Ninth Sunday after Trinity August 9, 1998
Let brotherly love continue. Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels. Remember the prisoners as if chained with them, and those who are mistreated; since you yourselves are in the body also. Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled; but fornicators and adulterers God will judge. Let your conduct be without covetousness, and be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we may boldly say: “The LORD is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?” Remember those who rule over you, who have spoken the word of God to you, whose faith follow, considering the outcome of their conduct. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.
In the name of Christ Jesus, the Lord of unchanging grace and mercy, dear Christian friends, dear fellow redeemed.
What is your basic outlook on life? What is the main philosophy that drives your way of thinking and the plans that you make and the lifestyle that you have? If we took this question to the world, the answer would come back in the form of a slogan perhaps. “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.” “There’s only one life to live.” “Be all that you can be!” Etc., etc. Hopefully, we can spot the errors that are contained in these attitudes and philosophies of the world. For one thing, they ignore the reality of God and the needs of our soul. They focus on the here and now and ignore the existence that we have after death. And the attitudes of the world have completely brushed aside the troubling issue of sin.
Obviously, we need a new attitude and a better outlook, one that God Himself must give us. We look to Christ for the answers, and the answers come. What the Lord taught to His disciples 2000 years ago, what the Lord put down in the Bible of old, has not changed in its truth or its significance. That’s because Christ Himself has not changed. The same Lord Jesus lives to rule His people.
Now please understand. These godly virtues are not a built-in part of human nature. We come into this world with all the wrong attitudes. We are enslaved by feelings of selfishness, bitterness, lust, greed, and pride. Step #1 on the road to change is to realize the contrary nature of our sinful self. My flesh will only get in the way. So I still need Jesus to change me from the inside out. And you need Him too. We share the same problem: our sin. Thankfully, we share the same Lord, who leads us out of sin. This same Lord Jesus will lead us to embrace a new and better attitude of life. It’s the attitude of love toward our fellow Christians.
“Let brotherly love continue,” our text begins. It then goes on to explain specific ways of showing love. That’s the way love is. It does not merely feel or sympathize with the other person. It responds. It lends a helping hand. In the days of the apostles, there was a great need for hospitality. When the missionary traveled to a new location, when Christians were forced to leave their homes because of persecution, they relied on the loving concern of believers they had never met before. It’s hard for us to imagine, because we have family scattered around the country; we have friends, restaurants, and motels to take care of us. But the early Christians had no other choice than to depend on the hospitality of strangers.
We don’t have the same necessity in our day. But there are strangers who need our support. There are fellow believers in other countries, who live a difficult life with very little food and clothing. We can show them great “hospitality” through our prayers and our contributions. We can relieve them in time of disaster. We can help them build a home for their orphans. We can give our support to unknown brethren in Nigeria and India, knowing that our love for them is first and foremost a love for Christ, who said, “Inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.” (Matt. 25:40)
Feeding the poor, housing the stranger, visiting the sick and those who are in prison—wherever there’s a need, especially with those who share the same faith in Christ—we are to get busy and help relieve their want and suffering. The writer of our text tells us to think of the Christian in jail as though we are in prison with them. And the person who suffers oppression as though it were happening to us. Christ would have us treat all people according to the golden rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Certainly I would want them to help me in my trouble and visit me if I were sick or in prison. Let’s realize right now that the suffering which affects our neighbors or our fellow believers could just as easily afflict any one of us. If we are sensitive to their needs and share their burdens as our own, the right kind of actions are sure to follow from the attitude of Christian love.
We know the way that it should be in our life. But do our actions and our attitudes truly match the will of our Savior? Here again we see the failure and shortcoming. The attitude of love toward our fellow believer can easily fade. We get wrapped up in our lives and forget the needs of other people. We are content to let the government or some charity do the work of helping them out. Dear Christians, we need an attitude adjustment from the one whose attitude is perfect. Look at the great love He had for us. Look at the sacrifice He made. He died for us! I can’t say that strongly enough! He took our punishment. He suffered our hell. And He did the same for each and every one of our neighbors. Any thoughts of pride or prejudice or bitterness should die at the cross. God has declared us equals under His grace. We are equally forgiven, equally saved, and equally loved by Him. And His love toward us will be the only power that can produce within us the same love toward our fellow believers and our fellow man.
Our text might strike you as a miscellaneous list of commands. But it’s not. There’s a connection. Christian love, which we have just discussed, should reach its peak in the family. On the ground of marriage, the attitude of love is meant to flourish. Unfortunately, we can lose respect and value for the blessed institution that God has created. So the unchanging Jesus steps in to change our way of thinking. He leads us to honor His gift of marriage.
It should be viewed by all as a matter of indisputable fact: “Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled; but fornicators and adulterers God will judge.” Marriage is a gift from God, no matter who the married people might be. The marriage of two unbelievers is just as legitimate in God’s eyes as the marriage of two faithful Christians. Why? Because God created this institution for all people. Those who enter marriage are entering God’s domain. Which means that God has the right to make all the rules. God decides how long our marriages will be. God defines what we do and what we don’t do within the bounds of marriage and outside the bounds as well. God has said: one man, one woman, together as life partners until death do them part. That is what we believe. That is what we teach our young people. That is what we counsel to those who seek to be married in the church. We believe it, we teach it because it is the truth of God.
