I think that each of us understand being held accountable. When we are children, we are sent to the store for a bottle of milk, Mom makes sure that we gave her the change. We are held accountable to bring that change back. In growing up, we are assigned to keep our rooms neat and clean; and usually Mom comes in to check. If it isn't neat and clean, then we are held accountable for that. We step out into the work place, and we get our first job. Mine was installing school desks in Catholic Schools, and it was backbreaking. I never worked so hard in my life. But I had to put in so many desks; and I was held accountable for that number, and for finishing them properly, and so forth.
Every company that is worth its salt makes plans for the company for the coming year. And they periodically review those plans, or they hold those plans in account, to see if they are making their progress and doing the things as they should do. They compare the year they are in with last year, to see if they are making progress. And even in huge corporations—with presidents, and vice presidents, board of directors and so many levels of management—all have to answer for their actions. Nobody is immune to this.
The president has to see to it that the company has direction based on the information given to him by the marketing department. In meetings, he explains his purposes and goals to his vice presidents—what is expected of each one of them in their divisions. And the forecasts for the coming year are made. "You will do this, and you will do that." They, in turn, go to their managers; and they say, "This is what we have been assigned to do." Then each of the managers has their portion that they have to accomplish for the coming year. And then the managers, in turn, go to the supervisors under them and instruct them about what is required of them as to what is actually needed to accomplish the president's plan.
Accounts place costs on all the materials being sold, and set prices based on volume—figuring what is cube and freight to the various marketing areas where they ship. Purchasing has to make sure that the plant has the raw material needed, and at the right cost. The sales department is given numbers that they are expected to sell for their various territories. And the total effort of everyone working to complete the president's plan is to make it operational. If they all do their jobs, it should be fulfilled or it should be accomplished.
Everyone in the organization is held accountable for his portion of the overall responsibility to achieve the president's goal. If the plan ultimately fails, then the board of directors holds the president accountable because they are held accountable by the stockholders. So, in this world we live in, we all realize (from the child, to the wife, to the husband) we are all held accountable one way or another—in how we conduct ourselves in this world.
But, somehow, when it comes to God we may feel like He will understand our shortcomings and that we won't have to give an account of how we've lived our lives. Well, brethren, nothing could be further from the truth! The fact that we are held in account for what we do in this world should give us the understanding that God placed accountability here so that we will understand that we will be held accountable (when we are resurrected) for how we live and how we come before God.
Now, is there something negative about being held accountable? I know that I want others to be held accountable when I buy a car that's a lemon. I also know that somebody should answer for my poor product. I have to say, at the same time, that in these huge organizations today nobody can go back and find out who made my rotten car. They just can't do it, and it's a frustration.
So I want others to be held responsible. But do I want to be held responsible for my actions? At first we say, "No. I'm such a big sinner that, if I'm held responsible, I'm just not going to make it." But is there a really positive aspect of being held accountable? You bet there is! In the business world, if you have done it correctly, there are bonuses. There are salary increases, and new jobs, wonderful things for those who do their jobs correctly.
And in God's plan there are tremendous rewards for having done your job well. Tremendous rewards—office, joy, happiness, and fulfillment as we've never begun to understand it—for doing the job correctly. God tells us that He's going to hold us accountable, and that He will bring His rewards with Him.
Revelation 22:12 And, behold, I come quickly; and My reward is with Me, to give every man according as his work shall be.
We should take that seriously, with the pluses and the minuses. But for an individual to be held accountable—and this is the intent of the sermon today—defined objectives have to be established. I'm just going to give you two today (and they are down the road here); but defined objectives have to be established. What are you being held accountable for?
Since I was in sales all those years, you have to make up your coming forecast for the year. One salesman might say, "Well, I'm going to sell more this year." That is not a good objective, and it won't fly with the company. The company would rightly want to know what percentage more you felt you were going to sell, what products you were going to sell, the profit that you were going to sell them at, the product mix, where you were going to sell it, your monthly expectations (your quarterly, your semi-annually expectations). They want to know all the facts. In other words, they want to know what you are going to complete—and how your are going to complete what you say you are going to do. They want something to measure against.
That's what objectives are for—that we might measure against something. Hopefully today, when I finish, you'll know what you and I have to measure against. This individual knows precisely what is expected of him; and if he completes what is expected of him, or goes over it, then he's a hero. If he doesn't, he hasn't done his work correctly. God wants us to understand, brethren, that we are all going to be held accountable!
Romans 14:10-12 But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you set at nought your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. For it is written, "As I live," saith the Lord, "every knee shall bow to Me, and every tongue shall confess to God. So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God."
He says, "This is what's going to happen, and you'd better be prepared for it." We won't turn to Romans 2:6-8, but that would be a good one to read. He says, "I will render every man according to his deeds." And, of course, it says some more things than that. Daniel 12:1-2 states that some will be resurrected to eternal life, and to glory, and to happiness; but others will be resurrected to disaster and that type of thing. For young people (and for old people, as well), let's look at Ecclesiastes 11.
Ecclesiastes 11:9 Rejoice, O young man, in your youth; and let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth, and walk in the ways of your heart . . .
He's saying, "Enjoy yourself. Do what's exciting for a person your age. Climb mountains, skin dive, take up dancing—whatever it is that you might want to do."
Ecclesiastes 11:9-10 . . . Walk in the ways of your heart, and in the sight of your eyes [as you find positive, good things to do]. But know you, that for all these things God will bring you into judgment [whether you have done them correctly]. Therefore remove sorrow from your heart, and put away evil from your flesh: for childhood and youth are vanity.
