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Gospel Reasons to Endure PDF

2 Timothy 2:8-13

Paul has spent a lot of his time in prison cells. This will be his last go-around. This time he is in a dungeon knowing he will be executed. He is ready to hand off the baton of responsibility to the next generation, men he has trained, like Timothy. The whole focus of his letter in 2 Timothy is keeping the faith, no matter what happens. We’ve seen the rise and fall of Christianity in different places in the world and know that it’s still thriving. Realize what it would have looked like in the 60’s A.D. when the first generation of Christians were dying off or being killed. They wondered if Christianity would even live into the next century. The Apostle Paul calls upon Timothy to keep the faith.

The last time we were in 2 Timothy we studied What Keeping the Faith Demands.

  • The Power of Grace (2 Timothy 2:1)
  • The Transfer of Truth (2 Timothy 2:2)
  • The Endurance of Suffering (2 Timothy 2:3-7)

Suffering is not something we relish, but it is nonetheless an experience we cannot avoid, even if we are only serving self. Some of our suffering comes purely from the fact that we are seeking to serve Jesus.

So what reasons does a believer like Paul or Timothy, or you, or me have to endure whatever suffering comes our way for the sake of Jesus? The dominant thing we face is fear: of rejection, mistreatment, failure to serve right, of Satan, of what the world thinks. God has given us the power, love, and self-control to carry out our mission in the earth, whether we have physical difficulties, whether we are young or old. We have every reason to serve Jesus and to endure whatever suffering may come our way. We want to look at “Gospel Reasons to Endure” as laid out by Paul in 2 Timothy:

 Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound! 10 Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory. 11 The saying is trustworthy, for: If we have died with him, we will also live with him; 12 if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us; 13 if we are faithless, he remains faithful—for he cannot deny himself.

 

I. The Eternal King (2 Timothy 2:8)

Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel,

Remember—used here, means “to keep in mind”—your focus. It reminds us of Jesus’ words as He instituted the Lord’s Table—do this in remembrance of me.

Remember what it cost to make you part of Christ’s kingdom. Remember that Christ is coming again. Remember Jesus Christ.

Why would focusing on Christ have anything to do with suffering? Why would he say to remember Jesus Christ and why would he say this to a believer? How much that calls itself Christianity over the years loses its focus on Jesus. It focuses on everything else and it is easy to forget that the focus is on a Person. You can take away the building, the school, the service order. None of those are what makes Christianity. It is Jesus Christ. Lots of people practice religion and don’t know Jesus. This is why Paul can be on death row in a prison and still be practicing Christianity, because Christianity is Christ. Remember Jesus Christ. No Christ. No Christianity.

This happens all the time. The people in the world Jesus came into were devoted to the Bible, they searched the Scriptures, they were known as the theologians of the day. But Jesus would rebuke them in John 5. This lets us know that we can have a Bible on our lap, memory verses in our mind, hymns on our lips, be part of a structured, developed, Bible religion, but still not have eternal life because we don’t know the Person the Bible reveals.

When it comes to suffering, we need our roots far deeper than our church, our denomination, the location or time in which we live. Our hope has to be in Jesus alone, because He is the Savior. Our fellow believers testify to the Lord Jesus, but our hope is not found in them, but in Jesus Christ. Your relationship to Him is everything. Why would focusing on the Savior-King help us endure suffering? Paul explains Christ is risen from the dead. That identifies Him as God the Son. Even suffering that brought death could not conquer Him. He ever lives to intercede for His own and to give them eternal life.

Paul also points also to His work as Savior. He came to die for our sins and to rise again for our justification. This speaks of the finished work of Christ that gives us new life.

He is also described as the offspring of David. According to God’s promise, He was born into David’s line, fully human in addition to being fully God. But more, He is King of an everlasting Kingdom. The throne of David is His forever. The Roman Empire, now turning its might against Christians, would crumble and fall. The kingdom of Christ will never pass away.

Whatever we suffer then for the Savior-King Jesus Christ cannot possibly lose its reward. The suffering will be short; the reward long. The pain can be great now, things can be hard, but we know it will be worth it all because of Jesus.

If you are going to endure suffering, you have to be focused on Christ Himself. Like Peter walking on water and then sinking, if you keep your focus on Jesus, the storm cannot hurt you. If you focus on the storm, you will sink. If you are sinking, cry out to Jesus. He is master of saving sinking saints. He will save you. There are times when we feel like we are drowning. The bottom line is—you need Him.

 

II. The Unfettered Word (2 Timothy 2:9)

for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound!

Paul’s words the first time he was imprisoned in Philippians 1:12-18: I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ . . . . In every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.

At the end of the letter he writes in Philippians 4:22: All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar’s household.

Not only were members of Caesar’s bodyguard saved, but others who worked in the palace had come to Christ and even some of Nero’s relatives had come to Christ. Paul had the opportunity to spread the Gospel while under house arrest. This is how God worked it out. What a treasure we have in the Prison epistles: Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon, 2 Timothy. We are still benefitting from Paul’s imprisonment. The book we are studying now is a letter he writes while awaiting execution. God continued to make Paul’s life fruitful in the midst of suffering. The Word of God is not bound. God used Paul’s mistreatment as a vehicle to get the Word of God to people who would not have heard it otherwise, including us. There is no way for us to measure the effect of our suffering for Jesus on the lives of other people. This gives us a Gospel reason to endure.

Think of significant believers who have suffered as prisoners—Joseph, Jeremiah, Daniel, Peter, James, Paul, Timothy. Even David, although not actually a prisoner, spent years as a fugitive with a price on his head. God, because of the unfettered Word, used these men. Who can measure the impact of their lives?

Jesus Himself was imprisoned, falsely accused and tried, condemned, crucified, and risen again.

Our opportunities of time and place are limited, but the Word of God is not limited the way we are. It does not require our freedom to be useful. It continues to work on people’s consciences whether we are there or not. God’s Word is self-fulfilling. It will not return void but will accomplish what God sent it for. When we live for spreading the gospel, we cannot lose. There is no prison that can shut it in; even death cannot shut it down.

Tertullian—“The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.”

Spurgeon: “You don’t defend a lion; you turn him loose.”

Release the Word! Let it run through you into the lives of others! It is easy for us to be discouraged in our frail efforts to spread the Word of God. We are so limited. But the Word of God is not. Whatever happens to you, keep sharing the Word. Talk Scripture to your children and coworkers. Keep the Word on your tongue. Use your limitations. Shine wherever you are. Let the Word give you Gospel reason to endure.

 

III. Evangelistic Success (2 Timothy 2:10)

10 Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.

Because of Jesus Christ and His gospel, because the Word cannot be chained, Paul endures everything for the sake of the elect or God’s chosen ones—chosen to obtain salvation. God is the first mover in our lives. He seeks us and reveals the truth to us.

As Paul gives out the Gospel he knows there will be some who will listen. God has guaranteed success to Paul’s evangelistic efforts, including the suffering he endures to get the gospel out.

The doctrine of election—that God has chosen His people before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1)—does not call for passive laziness in evangelism. Since the means of people coming to Christ is the gospel that we share, we proclaim it near and far. We know it will take hold, take root, and produce repentance and faith in some that hear. We have guaranteed success. If you do not see people come to Christ, it is hard to believe the Gospel works. God tells us to go find them and give them the Gospel as the means He has chosen.

A farmer knows that if he scatters the seed, some of it will fall on good ground that bears fruit. For him not to scatter the seed because he knows God has determined that there will be a harvest makes no sense. God not only determines the results, He also determines the means/strategy/method by which the results will come. You just scatter the seed and God makes it grow. Sometimes the hardest of ground ends up plowed by the Spirit and we find it surprisingly receptive to sowing the Word of the gospel.

God delights to save the most unlikely of people. You can tell that, before you ever got there, God was there first because of the way they respond. This morning a church lady was telling me of an elderly lady, her great-grandmother. She was long hostile to any witness to her, suffering dementia. She had 30 minutes of clarity when her daughter (our church member’s grandmother) got to talk with her about Jesus. She trusted Christ during that 30 minutes and died a few days later.

Because of the evangelistic success that God guarantees, we continue giving out the gospel. One reason we shrink from sharing the gospel is that we’re not sure anyone will listen and be saved. Because of God’s election, we know that some will be. So share it to all ethnicities and every created being.

Who are the persons you could be cultivating for the gospel?

Can you be praying for them even now?

How about praying for opportunities? I remember reading about Walter Wilson, whose practice every morning was to pray that God would bring his someone that he could lead to Jesus. What if you got really bold and prayed that? Pray that God will help you seize those opportunities when they come along. There is a reason to endure.

 

IV. Certain Reward (2 Timothy 2:11-13)

11 The saying is trustworthy, for: If we have died with him, we will also live with him; 12 if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us; 13 if we are faithless, he remains faithful—for he cannot deny himself.

We have died with Christ through faith in His death on the cross. And we are therefore willing to physically die for Him. Why? Because, just as He died and rose again, so we have been risen to newness of life spiritually and shall be raised physically as well. Paul can say death becomes gain (Philippians 1) because it ushers us into His presence and death is not permanent. Resurrection day is coming. If we endure, we shall reign. Whatever we have to bear up under in this life is dwarfed by our coming reward, and our place in the everlasting kingdom of Christ as joint-heirs and rulers.

Here we may be despised, mocked, disdained, considered insignificant, uneducated, or ignorant. But our significance is found in Christ and His kingdom. We remember the words of Paul to the people of Corinth in 1 Corinthians 1: God chooses the weak things, the foolish, the low, the despised, the nothings to bring to nothing the things that are, so that no human being may boast in His presence. God is not at all impressed with man’s pomp and strutting pride. God has made us part of His kingdom and family. In Christ Jesus we find the wisdom of God, righteousness, sanctification, redemption.

