Today we hear a lot about church planting.  It is a great topic and noble ambition to plant a church in a new or different area to try to reach people for God.  Thinking about the whole topic led me to a question.  What if God planted a church, what are things he would do?  Of course, when you raise that question it quickly leads you to consider Acts chapter two when God did first plant the church that was to spread through the whole world.  That church was in God’s plan from the foundation of the earth and its purpose was to demonstrate to the powers and authorities in the heavenly realms the multi-colored wisdom of God.  That first church started with lots of amazing things.  The Holy Spirit came upon the apostles who were gathered in prayer and there were tongues of fire rising from each of them.  They all began to speak in languages they didn’t know, glorifying God.  People heard the great noise and gathered to find out what was going on.  Peter stood with the others and began to preach to them about Jesus.  He pointed to the fact that Jesus had come into the world to bring us salvation but by God’s determined plan and foreknowledge, he was crucified, but God didn’t leave him in the grave.  Death couldn’t hold him, so three days later he was raised as Lord and Savior.

When the people were cut to their heart on realizing they had been involved in putting to death the Savior they cried out to Peter and the other apostles, “Men and brothers, what shall we do?”  Peter told them to repent and for all of them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of their sins and they would receive the gift of the Holy Spirit for the promise was for them, for their children and for all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God shall call.  Three thousand of them were baptized that day.  But it was what happened then that really involved the planting of a church.  In Acts 2:42 it says, “And they devoted themselves to the apostles teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”  In the following verses and chapters Luke described how these four things were dominate in their lives and actions.

Suppose you wanted to plant a church today in a different section of Little Rock, what are some things you would do to assure the success of this new church?  What would you want the people to devote themselves to doing so that it might be, both what would reach people and please God?  The problem so often when we think about planting a church, is that we tend to think more about what will bring people in, than what would please God and that is the reverse of what should be the case.  Being popular with people has never been an assurance that it is what God wants.  The truth is, the church that is pleasing to God will always be one that is devoted to the apostles teaching, to fellowship, to breaking bread and to prayer.  These stand as the heart of the church and the heart of God’s plan for the church.

What does it mean to be devoted to something?  One can certainly be involved in something without being devoted to it.  Go to visit any school in the area and look into the classrooms.  You will see lots of young people in class.  Some will be studying and trying to understand what the teacher is sharing with them.  But there won’t be many who are really devoted to what is being taught.  Actually, it is rare to find the teacher that is totally devoted to the class and to the teaching that are being paid to do.  Too often it is a job and one goes through it to fulfill the obligations of the job.  But a devoted teacher who pours their whole being into the subject and the students is an entirely different breed and is one that will bless every student that is privileged to be in their class.

Or choose any work place that employees a large number of people.  Go among the workers and watch their behavior, listening to their conversations and ask, how many of these workers are really devoted to the things this company is trying to accomplish?  There are tons of workers on jobs all over the place.  But finding the devoted worker who has given themselves completely to the mission of their company instead of just being there to do what they have to do to get paid at the end of the week is challenging.  Every employer would love to find that devoted worker who gives themselves fully to the goals of the company.  Usually we settle for workers who will do the job.

Lots of churches do the four things that Luke mentions in Acts 2:42, but that doesn’t mean they are totally devoted to it.  It can just as easily or likely much more so, to walk through the motions and get the job done without any of the passion that we ought to have.  Notice, the text doesn’t say that God made them devoted to these things.  It says they devoted themselves to them.  Being totally sold out to a cause or mission for God is a choice we have to make.  Think about what you are really devoted to in your relationship with God.

I want to think about each of these four things that Luke says the first church was devoted to separately in the next few articles.  I hope you will join me in each of the studies.

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I wish with everything in me that I could have been there that day when Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount.  It laid out the entirety of his message in quick and simple language that the people listening, even though they were not as a whole scholars or even educated people, could understand and apply to their own life.  I have been preaching for almost 54 years yet being able to preach with the kind of clarity and powerful illustrations that Jesus used from ordinary life has always seemed out of reach.  When Jesus came to the conclusion of this masterpiece of a sermon he ended with an illustration from their day to day life than no one could miss.

