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JP walks us through the first half of Acts 21, showing us that true courage comes from love, and that what we love will impact our behavior. Love gives us courage to do three things: stay on mission, lose our lives, and become all things to all people. What do you love?
Acts 2018 and Beyond
From Acts 28 to Ad 2018: This Is No Fable
Sailing in the Storm
The Evidence of a Relationship
The True Story of Paul Can Be True of You: Passion, Providence and Peace
Calm in the Midst of Crisis
Courage That Comes From Love
Hello, Watermark! I'm excited to be in Acts 21 with you today. I want to welcome our friends in Plano and Fort Worth. I'm excited to dive in, so I'll start just by telling you about a speaking engagement I had last week. It was at my daughter's school. I was the mystery reader. Has anybody done this? You show up and knock on the door, and they don't know who's going to be there. They bring you into the classroom, and you read a book to them.
It was terrifying. Just stepping into school still brings back all kinds of insecurities for me. Not to mention, just reading in the classroom. I hated that exercise always, and now I'm volunteering to do it. I'm not sure why. Then, after you read to them, they can ask you questions. Any questions. Personal questions. This is a scary thing for me, because I don't know what they're going to ask.
What do I do if they ask, "Where do babies come from?" I don't know. With the first question, a young man raises his hand, and he says, "What's your favorite Disney movie?" Oh, man! My favorite Disney movie is a tough one. I responded like this. I looked at him and said, "Aren't they all the same?" He says, "What do you mean?"
I said, "Well, think about it. Don't they have the same plot? There's a curse in the land. There's an evil force like some evil stepmother or a witch or a mom who keeps you in a tower unless you let down your hair. There is some kind of evil out there and a curse on the land. Then, there is some courageous act motivated by love to save the people. Over and over and over. Right?"
I'm asking them, "Right, guys? Isn't this the same movie we're watching over and over? It's the princess and the frog or whatever it is. Is it not the same thing?" He's like, "They're not all the same!" I'm like, "I've got two daughters. I've seen Frozen at least six or seven…thousand times." I'm trying to let it go. I don't want to build a snowman. I understand love is an open door.
Here's the deal. Just think about this for a moment. You have Elsa and Anna, and Hans is about to slay Elsa, and Anna is about to get her true love's kiss from Kristoff, but she forgoes it to save her sister and puts herself in harm's way. Then, she struck in her sister's place, and the curse in the land is lifted. Does this sound familiar? It should sound familiar because it's also the plot in Sleeping Beauty and Snow White and Big Hero 6. Do you remember the robot thing shoots his arm and saves?
Am I the only one enduring these with my children? The Iron Giant. Let's move off Disney to The Hunger Games. "I volunteer as tribute." Katniss steps in to save her sister, Primrose. Just to work in a little testosterone, Braveheart. Yeah? The same plot! Harry Potter. I could go on and on and on.
Why does this resonate with us? Because it's the story we live in. It's written on our hearts. Today, I want to talk about a courage that comes from love, and when we see this, it resonates deep within us. It's appropriate to talk about a courage that comes from love on a weekend when we celebrate those who have left the comfort of their homes to fight wars for our freedom. Can we applaud our veterans for a moment?
When you see a courage that comes from love, it is moving. I think so many of us struggle in the Christian life because we know there is this life we're supposed to live because we know Christ, but we just struggle. We get out there, and we know we're supposed to be courageous, and we know we're supposed to engage the lost, but it just stresses us out.
We can focus on, "What do I need to do? What do I need to do? What do I need to do?" and just add things to our lives that feel hectic and hard, but I'm telling you and I'm pleading with you today that, if you get the love piece right, the courage will pour out of it. If you love those around you, the courage will come more naturally.
Paul is going to demonstrate that for us today on his third missionary journey. He's winding it down. He's crossing the finish line back into Jerusalem, and this brother has been risking his life for the sake of the gospel. He has a bounty on his head. He has been flogged. He has been in prison. He is going to be shipwrecked and snakebitten. He's constantly putting himself in harm's way for the sake of the gospel. Where does this courage come from?
