For next week, read chapters 3 and 4 of Colossians.
Now the theme of the sessions that we have been having might be put as the accomplishment of the redemptive community of God through the disciplines of the spiritual lie. We must rest the picture by saying that there is something for us to do in the process through which we grow in grace. That there is something for us to do comes as news to some people. If we don’t do certain things, we won’t grow in grace. The redemption which comes in Jesus Christ is not something that is poured on our heads as we walk into the church house. It is not something which just takes place automatically. It is something which happens as we go through a consciously chosen course, involving group and individual life. You will see many people hanging around church houses trying to be Christians, and very often they are unhappy, and they wonder why they are not getting anywhere. But if you begin to ask them what do you do to receive the grace of God, very often they are like the people in Acts. When Paul same to Ephesus, he asked them if they had received the Holy Spirit, and they said that they hadn’t even heard that there was one. Today you find the same when you ask: What do you do, or where do you put yourself to receive the grace of God? How do you open yourself to God, you might say, and they respond with confusion. “You mean, there is something that I am supposed to be doing?” Many people think that you just kind of show up at church, maybe you pray if you get in trouble, and give a little money occasionally, and it all works out somehow.
If we hope to grow in grace by the method of just hanging around, we will grow in grace, at best, much in the way a corn stalk would grow if you put it out here in the hillside in the weeds. You may see that little thing show up there because it may start off in the spring, and if you go back in a month or two, you will find this struggling little thing that you will scarcely recognize as a corn stalk, and if you go back a few months later still, in this area you will find something that is very dead indeed. It will have died. If you want corn, you must cultivate it, and take care of it and nourish it. It is that way also with the Christian life. You see the perverse teaching of grace has lead people to think that there is nothing you do. They have been told that it is free. They have been warned about works. And then they have been left with nothing to do, or they have been left with some frenetic activity which does not conduce to spiritual growth.
During this series we have been talking about things we do; that is the disciplines. I want to stress one, and then we will just briefly discuss the last four that I mentioned on the handout sheet. The point I want to stress is that unless we pursue these ways, these disciplines, we never come to the place of joy in them. One of the things we wind up on, the last discipline I mentioned in the sheet which I handed out earlier, was celebration.
Now, celebration is joy, isn’t it? We never come to the place of joy in what we are doing unless we pursue it and become something of a master at it. A person who is learning how to write doesn’t have much joy in the process, but later on many people have much joy just in the beauty of their handwriting. They enjoy making those kinds of marks. A person who is learning how to play a piano, or any of a billion things you could mention, all have gone through a process to come to a place where there is joy in the activity. Many people never come to that place with their Bible. For them the reading of the Bible is pure drudgery. They never get beyond the place where it automatically puts them to sleep. Why? It is because they don’t invest until they come to the point of joy. It is the same way with prayer, it is the same way with service, it is that way with witnessing, it is that way with everything; not only in the spiritual disciplines, but also in any learned skill. It applies to all human life. Many adults know that there is such a thing as enjoying hard and unpleasant work. Most children resolutely refuse to believe it, and they continue until they come to the point of experiencing it. There is such a thing and it comes to each of us in different settings.
It is this point of joy that gives us strength. Without the joy, we have no strength. We are very limited in what we can do in the joyless situation. It is hard to even be decent, to have enough strength to be decent. Joy is our strength. The first three parts of the fruit of the spirit are love, joy and peace. Of all of those parts of the fruit of the spirit, I am inclined to think that the motor is the joy. We have to come to the place where there is joy. We are meant to have joy. Jesus said, “I am come that . . .” what? “ . . . that your joy might be full.” Life is not something distinct from joy. If you look at a lifeless person, you are looking at a joyless person. If you look at a person that is animated with joy, that person is jumping, why? For joy. Why do we say jumping for joy? Joy makes us jump. Joy gives us strength; joy gives us vitality. You hear that the joy of the Lord is my strength. We cannot live without joy.