“Everyone then who hears theses words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on a rock.  And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.  And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand.  And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”

Great sermons are interesting to hear and sometimes people marvel at the beauty of the message or the excellence of the words or illustrations.  But the power of the sermon is never in simply hearing it and telling the preacher what a fine sermon it was.  The power is in what we do with it.  Certainly with every sermon preached by a human it is important to examine the message to make certain that what is said is really from God and not one of their own making.  Remember God called the people of Berea a noble people because on hearing Paul preach they searched the Scriptures to see if what he said was true (Acts 17:11).  But the time of examining should come to a conclusion and upon learning that the message is true we should then put it into practice.  Just knowing the truth on anything is of little value if we don’t do anything with the knowledge.

Think about some lessons from this illustration.  Both groups heard the same lesson.  It wasn’t the lesson that made the difference but their reaction to the lesson.  It is also important to notice that the same rain, storms and winds came upon both the wise who were obedient to the message and the foolish who just listened without making any changes in their lives.  Being a follower of the Lord doesn’t protect us from the storms and agonies of life.  As I am writing this a strong hurricane is barreling down upon North and South Carolina and this storm will hit without respect to which homes or businesses are affected.  It won’t skip over the houses or businesses owned by good Christian people and demolish the houses of those who don’t follow His teaching.  Far too often people have gotten the notion, likely from listening to a teacher or preacher who taught it to them, that if we follow the Lord then he will keep us from facing the storms of life at all.  The result of such thinking is that people are shocked when their families are hit with cancer or with some other major illness or problem in life.  Time and again in visiting people in the hospital I have heard people say that they just can’t understand why this is happening to them since they are Christians.  Many asked, “What did I do wrong that God would allow this to happen to me?”  The right answer is that such problems, storms, rain, and winds come upon all people in one form or another.  The old saying is true that if we think that if we could just swap our problems with those of someone else we know that just seems to have everything going their way, we would likely want to swap back within a week of getting theirs and finding out what they were really dealing with.

Have you ever seen a house that was built on a poor foundation?  Some years ago I had a friend to call me wanting me to come look at a house near where they lived that was for sale and they thought it was a tremendous buy and I should think about it.  I went to look at the house and sure enough it was beautiful on the outside.  But when you went into the house the doors wouldn’t shut right.  The floors in some rooms were lower than in others and it wasn’t because it was built to be that way.  I went around back and looked under the house to see what was going on.  It had slipped off the beams that were there to hold it up and was in real danger of collapsing at any time.  They builder had put lots of effort into making the house beautiful, but hadn’t spent the time, effort and understanding to make the foundation secure.

Jesus said that in life it is exactly the same way.  If we take the message he proclaimed and lived before us and do what he teaches us to do to the best of our abilities, we are building our lives on a solid rock foundation and when the storms of life hit us we will stand the test.  But when we make it our practice to listen to the message of the Lord but make no changes in our lives then we are building our lives on sandy soil and when the storms come we will be swept away in the storms.

The real question is how am I building my life?   Am I intent on hearing and doing God’s will or just on hearing it and knowing the truth?

When Jesus finished the crowds were astonished at this teaching and declared he spoke with authority and not like the scribes, but nothing is said about how many of them actually made any change in their life as a result.  Amazing!

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It is amazing how much easier it is to talk the talk than to walk the walk.  We sometimes become frustrated at people who say all the right things when it comes to church and being a Christian, but whose lives never match up with the words.  What makes it all the more unnerving is that it is quite often the ones who are the very best at the talk, that at the end of things don’t do well at all with the life part of it.  In Jesus great Sermon on the Mount he very clearly laid out the life that one is to live to be a faithful follower of His.  He even warned of those who would pretend to be teaching his way and actually leading people away from him.  One thing that makes this whole sermon so powerful is that he covered all the bases.  Near the end of chapter seven and the sermon as a whole he said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.  On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’  And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.”

These three verses from Jesus are huge.  They cover a wide gamut of topics that plague the people of God in all generations.  So, it is vital to look closely at how Jesus handled the whole topic of those who say all the right things but whose lives don’t match up with their words.