What he is saying is, "Don't do foolish things. Don't do things that are going to bring you pain the rest of your life, because God is going to hold you in judgment for that."
Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep His commandments: for this is the whole of man. For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.
We won't turn there, but in Matthew 12:36 it says that in the Day of Judgment men will give an account for every idle word that they have spoken. So, what will we be held accountable for? It's good to know what is to be required of you. Many today have their own personal ideas of what they must do to gain the Kingdom of God. Certainly in American religious circles, we have a broad spectrum of thought—with a good part of it based on superstition.
Some groups feel that one has to speak in tongues—in a language not understandable. That they have to "talk down" the Holy Spirit. Some groups feel that, to please God, they are not to use modern conveniences at all. Thus, they live a peaceful life (and I don't know that that's all wrong) without automobiles, televisions, computers, and other current day inventions. They think those things are against what God wants, and that their actions please Him. Still others believe that drinking alcohol or dancing are against what God wants; and so they are going to avoid those things to assure that they attain the Kingdom of God.
Some groups have a priesthood set up where you have to go through the priests to reach God, or you have to go through the "Mother Mary" as the intercessor for Jesus Christ. Some religious groups even handle poisonous snakes to prove their faith to God. I've seen this. Even little children handling rattle snakes, to prove their faith to God.
And today we've had some leave us in the superstitious belief that the only way God will hear one's prayers is if that individual is saying the name of Jesus Christ and God the Father in the original Hebrew tongue.
Let me read you what Mr. Armstrong wrote about this. Referring to the sacred names group (because that's what this is referring to), he wrote: God's name—they had come to believe—could not be spoken except in the Hebrew language. They overlook the fact that all original copies of the New Testament were inspired by the same God—through Jesus Christ, who was the Word of God, and inspired by the Holy Spirit—in the Greek language. In numerous instances, the inspired New Testament inspired in the Greek language quoted passages from the Old Testament containing the names of God. And in every case, God through the Holy Spirit used Greek names for God and the One who became Jesus Christ—and not the Hebrew language. (But this definition doesn't slow anyone down.)
There are groups that worship Gaia. I saw this on PBS—Public Broadcasting System. That's where they worship trees, and rocks, and grass, and skies. They had a circle and they were wailing and crying, "Oh, the trees. Save..." It was unbelievable, but they thought this was going to please God and grant them eternal life.
Some, of course, have felt that the calendar being correct (as they see it) is essential to pleasing God. I'm not saying that any of these groups are not completely sincere in their beliefs; but are they right? And is this what God wants from us, in worshipping Him? Even the Jews in Christ's time missed what God wanted of them.
John 5:39 Search the scriptures; for in them you think you have eternal life: and they are they which testify of Me.
The word search here is an extremely expressive term. It would be like a she bear that has just been robbed of her cub. She's going down the trail of the person who stole the cub. Or it would be like a bloodhound following the scent. That is, eagerly. This is how they searched the Scriptures. And this is how they were studying every day.
Albert Barnes says: [Speaking of the Jews...] You think that by studying the Scriptures you will obtain eternal life. [That is, by knowing all of God's scriptures and what God has to say.] You suppose that they teach the way to future blessedness, and that by diligently studying them you will attain it.
Expositor's Bible Commentary: They pored over the Old Testament, endeavoring to exact the fullest possible meaning from its words because they believed that the very study itself would bring them life. [That is, that this was what God wanted.] But, by doing so, they missed the chief subject of the Old Testament revelation. Jesus claimed the law, and the prophets, and the writings as witness to His Person and to His claims. He rebuked His hearers for their inconsistency in studying the Scriptures so diligently while rejecting His claims, which were founded on those same scriptures.
Now, it's interesting to me that the apostle Paul was probably very much like this (indeed, probably exactly like this) prior to his calling. I'd like for you to look at what he lists as his background. In Philippians 3, Paul is telling what he was like—just what he could claim as how wonderful his background was.
Philippians 3:4-6 Though I might also have confidence in the flesh. If any other man thinks that he has whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more: Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.
Paul said that (as he understood it), as far as "law keeping" goes, he was perfect in keeping the law. To paraphrase some of this—he said (as he was talking to the Philippians): I had uncommon advantages of this kind. And if anyone could have trusted in them, I could have done it. I was circumcised in compliance with the Jewish law on the eighth day. I was a descendant from the patriarch Israel [or, Jacob]. And I am able to trace my genealogy back as far as any Jew can. He was not a proselyte. There was no foreign blood mixed in him from a marriage outside of his race. And he was not a proselyte. He had been raised in it from birth.
And not only that (We can see some of the superstition here.), Paul had been reared where all the holy tribe rites and ceremonies had taken place—because Benjamin was right next to where the tribe of Judah was. And he was close to the temple. Thus, he thought that had some advantage and was supposed to have brought him benefit.
He was "a Hebrew of Hebrews." He was a Hebrew of superlative degree. Paul enjoyed every advantage that could possibly come from being a Hebrew. He had lineal descent from the very ancestors of the nations. He belonged to the tribe that was as honorable as any other. And, again, having his location near the very center of religious influence was supposed to somehow impart something special to him. And there was no mixture with Gentile blood.