On the other hand, if we deny Him, He will deny us. This speaks of a denial in a final way, like Judas, not like Peter, who stumbled but repented. Only in Jesus do we have hope. If we turn our backs on Him we have nothing. Many have heard the truth, gone along with those who are God’s people, but have at some point turned away to follow their own way. Unless they repent and return, their doom is sure because they will have to face Him on judgment day. They turned away from the only One who could save them.

13 if we are faithless, he remains faithful—for he cannot deny himself.

He is faithful to His promises for good and His promise to judge. We may be faithless toward the truth, but the truth will prevail. He will not fail to fulfill what He has declared will happen to those who believe and what will happen to those who do not. His faithfulness to His Word, His perfect integrity, is both joyful promise and chilling warning. We endure because we know He will make good on His promises. We know there will be reward for faithfulness and for faithlessness. We know that God will not be any man’s debtor. He is the best Boss in the world. Nobody pays His employees as well.

Whatever you have to endure for the sake of the gospel will be far and away worth it forever. There is no reason to shrink back from suffering or to shirk your duty because you are afraid.

 

Gospel Reasons to Endure

  • The Eternal King
  • The Unfettered Word
  • Evangelistic Success
  • Certain Reward

Be faithful. May God help us to bear up under whatever we are bearing and to keep on mission to the glory of Jesus Christ.

 

LifeGroup Questions

Teaching

What does this passage teach us about Christ?

What does this passage teach us about the Scriptures?

What does this passage teach us about our salvation?

What does this passage teach us about suffering?

Where does this passage fit into the gospel story?

What precious promises to we find in this text?

What dire warnings do we find in this text?

Reproof

Paul wrote that remembering that Jesus is risen from the dead and that He is the offspring of David will help Christians endure suffering. Why are those things so important when it comes to endurance in our times of suffering?

What does Paul's rejoicing in the fact that God's Word is not bound during his time of imprisonment say about his priorities in life? Could we honestly claim that we would respond in a similar manner in similar circumstances? What might that reveal about our own priorities in life?

Correction

How do we apply the gospel to our failures in the areas just discussed in the reproof section?

After considering the gospel, what are some practical ways to begin to apply the truths of these passages?

Training in righteousness

How must our thinking be renewed if we are to be transformed by these texts?

What must be put off from and put onto our lives if we are to be transformed by these texts?

Prayer

For what from these texts can we rejoice?

For what from these texts can we repent?

For what from these texts can we request, both for ourselves and others?

 

Pastor Drew Conley

Hampton Park Baptist Church

Greenville, SC

October 5, 2014

 
Devotion and Disdain PDF

Devotion and Disdain

2 Samuel 6:12-23

Worship of the true God combines both exultant joy and reverent fear.

In the first half of 2 Samuel 6 we saw the delight and the danger of worshiping Yahweh. It is one thing if you are worshiping an idol who can’t do anything to you, but when you are worshiping the Living God, it behooves us to worship as He designs us to worship. We saw that there was joyful restoration as the Ark was going to be brought back to Jerusalem to reinstate the true worship of Jehovah God. Then we saw a deadly violation because the ark was being carried on a cart in a Philistine manner rather than the way God had directed. The oxen stumbled. Uzzah, the son of the man in whose home the ark had stayed over these years, was afraid the Ark was going to tip and he touched the ark in violation of the holiness of that sacred object and God struck him dead. It stopped the worship service in its tracks. Tens of thousands of people worshiping the Lord, rejoicing, were suddenly brought to a chilling silence as one lay dead. It angered David at the time but he realized in time that he had been the one who had violated God’s Will. God kind of gave the olive branch of peace, as it were, because He gave blessing to the house of Obed-Edom where the Ark was housed for some weeks. We learned in the first 11 verses of chapter six that the worship of the true God combines exultant joy and reverent fear. As one man put it, it is trembling joy. We deal with a God who could consume us for our sin, but a God who welcomes us through the means that He has provided through Jesus Christ. The first half of the chapter we saw that disobedient zeal violates true worship, and God will hold us accountable for it. The second half clarifies that zeal in worship is good. In fact, disdain for expressive zeal in worship of the Lord can reveal the godlessness of man-centered pride.

The Scripture here is not merely contrasting exuberant and reserved personalities. It is contrasting worship that forgets self to honor God and proud contempt that recoils from making God such a big deal. Worship reflects my worldview, my heart identity, and my core life values. We know that David, with all his faults, is nonetheless a man after God’s own heart. Zealous worship marks his life. God used him to supply much of the hymnbook in the middle of our Bibles—the Psalms—Hallels—exultations in the Lord.

Michal, on the other hand, shows herself “the daughter of Saul” in her view of worship. Religion is useful for maintaining favor and respectability among the people, important to a king desiring popularity and longevity. God is not even in the picture. She views self-forgetful zeal in worship as degrading.

12 And it was told King David, “The Lord has blessed the household of Obed-edom and all that belongs to him, because of the ark of God.” So David went and brought up the ark of God from the house of Obed-edom to the city of David with rejoicing. 13 And when those who bore the ark of the Lord had gone six steps, he sacrificed an ox and a fattened animal. 14 And David danced before the Lord with all his might. And David was wearing a linen ephod. 15 So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the Lord with shouting and with the sound of the horn.

16 As the ark of the Lord came into the city of David, Michal the daughter of Saul looked out of the window and saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord, and she despised him in her heart. 17 And they brought in the ark of the Lord and set it in its place, inside the tent that David had pitched for it. And David offered burnt offerings and peace offerings before the Lord. 18 And when David had finished offering the burnt offerings and the peace offerings, he blessed the people in the name of the Lord of hosts 19 and distributed among all the people, the whole multitude of Israel, both men and women, a cake of bread, a portion of meat, and a cake of raisins to each one. Then all the people departed, each to his house.

20 And David returned to bless his household. But Michal the daughter of Saul came out to meet David and said, “How the king of Israel honored himself today, uncovering himself today before the eyes of his servants' female servants, as one of the vulgar fellows shamelessly uncovers himself!” 21 And David said to Michal, “It was before the Lord, who chose me above your father and above all his house, to appoint me as prince over Israel, the people of the Lord—and I will celebrate before the Lord. 22 I will make myself yet more contemptible than this, and I will be abased in your eyes. But by the female servants of whom you have spoken, by them I shall be held in honor.” 23 And Michal the daughter of Saul had no child to the day of her death.

Three Sections, each showing response to God’s blessing:

Zealous Celebration (vv. 12-15)

The LORD has blessed the household of Obed-edom—opens the door for reconciliation after the death of Uzzah resulting from disobedient zeal. The

Ark of the LORD was carried by the Levites according to God’s dictates.David sacrificed an ox and a fatted animal, then danced before the LORD with all his might.

Grateful Generosity (vv. 16-19)

David blessed the people in the name of the LORD of hosts after offering burnt offerings and peace offerings.

Blind Contempt (vv. 20-23)

David returned to bless his household, only to find his zeal for the LORD met with ice-cold sarcasm and contempt.

I. Zealous Celebration (2 Samuel 6:12-15)

12 And it was told King David, “The Lord has blessed the household of Obed-edom and all that belongs to him, because of the ark of God.” So David went and brought up the ark of God from the house of Obed-edom to the city of David with rejoicing. 13 And when those who bore the ark of the Lord had gone six steps, he sacrificed an ox and a fattened animal. 14 And David danced before the Lord with all his might. And David was wearing a linen ephod. 15 So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the Lord with shouting and with the sound of the horn.

The Lord’s blessing on Obed-edom and his household the entire time the ark of the LORD was in his house signaled that God’s anger over the disobedient manner of transporting the ark was not the final word. The death of Uzzah was not God slamming the door shut on His people. It was actually a caution that revival needs to be within the bounds of God’s Word. When we sin against the Lord, sometimes we feel we can never be restored and accepted again, that the days of blessing are forever gone. That is not the way God deals with us. God is Master at restoring those who are broken. He corrects us in order to restore.

When you are restored there is reason for great rejoicing. This is the essence of the gospel (news that brings joy)—we have sinned; we deserve judgment, yet God blesses repentance and faith.

Note verse 13: “those who bore the ark”—in obedience to what the law of God dictated how to carry the ark—long poles through the rings on the corners of the ark so that no one touched the sacred chest that was symbolic of the presence of God with the Law of God inside, speaking of the true God and true religion.

1 Chronicles 15:13-15:

“Because you did not carry it the first time, the LORD our God broke out against us, because we did not seek him according to the rule.” So the priests and the Levites consecrated themselves to bring up the ark of the LORD, the God of Israel. And the Levites carried the ark of God on their shoulders with the poles, as Moses had commanded according to the word of the LORD.

Six steps then David sacrificed an ox and a fattened animal— Then he danced before the LORD with all his might. This reminds us of Deuteronomy 6:

Love the LORD with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.

David wore a linen ephod, a simple, clean garment that priests wore rather than the ostentatious clothing of kings, the mark of humility before God. This teaches us something about the kind of zeal we are talking about – a humble zeal.

In the evangelical awakening, which is the English or European version of the American Great Awakening, many common people did not feel they could even attend church services because they did not have the expensive clothing to wear. Sin was rampant, but religion had become all about respectability. It was the respectable people versus the non-respectable people, the wealthy people versus the poor people. They had forgotten James’ admonition that we are not to show preferential treatment to the rich man wearing expensive clothing over the poor man wearing shabby clothing.

Whitefield and Wesley’s call for repentance and faith so offended the respectable congregations in the established churches that they were kicked out. This was a good thing for the masses who felt they could not go in the churches because the gospel went to them. They turned to Christ in droves.

David expressed it later in Psalm 51:

“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; and broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”

In Isaiah 66:

“This is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.”

David and all the house of Israel participated. It was a national event with thousands of participants worshiping the Lord. Three weeks earlier we saw that 30,000 of the chief ones in Israel plus the general crowd participated. There was shouting and the sound of the horn. No wonder! This event of a lifetime heralded a new era of spiritual awakening. After decades of neglect, God had worked to restore true worship through the man after God’s own heart. It was extraordinary that the leading worshiper of Yahweh was the most famous warrior of the times (Goliath). He was delivered from fugitive status, and now was king. Imagine the effect, the prospect for the future! The bitter days of Saul’s reckless reign are dead and buried. A golden age of revival has sprung to life.

