This sermon was given during the 2017 Winter Family Weekend in Cincinnati, Ohio. Jesus said we were deliberately left to live our Christian lives in this world. How can we live productive lives in this world without becoming of it?
[Andy Lee] I think you can see the visuals or you will in a moment. What I’d like to speak about today is directly on the topic of our theme for this weekend, which is “In the World but Not of the World.” And I’ve subtitled this message “Living a Godly Life in the Modern World.” I think that’s an important way to look at it because Christians have lived their lives in a lot of different worlds over the course of time, and we’ll talk about that a little more.
But let’s start with the scriptural section, where this theme is taken from. If you want to turn there or simply look up at the screen if you prefer to. I would like to start in John 17, and we’ll read verses 9 through 19, a fairly long passage. For those who are baptized, you’ll recognize this as a passage that we read at the Passover service every year. It comes from the words that Jesus Christ spoke in the latter moments of His life while He was still free before He was taken into captivity and eventually crucified.
He’s praying not just for His disciples who were there with Him but all that would follow after. And so John 17:9 John 17:9I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which you have given me; for they are yours.
American King James Version×he starts, “I pray for them. I don’t pray for the world but for those whom You have given Me, for they are Yours. And all Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine, and I’m glorified in them. Now, I’m no longer in the world, but these are in the world. And I come to You. Holy Father, keep through your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We are. While I was with them in the world, I kept them in Your name. Those whom You gave Me I’ve kept; and none of them is lost except the son of perdition, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. But now I come to You, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. I’ve given them Your word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I don’t pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one. They’re not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth. As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify Myself that they also may be sanctified by the truth.”
So what is this passage about? I was struggling to put a word cloud together on the internet, and the big word world wouldn’t show up. I didn’t have a 12-year-old handy, so I asked my 21-year-old son how I could go about taking care of that. He looked at me and said, “Dad, there’s something on the internet. Just go out there and you’ll figure it out.”
And so I did, and I went there. What I figured out what was the word world is so big on this word cloud because it’s all over this passage, I had to narrow down the size of the field before the word would show up. This entire passage is all about the world, being in the world, not being of the world, the fact that Jesus Christ was sent into the world. There’s a message that’s coming to us, a message being given directly to us through this passage of Scripture.
What are the major themes that we see here? We’ll focus more on this as we go through the message. Jesus was in the world, and He states if you look back in those verses, He states very specifically that God sent Him into the world. And likewise, He kept His disciples who He had there with Him into the world. And He also says directly in that passage that we, those who would follow after Him, were sent into the world. And then we see the caveat, which is also stated several times, that we’re not to be of the world.
So it’s clear what it is that’s supposed to happen here. And I think something that’s so important for us to process and to think about as Christians is that we were placed intentionally in this world. It’s not an accident. It’s not some sort of glitch that went wrong with God’s plan or we got marooned here until Jesus Christ comes back. It’s intentional. He wants us to be here. He wants us to live here, and He wants us to do it in a certain way.
So I’m big on making things simple. So if you want to remember just three words from this entire message, simply remember these or maybe two words and an abbreviation if you want to get real technical about it. ‘AND’ versus ‘OR.’
So there’s a management writer, somebody who speaks on leadership, a guy named Jim Collins that some of you might be familiar with. I had a boss a few years ago who was big on Jim Collins. And any time that I would come to him and say, “I don’t have too much time. I can do this or I can do that,” he would pull out a quote from Jim Collins. And Jim Collins spoke about what he called “The genius of the ‘AND.’” And he contrasted “The genius of the ‘AND’ with the tyranny of the ‘OR.’” What does that mean? What it means is so often in life we see choices as binary. We look at the amount of time we have. We look at tasks we have to do. We look at any choice that we have to make in life and we tend, as human beings, to think of it as binary. “I can do A or I can do B.”
And as soon as we’ve done that, we set something up in our minds that says I can’t do them both and we begin to immediately start to think in a different direction, which is why Collins calls that “The tyranny of the ‘OR.’” And “The genius of the ‘AND,’” as he lays it out, is as we look more deeply at what it is that we need to do, we can often, not always, but we can often find that it’s really “AND” we can do both.
And that’s something I’d like everyone to keep in mind as we go through the rest of this message, the “AND” because we were sent to live in the world and to not be of the world. It’s not a contrast that’s setup. It’s one congruent set of behaviors that we’re supposed to do as we’re here in the world.
Let’s look at a practical example for a moment. So I work as an accountant. And in the type of work that I do… I work for a large number of different clients. Some of them are pretty big companies. And to make it easier for me to get in and out, to make it easier for them so they don’t always have to go down and get me from the security desk, they typically give me an access badge to their facilities.
And so when I come into the facility of one of my clients, I am in their building. I am in their company, but I am not of the company. I can park my car there, I can badge in with my badge and I can get in just like any employee of their company can get in, but there are differences. I can’t function the way one of their employees does. I can’t go up to an employee of one of my clients and tell them what to do, give them an assignment, give them a deadline, threaten to fire them. It’s not something I’m allowed to do.
If I try to get into certain parts of the company, maybe they’ve cut off my access badge so I can’t get into certain portions of their building because I’m not of the company. Some companies might limit the time that I can go in or out of the building so I can’t badge in at midnight and walk around their offices unattended. So I’m in their company, but I’m not of it.
Now, I’ve run into some interesting corporate culture situations as well as I’ve gone to different companies that I’ve worked with. One client that I had when I was living back in Colorado, they were located in what’s called Lower Downtown, it’s sort of a warehouse district in downtown Denver. And their culture was they showed up in shorts and T-shirts, and they brought their dogs to the office.
And because it was an old warehouse building, the rooms were all a little bit unusual. And we were sitting at a conference table having a meeting and the conference room had a bit of an alleyway going through it because it was the only way to get around. I look up and out of the corner of my eye, see a dog trotting across the conference room. It’s like, “I’m in their company. That’s their company culture. That’s the way they function. I respect that. And hey, if I have a dog, next time I come over here, I can bring my dog to work, too.”
Companies might have other things. Sometimes, I’m at a company and they have decided that during the summer, they’re going to give their employees half the day off on Friday. So if you finish all of your work, take off at noon, go have a good time. I’m not of their company. I can’t just start to live by their rules because the place where I’m sharing an office or working for a little while decides that they’re going to let their people off for the afternoon. I still need to go in there. I need to work my full day. I need to get my own work done regardless of what it is that they decide they’re going to do.
So I’ve noted here, I think it’s an apt analogy when we think about living in the world without being of it. We have the benefits and the burdens of the society and the culture that we live in. And there are benefits and there are burdens. If we think about it carefully, it’s not going to take very long to think of both. And we follow the rules of our society, don’t we?
