Thrive Part 4
Guard your Heart
Anyone else have a crazy week? Yup, me too. Welcome back. You may not know this, but after preaching and working around ministry for a while, talking to a lot of pastors in a lot of different settings, and watching various congregations grow and shrink I’ve learned something. The two hardest topics to prepare for and preach, and then follow up on are, can you guess? …repentance and money. Can you guess the reason? No one likes to hear about repentance because it means acknowledging and submitting to God’s way of doing things and as humans, we always think we know better than God. We make excuses for ourselves, we rewrite the text or it’s application to suit ourselves, or we throw the text and it’s meaning right out the window because “God just wants us to be happy…”, right? So, I’ll say it again, welcome back; not everyone is eager to return to a church that preaches on repentance.
No one ever wants to hear about money either. Don’t worry, that’s not our topic today…
We started our series on what it means to Thrive in our lives. Really thrive. If you read the scriptures, read through the book of Acts, and follow everything Jesus and his early disciples went through. By modern sensibilities, it would be hard to say they were thriving. They didn’t own cars. Most of them left everything, family, friends, houses, jobs behind to follow Jesus. They slept wherever someone opened a room to them. Ate wherever they were invited in. They were persecuted. They were plotted against. They were beaten, flogged, shipwrecked, despised, and run out of towns. But they had a vibrant, thriving faith that attracted new believers to them in droves. They performed miracles, met physical needs, and most importantly, saved souls. Even in need, they were content and joyful, tried to be at peace with everyone, did good at every opportunity, devoted themselves and all they owned to following Jesus.
I said last week that Paul’s letter to the Romans was the most complete treatise on what it means to live apart from Christ, why we should come to faith in Christ, what the results of coming to faith in Christ are, what living life in the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit means, and on and on. Why is Romans so different from Paul’s other letters? Because Paul had never been to Rome. Unlike Corinth, Thessalonica, Ephesus, Philippi; Paul didn’t plant the church in Rome. He didn’t know if they had a firm grasp on what the Gospel meant. Paul’s letters to the other churches and to individuals were always in response to various issues he heard were going on and reminding them what he had taught or clarifying misunderstandings the churches may have had regarding something he taught. Paul was always very concerned that the believers in the churches had a firm foundation and grasp on the TRUTH. He wanted to make sure they never fell victim to falsehoods or traps laid by the enemy of our souls, Satan. In order for those churches to thrive, Paul wanted to make sure they guarded their hearts and held tight to the TRUTH of what they had been taught.
Proverbs 4:23 NLT
Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.
When Paul told Timothy in his second letter to the young elder in
2 Timothy 3:16-17
‘Every scripture is inspired by God and useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the person dedicated to God may be capable and equipped for every good work.’
Paul would have been thinking about what we know of the Old Testament, but Peter lumped Paul’s writing in as inspired by the Holy Spirit as well when he wrote in 2 Peter 3:15-16. Peter acknowledged Paul’s letters as well as the other scriptures would be twisted and corrupted by the ignorant and unstable. It’s important that, in order to thrive, we hold tightly to the TRUTH God has given us. It’s also why we see Paul quote or make allusions to the Old Testament over 70 times even though he is writing to a largely pagan and gentile audience in Romans. But why? Why is Paul so concerned about how the Romans are living? Because how we live has a great impact on our witness to the world as the church.
How we live and what the world sees is why Jesus calls his disciples the salt of the Earth and a light on a hill. We, as the church, should be counter-cultural. We should be right side up, even if the world itself is upside down. And Paul and other biblical writers give instructions on how to help one another live upright and godly lives. Last week, we read through part of Galatians chapter 5 ending in the fruit of the Spirit. Paul continues in chapter 6…
‘Brothers and sisters, if a person is discovered in some sin, you who are spiritual restore such a person in a spirit of gentleness. Pay close attention to yourselves, so that you are not tempted too. Carry one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. Let each one examine his own work. Then he can take pride in himself and not compare himself with someone else. For each one will carry his own load.’
There is a huge difference, although we don’t see it in our cultural rhetoric, between judgment and correction within scripture. Even in Jesus example of the plank and the speck, in Matthew 7:5 he says, ‘FIRST remove the plank, or beam (imagine a floor joist), from your own eye, and THEN you can see clearly to REMOVE the speck from your brother’s eye.’ It never says we shouldn’t help one another out or call one another on our shortcomings, but we absolutely must do so in love and grace, humility and gentleness, making sure our own sandbox isn’t being used as a cat box before helping our brothers and sisters in Christ clean up theirs.
Hebrews 12:1-2 says,
‘Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, we must get rid of every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and run with endurance the race set out for us, keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. For the joy set out for him he endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. ‘
Jesus himself died so that we can be free from the power of sin and death over our lives. But we can be blind to our own shortcomings and wrongdoing. I have a friend that has always said we must learn right before we can do right. In order to guard our hearts and minds against the schemes of the devil, we must learn the truth in order to recognize the lies. This is also why Paul writes to the Ephesians to be strengthened and put on the full armor of God. Listen to Ephesians 6…
‘Finally, be strengthened in the Lord and in the strength of his power. Clothe yourselves with the full armor of God so that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavens. For this reason, take up the full armor of God so that you may be able to stand your ground on the evil day, and having done everything, to stand. Stand firm therefore, by fastening the belt of truth around your waist, by putting on the breastplate of righteousness, by fitting your feet with the preparation that comes from the good news of peace, and in all of this, by taking up the shield of faith with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. With every prayer and petition, pray at all times in the Spirit, and to this end be alert, with all perseverance and requests for all the saints.’
We can easily, and we will someday do a full series on the armor of God, but the point made to the Ephesians, to whom Paul is writing through the power of God’s Holy Spirit, is to guard themselves. Truth, righteousness, being ready share the Gospel, our faith shielding us, minds on our salvation, and the word of God, breathed out by Holy Spirit into its authors, in hand and parry and defend against the lies thrown at us. And prayer.
We must remember that Galatians, Colossians, Ephesians, and Philippians were all written around the same time, while Paul was sitting in prison, and so these letters are also very closely related to one another. They were all also written to churches planted in pagan areas that Paul had intimate ties with, and he knew their struggles. And through God’s Spirit wrote in Philippians chapter 4,
‘Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I say, rejoice! Let everyone see your gentleness. The Lord is near! Do not be anxious about anything. Instead, in every situation, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, tell your requests to God. And the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.’
I do not believe that it is through sheer coincidence that after speaking about guarding ourselves with the full armor of God in Ephesians 6 Paul ends those instructions with an instruction to pray and that after telling the Philippians to always rejoice and not be anxious and before sharing the secret to contentment Paul also tells the Philippians that the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard their hearts and minds through prayer. Then Paul tells the Philippians,
‘I have experienced times of need and times of abundance. In any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of contentment, whether I go satisfied or hungry, have plenty or nothing. I am able to do all things through the one (Jesus) who strengthens me. ‘
It is First and Finally, Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith, who lived a perfect life, died a sacrificial death, was raised to new life to bring us eternal life in a relationship with His Father and giving us his own Holy Spirit inside us who gives us all the strength we need. He has given us the TRUTH of his Word written through his powerful Spirit to guide us and given us one another to lift each other up in love and grace and humility and gentleness to live lives filled with peace, contentment, and joy. So, let us guard our hearts to live lives where we can truly thrive.
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