Tuesday, February 12, 2019

First Pillar of Witnessing

A couple of weeks ago we had an interesting situation in our teen Sunday School class. A lady that had been attending the church for a couple of weeks decided to sit in on what I was teaching the youth. Now, that’s not a problem, I encourage anyone that wants to, come and see what the teens are learning. Because the same thing I teach them on a Sunday morning is what I usually teach adults on Wednesday night. 
The teen Sunday School class is a place where we get into the more complicated teachings of the Bible, and where the teens are taught how the Bible interacts with the world around them on a more intellectual level, than they would get on a Friday night. If you have ever been to one of my Summer Adult Sunday School classes or my Wednesday night Apologetics classes, then you’ll know how deep we will go.
This past year I started a teaching a new subject to supplement two other subjects that I teach. These first two are Basic Beliefs of Christianity and World Religions. This new one is called Counter Arguments, where we review an argument from someone of a different belief system, and we both de-construct their arguments, and give a response to it. 
Well the week we started this with the teens, was the same week this lady decided to sit in. And it didn’t sit right with her. During the video, she interrupted a couple of times. Then after the video she proceeded to tell me that I was the worst teacher. That I was filling the teens heads with evil ideas, and things that were not of the Bible. 
So I asked her to ask the teens what they had been learning about for the past twelve weeks. It was the first subject on Basic Beliefs of Christianity. A class mind you, that one adult told me they were way past their college years, and couldn’t follow that type of teaching anymore. This isn’t easy stuff. After they had told her about all that they had learned, which I was impressed with on it’s own, she still said that what I was teaching them wasn’t needed. That all they needed to know was that Jesus loves them. 
That’s when I challenged her to give me a reason that she would tell someone whom she she was sharing the Gospel, how and why the Gospel is true. She told me because she knows it is. I told her that’s great, but what if I don’t believe in God? What would she tell me? She said that I just needed God.
This spiraled into a situation where every time she said something, I asked her show me in the Bible, show me in history, show me in anything. All she could say is, I know that Jesus loves me, and that’s all that matters.
Now it’s true, the only thing that matters in this world is that Jesus loves us, because it’s that very reality that salvation is rooted in. But, what about the person that doesn’t believe Jesus is real? That he even existed? Or who struggles, not with the reality of Jesus, but the reality of pain and suffering around them and the question of how can a good God allow evil?
I told her quiet frankly, and with as much love as I could possibly muster at the moment, that her type of Christianity is where we have a tendency to fail as Christians.
We have allowed ourselves to fail the people around us, by not being solid enough in our own application of the Bible, so that the world around us may know that God is real and active.

And so for the next two weeks, in preparation for Clay Jones coming to speak on the 24th, I want us to take our last week of legacy and go a little more in-depth with it.
So if you have you Bibles, we’re going to root ourselves for the next two weeks in 1st Peter, chapter 3, starting in verse 8.
Last week we talked about how a component to eternal worth legacy was our witness. Our testimony, of how God has worked and is working in our lives. For the next couple of weeks, we’re going to go deeper into what that looks like.

Now as we open up to 1st Peter chapter 3, verse 8, let’s get a brief overview of the letter Peter is writing. 

This Peter is the same Peter in the Gospels. The same Peter who always seemed to open his mouth and say dumb things. The same Peter that at one moment proclaimed Jesus as the Messiah, and then the next moment, rebuked Jesus for saying he was going to die. This is the same Peter that denied Jesus three times, and then was restored to Jesus through three questions. It is this Peter, that we see the biggest growth out of all the twelve disciples.
Now he is writing to believers who are throughout Asian Minor, and he is writing to them for a very specific reason. This reason is found in his closing words, in chapter 5 verse 12, “With the help of Silas, whom I regard as a faithful brother, I have written to you briefly, encouraging you and testifying that this is the true grace of God. Stand fast in it.”