"As touching the law," Paul states, "in my views on the law, and in my manner of observing it, I was of the strictest sect." He was careful. "Concerning zeal," which was very important, "I persecuted the true church, which I thought to be in error." "And touching righteousness," [he said], "as far as righteousness can be obtained by obeying the law is concerned, I was true to it—that I might obtain salvation by law keeping." (This was what the Jews thought.) And In Acts 22, we find a little bit more explanation. This was Paul's background, which he had to come out of.
Acts 22:3 I am verily a man which am a Jew, born in Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, yet brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, and taught according to the perfect manner of the law of the fathers, and was zealous toward God, as you all are this day.
Paul was giving his background. And what he was saying here was that he was sent to Jerusalem, that he might have advantage—being taught at the feet of Gamaliel, who was a renowned scholar. And by strict diligence, exact care, and the utmost rigor and severity—Paul was given instruction and taught to understand and practice the law of Moses (and, I'm sure, the torah as well). It was the written law of Moses and the traditions handed down from the fathers. And Paul had a burning zeal for God and the law—which is what we should have, as well. It was expressed, again, by his scrupulous adherence to its forms and by his persecuting of the saints.
But Paul was wrong. That didn't accomplish salvation! That wasn't what he was going to held accountable for. But, for all this, (prior to being called by Jesus Christ) he still didn't comprehend what was required for salvation. To me it would seem (as I think it is, with all of us) that Paul understood what the New Covenant entailed. That is, that our justification came through the death of Jesus Christ. Plus, he understood the promises and the great mercy extended to those who are called. But in that he somehow still held the concept in his mind that he, with his own willpower, should somehow be able to qualify for eternal life. And certainly he longed to do so!
But, about twenty-five years into his ministry and with all of his understanding, Paul at last saw the intent and that keeping the letter of the law had lulled him into a false security. He discovered that he just couldn't do it. He finally had to admit, "I cannot keep what Jesus Christ wants me to keep."
Romans 7:5 For when we were in the flesh, the motions [which simply means "the passions" that we have in our bodies] of sins, which were by the law, did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death.
In other words, when we saw the law truly applied to man's human reasoning, it produced agitation. Once we had to stand up and say, "You mean God wants this? Well, I don't want this." Because the carnal mind is enmity toward God, the carnal mind doesn't want to give up. So he says, "Thus, there was no hope of survival—other than through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and the plan of God." Man, on his own, couldn't save himself nor keep God's laws perfectly—because of the "motions of sin." That is, our corrupt desires—which are a part of our nature and that bring fruit unto death. So when human nature and its desires ran into the laws of God, there was a battle which Paul hadn't understood before. Who would we obey? God, unto life—or would we obey sin, unto death?
Romans 7:6 But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter.
He said that the consequences of being under the New Covenant—or the newness of the spirit—were that we are no longer under the penalty of the law for our past failures. Nor are we under the penalty of death for our future mistakes—because of the forgiveness through Jesus Christ's sacrifice—upon our repentance. And that's key! But having to keep the law perfectly to the letter is not the method of our sanctification. (We are going to find what that method is soon.)
Paul said that we are dead to that requirement, but now we have a greater requirement placed on us. That is, to live by the spirit of the law—the intent of the law—which is designed to produce in us what God has been after since He created the earth. That is, the new man after Jesus Christ. Keeping the spirit of the law is to produce something in us that God wants.
Paul, in the past, had been keeping the letter [of the law]. Now he discovered the uphill battle that he had to fight, because he had to keep it in the heart; and we are going to see how difficult this is.
In verse 7, Paul says: "What shall we say then? Is the law sin?" He says, "Is there something wrong with the law? No, nothing is wrong with the law. I wouldn't have understood that you shouldn't covet if the law hadn't said 'You shall not covet.'" He said, "I denied the law of sin. I would never had known what sin was without the law." He wouldn't have understood that certain things were wrong unless the law stated that they were. But now, with the Spirit of God, he now understands that they are not only wrong to do; but it is wrong to harbor the desire to do them in your mind.
You begin to see where the battle is. We know this from Matthew 5 where it says, "In the past I said 'You shall not kill.' But now I say 'Don't be angry.'" Why? Anger leads to killing.
"You shall not commit adultery." But Jesus said, "Now, don't look at a person of the opposite sex with that desire in your mind." So you see the struggle with the carnal mind—and we all have part of that carnality left in us. This is what we have to fight, and it is not an easy thing. In verse 8, Paul personifies sin. (It's us.)
Romans 7:8 But sin, taking occasion [opportunity] by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence [desire]. For without the law sin was dead.
He said, "When there was no law, piece of cake. I could think what I wanted. I couldn't do anything I wanted; but I could think what I wanted." But Paul personifies sin to help us to understand what we face and to show us what our problem is. Our human nature, our mind, our heart, our stubborn resistance to the laws of God is the definition—or the personification—of sin. This is what Paul is talking about.
By God's law telling us that we have to live by His laws, or His code, (and not our own) causes human nature to churn and thrash in resistance to what God wants—and in rebellion to having to give up its way of living. Without God's law, everything was "cool," acceptable—but now it was almost impossible, because he saw what he was inside.
Romans 7:9 For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died.
"When I had to do what God said and I didn't want to, I saw that I was a sinner." He said, "Before I understood what the law demanded of me, I was fine. No struggle. No agitation. But once I saw what God was after in me—a complete change of heart [which is what God is after]—I saw sin all around me, and I died." Paul is stating that his total confidence had been on the understanding that the keeping of the letter of the law was all that had to be done. In this he had been perfect and felt confident. Now, he realized that he had been wrong; and now he had even a higher and more difficult mountain to scale. That was in learning to keep the spirit of the law in his heart. And that's what is required of us. He saw clearly, for the first time, that he had completely broken God's laws to shreds. This is why he said, "The death penalty is on me, and I am dead."