Unfortunately, there’s a great deal of static to cloud the issue. There is the other side which tries to contradict. In a very subtle and persistent way, we are exposed to the contrary point of view. Through television and movies, through the attitudes and examples of many people around us, we get mixed signals about marriage and sexual behavior. Society today is screaming out the idea that it’s OK to live together. They say it’s OK to sleep with those you are not married to. They say it’s OK to commit adultery and practice the "alternative lifestyle" of the homosexual. Even the government says it’s OK. But God says no. God says don’t do it. God has created the gift of sex and put specific limits on that gift. It is limited to marriage and marriage only. It is God’s special blessing, given exclusively to those two individuals who commit themselves permanently to each other.
We show the right honor and respect for God’s gift by our full agreement and practice of His rules. Sex outside of marriage is to be avoided at all times, because it dishonors marriage and disobeys God. Parents need to teach this fact to their children. Christians need to help each other confess this truth and remain faithful to it. If we ever sin against the institution of marriage, we need to repent and seek a new attitude from the One who gave us marriage. Lord, help us honor this blessed institution. Lord, help us honor marriage with our thoughts, words, and deeds.
When you become a follower of Christ, you can expect change. He changes your heart so that you trust in Him rather than yourself. He changes your mind so that you follow His Word instead of your own ideas. He changes your view of other people by giving you the virtue of Christian love. And He changes your view of marriage to conform with the teaching of Scripture. We now go from the Sixth Commandment on marriage to the Seventh, which treats the way we view and handle material wealth. We can expect the same Lord Jesus to give us the attitude of contentment toward material things.
The Lord speaks through our text: “Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ ” The Lord wants us to live our life without greed, without a love for money and material things. He knows the danger if we fall in love with money and forget about Him. Remember the warning that He gave in Matthew: “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.” (Matt. 6:24) If we fall in love with material wealth and that becomes the thing that we pursue, then we run the risk of losing our spiritual wealth.
God does not want that to happen to any of us. So He tells us all to be content. Paul writes in 1 Timothy: “Godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content.” (1 Tim. 6:6-8) If we are satisfied with what we have, then we won’t be craving more. The question is—how do we find this contentment? You won’t find the answer in the amount of wealth that you now have or the amount of wealth that you’d like to have. The problem of dissatisfaction and coveting is universal. The poor, the rich, and the middle class are all guilty of wanting more than what is given to them. You see, the love of money is never satisfied. It makes you a slave to an uncontrollable desire. The only way to deal with the problem and overcome it is to go back to the Savior and let Him show you just how wealthy He has made you already.
That’s the key to contentment: you realize the tremendous value of your spiritual treasure. Look what you get through the cross of Christ! You get a clean and perfect record with God, the total forgiveness of all your sins. How many billionaires know about that? You get the wonderful status of belonging to God’s family, where you are His child by faith and He is your Father. That special relationship is a wonderful source of security, because God will surely take care of those who belong to Him. He has promised to give you what you need. He has also promised to give you eternal life. So who has the better net worth: you or the unbelieving tycoon? Who has the better future in store? You are eternally rich! Remember that fact each and every day, and it will help you become content with your material possessions, whatever amount they might be.
Also remember what the Lord has promised: “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” The Lord has pledged Himself to be your security on earth. You don’t need a bigger bank account or a better insurance policy, because God will provide, God will protect, God will keep us secure according to His will. That is our confidence, once we have learned contentment. It’s a new and better attitude, because it recognizes the true value of material things. Money and “stuff” serve a limited purpose. They do not deserve the top priority, because the most important thing in life is our soul and our relationship with God. The Bible is more important than your checkbook. This church service is more important than the dinner table. And the ministry of the Gospel is more important than all the goods and services that you will ever need on earth. In light of this truth, let’s consider one more attitude in our Christian life. It’s the attitude of faith toward the Gospel ministry.
Our text brings this up toward the end: “Remember those who rule over you, who have spoken the word of God to you, whose faith follow, considering the outcome of their conduct.” That is not to say that we ever trust in the work of the pastor. We trust in the work of Christ as our Savior. But let’s be sure to understand where the pastor fits in. You should not put him on a pedestal; the pastor did not die for your sins and make you right with God. But you should not put him beneath you; he is God’s representative. The Lord has put him in the gap. The pastor stands between you and God to tell you what the Lord wants you to know. The pastor leads you to the cross of Jesus and the truth of His Word. The pastor brings you the Gospel of forgiveness, which we all need more than anything else.
So we view the pastor as the spokesman of God. We expect him to faithfully proclaim the Law and the Gospel and all the doctrines of Scripture. We value the work that he does, not for the sake of the man but for the sake of the message. It’s not the pastor who causes you to believe or strengthens your faith. God does that through the message proclaimed by the pastor. I stand here today as a mere tool. It is God’s Word that will save your soul. Do not trust in me to lead you to the promised land. Trust in Christ, who works through the message, no matter who the messenger might be.
Because of God’s tremendous power and promise, we can trust Him to make the Gospel ministry work for our eternal good. That’s because the Lord does not change. Even as He converted and saved believers of old, He will do the same for us. Even as He worked through Moses and Matthew and Peter, He will likewise work through Christian pastors today. Even as He led believers before us to follow the virtues of love, purity, and contentment, we can expect the same Lord Jesus to give us new and better attitudes for the life that we live right now. He is, after all, the “same yesterday, today, and forever.” Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.