Look at the way we dress today. Why did we come to service dressed the way that we are? Because within our culture, the way that we’re dressed shows that we’re putting something nice on, something respectful, something that we would wear to go to a function where we’re being respectful to the person that we’re going to, that we’re showing up in clothing that in our cultural context is appropriate for what we’re doing. We follow the rules of our society except in situations when those rules contradict God’s way of life. Because God’s way of life, in the end, rules supreme over everything that we do.
So what I’d like to talk about today is really two parts here. So we just take this apart and we look at number one, what it means to live in the world. And then secondly, how is it that we avoid while living in this world, being of the world?
As I said before, I think it’s really important that we sit back and take a little time to think about what it means to live in this world. Because again, growing up in this culture, we have a lot of cultural constructs that come as well as we look at religious tradition around us, how people around us view what it means to say, stay separate or not be of the world, and all of the different things that people believe come around that.
I’d like to briefly talk about Daniel because I’ve used the story of Daniel to sort of form a template for the three ways that I’d like to talk about this part of the subject. I’m not going to turn there in the Bible but if you’re interested, I would certainly recommend going to Daniel reading further, refreshing your minds on the story of Daniel.
Daniel was a young man. He, along with several others, were taken into captivity when Judah fell. They were taken to Babylon. They were intelligent young men, might have come from royal backgrounds or nobility, but they were certainly brought into the center of the Babylonian Empire to learn there. And they were taught all of the ways of the Babylonian Empire. And they were really taught to be administrators, to be leaders, to be wise men, to be counselors to the king and to carry out leadership duties there.
You know, Daniel, we don’t often think of it because the book is named Daniel but who were his three friends? We know them as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, right? Daniel is a Hebrew name. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are Babylonian names. Their real names were, I believe, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. Those were their real or their real or their Hebrew-given names. Daniel was Daniel’s given name as a Hebrew, but he was known as Belteshazzar. And he would have lived his life in Babylonian society not as Daniel but as Belteshazzar, the wise man, the administrator, the governor, eventually, over most of Babylon.
He lived in that culture. He carried a name in that culture, a name incidentally that even included the name of the pagan god Baal, Belteshazzar. And he carried that name in that culture. He worked as a royal advisor and administrator. If we look at the time period in which he lived, certainly, decades went by. Kingdoms changed. He served different empires that ruled the world at that time. He walked at the very highest levels of society, of politics, of power, at this day and age. He was right next to the ruler of the most powerful empire in the world.
But most important of all is not those two things. The most important of all is this last point, isn’t it? That he followed God’s way when conflict arose whether it was with his job or with his culture or any other expectations that came along. Of course, as we see depicted here in the picture, Daniel in the lion’s den, probably one of the few stories that even barely biblically-literate people would know, the very famous story of Daniel in a lion’s den and how when those who were with him and conspired against him and were competing with him, how did they know they could get to Daniel? They could get to Daniel by getting the king to pass a rule against his faith.
So they knew, by the way, that he lived his life that that was the one thing that he was not going to give up. They knew that that was his weak spot as they saw it humanly to go after his faith. And as we know, he went back after that rule was passed. And he didn’t go quietly into the corner of his room and hide somewhere to pray. He threw the windows open, and he prayed facing Jerusalem. And he prayed to God just as he always had, because there was one thing that was certain in his life, and that was when push came to shove, he might have been living in the culture of the Babylonians but he was a man of God. And if there was ever a conflict between the two of those, there was never a question, never a question which way he was going to make his choice.
So let’s dig a little deeper here in this first part and think a little more and talk a little bit more about what it means for us for to live in our culture. Bill Gates is asserting himself. You probably saw the same notification I got there. Let’s turn to 1 Corinthians 7. 1 Corinthians 7, we’ll turn to verses 17 through 20, and we’ll read verse 24 as well, 1 Corinthians 7.
Starting here verse 17, “As God has distributed to each one, as the Lord has called each one, so let him walk. And so I ordain in all the churches.” So God’s talking here about people who were called in the Christian church at that time and saying, as you were at that time that you were called, whatever place you were in society, whatever culture and the mix of cultures that were in that world, that’s where you belong. “Was anyone” in verse 18 “called while circumcised? Let him not become uncircumcised. Was anyone called while uncircumcised? Let him not be circumcised. Circumcision is nothing, Uncircumcision is nothing, but keeping the commandments of God is what matters.”
Now, why is it that they’re talking about circumcision and uncircumcision? It’s because, at that point in time, there were people coming into the church, the Christian faith was new, and there were people coming into the church, some of whom were Jews by birth and had been circumcised or perhaps proselytes who’d joined the Jewish religion and came to Christian belief through the early New Testament church.
And there were others who’d grown up completely separate and not involved at all in the Jewish faith. And they came directly into the church, and they would have been uncircumcised. They came from completely different cultural contexts, different ways of growing up, different ways of being. But what God says, in the end, it doesn’t matter which of those contexts you came from. In the end, what matters is keeping the commandments, following God’s way.
And then in verse 20 and verse 24 again focuses on the same thing. “Let each one remain in the same calling in which he was called.” And in verse 24 again, “Brethren, let each one remain with God in that state in which he or she was called.”
There’s plenty of opportunity here especially during this time in the world when there was such a mixture of people. The Roman Empire spanned the entire essentially known world at that point in time. People from all kinds of different cultures, people all coming together. There’s plenty of opportunity to say, you have to match up to a certain cultural context. You have to wear your clothes in a certain way. You have to do other outward things in a certain way.
And the apostles didn’t direct any of that. Paul didn’t say any of that. He said, “Stay within that context that you were called.” It’s okay to be from your culture but follow God. Follow His ways and that needs to reign supreme above anything.
Where did we see some of the converts come in early Christianity? Where did they come from? Cornelius. Cornelius was known as the first Gentile to be converted into the Church. He was Roman and was a centurion. There’s no evidence that he abandoned that background. Onesimus, the book of Jude is written as a letter about the bondservant Onesimus. He didn’t have his full freedom. He worked for someone else and the entire letter of Jude deals with that situation.
There’s a lady named Dorcas or Tabitha, likely a widow. She died. She was actually one of the few people in the Bible, I think there’s less than 10, I believe it’s nine, people who have resurrected from the dead in the Bible if you look. This lady, Dorcas or Tabitha, was one of them. She was well known for making clothing and helping out a lot of the people that were there within her area where she lived.
And then lastly, Theophilus, probably not a name you’ve heard or focused on a lot. But he appears to have been a patron to Luke. So Luke in Acts in the first verse or first chapter, of both of those books referred to Theophilus. And if you read different commentaries and different research, you’ll find different stories about exactly who he might have been. But the belief, in general, is he was a wealthy and/or a powerful person, who acted as a patron and a helper to enable Luke to be able to write those books.