I am going to read you several pages, which are important to this sermon. Mr. Herbert Armstrong fought this same fight—as we all do. And in a heart-to-heart [GOOD NEWS] article, back in June/July of 1982, he tells us of the struggle; and it is instructive to us today. It should rebuild, or help strengthen, our foundations.
I feel I must have a real heart-to-heart talk with my family of readers and co-workers, sharing with you thoughts that came to my mind. It concerns the most important thing in life and eternity for you. But, at the moment, I was thinking about myself.
Every person—yes, even you—is his own worst enemy. All my life I have been impelled to fight my worst enemy—that troublesome inner self, which by nature is desperately wicked.
I was not born with a mild, submissive, weak-willed inner self. Had I been, I probably never could have been used as God's instrument in bearing His message to you.
My mother, who lived well into her 90s, said I was a very strong-willed boy; and while I was still young enough to be under parental discipline, I caused her and my father no end of grief.
Since growing into the age of self-discipline, this same evil determined inner-self has caused me no end of trouble. And I should add that since I gave that self over to God, it surely must have tried His patience!
That brings us to the point. The thought that came to my mind concerned this very troublesome inner self. How, came the question, can I myself ever become finally saved, and inherit eternal life in the Kingdom of God with such a powerful, seemingly irresistible inner force of evil constantly pulling the other way?
When God says, "There shall in no wise enter into it [The Kingdom of God] anything that defiles, neither whatsoever works abomination, or makes a lie." (Rev. 21:27), it surely seemed impossible that I should be able to "overcome" and "endure to the end."
But the same instant the answer flashed to my mind—GOD will save me! I can't save myself.
When I look at this troublesome evil self, so human and full of faults and weaknesses, so beset with temptations and pride, and the flesh with all its limitations and shortcomings—knowing that to be finally saved I must grow in grace and God's knowledge, must develop in righteous holy character, must overcome this self and temptations and weaknesses, and must endure through trial and test and opposition and discouragement unto the end—well, when I look at it that way, it seems utterly hopeless to expect ever to be saved. And I wondered, as this thought flashed through my mind, how many of my readers and co-workers are tempted to look at it the same way—to feel a sense of futility and helplessness—perhaps to become discouraged and lose faith?
Ah, that's the key word—FAITH! Our plight isn't hopeless at all! How shall we be saved? Of course, of ourselves it is impossible to be saved. But with GOD it is certain—if we yield to Him [There's a key word.] and TRUST Him [another key word]. We shall be saved, not by our own power to overcome and develop perfect character, but through FAITH IN GOD'S POWER!
Then Mr. Armstrong pointed out that the world has recognized that they can't keep the law. So they have the idea that Christ died and kept the law for us. They base that, probably, on Colossians 2:13-14—where it says that the handwriting of ordinances that was against you was hung on the tree. Well, what was hung on the tree wasn't the law. What was hung on the tree was the penalty that we had to pay. It was the "I owe you" that says, "I broke Your law. Therefore, I am worthy of death." And this is what Jesus Christ hung on the tree. What was nailed on the cross was NOT the law—but the "I owe you", the debt that we owe God for breaking His law. Not the law, as the world thinks. Paul understood. The law is good, designed to do something.
(Mr. Armstrong goes on.) No, Jesus didn't live a good life for you, in your stead! You are not excused from keeping God's commandments, living a righteous holy life, overcoming, growing in spiritual character and enduring in spite of all opposition, persecution, trial and test unto the end. YOU and I must actually do these things in order to be saved!
Here is the great mystery! Since we must do these things to be saved, yet are utterly unable to do them, it is natural to conclude either that God sent Jesus to do it for us and excuse us from accomplishing it, or else to become discouraged and be tempted to quit trying.
The true answer is the KEY to salvation! We can't save ourselves. GOD will save us! But how? Not by saving us in our sins—not by deceiving Himself into counting us righteous by imputing Jesus' righteousness to us while we remain unrighteous—BUT BY SAVING US FROM OUR SINS, by giving us His very own Spirit!
God's Spirit gives us His POWER to overcome these cantankerous selves, His LOVE to actually fulfill His law, His PEACE to avoid strife with enemies and resentment and bitterness at their injustices, His PATIENCE to endure!
We can't save ourselves—GOD must save us! But He does it by changing us, through His indwelling divine supernatural power, from what we have been into the holy, righteous character He wills to make of us! He does it by forgiving past sins not only, but cleansing us from sinning now and in the future! [God does not look upon our plight as being hopeless.] Instead, God who knows our every weakness—who knows and understands this human nature in every one of us—sent His Son into the world to proclaim His MESSAGE to us that we must yield to GOD's government over our lives [meaning His laws]—that we must REPENT and turn from our filth of the flesh and pride of mind and heart.
He sent His Son into the world to be tempted in all points as we are—human as we are—to prove that a human can, with the help of the Spirit of God, live without sin—TO SET AN EXAMPLE FOR US THAT WE SHOULD FOLLOW HIS STEPS and live also without sinning! He sent His Son into the world to die for us—not living a good life in our stead, but paying the penalty of our past sins in our stead—that we might be reconciled to God, so that we might receive His Spirit, begetting us as His SONS, so that God through the power of His Spirit may CHANGE us from mortal sinners into immortal, holy sons of God!