Saying “Lord, Lord” is a good thing.  Luke pictures Jesus on another occasion asking, “Why do you call me “Lord, Lord, and fail to do the things I say?”  The word means one who is the master, the ruler.  If I call someone my lord I am declaring that I follow their lead.  My very becoming a child of God involves my willingness to make Jesus the lord of my life.  In Romans 10:9-10 it says, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  For with the heart may believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.”  The whole notion that I can have Jesus as my savior without submitting to him as my lord completely misses the mark of God’s teaching.  Jesus knew there would be those who were ready to declare his lordship but would never follow the teaching he laid down, so he made it abundantly clear that you don’t get into the kingdom of Christ with such claims.  Remember the whole point of being in the kingdom of Christ is that we have made Jesus king of our lives.  One couldn’t claim to be part of the Roman Empire and reject the rule of the Emperor.  Neither can one be in Christ’s kingdom and reject him as king, as lord in your life.

What makes this passage all the more revealing is that Jesus pictures these people coming before him in the judgment still very much believing that they are right with him and will be ushered into his heavenly realms.  They were shocked to find that calling him lord and doing lots of things in his name didn’t cover the bases for them.  They had the wording right and they were doing lots of good things in his name.  Look at their list of great works they were doing in the name of Jesus.  They were prophesying in his name.  The basic meaning of the word prophesy is to “Speak forth God’s revelation.”  It most often referred to a miraculous speaking of God’s revealed will.  God often referred to the Old Testament prophets as “Men of God”, a phase only used in the books of I and II Timothy in the New Testament.  In I Timothy 6 Paul spoke of Timothy as “O man of God.” and in 2 Timothy 3 he talked about the scriptures as furnishing the man of God completely for what he needs to preach and teach God’s will.  Most likely these were people who strongly believed that God was giving them special revelations of His will for them to share with others.  So, when they faced judgment they felt secure, believing that God had often revealed his will to the world through them.  Yet, they were wrong!  They weren’t right with God at all.

The next group felt secure in their salvation because they had cast out demons in the name of the Lord.  Remember there were many who believed they had the ability to cast out demons.  When the religious leaders accused Jesus of casting out demons by the power of Beelzebub the price of demons, Jesus pointed out to do so would have Satan casting out Satan and his kingdom would fall, but then he asked them if he was casting out demons by Beelzebub, by whom were their children casting them out?  Exorcising demons has been part of different religious work in multiple areas and they believed strongly that if they could cast the demons out then surely they were right with the Lord.  Yet, they were mistaken.  I don’t know if they were really able to cast out demons or only believed they could, but either way what was done led them to the wrong conclusion.  Their actions didn’t demonstrate that they were right with God.

The third group weren’t so specific in their claims.  They simply said they had done many mighty works in the name of the Lord.  We can’t be sure what kind of things they had in mind.  It may have been great service projects that helped lots of people deal with problems in their life.  It may have been some glorious project that was intended to bring lots of people to Jesus.  All we know is that in their estimation, they had done mighty works for God in the name of Jesus.  Surely if you are out working for God and giving him the glory for your good deeds in the world, then when you face him in judgment you will be praised for you good deeds and invited into the eternal kingdom to be with the Lord forevermore.  But, surprisingly Jesus said that these too would be told that He had never known them and that they must depart from him.  Think of the implications of Jesus saying to them, “I never knew you.”  It is very different from saying, “I don’t know you.”  His point to these people that felt so good about their spiritual lives was that they had never been right with him.

He then called these very people who thought they were right with him and doing his work in the world, “workers of lawlessness.”  The powerful lesson is that no amount of saying the right thing or doing good works will take the place of submitting to the Lord and doing His will in our lives.  It isn’t up to us to come up with some magnificent way we can do great things for God.  It is up to us to follow Jesus and do what he calls us to do.  Judgment is coming for each of us one of these days and Jesus longs to invite every person that stands before him to come on in and enjoy the blessings of his kingdom that has been prepared for us from the foundation of the world.  But only those who submit to him as lord will actually be welcomed into his kingdom forevermore.

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Jesus was nearing the conclusion of the greatest recorded sermon of all time, that we know as the Sermon on the Mount.  He had challenged them to enter the narrow gate and walk the narrow road that leads to life and pointed out that the easy way was to simply go with the flow and take the wide gate and travel the broad road that leads to destruction.  If anyone looked at the destination and realized that one way ended in horror and the other way ended in eternal life with God, it would seem that we would quickly choose the narrow road and have the greatest blessings possible.  But we would be fooling ourselves to think that way.  Even in every day life most can’t seem to delay gratification long enough to have a better future, but are willing to sacrifice the future to have what I want right now.

