We Are Called To WitnessErwin W. Lutzer | February 6, 2011
Selected highlights from this sermon
As believers in Christ, we are called to share God’s excellencies with the world. We are His feet that go to the darkest places, and His mouth to speak the gospel. But you can’t share the gospel if you don’t have the integrity to back it up.
If we’re polluted by the world around us, there will be war. The world wages war against our souls. And a defiled conscience will keep us from being free in Christ. So we need to do whatever we must to remain pure so that we can live passionately for Christ.
And to live passionately for Jesus is to live like He lived: no sin, no deceit, no threats, and never return an insult. We need to commit ourselves to the Father, and we need to be willing to be inconvenienced so that we can help others.
Let me ask you a question. What does come to mind when I mention the word church? For many people what comes to mind might be the building. I often use it that way. I tell my wife I’m going to the church. Sometimes we use the word, and most often, to refer to a congregation. We speak of Moody Church, the congregation, the people of Moody Church, which is the way in which the Bible uses it most often. Or there’s also the Church of Jesus Christ, the body that belongs to the entire world “You know I am not joining Moody Church. I don’t join any church because I belong to the invisible church.” And I want to say, “I’m glad you do but give me a break, would you please?” When you are sick I hope that there is an invisible pastor who comes to visit you. And when it’s time to preach your funeral service I hope that it’s an invisible preacher who comes to say nice things about you, all of which I am sure will be true.
The fact is that in the New Testament everyone who is called by Jesus is called to community. You are called to belong, so I speak to everyone who is listening who has any connection to Moody Church. If God has led you here and you are a part of our body what you should do is belong and become a part of what we are doing.
You know that I introduced last time a fifteen-word mission statement and it isn’t printed in your bulletin today. I wonder if you remember those fifteen words. I’ll give them to you and then I want you to say those words with me.
“The Moody Church is a community called by God to live passionately for Jesus Christ.” Can we say that together? The Moody Church is a community called by God to live passionately for Jesus Christ. And the passage of Scripture I want you to turn to again is First Peter 2:9, and as we get to the end of today’s message ultimately some of us are going to squirm, but it’s good to do that in the presence of God’s word, especially if we are hearing God’s truth.
First Peters 2:9 says, “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who has called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”
Now in this epistle of Peter, and remember the epistles were not the wives of the apostles as some people think. The word means letter, and Peter uses that word called in a number of different contexts. We are, for example, called to salvation. We are called out of darkness into his marvelous light. That’s a wonderful calling. That’s the beginning of the calling. But as part of this call we are also called to community because you’ll notice as we emphasized last time that we are a royal priesthood, we are a holy nation, we’re a race, we are a community called to community. But also we are called to show forth the Excellencies of God.
Now what are those Excellencies? Well, of course, they mean the attributes of God. We would show forth the grace of God and the world needs to hear about the grace of God. Broken world, God cares about you and did something that can actually give you a hope, and help, and eternal salvation, so we proclaim the grace of God. We also proclaim the judgment of God because if you don’t have judgment then grace doesn’t mean very much. We proclaim the mercy of God and the compassion of God. Very clearly put, you and I are God’s feet to go in places that other people might not go in the darkest regions of the world so that we might proclaim God there. We are God’s hands to help those who need help and we are God’s mouth to speak good words of hope, eternal life and the Gospel. We are to display the Excellencies of God, and through our lives people are to say, “Oh, that’s what God is like.”
Now what I’d like to do is to answer a question that people sometimes ask and they say, “When it comes to witnessing what is the most important - my life or my lips ” If anybody ever asks you that you smile and say, “I have a question for you?” What wing on an airplane is most important ’t have one without the other. Listen, if you share the Gospel with people but you don’t have the integrity to back it up, what will they say? They’ll say, “Spare me. Even if it’s true I don’t want to hear it from you.”