The whole purpose of Peter’s writing is to encourage the believers to stand firm. Firm against what? Stand firm while going through persecution. Stand firm in their marriages. Stand firm in seeking godly leadership for the church. Stand firm in their submission to governmental authorities. And stand firm in their trust in God.

And it’s towards the middle of this encouragement to stand firm that we come to chapter 3, verse 8 of Peter’s first letter. Let’s read.

8 Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. 9 Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. 10 For, “Whoever would love life and see good days must keep their tongue from evil and their lips from deceitful speech. 11 They must turn from evil and do good; they must seek peace and pursue it.12 For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”13 Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? 14 But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.” 15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.

There are two main points from this passage that I want us to focus in on. The first one is the most pressing, and encapsulates the second. Peter tells us, be like-minded…sympathetic, loving…compassionate…humble. He tells us, not to repay evil, or respond with insults, but instead repay evil with blessing. Peter implores us to do good, because it can deter others from doing evil to us. But Peter adds and encourages us in verse 14, that even if we experience suffering for doing good, it’s better, because God’s blessing is for us. Then verse 16 finalizes this doing good, because if we are doing good our conscience will be clear and shame will be brought on people for their treatment of us, as we do good in Jesus’ name.
Paul has a similar idea in 1st Thessalonians chapter 4 verses 11, and 12, “11 and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, 12 so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.”

Why is this important? Because of what is happening around us today. I want to share with you some statistics.

We’re seeing a walk away from the Church in our society. Pew Research did a study back in 2014 where only 13% of the non-christian population said that any type of religion was very important, while 21% said is was somewhat important. But combined, that still doesn’t equal those that say it’s not important at all, at 39%.
When asked about what is the source that people turn to for their moral compass, only 7% said any type of religion. 
Why is that? Research by the Barna group might point to about 27%-36% of people thinking that the church is full of hypocrites. This could be a reason, but there’s more to it than the statistics show. 

But this is to the first point of Peter’s words to us, we have to live lives that are focused in loving. Loving God, and loving people. The two greatest commandments of God, and the commandment that all the other hang on.
This is what the second point is wrapped in. If we are not loving, if we are not forgiving and seeking forgiveness, if we are repaying evil with evil, and insult with insult, the second point Peter makes is mute. The second point doesn’t matter.

This is why Paul says in 1st Corinthians 13, “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.”

Knowing that, now we can get to Peter’s second point in this passage. Verse 15 says, “15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect…”

In fact Jesus said in his high priestly prayer in John 17, “22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
24 “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.
25 “Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. 26 I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”

The love we show, the unity that we are intended to have are key factors in our witness to the world. Paul says without it we have nothing. Jesus says with it the world will know that he was sent, but without it how are they to know?
A life that is wholly focused on loving God and people is what God desires of us, it is integral to our sharing the Gospel with people. That means when we mess up, we need to ask for forgiveness. That means we must give forgiveness to people. That means we must check our mouths, and ask should I say this or not? We need to speak truth, and do so in love, so that people would be saved from destruction.
This is the first pillar of a good witness, someone who’s life is wholly focused on loving God and loving people. 

Next week we’ll tackle the second pillar which is found in verse 15. But before we can get there, we must come to this decision in our lives, to live out the love that God desires us to live. Not in our own power, but in the power of the Holy Spirit living in me. 
We must press ever deeper into understanding the depth of God’s love for us, so that that love may flow over to others.

My challenge to you this week is this: Ask yourself, am I living the first pillar of my witness? Am I living in compassion? Am I living in love? Am I living in forgiveness? Or can someone point to me and say their just another one of those Christian hypocrites? This first pillar has to be in place first, or no matter how strong the second pillar is, the whole thing will come crashing down.
So does your life actively reflect the love of God, or is it dormant?

My prayer this week for you, is Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 3, “16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”

Let us be people who witness both with our lives, and with our mouths, so that people will be pointed to his eternal life, that is found only in Jesus. Amen.

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