I'd argue with you it comes from him loving God and loving people, and the byproduct is a courage we see and are moved by. The Christian church has been moving forward on a courage fueled by love since AD 33. As we move through this text in Acts 21, I want to show you that love gives you a courage to stay on mission, love gives you the courage to lose your life, and love gives you the courage to become all things to all people. Love impacts your behavior. Is this true? When you love something, you change what you do.
When I once fell in love with one Monica Rubin, now Monica Pokluda, I met her, I learned about her, and I studied her. I began to change what I did during the day to focus on her. I learned that she loved a white chocolate mousse froyo from TCBY with Heath Bar on top. I had never been to TCBY, and all of a sudden, I found myself there every other day purchasing this cup of frozen yogurt and dropping it off at her work. I worked it into my day because there was an object of my affection.
If you love coffee, you figure out how to get it at all costs. If you love your children, you know you make incredible sacrifices for them and would display incredible amounts of courage to protect them and to save them, because love impacts your behavior. I had a friend read Acts 21 with me. I said, "What do you see there?"
He read it and looked up and said, "I'm sorry you got that text." I was talking with Todd about it just yesterday, and we laughed. It's a tough text, but that's fun for us, honestly, to read and say, "God, what do you have for the church at Watermark from this text?" That's a really fun assignment.
Last week, we read there was a pastors' conference at Miletus with the Ephesian church, and Paul is going to leave there here in verse 1. "After we had torn ourselves away from them, we put out to sea and sailed straight to Kos. The next day we went to Rhodes…" Where the Colossus of Rhodes fell 200 years before he got there (one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World).
"…and from there to Patara. We found a ship crossing over to Phoenicia, went on board and set sail. After sighting Cyprus and passing to the south of it, we sailed on to Syria. We landed at Tyre, where our ship was to unload its cargo." Here's what is going on here. Picture it. He's just hitchhiking around the Aegean Sea on cargo ships. If you read this, it's like he's bouncing back and forth. I'll show you in a minute that he's not, but he's just hitchhiking along cargo ships. Whatever their path is, he jumps on, and he's traveling there (Paul and the crew).
"We sought out the disciples there and stayed with them seven days. Through the Spirit they urged Paul not to go on to Jerusalem. When it was time to leave, we left and continued on our way." This is what you call an interpretive challenge, because people ask, "Was Paul disobedient to the Spirit?" It says, "Through the Spirit we (the church)…"
He gets there. He finds the brothers and sisters. He gathers them, and they say, "Don't go to Jerusalem." It says, "Through the Spirit…" but he goes anyway. Why? Is Paul disobedient to the Spirit? This is a question you should ask when you read this. Let me show you two verses, one in Acts 20, verse 16. We see he's in a hurry to reach Jerusalem, if possible, by the Day of Pentecost.
Paul is going to Jerusalem. You might say, "Yeah. He's operating by the flesh. He wants to be there," but in verse 22, it says, "And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me…" Here's what I believe. Commentaries are on both sides of the fence here. I will give you my best understanding of this text.
I believe the Holy Spirit showed the church there what was going to happen to Paul. In the flesh, they begged him not to go. Through the Spirit, they had an understanding of what was going to happen to him, and because they loved him, they pleaded with him, "Please, don't go!" "All of them, including wives and children, accompanied us out of the city, and there on the beach we knelt to pray. After saying goodbye to each other, we went aboard the ship, and they returned home."
You see this deep love for one another in the first-century church. He barely knew these people. He had just gotten there a few days earlier. They're gathering around. They're loving each other. They're on their knees praying. Why? Because they need God. They're on mission. They know Paul has a bounty on his head. They're like, "Please, protect him!" It's a deep display of love.
"We continued our voyage from Tyre and landed at Ptolemais, where we greeted the brothers and sisters and stayed with them for a day."If you read this without looking at a map, you're thinking he may be just bouncing around sharing the gospel at different places. He's not. He's rounding the track. He just rounded the fourth curve, and he's headed home toward Jerusalem.