So they all stayed within their cultural context. They were in different walks of life, and they continued in those walks of life as they served God in the way that they could. So through time, God has worked with people in all kinds of different cultural contexts. He’s worked with people who tended camels and trudged through the sand and desert. He’s worked with people who rode on horse-drawn carts and plowed their fields with donkeys. And He is and will continue to work with people who take selfies. Make no mistake about it. And by the way, this isn’t God’s first experience with millennials. He dealt with a whole bunch of millennials about a thousand years ago.
So cultural context gets to be a sensitive thing for us sometimes as human beings as we look at it. But don’t believe for a minute that it matters to God in the end if you’re following His way. Of course, we reject the things within any of our cultures that don’t have to do with God, the things that are against His way of life. But in the end, every generation, every culture has one significant thing in common, it’s not of God.
As long as we’re living in this human world, it doesn’t matter what generation you pick. It doesn’t matter what culture you pick. It doesn’t matter what epoch in history you pick. Each one had its unique sins. Each one had its strengths that were more consistent with God’s way of life, that people who live godly in those societies had to deal with, in unique ways, in different ways depending on the part of the world, the time of life, the generation that people were in but in the end, that same challenge. How do you live God’s way within a culture that is not inherently of God?
So to wrap up this portion, living in our culture… this is a monastery in India. I’m not sure of the name of it. God didn’t call us to live on the top of a hill. And, you know, the thing is in the end, if you think about it, even if you did live up there, would you be susceptible to sin? Of course, you wouldn’t. Sin is part of the human condition. You can lock yourself away in a closet in your room and never come out for 20 years, and you will be tempted by sin. That’s not the idea of it.
We don’t have to escape our culture. We don’t have to escape our world. We do have to watch out for the things in our culture that are against God’s way of life. We have to watch out for the things in our culture that cause offense to fellow Christians and not practice those things. But God fully intends us to live in this world as we saw in John 17.
Let’s go the second part of this section and talk about pursuing an occupation. Have you ever reflected on how many people in the Bible are identified by their occupations? Aquila and Priscilla, who were leading members in the New Testament Church, they were tentmakers, identified that way in Acts. In fact, Paul was identified as a tentmaker.
How many realize or remember how many years there were between the time that Paul was struck blind on the road to Damascus and when he really started his active ministry? Most people would put it somewhere in the 14 or 15-year period, not days, not weeks, years. But from everything we know, aside from helping out in the Church and being out, being taught, we believe, by God in Arabia for probably three years or so, he had to make a living. He made a living as a tentmaker is what we see. And even after he started his ministry, he went back from time to time and worked as a tentmaker to raise money in order that he could continue on and do the things that he had been called to do.
In Acts 16, we see a lady referred to as Lydia. There’s not much written about her. It simply identifies her as Lydia, the dyer of purple. A purple cloth at that point in time was a very expensive thing because colored dyes weren’t that easy to come by in that part of the world in that time period and especially those deeper, darker colors like purple. So she more than likely would have been a fairly wealthy merchant dealing in purple cloth as people came back and forth and buying and selling. And she used the means that she had.
And when she was converted, she had Paul and others that were traveling with him staying in her home. She used the things that she was given, the blessings that came from her occupation in order to help Paul and those traveling with him to further the gospel.
And let’s not forget Jesus Christ. In fact, let’s read in a little more detail what’s written about Jesus Christ in terms of His occupation. Mark 6. We’ll start in verse 1 of Mark 6. So talking about Jesus Christ, it says, “He went out from there and came to His own country,” so this is talking about a point relatively early in His Galilean ministry when He comes back home. And what kind of homecoming did Jesus have? “His disciples followed Him” and in verse 2, “when the Sabbath had come, He began to teach in the synagogue. And many hearing Him were astonished, saying, ‘Where did this Man get these things? And what wisdom is this which is given to Him, that such mighty works are performed by His hands!’”
And if you read the chapters or the verses that come after this, you’ll realize these things are not really said in a reverential way. They’re said in terms of “Who in the world does this guy think He is? He’s the carpenter. He grew up down the street from me. Who does He think He is? This Son of God stuff.” They didn’t know Jesus Christ as the Son of God at that point in time. So what does that imply about Jesus Christ? They knew Him as the carpenter.
There was a time period before He began His ministry where we don’t really know a lot about what He did, it’s not covered in any great detail in Gospels. What we know is that Joseph, who is His stepfather, is not mentioned again in the Bible after a point in time that Jesus was about 12 years old.
So we know that more than 15 years past between that time, the time that Jesus Christ began His ministry which is pointed out here. We know that Jesus Christ had siblings. Brothers and sisters are referred to in the plural, so He had more than one brother, He had more than one sister. And in this time of life, if you were the eldest son of a family and you had younger siblings and you had a mother, more than likely if and when your father passed away, you were working to support the family.
And it’s telling here that when Jesus Christ comes back to Nazareth, they don’t say, “Is this the guy who changed the water into wine? Isn’t this the guy who when we were playing together always told us what was right and made sure we didn’t cheat?” They didn’t know Him by any of these attributes. He was another working guy as far as they knew. He was living an exemplary life. We know He lived a sinless life, but He worked. He worked as a carpenter. He had an occupation. And the people that he knew best, the people back here in His village, simply knew Him as the carpenter.
That’s what made it so tough when He came and did miracles, when He stood up in the synagogue, opened passages of Isaiah and said, “I’m the Son of God.” You wouldn’t expect that in a guy who grew up next door to you, right? Just another guy that grew up with you as a kid as far as you knew. Let’s take it a layer deeper. 1 Thessalonians 4. Actually, in the New Testament, there’s a command to work not considered optional. This is only one of the Scriptures that we see that talks about it.
Here in Thessalonians, “We urge you, brethren, that you increase more and more; that you also aspire to lead a quiet life, and to mind your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you, that you may walk properly towards those who are outside, and that you may lack nothing.”
So work here is not considered something that you might consider doing if you’re a Christian. Thessalonians, that’s laid out here as a command. If you’re able-bodied, if you’re capable of working, if you need to work in order to lack nothing, in order to support your family, you’re commanded to work. It’s something that we’re supposed to do. It’s part of our life in the world.
Along with that then goes all of the things that we need to do in order to be able to be prepared to do that work, the education we need, the learning we need, the experience we need, whatever it is that fit for the work that we choose to do. And that’s the great thing, right? God has given each of us unique talents, unique abilities. And it’s not just to serve within the Church. Those are talents and abilities we can use in all kinds of different parts of our lives whether you’re working as a general contractor, as a plumber, as an electrician, as a doctor, as a scientist, as an accountant, whatever it is that you’re doing. God gives us unique abilities to do things, and it pleases Him when we use those abilities.
Let’s look even a layer deeper. Success at work is considered a blessing from God. Have we thought about that? Ecclesiastes talks in other places about how wonderful it is when you’re able to find satisfaction in your work. I’ve been blessed to be able to work in an occupation that I enjoy. I find a great deal of satisfaction in the things that I do. Other people would be bored to death by it and get frustrated. But we’re all different, that’s great.