Then Mr. Armstrong talked about the approach of some of the songs today in some of the churches. "Come as you are!" And he brought out that you can "come as you are" but you'd better repent of what you are because you won't be accepted by God [otherwise]. Then he continues:
No, you must first be WASHED in the blood of the Lamb, Jesus Christ—and before Jesus, as your Savior and Mediator with God, can wash you of the filth of your sins, YOU MUST REPENT OF TRANSGRESSING GOD'S HOLY LAW, WHICH MEANS TO BE SO SORRY THAT YOU FORSAKE YOUR WAY AND THE WORLD'S WAY AND TURN TO A LIFE OF OBEDIENCE TO GOD's LAWS AND WAYS! ...
Jesus showed us by His life that we can, if we rely upon God in faith for the power to do, live the way of God's will as expressed in His spiritual law! Of Himself, even Jesus said He could not do it [which is interesting]—"The Father that dwells in Me," He said, "He does the works" (John 14:10). [And so it is with us.] And again, "He that believes on Me, the works that I do shall he do also" (verse 12).
And so it is that, almost the same instant the temptation to doubt the final result came to my mind, as I thought of my own weaknesses, faults, and limitations, the answer flashed strong and firm: "GOD WON'T LET ME FALL! He may punish me more yet to chasten and teach me and make me righteous, but He won't let me fail—He will impute His very own righteousness by implanting it into my life until, through His power energizing me, I'm really living it—ETERNALLY!"
And that comforting and definite ASSURANCE of the final result, based on God's OWN unbreakable PROMISES, just warmed my heart and made me feel good clear through—and so I had to share this glorious assurance with all of you!
The apostle Paul came to this same conclusion.
Romans 7:21-25 I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. [That's what Mr. Armstrong was talking about.] For I delight in the law of God after the inward man. [I want to do what's right!] But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.
Paul admits that he delighted in God's law. He delighted in it tremendously. But, at the same time, he saw that he had human nature; and he had the carnal desire to do things his way. He saw sin working to bring him into captivity. But, in spite of all this, he looked on Jesus Christ to save him; and he doesn't let down.
The question you have to ask here was if the apostle Paul looked on Jesus Christ to save him, then what would he be held accountable for? Or did Paul now feel that he could sit back and coast? That's a good question, and it might be something that we might consider as a possibility.
I Corinthians 9 is an interesting chapter. It's a chapter where Paul talks about denying himself.
You can see in this chapter that Paul denied himself tithes for support from the Corinthians at this time. And some people use this chapter (which I use to prove that tithing is legal), they use it to show that tithing has been done away since Paul declined to take aid or help from those he was preaching to. I'm sure that he did that for a good reason. I don't know what the specific reason was; but maybe they had been taken advantage of by everybody who came to them. He said, "I'm not going to do this, that I might win them to Jesus Christ."
He also said, "I'm able to take a wife, and lead a wife around (like other ministers—like Peter). But I'm not going to do that either, even though I'd like a wife and a home and a family. But it's prudent that I teach and that I have time to do what Christ has sent me to do. Yes, I could take a wife. It would be legal in God's sight. But I'm not going to do it, because it would hinder the work." Then, in verses 20-23, we get the idea that Paul didn't have to have his way, or his position, every time.
I Corinthians 9:20 And unto the Jews I became a Jew...
In other words, he approached things from their viewpoint. "I made myself a servant unto all, that I might gain the more." In other words, "I didn't get myself up on my soap box. I just humbled myself to understand where they were coming from."
I Corinthians 9:20-23 ...that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; to them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law. To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak. ["I didn't puff myself up to my full two foot four inches and say, 'I know all about God, and you don't.' Rather I approached it from their viewpoint."] I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. And this I do for the gospel's sake, that I might be partaker thereof with you.
And then it comes to what he does. Did Paul sit on his lower exterior posterior and not do anything?
I Corinthians 9:24 Know you not that they which run in a race run all, but one receives the prize? So run, that you may obtain.
As Paul is talking here, the "games" were very popular—the Isthmian games, the Olympic games, the Pythian games. Athletes came from all over the known world, in that area, to compete. Paul contrasts their contending for the earthy crowns and contending for the Kingdom of God.
Paul states that they all run, but only one receives the prize. He isn't saying to us that we all run but only one is going to get a prize. He doesn't mean that those in the Christian faith are all going to run, but only one is going to obtain the prize. What he means is that we should all run to obtain the prize. We should run as if we see it right in front of us.
And to do this—to run the race to win—(Point 1) we should give ourselves completely to God. That means to come out of the world and complete give ourselves to God, which is what we should be doing anyway.
(2) We should be laying aside every weight, as it talks about in Hebrews 12. We are to lay aside the weigh that so easily besets us—or the sins that so easily beset us. Put them aside.
(3) We should not allow ourselves to be distracted by the world and thus be diverted from the racecourse—if you want to use the analogy. Don't allow this world—the way it does things, the way it markets life's actions—to get in your thoughts, to where you will be taken off the course.
(4) Keep the goal in sight. That's a dandy one! In a race, you must keep the finish line in sight. What's the old saying? "If you don't know where you are going, you're not going to get there." Study to learn to live correctly and to take on the nature of God.
(5) We should deny ourselves what is wrong in God's sight and what is not prudent, though perhaps legal. You can charge your credit cards up to the hilt and have that pressure on you. It might be legal, but it's foolish. And then finally—the most important one of all—
(6) we should keep our eyes fully on Jesus Christ as our example and strength.