Think what a difference it would make in our own country if the most powerful leaders of the nation were unashamedly devoted to the Lord and evidenced God’s mighty hand on them. Tens of thousands publicly celebrating return to the God of the Bible.

No wonder there was such dancing and shouting and celebration! It was a foretaste of future glory when the Messiah would combine the true worship of God with sovereign power to reign on earth. Only the coldest of hearts could remain unmoved.

Worship expresses love, delight, happiness in God. Whatever/whomever I adore gives me joy, moves my heart, fills my conversation, and drives my ambitions. Such God-centered exultation marks genuine awakenings and revival throughout history. That’s why you see surges in new hymns and exuberant singing to the Lord at such times.

Times of declension are just the opposite. If my heart remains unmoved by God, by His restoration of me after I have failed Him miserably, if I have no delight and experience no joy in worship on Sunday morning, whatever it is I’m doing, it’s certainly not worship! And it’s not honoring to God.

Isaiah: “With their lips they honor me, but their heart is far from me.”

Psalm 103

“Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless His holy name.”

Psalm 100

“Make a joyful noise (jubilant shout) to the LORD, all the earth! Serve the LORD with gladness! Come before His presence with singing!”

Psalm 149:1-6a

“Praise the LORD! Sing to the LORD a new song, his praise in the assembly of the godly! Let Israel be glad in his Maker; let the children of Zion rejoice in their King! Let them praise him with dancing, making melody to him with tambourine and lyre! For the LORD takes pleasure in his people; he adorns the humble with salvation. Let the godly exult in glory; let them sing for joy on their beds. Let the high praises of God be in their throats.”

Psalm 98:4

“Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises! 8 Let the rivers clap their hands; let the hills sing for joy together before the LORD.”

Luke 19:37-40

“As he was drawing near—already on the way down the Mount of Olives—the whole multitude of his disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, saying, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” (This reminds us of the angels’ announcement to the shepherds that Jesus the Savior had been born.)

And some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.”

What does delight and stir you?

Where does God rank among what most excites you and what most enthralls you?

Whatever your personality, how would you describe your own heart worship of the Lord?

What would zealous worship of Christ look like in your life?

William Blaikie, 96:

“There are, doubtless, times to be calm, and times to be enthusiastic; but can it be right to give all our coldness to Christ and all our enthusiasm to the world?”

What does it say about us that we associate jubilant shouts with ballgames or entertainment?

You may have been taught that true reverence shows itself in quiet reserve. There are times the Spirit of God produces a sober, intense stillness among God’s people, but that is not the only response He produces. The Old Testament Scriptures give so many examples and commands of enthusiasm in worship —shout, clap hands, raising holy hands, fall on one’s face, Psalms—hallels—leaping for joy kind of praise — that it is nearly impossible to class physically expressive worship as unbiblical, worldly, or dangerous, as in the fabled “slippery slope.” But who is the “worldly” one in this passage?

There is so much reference to expressive worship in the Old Testament that if such emotion never surfaces in our worship, we do well to ask why it’s missing. When it does happen among us, we must remember condemning it would also condemn the worship of godly saints like King David himself.

When we look at the Bible, it seems as if there should be more enthusiasm, not less.

II. Grateful Generosity (II Samuel 6:16-19)

16 As the ark of the Lord came into the city of David, Michal the daughter of Saul looked out of the window and saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord, and she despised him in her heart. 17 And they brought in the ark of the Lord and set it in its place, inside the tent that David had pitched for it. And David offered burnt offerings and peace offerings before the Lord. 18 And when David had finished offering the burnt offerings and the peace offerings, he blessed the people in the name of the Lord of hosts 19 and distributed among all the people, the whole multitude of Israel, both men and women, a cake of bread, a portion of meat, and a cake of raisins to each one. Then all the people departed, each to his house.

Verse 16 casts a dark shadow across the happy scene. We will come back to Michal, but notice that she is not participating in the worship. She’s a spectator, an observer, a critic. Her response to David’s expressive worship is to despise him in her heart. In every gathered assembly there are those there to worship and those there to watch and to critique. Those who have no heart for expressing adoration to God themselves find those who do uncouth, disturbing, undignified, even disgusting. They would not lower themselves so.

When David arrives in the city, having had the ark placed in the tabernacle, he offers burnt offerings and peace offerings. Burnt offerings are completely burned on the altar, symbolized complete consecration to God, as well as vicarious suffering and death necessary for sin’s forgiveness. Given David’s error three weeks earlier that cost Uzzah his life, burnt offerings fit the occasion well.

Peace offerings are symbolic of fellowship restored. Part was consumed by the fire; part was eaten in a ceremonial meal. This is all pointing ultimately to the work of Jesus Christ—forgiveness, reconciliation, and consecration.

David’s gratitude to God showed itself in unrestrained offerings to the Lord and spilled over into generosity to fellow worshipers, blessing them in the name Yahweh of hosts (armies), who had done battle royal over the years to bring David and the nation to this point, and then sending them all home with bread, meat, and raisons.

Worship of the Lord is not stingy toward God or toward man. When I love God with all my heart, soul, mind, strength, I will also love my neighbors, and that love will express itself in a wealth of generosity. When God gets hold of my heart, he also gets hold of my pocketbook. If you are a stingy person, you are not godly because God is not stingy.

What evidence of true worship do you see in your typical treatment of God?

When do you find you are most generous?

When are you least generous?

Which behavior most honors God, who Himself provides for all living things and gives graciously, lavishly to us all?

III. Blind Contempt (2 Samuel 6:20-23)

20 And David returned to bless his household. But Michal the daughter of Saul came out to meet David and said, “How the king of Israel honored himself today, uncovering himself today before the eyes of his servants' female servants, as one of the vulgar fellows shamelessly uncovers himself!” 21 And David said to Michal, “It was before the Lord, who chose me above your father and above all his house, to appoint me as prince over Israel, the people of the Lord—and I will celebrate before the Lord. 22 I will make myself yet more contemptible than this, and I will be abased in your eyes. But by the female servants of whom you have spoken, by them I shall be held in honor.” 23 And Michal the daughter of Saul had no child to the day of her death.

Michal was not a participant in the worship. She was a critic. You really can’t do both. She despised David for his zealous response to the LORD. She paints David’s good as evil, even morally suspect with a malicious spin.

Reveals different core values—the concerns of her father Saul—whether or not David came off dignified, acted kingly, wore the kingly attire.

She created division and strife in her home by her strong rebuke of her husband.

She suffered the dishonor of bearing no child. Was this because she was unloved? Or was she cursed? This is left ambiguous, but her behavior is productive of either or both. Michal shows that when you have no heart for God and His glory, you are likely to have little regard for those who do. What is your attitude toward your fellow worshipers? What is your response toward those who are outwardly expressive and zealous in their public worship?

What motives do you assign to them? Good or evil? If evil, what does this passage say to you? How does God view those who have contempt for zealous worshipers of Him?

Michal pays a bitter price for her attitude toward her husband who, unlike her father, loves God zealously. Michal’s stated objections had to do with good decorum. According to this passage, what does God consider even more important?

David’s answer to Michal’s stinging sarcasm and contempt is that his worship was not done for the sake of the onlookers but before the Lord. When you worship, what audience are you most concerned about? What would happen if you were to express your worship for an audience of One?

Devotion and Disdain mark nearly every public worship service. Davids and Michals show up on any given Sunday.

O for a heart to praise my God,

A heart from sin set free!

Jesus to the woman at the well: God is seeking those who will worship Him in spirit and in truth. He offered her the water of life to make her that kind of true worship of God from the heart.

 

LifeGroup Questions

Teaching

What does this passage teach us about God?

What does this passage teach us about people?

What does this passage teach us about worship?

Where does this passage fit into the overall gospel story?

Reproof

Are there ways that we have become ostentatious in our worship? What happens when we become more passionate about our forms in worship than we do the One whom we are worshipping? What does God really want in our worship?

What will be some of the characteristics of our worship when our hearts are filled with zealous celebration and grateful generosity? What will be true of our worship when our hearts are not filled with these things? Which one better fits the way that you worship?

What is your attitude toward your fellow worshippers? What motivations do you assign to them in the way that they worship?

Correction

How do we apply the gospel to our failures in the areas just discussed in the reproof section?

After considering the gospel, what are some practical ways to begin to apply the truths of these passages?

Training in righteousness

How must our thinking be renewed if we are to be transformed by these texts?

What must be put off from and put onto our lives if we are to be transformed by these texts?

Prayer

For what from these texts can we rejoice?

For what from these texts can we repent?

For what from these texts can we request, both for ourselves and others?

 

Pastor Drew Conley

Hampton Park Baptist Church

Greenville, SC

October 5, 2014

 
How an Unexamined Conscience Hurts Missions PDF

How an Unexamined Conscience Hurts Missions

Hampton Park Sunday School

JD Crowley

1. No two Christians have exactly the same conscience, though there is much overlap.

2. No one’s conscience matches perfectly with God’s will.

 If two Christians in the same country (same church) have such divergence at the edges of conscience, imagine the differences between a Western missionary and an unbeliever from the global South. Conscience issues multiply across cultures. Yet every year missionaries go to other cultures with their own conscience unexamined, and with little or no understanding of what’s in the conscience of the people they have gone to serve.   

I can give you dozens of mistakes I’ve made in that regard. Here’s one.

I planted a mango tree in my yard in Cambodia. On the fourth year when fruit normally starts to appear, there was a grand total of three mangoes on the tree, and they were pretty pitiful. But that couldn’t dampen my excitement for the day when I could slice off some of that golden goodness and savor it in my mouth. The day never came.    A local friend of mine who was doing some concrete work for me picked and ate the mangoes! All three of them!    Worse yet, he seemed completely without remorse—a sign, I was sure, of a seared conscience.   