There’s no blessing like being able to find work that you enjoy doing, where you look forward to getting in in the morning, whether you go to an office, whether you get into your work vehicle, whatever it is that you do, be able to put your hands to something, be able to put your mind to something, to create something, to accomplish something.
God gave us those desires as human beings, and He wants us to use those things. Ecclesiastes 5:18 Ecclesiastes 5:18Behold that which I have seen: it is good and comely for one to eat and to drink, and to enjoy the good of all his labor that he takes under the sun all the days of his life, which God gives him: for it is his portion.
American King James Version×, “Here’s what I’ve seen: It’s good and fitting for one to eat and drink, and enjoy the good of all his labor in which he toils under the sun all the days of his life which God gives him; for it’s his heritage. As for every man to whom God has given riches and wealth, and given him power to eat of it, to receive his heritage and rejoice in his labor — this is the gift of God.” This is the gift of God. God wants us to enjoy our labor, and He’s pleased when we prosper from it. He’s happy when we can find a job and be successful to support a family, to be able to do things in life that you can do when you have means, to support His Church and His work through our tithes and our offerings that come as a result of the work that we do.
So living in the world, as we finish up this second part, it means that we utilize our God-given abilities. We trained for, we pursue an occupation even a career. We put those things to use. We do it in a way to glorify God, not ourselves. And the product of our labor is a blessing or a gift from God. Make no mistake about it. It’s something we should be thankful for every day. The opportunity that we have to work, to gain from that, not only personal satisfaction but to gain money from that and the ability to do things with those means that we receive is a blessing from God.
Let’s look at the last section here of part one and talk about being an example of God’s way. Now, we heard about this to some extent yesterday in the Bible study for those who were here. And I sat in on some of the seminars as well for the young adults and for the teens and this type of topic was brought up as well. But being an example of God’s ways is a critical reason why we were placed in this world.
We shouldn’t just stop at the fact that we live in our culture, and we earn a living, we work because that’s not all there is to it. We were specifically placed in this world in order to be a reflection of God’s way of life so that people who are around us can experience the way that God is through their day-to-day interaction with us.
Now how does that feel when you hear that? How does that feel? How do people experience God when they interact with you? When they sit next to you in class, what do they experience about God? When they ride with you on the bus, what do they experience about God? What conclusions do they draw about God when they interact with you at work and see how you deal with problems and conflicts? When you’re dealing with your neighbor perhaps even in a dispute, what does your neighbor experience about God from his or her interaction with you? It’s a question we should ask. That’s why we were placed in the world.
Matthew 5:14 Matthew 5:14You are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.
American King James Version×. “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but they put it on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”
This will cover this morning for those who were in the young adult’s seminar, but these are two very important clauses that happen here in the end in verse 16, “…see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” So what does that tell us? It tells us there has to be a line drawn between those two things. It doesn’t just say, “Let your light shine that people can see your good works” period, and think that you’re a good person, to think that you have good morals, to think that you’re ethical.
No. The way that we act, the way that we interact with others is supposed to bring us to the end result that they would see our good works and glorify our Father in heaven. They have to understand our faith. They have to understand that it’s God living in us through Jesus Christ and His Holy Spirit that animates us, that motivates us, that causes us to do the things that we do and in the way that we do them.
How do people that you come into contact with experience God? Do they glorify our Father in heaven after they’ve had an interaction with you? When you’re not at work for a week because you are gone for the Feast, what do they say? I’ve worked with people, where when they’re gone for the week, it is like a holiday. And I could tell from the laughter that plenty of you have experienced the same thing.
What is it like when you’re gone from work for a week? Are people jumping up and down and cheering about it? Or are they saying, “You know, ever since she was gone, it’s just not quite the same. It’s not as lively. It’s not as positive. She always has something good to say that lifts me up. She always helps us to get back on the same page when there’s conflict.”
How is it that people are experiencing our Father in the interactions with all of us as individuals? 1 Peter 2. It’s not always going to happen in this lifetime. 1 Peter 2:11-12 1 Peter 2:11-12 11 Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul;
12 Having your conversation honest among the Gentiles: that, whereas they speak against you as evildoers, they may by your good works, which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation.
American King James Version×. “Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, to abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul, having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles,”but again, there’s a punchline. There’s a reason for this, “that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation.” So what’s that tell us? It tells us we’re not always going to get instant gratification as Christians. We’re not always going to be in a situation with whatever circle of people we’re dealing with in our day-to-day life, where they recognize and value what we bring as Christians in this life.
But it does say, as we see here in this passage, that they’ll experience God in a way that when their eyes are opened when Jesus Christ returns, when they then reflect on their interactions with us, they will glorify God. Same idea, just means that we’re not always going to see the payoff from it directly in this life and at this time.
Galatians 6:10 Galatians 6:10As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good to all men, especially to them who are of the household of faith.
American King James Version×, another thing about how we act, it’s more than just setting an example. It’s actively doing things for other people as well. We’re to bring good to other people in the way that we act. Galatians 6:10 Galatians 6:10As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good to all men, especially to them who are of the household of faith.
American King James Version×, “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith.”
So in our day-to-day interactions, all, that captures a lot of people, doesn’t it? We have a lot of opportunity on a day-to-day basis to do good for other people, to enrich their lives in different ways whether it’s in simple physical ways if they need help with something or if it’s in deeper ways, emotionally or spiritually. That’s another reason why we’re here in the world. And beyond just being a passive example, that we’re being active in doing things for others.
Christianity is an active vocation. It’s something we do, not just something we believe. That’s what we need to think about as we’re living in this world. So living in the world includes being a light by living according to God’s way and doing good, actively doing good to those around us.
So let’s recap for a second before we move on to the second part of the sermon. And in the next two hours of the sermon, what I’d like to… good. Everyone’s still awake. Let’s recap briefly. God from the beginning has worked with people from diverse cultures and backgrounds. We don’t have to leave our entire culture behind in order to become Christians. What we do have to do is put God first, to put His way first, and make sure that it’s supreme above anything else in terms of how we live our lives.
Utilize your God-given abilities. Young people, we have so many young people here trained for and pursuing occupation like so many of you are already doing. Don’t think of that as a distraction from really living your Christian life. Let me repeat that because I… it’s so incredibly important as young Christians.
Pursuing your education and pursuing your career is not a distraction from living your Christian life. It is an intrinsic part of it and treat it that way. Because by living productive lives in this society, in a godly way, we’re such an incredible example for Him, and we can help His work and His way of life forward. And lastly, living in the world includes being a light by living according to God’s way and doing good to those around us.
Let’s go back to our three words or two words plus one abbreviation if you prefer, “AND” versus “OR.” Live in this world and live a godly life. There’s not an or in between those two. Do them both. Let’s turn to part 2, not of the world. Let’s spend a little time thinking about this second part of the equation.