Jesus turned from that challenge to a warning.  “Watch out for false prophets.  They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.  By their fruits you will recognize them.”  From the beginning God used prophets to guide the people who followed him in the right way.  Jesus even declared that John the Baptist was greatest among the prophets.  If you look back through the Old Testament you meet lots of great people that God referred to as “My servants the prophets.”  But there were also those people who were false prophets that led people in the wrong direction.  One of the classic stories of the Old Testament with regard to prophets was told when Jeroboam led the ten tribes of Israel away and set up the idol gods for the people to worship.  God sent a man of God from Judah as recorded in I Kings 13 to go to Bethel and condemn the actions of Jeroboam.  Jeroboam was standing on the altar when the prophet cried out, “Altar, altar! This is what the Lord says:  A son named Josiah will be born of the house of David.  On you he will sacrifice the priests of the high places who made offerings here, and human bones will be burned on you.”  He gave the sign that the altar would split apart and the ashes be poured out.  Jeroboam was horribly upset and cried out for the people to arrest the man, but his arm wouldn’t pull back after that so he then pleaded with the prophet to pray for his arm to be restored.  He did pray and the arm was restored.  Then Jeroboam tried to get him to come home with him and eat with him but the prophet said God had told him not to eat there and headed back home.

But there was an old prophet who lived there and his sons came home to tell him what had happened.  He went out after the young prophet and caught up with him.  He asked him to come back to his house and eat with him but the young prophet explained that God had told him not to eat there and to go straight back to Judah.  The old prophet lied to him and said that God had sent an angel to speak to him to tell him to bring the young prophet back to his house to eat with him.  He believed the lie and went back.  While eating God spoke through that old prophet to say to the young prophet, “This is what the Lord says, You have defied the word of the Lord and have not kept the command the Lord your God gave you.”  On his way home a lion came out and attacked and killed the young prophet for his disobedience.  So, God actually spoke through the lying old prophet to him.  But he suffered because of the deceit of the old prophet and believing a lie.

So, Jesus challenges us to watch out, to test the prophets to see if they are the real thing.  Later in I John 4 the apostle John will pick up the same thread when he commanded us to be on guard against false prophets for many false teachers have gone out into the world.  He told us to test the prophets to see if they were for real.  If a prophet denied that Jesus came in the flesh he wasn’t for real and was really anti-Christ.  Compare this with Jesus point that we can determine if the prophet is the real thing by checking their fruits.  Good trees don’t bear bad fruit and bad trees don’t bear good fruit.

There are two ways a person can be a false teacher or prophet.  One can be false in that they teach the truth but fail to live what they teach.  Jesus told the disciples to do what the scribes and Pharisees said to do since they sat in Moses seat, but not to do as they did because they didn’t live by what they taught.  If the life of the teacher doesn’t match the message they preach or teach then they are a false teacher and shouldn’t be followed.  Now understand that no one lives a perfect life except Jesus.  So in talking about not living the life I’m not saying one must live perfectly as their teaching should be.  But one must be trying to live by the very standards they would place on others.  In Paul’s words we should be able to say, “Follow me as I also follow Christ.”

The second way and the one we tend to hear more about is that one may be a false teacher in that what they teach isn’t really what the word of God teaches.  In John’s time many were preaching that Jesus didn’t really come with a physical body like ours but he was a spirit being and only looked like he had a physical body.  Thus when he went to the cross he didn’t really suffer and die as a man for us.  It was all pretense.  John will declare in 2 John 9 that “Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son.”  Paul’s challenge to his young friend Timothy was to “Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage – with great patience and careful instruction.”  He had just pointed out that all Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching for rebuke, for correcting and for instruction in righteousness so the man of God may be complete, furnished completely unto every good work.  Paul referred to some false teachers in Galatians 1:8-9 by saying, “Though we or an angel from heaven preach any other gospel than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.”