I Corinthians 9:25 And every man that strives for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible [crown].
Here Paul shows the [needed] discipline and the abstinence of all things that might slow him down. He's not going to let that happen. When we consider the Olympic games today, young men and young women striving to get on the Olympic teams are up at three or four o'clock in the morning—seven days a week. They watch their diet. They exercise. They do everything that they can to get into the Olympic games—that they might be there to run, put the shot, tumble, or whatever it might be.
So, what Paul is alluding to is "Are we faithful in our training to reach the goal of the Kingdom of God? To win the race!" Are we getting up early in the morning, that we might get our Bible study and our prayer in? That we might win the crown! Are we ignoring temptations that would cause us to break training? He wants us to really think about it. So, was Paul sure that Jesus Christ would bring him through, thus he was just sitting around doing nothing? Not hardly!
I Corinthians 9:26 I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beats the air.
The apostle Paul knew what was required of him—what he was going to be held accountable for. He didn't just wave his arms around, pretending to be a fighter. He carefully planned strategy to be a winner in the race for the Kingdom of God, because he knew what God wanted.
I Corinthians 9:27 But I keep my body and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.
Do you know what this term "I keep" means? That is, when Paul here says, "I keep my body." It shows how seriously Paul took his calling. The term "I keep my body" means—when I want to do the wrong thing—I give myself a black eye. It means "I treat my body with a harshness, or severity, or cruelty." Paul really denied his carnal desires. And brought it into subjection means "I reduced my body to servitude, or slavery, to what God wants from me."
I might add here that 'what God wants from us' is good for us. Even though Paul knew that Jesus Christ would not let him fail, he didn't just give in to his body's desires. He said, "I put my body into subjection." The phrase is actually more properly used of a captured enemy soldier being forced into slavery. Paul said that he was going to try to make every possible effort to be sanctified in God's sight. He planned for a victory in every way that he could. And he points out that there's a real danger of being lost, if we let down. He gave of his all, to see to it that didn't happen.
Even though Paul had looked to Jesus Christ to save him, he still worked as hard as he could himself—to be approved. And that's what is expected of us. So the first area that we will be help accountable for is our diligence in working to overcome. That is a simple goal. You can decide how you are going to make it work.
If we were to stop here, we would think that the object of our calling is to only chastise ourselves —forcing our carnal side into complete submission to God's laws. But there is more that God is after than this, in each one of us.
Philippians 2:12-13 Wherefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which works in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.
Let me read you what Expositor's Commentary had to say about this: "Acknowledging Jesus Christ as our Lord obligates the believer to obey Him. Hence, working out salvation does not mean working for salvation but making your salvation operational." I tried to think of some examples. If you inherited a ceiling fan company; and you walked into the company, and all the lights were off. People were standing by the machines. The materials were all there. But the plant would just be standing still. It would produce nothing until the power was turned on. Then it could go ahead and produce.
That's what he is saying here. Make your salvation operational. Put into action what you have learned. Another example might be if you bought a model car kit—maybe an electric car that you could drive. If you built the kit, and you were careful to build it. But then it just sat there in your driveway, with the key in the ignition. If you climbed inside but didn't do a thing, the car is not operational. It doesn't do anything! It's just an art form, sitting in your driveway. To make it operational you have to turn the key, give the power to it, and drive off. That was the object of you making it in the first place.
John Ritenbaugh has often stated that we should exhibit what we have. Or, another way of putting it, we should live now as we will be living in the Kingdom of God. So now you are beginning to see the second point here.
That's what we are to put on!
Romans 12:2 And be not conformed to this world: but be you transformed by the renewing of your mind. . . .
The transformation is in the mind, but with this transformation goes action. Paul was urging the Philippians to pursue their Christian progress without their dependence on him, because he wasn't always going to be there. This isn't a new concept in the Church of God. Herbert W. Armstrong founded Ambassador College. Why? The students were there to recapture true values and to be an example to the world of how to live.
It says in Matthew 6 that we are to be lights on a hill of the right way of living, so that all can see and take notice. That's our responsibility! And when we are that way, something wonderful happens to us. (We'll touch on that in a moment.)
Philippians 3:20 For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Most of you recognize that when you read the word "conversation" in your Bibles it means conduct. In a sense, that meaning is here as well; but here it is a bit different. This word is found nowhere else in the Bible. Here the word means "public measure, administration of the state, the manner in which the affairs of the state are administered, the state itself, the community, commonwealth, those who are bound under the same laws and associated in the same society." The idea here is that we are heavenly citizens, or citizens of the heavenly world—which is contrasted to the physical world that we now live in. As citizens of God's world, we are to be governed by those laws and that way of living while we are here on the earth.
Brethren, what is God's overall purpose in working with us? Is it to give us eternal life, so He can make us kings and priests? Or is it to make us able to live with Him through all eternity as members of the God Family—with right habits, thinking, and character? When we've accomplished this, I assure you that they other will come. Unless we learn to make God's laws and teachings operational in our lives, will we be of any value to God? The answer is "No, absolutely not!"
Not only must we overcome sin, but also we must apply His way of living to ourselves—that we may be like Him. This is the second element that we will be held accountable for. As we work to change and live God's way, we set a fine example to the world around us. At the same time, a change is being worked in us! We are taking on the very character and nature of God by doing so. And God will judge us, at His return. There's no question about that.
Luke 12:32-33 Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell that you have, and give alms; provide yourselves bags which wax not old, a treasure in the heavens that fails not, where no thief approaches, neither moth corrupts.
