Free to Live

Translating the Gospel to Our Lives

Part 3: Free to Live

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Welcome back, I hope you have all had a nice time with friends and resting. I’m going to give us a quick review of what we have looked at so far. And then we are going to dive right in.

So, this weekend we’re answering the question: How does the Gospel transform our lives? How does the gospel speak to our day to day lives? First, we talked about how the gospel speaks to us about God’s love for us and how His love for us is meant to permeate our lives everyday. Then this morning we talked about how the message of the gospel teaches us about our union with Christ and how that applies to our sin nature and living freed from sin.

And as we finished our study in Romans 6 this morning, we briefly touched on Paul’s call to the Romans to embrace that new life in Christ, offering themselves as instruments of righteousness, living their lives for God under grace. And that is what we are going to be focusing on this afternoon, this call on our lives to live the new life and what that looks like. Or in the form of the question we are asking this weekend: How does the gospel transform our lives day to day in light of God’s grace and our call to new life?

We’re going to be in Romans 7 and 8. So go ahead and turn there if you’re using your Bible, or you can follow along on the handout.

The Struggle to Live Free

So after dealing with our struggle to live free from sin despite the freedom from sin we have been given, Paul is now going to look at the tension that exists between our sin nature which we still battle with and our call to live for God in righteousness. He’s going to deal with the issue of still being prone to sin despite being free from sin’s control over us. We are freed from the control of sin but we still battle sin’s temptation. And the truth is, this is a tension that is hard for us to reconcile. So Paul lets his readers know that he struggles with it as well. He’s going to be very honest about his own struggle with sin and his inability to conquer it on his own in order to live for God. And he’s going to paint a picture that we can all relate with. So let’s look at what he says, starting in Romans 7, verse 18…

18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.  19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.  20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. 

A quick side note about what Paul says here. There has been a long standing debate over whether he is talking about our struggle with sin before we are in Christ or our struggle with sin after we are in Christ. But most likely, he is talking about the latter, the tension that still remains after we are in Christ, so that’s how we’re going to view this passage.

Now as we look at Romans 7 I hope that you’re as thankful as I am that it’s in the Bible, because if it weren’t I think we would all walk around feeling ashamed that we still battle sin within us. But Paul being Paul highlights it so that we can’t ignore it or try to hide it. How many of you have ever told someone else that you have the “desire to do what is right” but not the “ability to carry it out?” Have you ever told anybody that? How many of you have told a friend or even your own child, “nothing good dwells in me” and I keep doing all this evil that I really don’t want to do? You probably haven’t!

The truth is, we don’t sit around talking about the sinful thoughts we have on a daily basis or the un-Christian things we do each day, we almost ignore those un-holy moments in our lives because we aren’t quite sure how they fit into being a new creation in Christ. So Paul wants us to know that it’s common to all believers to struggle with this tension. And he shares this in hopes that it will cause us to be honest about our sin and our inability to live in the freedom we have in Christ, because he knows that without that understanding we will never learn to live our lives dependent on the Lord.

So he goes on to talk about this…look at verse 21…

21   So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand.  22 For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being,  23 but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.  24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!…

Paul wants to do good, he wants to offer himself to righteousness and live in the newness of life we have in Christ. See, when we are made new in Christ we are given new desires. So struggling against sin is actually proof that our hearts have been made new. The reason we struggle with guilt and shame is because God has put in us the desire to live for Him which causes us to recognize sin and long to live free from it. We recognize Christ in us when we think and feel this way. It’s actually something to celebrate, not something to be ashamed of! In verse 23 Paul recognizes that there is now a war waging inside of him between his new desires and the sin which still exists. Paul understands that he has been freed from the reign of sin but now he’s trying to reconcile this tension he feels. Sometimes we know the truth but we struggle to translate it to our lives, that’s what Paul is trying to think through here.

And it’s frustrating, so in verse 24 he cries out, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?”. But immediately, almost without a moment of hesitation, he shouts out the answer, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” The answer is Jesus. Paul knows that not only did Jesus free us from sin’s control over us, but He also provides us the way to live free from sin, to not only desire to do good, but also the ability to do good. Paul doesn’t want to leave us for even a moment in a place of gloom and doom because He knows that in Christ we don’t need to dwell in that place any more!

Try to think of a time when you were really struggling with this tension in your own life. Maybe you can even think of a time in the last few days when you wanted to do the right thing, but you didn’t. When the power of sin just felt too great and so you gave in. Just like Paul, we know the answer, it’s Jesus. But often we get stuck in the place where we can only see how wretched our sin is and we don’t understand how to live free from it, how to live free for God. So now Paul is going to help us understand what to do from there, how to live in the freedom Christ has won for us in light of this struggle.

And what Paul is going to allude to in this next part is what theologians call “the now and the not yet” or the “already but not yet.” This means that we are saved from sin and death now or already, but the complete fulfillment of that will not be realized in us until the end, so, not yet. There will be a day when sin no longer exists and has no affect over us. But until then, in the now, our freedom from sin is ours but also requires a dependency on something greater than us. This is what Paul is explaining in chapter 8, how to live in the now, in light of the not yet.

The Law of Sin vs. The Law of the Spirit

Starting at the end of chapter 7, Paul begins his explanation of what this looks like, verse 25…

25 …So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. 8:1 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.  3 For God has done what the law [the Mosaic Law], weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh,  4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.  

In verse 1 Paul starts by reassuring us that regardless of this tension in our lives, our spiritual standing hasn’t changed. And Paul does this because he knows that when we continue to sin despite being free from sin, at some point, we are all going to wonder if we are really saved after all. So he hammers home the truth that we do not stand condemned despite our failure to be able to resist sin, despite as Paul said, doing the evil that we do not want to do.

Then in verse 2 he explains why…It’s because we have been set free from the law of sin and death by the law of the spirit of life. If by “the law of sin and death,” he is referring to our “old self” that was ruled by sin which led to death (what we talked about this morning), then what does Paul mean when he says “the law of the spirit of life”? This is what he’s explaining to us here in chapter 8.

So in verses 3 and 4 he first explains that when we were under the law of sin and death, we were unable to uphold God’s law, the Mosaic law, because of our sin and flesh. But, when God sent Jesus to die for our sins, we were set free from the law of sin, in order that we could live under the law of the Spirit. So what Paul is saying is that we weren’t just released from the law of sin so that we could live for God on our own. But instead, we were released in order to live under another law, a law that would give us life instead of death. Where once sin leading to death ruled over us, now the Spirit rules over us giving us life. So there has been a transfer of power.

This means that in order to not live under the rule of sin, we must learn to live under the rule of the Spirit. This is how we live freed from sin and alive to God, by living, or as Paul says “walking”, by the “law of the Spirit”.

The Law of our Minds

So what is the law of the Spirit and how do we live by it? Look at verses 5-8, Paul explains…

5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.  6 For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.  7 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot.  8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

Mind set on the Flesh:

Back in chapter 7, verse 23, Paul said that there’s a war being waged within him against the “law of his mind”, and here in verse 5 he is now explaining what the “law of our minds” is. He begins by explaining that those who live according to the flesh have set their minds on the things of the flesh. The NIV translates that verse saying those who live by the flesh set their minds on “what the sin nature desires.” So those who continue to live as if they are slaves to sin have also filled their minds with selfish and sinful thoughts instead of the things of God. Their minds have been set on what their flesh desires.

Now, as women I think this concept isn’t too hard to understand. We tend to dwell on things and let them fester in our hearts and minds, sometimes even years after we thought we had gotten past them. I’m sure we have all had something that has bothered us, recently even, that falls into this category. Try to think of ways you set your mind on the things of the flesh and sin instead of the things of the spirit and life? What are some of the things you dwell on? Maybe jot those down on your handout.

Example: Difficult Friendship

I could probably give you a million current examples in my life, but one that really comes to mind is simply a friendship that has been difficult for me. Years ago I felt wronged and hurt by this friend. So, in a loving way I shared with her how I felt. But she was very defensive, never apologized, and was not willing to even talk about it. So, I prayed a lot about it and truly forgave her for how she hurt me.

But at times I find my mind drifting back into it…I find myself sometimes starting to create drama with her in my head or thinking of how I would like the opportunity to put her in her place, even scrutinizing things she says or does today in order to “uncover” her wrong motives and personal flaws, making myself angry all over again. My mind is set on the things of the flesh. And then suddenly I will “wake” up from going down that road in my mind and remind myself that I have forgiven her and that those thoughts are not from the Lord, they are set on what my flesh and sinful nature desires.

Maybe you have something similar to that in your life? A relationship that has been difficult, whether with a friend or a family member. Or simply a situation that you dwell on often. And as you set your mind on the things of your sin and flesh, it just seems to never heal or end.

This is what Paul explains here in verses 6-8, what happens when we set our minds on the things of the flesh:

    • In verse 6 he says that to set the mind on the flesh is death. It never results in life, but always results in death.
    • In verse 7 he says that the mind set on the flesh is hostile to God and not submitted to God’s law, how He calls us to live. You see, when we set our minds on the desires of our flesh, we are returning to the ways of our “old self”, the one who was described in Romans 5 as being an enemy of God, the one who we learned this morning has no control over us. And Paul says there at the end of verse 7 that when we set our minds on the things of the flesh we are actually unable to live for God or submit to His will. And verse 8 says, when we do that, we can’t please God.
    • Think about that. What Paul is saying is that our minds and our lives go hand in hand. The “law of our minds” is simply this, that if our minds are set on sin, we will walk in sin. If our minds are set on the things of the flesh, then we will be unable to live for God, submit to his will, or please Him.
    • With my friend who hurt me, when I allow myself to think those thoughts about her, I feel my heart and soul dying, there is a loss of joy and peace and life. And when I fill my mind with those sinful thoughts and desires then I am unable to honor God with my actions towards her. My thoughts will determine the way I treat her.

Mind set on the Spirit:

But because of the grace of God, because of our union with Christ, we have another choice, to set our minds on the things of the Spirit. And as Paul says, those who set their minds on the things of the Spirit, will be able to live according to the Spirit. This is also the law of the mind, that when our minds are set on the Spirit and the things the Spirit desires, our lives and actions will reflect that.

This is why as Paul begins to explain to us how to live for God by walking in the Spirit, he first starts with our minds. It is very important that we understand that in order to live for God our minds must also be set on the things of God. This is why later in Romans 12 Paul will tell the Romans that in order to “…not conform any longer to the pattern of this world” they must be “transformed by the renewing of [their] mind[s].”  Our minds are renewed as we set them on the things of God, resulting in changed lives and actions.

And just as when we set our minds on the things of the flesh it results in death, when we set our minds on what the Spirit desires it results in “life and peace.” And I’m sure we have all experienced this. Can you remember a time when you submitted your mind to the things of the Spirit and it resulted in life and peace? When you recognized that your mind was being dominated by sinful thoughts so you re-set your mind on the things of God and immediately felt God’s peace flow over you?

My Example:

With that friend I struggle with, when I do remind myself that I have forgiven her and that those sinful thoughts will only lead to death….and then set my mind on the things of God, the things the Spirit desires, it always results in life and peace. Only when I set my mind on the things of God am I then able to love her and enjoy her friendship, seeing her as God sees her and no longer dwelling on my own sinful and selfish desires. And I am always amazed when God does this for me because it is so contrary to my own selfish desires. No matter how long you have been a believer, it is always so shocking to experience this, it is always so humbling. And when we do this God is glorified and the gospel is truly lived out in our lives.

In Colossians 3:1-3 Paul emphasizes this same idea, he says…

1  Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.  2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.  3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.

There is a war going on in our minds, the flesh and the spirit are battling for control, and the winner wins control over how we live, over our actions. As Paul says in 2 Corinthians 10:5, we must learn to “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” Because we are in Christ and have died and been raised with Him, we are able to take captive every thought, to set our hearts and our minds on the things above, the things of God, and not on the things of this world and our flesh. And in this seemingly “small” action, we are truly allowing the gospel to transform our lives.

The Law of the Spirit

But we know, this is not something we are able to do on our own. It is not by our own strength and ability that we are able to live free from sin. And it is not by our own strength and ability that we are able to set our minds on the things of God in order to live for Him. So, Paul emphasizes now the law of the Spirit, which explains the role of the Spirit as we do this. Look at verses 9-11…

9   You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.  10 But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.  11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.

The NIV translation begins verse 9 saying, “you…are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit.” If we are “in Christ” then we are also “in the Spirit.” The truth that Paul wants the Romans to understand is that those who have put their faith in Christ have been raised to life in Christ and received the Spirit of Christ. The Spirit of God is now dwelling in them.

So then in verse 10 Paul explains that although sin is still present, so is the Spirit! And in verse 11 Paul emphasizes what that means that the Spirit of God is in them.

    • He explains that this Spirit that is dwelling in them is the same one who conquered death, raising Jesus from the dead. So in other words, the Spirit is pretty powerful, and actually, since it conquered death it has proved it’s the most powerful force in this world.
    • And that Spirit, that all powerful Spirit, who raised Jesus from the dead, Paul says, dwells in us….inside of those who are “in Christ.”
    • So Paul says, that means, that if the Spirit could raise Jesus to life, then it can also give life to our bodies that are otherwise dead because of sin. The Spirit in us leads us and empowers us to live in the new life we now have in Christ. In other words, if the Spirit is in us then we can live for God! We are able!
    • The Spirit enables us to live freed from sin and alive to God, to set our minds on the things of God in order to live by the Spirit. Galatians 5:16 tells us,

16  “…live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature” (NIV)

It is by the Spirit that we are able to resist our temptation towards sin and not gratify the desires of our flesh. So as we live by the Spirit and set our minds on the things of the Spirit, we are able to “walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit”, and therefore, submit to God’s will and please Him. Just as we were once ruled by sin and followed it’s desires, we are now to be ruled by the Spirit and follow it’s desires. This is truly how the gospel is meant to transform our lives everyday, by enabling us through the Spirit, to live for God.

And this is “the law of the Spirit of life.” That those who are in Christ have been set free from the law of sin and death and now live under the rule of the Spirit of God, who empowers us to resist sin’s temptation and enables us to instead set our minds on the things of God and live for Him, giving us life and peace. And our role in this is to offer ourselves to God to be used for righteousness and then actively resist sin’s temptation, all through the power of the Spirit in us.

So what this means for our day to day lives is that although we live in this tension between being freed from sin yet still prone to sin, we are empowered by the Spirit in us to live for God.

