The Gift Of SignificanceErwin W. Lutzer | May 6, 2007
Selected highlights from this sermon
People crave significance. We look for it everywhere. Possessions, fame, and attractiveness promise it, but only God can meet this need.
When we are a part of God’s church, He confers significance onto us, and as a part of His body, we matter to others. We even matter to the lost because we can offer them the good news of Christ.
We are born seeking significance. We want to mean something to somebody and we want meaning in our own lives. We will do anything that we possibly can to matter to somebody else. If you are born in a dysfunctional home you have a disadvantage because your family is supposed to reflect back to you that you have value and self worth, that you can amount to something and that you are important. If you came from a home where there is abuse and alcoholism you have an added strike against you in terms of your search for significance. You may feel you are entirely insignificant and have no hope at all of significance.
Yet even if you came from a good home you have the same problem. Due to sin in our lives we have an issue that is very important that we do not want to reveal to anyone. We think to ourselves, “If people knew who I really was they would reject me and I wouldn’t have any friends.”
So what we do is we begin to search for significance. For some people significance is what you own. Some people put all of their energy into making money - more than they could possibly spend - because that is their sense of significance. They buy a new car and then want others to be impressed. I remember a man who said, “I bought this car to impress the neighbor. I drove into my driveway and he was mowing his lawn and he never even looked up. I wanted to say to him, ‘I am significant. Look at this jalopy I just bought.’”
There are other people who gain significance based on who they know so they pursue famous or well known people. They become socialites because that is what is significant in their lives.
There is also in our society something that is devastating to millions of teenagers, namely an emphasis on sexual attraction. The way in which you gain significance is by your appearance. If you appear right and attract the right people and you can use your body for certain purposes of attraction, why then you have indeed achieved significance!
The bottom line is this: the world says that the way in which I achieve significance is to make much of myself and hope that others will make much of me. If people make much of me then I will have my significance.” I can assure you that at the end of the day that route is hollow and empty and leads to deep dissatisfaction and an eternal unfilled longing.
This is a series of messages entitled, “What Moody Church has to offer the city of Chicago.” We have already talked about the gift of hope and the gift of belonging and today we will talk about the gift of significance. What we can say to the city of Chicago is overwhelmingly blessed and wonderful. It’s not that we can confer significance on anyone, but we know the message that can.
What I’ve decided to do today is to preach on three passages of scripture. Today will be a very simple message. I’ve always prayed that the Lord would keep me simple and some members of my staff think he has overdone it. We are going to be simple today, we are going to be clear, and we are going to be life transforming. It is my responsibility to speak and it is your responsibility to listen and I pray to God that we shall end at the same time.
Turn in your Bibles to the fourth chapter of John. You know this story well because you have heard it preached here before at the church. I have preached on this passage and a missionary recently preached on it as well. I want to look at it just a little differently today.
We all know the story of the woman at the well. She comes to the well at noon and she meets Jesus. Jesus interacts with her regarding living water and she misunderstands him, but it is his way of getting her attention.
It says in chapter four, verse sixteen, “Jesus said to her, ‘Go, call your husband, and come here.’ The woman answered him, ‘I have no husband.’ Jesus answered her, ‘You are right in saying, “I have no husband”; for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.’” He says, “You are right in saying you don’t have a husband because you are not married to this guy.”
The woman says to him, “‘Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet.” She says, “Our fathers worshiped on this mountain,” which is Mount Gerizim. I’ve been to Jacob’s well where this happened and you can stand at Jacob’s well and see Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal and you can reenact the story.
She says, “‘Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.’”
Just think of this woman and think of the reputation she had in town. She had been married to five men and was now living with a man to whom she was not married. Think of the disconnectedness in her spirit. If you have been married that many times or had that many sexual partners your soul begins to dissipate. There is no ability to focus because you are breaking God’s laws.
So here she is at the well at noon all alone. The women in town usually came in the morning to the well when it was cool and it was more of a social event. She probably was ostracized and so she comes alone at noon when no one else will be there and she meets this stranger. This stranger says to this broken, fallen woman, “God is spirit and those who worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth. In fact, the Father is seeking such worshipers.”