In other words, what he is saying here is "By the way you live, make your calling operational." Put into effect the mercy, the kindness, the service, the gentleness, and the honesty—all those things that God counts as great treasure. That's your character, and that's what is going to be in the Kingdom of God, and that's what God looks for.
Luke 12:34 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
And in Matthew 16, it asks what you would swap, or trade, for the Kingdom of God? (This world?) I'll tell you, when the time comes for the resurrection we won't want to be anywhere else but there.
Luke 12:35 Let your loins be girded about, and your lights burning.
Be excited about your calling. Be diligent, determined, and ready—with your lights burning. That is, being awake to the times we live in and to the anticipation of the return of Jesus Christ. That's how we should be. We shouldn't be dragging our heads and saying, "Woe is me." (And we'll see why, at the conclusion of this sermon.)
Luke 12:36-37 And you yourselves like unto men that wait for their lord, when he will return from the wedding; that when he comes and knocks, they may open unto him immediately. Blessed are those servants, whom the lord when he comes shall find watching. Verily I say unto you, that he shall gird himself, and make them to sit down to meat, and will come forth and serve them.
Jesus Christ understands how difficult it is for each one of us. He understands about human nature. I called John Ritenbaugh one day, and I said, "You know, I'm fighting this terrible, terrible thing. It's been several years back, and I think I've told you this before; but I'm really having a terrible time with it." And he said, "Well, I'm glad you don't have my sins." And I wondered, "What sins could he have?" But everybody has human nature that wants to go its own way. Jesus Christ understands this. Thus, when He sees you doing what you should be doing, and He returns here as the Son of God—then the great God, who created the entire earth, is going to say, "Have a seat. I'm going to serve you." He is so proud of the effort that you put forth in the calling that you've been given.
Luke 12:38-44 And if he shall come in the second watch, or come in the third watch, and find them so, blessed are those servants. [Those who don't let down, who keep going.] And this know, that if the goodman of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched, and not have suffered his house to be broken through. Be you therefore ready also: for the Son of man comes at an hour when you think not. [We are to be ready and excited about the return of Jesus Christ.] Then Peter said unto Him, "Lord, speak you this parable unto us, or even to all?" And the Lord said, "Who then is that faithful and wise steward, whom his lord shall make ruler over his household, to give them their portion of meat in due season? Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he comes shall find so doing. Of a truth I say unto you, that he will make him ruler over all that he has.
Doing what? Working to overcome. Working to apply God's Word in how they live, in their life.
Then He paints the contrasting picture here. He said:
Luke 12:45-46 But and if that servant say in his heart, "My lord delays his coming;" and shall begin to beat the menservants and maidens, and to eat and drink, and be drunken; the lord of that servant will come in a day when he looks not for him, and at an hour when he is not aware, and will cut him in sunder, and will appoint him his portion with the unbelievers.
Jesus Christ isn't kidding. He gives us all the help we could possibly need; but we have our part.
Luke 12:47 And that servant, which knew his lord's will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes.
This servant knew his lord's will; but he chose to let down, and not do it. Brethren, those who knew what to do but let down and choose not to do it—they will be held accountable for their actions and greatly punished.
What is the great over-all standard that we will be held accountable to? Please turn to Matthew 22:36. They were always trying to trip up Jesus Christ, and a lawyer came to him and said:
Matthew 22:36-40 "Master, which is the great commandment in the law?" Jesus said unto him, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. [In Mark, it adds "with your strength"—with all your effort.] This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets."
In the entire Old Testament, this is the spirit of the law behind it. To love the Lord your God with all your heart means to love Him with all your faculties and your powers. That is, with every essence of our being. We are to love Him supremely more than any other beings or things, and with total commitment. That's the kind of love God wants and expects. Our affections are to be fixed upon Him more than anything else is—which is difficult in this world of glitter and all kinds of false promises.
We are to be willing to give up anything and everything, as He requests. (It's easy to read it, but hard to do it!) We are to love Him with all our soul, our life—meaning as well that we are to place our life in His hands, in service. We are to love Him with all of our mind, submitting our intellect to His will—to love His law and His teaching (and here's the hard part) more than the decisions of our own mind. Of course, this is where we have the problem. With all of our strength—as it says in Mark—means with all of our faculties. That is, to work (to labor) to His glory—and to set the right example.
And then, in verse 39, we are to love our neighbor as ourselves. Here comes the hard part. This can be where we find difficulties, brethren. We can love God. And we can look at His awesome creation and say, "Father, thank you for this beautiful creation." And we can love His Word, and see the logic in His law. But applying His Word in our lives as we deal with our fellowman—who have all the flaws that we find in ourselves—requires that we truly do have total love for God.
This is not an easy thing to do. This requires that we show love and respect to all mankind—as those created by God, no matter what their race—because some day they will be our brothers and sisters. This requires that we forgive from the heart and extend mercy to others, as it says in Matthew 18 (which is a good chapter to read). The last verse says that unless you forgive from the heart God will not forgive you. We must exhibit patience with each other. We must extend kindness and help to others in time of need. We must pull in our horns, and refrain from gossip and anything that would cause hurt. We must not take advantage of others in any way. Rather, we should give advantage to others.
We must be faithful and honest in business and work. We must be submissive to man's government, laws, and taxes. In other words, we must love others as we love ourselves. In working to do this, we change ever so slowly into the character of God the Father and Jesus Christ. By doing, we change. By not doing, we don't change. And if we don't change, there's no reason for God to save us.
