December 9th 2018
Paul’s letter to the Colossians (3:1-7) is quite clear in chapter 3: set your hearts on the things that are in heaven. Keep your minds fixed on things there, not on things here on earth. Paul is urging his readers to focus on God, to keep Jesus at the forefront of their lives. Perhaps he would write today “keep wearing your ‘what would Jesus do’ armband?
And when he writes to the church in Corinth, he issues a similar instruction: 2 Cor 6:17 Therefore, come out from among unbelievers, and separate yourselves from them, says the LORD. Don’t touch their filthy things, and I will welcome you.
Perhaps too we should have other armbands, not just WWJD but things like “what would Jesus want for Christmas?” “What would Jesus think about Christmas shopping?” But whilst it is clear that at least part of Paul’s reason for writing is to warn them, perhaps even to admonish, to remind them of what they should not be saying, thinking, doing, I want this morning to focus on the positive of what we should be doing.
We are called in to God’s presence by his grace and mercy; we can approach God because Jesus has made a way. We are children of God, friends of God, welcomed and forgiven by God. And the bible reminds us on many occasions that we need to be set apart for him.
Rom 8:29-30, after writing about present suffering and future glory, Paul writes:
29 Those whom God had already chosen he also set apart to become like his Son, so that the Son would be the first among many believers. 30 And so those whom God set apart, he called; and those he called, he put right with himself, and he shared his glory with them.
2 Cor 1:21 It is God himself who makes us, together with you, sure of our life in union with Christ; it is God himself who has set us apart, 22 who has placed his mark of ownership upon us, and who has given us the Holy Spirit in our hearts as the guarantee of all that he has in store for us.
We have been chosen by God; God has set us apart. Graham Kendrick wrote:
I’m special because God has loved me,
For He gave the best thing that He had to save me:
His own Son Jesus, crucified to take the blame,
For all the bad things I have done.
Thank You Jesus, thank You Lord, for loving me so much;
I know I don’t deserve anything,
Help me feel Your love right now, to know deep in my heart that I’m Your special friend.
And all of us have the opportunity to sing that song, or at least to express the sentiments it conveys – all of us have the opportunity to say that we are special because God loves us. God loves me, even me. And of course the thing that is amazing (in addition to the fact that He loves me) is that there is not a cap on how many friends God can cope with – we don’t have to be jealous because God is giving all His attention to another person – even though Has thousands, millions of special friends, we can be special too.
But sometimes, even though we know that God is our special friend, that we are utterly important to Him, totally loved by Him, that He is always there for us, yet, it is all too easy to let ourselves slip, to allow our worldly view of things to colour our relationship with God. In Matt 16 we read of Jesus telling his disciples that he had to go to Jerusalem, and would suffer and die. And Peter retorts that he will never allow this to happen to Jesus. You see Peter was so focused on his earthly relationship with Jesus, as one of his followers, that he couldn’t see the bigger picture of God’s salvation being revealed.
There is another passage which talks about our “special relationship” with God, but it brings another important message with it:
1 Peter 2:8 talks about people stumbling because they do not obey God’s word:
v9 continues (NLT) But you are not like that, for you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light.
Show others the goodness, or, as another version puts it, “chosen to proclaim the wonderful acts of God”. You see we are not set apart to be separate, to live in a holy huddle, we are set apart so that we can tell others about God – “tell out my soul”.
He continues in v 11 and 12:
11 I appeal to you, my friends, as strangers and refugees in this world! Do not give in to bodily passions, which are always at war against the soul. 12 Your conduct among the heathen should be so good that when they accuse you of being evildoers, they will have to recognize your good deeds and so praise God on the Day of his coming.
We are called to be among the heathen, the unbelievers, and to conduct ourselves in a way that shows God in us. But we must be among them, not sat on a pedestal above them, or hidden from view.
There is a saying quoted (or perhaps, as we’ll discuss in a little while, misquoted) that suggests that people are: “So heavenly minded that they are no earthly use”. But you won’t find it in the bible. And it begs questions of what “heavenly minded” and “earthly good” mean anyway. Is it a bit like when someone ask you if you are religious? There are things we are all religious about, but I hope our faith isn’t one of them! John Piper says this:
“Yes, I know. It is possible to be so heavenly minded that we are of no earthly use. My problem is: I’ve never met one of those people. And I suspect, if I met one, the problem would not be that their mind is full of the glories of heaven, but that their mind is empty and their mouth is full of platitudes. I suspect that for every professing believer who is useless in this world because of other-worldliness, there are a hundred who are useless because of this-worldliness.”