These disciplines are so vital because they bring us to a place of joy. All of them will do that, even for example, fasting. Fasting will bring you to a place of joy in the spirit. Jesus taught that we were to fast in a way that people would not know that we are fasting. We are to anoint ourselves, to wash, to put on clean clothes, and to be happy in our appearance. Jesus did not teach us to sit upon the ash heap and to wear sackcloth when we fast. He refused that; he himself did not do that. Fasting was for him not a sad thing. It was a thing which was for sad times. If you look at Luke 5:33, you will see that he was scolded . . . There were a lot of people who enjoyed scolding Jesus, they didn’t seem to have anything to do except to scold him. They came to him and said, “The disciples of John fast often, and make prayers, and likewise the disciples of the Pharisees . . .” You remember the Pharisee in the 18th chapter of Luke, where he boasted how he fasted twice a week. “ . . . but your disciples eat and drink.” Jesus said two things in answer to this. First of all, he said that these people are eating and drinking because they have good reason to be happy; I am with them. “Can you make the children of the bridegroom fast while the bridegroom is with them? But the day will come when the bridegroom will be taken away, and then shall they fast.” There is a time to fast. The time to fast is in affliction. The time to fast is when one is weighed down with a great concern. There are two reasons for fasting in those times. The first one is to avoid a false solace for your affliction. We indulge ourselves in sex, sleep, in food and in other things to find solace for our troubles. If we find our solace in food, we will rest there satisfied. When we are in a time of affliction we have to be careful, and one way of doing this is to fast. Fasting by the way, you may or may not know, is not necessarily doing without food entirely. There are various kinds of fasting. One may fast from particular things, or one may fast entirely.
I want you to remember that. This is important because there seems to be this thing operating in people which I call the law of exaggerated defense. The law of exaggerated defense applied because people in order to avoid something which is wrong tend to over react, and many times go to the point of actually destroying the thing they were concerned to save in the first place. For example, the law of exaggerated defense can be seen on a national scale in the arms race. It can be seen on a personal scale in many, many ways also. For example, in many churches in order to avoid what is regarded as impropriety, and is many times impropriety in personal relations, people simply don’t get involved with others. I read in a recent religious article a long diatribe on how men are not supposed to touch women in churches. They are not supposed to put their hands on the shoulders, or hold their hands for very long. They can shake hands, but they must keep shaking all the time they are touching . . .don’t stop shaking that hand, or you are in trouble. The proof text for this was the verse where Paul says it is good that man should not touch a woman. It does say that, but that is a distortion, of course. Again, that is a case of exaggerated defense. Plainly stated, the thought here is that to avoid certain sexual improprieties, one must not touch a member of the opposite sex. I am not just playing out possibilities. These things have actually run their courses in all the religions on the face of the earth in fact. It is an attempt to handle these kinds of things by the simple extreme: don’t do it.
Fasting is like that. A person might think that in order to fast, I must not eat or drink at all. There are times that that is appropriate, but there are also many degrees short of that which are appropriate too. You may know that there is something called celibacy that has been practiced for many centuries by some parts of the church. Here again, this was advanced as a kind of discipline. Let me say right there that I am sure there are times when it is right for a person to practice celibacy. Jesus taught this was so for some people, if it is given to them to do so. Still it is important for us to understand that in our sexual relations, it is not all or none. Rather it is a matter of balancing out what is right and what is good. In fasting, we have to understand that this applies to all of our desires. Many people who would not think of being sexually loose are gluttons for sleep. When Jesus came to his disciples and found them sleeping, what was it he said? I am not sure if he said it, or if it was just in the text, but it said they were sleeping for sorrow. Sorrow makes us sleep. Food also gives us solace. There is nothing wrong with food, or sleep, but we have to have these things under our control. Sometimes the best way to have them under our control is to fast from them. Fasting is to avoid us finding a false solace.
