The Goal of Pleasing God – 1 Corinthians 4:14-5:10

As each of us look at our lives, we realize we have a variety of chapters through which we move. For many of us, we could probably lay out four grand divisions:

  1. The childhood and adolescent family years … growing up through high school to adulthood.
  2. The higher educational and career preparation years … college, professional/trade schools, grad school, etc.
  3. The career years – the biggest chapter, probably divided by the growing family years and the empty nest years.
  4. The retirement years.

That second chapter – the educational years – was for me a longer chapter than most go through. This is common in ministry preparation, as churches – especially back then – just don’t hire many 22-year-olds for pastoral ministry, and the advanced instruction of the seminary years simply add up. And for me, having been a collegiate five-year double major, with Dallas Seminary’s four-year master’s program, it totaled nine years of full-time education. So, there you are at age 27-28 and you’re still hanging around the starting line.

As I reflect on that decade of life, it was indeed a mixed bag of really awesome experiences, along with some very awful, terribly protracted, and scary times as well.

Among the great experiences were …

… being out your own for the first time and living away from home and meeting lots of new people in your same stage of life.

… you find yourself learning so many new and interesting things, while at the same time learning that there is so much more that you don’t know than you ever imagined.

… the social environment is amazing, as you’re making life-long friends. And in my case, a couple of years into this time I met my best friend for life, and we were married four years into this decade.

… between Philadelphia and Dallas, I met a huge list of some of the most prominent people in the evangelical world – not just the teachers and guest lecturers and pastors, but sitting in classes next to Tony Evans, Andy Stanley, Chip Ingram and others.

But at the same time, there were some really annoying things about life in that decade …

… the pressures of high-level education – the endless papers and tests and academic demands.

… how to makes ends meet, and working jobs at odd hours of the day and night at UPS and cleaning swimming pools, while also trying to be a minister of music.

… moving halfway across the country and away from family, buying a small starter house for the huge price of $36,162.

… and just wondering when this preparatory and transitional time of life was going to end, while remembering that it had a goal up ahead – a multi-decades lifetime of serving God and the church community.

I share this story to say that this is kinda what the passage we’re going to look at today portrays when talking about the Christian life. It is a mixed bag of stuff as well. There is the knowledge of who you’re related to and the calling that you have, yet there is the pain of life for an extended time in a fallen and sinful world. How do you get through it?  Well, you keep your eyes on the ultimate goal of what it is about – pleasing God with your life, so that you may be pleased in the end by His reward to you for this lifetime of service and purposeful dedication. We could say that the goal is about not getting our eyes stuck in this world, but to keep our ultimate gaze out ahead – maximizing life in this world for eternal purposes.

Our second-week study in this series takes us to 2 Corinthians, especially in chapter 5, though we’ll start with the final verses of chapter 4.

Most of us do not live daily with fear of mortality. However, some who live with life-threatening medical conditions would differ from the majority. I think also of several of our missionaries in more remote and hostile conditions. They may not always know what dangers could be lurking nearby.

The Apostle Paul was a guy who had a profound sense of these dangers. He suffered greatly for his boldness for Christ, getting beaten up so significantly on one occasion that he appeared to have died. And we see from the overall flow of Paul’s writing that he pretty much expected it to not be a matter of “if” he would be put to death for his ministry work, but “when.”

Always remember that Scripture verse references and chapter divisions are not original but were added at a later time. We are sometimes left to scratch our heads as to why a division was made at a certain point … like this transition today from the end of chapter four to the beginning of chapter five. Let’s bring back those final three verses from the previous chapter to set the stage today …

2 Corinthians 4:16-18 – Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

Paul is speaking of the wasting away of the human body. If you haven’t had this experience yet, trust me, believe me, it’s coming!  It is a startling thing to realize that you simply can no longer do something that was a regular activity of your earlier life. And Paul says that these momentary troubles cause us to have a perspective that helps us to let go of this visible, physical world and to rather cast our vision above to the permanent world that is yet to come.

He continues to flesh out these thoughts as we turn to the next chapter. And as we look at this passage, I think we may develop it by pointing out three major thoughts from it.  When studying Scripture, you want to look for repeated words, as well as for words that are the major words in a section – communicating the main idea. So as you read these verses, look for some repeated words and big ideas.

2 CO 5:1 Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. 2 Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, 3 because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. 4 For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. 5 Now it is God who has made us for this very purpose and has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.