So, let's go to Matthew 25. This gives the account of when the accounting takes place. Let's see how it's done and when the accounting takes place.
Matthew 25:14-19 For the kingdom of heaven is as a man traveling into a far country, who called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods. And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; to every man according to his several ability; and straightway he took his journey. Then he that had received the five talents went and traded with the same, and made them other five talents. And likewise he that had received two, he also gained other two. But he that had received one went and dug in the earth, and hid his lord's money. After a long time the lord of those servants came, and reckoned with them.
He had an accounting.
Matthew 25:20-25 And so he that had received five talents came and brought other five talents, saying, "Lord, you delivered unto me five talents. Behold, I have gained beside them five talents more." His lord said unto him, "Well done, you good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. [A reward.] Enter you into the joy of your lord." He also that had received two talents came and said, "Lord, you delivered unto me two talents. Behold, I have gained two other talents beside them." His lord said unto him, "Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a few things, I will make tee ruler over many things. Enter you into the joy of your lord." Then he which had received the one talent came and said, "Lord, I knew you that you are an hard man, reaping where you have not sown, and gathering where you have not strawed [or, put seed]. And I was afraid ["I was afraid to take the talent that you gave me and do something with it." Or, "I was too lazy."], and went and hid your talent in the earth. There you have that is yours."
He said, "Look. Look. Here's your talent back again."
Matthew 25:26-30 His lord answered and said unto him, "You wicked and slothful servant. You knew that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have not strawed [or, sown] You ought therefore to have put my money to the exchangers, and then at my coming I should have received mine own with usury [or, interest]. Take therefore the talent from him, and give it unto him which has ten talents. For unto everyone that has shall be given [more], and he shall have abundance. But from him that has not shall be taken away even that which he has. And cast you the unprofitable servant into outer darkness. There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth."
The parable starts out by showing that God, basically, deals with a man much as men deal with men today. A man goes away to a far country and he delivers his goods—and his instructions concerning those goods—to is servants, before he leaves. Upon returning, he has an accounting to see if his instructions have been followed and profits have been made.
In this case, the master was extremely honest and fair in giving his instructions to his men, in that he didn't hold everyone responsible to achieve the same growth. He only asked for what they could honestly accomplish! Thus no one could truly say that too much was required of him. As it applies to us today, none has an excuse for failure in what has been required of us.
The master was gone a long time; and, upon his return, he sits them down for an accounting of their efforts. Those who had the most to accomplish doubled what they'd been given. The one who had the least to accomplish did nothing. This doesn't mean that those who don't feel that they are very gifted and perhaps they only have one talent (and I think that probably fits all of us) are doomed to fail. This is just used to make the point in the parable. The one who only has one talent to double—and does double it—is going to please God tremendously by the effort that he put forth. There's no question about it. And he'll receive a wonderful reward for his effort.
But a question here: Did these people achieve their extra talents the first time, without any problems? Did they work to complete what they'd been told to do without failing a few times? I think they did fail, and probably many times, in trying to do what their lord had asked them to do. Like the rest of us, they strained to complete what their master asked of them—struggling, with difficulty. That is, with the difficulties of what they had to overcome.
It sounds so simple here; but, as it applies to us, we know that it isn't. But brethren, for those of us who overcome, there will be reward. For those who don't [overcome], who don't try and don't work at it, there will be failure and disaster.
For those who overcome sin—and, in doing so, work to live in this life as they would in the Kingdom of God—there are great, great rewards. I don't think that Revelation 2 and 3 (which you can read later) begin to touch on the awesomeness of what's in store for you in the Kingdom of God. I kid you not! Paul, in Philippians, says that you'll count it as "refuse"—the trials and the things that you had to go through here—because the comparison will be so gigantic.
So, for those of us in these end times (before those rewards are given out) and who still struggle with the self (as we all do) and the trials of this world, I would like to close with an encouraging message from the apostle Paul. All of you are trying with your level best to please God; and I think we all need encouragement from time to time. I'm going to read this in the Living Bible (a Bible that I don't often use), but it was put so beautifully.
II Thessalonians 1:3-12 (TLB) Dear brothers, giving thanks to God for you is not only the right thing to do, but it is our duty to God, because of the really wonderful way your faith has grown, and because of your growing love for each other. We are happy to tell other churches about your patience and complete faith in God, in spite of all the crushing troubles and hardships you are going through. This is only one example of the fair, just way God does things, for He is using your sufferings to make you ready for His kingdom, while at the same time He is preparing judgment and punishment for those who are hurting you. And so I would say to you who are suffering, God will give you rest along with us when the Lord Jesus appears suddenly from heaven in flaming fire [or, lightning] with His mighty angels, bringing judgment on those who do not wish to know God, and who refuse to accept His plan to save them through our Lord Jesus Christ. They will be punished in everlasting hell [punishment], forever separated from the Lord, never to see the glory of His power, when He comes to receive praise and admiration because of all He has done for His people, His saints. And you will be among those praising Him, because you have believed what we told you about Him. And so we keep on praying for you that our God will make you the kind of children He wants to have—will make you as good as you wish you could be!—rewarding your faith with His power. Then everyone will be praising the name of the Lord Jesus Christ because of the results they see in you; and your greatest glory will be that you belong to Him. [How? Because...] The tender mercy of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ has made all this possible for you.
So brethren, don't let down. Work to complete your calling. Overcome, and live the life that you were called to live.
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