There will be false teachers in the world as long as time goes on.  Our challenge is to watch out and be able to identify the false teacher and the one who is true and follow the teacher that is really striving to teach the word of God clearly and striving to live by the same message he is preaching to others.  But how can we know whether a teacher or prophet is real or false?  Jesus said, check their fruit.  Check to see how the lives of those who are being taught is affected.  Check to see how the person who is teaching is actually living themselves in the world.  Only follow anyone who looks like Jesus and helps you follow him more closely all the time.

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Before the days of GPS it was a constant struggle to stay on the right road.  All the maps in the lap, didn’t seem to assure me that I was heading in the right direction.  Even with the GPS update, I’ve still had some times when I either entered something wrong or the maps got it wrong so that I ended up in some place a long way from where I had intended to go.  Spiritually it is the same problem.  We can easily get off on the wrong road in our spiritual life and be moving further away from God and His will when we believe we are heading in the right direction.

A key passage in the Sermon on the Mount is found in Matthew 7:13-14 where Jesus said, “Enter through the narrow gate.  For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.  But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life and only a few find it.”  In many ways this seems to be a strange teaching.  After all Jesus invited everyone who is weary and burdened down in life to come to him to have rest to our soul.  He even declared that his yoke is easy and his burden is light.  His plea was for us to take his yoke and learn of him.  So the narrow road isn’t found by only a few because there aren’t many invited.  Everyone is invited.  Also, it isn’t the case that not many enter that way because preparation hasn’t been made for them to be saved.  Jesus went to the cross to taste death for every person according to Hebrews 2:9.  When he gave the disciples his great commission it was to go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature and he who believes and is baptized will be saved (Mark 16:15-16). Matthew’s account of that same commission was as you go into all the world, make disciples from every ethnic group, baptizing them into the name of the father, the son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you and I will be with you always even to the end of the age.  He wouldn’t have commissioned us to carry the gospel to all people if only a select group of them could be saved anyway.

So, why do the majority of people travel through the wide gate and travel the broad way that leads to destruction? Do they not realize the destination?  Imagine meeting someone at a convenience store who is getting gas and you ask them where they are going.  They tell you they really don’t know where they are going, but it is such a nice, wide road that is so well kept and easy to drive they are just traveling on it without any view to a destination.  What if you then said to them, “Do you realize that there is a bridge out twenty miles down the road and there aren’t any exits between here and there, so it is extremely dangerous and not well marked before you come to the missing bridge?”  What would you think if their response was, “Well, it is such a good road and so well kept, I think we will just keep going and take our chances on the future?”  Most of us would be amazed that anyone would be so thoughtless in light of the warning that you gave them.  You would likely asked yourself, “Did they not believe me?  Should I have been clearer? Should I have tried to stop them and described what it was like if you went off the end where the bridge was supposed to be?”  I often feel that same frustration when talking with someone who is living in sin and makes no attempt to change their life even though they will tell you that they know that if they died as they are they would be lost forever.

So, why do people stay on the broad road?  I am sure there are tons of reasons.  Some stay because it is such an easy road and there is plenty of room on it for them to do as they please and still travel it.  Some stay on that way because of all their friends and family that are there and they don’t want to leave them.  Some stay on that road because the Narrow road seems so difficult to them and they just don’t really believe that they could travel that road.

Just how narrow is the gate and road in that way that leads to eternal life?  It is wide enough for anyone who out of faith in Christ as Savior and Lord, turns from their sins to God in repentance and declares their faith in Jesus, being baptized into Christ where they rise to walk in newness of life.  It is wide enough for me to travel with all my friends and family that make the same commitment to God.  It is wide enough for people to travel it that are weak and struggling, but who put their faith in Christ and walk in his way, being forgiven of their sins and failures as they are cleansed by the blood of Jesus.  It is wide enough for a person who comes to Christ to never stumble or fall on it.  Peter said that if we as followers of Christ add to our faith goodness, to goodness knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control, perseverance and to perseverance, godliness, to godliness, mutual affection and to mutual affection love, we will be fruitful in our service to God and will make our calling and election sure, thus assuring that we will never stumble or fall and will have an abundant entrance into the eternal kingdom (2 Peter 1:5-11).