First of all, God is saying that worship is not a matter of geology. It is a matter of spirit. It doesn’t happen just because you are in church. It is not automatic just because you sing the right songs. You also worship in truth. It is a matter of honesty where you put out your dirty laundry for God to cleanse you and give you the ability to worship him acceptably.
It is worship in spirit, worship in truth, and it is also a priority. The Father is seeking such to worship him. The eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth seeking those whose hearts are perfect towards him. He says to himself, “There is a fallen woman who has had a bad marriage experience five times. But if she has the right heart and I find her she can be a worshiper of God.” Wow! She mattered to God and she is the first person in the gospel of John to which Jesus revealed the fact that he was the Messiah and she ends up being an evangelist.
She then goes back to town and says, “There is a man here who told me everything.” They think, “Oh wow, what a story! He must have known already. Who is this guy?” They all go and the Bible says that they also believed. In effect God used her as a wonderful evangelist and as a link between Jesus and the town. Look at who she was! There was no reason to think that she had significance. Yet she left that day knowing that she mattered to God.
If you know that you matter to God it really doesn’t make that much difference whether you matter to anyone else. You speak about the gift of significance and you realize that the woman at the well goes down in history as a follower of the Lord and as a seeker of God and a worshiper. That is enough to give any sinner significance.
Here at The Moody Church we can give to the city of Chicago the gift of significance through worship. We don’t confer significance, but God does when he seeks worshipers. We plan our worship service to begin with an invocation. What are we saying in an invocation? We are inviting the blessed spirit of God and the Father to come and to meet with us and to open our hearts to his truth.
I need to say that if you haven’t prayed before you came in here today the invocation will probably mean nothing. If you come late and you miss it your heart may not be in tune with God, although it may be depending on how you came to church.
Have you ever noticed that here at the Moody Church our worship is very God directed? Look at what the choir sang today: “Christ in me, Christ beside me, Christ to comfort me, Christ to be with me.” What we are trying to achieve is to give people the opportunity to connect with God, who is seeking worshipers. He is seeking you and conferring on you the gift of significance because you matter to God. We have to say to the city of Chicago, “You matter to God no matter who you are.” That is the gift that we can confer to the city.
Can I ask you a question? Have you ever invited anyone to our worship service? We’ve had people who live in the neighborhood who come and say, “For years we walked past your church and had no idea what you people were up to here. We thought that you were some kind of a false cult.” I remember one woman said, “When I used to walk past the church on Clark Street I used to hold my nose until I got past your building.” They have no idea. I believe that there are hundreds and maybe even thousands that if they came here would say, “This is a place where these people are serious about worshiping God.” If you worship God you matter to God.
The second passage we need to turn to is Ephesians chapter four. You’ll notice that there is so much that could be said about every text. I have to be careful about that, by the way. One pastor began by saying, “There is so much in this text I don’t know where to begin.” It was a small church and so someone in the back shouted, “Please begin somewhere near the end.”
I am going to plunge right into the middle of this text. Verse fourteen and following is talking about maturity and how we are not blown away by every doctrine. It says, “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”
Paul is saying here that within the body every single person matters. What you are doing is, you are building yourselves up together by community and by sharing a similar life, strengthening the body in love. There is room for everyone.
Now there are some people who say, “I believe in the invisible church. I don’t join a church. I have no special loyalty to a church. If it gets boring then I move down the street because I belong to the invisible church.” I’ve noticed that for people like that when the offering baskets are passed they put invisible money into it because they belong to the invisible church. But mind you when something good is going on they want some very visible ministries.
We have been emphasizing nametags at the Moody Church because we are serious about community. We’ve had three times as many people desiring nametags as I personally believed we would have, which is wonderful. But one of the things that we discovered as we tried to track down these people and find out who they are is that we have no record of them. They’ve not volunteered, they’ve not given, and they’re not a part of a small group or any ABF. That makes us say, “Who in the world are you folks and why don’t you join hands with us and make a huge difference together in the city of Chicago?”
We believe in the universal church and the invisible body. In the New Testament nobody just belonged to the invisible church. Everyone belonged to something that was very, very visible. What this means is that every part of the body functions together. I confess that we have often not been good at making available to you the kind of information that helps you get involved so I want you to be sure that when the new building comes on line you are going to notice a difference. There will be more space and more literature and so forth. We are working on that because we need you.