Let me show you on a map. Follow with me here. He goes from Kos to Rhodes, from Rhodes to Patara, from Patara to Phoenicia, from Phoenicia to Cyprus, from Cyprus to Syria, from Syria to Tyre, and from Tyre to Ptolemais. He's being hunted. They beg him not to go. It would have been the easiest thing in the world for him to stay either there in Miletus with the Ephesian elders or here with the Christian church when they beg him not to go, but he says, "No! I'm on a mission. I have to keep going, guys. I have to keep pressing forward."
1 . Love gives you the courage to stay on mission. We're talking about courage motivated by love. Love gives you the courage to stay on mission. When you love God and you love people, you're focused on God. "What people do you have for me to love?" Here's my simple question for you, and I want you to answer in your hearts and minds.
When was the last time you went somewhere for the purpose of sharing the gospel? When was the last time, before you got out of your car you thought, "I'm going in here to this grocery store or this barber shop or beauty salon or to my kids' school, and I am on mission"? "I am here under the sovereignty of God for the primary purpose of being here is not the errand I'm running, but it's to share the gospel."
Everywhere these heroes of the faith go who we're watching, they are serving two purposes. They are strengthening the church. They're finding believers and encouraging them in the Lord and strengthening, and they're finding unbelievers (those who have not yet submitted to Christ) and they're sharing with them.
I'm asking you, "Friends, what if life is that simple?" What if your existence is that simple that your primary motivation for going from place to place and doing all the things you do is to find believers and strengthen them and to find unbelievers and share with them? What if that's what life is all about? What if that's why you're here? What if that's why God saved you and left you here? What if that is to be our primary focus?
You may not be called like Paul to go somewhere else, but I want to remind you how…in Acts 17 we talked about this…God has determined our boundaries ahead of time. He has determined the time and the space that we live in. In Ephesians 2:10, we are his masterpiece created in Christ Jesus to walk in good works which he has prepared in advance for us to walk in. God has us on mission.
Last week, I had the opportunity to go to New York with my friends, Shane & Shane, who were singing at the Brooklyn Tabernacle. Because it was just a 20-hour, quick trip and because I was not hiding sin and because I was not going for any sinful reasons and I believe in the sovereignty of God, I believe the Lord had me in New York on mission.
There is a renewing of my mind that has to happen. "Father, what do you have me here for?" We land. We get in our Uber car, and our driver's name was Muhammad. About 30 minutes to the hotel, I said, "Muhammad, do you have a faith?"
"Yes. I'm a Shiite Sunni Muslim. I attend mosque."
"Do you have a mosque you attend? Do you have a place of worship?" I'm asking, "What do you believe? Do you know what Christians believe?" "Yes. Christians believe that you follow Jesus and do good works in his name." I said, "That is true and incomplete."
I talked about how he believes that he is working his way up to his god, and we believe that our God came here to save us. He came to this world to save us. At the end of this race, we have an option. When we face God the Creator, we can turn in a test paper of our works. We can say, "Here's what I did," or we can turn in Jesus' test and say, "Here's what he did." He said, "That's not fair!" That's what he said.
At least he understands. Right? At least I'm clear, because it's not fair. "You're right." He said, "My kids would never be able to turn in a test of someone else and collect a grade for it. That would not be fair." I said, "You're right! It wouldn't be fair, but if they could and that person aced the test, they'd be foolish not to." We got to talk about Jesus. We got to the hotel room. We went to bed. We woke up the next morning. We got in a car. A man by the name of Mel picked us up. "Mel, do you have a faith?"
"I was raised Catholic."
"Do you still attend mass?"
"I do not. I haven't for about eight years."
"Work. Life is busy."
"I see. Can I ask you two questions, Mel?"
"They're going to be crazy questions, Mel."
"Between one and 10 with 10 being certain and one being not so sure, if you died today how certain are you that you would go to heaven?"
"I'm a seven."
"The next question… If you stood before God and he said, 'Mel, why should I let you in?' what would you say?" "I'd say, 'Because I've been good. I tried to be a good father and a good husband. I work hard.'" I said, "Mel, you won't believe it. Somebody asked me those two questions 16 years ago, and I said, 'A seven and because I've tried to be good.' Then, I opened the Bible and saw Ephesians 2:8 and 9, and 1 John 5:11-13, and I saw it's by Christ's work that I'm saved, and I can know, and I can be certain.'"