The narrow road is so narrow that I need the help of the Holy Spirit to walk that way faithfully.  I can’t do it on my own.  For that reason at the moment we out of faith are baptized into Christ God gives us the Holy Spirit to dwell in us, strengthen us, help and lead us in the way we should go.  Paul said the Spirit helps us in all our weaknesses in Romans 8:26.  Besides that Jesus promises to never leave or forsake us so that we may boldly say, “the Lord is our helper, I will not fear what man can do to me.”  We have God as our father who listens to our prayers, and blesses us as we live for him.  He even measures the temptations that can come our way to make certain we aren’t tempted beyond our ability to overcome it.  On top of all of that we have the help and encouragement of every other Christian that is part of the same family of believers and is part of the body of Christ alongside us.  One of the greatest charges of the New Testament relates to how many times and ways God tells us to help one another in living the life he calls us to live.  This life on the narrow road is called by Jesus the abundant life.  It is the life where we have all spiritual blessings that heaven has to offer a person.  Jesus said that in this world as we live that life we receive back a hundred times over everything we give up to follow him and on top of that, in the world to come we have eternal life.

It is certainly understandable that people talk lots about the blessings that we will receive in heaven when this life is over.  That is after all the destination for everyone on that narrow road.  But sometimes we are so intent on the life to come we miss out on the marvelous blessings that are here and now for those who live in Christ.  By far the greatest, happiest, fullest and most blessed life anyone can live in the here and now is the life for God walking the narrow road that leads to life.

It is vital that we be careful and check the road that we are on using the GPS of God’s word to guide us, because Satan constantly is working to convince those on the broad road that they really are on the narrow road that leads to life. It may well be that many will not be aware they were on the wrong road until they reach their destination.

Leon Barnes

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There are tons of instructions in the Bible that apply in different situations but wouldn’t be great to do in other situations.  But when Jesus reached the point in the Great Sermon on the Mount to give what we know as the Golden Rule He made it absolutely clear this was a command that related to all times and all situations with all people.  “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.”  While similar statements have been found in other places, including the Book of Proverbs and other religious writings, they tended toward the negative side of it of not doing to anyone else what I wouldn’t want them to do to me.  But Jesus carried the point much further when he spoke, not of not doing, but of the positive side, to actually do the things that one would want done to them to others.

What if we actually carried out this command and took it very personally?  How many Facebook posts would need to be taken down?  How many books that have been written to attack another person, would have to be destroyed?  How many sermons that have been preached to attack the beliefs of another would need to be unpreached?  How many editorials that have been written about someone to try and destroy their reputation or simply to make them out as someone who can’t be trusted would have to be removed from the papers and magazines that have carried them?  In reality, how many magazines would have to be completely put out of business or entirely change their business plan to remain in business?  How many programs on radio and TV would suddenly be removed from the airwaves if they were to even try to obey what Jesus taught in this verse?  The truth is, it would make a massive change in life as a whole.  But a deeper question is, how would it change your life and mine if we really obeyed what Jesus taught in this verse?  It is easy to go after the media or public figures about their failure to follow the Golden Rule, but I’m not certain that they do any worse at it than the rest of of us.  To get even more personal, how much better do those of us who claim to follow Jesus in life do in following his teaching on this matter than those who do not even claim to follow Him?

Let me suggest for all of us that we start a personal campaign to fully engage in doing to others what we would have them do to us, in particular realms of life for a start and then build from there.  For example, suppose I make up my mind right now that in my relationship with my family, in my home that I be completely obedient to the Lord’s teaching on the matter. If you didn’t tell anyone what you were doing and simply made the change in your dealings with your husband or wife and with your children, how long do you think it would take for them to notice a difference?  It always makes more sense to start in a small circle and then build from there to take the same principle to my life at work or with the people I get together with regularly.  Perhaps take it to church with me so that with fellow church members I determine to treat them exactly like I would like to be treated by them.  If we kept on expanding the circle until we actually reached the stage we treated those who were from a different political party or beliefs from me as I would like to be treated by them, what an amazing difference it would make in society as a whole.

In some areas, I suspect this wouldn’t go as I might immediately think.  Treating others as we want to be treated wouldn’t mean we were never corrected on anything.  I don’t want to go through life mistaken on particular issues with no one having the courage to help me rethink and change my mind about it.  Disagreeing with others is normal as long as we are both thinking people.  What the Golden Rule does it affect the way I disagree with others.  It changes us from put-downs and sarcastic remarks to kind, considerate and loving statements to the people I encounter.  Just think if we followed this teaching when we are driving on the interstate or when we are in line at Walmart, it could be a massive difference for all.