Example: My Sister’s Wedding

My older sister got married last month and sadly, my relationship with my sister has never been easy or enjoyable. She is four years older than me and since we were young she has never shown a desire to have a friendship with me and has treated me rather harshly. And I have struggle over the years with how to respond to her. So when she got engaged last Fall, my husband and I talked about how to support her and be loving, trying to prepare ourselves for the petty things she might say or do towards me during her engagement and wedding.

And just a month later we were faced with our first trial. We received her “Save the Date” card in the mail and there was a wedding web page on it. I am sad to say, as soon as I saw it I knew exactly what was about to happen. So I braced myself and typed in the web page, and sure enough, she had published the wedding party. Without a word to me about her decision, she had asked every single person in my family and her fiancé’s family, including boyfriends and children, to be in the wedding party, except for me. And I knew, without a doubt, it was meant to hurt me. And we all know our siblings can push our buttons and get under our skin like no one else can!

But regardless of how she had intentionally meant to hurt me, I knew that being in Christ meant responding differently in situations like this. And as Michael and I discussed how we would respond to this, the one thing that kept going through my mind was that I wanted to show her, and anyone else who might be watching, that there is a different way to live. That Christ does make a difference in our lives. But of course there was a war waging inside of me. I also wanted so badly to put her in her place, to tell her how petty and hateful she was, to tell our relatives the truth about the situation and why I wasn’t in the wedding. But that is not how Christ calls us to respond in situations like that and the Spirit was also speaking to my heart.

So we made a resolve, that no matter what, we were committed to living out God’s Word, to turning the other cheek, to loving our enemy. And we pressed on, straining to set our minds on the things of the Spirit, to not live according to our sinful desires, and to live instead in the newness of life that Christ had died to give us.

So over the next few months, when my mind started down the road of destructive and slanderous thoughts towards my sister, the Spirit of God within me gave me the strength to stop that train of thought and instead to fill my mind with God’s Word and truth, not giving sin that power over me. The same Spirit that raised Christ from the dead was able to give life to me so that I was able to live for God. When my thoughts were fixed on the things of God, my actions reflected that. The Spirit not only empowered me to set my mind on God, but also to actually live for God.

It wasn’t easy, but let me tell you, in the end it was so worth it. Not only were we filled with peace and joy over knowing we had done the right thing, and that we had pleased God, but a few weeks after the wedding I received the most incredible reward I could have ever asked for. My father sent Michael and I an email, saying that he had noticed how we had responded and that he felt our response is what had kept the peace in the family throughout the weekend. My family, who does not know Christ, saw Him in us, and it impacted them and truly showed them there is a different way to live. That Christ really does make a difference in our lives here on earth. God was glorified and the gospel was lived out for others to see. And that’s what it looks like to live in the newness of life that Christ gave us.

Conclusion

Have you ever experienced that in your life? A time when you knew it was through the power of the Spirit of God in you that you were able to stop sin in its tracks and set your mind and life on what pleases God? Maybe there’s an area of your life right now where you’re struggling to do that? Is there a relationship or situation in your life in which you have not set your mind on the things of the Spirit, but instead you’re focusing on the things of the flesh leading to a failure to live for God? Do you realize that since you are “in Christ” you have the power of the Holy Spirit within you to enable you to live for God instead of for your sinful desires?

This afternoon as we ask the question, “How does the gospel transform our lives day to day in light of God’s grace and our call to new life?”  The answer is that the gospel transforms our lives as we learn to live and walk by the Spirit. And we begin by setting our minds not on the things of our flesh and of our old self, but instead on the things of God. And as we do that, the Spirit will enable us to live for God, to pursue righteousness, and to live a new life in Christ.

Series Wrap-up

As we close now I just want to briefly tie together all that we have talked about this weekend. How does the gospel transform our lives each and every day?

    1. First, it tells us of God’s love for us which empowers us to live for Him, gives us peace and joy, and gives us perspective in our lives.
    2. It also tells us of our union with Christ which frees us from sin’s control over us…so that we will no longer let sin reign over us but instead live free from sin and alive to God.
    3. And it tells us that through our union with Christ we have the Spirit of God dwelling in us, empowering us to set our minds on the things of God and enabling us to live for God in the new life Christ has given us.

This is the gospel. And we need it everyday. As Thomas Watson talked about in the quote we looked at last night, our lives are full of things that dull our senses making it hard for us to move towards God each day. But the gospel brings us back, it softens our hearts and reminds us of these truths that wake up our souls and help us to live for God in the everyday moments of our lives.

In last year’s blockbuster movie, “The Help”, one of the most memorable scenes in the movie is of Aibileen, the housekeeper, talking to the baby girl she takes care of, Mae Mobley. Aibileen is sitting in the rocking chair in the nursery wiht Mae Mobley in her lap facing her. And Aibileen slowly says to her, in her sweet southern accent, “You is kind, you is smart, you is important.” And then she repeats it as Mae Mobley says it with her. And the reason Aibileen does this is because this little girl is very neglected and mistreated by her mom, so everything that matters in Mae Mobley’s life is telling her the exact opposite. If she listened to the voice of her mother she would believe that she is stupid and worthless. But this is not the truth, so to counter the lies she is bombarded with, Aibileen repeats this to her everyday so that no matter what the world may tell her, she will always have that truth planted deep within her.

And that is what I hope for each of you. That the truth of the Gospel, which we have been reminded of this weekend, will be planted deep in your hearts. That you would remember it each and everyday. Living in this fallen world where you do still battle your sin and flesh, you will be tempted to believe that God does’t love you, that you aren’t free from sin’s control over you, that no matter how hard you try you can’t live for God. This is why you must continue to remind yourself of the gospel everyday. Because no matter what the world tells you, the gospel will continue to tell you the truth…You are loved. You are free. And you are able.

Questions for Personal Reflection:

  • Is there a current situation or relationship in which you are dwelling on the things of the flesh?
  • In this situation/relationship (and others), how can you “set your mind on the things of the Spirit” instead of the things of the flesh? What spiritual disciplines help us to do this?
  • Read 2 Corinthians 5:15-17. What does it mean to “regard no one according to the flesh”? (ESV) Based on what we talked about this weekend, what does it mean that you are a new creation?
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Freed from Sin

Translating the Gospel to Our Lives

Part 2: Freed from Sin

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Click Here for the handout that goes along with this message

Last night we began our time together by looking at a quote by Thomas Watson, a Puritan preacher from the 1600’s. And in this quote he talked about how as we go about our day to day activities, there are things in our lives that get in the way of our communion with God, causing us to, as he said, “forget God and our souls.” Our hearts become hardened and we struggle to move towards God. And then we talked about how the gospel is what brings us back to Him, causing our hearts to melt, reminding us of what God has done for us and therefore what that means in our lives, so that we are then able to move towards God once again.

And then we considered the subject of living out the gospel in our lives and what that means. If the gospel is the message of God reconciling us to Himself through the sacrifice of His son, doing for us what we were unable to do for ourselves, so that we could be made righteous…then, what does it mean for that message, for the gospel, to transform our lives? How does the gospel speak to our day to day lives? And those questions are what we are addressing this weekend.

Last night, we looked at one way in which the message of the gospel is meant to transform our lives….by reminding us of God’s love for us. That His love for us is the same today as it was the day He sent His son to die for us. That nothing, not even our own failures, can keep God from loving us fully. And that when we understand and grasp God’s love for us it empowers us and gives us perspective, changing the way we live.

And now, today, we are going to talk about two more ways that the gospel speaks to our day to day lives, both stemming from our “union with Christ.” First, this morning we will talk about how through our union with Christ we are freed from sin. And then this afternoon we will look at how through our union with Christ we are also freed to live for God. We’re gonna be in Romans again, this time chapter 6. So go ahead and turn there if you would like to use your Bible, or you can follow along on the handout.

“In Christ”

Just a little bit of context before we begin. Last night we looked at a passage in chapter 5 which spoke about how while we were still sinners God sent Christ to die for us, reconciling us to Him. The rest of the chapter, which we did not look at last night, talks about how all of mankind is considered “in Adam.” Adam was responsible for ushering in sin and death to the human race, so now all who come after him, all of mankind, is also going to face the same fate as Adam. So before Christ, our old status was “in Adam.”

But, then Paul goes on to tell us in Romans 5:17 (at the top of your handout)….

17 “…if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man [so through Adam and his trespass death reigns], how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness, reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.” (NIV)

So just as sin and death entered the human race through one man, Adam, so now grace and righteousness have entered through one man, Jesus Christ. So those who receive God’s gift of grace and righteousness will no longer be considered “in Adam” but instead are seen as being “in Christ.”

And then, Paul also explains at the end of chapter 5 that while we were “in Adam” we were under the law which magnified our sin showing how powerless over it we were on our own. But now that we are “in Christ” we live under God’s gift of grace which leads to righteousness and eternal life. So entering into chapter 6, Paul’s now going to unfold what that means that we are now considered “in Christ,” what does that look like in our day to day lives?

Paul’s “Theory”

So Paul is going to break this down for us, but I must confess, he doesn’t break it down very easily for us. Chapter 6 is a very hard passage to understand, like a lot of Romans is. Paul uses complex language and ideas, and the way he structures his explantation isn’t easy to follow. So as I walk us through this passage I am going to attempt to break it down even more for us to help us understand it more easily. As you’ll see on the handout.

If you can remember back to elementary school science class, they taught us the scientific method which you used to test a hypothesis. A hypothesis is a “proposed explanation for a phenomenon” (wiki). So, you start with a hypothesis, then you prove it through observations and experiments. Then once you have verified your hypothesis, it becomes theory. Well, as I studied this passage I began to see a similar structure in Paul’s explanation of what it means to be “in Christ.” The way Paul explains this phenomenon in the Christian life, is very similar to how one would explain a scientific theory using their observations as proof. So that’s kind of how I want us to see his explanation of our union with Christ in order to help us understand it a little better. I hope that makes sense!

So if you look at the handout, the first section on your handout is titled “Died with Christ, Raised with Christ”, verses 1-5, and this is what I’m calling Paul’s “theory”. Then the next section is the proof, verses 6-11, which I’ve broken into two observations, number 1 and 2. And then following that, in verses 12-14, Paul makes a proposition based on his theory, which I have titled “Living Freed from Sin.” So, he basically says, therefore, if what I just said is true, if his theory is true, then this must be true as well…and he touches on how to respond to his explanation of what it means to be “in Christ.” Make sense so far? I think it will make more sense as we go through it and hopefully, this will help all of us understand what he’s saying a little better.

Died with Christ, Raised with Christ

Ok, so let’s get started. Look at verses 1-5, this is Paul’s theory to explain what it means to be “in Christ”…

6:1  What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?  2 By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?  3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus [by this he is referring to when they put their faith in Christ] were baptized into his death?  4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. 5   For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.

So this is Paul’s theory, that because we put our faith in Christ, we have died and been raised with Him. As verse 5 says, we are united with him in his death and united with him in his resurrection. This is what we call “union with Christ.” So, therefore, Paul says, because we are united with Christ, we no longer have to live in sin, but instead, we are able to “walk in the newness of life” – or- as the NIV puts it, we can “live a new life.”  So, he’s saying, through our union with Christ, we are freed from sin in order to live a new life.

If Paul’s theory has come in response to a question, then basically the question he’s answering is the same question that we’re asking today, which is: How do we live out the gospel in our lives in light of our union with Christ? How does being “in Christ” transform our lives day to day?

Now, we might be tempted to kind of gloss over what Paul is saying because we’ve heard it before….like last night when we talked about God’s love for us. But, just like last night, we’ve got to fight that. Because what Paul is explaining here is, how to live out the gospel in our lives. If we long to be transformed by the gospel, then we need to understand what he’s saying here about our spiritual standing, which is what enables us to live out the gospel.

Last night we read in Romans 5 that before we were “in Christ” we were “powerless, ungodly, sinners, enemies of God.” We had no hope. But now, not only has Christ done what we were unable to do, but through faith we are included in what He did. We too die to sin and to death, and now are raised to life. Romans 5:1 tells us that…

5:1   “…since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

You see, this is our new spiritual status, we are now at peace with God “in Christ”, we are no longer His enemy “in Adam.” This is our status in Christ regardless of what our lives look like. Really think about that and let it sink in. If you have put your faith in Christ then this is the spiritual reality you now live in. For some, this might be very hard to comprehend. Because, its hard to imagine that our spiritual status could be reversed without us doing a thing but put our faith in Christ and what He did. But that is the truth of the gospel, that’s why it’s called good news! Jesus did what we could not do, so that in Him we could now have a relationship with God.

So, now that Paul has laid out his theory for us, that we have died and been raised with Christ in order that we no longer have to live in sin but can walk in the newness of life, he’s going to move on to show the proof of this. He’s going to help us to understand why this must be true. Look at verses 6 and 7…

1. Died with Christ: Freed from Sin (verses 6-7):

6 We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.  7 For one who has died has been set free from sin.

Paul begins his observation in verse 6, by describing what dies when we die with Christ…

    • First he says our “old self” is crucified. What is our old self? What is Paul referring to here? Well, it’s what he just talked about…It’s who we were when we were “in Adam.” Remember, chapter 5 described this, we were sinners, ungodly, unable to uphold the law, enemies of God. So what Paul is explaining is that when we die with Christ our old status dies as well. When we die with Christ, before God we are no longer helpless, ungodly, sinners, enemies of God.
    • Then he says, our old self dies in order that “our body of sin” is brought to nothing. Another translation I like to look at is the New English Translation (NET), and it says that our old self dies “so that the body of sin would no longer dominate us.” This statement is truly amazing. It’s a game changer. What it’s telling us is not that we are now without sin, but that now the sin nature that controlled us and dominated us, no longer has that power over us.
    • Try to picture that. On the cross, not only did our spiritual status “in Adam” get crucified, but also sin’s rule over our physical bodies was broken. Christ defeated sin’s rule over our bodies, as Paul says here in the end of verse 6, “so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.”

And then in verse 7, Paul simply says, if we have died to sin with Christ, then we have been set free from sin. It no longer rules over us so we are no longer obligated to do what it says.

Imagine what this means for you in your life. Think of your “old self” “in Adam” and think of how that is manifested in your life. Perhaps you came to Christ a little later in life and you can actually remember what you were like apart from Christ. Or maybe you simply see it now in the sins you are most prone to, most tempted to? Who are you when you give in to sin’s temptations?