But he felt no pangs of conscience because in his culture what he did wasn’t wrong. The real wrong in that situation was my own stinginess. In most cultures around the world (including ancient Israel—see Deuteronomy 23:24–25 and Luke 6:1), it’s not considered theft to pick a handful of grain or a fruit or two while you’re taking a shortcut through someone’s field as long as you don’t do any serious harvesting. For most Western missionaries though, that would constitute two violations of personal property: trespass and theft. Don’t get me wrong; both cultures have strong moral codes against theft, but the difference is in the details.

This situation made me realize that I had to make two adjustments to my inner moral consciousness: (1) I had to add the category of “stinginess toward neighbors” to my list of serious wrongs. Stinginess toward neighbors is hardly on the radar in America, where personal property rights are revered and people think they’re quoting Scripture when they say, “God helps those who help themselves.” But stinginess toward neighbors is a huge sin in most other cultures. Food is above all what we must share with others, noted the Christian anthropologist Bob Priest. (2) I had to adjust my conscience concerning personal property rights (at least, while in Cambodia).    Later, while walking through an orchard, a friend handed me some freshly picked fruit; I felt completely free to eat it with no pang of conscience even though we had not yet asked the owner. (Of course, there are stipulations to these rules. If we had climbed a wall to get the fruit, it would have been wrong.)

If we diagram the above situation using the conscience triangles, it might look like this:

In the mango incident, I tended to see the “sin” for which my friend had no conscience category. I had a conscience category for that! “Don’t pick a fruit from someone else’s tree” was a big part of my conscience; so I immediately saw my friend’s “brazen” disregard of private property rights. My friend, on the other hand, tended to see the “sin” that was in his conscience, but not in mine: stinginess. Since “Don’t be stingy” was a big part of my friend’s conscience, he immediately saw my obvious moral failure.   

AN ALLY GOES SILENT

Imagine what mistakes we can make when we start preaching the gospel, which includes preaching repentance from sin? Whose sins? What sins?

What if I tried to use the “theft” of my three mangoes to show my friend the depravity of his heart and his need for Christ? My pleas would have fallen on a deaf conscience.    Normally conscience is a powerful and indispensable ally in evangelism as we show people their need for a savior.    But we must be careful which specific sins we urge them to repent of. There are three dangers here.

1.    There is a danger that we’ll preach against mere scruples, rules that are not even sins in God’s eyes, but simply cultural accretions from our own culture, baggage that we’ve carried to our new country from the West, or worse yet from our Christian subculture. 

“Doth not nature itself teach you that it is a sin to use certain instruments in worship or destroy forests with slash-and-burn agriculture or put your ten-year-old child to work in your field or be late for a church service or litter?” When we preach against those kinds of “sins,” the conscience of our hearers won’t affirm our message. Our most important ally goes silent.   

Now, it’s true that with enough persuasion and force of Western personality we can convince the puzzled locals that the issue we keep bringing up is actually important, but it won’t be the Holy Spirit using the Holy Word to do the convincing. The result? Another group of Christians with overburdened consciences. And remember that an overburdened conscience is a conscience ripe for error.    When you, through your influence, make enough small things into big things in the hearts of the local believers, you will only be helping them to eventually overlook something huge that will truly harm their life and family.    If they learn to strain out enough gnats, they’ll eventually choke to death on a camel.   

2. There is a danger that we’ll preach against sins that are truly sins to us in the West but not to those in the local culture, like picking a piece of fruit in someone’s field, or different modesty standards. Once again, there will be silence in the hearer’s conscience. The magisterial judgments of conscience will be replaced by the chirping of crickets, all because the messengers understood neither their own conscience or the conscience of the new culture.

3. There is a danger that we’ll not be careful to value the virtues of the local people’s conscience. When we break important cultural values of our new culture that our own culture does not consider so important, such as sharing food or honoring the elderly, people in that culture see us as at least ill-mannered, if not immoral. We think we’re living exemplary lives, but we’re not. The locals will look down on both us and our message, because we haven’t done our homework.

Are there good aspects of the target culture? Because humans are created in the image of God, we can expect all cultures to have good and wholesome values and traditions that we can wholeheartedly affirm and learn from. The culture you’re going to is better at some virtues than the US.   

But because humans are also fallen, we can expect all cultures—including ours—to have values and traditions that are displeasing to God. Wise missionaries study both their own culture and the target culture to find these wholesome and unwholesome aspects so that they and their converts can embrace the good and turn from the evil.

A missionary with an unexamined, uncalibrated conscience will never think in the above terms.    

The person who has helped me the most to understand the intersection of conscience, culture, and missions is Bob Priest, Professor of International Studies, Mission, and Anthropology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.    He was an MK raised in Bolivia, and later conducted nearly two years of anthropological field research among the Aguaruna of Peru, focusing on traditional religion and conversion to Christianity.   

“Western missionaries tended to assume that their consciences were advanced beyond that of local peoples, who they felt had little if any sense of right and wrong.    They took on themselves the task of teaching moral scruples, all too often imposing new cultural (rather than biblical) values and belittling or trampling on local values in the process....To understand the cultural forms of conscience [to understand that some rules in our conscience come from culture, not God] is of critical importance in missionary work.”

Priest shares the critical insight that “in an intercultural situation each interactant will … tend to condemn the other morally for behavior about which the other has no conscience”:

“A North American going to live with the Aguaruna may be highly incensed at the occasional beating of an errant wife, at arranged marriages, at polygyny,.... For traditional Aguaruna each of these is perfectly wholesome and appropriate. On the other hand, the Aguaruna are angered when North American anthropologists or missionaries fail to share the food they are eating with visitors. Food is, above all things, that which must be shared. And when such foreigners are invited for a meal, they fail to exercise careful self-restraint in eating meat—a limited and highly valued food item. Self-restraint, in such a setting, implies consideration for the needs of others and self-denial on their behalf.”

Priest is not suggesting that wife-beating and polygny are disputable matters. He highlights them in order to show that the missionaries are oblivious to “sins” for which they have no conscience category. And the locals are oblivious to “sins” for which they have no conscience category. We judge Cambodians for littering, but there is no rule in their conscience for littering, or for being late. In fact, there didn’t used to be a rule in our conscience against littering. It’s taken 50 years of constant advertising to create in our collective conscience a new category of sin.

“American missionaries internalize deeply held moral ideas about punctuality, egalitarianism [class differences], individual rights, privacy, cleanliness, etc., which derive much more clearly from their culture than from the Scriptures.”

This is why it’s so important for missionaries to understand what the conscience is and how it works:

“For us to train our missionaries in Bible schools which stress modesty by specific rules addressing the permissible length of skirts (measured in terms of inches above the knee), for example, and then to send such missionaries out to radically different cultures (from tribals in grass skirts and uncovered breasts to Muslims with carefully veiled women) and expect them to figure out, on their own, the precise mix of culture and Scripture which has gone into their deeply held convictions of conscience about modesty is an unrealistic expectation.”

Bob Priest argues that if missionaries are not careful about cross-cultural conscience issues, they may bypass the native conscience, and natives may “convert” not to Christianity but to a different culture. Some may do this because they hope “by a cultural conversion to acquire the secrets of wealth and power.” So it’s essential that missionaries “understand the role that culture has played in the formation of their own conscience” and that they “understand native conscience.” Priest recommends that if missionaries want to reach people in other cultures, they should (1) “seek to live an exemplary life in terms of the virtues and norms stressed by the people he or she is attempting to reach,” and (2) “should stress sin, guilt, and repentance principally with reference to native conscience—particularly that aspect of their conscience which is in agreement with Scripture.”

CALIBRATING YOUR CONSCIENCE FOR MISSIONS

Perhaps the best example in the Bible of a person who did the hard work of weeding and cultivating his conscience for the sake of winning people to Christ is the apostle Paul. Think about what a tangled jungle the overly-sensitive conscience of an overly-scrupulous Pharisee like Paul must have been, with the addition of hundreds of man-made laws that weren’t even in the Bible!

Remember that no Christian has a conscience that is perfectly in line with God’s will.  

On the day of Paul’s conversion, much of what was in his conscience matched God’s will. But much of it didn’t. Not only that, there were no doubt some of God’s standards that didn’t even show up in Paul’s conscience (the non-overlapping section to the top right).

In this next slide we’re going to isolate Paul’s conscience, but keep the distinction between the part of his conscience that corresponds to God’s will and the part that doesn’t.  

This means that like Paul’s conscience, the conscience of every believer is a mixture of rules that match God’s will (the upper part of the triangle in Slide) and rules that are merely cultural or personal (the lower part).

Don’t you wish that the line between the two was as obvious as it is in the slide? But in real life it’s much more difficult to know where my moral judgments end and where God’s begin, as in this next slide. This makes the task of calibrating conscience much more difficult.

Evidently Paul took the time to make the merely cultural part of his conscience smaller and smaller, and the God part larger and larger.  

We, too, must seriously and prayerfully ask God, the Lord of conscience to come into the garden of our conscience and determine what stays, what goes, and what’s missing.

This will mean creating new categories in our minds, new files, where we will place the matters that were once in the category of “right and wrong.” One file might say, “Family rules,” another, “Hygiene,” another, “Good Manners.” I have at least three different “good manners” files: one for America, one for when I’m among Khmer, and one for when I’m among tribal minorities. All three cultures care very much about appropriate manners, but the details are a little different.

If you don’t do this hard work now, your conscience will be cluttered, overpacked with commandments that aren’t even from God. Here’s what your conscience is going to look like as you leave for the field.

  

Praise God, part of your conscience will have standards that match God’s will, but the other half will be crammed with rules that come from your American culture, or your church culture.

One thing is sure, the more your conscience is filled with rules that aren’t necessarily God’s rules, the harder missions is going to be for you, and the more likely you’re going to try to create churches in your image, or an American fundamentalist image.

This brings us to the concept of Christian liberty.