But notice, Jesus didn’t end with the simple command to treat others as I want to be treated.  He then said, “for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” Look at the Ten Commandments God gave as the center of the Law to Israel.  The first four relate to one’s relationship with God.  We are to have no other gods before him, not to make or bow down to any images we make, not to take his name in vain and to remember the Sabbath to keep it holy.  But the other six commands all relate to how we treat each other.  We aren’t to murder, commit adultery, steal, lie, or covet and we are to honor our father and mother.  The remainder of the law and the prophets expanded on these laws and applied them to different challenges and situations faced by the people.  Jesus said, it was all summed up in following the Golden Rule to do to others as we would have them do to us.

Now it is true that this isn’t the only time that Jesus said that some command summed up the law and the prophets.  When he gave the greatest command to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and to love our neighbor as our self, he said about it that it summed up the law and the prophets.  In Romans 13 Paul said love fulfills the law and the prophets.  But the point that stands out is this, God gave all the many commands of the old Law and the Prophets to try to get us to treat each other with love, kindness and respect, to treat them like we would like to be treated.  Now that wasn’t the only purpose of the law or prophets, but the point is that was the heart of the message.

“O God, our Father in Heaven, treating others as we would like to be treated is a huge challenge.  Please guide us, help us and open our eyes to how our own words and actions affect others, especially those who are closest to us.  Please lead us to be the people who follow Jesus and treat all people with such love and respect.  In Jesus name, Amen.”

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What if you really, with all your heart, wanted to find a short, to the point study of the heart of Jesus’ teaching?  After all, we live in a time where everyone seems to be wanting a reader’s digest version of everything.  If I want to look at such a version of Jesus message to the world, the very best place to look is at the Sermon on the Mount recorded in Matthew 5-7.  It gives a pretty good look at what Jesus taught throughout his ministry on this earth.  One of the many things that stands out when I look at this greatest of all sermons, is that Jesus preached a message about how to live for Him in every day life.  Far too often in our time, we try to put the Christian life into what is done on Sunday morning for an hour or two.  As important as our gathering time is a God’s people, it is amazing that in this comprehensive sermon from Jesus nothing is said about the gathering of the church.  Instead he talked about how we should live every day in our relationship with other people, both fellow disciples and those in the world who don’t know God at all.  He focused a great deal on our relationship with God as well.  It is in our relationship with God that the segment of the Sermon that I want to focus on today, relates.

In Matthew 7:7-8 Jesus said, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives; to the one who seeks finds; and the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”  Remember as we look at this great promise and challenge from the Lord what had been under discussion when he said this.  He had talked about making judgments of others and challenged us to correct the problems in our own life before trying to correct the problems in another person’s life.  He had then challenged us to not cast our pearls to pigs or give to dogs that which is holy.  This point had to do with the sharing of the gospel of Jesus and the point Jesus was making is that we need to discern the audience before we lay out the message of Jesus.  Remember Jesus telling the disciples that there were many things he wanted to tell them but they weren’t ready for it yet so he would send the Holy Spirit to guide them into all truth after he had been crucified and raised from the dead.  Later the writer of Hebrews made the point that there were many things he wished he could share with the church but they had not grown up as they should have and weren’t ready for the message he wished to share.  So, as great as the gospel or good news of Jesus is, there has to be some care given to what is given to the hearer at what time.  You don’t set a sirloin steak before a six month old baby.  The baby is a great child and the steak is good food, but they aren’t ready for that yet.