Example: My “old self”

I became a believer when I was 14 and had been raised in a good, but worldly and non-Christian home. So not only did I have a big conversion when I came to the faith, but I have also spent the years since recognizing all the ways that a non-Christ-centered childhood have affected me. When I picture myself without Christ of course I picture the things I did, outwardly, like drinking, smoking, shoplifting, skipping school, I was quite a rebel….but even more, I picture my heart before Christ, my desire to be better than others, to get my way, to put myself first. I picture the cruel and malicious thoughts I had towards people and how tearing others down made me feel better about myself. I remember what it was like to feel hopeless and alone, and to think that life was about what you achieved and acquired. And these are still the sins I am prone to, these are still the sins that tempt me. But they are also my “old self,” what I was in bondage to before Christ.

So think about this in your life. Picture this in your mind, close your eyes if that helps. If you remember yourself before Christ, what were you like? Or think of yourself today, when you are at your worst, living in selfishness and sin, what does that look like?

    • Do you seek to destroy others through slander and gossip? Do you find joy when others fail or face misfortune?
    • Do you covet what others have and resent God for what He has or hasn’t given you?
    • Do you strive to be accepted by others? Do you make possessions and appearance a priority in your life? Is your identity grounded in worldly things?
    • Do you water down your faith in order to be more comfortable in this world and to not stand out?

The list goes on and on…. Now picture that person who you are without Christ, your old self, your sin nature, being nailed to the cross, and dying with Christ. The truth is, when you were united with Christ through faith, that is what happened. Your body of sin, your old self, it’s control over you, died with Christ. And the result is that you are no longer enslaved by your old self and sin. Your body of sin was rendered powerless, it no longer controls you or dominates you. You no longer have to give in and do what it says, you have been set free from sin’s control over you.

2. Raised with Christ: Alive to God (verses 8-11):

The second half of Paul’s proof that he emphasizes next is that not only do we die, but we also live. He says, starting in verse 8…

8 “Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.  9 We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him.  10 For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God.  11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”

Paul makes a very interesting observation here to prove his point. He explains that if Christ died and was raised from the dead, then it means he can’t go back and die again. Why? Because, it says, he mastered death, so that means, death can no longer master him. So when He died to sin it was complete and final, so that now, He lives for God. If He can’t be dead, then he must be alive, there’s no other option, right?!. Does that make sense?

So then in verse 11, Paul explains that if we have also died with Christ and been raised with Christ, then the same is true for us. He says we must consider ourselves in the same light, “dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” This means that in Christ, we too have mastered sin and death, and just as Christ can’t go back, neither can we. That “old self” that died on the cross with Christ can never come back to life. So, just like Christ, we must live! In Christ, we have died to sin once for all, it can never again have dominion over us. And therefore, we now live lives for God. As Paul says, we are alive to God.

So just to summarize this so far.

  • First, Paul explains that along with Christ we have died to sin and it no longer has control over us.
  • Then he adds that that death was final. So no matter what, sin can no longer be our master again, it can no longer control and dominate us. Which means, our new status of being “alive to God in Christ Jesus” is also final. Nothing can change that. Just like Christ, the life we now live we live for God.

So these are Paul’s two “proofs” he offers to show us that “in Christ” we have died and been raised with Christ so we no longer have to live in sin, but instead, we are able to live a new life.

Living Freed from Sin

Now the problem for us as we hear this, is that those sins that represent our “old self” are still the sins we struggle with today, “in Christ.” So if our “old self” was nailed to the cross, and died with Christ, and can no longer master us, then why do we still sin? Why does it not feel as if we are freed from sin’s control over us? This is what Paul is about to explain. And if you remember the new way I offered for us to view this passage, this section would be his final proposition. Basically he is saying, if what I said is true, then this must follow. Look at verse 12-14, he says….

 6:12   Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions.  13 Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness.  14 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.

Example: Abort mission!

When I was just out of college a friend of mine was starting her career in Dallas working for a large firm. And of course, there were lots of good looking men around her to develop crushes on. And eventually she developed a rather large crush on one guy she worked with who was a few years older than her. And as all girls do, during the work day she would find herself taking bathroom breaks so that she might run into him, maybe taking the long way back to her desk so she could walk by his, and sitting at her desk day dreaming about him instead of working. So we started a little email exchange during the work day to help her stay focused and keep her heart grounded. Basically anytime she started to day dream or make a plan to do a walk about to see him, she would shoot an email to me telling me what was going through her head. And then, all I would do was respond with two words: Abort Mission!!! And that’s really all she needed to wake her up and get her back on track.

In a sense, that is what Paul is saying here to the Romans. He’s saying, abort mission! Do not carry out these wrong desires, do not do what you are no longer obligated to do. Like a child Paul is saying to them, sin is not the boss of you so you don’t have to do what it says! When you sense your old self making a comeback, recognize this and abort mission, turn and run. Here Paul explains to them the two ways in which they act as if sin is still their master.

      1. First, in verse 12, he says, Do not let sin reign, or dominate, you anymore, so that you live in it’s ways and obey it. – The key word here is “let.” Paul is saying, you have been freed from sin, so when you do what sin says, you are “letting” it dominate you! The truth is, once we are in Christ, when we continue to live in sin, when we continue to obey sin’s passions, we are choosing to live under it’s rule instead of living in our new status as freed from sin in Christ.
      2. Secondly, in verse 13, he says, Do not present, or offer, your self as an instrument of unrighteousness, or sin. – So in verse 12 he commanded them to not continue to live as if sin still ruled over them, and now in verse 13 he also tells them to not return to their sin. Sin is no longer your master so don’t return to it.

So why do we still sin? Why does it not feel as if we are freed from sin’s control over us? Paul says it’s because we do not live as if we are free, instead we let sin continue to rule over us and we return to it, giving ourselves to it.

Example: Kutty in India (IJM Newsletter, Spring 2012)

Recently I received a quarterly update from the ministry of IJM, International Justice Mission, which if you’re not familiar with, is one of the world’s largest agencies fighting slavery in the world today. In this newsletter it tells the story of a man in India named Kutty who had been enslaved in a rice mill along with his wife and 4 children. He talks about what it was like to be a slave…how even when they were sick they had to work, and how they were never allowed to return to their village to visit their friends and family. Their owner truly ruled over them so that they had to do whatever he said, they belonged to him.

But in 2008, Kutty and his family were rescued from slavery. IJM partnered with the local government to set him free. So, he was legally and officially set free from his owner’s rule over him. So the story goes on to talk about how he returned to life as a free man, he secured a good job, and he even ran for public office so he could fight injustice and help others have a better life as well.

But, I want you to imagine how you would have responded, if after this great story of a man being freed from slavery, instead of telling you that he went on to live as a freed man, what if I told you that even though he was free he chose to return to his previous master, offering himself to him as if he still owned him? What if I told you that despite his legal status as a free man, he chose to live like a slave, oppressed and abused? What would you say to him if you had a chance to talk face to face with him after hearing that?

This is exactly what Paul is addressing with the Romans, and that is exactly what many of us do. We live like we are still slaves, we return to our sin nature as if it still has dominion over us. But as Paul explained, we are legally free from sin’s rule over us. In Christ, we are dead to sin, it is no longer our master. And no matter what, it can never rule over us again. Just as it would be absurd for a man like Kutty to continue to live as a slave, it’s absurd for us to continue living as if we are still slaves to sin. Just as Kutty was freed in order to live a new life, so are we. We have been freed so that we can now live for God in Christ. So Paul says, do not act like a slave anymore and do not return to slavery! But instead, live for God, offer yourselves to Him.

In the second half of verse 13, Paul says…

    • Present yourself to God as one who is alive from the dead, as one who is free. In other words, live like a free person because you are a free person! You were once dead, but now you are alive!
    • And then he says, instead of offering yourself to sin, offer yourself to God to be used for righteousness.

Then in verse 14, Paul tells them, sin is no longer your master, it no longer has dominion over you, because you are no longer under law, but under grace.

  • This is a fact. Whether Kutty lived like it or not, the fact was he was a free man. And this is the same reality that we have in Christ, whether we live like it or not.
  • Christ has redeemed the law, so we now live under the “rules” of grace and not of sin. We are now able to live for God, because of His gift of grace, offering ourselves to Him to be used for righteousness.

Galatians 5:1 is one of my favorite verses because it reminds us of this beautiful reality in our lives…

5:1 It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. (NIV)

Kutty’s story is a picture for us of what this looks like. He was set free, and so he chose to live in his freedom, to stand firm. He did not allow himself to be burdened again by a yoke of slavery, but instead he chose to live as a free man, reflecting what had been done for him. Are you living a life that reflects the freedom you have in Christ? Do you live in a way that others would recognize that “in Christ” you have been freed from the bondage of sin?

Conclusion

As we end this morning, I want us to return to our original question that we’re asking this weekend, How does the gospel speak to our lives today? And so this morning, How do we live out the gospel in our lives in light of our union with Christ and our freedom from sin? How does being freed from sin transform our lives day to day?

It means not just understanding our new standing “in Christ,” but also living in that truth. Christ didn’t die for us to give us good theology, He died for us to change our lives. He died to free us from the control of sin so that we would live a new life here on earth. And as Paul says, that involves us making active choices to not live like a slave. Choosing to not return to slavery.

    • Right now, in your day to day life, would you say you are living freed from the control of sin?
    • Or have you returned to sin as if you are still in bondage?
    • Do you claim each day the freedom you have in Christ so that you might “walk in the newness of life”?

We are freed in Christ, and part of that freedom is being able to say no to sin because of the grace of God in our lives. And the other part is being free to say yes to God, which is what we are going to be talking about this afternoon.

Questions for Group Discussion & Personal Reflection:

    • What does our “old self” before Christ look like, generally and specifically? Now think about your “old self” and list or describe that person. Go through this list and recognize that God has freed you from the control of each one.
    • Why do we return to sin after we have been freed from it? Why is sin still attractive to us?
    • Looking at the list you just made, which sins do you struggle most to live free of? What are the sins that you tend to return to and why?
    • Discuss what it looks like, day to day, to live freed from sin. How can we keep ourselves from letting sin continue to rule over us or from returning to sin?
    • Using one or two of these examples in your own life, in those areas how can you offer yourself to God instead, to be used for righteousness?

God’s Love for Us

Translating the Gospel to Our Lives

Part 1: God’s Love for Us

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Click Here for the handout that goes along with this message

Recently in the women’s Bible Study at my church we were studying the Sabbath. And a quote was shared with us that really struck a cord in my heart. And as I read and re-read it, I felt it really spoke to what God had been putting on my heart for us this weekend. The quote is by Thomas Watson, who was a puritan preacher and author in the 1600’s, and he was explaining why God gave us the Sabbath. While we’re not talking about the Sabbath here, I want us to hear what’s behind what he’s saying…what it says about the struggle we face spiritually in this world. So if you can, while I read it, try to hear what’s at the heart of what he’s saying… (on the handout)

Thomas Watson quote: 

“The Sabbath-day is for our interest; it promotes holiness in us. The business of week-days makes us forgetful of God and our souls; the Sabbath brings him back to our remembrance. When the falling dust of the world has clogged the wheels of our affections, that they can scarce move towards God, the Sabbath comes, and oils the wheels of our affections…The heart which all the week was frozen, on the Sabbath melts with the word.” (The Ten Commandments)

Isn’t that a great quote? Written in the 1600‘s but every bit as relevant to us today. Here Watson is talking about the tension between being spiritual but living in an unspiritual world, and how that affects us. He says our day to day lives “make us forgetful of God and our souls” and then he goes on to give us a picture of what that looks like. He says its like when dust clogs the wheels of a machine and so it fails to move as well as it was meant to, it fails to carry out it’s purpose with ease. And he offers a second picture of our hearts becoming frozen, or hardened, during our daily routines and tasks which he calls the “business of week days”.

As we think about this I want you to think about your life, what is the dust of the world that “clogs the wheels of your affections”? What makes it hard for you to move towards God? What about your life hardens your heart towards what is holy and spiritual? Perhaps you are a….

    • Student, and it’s the demands of deadlines and the secular teaching and philosophies that you’re faced with day in and day out.
    • Or maybe as a working woman it’s having to wake early each day to rush to be at a job that fills the majority of your day and exhausts you, leaving hardly any time or energy to spend with the Lord. Interacting with all sorts of co-workers and belief systems, maybe even dealing with people who are outwardly skeptical or aggressive towards Christians.
    • Maybe you’re raising children and the falling dust are your duties in raising kids and keeping your home organized, you get a rare moment to yourself and when you do your mind is full of lists and worry over the balls that might get dropped…or perhaps blank because you are so tired!
    • Maybe you’re an empty-nester and your life has become full with caring for your parents, travel, grandkids, volunteering, and simply trying to establish a new normal.
    • Perhaps the things that distract you from God are difficult relationships, a desire to be married or to have kids, a difficult marriage, struggling finances…or even just TV shows and movies. The list goes on and on.
    • Whatever it is, and whatever your life is like we all share this common struggle. We are busy, distracted, overwhelmed, and dulled by the stuff around us. We long for depth, intimacy, and purpose. But we are haunted by our failures and our inadequacies. We are in need of energy and silence. And all of this “dust” threatens us every single day making us “forgetful of God and our souls.” And making it difficult for us to “move towards God.”

But here, Watson says God has given us the Sabbath to help us remember God and our souls, oiling the wheels that get clogged with dust during the week so we are able to move towards God, melting our hearts. So, the question we need to ask here is:

    • What is it about the Sabbath that brings us back, that helps us to remember? What happens on the Sabbath to oil the wheels of our affections and melt our hearts?
    • The answer is very simple. On Sunday we are ushered to the foot of the cross through which we are meant to view our lives. We are reminded of what God has done for us and therefore what that means in our lives. God’s Word and Spirit does what we can’t do on our own, it oils the “wheels of our affections” with the gospel, giving us clarity and perspective. It melts our hearts, re-focusing us on the gospel, on God’s grace, and on what that means in our lives.

And the truth is, we don’t just need that on the Sabbath, we need that every moment of every day! The gospel is not meant to be a one time story that explains where we go when we die or our spiritual standing on earth. It is also meant to be applied to every situation of our lives. To transform every aspect of our lives….all of those day to day things I just mentioned. So tonight and tomorrow, this is what we are going to do, we are going to “remember” what God has done for us and what that means in our lives everyday. We are going to talk about how the gospel should transform our lives, helping us each day to move towards God.

