or having a computer in a private location.  I myself have both.

However, if you’ve got a porn problem, then it’s probably true that your smartphone or private computer (or both) are the gateways for your temptation.  Which is better, to forfeit a liberty we enjoy or to lose our souls because the liberty led us into sin?

Finally, Paul was able to TRIUMPH THROUGH CHRIST.  Let’s read Philippians 4:10-13.  This is a famous text, and it’s a famously misused text.  There are lots of people out there who think that doing all things through Christ means closing business deals or scoring touchdowns.

In the light of everything we’ve already studied this evening, though, it’s obvious that Paul is saying something completely different and much more powerful.  He’s saying that through the strength of Christ, he is able to win his battle against covetousness.  When he doesn’t have anything, no problem.  Through Christ’s strength, he can be content and not be greedy.  Likewise, when he’s fully provided for, no problem.  Through Christ’s strength, he’s able to defeat materialism.

As we saw back in Romans 7, Paul had been haunted by the temptation to be covetous all his life.  By the time of Philippians 4, though, he has learned the secret.  Through Jesus, he can defeat any temptation.

Brethren, let’s pause for a moment to think about how encouraging this is!  This isn’t just about Paul and him overcoming his temptations.  This is about us and overcoming our temptations.  No, we aren’t strong enough on our own, but we will be strong enough if we seek the strength that Christ is eager to give.

Sometime this week, then, why don’t we all carve out some time to pray for that strength?  I don’t know what your greatest temptation is.  Maybe it’s covetousness, or sexual immorality, or porn, or drunkenness, or gossip.  I do know, though, that whatever it is, you can beat it through Jesus.  Work to get rid of it, but above all, pray to get rid of it, and He will bless you.

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