 2CO 5:6 Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. 7 We live by faith, not by sight. 8 We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. 9 So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. 10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.

So what did you identify in the way of repeated words?

  • The word “Groan” is repeated several times.
  • The words or ideas about “home” … “tent” … “dwelling” are repeated.
  • The word “Confident” is repeated several times… as well as when it says “we know”

And what do you see as the big idea?

Rather clearly, the idea of having a goal of pleasing God would seem to be the direction the passage is moving, leading toward verse 9 in particular.

Putting that all together …

  • 1. We are made for an eternal life in a heavenly dwelling… (that which makes us confident)
  • 2. We are currently dwelling in a place with definite problems… (that which makes us groan)
  • 3. We should determine to live with goals that are beyond this world… (that which makes us motivated)

So let’s look at each of these three big ideas.

  1. We are made for an eternal life in a heavenly dwelling… (our confidence)

a. It is a permanent home.

5:1 – Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.

This pictures more than just an everlasting place to live, it also anticipates an eternal relationship with God.  That is so much bigger than simply muddling through a short life here, no matter how great that life can be, no matter how much may be accumulated in this life. Whatever, it is brief and soon passing away, to be replaced by an eternal reality.

We need to remember the original creation of man. Why did God create mankind, doing so in His image?  It was for the purpose of having a relationship that was the ultimate sort of perfect!   And then sin messed it up!  But God’s grace and plan of restoration was even bigger yet!  And so that is the purpose for a perfect and eternal home – to restore all things to the way they were meant to be. As it says in the passage: Now it is God who has made us for this very purpose.

This is our confidence. And what also bolsters our confidence?

b. The Spirit is our down payment.

2 Cor. 5:5 – Now it is God who has made us for this very purpose and has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.

Those last seven words are only a single word in Greek. And the idea is, like when you buy a house, the making of a down payment or earnest money is the guarantee of more to come… of a final, full payment. This word has carried over to modern Greek and is the word for an engagement ring.

So though it is true that we don’t have in our current possession all the blessings that will be ours, we can have total confidence that it is promised and totally certain.

Yet, even with these confident assurances, the current situation is our very mixed reality of living with difficulties and complications.

  1. We are currently dwelling in a place with definite problems… (that which makes us groan)… and I think the passage would lead us to make four observations about those problems …

a. It is temporary

How many of you can remember, years ago as a child, considering you’d probably be alive to see the dawning of a new millennium?  And then doing the math to think about how old you would be when that happened?  But it looked so far away!  What might you be doing then?  And living where?  It was SO far away, you could hardly imagine it. But now, that memory seems like only a few years ago!  And now, that millennial transition is over 20 more years since the Y2K scare!  That time went very fast, as does life; and there is a sadness to that consideration that may even make us groan.

b. It is fragile.

Remember that Paul was, by trade, a tentmaker. Surely he thought about life, ministry, theology, big issues, etc. while he was working on tents. And what better illustration of the aging process than an aging tent. The older the tent, the more it was tattered, developing holes that needed to be repaired (human tent surgeries!), and the more that it simply wore out and became frail. It you’re a person of that time who was living in a tent that was getting ravaged by the elements of time, you might wish for the day you’d be able to trade it in for a new tent.

And here’s another reason for this tent illustration of the human body to be such a good metaphor: it was actually used of the incarnation of Jesus Christ. In John 1:14 it says of Jesus … The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. The Greek word for dwelling is of a tent / tabernacle. Christ took on our human form, our tent, to be like us in all things, yet without sin (Hebrews 2:14-18).

But when we consider our tent, our tabernacle – and as we hear of all the illnesses and problems of others around us – we must conclude that our physical house is rather frail. I happened to have an annual doctor’s appointment this week, which of course meant that I had to wait in a room by myself for a lengthy time. And I was looking at all the anatomy posters on the wall. On one hand, it is quite amazing; but on the other hand, there are so many little pieces that have to all work together that it is amazing we sustain life at all!.

c. It is painful.

For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened …

Maybe you have to get as old as me to realize this, but it is painful. And not just physically, it is painful in the amount of sadness, loss and injustice that is seen. For example …

… of a class of people who are insiders and get away with pretty much anything, while others are vilified and prosecuted.

… of children and innocent civilians who become victims of crossfires and ethnic cleansings in international conflicts.