The Gospel

I put some scripture references on your handout where the gospel is briefly summarized. But, we all know basically what the gospel is. If someone asked you what the gospel was, you might say something like. We are all sinners who have turned away from God so we are unable to uphold the law or do anything about our separation from God. No one can be declared righteous and we will all be held accountable to God. So God sent His son to be our sacrifice of atonement so that we could be made righteous. Jesus did what we were unable to do for ourselves so that we could now have a relationship with God, gain eternal life, and live our lives for Him. And all this is a free gift to those who put their faith in Christ.

That is a condensed version of the gospel, the good news of the revelation of Jesus as our savior. But when we talk about living out the gospel in our lives, what exactly does that mean? What does it mean for the gospel, for that message, to transform our lives? How does the gospel speak to our day to day lives? These are the questions  that we’re going to be addressing this weekend and we are going to look at three ways the gospel is meant to transform our lives.

God’s Love for us

So, we are going to start tonight by looking at our first point, what the gospel tells us about God’s disposition towards us and how that is meant to transform our daily lives. I’m going to read for us three verses that refer to the gospel. But these verses go beyond the condensed version of the gospel I just gave us, and they address where God was coming from when He sent His son. They basically answer the question, Why did God save us? (on the handout)

John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (NIV)

Eph. 1:4-5 “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love 5 he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—” (NIV)

Eph. 2:4-5 “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved” (ESV)

Why did God save us? So often we get caught up in complex doctrine and theology, and we lose sight of this most important and foundational truth that we see in these three passages: Christ died for us because of God’s love for us. The gospel teaches us not only about our own state and sinfulness, but even more about God’s love towards us. I think one of the reasons we struggle to understand what it means to live a gospel centered life is because we tend to look past God’s love for us as if it’s not that big of a deal.

Example: “God is Love”

After I had been a believer for about 10 years my father heard the gospel and put his faith in Christ, he was in his late 50’s. At some point that next year he bought a little wooden plaque for myself and my two siblings that simply said “God is Love”. And I remember thinking, “oh that’s sweet, he’s new to the faith and that’s what you do at first is talk all about God’s love, but eventually he’ll understand the deeper truths and theology as I do.” Can you believe I’m admitting this? But it’s true, and I don’t think I’m alone in this, especially in our reformed circles. We see “God Loves You” on a church marquee and roll our eyes and think about how simple they must be and much more theologically sharp we are.

But the truth is, the joke’s on those who think this way, because If we are called now to live our lives in the light of the Gospel, then the first thing we must do is learn to live our lives daily in light of God’s incredible and unfailing love for us.

Living in Light of God’s Love

So what does that look like to live in light of God’s love for us? Sounds like something that is easier said than done, so let’s talk about what it looks like. We are going to be in Romans a lot this weekend so go ahead and open up your Bibles to Romans chapter 5 or follow along on the handout.

1. God’s love is the same everyday – Romans 5:6-11

5:6 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die.  8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!  10 For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!  11 Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. (NIV)

Looking at this passage, how does Paul describe us here before Christ died for us? Look at the passage, what descriptions of us do you see here?

      • First in verse 6 it says we were powerless. Or if you have the ESV, it says weak and another translation, the NASB, says helpless. The point being, we could do nothing to save ourselves, we were unable to live for God.
      • Verse 6 also says we were ungodly
      • And verse 8, that we were sinners
      • And then in verse 10, Paul says we were enemies of God

Think about this description. Do you relate with it? Have you ever felt the depth of your sin and your helplessness in it? Can you remember a time when you acted as an enemy of God or that you would describe as ungodly? I’m afraid that if I answered those questions right now for y’all no one may show up tomorrow morning. The fact is, we all relate with this. We know this description is true.

The point that Paul is trying to make here is that apart from the grace of God, before Christ, we were utterly and completely worthless and hideous. We did nothing to deserve or earn God’s love, attention, forgiveness, sacrifice, or grace. In fact, he says we did the opposite, instead we acted as enemies of God.

But verse 8 tells us that while we were in that pitiful state, Christ died for us. As hideous as we were, God still loved us, and He showed us His love for us by sending His son to die for us. And Paul explains that Christ’s death was a demonstration of God’s love for us. Think about that word “demonstration.” When we look at the cross we see this great love demonstrated for us….but that wasn’t the end of it, it is ongoing, God has that same love for us today. That means His love for us isn’t confined to the cross – God’s love for us is abiding, always there, given freely to us. The same love that sent Christ to the cross to save us is the same love God has for us every single day. Think about that. Let it sink in. Imagine how changed we would be if we woke up each morning basking in the beauty of that truth. It would be life altering.

2. Nothing can separate us from God’s love

But there is something, for most of us, that gets in the way of us living in this reality of God’s incredible love for us. Let me illustrate this with a recent example from my life.

Example: A Mother’s love

When Michael and I began announcing to our friends and family that we were pregnant there was one response that we heard over and over, especially from friends who had also had babies recently. They would say, “You’re not going to believe how much you will love your child!” I have to admit that I was a little annoyed after awhile because my response in my head was, “Well, duh, she will be my child so of course I will love her.” But of course, they were right, could there be any stronger love than the love of a mother for her child? And that love just continues to grow, it really is crazy and now I understand why people kept saying that.

But, I also have to admit that this love I have for my child isn’t perfect. Probably about a month or two ago Michael and I were talking about how much we loved Maggie and I laughed and told him honestly that despite this love I felt, I had to admit that it might be a little conditional….that if she weren’t so cute, and such a good sleeper, and such a good eater, if she didn’t smile so much, that I wasn’t sure I would love her so much! There have been many moments in the past 5 months when my love for her turned on a dime when she wasn’t doing what I wanted her to do. And in those moments I had a very hard time feeling or showing my pleasure and love for her….but the second she shaped up and did what I wanted her to do, I was pleased again and easily showed my love for her.

The truth is, none of us have ever loved another person perfectly. We have all had times when we struggled to love someone because of a way they had failed us or disappointed us. And because of this, the obstacle we face stems from the fact that God’s love for us is very different than the human love we know.

Often we understand that God loved us enough to save us but then, and perhaps because it’s so ingrained in us, we think that now, on this side of the cross, we might lose His love when we’re not living as He calls us to….as if God loves us less at times based on our failure to live up to His Word. Or as if the pleasure He felt to save us is diminished as He sees us fail to live for Christ and maybe He might even regret choosing us and saving us. Perhaps subconsciously, we believe we have to earn His love by living for Him and being good Christians. So many of us walk around with this guilty, condemned feeling because the truth is we do fail, often, and we will continue to fail.

But Paul’s message to us in the passage we just looked at in Romans 5 says something very different. Think of one of the worst moments of your life, when you were at your worst, hideous and truly sinful. Romans 5 tells us that that person, and so much worse, is the person who God loved enough to send His own son to die for. His love is so big that He can love the worst and most despicable soul. His love for us is so great and unfailing that He can love us utterly deprived, apart from Christ, at our worst. Can you grasp that?

This means that there are no failures in your life that can ever change that. None. God still loved David after he had Bathsheba’s husband killed! He loves you just as much the moment before you mess up as He does the moment after you mess up. He isn’t sitting up in heaven shaking His head at your failures and poor decisions, regretting what He did for you. His love isn’t like ours. His love is unfailing. Which means even in light of your continued sin His love for you doesn’t waver or change.

Look at Romans 8 starting in verse 35. Obviously the people in the church in Rome were struggling with the same thoughts, because as I said, it’s only human that we struggle with this. So Paul says to them….

35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?  Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?… verse 38 I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers,  39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

As Paul says here, there is nothing that can separate you from God’s love for you! There is nothing that can change or diminish God’s love for you. This truth is meant to transform the way we live. If we understand and truly believe that nothing can separate us from God’s love for us, then imagine the joy and peace we would have each day, imagine how our hearts would melt in light of this unbelievable truth, imagine how it would promote holiness in us. Our last point tonight will speak to this…

3. God’s love empowers us & gives us perspective

Look at Ephesians 3:17-19. Speaking to the believers in the church in Ephesus, Paul says…

“17 I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the saints, 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.” (NIV)

Paul says in this passage that if we would know God’s love fully, if we really understand how much God loved us and how unfailing that love is, then we would be “filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” That means that when we know God’s love, when we grasp how big it is, we are filled with the fullness of God. We are filled with all He has promised us, with all the blessings of Christ that are ours. What Paul is saying is that when we understand God’s love for us and live in light of that reality, we are changed, we are transformed.

Can you remember times in your life when you grasped His love for you? A time when after encountering God you felt full, content, overjoyed, at peace, weak yet strong? There are so many times in my Christian walk when I have felt this, and it is humbling yet exhilarating all at the same time. And knowing that love that “surpasses knowledge” gave me the strength and perspective I needed at that time in my life. That’s what Paul is talking about here. And that is also what Paul was talking about in Romans 8:37 when he said,

37 …we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

The literal translation of this verse is, “we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us.”  When we grasp how big God’s love for us is, when we “know” it as Paul says here, then we are filled with the fullness of God and we overwhelmingly conquer all things in our lives. God’s love empowers us and gives us a clear perspective on our lives.

Example: Hinds Feet on High Places

One of my favorite books to read every year is Hannah Hurnard’s Hind’s Feet on High Places. It’s an allegory about a girl named “Much-Afraid” who becomes a believer and she begins her “journey” with the Shepherd. The picture given is one of climbing a mountain and her Christian life is represented by the valley’s, plains, and cliffs she comes across. One of the things I love about this picture is that she is always challenged to continue viewing her journey in the light of the Shepherd who loves her and wouldn’t harm her, no matter what comes her way. And when she doubts His love for her she slips, falls, and loses her way. But, when she remembers His love for her and reflects on it, it gives her the strength she needs to keep going and the perspective she needs for the journey.

Whenever I have friend struggling with an unwanted situation in their life…perhaps a breakup, or infertility, or an illness, the one thing I always come back to to encourage them is this. That no matter what they are facing, one thing remains the same, they can trust always in God’s love in their life, even when they can’t “feel” it. In Psalm 23 David reminds himself of this during a time that he describes as “walking through the valley of the shadow of death.” He says despite this circumstance in his life he will have no fear because….

6 “Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life, And I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.” (NAS)

The essence of the Hebrew word here for lovingkindness, is steadfast love. Steadfast means, resolutely firm and unwavering. God’s love for you is steadfast, firm, and unwavering…it will always be there, pursing you the rest of your life. Can you think of anything better than to know that as you go through every day of your life the goodness and love of God will be with you forever, no matter what your circumstances may be?

Conclusion

In close, let’s return to the question that we’re asking tonight. What does it mean to live out the gospel in our lives in light of God’s love for us? What does it mean for the love of God to transform our lives?

    • It means grasping and understanding God’s love for us…that love that saved us while we were apart from Christ, that pursues us and will never leave us throughout our lives.
    • It means learning to live in light of that truth every day. Dwelling on and being in awe of His love for us and not moving on from it. Keeping the gospel at the forefront everyday.
    • It means no longer walking in guilt or shame, feeling like God loves us less when we fail or regrets saving us, but instead walking in the joy and peace that comes when we realize that there is nothing we can do or not do to change God’s love for us.
    • It means allowing God’s love to fill us with His fullness, to strengthen us in Him, and to change how we view our lives, so that each day we view our lives through the lenses of a shepherd who loves us and will never leave us…preventing our hearts from becoming hardened.

Tonight as you get into bed I want you to think about this, let it be your last thought as you drift off to sleep. Think about God’s love for you personally. Despite your sin and selfishness, despite the ways you feel you have failed, think about how He loves you as much today as He did the day He sent His son to die for you. Think about the fact that His love for you will never fade, that it will follow you all the days of your life. And let those truths begin to oil the wheels of your affections, melting your hearts, reminding you of God and your soul, drawing you back to Him.

Questions for Group Discussion and Personal Application:

    • Remembering the Thomas Watson quote we looked at, what is the “falling dust” of your life? What threatens to harden your heart and make you forget God and your soul? What in your day to day life makes it hard to move towards God?
    • On a scale of 1-10 how loved by God do you feel in your life right now? Why? What is it that makes you feel most/least loved by God?
    • What are some of the ways you struggle to really understand and receive God’s love for you? When do you feel God’s love for you diminishes? Confess that to God and ask Him to help you know how big His love is for you everyday.
    • Read back through the passages we looked at in session 1. As you do this, respond through journaling or prayer, sharing with God how those verses make you feel.

Proverbs 31 Woman

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The last woman we are looking at in our series on women in the Bible, is the woman described in Proverbs 31. She is not a real person who has lived, but the description of an ideal woman of character. I have always hesitated to study the Proverbs 31 woman because it always brought to mind images of churchy women, with big hair, attending Christian women’s conferences, and trying so hard to be perfect. But that is not at all what the Proverbs 31 woman is about and I believe that many women have the same misconceptions that I did.

So, to understand it we just need to lay a little ground work before we dive in. There are just a few things we need to understand first.

  1. Culmination of Proverbs – First, we need to see that this passage occurs at the very end of the book of Proverbs for a reason. It is the culmination of everything that has been taught leading up to this. The picture of the “wife of noble character” is meant to give the reader an image of what it would look like to apply all the teachings in the book of Proverbs to one particular life and situation. So instead of giving us a picture of what a perfect wife looks like – it’s meant to give us a picture of a wife of noble character based on the teachings of Proverbs. This means, that we can do the same with whatever circumstance we are in ourselves, whether man or woman. So this Proverb isn’t just for married women with kids, or for a man looking for a wife – it is for all people to help them to understand what it means to live out the teachings in Proverbs.
  1. Not a Full Picture – Secondly, this also means that it is not a full picture of who we are called to be as Christians. It does not cover all the bases of how we are called to live as Believers. So for example, it doesn’t really talk about humility or prayer, although we know that both are part of living out the Christian life. Instead it focuses on the themes of Proverbs such as diligence and prudence. And all of these stem from wisdom, which is the over-arching theme of the entire book of Proverbs. So basically, we are being given a practical picture of what wisdom looks like in real life.
  1. An Acrostic – Lastly, this entire passage is an acrostic. An Acrostic is something that is ordered or structured based on the first letter of each line. In this case it is the Hebrew alphabet. So each line in this passage begins with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet and goes in order from what we would call “A to Z.” This means that there isn’t a logical/linear ordering of what is said, it is more poetic. This is why we have this handout. To help us study the Proverbs 31 woman I have divided the passage into 3 overarching categories. So put away your Bibles, and just use this sheet tonight….unless you think you can follow ok using your own Bible.