If, on the other hand, you have a beautiful life and you live a life of integrity and kindness and you don’t tell people about Jesus Christ, what they’re going to say is, “You know, this person was just born nice. It’s part of their DNA, and they won’t know that the reason that you are who you are is because of Jesus. We need both the right wing and the left
Now what I’d like to do is to talk about the very practical ways in which we show forth the Excellencies of God in a way that most of us might not like, but it’s in the text. And my outline today is a little different than the one that you have in your bulletin but you may follow along in God’s word.
First of all, Peter says in verse 11, “I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh which wage war against your soul.” If you are taking notes you can write down honor (yes, it’s going to come up in a moment), but the word purity. He says, “If you want to witness for Christ and show he Excellencies, you cannot become a part of what we could call the pollution of our world , and undoubtedly that’s what he has in mind here res of the flesh which wage war against your soul.
Now in war you have two antagonists, one of whom wants to be the victor, and in this battle there’s no doubt that lust wants to control us. It says in Romans 6:13, “Do not let these desires rule over you,” but my, how they want to rule, and today I have no doubt that I am speaking to some of you who know exactly what the battle is like, and all of us know what the battle is like. We’ve all fought that battle and continue to fight it, but some of you are losing. And I’m even more concerned about those of you who have already given up. You’ve simply just succumbed. You’re saying, “I’m tired of fighting.” Notice that it says that these desires wage war against the soul, and the way in which they wage the war is because of the pollution of the conscience, the defiled conscience, and that conscience keeps you from being free in Christ to be able to witness to others. You know that. How can you share with others the Excellencies of God’s name if you yourself have in your mind constantly the images that you are seeing, whether it is on the computer or in any other way, or if you are in an unholy relationship? You can’t tell others about the Excellency of God because of the fact that your own soul has been polluted by these desires.
Notice that Peter is saying to abstain. In other words he is saying that there is a way in which we can fight these desires in such a way that we win. Now I know that they didn’t live in those days like we do today with the entertainment industry and technology, but even today, we can abstain from those lusts, even though the price oftentimes is very high.
Some time ago I read about a house that was for sale and the man said “I’ll sell it to you but I want to keep one nail in the door (the nail that was partially nailed in the door) so that I can hang whatever I want on that nail.” Well, the man bought it and thought, “I can put up with anything on that door.” Well after it was sold the man then took a pound of rotten meat and hung it on the nail. Isn’t that the way it is when our souls are polluted? And Peter says, “Abstain.” All that I can say to those of you who struggle is this (because this should be an entirely separate message, and I have preached on these things before) - to do whatever you must. Jesus said that if necessary pluck out your eye or cut off your hand. He wasn’t speaking literally, of course, but he was saying, “Do whatever you must.” You must go for help. You must make some drastic choices because if you don’t you’ll not be able to show forth the Excellencies of God. So purity!
And then he goes on in verse 12 and talks about honor. It says, “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable so that when they speak against you as evil doers they may see your good deeds and glorify God in the day of visitation.” What he’s saying is that you have to live with integrity even when false evidence is presented against you. This is very critical. Some day I am going to preach an entire message just on false evidence. You are living a life of integrity a life of glorifying God and what happens is they speak about you as evildoers. Mark my word that happens individually but also it’s going to happen much more globally here in America as we continue to go in the direction we are going. In the last couple of years eight books at least have been written to try to show that the Christians are the real problem in America. We have no problem with Jihad, no problem with Sharia Law. That’s nothing to fear. What is really necessary to fear are Christians who want to impose their values on society, and we are becoming the enemy. And false evidence of this is being presented.
But notice what he says. He says, “When this happens to you individually, when they speak against you as evil doers (and really you are not) they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.” Clearly what Peter means is that as a result, they will come to saving faith in Christ and they’ll give God the glory on the day when God visits them. It could be visiting them in judgment or visiting them with salvation. Either way, God is saying that we have to live honorably in all aspects of conduct.