… of the accumulation of family and friends who were dear to us who pass on – sometimes in an untimely fashion.

d. It is deceitful.

 We live by faith, not by sight.

The temptation, of course, is to live by sight. It is to take matters into our own hands now and fix them and make things the way we would like them to be.

  • There are times when it will seem that the unsaved world is winning and experiencing endless joys and the good times.
  • There are times when it seems the people of this world are more successful by their scrupulous means.
  • There are times when it seems God is taking too long to answer and provide what is obvious to you that He should provide.

But it is our duty, yes, our privilege, to rather walk by faith and trust even in what cannot be seen … which Paul wrote earlier is “eternal.”

  1. We should determine to live with goals that are beyond this world… (that which makes us motivated)

And here again is the pinnacle moment of the passage from vs. 9 … So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it.

a. We work to please God.

The verb for the phrase “we make it our goal to please” was a Greek word that means to “seek honor by doing something.”  This is the idea of having a reward in mind, an honor, and then figuring how to gain that reward. In my high school coaching years I had a great young woman on my team who was not only a fantastic state champion runner, she was also an excellent student. About her sophomore year, we talked about goals and objectives, and she determined she wanted to win both he scholar athlete award and be valedictorian of her class at the end of her senior year. We talked about intermediate objectives, she did them, and in the end she accomplished exactly what she set out to do. And we should wish to strive this way in our Christian lives in terms of goals for pleasing God.

b. We work to be prepared for judgment.

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.

This is of course a very sobering verse. When the Corinthians read this word from Paul, the immediate picture that would come to mind what was known as the Bema seat in Corinth. This was a raised stone platform where officials gave public addresses and heard legal cases, typically located at the center of the ancient forum, or marketplace in a given city. It was to this place that Paul himself was brought by the Jews before Gallio, the proconsul of Achaia. Their claim was to say, “This man is persuading people to worship God in ways that are contrary to the law.”  But Gallio refused to judge the case.

Let me be very clear that this future judgment seat has nothing to do with the issue of salvation. This is not a judgment about who gains eternal life, but is rather a judgment of those who are believers and members of God’s family – to determine reward, or a lack of reward. And you want to be ready for it.

Notice that there is not just a negative side to this judgment, but a positive side as well.

The only time I’ve been before a judge as a defendant is in traffic court, and the only chance I had there was to hope that the punishment would not be too bad for driving too fast. I sure would have liked it a lot more if the system would have allowed me positive points for all the courteous driving I’ve done, and not just fines for the once or twice I’ve exceeded the speed limit, always only when going to the hospital to visit a sick church member, of course!!

So, how’s your tent life coming along?  Do you have some holes and thin spots?  Well, someday you’ll be done with the camping life and living in such a temporary home. You’ve got a house just up ahead … actually, it’s a mansion.  So, chin up! Go do something productive for the Kingdom of God right now. Seriously.

The Goal of Our Faith – 1 Peter 1

As I confessed to the church family a couple months ago at the end of a sermon, I think I’ve been a rather cheerful pastor in my preaching, keeping the tone quite positive most of the time. And while I don’t think that’s wrong in the big picture of things, I have to say that I’ve probably erred in not saying hard things as frequently as likely I should have.

So, now, as we head into a new six-week sermon series, I am not setting you up for a month and a half of brow beating. The tone will surely remain largely positive. Yet, even so, it is within the setting of a hard, bold, and in-your-face proclamation that lies at the heart of my determination to do this particular series of messages.

Before I come right out and state it, let me again be a nice guy and contextualize it in a broader context. Tri-State Fellowship is a great church; it always has been uniquely blessed since the day it was founded by the original visionaries 35 years ago. Few churches have sustained such year-after-year, peaceful blessings and operation as has this congregation, and that is due to the committed ministry hearts of the congregants who have been in and out of these walls. I know this through not just observation around me, but through years and years of pastoral conferences and ministerial gatherings where stories are shared and battle reports reviewed as to what is happening in one another’s congregations. Our problems here in Hagerstown are few; our blessings are many; we are unique.