The Premise

Let’s start by looking at the first verse, verse 10, and also the second to last verse, 30. (And as a side note, you all know I generally prefer the NIV over the ESV, but in the case of Proverbs I am sorely disappointed by the NIV’s translation and I think the ESV stays much more true to the Hebrew and doesn’t distort the meaning with poor word choices like the NIV does, so that’s why this handout is from the ESV). Ok, verses 10 and 30…

10    An excellent wife who can find?

She is far more precious than jewels.

30 Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain,

but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.

These two verses basically establish for us the premise, or the purpose of this passage. Verse 10 begins the passage with a rhetorical question making a statement. An excellent wife, who can find? or in other words, an excellent wife is hard to find, she is rare. And then the next line backs-up this statement, An excellent wife is far more precious than jewels. Let’s dissect this for a minute…

Excellent – what does this description mean? Well, here the NIV does actually help us a little. It translates this word as “noble” which means “fine personal qualities and high moral standards or principals.” So basically, the word excellent is referring to her outstanding character…which the rest of this Proverb is going to describe/unfold for us.

Precious – secondly a wife with outstanding character is described as being more precious than jewels. This means that a woman such as this is to be valued and not wasted or treated carelessly. So our passage is going to describe a woman that is rare and more valuable than any other kind of woman.

Then jumping ahead to verse 30, we get more of an understanding of what it is that motivates this woman and makes her so great. It tells us that all she does flows from her fear of the LORD. Now remember that a synonym of the word used here as “fear,” is “reverence.” All she does stems from her reverence for God, her deep respect of her heavenly Father. And the book of Proverbs is based on this exact thing, that all wisdom and knowledge flows from a fear/reverence of God. Proverbs 1:7 is said to embody the theme of Proverbs and it says,

7                The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.

Remember what we just talked about, everything in Proverbs is about living wisely, and here it tells us that wisdom starts with a deep respect for the Lord.

Now, some women are intimidated by the description of the Proverbs 31 woman, and others have responded to it in unhealthy ways all because they miss this and don’t first begin with a fear or respect for God. In light of this, what are some bad motives some women might have in their desire to be a Proverbs 31 woman? Instead of fear of the Lord what reason might some women have for trying to live this out?

  • Comparison – trying to live up to others
  • Competition – trying to be better than others
  • Perfectionism – desire to be the best or be perfect
  • Super-mom – trying to live up to Mrs. Jones and do it all
  • Image – trying to look good, be attractive to others, reputation

As the author here says in verse 30 it has nothing to do with a desire to be charming or beautiful. Not that those things are bad or that a woman with character can’t also possess those qualities. But the point is, they can’t be the driving force or the goal. Being a woman of character is not about looking good or getting people to like you, it is simply about pleasing the Lord and living your life for Him. And we need to be sure to keep this in mind as we look at the description of this woman and how she lives.

 Two Categories

So I have basically “filed” each verse under one of two categories to help us as we study it. There are many sub-categories we could put them in as well, but since most of this lesson was composed in airports, planes, hotel rooms, and such I decided to stick with just two.

DILIGENCE

The first category I want us to look at is the one I have titled “Diligence,” or “Hard-Working.” We could probably even say “Dedication.” Let’s walk through these verses, and then we’ll put them together.

v.13            …[she] works with willing hands.

The first half of this verse says ”She seeks wool and flax, and works with willing hands.” So it’s referring to basically an every day menial task she has to do. The NIV says she works with “eager” hands and the NAS says she works with “delight.”

So the picture we get here is of a woman working hard with a good attitude and with purpose. She doesn’t give in to a bad attitude about the tasks before her, she doesn’t get bitter, or lazy, or take shortcuts. Instead she does her work with pleasure and stays focused. Many of us might have experienced this in the first few weeks of a job, but we all understand the slippery slope into laziness and bad attitudes. But a woman of character does not give in to those things, but instead works eagerly and willingly.

v.14            She is like the ships of the merchant; she brings her food from afar.

So here we are given an analogy of what she is “like.” Merchant ships went to far away places to bring back items to enhance the lives of the people there. Items they could not get for themselves. Here, it says that just like the merchant ships she “brings her food from afar.” Basically what this is simply saying is that she goes out of her way to feed her family well. The modern day comparison I thought is that rather than picking her kids up Happy Meals at the McDonald’s on the corner, she goes a little out of her way, to the Farmer’s Market to get her family healthy and good quality food. She does what she needs to do to feed her family well even though it might mean extra effort on her part.

  v.15            She rises while it is yet night and provides food for her household and portions for her maidens/servant girls.

In that day and age just about every home of decent means had servants who helped run the household. And the head of the house’s duty was to feed the servants as well as the family. In Luke 12:42 Jesus refers to this person as needing to be faithful and wise in regards to when they will feed the servants and the rest of the household.

And here it tells us she gets up while it is still dark to feed the servants and the household. Why do you think she would do this? What would be the benefit?

  • If she can get that out of the way early then she has more time to get her duties done.
  • The earlier she feeds the servants the quicker they will get to work as well
  • So by getting up while it is still dark she increases everybody’s effectiveness and productivity.

This is not easy for most, but it is wise to do which is why Proverbs 20:13 says,

13             Love not sleep, lest you come to poverty; open your eyes, and you will have plenty of bread.

A woman of noble character does not let a love of sleep keep her from the work that is laid before her each day and she is willing to sacrifice in order to be productive and effective.

v.17            She dresses herself with strength and makes her arms strong.

The phrase “dresses herself with strength” here is actually “girds her loins” in the Hebrew and is a saying throughout the Old Testament. And it’s equivalent to maybe us saying “roll up your sleeves” or “toughen up.” So basically it is saying here that she rolls up her sleeves even for physical labor. She is wiling to get dirty to get the job done. And because of it she has strong arms. She gives her work all she’s got and she’s stronger because of it.

v.19            She puts her hands to the distaff, and her hands hold the spindle.

Ok, so a distaff is basically the spool the raw flax and wool come on, and the spindle is the spool it is stored on once it has been spun. Again, a very physical duty she does. Spinning her own materials rather than buying them at much higher prices already spun. This is another picture of her diligence and physical exertion

v.27            She looks well to the ways of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness.

Verse 27 gives us an overarching statement that summarizes all of what we just read. Everything she is doing here is part of her job as head of her household. This means she sees all the work she does not as meaningless, but as meaningful, like a real job. And because of that she does not give in to laziness. Proverbs 19:15 tells us that laziness just breeds sleepiness and un-productivity leading to poverty – she rejects this and does not enjoy the indulgences of laziness but instead reaps the fruit of her labor.

What are some ways that we can be idle or lazy at work?

  • Facebook, email, surfing web pages, etc…
  • Socializing too much with co-workers
  • Not staying focused on the tasks that are a priority but instead doing what we want to do
  • Not wanting to go above and beyond and do things we haven’t been asked to do or things we really don’t enjoy
  • Not giving it your best effort everytime

All people are tempted by these things, even the Proverbs 31 woman, but the difference is making a commitment to not give in to them and avoiding them at all cost.

DISCERNMENT

This brings us to the second category, “Discernment” or “Stewardship” which primarily involves our judgment and decision making abilities. So again, let’s go through each verse and then we’ll put it all together…

            v.13            She seeks wool and flax…

Now, this seems like a very simple and mindless thing to add in, but if anyone has ever had to pick out textiles before, then you know that it is not. Wool and flax were the primary materials for making clothing and homegoods and one of her biggest jobs would have been finding quality materials at good prices. The Hebrew word translated as “seek” here means “to seek, to inquire, to investigate.” So she’s not just popping into the Wal-mart of textiles, but she is really applying herself to find the best materials for the best price. She is using her judgment and her engaging her mind because she see the greater purpose in even the smallest tasks that she has to do.

v.16            She considers a field and buys it; with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard.

Here we read something that we might find surprising. As head of the household part of her job is investing money and expanding their assets. She had financial responsibility and independence. And here we see two aspects of her discernment….

  1. She is a good steward of their finances. She doesn’t just go out and buy a field on impulse, instead it says she “considers” it, which means she weighed her options, she was careful, thoughtful, and used wise judgment.
  2. She used the earnings of that investment for the good of the family. Instead of taking that money and buying that name brand purse she had always wanted, or getting the massage and pedicure she deserved for her hardwork – she turned around and invested it right back into the land by planting a vineyard on it to make it even more profitable for the family.

In this one verse we see how seriously she takes her role in her family by using great discernment in being a good steward over what they have.

v.18            She perceives that her merchandise is profitable. Her lamp does not go out at night.

This verse is referring to the things she does that bring income to her family. And it says that she perceives or sees that it is profitable. The literal Hebrew word is taste, she can tasted the profit of her labor and it fuels her to keep working, even at times into the night. Now we need to be careful not to walk away from this Proverb thinking we don’t need sleep, because we do. But what it is saying is that at times we do need to make sacrifices to get our work done, at times we will need to work into the night.

v.20            She opens her hand to the poor and reaches out her hands to the needy.

Now this verse is one that could have been in a category all on it’s own, maybe called “charity” or “generosity.” But since I was trying to simplify it I chose to include it under discernment because of the nature of what it says she does. First, it says she opens her hand then it says she reaches out. Both of these pictures are of her actively moving towards the poor and needy. This means, on top of all she has to accomplish each day, she is also making time to go to the poor and needy and serve them.

This is very humbling for us to hear because most of us feel we are too busy to fit hands-on charity into our schedules. But here’s a woman with more to do in a day then I have to do in a week and yet she is actively making it happen. It is a result of her discernment and stewardship that she does it. It is a priority to her and so she make sure that it is a part of her weekly duties.

And why does she do this? For the same reason we read in verse 30 at the beginning, out of her deep respect for God. In Deuteronomy 15:11 God reminds His people that He commands them to reach out to the poor and be generous. And Proverb 22:9 says,

9             He who is generous will be blessed, For he gives some of his food to the poor.

v.24            She makes linen garments and sells them; she delivers sashes to the merchant.

Here we read yet another way she makes money for her family, she makes linen garments/clothes and sells them. It also says she delivers sashes to the merchants. Now it is unclear as to whether she is selling or giving her sashes to them, and each translation uses a different word. But either way, we still get the picture of her involvement in commercial activity as part of her household duties. And we can all imagine that this takes wisdom, prudence, knowledge and so on.

v.26            She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.

Lastly in this category, it touches on something that has not been talked about. What she speaks to others, what comes out of her mouth. And it goes right along with the theme of wisdom in Proverbs. We read in Proverbs 10:31 that,

“The mouth of the righteous brings forth wisdom,”

And that is exactly what it says about her here, that her mouth brings forth wisdom. Now there are actually several ways the second half of this verse is translated so there are two ways to look at it. One view says the correct literal translation would be that the “law of loving-kindness” is on her tongue, which would imply that she teaches God’s covenant love to others (NIV). Or it could be more like “loving instruction” which you see is how the ESV comes up with teaching with kindness. But either way, we get an idea of what she not only does, but also what she says.

The Result

Finally, I just want us to take a brief look at what the result is of a life lived in this way. What are the fruit of her life and the way she has chosen to live it? The last verse in this passage says,

31             Give her of the fruit of her hands, and let her works praise her in the gates.

The gates refer to the city gates, which in that time served as the center of economic and civic life. It’s where the leading men of the city gathered. So what is the fruit of her hands? How is it that she will be praised by others?

She is Valued –

11 The heart of her husband trusts in her,

and he will have no lack of gain.

12 She does him good, and not harm,

all the days of her life.

23 Her husband is known in the gates

when he sits among the elders of the land.

28 Her children rise up and call her blessed;

her husband also, and he praises her:

29 “Many women have done excellently,

                                                            but you surpass them all.”

  • One of the results of her noble character is that her husband trusts her, and we really saw that didn’t we especially in the financial independence and responsibility she had. He lacks no gain because he can only gain from having a wife like this.
  • She seeks to do him good and not harm
  • v.23 Seems a little out of place at first, but most likely what it is there for is to show that her charater and choices have contributed to her husband’s success and reputation. Who she is has earned him respect.
  • Her children and her husband praise her, she is valuable to them and they see that she is rare and precious.
  • v.29 is her husband basically saying, some one can do noble things, but you are noble.

She Benefits Too –

21 She is not afraid of snow for her household,

for all her household are clothed in scarlet.

22 She makes bed coverings for herself;

her clothing is fine linen and purple.

25 Strength and dignity are her clothing,

and she laughs at the time to come.

  • One of the rewards of her diligence and discernment is that she doesn’t have to live in fear of what is to come, and she can even smile at the future. She has done all she can do, she knows her preparation will pay off.
  •  And not only that, because of her hard work she is able to provide nice things even for herself – she is well dressed. For some reason we think that you choose one or the other, but here she choose character and as a result she was able to cloth herself with beauty. In a sense, her clothes were and outward visual of who she was on the inside.

Remembering What it’s About

As we close I just want us to briefly go back to verse 30 and remind ourselves what this is about…

30            Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.

As we seek to be women of noble character, like the woman in Proverbs 31, we need to remember that at the foundation of it is worship. She lives the way she lives because of her faith in God and her reverence of Him. Just as we are called in Romans 12 to “offer [our] bodies as living sacrifices” the Proverbs 31 woman is also living her life as a sacrifice for God, worshiping Him through the way she lives.

 Questions for Discussion & Application:

●       Read verse 30 aloud. Why is charm deceitful/deceptive and beauty vain/fleeting? Why is being a woman of character who fears the Lord better?

●       What are some areas of your life where you struggle to be discerning and be a good steward?

Lydia & Priscilla, By Keeley Chorn

The following notes and audio are by Keeley Chorn, co-teacher for Young Women’s Bible Study. Press play on the player below to listen to this message. Or to download to your computer – On a PC right-click “download audio” and select “Save As Target.” On a Mac Ctrl+click “download audio” and choose “Download linked file as.”

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Two Working Women in the Bible

In the U.S., 60 % of women work outside the home. There are 9.1M women-owned businesses in the U.S. And, of married working women, ½ of them are the primary breadwinners in their family. With so many of us in the work force, it’s important for us to look at how God works through women who are professionals. What does it look like to be a Christian woman in the business world?