Christian Liberty: The Freedom to Discipline Yourself to be Flexible for the Gospel

I get this from 1 Corinthians 9:19–23, esp. verse 19: “19 For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them.”

Remember all those hundreds of man-made laws that he had in his conscience when he became a Christian? Back then he couldn’t say that he was free from all. His conscience was bound with hundreds of man-made laws. But at some point he had invited the Lord of his conscience to come into his conscience and determine 3 things: slide  What stays. What goes. What’s missing. So that 20 years later he could say these words in verse 19: I am free from all. But notice what his freedom allowed him to do. It wasn’t party time. It wasn’t ham every day, wrapped in bacon, stuffed with crab. No. It wasn’t about Paul. Christian liberty isn’t about you. It’s about being free to discipline yourself to be flexible for the gospel.

(Read 19-23) Notice that these verses present two general categories of people: (1) Paul, and people like him, who become all things to all men for the sake of the gospel and (2) people for whom Paul flexes. The question for those committed to the gospel is this: how do you go from being the ethnocentric, me-centric person that Paul needs to flex for, to being the person like Paul who disciplines himself to do this amazing flexing while flowing from culture to culture?

It’s not easy. It requires years of carefully tending the garden of your conscience. Or to use a different word picture, it requires years of calibrating and recalibrating your conscience to match God’s will. It requires Christian maturity, theological conviction, Christian love, personal discipline, and an unswerving commitment to the gospel.    The paragraphs before and after 1 Corinthians 9:19–23 are all about self-denial and self-discipline for the sake of the gospel and for the sake of the lost.

That’s what Christian liberty really is: the freedom to discipline yourself to be flexible for the sake of the gospel.  

It’s not, “Cool! I finally get to do the stuff I’ve always wanted to do but my strict upbringing wouldn’t let me do.” Then you Facebook about it so that everyone knows you’re hip. That’s not Christian liberty; that’s immaturity.    Christian liberty is the domain of the mature, not the immature. When the immature get ahold of it, they make a mess of it, like some of the Corinthians did.

Let us flesh this out with real life missionary examples:

Christian liberty is the freedom to eat dog when it’s served to you in the village.

It’s the freedom to choose to never again eat southern BBQ and double bacon cheeseburgers because you’re called to serve Christ in the Muslim areas of Detroit.

Christian liberty is the freedom that comes to a single lady missionary who was brought up to have personal scruples against wearing pants, but who disciplines herself to wear the indigenous clothing of a tribe in Central Asia—including pants—because in that culture only loose women wear dresses and show their ankles and calves.

Christian liberty is the freedom that comes from Christ that allows a painfully private person to open up her home in a society where people just walk in without knocking, a society that doesn’t even have a word for privacy. I (J.D.) just described my own wife.

Christian liberty is about a clean freak who forces himself not to get out his hand sanitizer every time he shakes someone’s hand or touches something in a third-world country. We heard of a missionary couple who ruined their ministry because of that.

Christian liberty is the freedom to sing and dance to the tribal hymns the way they sing and dance to them, even though, by upbringing and personality, you have never been comfortable showing that kind of emotion.

Christian liberty is about someone who hates bugs having the freedom to discipline himself to live where bug invasions are a nightly ordeal during some seasons.

Christian liberty is about a Corinthian Christian (1 Corinthians 10) who used to have scruples about eating meat, getting invited to his unsaved neighbor’s house for a feast, and being served meat that he doesn’t want to eat—but he goes ahead and eats it because he remembers Paul’s admonition in 1 Corinthians 10:27. He eats it without asking any questions. He eats it for the sake of the gospel— because that man’s eternal soul is a whole lot more important to God than some scruple about not eating meat.

Christian liberty is about another Corinthian Christian at the same party who has no scruples against eating meat.    And just as he gets ready to dig into the slab of steak on his plate, someone sitting next to him leans over and says, “Don’t eat it; it’s been sacrificed.” And for the sake of that man and his weak conscience, the meat lover puts down his fork and says, “Thank you for telling me that” (1 Cor.    10:28–29).

That’s what Christian liberty is all about. Being free to discipline yourself to put the gospel and others first.

I have a missionary colleague who was brought in a vegetarian family. That restriction became entrenched in his conscience to the point that he would consider himself morally superior to others with a different diet. After he became a Christian in college, he began to understand the Bible’s teaching about food. He remained a vegetarian, but he moved that practice out of the file of right and wrong to a new file: dietary preference. He no longer judged others. As he prepared to become a Bible translator to a tribe in Cambodia, he realized that this restriction would cause problems not only in the many homes he would be invited to in pre-field ministry, but especially in the homes of local believers on the field.    How could he refuse to eat the food offered to him by his tribal brothers and sisters? So he forced himself to learn to eat meat again. He remembers to this day, and so does his wife, when he was on deputation and the plate of lamb roast was passed to him, and he took some. And he eats meat to this day. Had he stayed in his own country, he would likely still be a vegetarian. He eats meat for the gospel.

A message to future missionaries: You can’t live this kind of life if your conscience is over-packed with all kinds of stuff that doesn’t need to be there. If you’ve taken fifty little things and made them into big things in your conscience, those are fifty fewer areas where you can follow Paul’s missionary example of flexing. Because if those fifty things are in your conscience—if your conscience says they’re sins—then you can’t bend on any of them. You must not sin against your conscience.

If what you eat and drink is in the category of black and white, right and wrong, you can’t flex on that.   

If your minor points of eschatology are right up there with your creedal truth, you’ve got to separate over those things.   

If what you do with your hands while you worship is a matter of right and wrong, you can’t bend on that.   

If your conscience won’t let you dance to tribal hymns, stay away from Africa. Or just import all Western hymns, and sing them exactly like you do at home—and don’t forget to take a piano.

And you end up with what Professor Mark Vowels, head of missions at Bob Jones University, calls “franchise missions,” little cookie-cutter duplicates of our home church but in a foreign country—same dress, same songs, same building, and the same bound conscience—bound by things that those poor people had no idea were even sins until the missionaries came and brought their American Christian subculture, adding to their burden instead of lifting it.

This cuts both ways. D. A. Carson reminds us that both the too-scrupulous and the not-careful-enough need to hear this exhortation from 1 Corinthians 9:19–23:

“The person who lives by endless rules and who forms his or her self-identity by conforming to them simply cannot flex at all. By contrast, the person without roots, heritage, self-identity, and nonnegotiable values is not really flexing, but is simply being driven hither and yon by the vagaries of every whimsical opinion that passes by. Such people may “fit in,” but they cannot win anyone. They hold to nothing stable or solid enough to win others to it! Thus the end of Paul’s statement in verse 22 is critical: “I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some” (9:22, emphasis added).

Worksheet on missionary and local conscience:

1.    On the judgment day, God will judge the local based on what areas of conscience? _____

2.    On the judgment day, God will probably not judge the local based on what areas of conscience? _____

3.    Day-to-day, the Holy Spirit convicts the local based on what areas of conscience?  _____

4.    If you went to Germany as a missionary, picking a fruit without permission from a neighbor’s tree would go in what area of conscience? _____

5.    What areas of sin will the missionary tend not to preach against? _____

6.    In what areas of conscience will the locals judge the missionary as having a glaring lack of moral virtue?  _____

7.    In what areas do the missionaries think they’re having a real good testimony before the locals, but the locals are not impressed? _____

8.    Missionaries will see the locals’ most glaring lack in which areas? _____

9.    Preaching against which sins will find a strong response in the local’s heart? _____

10.    But why will the missionary tend not to preach against “4”?

11.    Preaching against what area bypasses the local person’s conscience? _____ 

12.    Is it legitimate for the missionary to preach against sins in area 2?

13.    The Holy Spirit will not add his convicting power when we preach against what sins? _____

14.    The missionary’s careful adherence to which section of conscience will impress the locals? _____

15.    What scruples should the missionary consider obeying, even though he knows they are not sins? _____

16.    Which category of sins is wrong for both the missionary and local, but fine with God?  _____

17.    It is legitimate for the missionary to attempt to add what category of sins to the conscience of the local listener? _____ What would be illegitimate? _____

18.    What areas of conscience do local parents scold their own kids about? _____  What areas of conscience do missionary parents scold their own kids about? _____

19.    It is not legitimate for the missionary to attempt to add what category of sins to the conscience of the local listener? _____

20.    Because no one obeys conscience all the time, locals will often engage in activities that go against their conscience.    Which activities of local culture are safe for a missionary to preach against without opening himself/herself to the charge of attacking legitimate customs? _____ 

21.    In the early stages of evangelism, the missionary should preach against what areas of sins? _____

22.    Preaching against which area of sins would bring (legitimate) charges of colonialism? _____

23.    Directly after conversion, where should our discipling efforts center? _____  and sometimes _____ 

 

Missionary JD Crowley

Hampton Park Baptist Church

Greenville, SC

September 28, 2014

 
God, the Only Lord of Conscience PDF

God, the Only Lord of Conscience

JD Crowley

Twenty years ago this past Thursday Kim and I and the kids arrived in Cambodia. Thank you to Hampton Park for entrusting this ministry to us and for faithfully sending us monthly support without a single missed month for 20 years. Thank you for your tens of thousands of prayers for us. Thank you for the sermons that gave us strength and encouragement to not quit. Twenty years ago we could not have imagined what God was going to do among the tribes of NE Cambodia. The people living in the land of the shadow of death, on them a light dawned. The light of the gospel. Thank you for holding the ropes.

I received a priceless gift from God but I didn’t take care of it; I neglected it. A few years ago I began to realize my failure and starting nurturing this priceless gift. The gift is called conscience. I don’t want you to be like me and neglect caring for and nurturing your conscience, and so I preach this morning on God, the Only Lord of Conscience.

There are some subjects in Christianity that are so fertile, so abundantly promising and practical on so many different levels that when you study them you reap a harvest way beyond expectations. It’s like “Buy One Get Ten Free.”

Conscience is one of those subjects. Yet, there is hardly a topic in the Christian church more neglected.