Jesus turned from that point to discuss people who were honest seekers for Him and salvation through him.  When he makes the point that if we ask we will receive, if we seek we will find and if we knock the door will be opened to us, he wasn’t saying that anything in the world we ask for from the Lord will be given to us or anything we seek from God will be granted or anything we go to God knocking on his door to receive will be granted.  Even Jesus prayed to be delivered from the cup that was set before him in being crucified for the world, but God’s answer was that it had to be done for people to be saved from sin and for Him.  One of the greatest servants of God of all time was the Apostle Paul but in 2 Corinthians 12 he described how God had blessed him in so many ways with visions and revelations, but God had also given him a thorn in the flesh, a minister of Satan to bother him so he wouldn’t become arrogant or proud due to all his blesses from the Lord.  We aren’t told what that thorn was.  I believe it was his struggle with depression since that is the topic that runs through the whole book of 2 Corinthians but others have believed it was problems with his vision, others that it was back problems and I’ve even read where some believe it was migraine headaches.  Since he doesn’t say for sure then I suppose it is alright to think all these and maybe a few others.  But the point of it all is that he said he prayed to God three times to remove that thorn in his flesh.  He was definitely seeking, asking and knocking on the Lord’s door asking for relief.  But God’s answer was, “No”.  He refused to take away his thorn and said that instead he would give him more grace for his strength is made perfect in weakness.

What Jesus is telling us in these verses is that if we are longing for the salvation that comes through him for every person, he will make a way for us to learn how to be saved.  In John 7:17 Jesus said, “Anyone who chooses to do the will of God will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own.”  Think of the story of Cornelius described in Acts 10.  He was a religious man who was generous with others and prayed to God three times a day.  His whole family was devout and trying to be God’s servants.  As he prayed one day, God sent an angel to him to tell him his prayers and giving had come up as a memorial before God.  Notice that the angel then told him to send to Joppa for a man named Peter who could tell him words by which he and his family might be saved.  He sent messengers to Peter, God prepared Peter to be ready to come when the men arrived and he came to Caesarea to meet with Cornelius and his family.  Peter realized God doesn’t show favoritism and that in every nation those who fear him and do what is right will be saved.  Peter preached to them about Jesus and God sent the Holy Spirit on him and his family so that Peter said to those with him, “Can anyone forbid water that these should be baptized since they have received the Holy Spirit just as we did?  He then commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord.” Cornelius was seeking, asking and knocking so God arranged for someone to come and teach him the way of salvation.

In Acts 8 there was an Ethiopian treasurer who had traveled by chariot all the way to Jerusalem to worship God.  He was seeking, asking and knocking.  God sent an angel to Philip the evangelist to go to a deserted road where he would meet this man on his chariot and he was to preach Jesus to him.  Philip found him reading from Isaiah the prophet and asked if he understood what he was reading.  He said he didn’t and needed someone to guide him. Philip joined him in the chariot and began right where he was reading and preached Jesus to him.  As they were traveling down the road, the man said to Philip “see here is water, what hinders me from being baptized?”  They stopped the chariot and both got out and went down into the water and Philip baptized the man who then went on his way rejoicing.

God wants all people to be saved.  Peter even said that the reason God delays the coming of the Lord is so that more people may be saved.  He sends us as his people to make disciples in the world for him.  But God promises that anyone who longs for him and seeks, asks and knocks wanting to be right with the Lord that he will provide them with the opportunity to come to him.  It is notable that God didn’t with either the Ethiopian or Cornelius just declare them saved as they sought him but sent a disciple of Jesus to teach them the way to salvation.  Paul explained this point by saying that we have this treasure of the gospel in earthen vessels.  God reaches people through people.  He may send dreams, visions or angels to get the teacher in contact with the one longing for salvation, but he doesn’t side step the teacher to just declare one saved.

Honest seekers are given the promise of the Lord that God will make a way for them to hear, learn and do what God says to do in order to be saved.  If you read through the Book of Acts it is obvious how many times God intervened to make certain a person came into contact with the teacher of God’s will so they could turn from their life to sin to God and by faith obey his will to be saved.  God is constantly at work in the world getting honest seekers in contact with faithful teachers of his word so they can turn from sin to him.  Please notice that each of the words Jesus used in this text, (ask, seek and knock) are in the present tense indicating it is to keep on asking, keep on seeking and keep on knocking.  This is a picture of a true seeker that knows they need God and are searching for the way to him and are ready to do what he says to have that salvation in him.  So, praise God, He longs for all to be saved.  Praise God he hears the longing and seeking to make certain we have the opportunity to learn the way of the Lord.  Praise God he makes it possible for the teacher who knows the Lord to meet with the one who is searching so God’s will can be done in their life.

Finally, it should lead us who are trying to be the people of God and teachers of his will to be always open to God’s lead in our lives to be brought into contact with the honest seeker of his will.

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