Another writer said: “Perhaps you’re afraid of becoming “so heavenly minded that you’re of no earthly good.” Relax – you have nothing to worry about! On the contrary, many of us are so earthly minded we are of no heavenly or earthly good.”
And they continued by quoting C.S. Lewis from his book “Mere Christianity”
A continual looking forward to the eternal world is not (as some modern people think) a form of escapism or wishful thinking, but one of the things a Christian is meant to do. It does not mean that we are to leave the present world as it is. “If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next. The Apostles themselves, who set on foot the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the Middle Ages, the English Evangelicals who abolished the Slave Trade, all left their mark on Earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with Heaven. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this. Aim at Heaven and you will get earth “thrown in”: aim at earth and you will get neither.”
The Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next. … Aim at Heaven and you will get earth “thrown in”: aim at earth and you will get neither.
We need to intentionally set our gaze on heaven. We don’t need to worry about being too heavenly minded because most of us naturally think about earthly things. What have you thought about most in the last 24 hours?
Sending Christmas cards; buying and wrapping Christmas presents; paying bills; responding to letters and emails, or messages left on your answerphone; doing the washing up, laundry, grocery shopping, and planning meals.
Or – The Kingdom of God and His righteousness.; The Word of God; Angels, the Throne Room, the reality of Heaven.
What did CS Lewis say? It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this.
And here’s the strange thing: It is because of our hope in the life eternal, our faith in God, that we desire to see His kingdom come, and we want to play our part in bringing change to our lost world. But it is also because it is by being in the world, with all its faults, yet also part of God’s eternal plan, that we draw closer to him. We need to have our mind on heavenly things, but we need to have our actions rooted in earthly things. As Neville said last week, “in the world but not of the world”.
How can we respond to a world in need, how can we bring the grace, mercy and love of God, if we don’t know what is going on in our world? If we shut ourselves away in a holy huddle, if we only socialise with Christians, if we only belong to Christian organisations, how can we share the gospel? If we disengage from politics, how can we hope to make a difference?
Have you seen these TV programmes where a manager goes “undercover”, incognito, to work in their own company, to find out what’s really going on at the shop floor level?
Street pastors don’t sit in church with a sign up saying “come in if you want someone to talk to”, they walk around Prince of Wales Road in Norwich, and the equivalent areas of town centres across the country, at 3am in the morning as the clubs empty out. They are THERE, where the needs are. The saying “it takes one to know one” is not entirely true – you don’t have to be a drug addict to know one, but you do have to be where they are, to understand something of what they are going through.
We need to be IN the world, but we need to do so in a way that means we are not compromised by it.
1 Peter 4 1 Since Christ suffered physically, you too must strengthen yourselves with the same way of thinking that he had; because whoever suffers physically is no longer involved with sin. 2 From now on, then, you must live the rest of your earthly lives controlled by God’s will and not by human desires. 3 You have spent enough time in the past doing what the heathen like to do. Your lives were spent in indecency, lust, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and the disgusting worship of idols. 4 And now the heathen are surprised when you do not join them in the same wild and reckless living, and so they insult you. 5 But they will have to give an account of themselves to God, who is ready to judge the living and the dead.
A paraphrase of v4 says “Of course, your former friends are surprised when you no longer plunge into the flood of wild and destructive things they do. So they slander you”
We need to be So Heavenly Minded that we are of Great Earthly Good. We sang:
His Word shall not fail you, He promised; Believe Him and all will be well;
Then go to a world that is dying, His perfect salvation to tell!
We need to understand the relationship between faith and daily life. The gospel calls and equips us to be both heavenly minded and of earthly use – the people of the kingdom of God, on earth.
John 1:14 – word became flesh and lived among us.
I read this:
The Second Person of the Trinity, the Divine Logos, was (and is) God from all eternity. In the Incarnation, he entered space and time as Jesus of Nazareth. While preserving his Divinity whole and intact, he humbled himself by taking on our humanity.
This is body and soul, a whole, really, fully human person. Bishop Graham, in an interview before his “leaving party” said this:
“The whole point of a God who becomes a human being and suffers death on the cross as a common criminal is that there is no degradation he hasn’t felt himself. However terrible you feel about yourself, however bad things become, he’s been there.”
This is our God, the word made flesh. Emmanuel, God with us.