How many of us would ever even think to mention our clean conscience in a testimony?  Paul did, repeatedly.

How many of us in mentoring a young Christian would emphasize the necessity of keeping a clean conscience? How many of your mentors have spent time with you talking about conscience?

How many of us knew that getting our conscience under control, that is, under the lordship of Christ, was one of the keys to success in church life and missions?

I was a missionary, yet I didn’t realize that Paul forged an unbreakable link between getting our conscience under the lordship of Christ, and making God famous around the world. That’s tonight’s message.

WHAT IS CONSCIENCE?

Sometimes you read about “human conscience,” as if there’s any other kind. Only humans have conscience. To have a conscience is to be human. Dogs don’t have consciences. It often seems like they do. You’ve seen those pictures on the internet of guilty looking dogs with a sign around their neck: I puked on the bed. Here’s my simpering dog, Lucy, whose tail is fixed permanently between her legs; we think she was abused as a puppy. She looks constantly guilty. But in spite of all appearances, Lucy doesn’t have a conscience, because she doesn’t have the capacity for moral judgment. My cats don’t have a conscience either, but I didn’t need to tell you that. Only humans have this glorious capacity.

1. CONSCIENCE IS A CAPACITY

First of all, conscience is a human capacity. Other human capacities are speech and reason. Not every individual human will achieve speech and reason and conscience—an infant dies before he can communicate, for example. Or these capacities can be lost—someone with dementia can no longer make moral judgments necessary for conscience. But every human has the capacity for conscience.

2. CONSCIENCE IS AN ASPECT OF GOD’S IMAGE

It shouldn’t surprise you that you have a conscience. God is a moral God; you are made in his image; so you must be a moral creature who makes moral judgments. And what is conscience but the shining of the spotlight of your moral judgment back on your own self, your own thoughts, your own actions. It would surprise you if you didn’t judge yourself.

3. CONSCIENCE SEEMS INDEPENDENT

When you think about it, it’s surprising that you would even care about the verdict of your own conscience. Yet you do care—intensely. Many have taken their own lives because of a secret guilt—a sin that no one else knew about except that impossible-to-suppress voice within. Others have gone mad by the tell-tale heartbeat of a conscience that wouldn’t be quiet.

Why should you even care what your conscience says about you? If you heard that a judge was accused of a crime and was going to hear his own case you’d laugh. First he calls the court into session and reads the charges. Then he jumps down into the witness stand to defend himself, then jumps back up to the bench to pronounce himself “not guilty.” What a joke! And yet you judge yourself all the time, and it doesn’t feel like a joke. It’s deadly serious. Why?

The why is a great mystery. No one knows exactly why the conscience feels so much like a legitimate, unbiased third party. But the Puritans, who talked more about conscience than anyone else in church history, explained it by connecting some verses in Romans 1 to some in Romans 2.

The first universal truth about mankind: Romans 1:19-20  “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.”

The second universal truth about mankind: Romans 2:14-16  “For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them—on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.”

So we all have this sense that, though what’s going on in our conscience is a secret—nevertheless, an all-powerful God is in on the secret, and will some day judge those secrets at his great and terrifying tribunal. The Puritans didn’t say that people actually reasoned it out like a syllogism, but that every human nevertheless senses very strongly that he is accountable to God—and that’s what makes the voice of conscience seem like a independent judge instead of a kangaroo court.

4. CONSCIENCE IS AN ON/OFF SWITCH, NOT A DIMMER

Conscience is all about right or wrong, black or white. It doesn’t do gray scale. It doesn’t nuance. It doesn’t say, “It’s complicated.” Conscience leads your thoughts to either “accuse or excuse” (Romans 2:15). Because conscience always wants to make pronouncements of right and wrong, it is of utmost importance that you make sure your conscience standards contain only matters of real right and wrong, as you understand the scripture, not matters of mere opinion. Otherwise matters of mere opinion will receive a guilty verdict.

5. MYOC. (Mind Your Own Conscience) YOUR CONSCIENCE IS FOR YOU AND YOU ONLY

You cannot, must not, force your conscience standards on other people. The scripture forbids this kind of binding of the conscience of others. The next two principles will help us understand why.

6. NO TWO PEOPLE HAVE EXACTLY THE SAME CONSCIENCE

Otherwise we wouldn’t need Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8. (slide - Christian Red and Blue)

These red and blue triangles represent Mr. Red’s and Mr. Blue’s consciences. Notice there’s a lot of overlap where they would agree completely—even more than this graphic would indicate. I’ve used the letters A-K to stand for various conscience standards in the consciences of the two. For example, in the purple area of overlap, both Mr. Red and Mr. Blue would agree that they should not do C, D, and E. 

Notice that Mr. Red’s conscience won’t let him do A and B. Mr. Blue’s conscience won’t let him do F,G,H,I,J,K.  Both of them agree that C, D, and E are prohibited. If you’re Mr. Red, you’ll be shocked that Mr. Blue is oblivious to restriction B. He says, “I can’t believe that Mr. Blue doesn’t buy only fair-trade coffee! Doesn’t he care about downtrodden laborers in South America?!” Mr. Red also sees Mr. Blue assiduously avoiding F,G,H,I,J,K, and he rolls his eyes. “Doesn’t he know that those scruples aren’t even in the Bible!?”  Mr. Blue, on the other hand, notices immediately Mr. Red’s complete disregard of laws F,G,H,I,J,K, and mutters, “And he calls himself a Christian.” These differences in conscience cause a significant percentage of problems in any church—another reason to understand conscience.

In reality, the consciences of two believers in a church would overlap much more than this diagram shows, I’m guessing 95%. (By the way, for those listening to a download of this, if you want to see the graphics, you can email me at crowley@camintel.com and I’ll send you a link.)

7. NO ONE’S CONSCIENCE MATCHES PERFECTLY WITH GOD’S WILL--not on this side of eternity!

When we superimpose this green triangle (which stands for God’s will) on top of Mr. Red’s and Mr. Blue’s consciences, we see immediately that no human being, except the Lord Jesus, has a conscience perfectly aligned with God’s will.

Look long and hard at this slide. Let it burn into your memory. Many of us are having problems in church because we don’t understand this principle. We want others to have the same freedoms as we do (and look down on them if they don’t), or we want others to have exactly the same restrictions as we do (and we judge them if they don’t). We become the standard. It’s “life by my conscience,” not “life by the book.”

Brothers and sisters, not a single person in this room has a conscience that is perfectly aligned with God’s will. No one. Every last one of you has a mistaken conscience at a number of points. There are matters that God wants you to have in your conscience that you are completely oblivious to. And there are matters that are in your conscience that aren’t from God, but it sure feels like they are.

Look at the slide. Mr. Red needs to learn that buying non-fair-trade coffee is NOT a sin in God’s eyes (so Mr. Red is wrong at that point and probably many others), and Mr. Blue needs to learn that G,H,I,J,K aren’t sins in God’s eyes, so Mr. Blue’s conscience is wrong in many areas. And there’s a sin that Mr. Red better be thinking a lot more about, because God sure cares about it (F). And notice that Mr. Blue is dead wrong about A, and they’re both completely blind to L. It doesn’t even show up on either of their radars.

Mr. Red wants to look down on legalistic Mr. Blue. Mr. Blue wants to judge “lawless” Mr. Red. And it’s likely that both of them are thinking about leaving their church and finding one where there is 99% agreement instead of 95% agreement. They might even be willing to split the church over these conscience disagreements. And where does this end? The people in the 99% pure church are looking for a church where there is 99.9% agreement.

O, the poor benighted tribal Christians that I work with in Cambodia who are fresh out of Satanism. They don’t have the luxury of a church on every corner. They can’t just go find another church where everyone thinks just like them and where their disputable conscience issues are even enshrined in the by-laws to ensure that everyone is the same. No. Those poor deprived believers have to learn to welcome and love each other like mature Christians.

(Illustration of helping Jarai decide not to split.)

I beg you, don’t tell them how we mature believers in Greenville do it. May God give us grace to act like the mature Christians we say we are.

8. YOU CAN BREAK YOUR CONSCIENCE

Like all valuable gifts from God, the gift of conscience can be broken. Oddly enough, it can be broken in two very opposite ways: 1) Making it insensitive and 2) making it oversensitive.

            1) We make conscience insensitive by refusing to listen to its voice of warning, so that the voice gets quieter and quieter and finally disappears. Paul in 1 Timothy 4:2 says that some false teachers seared their own conscience by refusing to listen to its warnings.

            2) We can break our conscience by making it oversensitive, that is, by overpacking it with too many rules that are actually matters of opinion, not right and wrong.

Oddly enough, both kinds of conscience-breakdown can appear in the same people. Paul went on to say in the very next verse, 1 Timothy 4:3, that the same false teachers who had a seared conscience also imposed strict and unnecessary scruples about abstinence from things like marriage and foods. And remember that it was the over-scrupulous Pharisees like Paul who murdered Christ and his followers.

Those 8 principles of conscience finally bring us to...

THE TWO GREAT PRINCIPLES OF CONSCIENCE

There are two principles that rise above the rest and govern them all: 1) God is the only Lord of your conscience, 2) Obey your conscience. We’re going to look at the second one first, because it’s the most obvious.

Principle 2: Obey It!

Even unbelievers know this principle. The Bible says that to go against your conscience when you think it’s warning you correctly is always a sin in God’s eyes. Always. Even if what you’re doing is not actually a sin. Conscience can make a right thing wrong.

I have a Christian friend who came to Greenville for schooling from a country in Asia and was shocked that everybody was drinking root beer. He knew it was non-alcoholic, but the very name made it wrong to drink.

You say, that’s ridiculous. But you can’t say that about someone else’s conscience restrictions. To that person it’s life and death. The second great principle of conscience demands that he obey his conscience, and you must respect that until God guides him to adjust his conscience.

But does this principle, Obey you conscience, mean your conscience is always correct? No. And here is where the first, the greatest, principle of conscience comes in.