We went to the Brooklyn Tab. The boys sang their hearts out. Then, I had to get back to the airport. One Uber driver named Alex picked us up right in the middle of the New York Marathon. It was a nightmare, so I had a lot of time with him, but he was a very hard nut to crack. He was not having the conversation, but the Lord was gracious to eventually allow us to talk about Christ. I got on the plane and sat next to a young woman who was Hindu and got to share God's amazing work through all of you.
It's a mission trip everywhere we go. It's a mission trip. I don't always pass the test. I get caught up in the errands I'm running in the day to day in life and the focus of the challenges in front of me, but everywhere you go is a mission trip. Mattito's after the service is going to be a mission trip. Starbucks tomorrow is a mission trip. Your kids' school is a mission trip.
Work every single day is a mission trip. That security guard you walk by every single day is a soul. That is someone God created in his image who is going to spend eternity somewhere (heaven or hell). You walk by them every single day. You're like, "To engage them would take courage!" It sure would, but before it takes courage it would take love.
If you love that person and if you begin to care for that person and you see someone who God loves who in his sovereignty he has you in this place, you will behave differently. Ask God, "Who do I love? Who should I love? Who do you love, God? Help me to care for them." Some of you literally need to get on a plane because I taught Paul's example here.
Others will need to move into neighborhoods where you will be on mission. Most of us will just need to be faithful where we already are and begin to see God's hand in that. When you're talking about missions, you may ask, "Is it safe?" If God has called you to go, it is not safe to stay. If God has called you to move, it is not safe to stay.
Verse 8: "Leaving the next day, we reached Caesarea and stayed at the house of Philip the evangelist, one of the Seven." He's one of the seven deacons chosen and outlined for us in Acts 6. "He had four unmarried daughters who prophesied." Just a little aside here. This is the only mention in the Bible of his four daughters. They have two gifts. One is the gift of prophesy. The second is the gift of singleness.
Jesus talks about in Matthew 19, how some are single for the sake of the kingdom. These young women remained this way. They are well-noted in church history. They lived a long time, and they did incredible works. If you're here and you're a single young woman, allow this to be an example to you. These young women did incredible work for the sake of Christ here.
I spend a lot of time with young adults, and I will tell you when you hit the age of about 20 or 25 you want to get married. You're thinking about marriage if you're a young woman a lot of times. These young women set aside their greatest desire to serve for the sake of the kingdom, and I think that's really noble, and Jesus thinks it's really noble as well.
"After we had been there a number of days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. Coming over to us, he took Paul's belt, tied his own hands and feet with it and said, 'The Holy Spirit says, "In this way the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem will bind the owner of this belt and will hand him over to the Gentiles."'"
This is Agabus who predicted a famine in Acts, chapter 11. He's a Jewish prophet. The way the Old Testament prophets would work is they would often use props. They wouldn't just say things. They were kind of like the Carrot Top of the first century, if you will. They're sitting there and saying things using props. He goes up to Paul and starts unwrapping his belt, which would have been like a rope. I would be like, "Dude, what are you doing?" He's just unwrapping the belt. Then, he takes it and ties himself up in front of everybody.
He says, "Do you see this? This is going to be you!" I would be like, "Why didn't you just tell me?" Anyway, verse 12: "When we heard this, we and the people there pleaded with Paul not to go up to Jerusalem." Again, people were saying, "Don't go! Don't go! Don't go!" "Then Paul answered, 'Why are you weeping and breaking my heart? I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.'"
Do you see why I say courage is motivated by love? "'I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.' When he would not be dissuaded, we gave up and said, 'The Lord's will be done.'" So be it. "I am ready to be tied. I am ready to be killed. I want to know Christ and the fellowship of his sufferings. I will suffer like him in life, and I will suffer like him in death, for to me to live is Christ and to die is gain.