So, first of all we should have purity. Second, we should have honor and third, submission, and now it begins to get tough. You’ll notice it says, “Be subject for the Lord’s sake for every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, to governors sent by him to punish those who do evil and praise those who do good, for this is the will of God that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.” He says, “Live as free.” He says, “Fear God but honor the emperor.” Well, who was the emperor when Peter was writing? He was a guy who really loved the Christians, who really wanted to make sure that they had a lot of freedom to proclaim the Gospel. Of course not! It was Nero and Nero was an egomaniac who loved to persecute the Christians, and who, according to Tacitus, actually set Rome on fire. There’s false evidence he set Rome on fire, and blamed it on the Christians so that he could persecute them and kill as many as he possibly could. And here Peter is saying, “Fear God, honor the king, submit to those who are in authority,” and I’m going to just let that hang out there for a moment and not comment on it further except to say that he says, “Submit to the government and the political authorities and those who are sent by him (his associates who rule over you).”
And then he talks about submission in another area. It says in verse 18, “Servants be subject to your masters with all respect not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust (Really the word servants is slaves) for this is a gracious thing when mindful of God one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly, for what credit is it if when you sin you are beaten for it and you endure it? But if when you do good and suffer for it and endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God.”
Feeling uncomfortable yet? Some people who read this say that the Bible is very socially repressive because obviously it is teaching approval of slavery, so I need to comment on this. Slavery in those days was not at all what it is today when we think of slavery. Slavery in those days was not a class thing. It was not a matter at all of race. Slaves didn’t dress differently. I think I read one time that there were fifty million slaves in the Roman Empire and slavery was really the whole fabric of society and the slaves often were not mistreated. They could buy their way out of slavery so you weren’t necessarily a slave for life, and furthermore, also important, slaves sometimes even owned property. In fact the distinction between slave and slave owner in those days was almost something like we may think of employer and employee today. We’re not talking about the slavery of the seventeenth and eighteenth and nineteenth centuries here in America.
What happened in Britain and in America during the slave trade was thoroughly irredeemably evil and, of course, you know that it was Christians such as Wilberforce who stood against that even though he received a lot of pressure because there was a lot of money in the slave trade. And wherever you have money you have the continuation of abuse. And so the effects of that evil, of course, oftentimes the repercussions, are still evident in our country today among the African Americans, but also among us, thinking about the evil that was done. So we’re not talking about that. When it comes to brutality the Bible is very, very clear that God hates brutality. It is listed as a sin in Romans 1 and elsewhere
Now Peter doesn’t stop to condemn slavery. He doesn’t say, “Well now what you need is an uprising.” No, because this was just a part of their whole structure of society. What would the slaves do if they had an uprising? And so what he’s saying is, “Be a good slave, but when you are (using the word in this context), be mindful of God.” Now that’s an important phrase. You’ll notice it there in the middle of verse 19. “For this is a gracious thing when mindful of God one endures,” and in a moment we’ll find out what that means “Make sure that if you are punished it’s for something bad that you do, and if you are punished after doing good, and you are mindful of God,” he says, “this is very special to God.”
Paul says the same thing in the book of Ephesians. If your employer mistreats you and you respond properly, God watches and it’s very special to him. Now follow along. First of all, we’re supposed to respond to those who have authority politically. We’re to submit in our workplace to those who have authority over us, and then if this isn’t enough (if you still aren’t uncomfortable), notice what it says in chapter 3, verse 1. After speaking about Jesus, about whom I shall speak in a moment, he says, “Likewise wives be submissive to your own husbands so that even if some of them do not obey the word they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives.” So there it is.
We read this today and we say, “Where in the world are the exceptions? I need an exception to this because Peter is not giving me the exceptions. Pastor, tell me where the exceptions are.” Well, hear me carefully. There are exceptions. But if you hurry to the exceptions you’ll miss Peter’s point that I am going to bring out from the text directly, so don’t hurry to the exceptions if there are exceptions. Of course we don’t always obey the political rulers. Peter himself who wrote this book said in the book of Acts, “We have to obey God rather than men.” There are times when we indeed, whenever we can, should seek justice in the workplace, and in America we have those opportunities that were not granted to other cultures. Of course we should always better ourselves. We should especially be willing to put ourselves out for others in terms of seeking their justice as well as our own. And yes, there are times when within the marriage relationship (and you’ve heard me say this many times from this pulpit) if there is abuse, don’t walk but run, especially if there are children. Run for help. So there are exceptions. And there may even be times when divorce might become a necessity, and so we recognize that. But if you hurry to these exceptions, you miss the point of what it is like to live for Jesus Christ and to show forth his glory and his Excellencies, believe it or not.