I can’t imagine that God raised up ministries and then did not supply members of the body to serve in the ministry. I was talking to Abby Naus, our children’s director, and she said that we could use 25 or 30 children’s workers. Now it is true that to work with children and to teach you need to be a member of Moody Church. That is a part of our policy which has all kinds of legal implications as well. Yet there are many ministries for which you don’t have to be a member. You don’t have to be a member to be a greeter or an usher or to work with the parking committee. There are a dozen different things that you can do without being a member.
But, is God playing a game with us? He’s giving us a brand new building with a second floor devoted to children and we expect to see a great increase in young couples and children in our ministries, but is he not going to raise up those who are going to support these ministries? I don’t think so! Despite our mistakes in leadership, can we join hands together and say that things are going to be different and we are going to make a difference in the lives of these children and generations to come even at great personal sacrifice? Can I hear you say “yes” to that today?
Now we get to the third passage. You not only matter to God but you matter to us. You matter to the body. If you leave here today and somebody asks you, “What did Pastor Lutzer preach on today?” and you don’t remember that I said that you matter, I will come up later and try to work with you. We should not use the sanctuary as an adult nursery. That would be a bad thing to do.
So the third passage states that you matter to others. This passage alone is worthy of an entire message, and it is going to come one of these days. We often emphasize 1 Corinthians because it is the book where Paul is dealing with problems within the church. But if you ever want to be blessed and you say, “I don’t know what passage to read to be blessed,” read through 2 Corinthians. Paul here shares his heart and it is the riches of the Christian faith.
Chapter four, verse three of 2 Corinthians says, “And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.” Paul then goes on to list all of his afflictions for which God grants him grace; the treasure in the earthen vessel.
There are two contrasts here. First of all, there is a contrast between Satan, who blinds in darkness, and God, who enlightens. Do you ever wonder why God doesn’t just take care of the Devil? Do you ever wonder why God doesn’t just say, “Get out of here! I will confine you to another planet. I will confine you to hell right now; that would be just!”
Why does the God of this world blind the mind? God is glorified when people say “No” to the lies of Satan and say “Yes” to the light that God brings. God allows people to be blinded. Then through the preaching of the gospel he proves that the gospel is more powerful than the devil and God overcomes the darkness. The God who says, “Let light shine out of darkness,” shines in our hearts and grants us the light of the glory of God. We see the beauty of Jesus and we see how Jesus meets all of our needs. He fits our need exactly and we believe on him and we are saved. God is even more glorified because once again he triumphs over the devil.
The second contrast is that this gospel is in jars of clay. We won’t do it now, but I am tempted to have you turn to the person next to you and say, “You are just a jar of clay.” Maybe you’ve been waiting to tell somebody that. But talk about significance! We are jars of clay entrusted with the treasure of the message. This goes back to the imagery in olden times when people would literally put treasures in jars of clay, either to hide them or to store them. Beautiful perfume that was very expensive was put into a common jar of clay.
But think of what it meant to the clay! The clay says, “I am just ordinary clay, but do you know what I have in me? I have in me an overwhelming treasure.” What Paul is saying is that through the preaching of the gospel, as people are converted, you have within you a treasure. Weakness is not a hindrance to the beauty of the treasure in the midst of this earthen vessel. In fact, it will actually enhance it and make it look more beautiful. God has entrusted to you the light of the gospel and that is the treasure in the earthly vessels. What an indescribable honor God has given to his people. You matter to him, you matter to us, you matter to those who see the treasure, and you matter to Jesus and how you represent him.
I know a pastor, and I don’t know him well, whom I met on one or two occasions and I heard him tell an interesting story. He said that there was a professor from a local college who came to his church for a period of six months. Despite his skepticism he eventually believed on Jesus and was saved. The pastor asked the professor, “Tell me your story. What is it that brought you to church and how come you kept coming back?” What the pastor expected the man to say was, “It was your powerful sermons that really clarified everything.” As a pastor I can identify with the fact that we would probably expect that kind of answer.