Now, I grew up in the Church. I was taken into church, kicking and screaming because I was about a couple months old when I first came to church. In fact, there’s a few people out there who knew me at that point in time and other times in between. So it’s wonderful to be here with people who have known me from all different time periods. If you bribe them enough, you’ll probably get some interesting stories this evening.
This is what I’m not going to talk about. There’s so many things out there in terms of what we do, right, how we live outwardly, the dos and don’ts, the different brands of religious belief will pin on us, whether it has to do with playing cards, or shooting pool, or what you drink and how much of it you drink. Of course, we know that we do everything that we do in moderation. We don’t force people to wear a certain type of garb. It’s not Christian to only drive a certain kind of vehicle that might be powered by horses instead of horsepower or electricity eventually.
We’re not going to talk about those things. Those are externalities. They’re important but they’re important as outgrowths of what’s inside of us, right? A converted mind, a converted heart will live a different way of life. And so what we need to do is to work on our heart, to work on what’s inside of us, and to be renewed.
Once we’ve done that, the external things will begin to happen because you don’t find a person who’s been converted and desires to live God’s way of life continuing to practice sinful deeds. It just doesn’t happen because as God’s Holy Spirit works within us, within a converted mind, it changes the way that we behave. And so that’s what we need to focus is on the inside. If we don’t want to be of the world, we have to focus on our hearts. We have to focus on our minds.
Romans 12:2 Romans 12:2And be not conformed to this world: but be you transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.
American King James Version×, I think says this in a strong and solid way. Romans 12:2 Romans 12:2And be not conformed to this world: but be you transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.
American King James Version×, “Don’t be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good, acceptable, and perfect way of God.” So how is it that we transform our minds? I’d like to focus on the second part of the sermon on prayer as a way to renew our minds, prayer as a tool to renew our minds.
I’ve got water there as a reason. How many of you have heard of Lake Itasca? Lake Itasca in Minnesota. A few people, my fellow Minnesotans out there who I’ve seen, right? So if you ever want to find a Minnesotan, ask them how to spell Mississippi and any first or second grader will say, “M-I-S-S-I-S-S-I-P-P-I.” It’s one of the first things you learn growing up in Minnesota.
Lake Itasca is the source of the Mississippi River. If you’ve seen the Mississippi River, anywhere downstream of probably the middle of Minnesota, it’s an awesome river. It’s one of the things that makes our country great, a navigable route by water from north to south down right through the heart of the country with all these tributaries that flow into it so you can carry goods. All these barges that even now, in the days of modern transportation, carry goods from the northern part of the country to the south.
Now, if you go up to Lake Itasca, what you’ll find is you can wade across the source of the Mississippi River. It’s not a big deal when you’re up in Lake Itasca because when you’re way up there at the top at the source, it’s a relatively small trickle. The thing probably comes up about knee height. It’s not going to wash you away.
Now, if there’s one recommendation I would make is do not go anywhere farther south in Minneapolis and even there, and try to wade across the Mississippi because the current is so strong it’ll take you right off your feet. It has these swirls in it, where it might suck you right under. And the fact is they might never find you again. The river at that point is so powerful.
God’s Spirit is likened to rivers of living water. We heard in the Bible study last night, for those who were there, I believe it was in John 4. We talked about rivers of living water. Likewise in John 7, it’s talked about. As God’s Holy Spirit begins to work in us, it works more and more powerfully as water does. And what does water do, if we look in the picture here? It erodes, right? It erodes rock. It cuts right through canyons.
If you’ve been to the Grand Canyon, if you look at this picture here, you can see what’s done by the power of water. What is it that’s going to be done in our lives through the power of God’s Holy Spirit? It’s the same thing. What we have to ask ourselves is how do we put ourselves into that flow?
And there are many ways to do that, but prayer is the one that I want to focus on today because I think it’s a very powerful one. And when we look at prayer, God says in the Bible that He already knows what we need before we ask of it. And if that’s a fact, we have to ask ourselves, “Why does God want us to pray?” He already knows what we need. Why does it make any sense?
And the best reason that can come to and that you’ll find plenty of material out on this is that it’s so that our mind begins to think in His way, because the things that we pray for start to formulate our thoughts, how we relate to Him, the things that we prioritize, how we go about living our lives. All of those things begin to change and come into order as we turn to God in prayer, as those rivers of His Spirit begin to work through us and begin to drive channels into our hearts and our minds that flow in His direction, His way, that eventually become so strong that we won’t do anything, we can’t do anything against the power of that Spirit living within us.
Prayer helps us to contemplate God’s power and will. It aligns us to His path. It allows His will to carry us forward. So I’d like to focus on the balance of this message now on three prayers: the prayer for forgiveness, the prayer for wisdom, and prayer for others.
Again, I’ve been in the Church for a lot of years since the time I was a little kid. It’s fantastic to see the young children who are out there today. And I can tell you that these are prayers that you should begin praying if you can understand my voice today and the words that I’m saying. And the blessings that will flow from this will be beyond your comprehension of God working in your life, starting from the prayer of a six or a seven-year-old or even a five-year-old if you take these things and you ingrain them in your life and you make it a part of you. And that’s what I want to encourage each and every one of you to do today. And if you’re not five or six years old, that’s okay, too, because prayer has the same power as God continues to drive and move forward within us through His Spirit.
Now, what do I mean when I say pray these prayers? We’re going to read three different prayers. I don’t mean you write them down and you read them off every day, check the box, and move on, right? We need to think about these things. We need to make number one, prayer, of course, a daily part of our habit. But we need to take these prayers that we’re going to talk about, we need to make them our own. Think about the prayer. Think about how it applies to you. Think about the role that it plays in your life, these topics that we’ll talk about in a moment, and make them your own.
If you take even a short amount of time to reflect on these prayers and compare them to what’s happening in your own life, you’ll know exactly what you need to pray about. Things will come to your mind that you need to set before God. And I guarantee you, these things will transform our minds. As we bring these things before God, as we pray to Him, as we look to Him as the source of all of these things, of forgiveness, of wisdom, and of help for other people.
This is a nautilus shell. Mathematicians would love this. The math is beyond me, but the Fibonacci sequence is I think what it’s called. I don’t think it’s quite logarithmic, but it expands. And I think Fibonacci numbers, the number is equal to the sum of the two numbers that came before it. So it grows really quickly, right? Zero and one is one. Then one and one is two. It goes to three and five and eight and 11 or 13, it continues to build. It expands at a rate that’s more of linear. That’s what we see in this nautilus shell, and that’s the way God works as well, right? As we grow, we start to have a bigger base to build on, and we just continue to develop and grow as Christians. That’s what we’re looking to do as we pray these prayers.