Now, your Bibles are open and you must open it to the text. You’ll notice it says here in chapter 2 verse 20, “But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God, for to this you have been called.” What do you mean? What’s the “this”? The “this” is, “You do good and suffer for it. To that you have been called.” You say, “Well, I like the other calling. I like the calling out of darkness into his marvelous light. I like the calling that says that we are called to community, but this calling? We’ve been called to suffer? Well, I don’t like this.”
One of our staff members, when I was talking about our vision statement “What does it mean to live passionately for Jesus Christ?” It’s an excellent question and in the next five to six minutes I’m going to answer it. The bottom line is this. To live passionately for Jesus Christ means to live like Jesus lived. That’s the way we live passionately for Jesus Christ. We live as he lived, so if we can find out how he lived, we find an answer to the question.
The first thing that I want to point out is that the suffering that is referred to here in the text is not cancer, even though that also is a form of suffering that God uses. It is not health issues. It is not even economic issues. It is a form of suffering that is even deeper and harder to accept, and that is relational suffering. It’s the kind of suffering when the boss gets all the money. He
has favorites and you are being taken advantage of and you are not being paid and you are being mistreated and you have a good sense of knowing that it’s happening and you endure it patiently. Now, how would Jesus handle it? I’m so glad that you asked. It’s always good to ask questions.
Now, what does it mean then to live like Jesus if that’s the answer to what it means for Moody Church when we say we need to live passionately for Jesus? There’s more to the story than I’m going to tell you today, but this is part of the story. You’ll notice, first of all, that what we should do is to act as Jesus acted. Notice what it says. “You are called to this (verse 21) because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example.” That’s the answer to the question of how do we live, that we might follow in his steps. And how did he act? “He committed no sin, neither was any deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled he did not revile in return. When he suffered he did not threaten.”
Lesson number one: we want to live passionately for Jesus Christ when we are mistreated and when we are sinned against we do not turn around and sin back. When David had spears thrown at him by Saul, David didn’t take his own spear and say, “Saul, watch this,” and throw it back. “Vengeance belongs to me. I will recompense,” says the Lord. And that means that when we are reviled we don’t revile in return. You know that old bumper sticker “I don’t get mad. I just get even.” That is a sinful bumper sticker. Get a better one than that for your car. How do we handle it? When sinned against we do not sin back me I’ll do this to you.
So first of all, we act like Jesus, and now it becomes even more difficult perhaps. Number two, we also believe like Jesus. This is so critical. How do we answer the question for the need for justice? You’ve heard me say this before but it needs to be said here. The woman who says, “My husband divorced me, went to Florida, has a good job, hasn’t connected with our children, and doesn’t give me child support. I have to work two jobs to bring up the kids at the same time, and you are asking me to not be bitter about it, to give it over to God? Where is justice?” That’s an excellent question.
We all long for justice. It’s part of our DNA. It’s part of our Godlikeness. Jesus longed for justice. Did he get it? Not yet! You’ll notice what Jesus did. The Bible says he kept committing himself unto him who judges righteously. Now Jesus said, “I’m not surrendering justice. It’s just that I’ve removed myself from the picture as the one to administrate it, but I trust God to bring justice to this situation, and therefore I don’t need to retaliate. I don’t need to pray, ‘Oh God, I pray that you might vaporize them,’ or ‘God, I pray that you might give him the lesson that he needs to learn. Bring him into judgment quickly.’” Now there may be a time when we pray those kinds of prayers, but at the end of the day what we do is we so believe in God’s justice that we don’t always have to administer our own, and so we are free because vengeance does belong to God and not to us.