We’re going to see that God uses women in big ways in the spread of his gospel, and he uses them in and through their vocations, their jobs, their callings. They weren’t called to quit their job when they become a Christian or got married. We’ll see that we are to serve God through our work and where we are in life. Our texts tonight are found in Acts 16 and 18. The two women we get to look at are Lydia, who was a dealer of purple cloth, and Priscilla, who was a tentmaker. We’re going to look first at Lydia, who was the first convert to faith in Europe, and then at Priscilla, who labored alongside her husband and Paul in teaching others. Both women were able to learn first-hand from Paul, because they invited him into their homes.

Context of the book of Acts in the Bible

Open Your Bibles to Acts 16. To put into context where these women’s stories are in God’s overall story in the Bible, they’re both in the book of Acts. Acts occurs after Jesus’ death and resurrection. It tells the story of the founding of the church and its growth through the Holy Spirit in the early days. The disciples went out to convert and teach the Jews and Gentiles about Jesus. Acts is where we meet Saul of Tarsus, who is dramatically converted on the road to Damascus, and who receives the new name of Paul. The second half of Acts charts his 3 missionary journeys. Our stories of Lydia and Priscilla are found during his 2nd journey.

Lydia- Acts 16:11-15, 40

Paul and Friends Go to the City of Philippi. Look at Acts 16:11-15.

“From Troas we put out to sea and sailed straight for Samothrace, and the next day on to Neapolis. From there we traveled to Philippi, a Roman colony and the leading city of that district of Macedonia. And we stayed there several days.”

We encounter here the group of missionary men: Paul, Timothy, Silas, and Luke; Luke’s the one who wrote the book of Acts. They have just been traveling in the Northern regions of Asia, but were forbidden by the Spirit from actually entering Asia or preaching the gospel there. Paul then saw a vision of a man of Macedonia (modern-day Greece) standing and begging him saying “Come over to Macedonia and help us” (Acts 16:9). That’s where we meet Paul and his companions here in verse 11. They are following the Spirit and moving to Macedonia. This is their first time onto the continent of Europe.

Verse 12 tells us that they are staying in the city of Philippi, which is the city Paul will later write the book of Philippians to.

Verse 13 then tells us “On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer.” Paul seeks them out, sits down and begins speaking to the women who had gathered there. I love that it was a man in Paul’s vision that called them over, and when he gets there, he finds a group of women praying.

They Meet Lydia, a Dealer of Purple Cloth. In verse 14, we are introduced to Lydia. It says,

“One of those listening was a woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth from the city of Thyatira, who was a worshiper of God.”

Right here, we learn 4 things about her. First, her name is Lydia and she was among the women gathered for prayer, and she was listening to Paul’s message. Prayer is important to her and to the life of her community.

Second, it says she was a dealer of purple cloth. What do you think of when you hear the color purple? Think in ancient days what purple signifies… What do you think this tells us about Lydia?

  • purple would be associated with royalty, with wealth,
  • she is known as dealer- has her own business
  • think of an art dealer- she would have to have money to buy goods then sell them at profit

She is successful and has her own business. In the next verse we’ll see that she has her own household as well, which would have included servants.

So, third, we learn that she’s from the city of Thyatira. Remember that Thyatira was one of the 7 churches in the book of Revelation that we just got finished studying. That church had tolerated the woman Jezebel. Lydia is from modern-day Turkey but is now living in Greece. Actually, the city she is from is from the region called Lydia. So it has been speculated that her name comes from the region where she’s from, which is famous for the purple cloth. She probably got her name by being so closely associated with her business and trade.

The fourth thing we learn about her is that she is a worshiper of God. The phrase worshiper of God is used elsewhere to describe Gentiles, not Jews, who went to the synagogue and sometimes converted. She would already be learning about God and studying him. She is already seeking the Lord.

God Opens Lydia’s Heart to Believe

And it’s here that God meets her. The next thing we read in verse 14 is that “The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message.” Paul is now telling the women about the fulfillment of the Jewish Scriptures in Jesus Christ, preaching Jesus as Lord who has come to give forgiveness, in God’s name, for the repentance of sins. God is the one who acts in opening her heart to understand these things and to believe.

When I was living in NYC, God opened my heart to understand the gospel. I remember sitting in church during one of my pastor’s series, he had been preaching for 6 weeks on the same topic. I began to notice that he was basically repeating the same message at the end of each sermon. Finally, one Sunday, it hit me. It was like the light-bulb finally went off in my head. I began to understand the gospel. Christianity is not just about getting saved to get into heaven. It’s about a way of life. God loves us and went to the cross to bring us back to him and give us new life. Christianity isn’t about following a set of rules to get into heaven, but it is about God who came down to us to show us the way to him. We don’t have to work our way up to find favor with God, but he’s already shown us how much he loves us. I was to follow him because I understood why he died for me. I was to follow him out of thankfulness for his great love and mercy towards me. That changed me. I know that only God could open my heart to truly begin to understand this and to live a new way.

Lydia Invites Them to Stay in Her Home

Look back at verse 15 then, here we learn that Lydia is baptized, together with the members of her household. Then she invites the men into her home. She says, “If you consider me a believer in the Lord,” (which they should, since they just baptized her), “come and stay at my house.” Then Luke tells us that she persuaded them. Why do you think Lydia persuaded them to stay at her house? Why would she want these men to stay with her?

  • to serve them- she would have the space
  • to welcome them,
  • also to learn from them

Yes, she, this successful, well-known businesswoman, has now invited them to come and stay in her home so that she can (serve them, but also) learn from them.

Lydia’s House a Place of Refuge

We next encounter Lydia in verse 40. Paul and Silas have just been imprisoned in the Philippian jail, God has miraculously saved them from it; the jailer has been converted and, with his household too, baptized. Verse 40 says that after they “came out of the prison, they went to Lydia’s house, where they met with the brothers and encouraged them. Then they left.” After their ordeal, they return to her house. Lydia has now opened her home as a place of meeting for this young group of believers and as a refuge from the persecution that is going on in the city.

Lydia’s life has changed. She knows that her work takes on greater importance and significance now that she follows Jesus. She takes in as much as she can, learning, and opening her home to the missionaries, new believers and the growing church in Philippi.

Priscilla- Acts 18:1-3, 18-19, 24-28; 1 Corint 16:19; Romans 16:3-5

Next, we get to look at Priscilla. She, too, is a woman with a vocation who is called by God to be an integral part of his church. Look at Acts 18:1-3. We learn that Paul has now traveled down through Athens and come to the city of Corinth. Inverse 2, we are introduced to Aquila, Priscilla’s husband. He is a Jew, a native of Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius, the emperor, had ordered all the Jews to leave Rome. Commentators believe they were part of a group expelled for following Christ and causing an uproar in the city. Many believe they would have been taught by some Jews who were present in Jerusalem at Pentecost and who returned to Rome telling about Jesus’ death and resurrection and giving of the Spirit.

The end of verse 2 tells us that Paul went to see them and verse 3 tells us that “because he was a tentmaker as they were, he stayed and worked with them.” So they all make tents for their profession. They have a trade and work with their hands. She is a working woman too, like Lydia. It’s because of their job and skill that Paul hears of them, comes to them, and ultimately stays with them while he’s in Corinth. Because of their shared trade, they were able to invite Paul into their home. We can assume that the 6 days they were working together that he would have taught them more about Jesus. Paul ends up staying in Corinth with them for a year and a half.

Moving to verses 18-19, we learn that “Paul stayed on in Corinth for some time. Then he left the brothers and sailed for Syria, accompanied by Priscilla and Aquila.” And in verse 19, “They arrived at Ephesus, where Paul left Priscilla and Aquila.” He preaches in the synagogue, but when they want him to stay longer, he declines and heads on out, leaving Priscilla and Aquila there alone.

Why do you think Paul takes them with him from Corinth, and then leaves them there in Ephesus? (Why take them at all?)

  • he’s been training them
  • he trusts them
  • he’s ready to leave them and let them carry on the work

So yes, Paul would know that they were ready to then go and do the same work on their own. He had taught them and discipled them, and now they were ready to do the same in the city of Ephesus. This is just what we see does actually happen.

Priscilla and Aquila Teach and Train Apollos

In verses 24-28, a man named Apollos, a Jew, from Alexandria in Egypt, came to Ephesus. “He was a learned man, [or well-studied,] he had a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervor and taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John.” So here comes this great preacher, who’s a very smart man, who knows the Lord, has a gift of speaking, and taught accurately about Jesus, but he didn’t know about the baptism of the Holy Spirit, only the baptism of John.

Verse 26 says, “He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately.” What do you think we learn about the process of making and being disciples from this story?

  • you have to learn, to study,
  • invite someone into your life,
  • can do it while working,
  • then share it with others

Notice the difference in how Priscilla and Aquila handled this situation and how we today might handle this situation. They don’t call Apollos out publicly; they don’t tell him he’s wrong or kick him out of the synagogue, but instead, they invite him into their home and teach him more adequately about Jesus. (Notice how much private instruction and discipleship is going on in the home and through shared work in this story.) They gently correct him in his theology. Apollos went on to be an instrumental leader in the church at Corinth.

So God had used Priscilla and her husband and worked greatly through them. Paul came to them because they shared a profession with him. He stayed with them for a year and a half, and then took them with him on to Ephesus. And because he would have trusted them, he left them there to begin the church and to teach others and make new disciples who would then go on to teach other people in the process. God was multiplying the church through Priscilla and her husband and because of their profession.

The Importance of Priscilla and Aquila in Paul’s Work

The end of their story, we can piece together from a few mentions in the rest of the NT, in Paul’s letters. From the closing of the book of Romans (16:3-5), we learn that Paul considered Priscilla and Aquila his fellow workers in Christ Jesus. Not only are they fellow tentmakers, but now he calls them his fellow workers in Christ Jesus. It also says there was a church meeting in their house. They have been instrumental in starting various churches and in training up leaders, all because Paul came to them one day, because they were tentmakers like he was. God met them in their work. Just look at how big God’s plans were for using them, when they were first kicked out of Rome for following Jesus.

To wrap up Lydia and Priscilla’s stories, we see that they’ve come a long way in their faith from when they first were encountered by Paul. Work was an integral part of who they were. But God didn’t just call them to be a really good purple cloth dealer or a tentmaker. He did do that, but he called them to be disciples of Christ too, first and foremost. He called them to learn about him and to be a part of the church, of God’s community, to encourage others and to teach and disciple others, even as they continued their work.

Application- What does this mean for our lives today?

Two things I want us to take-away from Lydia and Priscilla’s stories:

1. You are important in God’s mission and your work is important. God works through every one of his people to proclaim his gospel. Turn to Colossians 3:23-24. God has this to say about our work: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the LORD, not for men…it is the Lord Christ you are serving.” Do you approach your work with all your heart, knowing that it is the Lord Christ you are serving? Pray for God’s Holy Spirit to convict you and help you live into this. Our work includes our jobs, but includes all of life. In all of life, know that you are serving the Lord.

2. You are called to be a disciple and learner, but also a disciple-maker and sharer of your faith. Be thinking about what it means to learn from someone and then to lead someone. God has called each of us to be a friend to others, and to share Christ with others. This doesn’t just mean you should be trying to convert that family member who won’t even give you the time of day, but we should be doing this with Christians too. Reach out to someone in your small group or a friend, invite them over to hang out, have coffee together or a meal. But be intentional in your conversation. Ask them where they are in their faith, what are their struggles, how can you be praying for them. And then pray together.

Conclusion

To sum it up, this is what God is at work in the world doing. He is drawing people to himself, opening our hearts, teaching us, but also calling us to learn and pass it on, to not just be consumers of information. We are a part of what God is doing in the world. He uses us where we are, in our jobs: either as a boss, as a business owner, as an artist, a writer, a lawyer, a teacher, a manager, or as an employee working for someone else. Everything we do witnesses to God and the one whom we serve.

Questions for Application and Discussion

  • What are some practical ways you can begin to approach your work and life with a Col 3:23-24 mindset? (“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the LORD, not for men…it is the Lord Christ you are serving.”)
  • Discuss ways that you personally can grow in learning then passing on what you’re learning to someone else. Commit to doing this with one person this week.

Mary & Martha: Luke 10:38-42

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Tonight we are looking at some women in the New Testament who many of you are already familiar with, Mary and Martha. So go ahead and turn to Luke 10 and while you turn there I’ll just give us an idea of where we are at in Jesus’ story. By the time Mary and Martha come on the scene, Jesus is pretty well established. His teachings have become more widely known and He has already performed many miracles. The first passage we are going to look at tonight is going to be very brief, but in just 5 short verses it gets straight to the heart of what many women struggle with. And by looking at the three passages that talk about Mary and Martha we are going to see a beautiful development of these women and their faith, specifically of Martha’s. So it really will be a great picture for us as women. So let’s look at this first encounter starting in verse 38

 38                As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him.

So we can assume here that Martha is meeting Jesus for the first time even though she has probably heard a lot about him. We aren’t told how Jesus ended up at Martha’s or why it was her house that was opened to Him. Maybe she was known for her hospitality, maybe she ran a bed and breakfast type business out of her home. We also don’t know if she was just hosting them for the day and maybe a meal or two, or were they staying the night? Who knows.

But what we do know is she has opened her home to 13 men which tells us that Martha is hospitable, gracious, and a servant. In the NIV it says Martha “opened her home to him” but in the NAS, the literal translation of the Greek it says “Martha welcomed Him into her home” which tells us it wasn’t out of obligation but that it was her desire to have them there. So maybe in addition to being hospitable she is also interested in who Jesus is and in His teachings she has heard about. Let’s keep reading…

 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said.

Now we meet Mary, Martha’s sister. While we learn that Martha has opened her home to Jesus, what we learn about Mary is different. In contrast to Martha, she is sitting at Jesus’ feet listening to His teaching. So we are given to brief glimpses of Martha and Mary. In this brief picture of Mary, what can we learn about her? What might be implied in her actions? First you might notice that she’s not helping Martha to get the house and food ready, maybe she’s not the “worker bee” type. Maybe she’s more relational, more type B. Sounds like she may be the younger sister. Perhaps she sees the importance of having Jesus right there and makes it a priority to listen to Him. Either way, she sees learning from Jesus as more important than the other details that need to get done.