So let’s look first to the prayer for forgiveness. And not surprisingly, we’re going to turn to Psalm 51. King David, again, one of the most well-known figures in the Bible, a man described as a man after God’s own heart also someone with huge flaws, huge imperfections, but someone who often and always and without fail came back before God, put himself in front of God’s throne and begged for forgiveness and let God know just how much he wanted to live His way of life and how he knew that it was God’s way that needed to be followed and repented of the ways that he was following as a human being.
Psalms 51:1 Psalms 51:1Have mercy on me, O God, according to your loving kindness: according to the multitude of your tender mercies blot out my transgressions.
American King James Version×. David writes, “Have mercy upon me, O God, according to Your lovingkindness; according to the multitude of Your tender mercies, blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against You and You only have I sinned,” so let’s reflect on this a moment because when we talk about praying this prayer, again, the intention here is that we reflect on this. We think about the elements of this prayer, what it means to us in our own lives and how we go about using that prayer. He goes on in verse 4, “I’ve done this evil in Your sight and that you may be found just when You speak, and blameless when You judge.”
The elements that David lays out here in this prayer, he recognizes the need for God’s mercy. First thing he does, he goes before God and he says, “I need your mercy.” He’s acknowledging God’s greatness. He’s acknowledging God’s power and His supremacy. What is there that is of the world in doing that? I don’t know about you but most of the circles that I move in, if I start to talk at the drop of a hat about God’s supremacy and God’s mercy in my life, people would look at me like I had three heads.
This is not of the world. This is something that will take us in a different direction than the world as we look to Him for mercy. We acknowledge sin. So much of life today is about legitimizing ourselves, who we are and what we do rather than looking at God’s standard, God’s way of life, and looking at ways that we can have His Spirit move within us so we can be in line with His way of life.
The way that we avoid being of the world is to acknowledge sin and to recognize that God is the judge. It’s His way that we want to live. We’re not looking for ways to legitimize the way that we naturally act as human beings. Rather, we’re looking for ways that we can put ourselves back on track with where God is, that we can lay our thoughts in front of Him, that we can ask Him for forgiveness from our sins and ask Him to take us in His path because we acknowledge that as the right path.
It’s something we pray every day. For those of us who are baptized, we should come before God’s throne every morning, shouldn’t we, asking to be cleansed. That He takes away our sins, that He purifies our hearts and our motives, that He’ll animate us with His Spirit to lead us in His way.
For those of us who aren’t baptized, we can absolutely ask God to forgive us. Tell Him we want to live His way of life, explain to Him how we want to be a part of His family. There’s nothing He wants to hear more than that, and how we want Him to reveal Himself more deeply to us as we grow up and as we develop and as we mature even as young people.
Pray this prayer of forgiveness. And this is what’s so fantastic about it all right? 1 John 1:9 1 John 1:9If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
American King James Version×, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” I don’t see any ifs in here, I don’t see any other clauses in here. It is God’s good will. It’s His gift to us to forgive us. He wants to forgive us. We know that a repentant heart comes along with that. And as we ask for forgiveness, we’re also looking to follow in His way. But He says if we ask Him, He will grant it. Let’s put ourselves into that flow of God and ask Him daily to forgive us of our sins.
You know, we read a lot about life hacks these days, don’t we? How many of you know any good life hacks? All you have to do is get on the internet and search for a few. I found a few such as to avoid scratching your car in the garage, nail pool noodles to the wall. So instead of scraping your car on the side of the garage, you’ll scrape it on a pool noodle.
Another one, wrapping a wet paper towel around a drink or perhaps an adult beverage before placing it in the freezer will help it to cool faster. I didn’t know that one. When storing shoes in your closet, wrap them in plastic shower caps to keep dirty soles from ruining other shoes. That’s novel. And lastly, being sunburned is no fun but thankfully, there is a remedy for treating it. You can apply Earl Grey tea bags directly onto your wounds or press a tea-soaked washcloth under your skin. It’s a little strange. Somebody’s looking to do a science experiment. Maybe, if you in the Feast in Panama City Beach, you can use that as a science experiment.
Look, we all dream about this, right, finding a shortcut through life, finding the hidden passageway, finding the hack so we don’t have to go through all the trouble of doing the things the way that people are supposed to. That’s been the way of human beings for years, right? The old story of Aladdin’s lamp was all about that. Find the magic lamp, have your three wishes, have the magic genie, and you don’t have to do everything else that comes along with having to live a life. You just ask the genie for it and you have it all.
But we have to remember as we’re again focusing on God’s way of life and putting ourselves into His stream, there’s no hack for forgiveness from our sins. There’s no hack for salvation. We see plenty of people in life around us looking for it though, don’t we? Because in today’s society, what is it that people do? They fill their lives with something to fill up that empty space, that gnawing feeling inside of knowing that there’s something wrong, knowing you’re sinful, knowing there’s something outside of yourself that’s bigger than you that you need to connect to. And the world is full of people who are trying to fill that hole through every different means, right?
We can see people who decide that they’re going to seek materialism and try to get everything they can possibly get. We see people who seek power and do that above everything else. We see other people who turn to addictions or chasing pleasure of every kind that they can find. They’re all trying to fill this hole.
As Acts 4 tells us, Acts 4:12 Acts 4:12Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.
American King James Version×, “There’s not salvation, there’s not forgiveness, there’s not peace through any other means. No other name under heaven among men by which we must be saved.” The secret is there. It’s Jesus Christ. It’s His shed blood, it’s the forgiveness from our sins that He gives to us. I know something we sometimes think about as young people, especially as we look around us and we think about how perfect all the people look who are older and have it all figured out. If you find anyone of us old people, in an honest moment, we can tell you exactly how imperfect we are. If you don’t find us, find one of our spouses or one of our kids and they’ll tell you.
We don’t have to be perfect to be baptized. In fact, what we need is that understanding of how imperfect we are and wanting to find a way out of that imperfection. That imperfection comes away… we’re forgiven from it only through Jesus Christ. So to avoid being of the world, pray daily to God. Pray to Him for mercy and forgiveness from your sins, acknowledge the need to submit to Him, and follow His ways. Let’s go to the second prayer, the prayer for wisdom.
It’s a picture of Solomon. I think of Solomon as the ultimate kid who grew up in the Church. I’ve always sort of identified with Solomon having grown up in the Church, right? So what would it be like to grow up with a dad who’s known as a man after God’s own heart? What kind of pressure does that bring on? Who do you think you have to live up to if you got a father like that?
Solomon grew up in a family that knew God. We see the Psalms of David. We see the things that David did and said. Imagine how overwhelming it was for Solomon when he was handed the crown of Israel. Again, you’ll find different accounts. Some Jewish tradition will tell you he became king as young as age 12. Others will say that perhaps he was aged 20 or so. In any case, he was a young person when he became king. And what is it that Solomon prayed?