You say, “Well, this is really tough news.” I know, but you asked the question of what it means to live passionately like Jesus, and I’m simply saying it means to live like Jesus and I’m doing nothing but reading the text. There are some of you who ought to get alone with God. Take an hour take an afternoon ’ve had to do that and I can tell you from experience it’s not easy to do because I’m not Jesus and I suppose that you aren’t either. It may have even been difficult for him. You know we always say, “Well how do we live passionately for Jesus?” There’s another message in this series in which I talk about witnessing for Jesus. That will come up at some point because obviously we need to speak about Jesus, too, but ultimately today I am emphasizing the way in which we live is to recognize that we are called to suffer relational pain. We are called to do that. Tomorrow morning it will begin even as it ended Friday evening. Right? Are you ready for that?
Now, what we will do is we will act like Jesus, we will believe like Jesus, and we will sacrifice like Jesus. Notice what the text says in verse 24. “He himself bore our sins in his own body on the tree that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.”
Now let me say this. Jesus died for us, and that’s the ultimate way for us to live like Jesus. We can’t die for other people’s sins obviously, so this doesn’t apply to us in every regard. But it applies this way - our sacrifice for others. If you want to find out how we live passionately for Jesus Christ, we are willing to be inconvenienced we are willing to stretch ourselves to find that abused child. Rebecca’s sister called to say that in her neighborhood in Oklahoma a woman ’s a single mother ’s sister and others who are somehow involved will become God’s hands, God’s feet, God’s love, God’s grace, and show forth the excellencies of Christ no matter how much it may cost individually, no matter how much of a sacrifice it is, because after all we want to know what it is to live passionately for Jesus Christ, and the text tells us that Jesus died for us. And so we go and we support ministries that rescue children. We support the Moody Church, which helps over in India. There are other ministries such as By the Hand Club for Kids, and it’s not just children. It is others to whom we are willing to give ourselves because we say, “I want to live passionately for Jesus.”
We live with the relational pain, confident that in the end, God will bring justice to every situation so that throughout all of eternity we will sing, “Just and true are thy ways, thou king of saints who shall glorify thy name.” We are absolutely confident that we can live this way.
Moody Church is a community called by God to live passionately for Jesus Christ beyond the walls of this church in our communities, and that’s why he put you in the bank, and that’s why he put you in a hospital, and that’s why you are a student today at the university that you happen to belong to. Why? It’s because God put you there and said, “Right there in the midst of the challenge and the pain, I want you to show forth the Excellencies of God.”
In a moment here at the Moody Church we are going to remember our Lord’s death and we are going to take the cup that reminds us of his blood, and we are going to take the bread that reminds us of his body that was broken. Could you today, in addition to worshipping Jesus when you do that, also pray a prayer and say, “Jesus, as you sacrificed for me, for whom can I also be a sacrifice?” The Bible says if you live that way you are well pleasing to God. That’s what it means to live passionately for Jesus if you live as he did.
And if you have never trusted Christ as Savior, did you look at the text? “He bore our sins.” You say, “Well how do I know that he bore mine?” You will know that he bore yours if you, in faith, receive him today as Savior, and say, “Jesus, I want you to be my sin bearer,” and he forgives sin. He cleanses us from all unrighteousness and makes us his children, and then you become a part of the community that we have been talking about. Don’t leave here and don’t turn off your computer unless you have come to trust Christ right where you are. Pray to him even as we pray here. Would you join me please as we prepare our hearts?
Father, help us to understand that part of our calling is to suffer relational pain. For all those today who bring in their hearts, as one woman explained it to me, a stone of bitterness and anger and numbness, Father, show them their need to so commit it to you, to believe that you are just, and in that confidence to react like Jesus. We are weak. We need your help to do this, but we pray that this church may be a community called by God to represent you well in every strata of society. Do that for us, Father, we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.