Another question we might ask here is, seeing that Mary is sitting at the feet of Jesus listening to His teaching, what does this imply about Jesus? What might we learn here about Jesus? He is ok with a woman at His feet, just like a disciple. He viewed women knowing Him as being just as important as men knowing Him and His teachings. He did not tell her to go do the “woman’s” work. So the scene is set, now let’s read what happens next…

 40a But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made.

Verse 40 begins with a key word “but.”  Now, when you are telling a story and you insert the word “but” generally that means there is a problem, or something that doesn’t line up, or there’s a contradiction, or you are going to contrast two things. So what is being contrasted here? Mary and Martha. Mary is focused on Jesus…but Martha is distracted. First, let’s look at what she is distracted by, and then let’s look at what it means that she is distracted.

The Preparations

It says here she is distracted by “all the preparations that had to be made.” We already know that 13 men showed up at her door unannounced and that there is a possibility that they will need to eat and need a place to sleep. So these preparations might include preparing meals, making beds, cleaning their feet, drawing water from the well, and so on. And we remember that in that day and age you didn’t just run to the store to buy some bread, you actually had to make it by hand. These things were going to take a lot of work and a lot of time.

The text uses the word “had” to let us know she is not going above and beyond as maybe a modern Dallas woman might do with little favors and such for their guests, no what she is doing is what “has to be done” in order for them to simply be fed and possibly have a place to sleep. So what we need to understand is that the problem is not “what” she was doing. The literal translation of this verse is that she was distracted by “much service/serving.” She was serving others, which we know was at the heart of Jesus’ message to mankind. So if taking care of preparations and serving was not the problem, then what was the problem? What was the “but” referring to?

Distracted

Well, the clue that is given to us here is that she was “distracted” by her service. The Dictionary defines distracted as “unable to concentrate because one’s mind is pre-occupied.” The Greek word that is translated here as distracted means “to be worried.” And the definition of worry is “to become anxious by dwelling on difficulty or troubles.” One translation’s notes (NET) explains that the connotation of this Greek word is that she was being “pulled away.”

So let’s put this all together to more fully understand what was wrong with what Martha was doing, what was the problem? All of these explanations imply one thing, that there is something that she should be concentrating on but she’s not, something that she is being pulled away from. And therefore, her new focus, what she is distracted by, we’re about to see, has led her to be anxious, worried, and to dwell on her difficult situation. We are going to unfold this more in a minute. So now let’s read what Martha does next, the rest of verse 40 says…

 40b She (Martha) came to him (Jesus) and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

Maybe in the beginning Mary was helping Martha, but she quickly was pulled away and was now enjoying their new company and enjoying herself, instead of serving as Martha was doing. While Martha was doing all the work, Mary was relaxing with the boys. So, Martha finally goes to Jesus to make things right.

Look at Martha’s progression here:

  1. Jesus, don’t you care? (about her, about justice, etc…)
  2. Look at what Mary has done wrong!
  3. Look at the trouble I am in because of her!
  4. Jesus, do what I think you should do to fix this situation – tell her she’s wrong and to get up off her duff and help me.

Personal Example

My guess is that each of us has been in a similar situation at least once in our lives before. Just 2 months ago I was in a very similar situation. We had just found out we were pregnant and 5 days later were throwing an engagement party for some dear friends of ours. And not only were we hosting, but I was making all the food and beverages for the party. So that day Michael helped me hang lights, prep food, and set-up. At the beginning he even helped get drinks, grill some meat, and set out the food. But then, suddenly, there was a turning point. And I can still see this image in my mind. Here I am in the kitchen surrounded by drink tubs full of melted ice and overflowing trashcans – ready to cut the cake and pour the champagne, and Michael is nowhere to be found.

Then I look out on the back porch, where the party was, and he is just snuggled right into the middle of the table surrounded by all his friends, with a cold beer in his hands. He was just as relaxed as ever having the time of his life. And here I was newly pregnant and feeling it and not sure what to do first because there was so much to be done! I remember bouncing between feelings of injustice (it just wasn’t fair that he wasn’t slaving away too, we were both the hosts) and feelings of jealousy (I wanted to rest and enjoy our guests too but I couldn’t because there was too much to do!)

Well, this is exactly what Martha was thinking too. And she did exactly what we all want to do in a situation like that….she went straight to the “authority figure,” ratted out the injustice, and demanded He make it right….all while questioning the love of Jesus…don’t you care? Now, while I controlled myself from doing that during the party, I did share my “feelings” with Michael afterwards and definitely used the pregnancy as my pity-ploy and my own version of “don’t you care?” So what will Jesus say in response? Let’s look at verse 41

 41  “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things…

 First, Jesus begins by focusing on her, not Mary. This is something that since we were children we have hated! When you feel wronged by another person the last thing you want the person with power to do is to point out your fault in the matter. But this is exactly what Jesus does…Martha, you are worried, upset, (NAS) bothered, (ESV) anxious, troubled, about many things…so again, this reiterates what the narrator already implied by describing Martha as “distracted.” Then Jesus says…

 42 but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

What is the first word here we should take note of? BUT. So again, there is going to be a contrast. The first time there was a “but” it contrasted Martha’s diligence with Mary’s neglect of the preparations. But now, to the reader’s surprise (and I’m sure to Martha’s) Jesus turns that on it’s head. In contrast to Martha’s worry and anxiety, Jesus says Mary’s choice to instead sit at his feet and listen to His teaching is

  1. The one thing that is needed/necessary
  2. That it is the better decision
  3. That it will not be taken away from her – so in other words, No Martha, I will not tell Mary to get up and help you! He will not take away from her this time she has to sit at His feet and learn.

Change vs. Choice

The first thing we need to notice about Jesus’ response is that He did not say, “Be more like Mary.” He did not say, better is the one who listens than the one who serves. It wasn’t about Type A vs. Type B. Jesus was not concerned with their personalities. One isn’t more Christlike than the other.

Instead, He pointed Martha to the one thing that was equally attainable to them both, regardless of personality or gifts. He simply said Mary chose better, she chose what was needed. When faced with the choice to work or to worship, she chose what was better, worship. So Jesus wasn’t asking Martha to change, but to choose.

This speaks loudly to people like me who are very task-oriented. We aren’t called to set aside the duties of our lives to worship and study the Word 24/7. But, there is a time for work and a time for worship. We all face this tension every single day. Each morning I know I need to start my day with Jesus and in the Word. I know it is the better choice. But there are days when I let my “preparations” take over, become more important, and I don’t make the better choice. That’s what Jesus is talking about here.

Martha’s Progression

The next thing we need to notice is how Martha’s choice to work instead of worship affected her. Look at the progression…

 1.     Distracted – First, she allowed herself to get distracted by all the preparations. This means she allowed something inferior to steal her attention away from what was superior. She was majoring in the minors instead of the majors, as we might say. Another way to put it is that she didn’t keep as a priority what was most important so what was least important distracted her. She chose serving over time with Jesus and then allowed that service to distract her from what was most important.

 2.     Distorted – And when we do this, the 2nd stage, is that it causes our vision to get distorted. We begin to think our new focus is actually more important. Martha, got distracted by all the preparations, serving others, and then began to see her situation as a burden, allowing herself to become full of anxiety and worry. And then she also began to believe that the work that had to be done was more important than spending time with Jesus who was the reason for it all. Her serving was no longer about others, it was now about herself. Her serving was no longer filled with joy, but filled with bitterness and selfishness. Her vision was distorted and she could no longer see clearly.

3.     Doubt – Then, the 3rd “D”, the 3rd stage, is that it led her to doubt Him. To doubt Jesus’ goodness and love for her. She really meant it when she asked Jesus “Don’t you care?” At that point her vision was so distorted that all she could do was doubt Him. And we do exactly the same thing, when we don’t make time with God a priority and we allow ourselves to get distracted from Him, our vision becomes distorted and we can no longer see the circumstances of our lives clearly, and this almost always leads us to doubting God. And it all comes down to taking our eyes off Jesus and putting them on inferior distractions.

Cart Before the Horse

When we choose to put other inferior things before our time with God it is the same as that old saying, putting the cart before the horse. It just won’t work. When we put the things of this world and our “work” before our relationship with God and our worship of Him our vision will become distorted and our faith will suffer.

Why is this? What happens when we spend time with Jesus? How does it affect us and the way we view and live our lives? Well first, it gives us perspective that we can’t have on our own. It helps us to see God’s hand in our lives. This is also where we find His peace and it calms us. When we spend time with Him we learn to trust Him. We find rest and refreshment. It also reveals what should be our priority and gives us guidance and direction.

Example:

Just last week a friend and I were venting about a frustrating situation and after about 15 minutes of that we finally just prayed about it. And the second we started praying peace just washed over both of us. And God began to give us both a clearer perspective on the situation, calming us, and helping us to trust Him with it. This is just a small glimpse of what happens when we make time with God a priority in all things. Venting was honestly a distraction that was leading to a bad attitude and clouding our vision, but the second we made the better choice we saw why it was the one thing that was needed.

It will not be taken away from her

The last thing that Jesus said to Martha was that Mary had chosen better and that ”It will not be taken away from her.” Just a minute ago I explained that Jesus was saying here that He would not make Mary stop listening to Him, He would not take that away from her. But I think that is only half of what He meant.

The other half, is that what Mary was getting out of those moments at Jesus’ feet would stay with her forever. God’s Word is eternal. What we learn about Jesus stays with us throughout our lives. I have heard many many testimonies of kids raised in Christian homes whose parents made them memorize scripture. Later those kids rebelled and walked away from God. But then they all talk about how in their darkest moments they would recall entire verses from the Bible that they had memorized 10, 20 years before. This is because God’s Word, as it tells us in Hebrews, is living and active. It is eternal and it is full of life.

And Jesus knew that Mary and Martha would need what He had to say for what was to come. If you read John 11 before you came, then you saw that it was the story of Lazarus, their brother. And he dies because Jesus did not come to save Him when He found out Lazarus was sick. He intentionally stalled and let Lazarus die. But when Jesus does finally show up after Lazarus is dead He encounters a very changed woman. Martha’s house is full of people, yet the minute she hears Jesus is in town she drops everything to go to Him. Then she goes on to express a very strong and solid faith in the light of such a tragedy in her life. She even confesses that Jesus is the Messiah which is something that His own disciples are still struggling with..

Martha humbled herself to Jesus’ rebuke and obeyed His words. Somewhere along the way she began to put Him first and make knowing God a priority. Imagine how Martha would have responded to her brother’s death and Jesus’ neglect, if her faith had not grown. How much more would she have felt that it wasn’t fair and that Jesus didn’t care?! But she doesn’t say this because her vision is no longer distorted.

Conclusion

Let’s finish tonight by looking at the last little glimpse we are given of Mary and Martha. Turn to John 12.

 1   Six days before the Passover, Jesus arrived at Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead.  2 Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him.  3 Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.

Martha served, and Mary sat at Jesus’ feet. One might think by looking at this scene that nothing has changed. But we know, that for Martha, everything has changed. She has learned that there’s a time to worship and a time to work, and that worship should always be our priority before work. And not only that, but she has also learned how to make her work a form of worship. Her perspective is clear, so instead of becoming distracted, anxious, and focusing on the difficulty of her work – she can now see it as a joy, as her service to the Lord, she is using her gifts of hospitality and service to honor Jesus. It really is a beautiful transformation to see.

As we look at Martha, the lessons she learned, and the transformation that took place in her life we need to ask ourselves: Am I choosing to worship Jesus before the things that have to get done? Do I see my time in the Word, with God as the one thing that is necessary in my day? And if you are not sure how to answer those questions, then I bet another way you could figure it out is by looking at your attitude, your perspective on life, and your view of God to determine whether you are or not. Do you find yourself doubting God and His goodness? Then make time with Him your number one priority.  Do you often get buried under anxiety and worry, dwelling on the difficulties of your life? Then remember that there is only one thing that won’t be taken away from you…that your relationship with God through Jesus, and His Word.

And remember in this that in all the different spheres of your life….work, family, friends, neighbors, commitments, etc…God is not calling you to change who you are in order to follow Him…but to choose to put Him first in all things. And then to let your life flow out of that as a form of worship.

Questions for Discussion & Application:

●       In what ways do you relate with Martha’s story?

●       What distracts you from spending time with God and causes you anxiety and worry?

Deborah & Jael: Judges 4-5, By Keeley Chorn

The following notes and audio are by Keeley Chorn, co-teacher for Young Women’s Bible Study. Press play on the player below to listen to this message. Or to download to your computer – On a PC right-click “download audio” and select “Save As Target.” On a Mac Ctrl+click “download audio” and choose “Download linked file as.”

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Did you know that of the Forbes 100 most powerful women, 3 are supreme court justices (or judges), 9 are the heads of state (or the leaders of their countries), and 4 of them are first ladies (known because they are wives)? Of these 16 powerful women, 8 of them tell us that they are mothers too. We see in our modern world that women have been honored for their gifts and talents and have grown into roles of power and influence.

Last week, we talked about the one of the most helpless of women, Hagar, a slave in a foreign land, who is taken as a 2nd wife to Abram just to produce an heir. In contrast, tonight, we get to talk about two women who were on the opposite spectrum. Deborah was among the powerful elite of Israel during the time of the judges, and Jael proved her valor through a courageous act. We’ll see that even in the ancient world of the Bible, there were women honored for their gifts and talents and who had roles of power and influence in God’s kingdom. We meet Deborah and Jael in Judges 4 and 5.

Deborah was known for her wisdom and discernment in deciding disputes between the Israelites. She was a prophetess, receiving direct words of revelation from God. She was a leader of the entire Israelite nation. Like we saw with Mary 2 weeks ago, she knew her primary role was to follow God, in all the aspects of her life. Like the 16 powerful women of today, Deborah, too, was a judge, a leader of her nation; she also was a wife and a mother.

Jael also stepped into her divinely appointed task at the right time. She, like Deborah, rose to the occasion and was able to deliver the people of God from their oppressors. Through their stories, we’ll see how God sends a redeemer. The Lord rescues his people from themselves by sending a judge to deliver them from the oppressive evil at work in their world.

Context of the Book of Judges in the Whole Bible

Before we jump in, I want to give us a little context on the book of Judges. I want us to see how it fits into God’s overall story of redemption in the Bible. We know that God’s story culminates in the NT with the sending of his own son, to rescue or redeem humanity. We know how the story ends, but sometimes we don’t know how to read and understand these OT stories. So we have to start by seeing them as a part of the larger whole.