Let’s turn to 1 Kings 3. We’ll read 1 Kings 3:7-9 1 Kings 3:7-9 7 And now, O LORD my God, you have made your servant king instead of David my father: and I am but a little child: I know not how to go out or come in.
8 And your servant is in the middle of your people which you have chosen, a great people, that cannot be numbered nor counted for multitude.
9 Give therefore your servant an understanding heart to judge your people, that I may discern between good and bad: for who is able to judge this your so great a people?
American King James Version×. This was a beautiful prayer, one that we should all think about and turn into our own and pray it to God as often as we possibly can. 1 Kings 3:7-9 1 Kings 3:7-9 7 And now, O LORD my God, you have made your servant king instead of David my father: and I am but a little child: I know not how to go out or come in. 8 And your servant is in the middle of your people which you have chosen, a great people, that cannot be numbered nor counted for multitude. 9 Give therefore your servant an understanding heart to judge your people, that I may discern between good and bad: for who is able to judge this your so great a people?
American King James Version×. “Now, O Lord my God, You’ve made Your servant king instead of my father David, but I’m a little child; I don’t know how to go out or come in. And your servant is in the midst of your people whom you’ve chosen, a great people, too numerous to be numbered or counted. Therefore give your servant understanding heart to judge Your people, that I might discern between good and evil. For who is able to judge this great people of Yours?”
You can feel the inadequacy coming out of Solomon as he prays this prayer. But that’s reality, isn’t it? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve prayed this prayer. I certainly prayed it preparing for this sermon, I can guarantee you that. And every time the responsibility comes along or something happens in life and my first response is, “I have absolutely no way that I know of to deal with this situation.” And you put it in front of God. You say, “God, I have no understanding of how to deal with this situation, but I know that you do. Give me wisdom.”
God responds to that prayer. And again, young people, small children come before God, ask Him for this wisdom that comes from Him. He’ll give it to you. I don’t have it in the slides, but James 1:5 James 1:5If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that gives to all men liberally, and upbraides not; and it shall be given him.
American King James Version×is a verse you need to think about and know. James 1:5 James 1:5If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that gives to all men liberally, and upbraides not; and it shall be given him.
American King James Version×where he says, “If you ask me for wisdom, I will give it.” Again, no weasel words in there, no ifs, ands, or buts, just like he talk about forgiveness. “I will give you wisdom if you come and ask for it.” Take God up on that, ask Him often for wisdom.
I love this turn of phrase that Solomon uses, “I don’t know how to go in or come out.” Have you ever gone into a strange place, an office building, a house or something like that where you couldn’t find your way around? I had a client once and they had an office that was circular. The building was circular and there was hallway that went around the whole perimeter of the building.
I remember leaving a meeting room to go to the bathroom, and I forgot if I had turned left or right and I just started walking. And I expected to find the meeting room again on my right-hand side and suddenly things didn’t seem like they were really turning the right way and I’d walked farther than I thought I’d walked before. And then suddenly, there it is on my left side. I didn’t even know how to go out the door and come back in again.
How many times do we feel like that in life, right? Things come along, in our personal life, in our family life, in our education, in our work, all across the board. We don’t know how to go out or come in. That humility, taking that before God and laying it on the line to Him. It’s reality anyway, God knows it. God knows we don’t have it figured out just as well as we do and probably a whole lot more, right? So lay it before God in humility and tell him, “God, I need your wisdom. I need your help to get me through this. I don’t have it within myself to do it.” Pray that prayer. Take it to the situations that you’re facing in your life and seek Him as a source of wisdom.
So let’s talk about the duct tape principle. Now, any trivia fans out there? A few, okay. So I always wondered is it duct tape with the T or is it duck tape with the K. How many vote for duct tape with a T? Oh, that’s a lot. Duck tape with a K? Oh, okay.
So according to what I find on the internet at several different sources… it’s important, I know. Duct tape dates back to 1942 and it was originally green in color. It was invented by Johnson and Johnson’s Permacel division, and it was a waterproof tape that was originally used to keep moisture out of ammunition cases. And of course, soldiers being in battle being what they are, they found all kinds of other clever and innovative ways to use their duct tape.
Okay. Thank you, Bill Gates. So it was originally duck tape with a K. So after the war, people knew what it was good for and it was actually changed and was used for heating in air conditioning ducts at that point in time. It was turned silver because those ducts are metal and it blended in. And so most of us know it as duct tape with a T.
What most of us don’t know is that duct tape is actually a mind-altering substance particularly for male human beings. You give a man a duct tape, a roll of duct tape, probably better to give him two or three, and it won’t take long until that man believes that every rule of science has been suspended because he has duct tape. And probably, the rules of gravity don’t even apply anymore.
And so if you go out on the internet, you go to YouTube, you can find out how to make a wallet out of duct tape. You can find out how to make a kayak out of duct tape, you need a little bit PVC pipe for that. And you can find the story of the guy who went bear hunting, had a bear maul his airplane, and he fixed his bear using two cases of duct… or fixed his plane, not the bear. He did quite a job on a bear with a couple of cases of duct tape, too, and supposedly fixed his airplane, his private plane, and flew it out, all thanks to duct tape.
Now, why do I bring all this up? So I had another company that I did work for, and they were in the rental business. And what I found out as I was working with them is they had certain rules that they would give to their rental locations. So we’re talking like equipment rental, you walk into your hardware store, and you want to rent some equipment.
And they had a hard and fast rule, and that was that there were certain pieces of equipment you can’t rent together. The combination that sticks out in my mind is the following: 27-foot ladder, extension pole, chainsaw. Now, let your imagination fill in the gaps. And if you throw some duct tape in there, you’ll probably get it all figured out, right? Who needs to rent a truck with a cherry picker when I can get up on a ladder and duct tape the chainsaw at the end of the extension pole, right?
Okay. So what’s the duct tape principle in our lives? You know, duct tape is actually a great tool, but it does not have limitless abilities, does it? We have a lot of tools in our lives as well. We have our education. We have our occupation. We have all of the physical abilities and resources that God has given us. And those are all fantastic and wonderful tools, but they’re not all powerful tools. They don’t teach us how to live our lives. There’s only one way to have godly wisdom, and that’s through God.
We can have all the other tools that we want, we can have all the duct tape that we want to tape together our education and YouTube videos and the car we drive and how much money we have and all these other things, but it’s not going to cause us to be wise. There’s one way to wisdom, that’s God. We need that foundation to underlie all of the knowledge that we have, all of the other things that we do or we’re just like the guy who walked into rental shop, bought those three things, and several rolls of duct tapes, and went on his merry way, hopefully living to tell the story.
Proverbs 1:7 Proverbs 1:7The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction.
American King James Version×, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.” Turn to God’s way. Look at that as the foundation. Turn to Him for wisdom. It doesn’t mean we ignore the rest. As we talked about in the first part of the sermon, we need an education. We need an occupation. We need to work.