This is “the one ring to rule them all and in the conscience bind them.”

Principle 1: God Is the Only Lord of Conscience

—Your conscience is not the Lord of itself—that’s idolatry.

—You are not the lord of your conscience.

—Your parents are not the lord of your conscience (though they are trying their best to help form in you a good conscience, and you do well to obey them when under their care).

—Your pastors are not the lord of your conscience (though they care for your soul and you’d be a fool not to consider their counsel).

—Fellow believers are not the lord of your conscience (though they’ll often pressure you to follow their conscience instead of God’s will). God is the only lord of conscience.

This means that the second principle (Obey it) has one critical limitation. If God, the Lord of your conscience, shows you through his word that your conscience is registering a wrong moral judgment and that you need to adjust it, your conscience must bend to God’s revealed will. You remember the principle that came from Peter’s mouth in Acts 5:29? “We must obey God rather than man” (Acts 5:29)? That holds true even when the “man” happens to be you yourself! You must obey God rather than YOU. You must obey God rather than your conscience. If your conscience is so sacrosanct that it’s off-limits even to God, that’s idolatry.

Remember when God came to Peter in a vision and commanded him to eat meat that in the Old Testament was forbidden, but Jesus Christ later allowed. What if Peter decided to listen to his conscience instead of to God when God told him to “Kill and eat!” (Acts 10:9–16)? He would have committed a serious sin. Whenever “Obey conscience!” and “Obey God!” collide, “Obey God!” must come out on top every time. We’re thankful that a Christian with a well-calibrated conscience will rarely have to make that choice.

A WELL-CALIBRATED CONSCIENCE

You know what calibration is? A ship with dozens of sensitive instruments goes to sea for 6 months. The instruments get jostled, subject to heat and electrical surges, static electricity, lightning. So when the ship returns to home port a specialist goes onboard with extremely fine-tuned equipment and re-calibrates all the instruments according to the standards.

To do that you need a standard—a green triangle. If the guy just re-calibrated the instruments to match the ones on other ships, that’s not going to work. But that’s what we do with our conscience standards. Most Christians calibrate their conscience according to what others in their own culture or church do. Does that honor Christ’s lordship over conscience? Does it honor God’s word? No.

A few people are just the opposite. They’re the gadflies. If everyone has a certain scruple, he’s going to have the opposite. He likes to swim against the tide. But that’s not honoring to Christ’s lordship either. You just like being the different.

For some of you, the image of “calibration” is way too geeky and mechanical. So instead, think of your conscience as a beautiful garden that God has prepared for you and given to you as a gift. But life happens, and in the process of growing up in your culture and your family and your church, weeds get in there that shouldn’t be. And some plants that should be in there die. This is out of neglect.

Do you remember from Pastor’s sermon what were the conscience disagreements in Paul’s day?

CONSCIENCE DISAGREEMENTS IN PAUL’S DAY

Almost every church in the Roman empire was a mixture of Jew and Gentile. The Jewish Christians, before putting their faith in Christ Jesus, were very careful to obey as many Old Testament laws as they could, especially the laws about observing holy days and refraining from certain kinds of foods, like meat that was not prepared properly. Now that they were Christian Jews, most of them probably understood that Jesus Christ had changed those food laws (see Mark 7:18-23).

But once you’re a part of a strict religious tradition that goes back a long time (sound familiar?) it’s not so easy to adjust your conscience. Your conscience still condemns you because you’re not quite sure everything is okay now. Plus, since many Jews lived in pagan cities, they could never be sure if the meat in the market was killed in the proper Old Testament way. Worse yet, the meat in the market might have been leftover meat from yesterday’s sacrifices to idols! So a lot of Jewish Christians had just decided to be vegetarians.

The Gentile Christians, on the other hand, didn’t carry with them this burden of strict scrupulousness, a burden that, in the words of Peter himself in Acts 15, the Jewish people themselves were never able to bear. So the Gentiles could eat pretty much whatever they wanted, without their conscience telling them it was wrong.

So it ended up that many of the churches had two groups of Christians, the strong conscience group who were able to eat meat, and the weak conscience group who couldn’t eat meat without some conscience pangs.

If things had just stayed this way, no problem. But sinful human nature likes to win. So it didn’t take long for these differences to cause attitude problems between these two groups.Neither of these two options are pleasing to God. What alarmed Paul was that the division between these two groups usually fell along racial lines.

Satan saw this natural Jew-Gentile gap in the church, and that’s exactly where he brought down his axe, He tempted the weak-conscience (strict) group to think that they were holier than the strong-conscience group, and he tempted the strong-conscience group to look down on the strict group as weak in their faith. 

But in some churches it was even worse than what I’ve just described. In some churches, seeds of outright heresy were beginning to germinate on both sides of these issues. That would be the two outside columns on this chart. Let me explain the heresies.

In some churches, like the church at Corinth, some of those in the “strong group” had become over-confident and arrogant with their freedoms, even accepting invitations from their unsaved friends to feast at the banqueting halls that were connected to the pagan temples. This was quite tempting because people back then didn’t get to eat a lot of meat, so this was their protein fix for the entire month. I’m guessing these Christians were attending only for the food and friendship, and didn’t even pay attention to the little opening ceremony that some pagan priest did. He said some meaningless chant and presented some of the meat to some meaningless idol. It didn’t have any more meaning than a prayer before a football game in Texas. But it wasn’t meaningless Paul said in the first half of 1 Coronthians 10. Behind the empty idols are demons vying for our loyalty. Just by being there, he said, these Christians were actually participating in what Paul called demon communion. We have the Lord’s supper, and they have Satan’s supper. (1 Corinthians 10:19-21).

Many years later, these same type of “freedom Christians” went even farther and split away from the true churches and started heretical cults, even going so far as to say that God gave Christians freedom to be sexually immoral! The Bible calls this heresy lawlessness (antinomianism), and the seeds were already forming at Corinth.

After hearing that what are we tempted to say? Yeah, better to err on the overly strict side, right? No! The strict side, the weak-consience side, had its own damnable heresy germinating as well. Read the letters to the Galatians and Colossians. Some of the strict believers started teaching that if people didn’t keep the Old Testament rules about circumcision and food, they couldn’t be Christians! The Bible calls these false teachers Judaizers or “the circumcision group.” It was a heresy that brought down the severest condemnation that Paul could muster: He said, Let them be accursed. Galatians 1.

This is a mess! We have two sides, neither of which have attitudes that are pleasing to God, and that’s causing an ever-widening gap in the middle. What’s Paul to do to keep these churches from splitting into Jew and Gentile? That would be a disaster that would put a lie to the gospel. 

Now, Paul’s an apostle; he has unusual authority from Christ, so why doesn’t he just make a new rule about these disagreements on food and holy days, like this: “Everyone must eat meat, since Jesus said that all foods are lawful for Christians to eat.” That was Paul’s own position; he was free to eat and drink whatever he wanted without his conscience condemning him. He had a strong conscience. Romans 14:14 “I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself,” 15:1 “We who are strong ought to bear with the weaknesses of the weak.”

But what’s the problem with making a new rule that everyone has to eat meat? Remember the 2nd great principle of conscience? Obey it!  It’s dangerous to compel someone to sin against his or her conscience when they’re still not sure about the rightness or wrongness of the issue. Paul told us that people should never sin against their conscience (though it’s wise to learn to train it to match God’s will more accurately).

On the other extreme, Paul could have made the opposite rule: Everyone must refrain from eating meat, just in case someone might get upset or stumble. That’s our fundamentalist solution. Lay down a new rule. But this solution denies the freedom that our Lord himself gave us, and it binds the conscience of people with commandments that are not from God. Do we want to be stricter than God?

So what’s Paul going to do? What would be the glue that Paul would put into this ever-widening gap to keep the churches from splitting on the one hand, and to keep the heresies from forming on the other? It would not be the glue of a new law. It would be the glue of love, the glue of love in Romans 14 that Pastor Conley taught you a few weeks ago. I don’t want your eyes to glaze over at the next chart. In fact, it’s not that complicated. All I’ve done is taken the chart you see here and moved the two left columns farther over to the left and the two right columns farther over to the right and in the middle where the widening gap once was, I’ve placed Paul’s threefold solution.

Paul’s solution of love can be seen in the three middle columns on this chart. Only the three columns in the middle, that I’ve labeled 1, 2 and 3, are pleasing to God whenever there are conscience disagreements in the church, though the center column is the ultimate goal of every mature believer. So I’ll just gray out the previous columns that are not pleasing to God. On any given disagreement over disputable conscience matters, you must land on one of these three positions. God does not let you land on the two columns to the right and judge those with freedoms, nor the two columns to the left and look down on the strict.

Let’s look at each of the 3 columns that are pleasing to God.

Column 1 is a Christian who has a strong, free conscience in a particular area, but he refuses to look down on those who are strict. Instead he welcomes them.

Skipping over the center column, we come to Column 3. This is the Christian who has decided to keep his conscience restrictions in a given matter, but he has made up his mind not to judge those Christians who have freedom. He welcomes them.

The center column is the example of Christ and Paul who put the gospel before anything else. It’s the subject of tonight’s message.

Back to column 1. Here’s what Paul told the strong-conscience Christians in Romans 14: (I’m basically paraphrasing Romans 14 and Pastor Conley’s sermon a few weeks ago):

“You can continue to use your freedom, because, theologically, you’re right about the meat issue. Go ahead and eat meat to the glory of God. BUT, what you can’t do is look down on the strict (despise)....”

(I despised the brother who wasn’t singing a new hymn that Pastor Coleman was teaching us. All of a sudden I felt anger rising up in my heart. I wanted to say, “Get with it, old guy. Not all the good hymns were written in the 1800’s.” That what I felt in my heart. Then the Spirit of Christ smote me and said in my heart, “What a hypocrite, singing praises to me while despising a fellow believer for whom I have died.”)