The book of Judges comes early on in God’s story. It is after Israel’s time of slavery in Egypt and after God dramatically rescues them through the Red Sea from their oppressors (a story very similar to the one we have tonight). After wandering in the wilderness, they finally were able to enter the Promised Land.

This is where the book of Judges comes in. The Israelites are in the land, but they are still surrounded by their enemies. They don’t yet have a king, and they haven’t been sent Jesus Christ. We’ll see though, that because all of God’s story points forward to Christ, there will be ideas and themes in this story in Judges, that point us to Christ as the ultimate redeemer and leader of his people.

The Circle of Repentance in Judges 4-5
Open your Bibles to Judges 4 and 5. These two chapters tell the story of the only female judge in Israel’s history, really, the only female leader of the people of Israel. Chapter 4 tells the story in narrative form, and Chapter 5 retells the story as a song of praise, written in poetry, praising the Lord for his role in the story. The two chapters complement each other and give us a full picture of what happened during the time of Deborah. I am going to weave the two chapters together tonight where Ch. 5, the song, sheds light on Ch. 4, the narrative.

Stages 1-3: Evil, Oppression, Crying Out. Starting in verse 1, we read:

“After Ehud [the previous judge] died, the Israelites once again did evil in the eyes of the LORD. So the LORD sold them into the hands of Jabin, a king of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor. The commander of his army was Sisera, who lived in Harosheth Haggoyim. Because he had nine hundred iron chariots and had cruelly oppressed the Israelites for twenty years, they cried to the Lord for help” (Judges 4:1-3).

We learn that the people of Israel had gotten themselves into this situation because of the evil that they had done, which would include serving the gods of the Canaanites (Judges 5:8). So the Canaanites, Jabin and his commander Sisera, had 900 iron chariots, and they cruelly oppressed the Israelites for 20 years. For 20 years, the people of Israel were abused and oppressed, beaten down both physically and emotionally by this Canaanite king.

The Circle of Repentance Defined
In the book of Judges, there is a common pattern that emerges in each of the stories. Over and over again in the book, we find a circle of repentance with 5 stages that the people go through. There are 5 stages and we see all of them play out in this story. The 5 stages of the circle of repentance in the book of Judges are:

  1. Israel does evil in the eyes of the Lord; they fall away from God, often beginning to serve the gods of the other people in their land (we see this in 4:1).
  2. They are oppressed. God sends others to oppress them for their disobedience and seeking their own ways (we see this in 4:2-3).
  3. They cry out to God for help. The oppression is too much for them to bear, so they turn back to God and cry out to him, usually in a last-ditch effort and act of desperation (it took them 20 years in this case) (we see this in 4:3).
  4. God raises up a deliverer for them: a judge. The judge is usually a military leader who saves the people (this will be the bulk of the story).
  5. The fifth and last stage is peace. God gives the people and the land peace and rest for the life of the judge (we won’t see this until the very last verse of the story in 5:31).

But, like I said, it’s a cycle, so it repeats. After a time of peace, the people forget the Lord again, do evil, are oppressed, cry out, then a new judge is raised up to deliver them and give peace, again.

Their Oppression

So after turning from God, the Israelites in this day were oppressed. We learn from the next chapter, Judges 5:6-8, what their oppression was like. Look in verse 6, we see that the roads were abandoned and travelers took to winding paths, out-of-the-way, because they were afraid. In verse 7, we see that village life had ceased-there was no social interaction-and inverse 8, that there was not a shield or spear among 40,000 in Israel. Not only were they afraid, and hiding out, but they had no means of protection either. They were completely weak and vulnerable and under the control of Jabin and his powerful chariots.

Stage 4: God Raises Up a Deliverer: Deborah

It’s at this point in the story that we meet Deborah. Look back at Ch. 4, verse 4, we read:

“Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was leading [or judging] Israel at that time. She held court under the Palm [tree] of Deborah…and the Israelites came to her to have their disputes decided” (Judges 4:4-5).

Deborah was both a prophetess and a judge or leader for the people. The only other judge in Scripture that was also a prophet was Samuel, who we studied last fall. What qualities do you think she would need to fill these roles (prophet, leader, judge, wife, mother- 5:7)? How about: wisdom, discernment, understand hearts of men and women and children, trust in God, balance of many roles, etc.

1. Deborah as Judge
We’re studying a judge in the book of Judges, but what was an ancient judge? Was it someone who held court with a gavel, like in our modern day? Well, there’s an aspect in which Deborah does do this as she settles disputes among the people, but the ancient judge was also a ruler, a rescuer, and deliverer for the people from their enemies. The role went well beyond settling cases of disagreement. What they do is a gift and calling from God; they delivered their people.

2. Deborah as Prophetess
In verse 6, we see God speaking through her, giving his plan of rescue for the Israelites. She sends for Barak, son of Abinoam, saying:

“The LORD, the God of Israel, commands you: ‘Go, take with you ten thousand men of Naphtali and Zebulun and lead the way to Mount Tabor. I will lure Sisera, the commander of Jabin’s army, with his chariots and his troops to the Kishon River and give him into your hands'” (Judges 4:6-7).

God reveals to her to summon Barak to lead the people out from under the oppressive hand of Jabin. But, we see in his response, a lack of faith in this word from God. In verse 8, he says, “If you go with me, I will go; but if you don’t go with me, I won’t go.” Barak wavers. He hears the command of God, but he’s willing to disobey if Deborah doesn’t go with him. His response goes to show that there really wasn’t any male leadership in Israel at that time. Deborah replies in verse 9 that she will go with him, but because of the way he’s responded, she says,“the honor will not be yours, for the LORD will hand Sisera over to a woman.” A woman will be the one to deliver Israel and to give them the peace and rest.

Then verses 9-10 both tell us that “Deborah went with him.” What do you think Deborah would be feeling as she goes into battle with 10,000 men? Maybe: scared, afraid, or trusting in God? What would give her the emotional strength/faith to do this? Maybe the roles she’s already been called to, her past interactions with God, trust in her abilities, having received direct words from God (prophecy), wisdom in deciding disputes, trust God’s word is true…

Yes, so her strength would come from God. In Judges 5:2-3, she praises God, and says that the people willingly volunteered themselves to serve with God, then she sings to the Lord. In5:9, she says her heart is with Israel’s princes and willing volunteers. She gains strength from the people-her community-as well as God. Later we’ll see she has strength in God because she sees him at work in nature…and because she knows the Lord has gone out ahead of them (seeverses 4:14, 5:21, and 5:31).

3. Deborah as Commander of the Battle
Next, we move to the scene of the battle in Ch. 4, verses 12-16. Barak’s 10,000 men are to fight the 900 iron chariots of Sisera. While the numbers might seem to be in Israel’s favor, they are still severely outmatched. The riders of the iron chariots had been oppressing them for 20 years, you’ll remember. So, Barak goes, because Deborah is with him. And we see that she’s now taking on a military leadership role as well. In verse 14, we see she’s the one who commands the troops, giving the battle cry to “Go!” The Lord has revealed to her that today is the day they will defeat Sisera. The Lord says that he has gone out before them.While Deborah goes with the troops and with Barak, the Lord has gone out ahead of them.

So Barak’s men charge down the mountain toward Sisera and his chariots, and verse 15 says that “the Lord routed Sisera and all his chariots.” Not Barak routed Sisera, but the Lord did. We learn that Sisera abandons his chariot and flees on foot; meanwhile all the other men were killed by the sword (verses 16-17).

4. The Lord as Deliverer
What has happened though, we don’t really get much more information here in Ch. 4? We do know that it’s the Lord’s battle and that he had a hand in it, but how could they beat the iron chariots and why would Sisera abandon his? Ch. 5 gives us more information about the way God wins this battle for them. So look at Ch. 5, the second ½ of verse 4, we see that “the earth shook, the heavens poured, the clouds poured down water. The mountains quaked before the LORD, the One of Sinai, before the LORD, the God of Israel” (Judges 5:4b-5). God sends a storm. The ground would turn to mud, and iron chariots on wheels pulled behind horses aren’t going to get too far. The chariots would get stuck, and Sisera’s power would be rendered ineffective.

Ch. 5, verses 20-21 adds that “From the heavens the stars fought, from their courses they fought against Sisera. The river Kishon swept them away, the age-old river, the river Kishon. March on, my soul; be strong!” says Deborah (Judges 5:20-21). So the rain and the swelling of the river swept away the power of Israel’s oppressors. The Lord routes the army by his mighty hand and his mighty power. The battle was not won by man, but by the Lord. God is the divine warrior who ultimately rescues his people, using the team of Deborah and Barak to help carry out his plan. (Verse 21 tells us that Deborah’s soul gains strength from seeing God working a natural miracle.)

5. Jael as God’s Instrument
But what’s happening with Sisera? Back to Ch. 4, verse 17-22, remember that he escapes; he flees from the battle as the only survivor. On his escape route, exhausted, he comes upon the tent of an ally.

Verse 17 tells us that he comes to the tent of Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite, who had friendly relations with the Canaanite king Jabin. But, verse 11 above tells us that he would be distantly related to the Israelites too, by marriage through Moses. So he would have loyalty to both sides.

In verses 18-21, we learn that Jael, lures Sisera into her tent, telling him not to be afraid. He accepts her hospitality. She covers him and offers him milk to drink, rather than the water he requests. She promises to divert anyone who comes looking for him, but as soon as he falls asleep, she carries out a different plan. She takes a tent peg and a hammer and drives it through his head, killing him instantly.

When Barak comes looking for him, Jael calls out to him, telling him in verse 22, “‘Come, I will show you the man you’re looking for.’ So he went in with her, and there lay Sisera with the tent peg through his temple-dead.” Jael has just killed a man. What are we to make of Jael’s actions? Is she a hero or a treacherous woman? What would do you think would drive her to do this?? Are we to follow her lead?

  • remember that the honor would go to a woman, it was already prophesied
  • this is in warfare
  • we should not follow her lead… (see below, “ancient warfare vs. modern”)

6. Jael’s Actions Blessed

Let’s look at what this story has to say about Jael’s actions. Ch. 5 sheds more light for us. Look at verse 24 with me:

“Most blessed of women be Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite, most blessed of tent-dwelling women. He asked for water, and she gave him milk; in a bowl fit for nobles she brought him curdled milk. Her hand reached for the tent peg, her right hand for the workman’s hammer. She struck Sisera, she crushed his head, she shattered and pierced his temple. At her feet he sank, he fell; there he lay. At her feet he sank, he fell; where he sank, there he fell-dead” (Judges 5:24-27).

Here Jael is called most blessed of women for her role in killing the commander of the oppressive army. She is the one who literally delivers the people in this story; she is God’s instrument. Back in Ch. 4, verse 23, the writer says that “On that day God subdued Jabin, the Canaanite king.” Jael, a woman and wife, a tent-dweller and foreigner, stepped into the role that God called her to. She was willing to save the people from their enemies and to rescue them when needed. She dealt the decisive blow that saved the people.

7. Ancient Warfare vs. Modern
But what about for us? Are we to follow her example in battle? Do you think that God wants us to be sure and kill our enemy if he ever is passing by our house? The NT would definitely tell us no, this is not God’s way now that he has sent Jesus. By the standards of ancient warfare, though, these two women were both heroes. But today, we don’t fight battles like they did in the OT. Now that we live in the NT times, our enemies are the spiritual forces of darkness.

Ephesians 6:12 reminds us that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Since Christ has come, the battle is different…He has already won, so instead of literal armor, we put on the spiritual armor of God. Yes, we will still see flesh and blood enemies, but we are not to fight them in the same way. We are to use our spiritual weapons and armor.

Stage 5: Peace
At the end of this story, Ch. 5 verse 31, we see the final stage in the circle of repentance, after Sisera died, “then the land had peace forty years.” The circle for this judge was complete. The cycle of Deborah as judge with Jael as her warrior ended with lasting peace for 40 years.

Christ as Ultimate Deliverer and Giver of Peace
Let’s begin to wrap up by looking at what would this story have meant for the original hearers? They would have seen that through Deborah and Jael’s courage and faith, the Lord rescues his people Israel from the trouble they got themselves into by doing evil in his sight. God sends a judge to redeem the people from their oppression and situation. But since it’s a circle of repentance, it happens over and over again; they needed a new judge, each time they got themselves into this circle. The point of this story in Judges is that God intervenes to send someone to help rescue Israel during times of oppression.

For us, we have to look not just at how the original hearers would have taken this story, but how we are to take it now that Christ has come. In the context of the whole Bible, we learn that God is the ultimate one who redeems his people, even as we saw in this story-it was God who routed the army. As we look forward to the NT, we see that Jesus is the redeemer, he is the leader, who finally and ultimately delivers his people from themselves. Deborah and Jael’s story, these two women, point us to Christ’s work. Outside of a saving relationship with Christ, we are weak and poor, oppressed by the spiritual forces of darkness; we are in need of God’s divine intervention. We need Christ as our savior, redeemer, and judge to fight the battles for us, because we have no hope of winning them on our own or of bringing lasting peace on our own. Only he can do it.

Application and Conclusion
What does this mean for you and me? Well, we no longer have to bear the oppressive weight of evil. We don’t have to wait for the redeemer, the deliverer, he’s already been sent. We don’t have to wait for God’s peace; it too has already been sent.

Now yes, we may still today see this same circle of repentance play out in our own lives; we are human after all… We need to be aware of it, but we also need to recognize that we are not left in it. We need to repent when we stray from God and come back to him. The more we grow in our Christian walk, the less we should enter into the depths of this cycle. What I mean is that we shouldn’t move so far out in disobedience that we don’t even acknowledge the Lord anymore. We need to learn to recognize that he has been there, right beside us, all along, and that he has already rescued us from our worst battle with sin and evil.

In conclusion, God’s promise is that he is the one who provides the victory and the one to accomplish it: his son. As women, we need to be willing to step into the roles he has called us and to use the gifts he has given us. We also need to learn to have strength in our faith in God and trust in him to deliver us, from whatever our situation may be.

Questions for Discussion and Application:

  • What is an area of your life right now where you feel trapped in the circle of repentance (disobey, feel oppressed, cry out, be delivered, then have peace)? How can you begin to move forward out of this?
  • How has God called you to step out as a woman to a role that might be uncomfortable for you? How do these women’s stories help us gain perspective on God in our own lives?