However, even having said that, I must, in a pastoral/shepherding sort of way, report that both in the past and in the present I have seen and do continue to see too many who are not giving their most ardent personal commitment to deep discipleship. They are not affording it the rightful place that it deserves in their lives and in the lives of their families. It has therefore too frequently been a major component that contributes to an explanation as to why marriages struggle and fail, as to why children do not value truth and church and thereby fail to become a next generation of committed followers, and as to why there are countless and endless life struggles to successfully navigate the complexities of living in a fallen world.  Most often, at the heart of this insufficiency, is a lack of commitment to individual discipleship and biblical growth, along with simply not prioritizing the church and its ministries in the schedules of life. It is simply evident that too many people “do God” and “do church” as secondary priorities, or only when there is nothing more interesting to do, or when the sports, recreation and vacation schedules have an occasional opening.

What I’m saying is that too many have had sad results in their personal lives and families because, sadly, they have not been serious enough about what is the most important stuff. And it is that word – serious – that underlies this series. So, I’m calling this preaching plan for these six weeks through mid-March “Seriously!?”   Like, when you hear about something that it is bigger/more/beyond what you expected, you might say, “Really??”  And then, when that expansive thing has some big demands upon you, you might say, “Seriously??”

So here is an overview of the big idea of this six-part series: When realizing how difficult, time-consuming and strenuous some new commitment will be, we might find ourselves asking the rhetorical question, “Seriously?!?”  But any worthwhile lifetime value is going to require time, energy, commitment and resolve. Maintaining physical fitness, for example, does not happen without a serious level of devotion. And this principle is likewise true for spiritual fitness. We need a continual renewal of commitment to timeless and eternal goals. So, seriously, let’s talk about this; and let’s do it for ourselves and the generations of our families to come.

The Scriptures in multiple places give us what is essentially a list of goals that we may pursue that will cause our lives to be truly “serious” as we seek to apply them in a daily fashion. So let’s begin by talking about what one portion of the Scriptures defines as worthy goals for our Christian faith.

And we begin by talking about some things we need to know, because knowledge leads to action. You may have heard the phrase used that “orthodoxy leads to orthopraxy” … meaning, that what you know and believe will lead to what you do and put into practice.

As we turn to 1 Peter 1:3-16, I believe we can see three goals that we should know about, relative to our faith in Christ …

THE GOALS OF OUR FAITH …

1 … the knowledge of the salvation we possess in Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:3-9)

1PE 1:3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade–kept in heaven for you, 5 who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7 These have come so that your faith–of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire–may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 8 Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, 9 for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

We have four gifts in the knowledge of our salvation in this paragram, stated as coming to us from God’s great mercy …

  • living proof of eternal life – in Christ – Peter answers the question: “What proof is there that there is any hope for life beyond this world?” The assurance comes from the living Savior Christ, whom he had seen – crucified and risen. This is not a sacrifice that can’t be found or is merely memorialized in some grave or shrine. This sacrifice is living, having come back to life from the grave, giving a “new birth” of life to those who believe.
  • an inheritance that can’t be lost – everything about an inheritance in this world is subject to ruin or potential loss.

I have once in my life been an executor of an estate, and it was a grueling and trying experience. But think about estates/inheritances that are of this world. Everything about them is tenuous and subject to easy loss …

  • Unforeseen medical / nursing home costs can eat up an inheritance.
  • Houses / lands can be lost in one way or another, or even stolen.
  • Investments may turn bad and even lose their entire value.
  • Taxes and expenses can quickly swallow up resources.

But the inheritance that we have promised to us from the Heavenly Father through joint heirship with Jesus Christ cannot be lost or fade. And this is because it is in heaven and is not subject to the uncertainties of this world. It is even safer than a safe deposit box with only one key, because it is stated in the passage as being kept by God’s power.

This leads us to have a sense of great joy and peace as to what we possess and what is our certain future. HOWEVER … there is in our current earthly situation a “BUT” … though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials…  which leads to a third mercy in the knowledge of our salvation …

  • preservation through trials …
    • This is a normal experience of this world. It will not always go swimmingly well, but we are ultimately shielded from fully destructive forces. And …
    • Suffering is a good gift with positive benefit to our faith, as our relationship with God is deepened by it all. Think back to who some of your best friends are from the past – those whom you really know on a soul level – and more than likely it is someone with whom you walked through a difficult time together (war buddy, teammate, friend in sickness, co-worker in difficult times). The trial brought you close; and so it should with God, as we struggle through the difficulties of this life.
  • the beginnings of the final reward of salvation – notice the present, active tense “are receiving” … how? Mainly through the perspective of being an eternally-related member of the Kingdom of God, in a world largely oriented to the Kingdom of Darkness. The world out there is CRAZY, but that’s not your life, your world, your family, your kingdom. You are related to better stuff than that, and you grow to see and understand this truth more and more as time goes by and you see the grand hand of God in the details of your life.