If I'm going to live, I will live for Christ and for the purpose of sharing Christ and being on mission for Christ, but if I die, I win. At any moment if my heart stops beating, I wake up in glory and receive an inheritance in full. So be it. I'm not afraid to die or to be bound up. I have a mission and a work to do." As Todd said last week well, one of the things promised to us as Christians is that we will suffer, so the second point from this text is…
2 . Love gives you the courage to lose your life. You might even add that love gives you the courage to use your life like Philip's daughters, to understand the gifts that have been entrusted to you and use them and leverage them for the sake of the kingdom. Love gives you the courage to lose your life. Would you risk your life for someone you love? Who do you love? Who are you called to love?
When one Devin Kelley breaches the doors of First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs with an assault rifle and 450 rounds of ammunition and began shooting, mother Joann Ward threw her 9-year-old to the ground and grabbed her other three kids and laid on top of them like a human shield. As Devin shot through her, killing her and three of her children, she saved her 5-year-old son, Ryland. Even though he was shot five times, she saved his life being a human shield on top of him.
Why did she do that? I'm asking not rhetorically. In one word, why did she do that? Why did this mother cover her children as a human shield in an effort to save their lives? In one word, I'm asking. Because she loved them. When you love something or someone with that intensity, there is no choice in the matter. You react. You move. You do something. What mother wouldn't?
I think a lot of us think about Paul's words. "I'm ready to die." If ISIS puts a knife to my neck and says, "Deny Jesus," I'm going to pass the test. I'm going to make the right choice in that moment. I think, for so many of us, that's a lot easier than to live for Christ, than to have the courage to engage the lost, than to have the courage to live on mission, than to have the courage to be a light in your community and in your neighborhood and to reach out to your neighbors.
You think, "If I have to die in a moment, I'll do it," but what about tomorrow and the 24 hours entrusted to you there and the living? What about the living? Jesus says in Mark 8, verse 34, " Whoever wants to be my disciple…"Does anybody want to be Jesus' disciple? I'm in on that. I'd like some of that.
"Whoever wants to be my disciple…" What, Jesus? What must I do? "…must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it." What does it mean to deny yourself?
Here's what it doesn't mean. It doesn't mean to sit as comfortably as you can, to feed as many preferences as you can, and to make decisions of self-worship so that at the end of this race you have done nothing that essentially matters or has any significance in eternity. It doesn't mean that.
Many of us won't have the privilege of dying for our faith, but today we have the privilege of living for our faith. Sometimes you have to get some of what the Lord is teaching me. I just keep tripping over this verse (James 4:17). It's in the Bible. Lest you feel like I'm being heavy-handed, it's just the Word of God. I'm just going to read the verse. "** If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn't do it, it is sin for them."**
I think the practice of daily dying to self is to say what they said to Paul when they couldn't dissuade him. They just said, "Thy will be done. May the Lord's will be done." In verse 14, "Thy will be done." C.S. Lewis said it like this. "There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, 'Thy will be done,' and those to whom God says in the end, 'No. Thy will be done.'" Paul has courage to share the gospel motivated by love. He understands the costs. He understands what is at stake. He's willing to lose his life.
Humor me for a moment. It kind of removes all of our excuses, right? One thing that ministers to me is just to think about the conversation with Paul like a phone call. "JP, how are you doing down there in Dallas? Are you getting after it? Are you sharing the gospel?"
"Paul, it's really hard! It's hard."
"I know it's hard, brother."
"Yeah! It's uncomfortable. It's really uncomfortable."
"I know. Is it the stocks? Is it the thing they put your head and your hands in? You're there and you can't get out and it hurts your ankles."
"No, Paul. It's not the stocks."
"Don't tell me they put the lions on you. Are they getting the Christians with the lions again? I remember hearing about my brothers and sisters when they were unleashing lions."
"No, Paul. It's not the lions."
"Are you being whipped and flogged?"
"No. Not yet. No whips. No flogs, whatever that is."
"Is it just prison in general? It is uncomfortable, JP. It is uncomfortable just to be put in prison. There is no pillow. It's uncomfortable."
"No. It's not even the prison either."
"Bro, what is it? Is it something new? I hadn't thought of something even more wicked or more terrible. What's going on to the brothers and sisters there?"
"It's just awkward."
"Like, lions awkward?"