The Bible is not going to teach you how to be a plumber. It’s not going to teach you how to be an accountant or attorney or a doctor. It will teach you the most important things that you need as a foundation so that you can live successfully in any one of those occupations and any other. Use those tools for what they’re good for. Use God, His word, and His Spirit as the most powerful tool that lays that foundation so we can live a godly life.
To avoid being of the world, pray daily to God for wisdom, recognizing that His word has to be the foundation for how we do everything in our lives. Let’s finish, our prayer for others. What prayers can you think of in the Bible, powerful prayers for other people? There are several. I’ve chosen one, and it comes from the Old Testament in Genesis.
Genesis 18 is the story where God came down to earth and talked with Abraham. And among other things that were happening, He let Abraham know that He was going to destroy Sodom. Sodom even today has a reputation among people as being probably the most depraved society that ever existed on earth. And God told Abraham, “I’m going to wipe out Sodom.” It just so happened that Abraham’s nephew, Lot and his family, were living there. We know, of course, that in the end, God saved them and took them out of the city except for Lot’s wife who chose to look back and was lost because of that.
In Genesis 18:20 Genesis 18:20And the LORD said, Because the cry of Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and because their sin is very grievous;
American King James Version×, “The Lord said to Abraham, ‘Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and because their sin is very grave, I’m going to go down and see whether they’ve done everything according to the outcry that’s against it; and if not, then I’ll know.’ And Abraham came near and said, ‘Would You also destroy the righteous with the wicked?’” In verse 23, “Suppose there were fifty righteous people in the city? Just hang on a second, dear God, fifty righteous people, would You still destroy the city? Would You not spare it?”
In verse 25, Abraham gets so bold as to say to God, “’Far be it from You to do such a thing as this, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so the righteous should be as the wicked; far be it from you! Shall not the judge of all the earth do right?’ So the Lord said, ‘If I find in Sodom fifty righteous within the city, I’ll spare the place for their sakes.’”
And what is it that Abraham does after this? Hang on a second, God. Don’t walk away yet. And he starts to bargain with Him. And he bargains Him all the way down that where at the end of the story, he agrees that if there are 10 righteous people found within Sodom, God is going to save the city. Powerful, very bold prayer I’ll call it. It was a discussion with God. But what was it for? It was not for Abraham himself. It was for other people.
And that’s the thing I’d like to reflect on for a moment because sometimes, we’ll talk about and we’ll hear about boldness and prayer. And people might even talk about the fact that they went before God and they were bold telling God, “You need to give me this, and here’s why you need to give it to me.”
This prayer of Abraham was not Abraham asking for something for himself. He was laying out this bold prayer on behalf of other people. He appealed with God. He came back to Him again and again and again. 50 people. What about 40? What about 30? What about 25? You start to feel like you’re at an auction or bargaining in the bazaar and got Him down to 10. He was persistent.
And what he did is he pled with Him in the context of his personality, his purpose. He said, “God, you’re a righteous God. What do you want everyone around here to say about You, God, if You destroy Sodom and we find that there’s 50 righteous people there? And You decided that 50 righteous people, that was collateral damage, I had to wipe out Sodom?” It’s essentially what he told God, and he whittled it down to 10.
But what he displayed in this was an understanding of God’s nature, God’s righteousness, and God’s judgment in praying for another person. So I encourage everyone to think about it. And again, we’re never too young to pray for other people. We all know, at whatever age we are, people who could use God’s help. And we’re never too young to come before God and talk to him about the attributes that we know that He has and how we plead with Him and want Him to exercise those attributes of mercy, of kindness, of help to take people out of situations on the behalf of other people.
This is something we need God’s Spirit to carve into our hearts. That’s not something that’s of this world. Certainly, there are people on this world who care about other people. I don’t need to say that at all. But if you look at the overall viewpoint of this world, it’s not about coming before God and pleading on the behalf of others, asking Him to intervene for others, asking Him to judge righteously, to judge mercifully on the behalf of others. We need to add that to our prayers on a daily basis.
It’s interesting. You know, God tells us to pray for our enemies. Again back to this idea of what prayer does within our own heads. Why does God ask us to pray for our enemies? If you are going to take this example and you’re going to start to get specific about praying for your enemies, you have to start getting inside of figuring out what might be inside of that person’s head.
If you’ve ever had somebody who’s just had it out for you, usually, in the end, you figure something out, right? It’s a problem that they’re suffering with. They’re reacting to something that went wrong in their lives at some point in the past. There’s something that’s built into them where they feel threatened, where they feel pain, where they’re overcompensating for something that happened in their lives. It might be a whole bunch of different things.
But praying for your enemies, praying for those other people forces you to think more about what it is that might be motivating them, as you ask God to take that away and to show mercy. And in the end, as you understand that, you’re probably asking God to be merciful to them and to help them as much as you’re asking God to bail you out of the situation.
That’s what God wants to happen within our minds as we’re thinking about other people. And certainly, as we’re praying for our brethren, we’re praying for people in our families within our churches. As we remember them in prayer, it takes us to the next step, doesn’t it? In reaching out to them, to also helping them in a material way, hands on. It leads us to call on them, check in on them to see how they’re doing because our minds are wired in that way, and we’re thinking in that direction of praying very specifically for those people.
Talk to God if it’s people in your congregation if it’s friends of yours. Talk to God about the things that you see in that other person that you think God can use to help other people. Plead on their behalf that he can intervene for those people so they can do His way. They can be tools of His to help in His church, to help in the people that they come into contact with on a day-to-day basis, to help move His purpose forward in this world.
To avoid being of the world, pray daily and boldly for others, recognizing He’s called us to part of a spiritual family that we’re to care for and serve. So as we conclude, let’s just wrap up and look back at what we’ve talked about in terms of living a godly life in this modern world.
John 17, we’ll just read these short two verses. “I’ve given them Your word; and the world has hated them because they’re not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I don’t pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one.” It’s all about the world. We were left here for a purpose. We were left here with the intentionality if you want to use that word, to live our lives in a certain way, that they are productive lives, that they are lives that show God’s way of life to those around us.
It’s okay to live in our culture. We don’t have to leave our culture behind. We just have to make sure we’re living it according to God’s way in His ideals in that culture. We should pursue an occupation, prepare for it, get educated, find something you like doing. Throw your energies into it. Success on a job is a blessing from God. To be able to find something you enjoy doing, that has a positive impact on others, is a blessing from God. And in doing all of those things, be an example of His way and do good to others.
Renew your mind daily through prayer to avoid being of the world. Pray for forgiveness. Pray for wisdom. Pray for others. “AND” versus “OR.” It’s not a binary choice that we face. We’ve been left in the world, but we’ve been left to live in it in a way that is not of the world. They’re not mutually exclusive. We can do them both. God wants us to do them both. I wish all of you a lot of challenge, a lot of enjoyment, and a lot of happiness as you seek to live in this world but not of it.