 And here is a second goal of our faith …

 2 … the knowledge of God’s grand plan, as learned through the Scriptures (1 Peter 1:10-12)

It is a great truth to know that, though sometimes the world seems entirely out of control and that evil prevails, the real truth is that God has a plan that He is working out over the centuries and millennia …

1PE 1:10 Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, 11 trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. 12 It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things.

Think about the prophets of the Old Testament. They knew a lot about God’s master plan and wrote about what had been revealed to them. It was amazing stuff, including hundreds of prophecies that came true, particularly about Christ. Yet, they only knew parts of God’s plan; and they knew that there was a lot more that they did not know. For example …

… don’t you suppose Isaiah was curious about why he wrote about a Messiah who would rule and reign, yet also be smitten and afflicted?

… don’t you suppose Daniel wondered what he was writing about when he spoke of the prince to come who would be cut off?

… don’t you suppose Ezekiel was curious about the nations coming together with kings from the north and the south… and about the Temple being rebuilt…

… and Micah, who wrote of a ruler to come out of the lowliest of towns … of Bethlehem?

Even for these members of God’s varsity “A” team – the Old Testament prophets – they merely had bits and pieces but not the whole picture. It was as if they had 300 pieces of a 1,000-piece puzzle, and no box cover!  The pieces were REALLY interesting. But exactly how did they go together … and when … and what did it look like … and how did the “kingly” sorts of pieces fit in with the “suffering” fragments?

These guys died without understanding it all, but understanding that someday, other people – whom they essentially served – would come along who would understand it all. And that was good enough for them.

We are those people they served; we hold the completed record here in our hands today; we have the beginning of the story, and an account of its end. And we know its purpose; we know who the Messiah is and what he accomplished. And we have help (God within us) as to how to live until that day we are reunited with our Creator.

And it was not just the A-teamers of God who were fascinated by this, the text says that this progressively-revealed, master plan of God dazzles the angels. Hey, I don’t know what angels know completely. I would guess that they know a lot at this point. But it is interesting to see how they are often pictured as curious creatures. So, if the prophets and angels are curious, should you not be also?  Indeed, yes… while also thrilled to possess all that you do know through understanding the Word of God.

And then here is a third goal of our faith as seen in Peter’s writing …

3 … the knowledge of a way of life that features obedience and holiness (1 Peter 1:13-16)

1PE 1:13 Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed. 14 As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. 15 But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; 16 for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.”

Peter essentially says three things here: Set the way you think / Set the way you behave / Set the overarching attitude you will have.

About the mind – “prepare your minds” … in Greek this is the old KJV “gird up the loins” literal translation. It pictures the wrapping of a rope around flowing ancient garments – to tighten them against the body for active movement. The picture is to do this with your mind.

About the way you behave“be self-controlled” … literally means to be sober and under control, to be determinative. Don’t live like a drunk fool!

About the overarching attitude – “set your hope fully” … this would be a Greek way of saying to put all your eggs into one basket, the mental bin of all that you know, possess, and will receive about Jesus Christ.

So how do you get ready in these ways?  As it essentially says in verses 14-16, you unplug from the old way of life with its mere desires, and you plug into the new eternal truth of being like God in character.

Don’t be stupid!!  Be smart. Seek to be like God in character.

It would be like growing up for years in a totally crazy family where everything was out of control, and even when things seemed to go rightly for a while, they would always reverse, and everything would fall apart again. You only ever knew a dysfunctional way of life, for there was no way to live life apart from that. But then, out of the blue, you get adopted by a new family that has made available every resource for success in life. All you have to do is live it out in the way that others before you in this family have done and found fulfillment. So, it would be stupid to be in this new family, but act like you were still living with the crazies!

Having these goals and fleshing them out is the way to go. But it takes a conscious commitment to enact them in your life and as the pattern for the values system of your family. So I’m calling to all of you: Don’t just exist as someone who is not as bad as much of the world – as someone who is better merely because you possess eternal fire insurance. But, make it your goal to really move forward, to make the time count, to truly connect to the stuff that is real and is eternal. Seriously??  Seriously!!  We’re going to talk some more.