"No. No lions."
"After this, we started on our way up to Jerusalem. Some of the disciples from Caesarea accompanied us and brought us to the home of Mnason, where we were to stay. He was a man from Cyprus and one of the early disciples." The brothers from Caesarea are protecting Paul. There is a bounty on his head. He's moving to Jewish territory now.
The Jews are pretty upset at this guy who has converted to Christianity and is converting many Jews, so they're protecting him. They take him to the house of this man Mnason, who has believed for a long time. He's one of the first disciples. In this culture, you'd sit at the feet of wisdom. You would find someone older and wiser than you, and you would stay with them. You'd ask them questions. This is what I believe is going on here.
" When we arrived at Jerusalem, the brothers and sisters received us warmly. The next day Paul and the rest of us went to see James…" This is Jesus' brother, James."…and all the elders were present."Paul and these guys are hanging out with James and the elders there in Jerusalem.
"Paul greeted them and reported in detail what God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry." You can picture what's going on. Paul is coming back. They hadn't seen him in a while. They're like, "What's up, man? How are you doing? Tell us! What is God doing?"
"You won't believe it. We were in Philippi. It was crazy because we got arrested. It was me and Silas. They whipped and flogged us. Then, they put us in prison." They were like, "What did you do?"
"We sang, and we prayed."
"You sang? Okay. Then, what happened?"
"What? An earthquake?"
"Yeah! God just started shaking things up, and the prison broke open."
"Did you get out?"
"No. We stayed put."
"Well, the prison guard came, and he had a knife."
"Was he going to get you?"
"No. He was actually going to kill himself."
"What did you do?"
"We talked him out of it. We told him about Jesus. He trusted Christ."
"I'm serious." Silas was serious. "Then what?"
"He got baptized. His whole family got baptized. He's one of the pastors there in Philippi. He's just killing it."
"What? Praise God!" He just went on and on and on. "Let me tell you what else. Let me tell you what else."
"When they heard this, they praised God." That's appropriate. Then, it gets weird. "Then they said to Paul: 'You see, brother…'" This is the elders talking to Paul. "You see, brother, how many thousands of Jews have believed, and all of them are zealous for the law." That's what they know. That's what they grew up in. They memorized the Torah. They're all about Moses.
"They have been informed that you teach all the Jews who live among the Gentiles to turn away from Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or live according to our customs. What shall we do? They will certainly hear that you have come, so do what we tell you. There are four men with us who have made a vow. Take these men, join in their purification rites and pay their expenses, so that they can have their heads shaved."
"Do what they do. Pay for their haircut." "Then everyone will know there is no truth in these reports about you, but that you yourself are living in obedience to the law. As for the Gentile believers, we have written to them our decision that they should…" This verse 25 is important. It's all important, by the way.
"As for the Gentile believers, we have written to them our decision that they should abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality." If you've been with us in Acts, you remember when that letter was written. Here's what's going on.
The Jerusalem Council was eight years earlier. At the Jerusalem Council, what was determined was that Gentile converts did not have to be circumcised or follow the Mosaic law. It was not determined whether Jewish converts should. Here they are. You have these Jewish converts who are still very much all about the Law and Paul is coming into Jerusalem, and they're just saying, "They're not going to listen to you because they think you've lost your mind and are throwing Moses and the Law out the window."
Now, Paul's view of the Law is that you are not saved by it. It is not necessary. He has already written Galatians. The whole book is essentially addressing this issue. He has written 1 and 2 Corinthians, and the ink is still wet on Romans as he comes into Jerusalem here in AD 57, and they're saying, "Can you just shave your head and go along with the Law?" He's like, "I don't need to."
Actually, it says, "The next day Paul took the men and purified himself along with them. Then he went to the temple to give notice of the date when the days of purification would end and the offering would be made for each of them." Interesting. He does it. He does what they ask him to do. You ask, "Why?" A fantastic commentary on this passage was actually written a few years right before it happened by Paul himself, so let me just read it to you. It's going to make complete sense. Are you ready? It's 1 Corinthians 9, verses 19 through 23.
"Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law."