However, that is not what the man said. This University professor said, “What made me keep coming back to your church is that outside your church in the lobby there was an old, bent over woman who smiled at me all the time. Her countenance was so radiant that I couldn’t get her out of my mind and I kept saying, ‘I need to find out what she has!’” That is the treasure in the earthen vessel.
Sometimes we think about evangelism and we think that it is a little piece of the pie. There is evangelism and there is edification and fellowship, and evangelism has its slice. No! Like one of our staff members was saying, “We need to change our paradigm.” Evangelism is all of our responsibilities. You take that treasure with you to your condominium and you take it with you to work tomorrow on the CTA as your ride and spend time in prayer. You take the treasure everywhere! We are all witnesses for Jesus. We may have classes that help us understand it a little better but everybody is a witness.
What we are saying to this city is that when you believe in Jesus you matter to God but also to the body of Christ. God says, “I entrust to you the treasure of the gospel.” I say, “Lord, how could you do this to us as sinners, as jars of clay?” The Bible says that someday we are going to be exalted and we are going to be heirs of God and joint heirs with Jesus Christ and with him enter into our inheritance. Talk about having significance!
There a few final thoughts. First of all, people matter. May it ever be said of Moody Church that people matter – the rich matter, the poor matter, the educated and the uneducated matter, the University professor and the child matter – everyone matters. That is why we built the CLC. We believe that people matter and we believe that the more people we can reach and the more opportunities for growth the better it will be, because people matter. People are eternal and buildings are not.
I saw something interesting in the news yesterday. Four Tibetan Monks made a sand painting which took days or weeks to make. It was an intricately made painting that took millions of grains of colored sand which they poured into geometric designs and ancient symbols. Apparently it was gorgeous. One hour after it was finished it was all taken and dumped into Lake Michigan. I looked on the internet and discovered that is always what happens to these sand paintings. Why? The Monks said it was to illustrate the impermanence of life and the transitory nature of life. You are here one moment and then you are gone and you get washed into the eternal one. How tragic! Ultimately, if you believe that, then nothing ever really matters.
We believe however that people are eternal. It says in the Bible, “A drop of cold water given in my name and you will not lose your reward.” It says in the Old Testament that God establishes the work of our hands. Some of you taught Sunday School years ago and you forget the names of the kids that you taught and you forget the lessons that you taught. Every one of them is catalogued in heaven as God establishes the work of your hands. Why? Because you matter to God and what you have done matters to God and the children whose lives you have touched matter to God. We say to a generation that is broken and hurting, “You are an eternal being and because you matter by God’s grace you come to Moody Church and you are going to hear a message that confers upon you God’s grace and the gift of significance.”
How do we take a selfish, self absorbed culture that says, “The way in which I have significance is that I make much of myself and hope that others will make much of me,” and turn it around? John Piper says there is a clue to that in the Grand Canyon. He says, “Nobody goes there to enhance their own personal significance.” My wife and I love the mountains. She loves them much more than I do and she has been praying for years that God would call me to Colorado, but it hasn’t happened yet. When we go there and look at the mountains we don’t say, “I just need to increase my self esteem.”
Instead, you learn standing there that happiness doesn’t come from the exultation of self but instead the exultation of something that is filled with splendor. The way you find significance is to understand that it is through worship and participation and through representing something more precious than you and I are so that God says, “You matter.”
The greatest example of that is what we are going to participate in after this sermon. Jesus, in the night he was betrayed, took bread and said, “This is my body which was broken for you. This is the cup of the new covenant; this drink in remembrance of me.” In doing that Jesus said, “I am giving my life for you because you matter.” That is the message that Chicago and the world need to hear.
Would you join me as we pray? “Father, for the person today who feels dejected, empty, and hopeless, would you let them know that Jesus reminds us that we matter? We ask today that we may be a church where people matter and where there might be a great outpouring of support. We believe that through your word people can be led to a sense of fulfillment and self joy, not because of us, but because of you. Grant that, oh God we pray.”
Now I am talking to the congregation. If you’ve never received Christ as Savior, why don’t you receive him right now? Receive the treasure in Jesus’ death for us and admit your need. You know who you are if you need to believe in Jesus. “Father, help us as individuals and as a church, in Jesus name we pray, amen.”