“....You must welcome the strict. You must learn how to get along with them. Learn and appreciate their sub-culture. You must assume that the strict are being strict for God’s glory, not because they’re neurotic fundamentalists. And one more thing: when you use your freedoms don’t flaunt those freedoms—don’t be “in-their-face” with them—don’t post about them on facebook. When you flaunt your freedoms, you’re not showing love. Most importantly, if your use of freedom emboldens a wavering brother to sin against his conscience, that is a serious sin. The kingdom of God is so much more than your right to eat and drink certain things.” That summarizes the glue of love for the free group.

What’s the glue of love that the Christians with a weak conscience in a particular area must manifest? (Column 3):

“If your strictness is causing you to judge others and bring division to the church, you are sinning and failing to show love. The kingdom of God is about love and righteousness and peace and joy, not about food! (14:17). And one more thing, Stop trying to force others to obey the rules of your own conscience-- “what you believe about these things, keep to yourself and God.” Your conscience is for you, not them. Be convinced about your own personal scruples. If you abstain, abstain with all your might for God’s glory. None of this wavering back and forth like a blade of grass in the wind!   Those who disagree with you? Welcome them. Give them the benefit of the doubt: assume that they are exercising their freedoms for God’s glory, not because they’re lawless.” That summarizes the glue of love for the strict group.

As you hear Paul’s exhortations to those weaker and stronger in these disputable conscience issues, you’ve probably already categorized yourself as one or the other. But it’s not that tidy.  On any given issue, you are probably weak in conscience compared to someone stronger, and strong in conscience compared to someone weaker—all at the same time.

For example, here’s a chart with four positions on meat (read).

If you’re the person in this chart at position #2 who is free to eat meat sold in the meat market without feeling any need to ask questions, Paul says you must resist the temptation to judge the person who is even freer than you to your left or look down on the person stricter than you to the right.

Not only that, it’s not at all unusual for an individual Christian to have a strong conscience on one issue and a weak conscience on another. My mother-in-law told us that she had a college roommate whose conscience would allow her to play with playing cards but not dominos. Another roommate could enjoy dominos but not playing cards. Needless to say, it was a dull year in the dorm.

What this means is that you have a responsibility to people on both your left and right. You must obey Paul’s exhortations to the strong of conscience and his exhortations to the weak of conscience.

But look at the center column. The center column is the message of Romans 15 and also 1 Cor. 9—and it’s the heartbeat of your pastors in this church. It’s my message tonight. It is the example of Christ (and of Paul as he followed Christ’s example). Our ultimate goal is not simply to stop judging those who are freer than we, or stop looking down on those who are stricter. Our ultimate goal is to follow the example of our Lord Jesus who gave up his rights for others. Jesus joyfully gave up his unbelievable freedom in heaven to come to earth and become a Jew, to submit to a culture not his own, in order to save us (15:3-9). (Tonight’s message). That’s why Paul could say about these matters: “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1).

Even though Paul agreed with the free group on theological principle that all food and drink is allowable for a believer (14:14, 20), he was so filled with Christ’s welcoming love that he was happy (not grudging) to give up his freedom in certain situations if that would result in peace within the church and success in winning people to Christ outside the church. He didn’t count his own rights or his own opinions or his own scruples or his own comfort as the most important, but always asked himself these two questions: 1) How does my action affect other believers? and 2) How does my action further the gospel of Christ?

Paul wasn’t always that way.

Just try to imagine the tangled, overgrown conscience of an over-scrupulous Pharisee like Paul on the road to Damascus, with the hundreds of rules that had been added to God’s good commandments. What a mess! He had managed to break his conscience both ways! A life-time of straining out all those gnats had blinded his eyes so that he ended up swallowing the camel of participating in the murder of innocent Stephen.

Yet 20 years after his conversion his conscience is so streamlined that he can glide imperceptibly from culture to culture, and say in 1 Corinthians 9:19ff “Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.”

This would have been impossible 20 years before when his conscience was over-packed with man-made rules.

So what had happened? How did he get from A to B? Evidently, at some point in Paul’s life, he took his conscience, and all his moral judgments, and laid them at the feet of Jesus and asked Jesus 3 questions: What stays? What goes? What’s missing?

Prohibitions about pork? Stays/goes? Goes! Jesus declared all food clean. You can’t become a bad person in God’s sight by eating or drinking something. But when I’m Jerusalem, kosher all the way.

Ritual handwashing? Stays/goes? Goes! But if I get invited to the synagogue ruler’s house...

Telling the truth? Stay or go? stays

Love your enemies? That was missing! He was probably of those who like to say “Love your neighbor but hate your enemy.” Needs to be added.

And he kept doing that until what was left in his moral judgment was as close as he could get to the will of God as he understood it. At least that was his goal.

So what did he do with all those prohibitions that he weeded out of his conscience? Was it party time now? Was it ham wrapped in bacon stuffed with crab every day? No. It was never about him. It was never about food. It was about Jesus and the gospel and winning people to Christ.

Those restrictions that he weeded from his conscience were now the very matters that he could flex on for the sake of the gospel or for the sake of a Christian with a weaker conscience. It was in these matters that he became all things to all people for the sake of the gospel. (Brothers and sisters, you don’t flex on matters of conscience, matters that you are convinced are matters of right or wrong. That’s called sin.)

How about you? Because God is the Lord of your conscience, he expects you, as a mature believer, to do the same thing Paul did, to give your conscience back to God and ask him those three questions: What goes, what stays, and what’s missing?  

To live according to your conscience brings great blessing (2nd great principle). But to train your conscience to match God’s truth closer brings even more blessing (1st great principle).

Here’s the big question: How do you know the difference between (1) sinning against your conscience and (2) calibrating your conscience? After all, in both cases you’re telling your conscience to be quiet.

1. You’re sinning against your conscience when you believe your conscience is warning you correctly, but you still don’t listen to it. That’s always a sin, even if what your conscience is forbidding is NOT a sin! If you think that it’s wrong to drink root beer, then you are sinning if you drink root beer. Pastor Mark Dever said, “Conscience cannot make a wrong thing right, but it can make a right thing wrong.” Don’t ever sin against your conscience.

2. You are calibrating your conscience when Christ, the Lord of your conscience, teaches you through his Word that your conscience has been warning you wrongly in a particular area, so you decide to stop listening to its warnings in that one area. This is called calibrating or adjusting or training your conscience, bringing it under the lordship of Christ. It is NOT sinning against it.

Now, in the early stages of calibration, when you say “no” to your conscience, you might feel a pang of conscience. When you drink your first root beer after being convinced by God that it’s okay, your conscience will probably sound an alarm. Ignoring that alarm is not searing her conscience, but calibrating it—bringing it under the lordship of Christ.

Why do a conscience audit? Audits aren’t fun. Calibrating anything is a hassle. And it’s very uncomfortable to adjust your conscience that you’ve been comfortable with all these years. Why not just leave it alone?

And you know what? As long as you’re not looking down on others with stricter scruples, or judging others with fewer scruples, you can leave it alone. Do you know that God will allow a Christian to have a mistaken conscience all his or her life in these disputable matters?!  God didn’t tell Paul to command the Roman vegetarians to eat meat. God let them be vegetarians the rest of their lives, even though they didn’t have to be, as long as they didn’t judge others. So, yeah. I guess technically you don’t have to calibrate like Paul did. You don’t have to weed. (Unless you get one of those visions on a rooftop like Peter did.)

And this goes for you with a strong conscience. Maybe you’re saying, “I don’t need to calibrate either. I’m already right about the food issues.”

But what do we give up when we leave the gate of conscience closed even to God?

1. You’re not caring for this gift that God gave you. You’ve let this garden become an overgrown jungle. There are weeds there that have grown into trees that God never intended to be there. And for those of you who tend to have a strong conscience, there are beautiful trees that ought to be there but are not. There are commandments that God wants to be in your conscience, but you can’t see them, because you think you’re right and you haven’t opened your conscience up to God’s teaching. Don’t neglect the priceless gift of conscience.

2. You’re probably limiting your fruitfulness. What if Peter had said to God, “No, it’s very uncomfortable for me to be in the same house with those Gentiles.” I guess someone else would have had the joy of taking the gospel to the first Gentiles. At that point in his life, Peter’s conscience wasn’t pruned enough for maximum fruitfulness.

3. Who are you to decide whether to open your conscience up to God? You’re not the lord of your conscience. Don’t be like Peter who had so put his conscience off limits to God that God had to break the gate down. How much better just to open the gate to Jesus, the Lord of your conscience, and let him do what he wills with what is his!

Invitation

1. I bet 3/4 of the people in this room have either been judging other Christians with certain freedoms, or looking down on other Christians who don’t have the freedom of conscience to do what you do, or both. You need to repent today.

2. I bet there are at least 50 of you in this room today who have been consistently and repeatedly and wrecklessly sinning against your conscience. You are on the road to ruin, shipwreck, train wreck. Some of you are having affairs, either virtual or actual. You are going to destroy yourself and a lot of other people with you. It would be better if a millstone were hung around your neck and you were cast into the depths of the sea.

I beg you. Repent, turn from your sin. Desire more than anything in life a clean conscience that allows for sweet uninterrupted fellowship with God. And if necessary, come forward and publicly repent and get a clean conscience.

3. For those whose consciences have never once been cleansed by Jesus, Jesus is the only religious leader in human history who ever promised to solve the root problem of a defiled conscience. He did it with his own blood. Human ceremonies, whether the ceremony of Old Testament sacrifice, or New Testament baptism or the Lord’s Supper,  these cannot take away sin and cleanse the filthy conscience. Jesus can, Jesus did, Jesus will. Aren’t you tired of that defiled conscience? It will kill you. It will send you to hell. You can be set free today. Right now. Nothing in this world is worth more than a conscience cleansed by the blood of Christ.

Right there in your seat say “Dear Jesus, rescue me from my defiled conscience. Cleanse me. Save me.”

 

Missionary JD Crowley

HamptonPark Baptist Church

Greenville, SC

September 28, 2014

 
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