Do you see that? "To those under the law I became like one under the law…so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God's law but am under Christ's law)…" What does that mean? "I don't follow the Ten Commandments. I follow Christ who leads me through the Ten Commandments. I follow the Holy Spirit now who lives in me and shows me God's will."
"…so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings." Paul, not under the Old Testament law but under the law of grace and under Christ's law, is following Christ.
He has the Holy Spirit who is with him and who is influencing us and who is leading us and who is who we are surrendering to and is showing us God's will. Paul is doing this, but he says, "To win those under the law I'll become like one under the law."
3 . Love gives you the courage to become all things to all people. Said otherwise, it gives you the courage to not be a jerk. Do you know what I mean? It's to not just be so focused on our differences that you have no voice, but you find common ground. You find a place to build rapport and point to Jesus.
When I'm going into my daughter's school, I'm not handing out tracts and carrying the jam box blasting Shane & Shane. "Hey!" I'm just walking down the hallways in the public school. That's not what I'm doing. I'm not there protesting. I'm not carrying a picket sign saying, "Put Jesus back." I am being the hands and feet of Christ inside that school, loving as much as I can, serving with as much excellence as humanly possible, or at least that's possible for me, so that they might say, "There's something different about that guy. He's a Jesus follower."
Don't hear me say, "Don't be bold." The whole passage is about being bold. The whole sermon is about being bold. Every chance you get engage and share, but do so effectively. Chuck Colson would say winsome engagement. With that said, you never to choose to sin in hopes to win someone over. You don't dishonor God in an attempt to honor him.
Here's the deal. Is there anything wrong with following the law? It depends on why. Is there anything wrong with being circumcised? It depends on why. If you do anything other than trust in Christ for salvation, that's problematic. If I have a quiet time thinking it's going to save me, that's problematic, but if I have a quiet time because I want to know God, that's great.
It's all about the why. The point is you don't have to be obnoxious to be bold, but, honestly, most of us just need help being bold. We need help with the courage that comes from love. In sales, we would call it when you meet someone to build rapport or find common ground and focus on that. I told you about the last Uber driver.
His name was Alex. I requested an Uber. I don't know if you've done this before. It said he was six minutes away. Ten minutes later, it says he's still six minutes away. I call him. There were lots of expletives with the New York traffic and the New York Marathon. Roads were closed. I just said, "I'm going to start walking to you." I found him. Eventually, I got into his car. He won't even look at me. He's staring out the window talking to himself, using lots of F-words. I think he might be high.
I get in, and I'm like, "Okay. There's an opportunity," but I was failing. "How are you doing?" Crickets… "Good." I'm talking. He's talking to the window. I'm trying to talk to him, and I'm like, "This isn't going to happen." This 15-minute drive ends up being about an hour. I'm about to miss my flight. Praise God it was delayed!
We were talking, and I said, "Where are you from? Just tell me where you're from." He said, "I'm from Haiti." I said, "Where in Haiti?" He said, "Port-au-Prince." I said, "I've been there many times." He turned from the window, and he looked at me. He was like, "Get the eff out of here." I'm like, "No! It's true."
I said, "I've been there many times." He said, "For business?" I said, "No." He said, "Are you a priest?" I said, "Kind of." Then, we just started talking about Port-au-Prince. The dude just opened up. God just moved in that car. He was telling me about his alcohol problem and how he's trying to divorce his wife to marry this other woman so she can have citizenship, but his wife is not being very understanding, and he couldn't understand why. I was like, "Man! Marriage counseling. Let's go!"
We just started talking, and I just started sharing with him what we believe. Then, there was this long silence. This guy who was just so hard breaks the silence with, "What do I need to do? I'm tired. What do I need to do?" I said, "It's going to be so much different than you think." He said, "What do you mean?"
I said, "Listen. You kind of already started. You're a sinner. I'm a sinner. We're sinners. We've been running from God. Think about all of the things God has told us and commanded us and asked us to do so we'd find life. We've just been running from him. Start there. Acknowledge that he sent Jesus Christ on the cross. You've seen the cross. That happened for you and me. The reason that happened was to pay for the things you were telling me about. God raised Jesus from the dead and gives us life."
He and I prayed right there. It was amazing. I got out. On the Uber receipt, I just wrote, "Today is your day. Jesus, I know you died for me, and you came back from the grave. I'm sorry for the things I've done. Help me to live for you." I just wrote out that prayer we had just prayed together right before that.
It just starts with going in. Incarnational ministry is messy. You have to take a step. It's messy. Everyone here who is hearing this message right now can do something. You can do something today. It's something really small. It's not the marathon itself. It's just a step. You can go to watermark.org/go. Every person before the sun sets today, go to watermark.org/go. Before you leave, you can pick up a box. You can go into our ministry partners and help them do incarnational ministry in the city. All of you can do that. All of us can do that.
I would tell you it is messy. It is messy to stay on mission. It is messy to be willing to lose your life daily and say, "Thy will be done." It is messy to enter into someone's world and to get their troubles and struggles on you. To get in there with it I don't mean you participate in it, but you're willing to listen and to help them out of it and give them some hand-holds.
I want to end with an example of someone who did this well. They went. They took a risk, and they became. It's a man named Father Damien. He was a priest. I'm just going to read it to you. He was a priest who became famous for his willingness to serve lepers. He moved to a village on the island of Molokai in Hawaii that had been quarantined to serve as a leper colony. There is a quarantined village on this island where lepers lived.
"For 16 years he lived in their midst. He learned to speak their language. He bandaged their wounds and embraced their bodies that no one else would touch. He preached to hearts that otherwise would have been left alone. He organized schools, bands, and choirs. He built homes so the lepers could have shelter. He built 2,000 coffins by hand so that when they died they could be buried with dignity. Slowly, it was said that Kalawao became a place to live rather than a place to die, for Father Damian offered hope.
Father Damian was not careful about keeping his distance. He did not separate himself from his people. He dipped his fingers in their soup bowl among the patients. He shared his pipe. He did not always wash his hands after bandaging open sores. He got close, and for this, the people loved him.
Then, one day they stood up, and he began his sermon with two words: We lepers… He was now one of them. He was not just helping them. He was now one of them. From this day forward, he wasn't just on their island; he was in their skin. First, he had chosen to live as they lived. Now, he would die as they died. Now, they were in it together."
One day, Jesus came to the earth, and he starts his sermon with, "We lepers." God the Creator of the heavens and the earth was sent on mission to save you. He came here. He put on skin, flesh, bones, and muscle. He lived on this earth, and he would die. In fact, he was going into Jerusalem. The parallels in this passage are outstanding. Some of the Greek phrases are exactly the same from the gospel.
He sat there. They said, "The Son of Man will be handed over and be bound and be crucified." They said, "You can't go. Don't go." He said, "Get behind me. I must." Then, in the garden, he said, "Let this cup pass from me. Is there any other way? Not my will, but thy will." Then, he went and was arrested. It goes on. He died, but not just a human death like Paul would die. He died for us. He died in our place. He defeated death. He defeated the grave. He rose back to life, not just showing us how to live but giving us the power to do it with his Holy Spirit.
It was the greatest act of courage motivated by love the world has ever seen. It's why we gather today. It was the greatest act of courage the world has ever seen. If you understand it was courage motivated by love, what do we do? We go and do the same. "Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends."
You may not have the privilege to die for your faith today. That's not the application. It's to live for your faith today and have the courage to stay on mission and seek those who don't know Christ and to have the courage to lose your life so that you might appropriately serve others in Jesus' name and have the courage to meet people where they are even if it costs you your comforts, but to do all of this in the name of love and because of love. Let me pray for us that we would.
Father, would you help us do just that? Thank you for your grace and mercy at work in our lives. Thank you for the example you've given us in Paul. Father, now as we go to you in worship by way of song, Lord, would you stir our hearts around those in our path you have for us to love? Would you help us do that?
Help us not to live meaningless lives in the world, but help us to live meaningful lives in eternity. God, help us to stay on mission. Help us to be willing daily to give up our lives for your sake. Help us to become all things to all people, as we need to meet those on our paths where they are and to share your truth. In the name of Jesus, amen.