Fasting is also to give us concentration. The purpose of fasting in this respect is subordinate to another discipline I have spoken of earlier, and that is the discipline of simplicity. Those of you who have to provide the meals, you ladies, know how much it would simplify your day, if there were no meals to prepare or clean up after. Fasting is important as a means of simplifying, as a part of another discipline. It gives concentration on something such that you are not so distracted. In those two respects, fasting is important and especially so in times of affliction. I don’t know that we can say that we are only to fast when we are afflicted, but if we look at the examples of those people in the Bible who are set forth, you will see that fasting is mainly used during times of trial.
We shall move on quickly to the three others that I mentioned, because I want to cover them today. Let us look at study as a discipline. Here again as in all the disciplines there is something definite we can do. It is a definite sort of thing, just like fasting is a definite sort of thing. We study mainly by reference to our scriptures, but there are many other things which will serve well also. Your hymnbook and devotional writings that have stood the test of time are examples. But basically, I think that our meditation, and study and prayer should circle around the scriptures. The 119 Psalm at the 9th verse gives some of the experience of one who had used this method. It starts out with a question. How shall a young person keep their way clean, and the answer come that you are to take heed of the word. This word was basically what we would call the old law, that is the first five books of the Bible, and more precisely than that, it was the book of Deuteronomy for which the psalmist was concerned.
Here is a question, and here is an answer. Now how do you take heed? You study, right? That is how you take heed, that is the first thing. See the verses 10 & 11.
“With my whole heart have I sought thee. Oh let me not wander from thy commandments. Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee.”
A little preventive medicine there, a vaccination.
12 & 13 “Blessed are thou Oh Lord: teach me thy statutes. With my lips have I declared all the judgments of thy mouth.”
Now he didn’t just study them; he declared them. Now, notice the next verse, 14:
“I have rejoiced in the way of thy testimonies, as much as in all riches.”
He has found something here which he glories in. He delves into it as a miser might thrust his hands into a pile of gold to feel the texture of the coins and to hear them clink. You see that’s the joy of the person who has found in the word a kind of mastery which brings him joy. Verse 15 & 16:
“I will meditate in thy precepts, and have respect unto thy ways. I will delight myself in thy statutes: I will not forget thy word.”
Do you remember the memorization for this week? Joshua 1:8
“This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth, but thou shalt meditate therein day and night . . .”
Look at the first clause, especially “out of thy mouth.” Isn’t that a funny place for the law to be, in your mouth? Why didn’t he say in your head? The Bible is very profound in its wisdom as to how the mind works. If the law is not in your mouth it won’t be in your head. If it is in your mouth it will be in your head. Try it and see if that isn’t so. You keep it in your mouth and see if it isn’t in your head. Try to keep it in your head without it being in your mouth, and see how that works also:
“ . . . but thou shalt meditate therein day and night . . .”
Meditate, see there is the mind.
“ . . . that thou shalt make thy way prosperous, then shalt thou have good success.”
Study! Meditation in the book of the law . . .You see study is something definite, a definite thing we do. The same thing is true of service. Service is a discipline. It is a definite thing that we do.
In the 13th chapter of John, they had come to the end. They, the disciples, were always having trouble with seeing which one was greatest. You know that wherever you are having trouble with who is greatest you are also having trouble with who is least. Whenever you had foot washing, it was the least that was supposed to wash the feet. Now in the 13th chapter you see where they came into this room to have the feast, and nobody but nobody was going to wash feet. There they are, all sitting around the table with dust up to their calves, dirt caked around their ankles—very typical—very, very typical, no one is going to wash feet. They are not even going to talk about it. It is a sore point. Who is going to wash the feet? You know that this was not a new matter for them. They had been haggling over this thing, this pecking order, as we say. That is a very descriptive thing. How like chickens we are. There is no rest in the chicken pen until it is decided who is the least, who is the greatest, and where everyone is at on each rung in between. Only then is there peace in the chicken pen. We can read this out of our actions in a group. You cannot have a group together for very long without it becoming very clear what the pecking order is. It shows up in terms of when two people speak at the same time who gives way, how people sit, how they walk in relation to one another, and who stands back when there is a job, and who goes forward. In this last case spending on the job it may be a sign of mastery or of servitude. All these things are written on the face of human relations.
Jesus took off his clothes and put a towel around himself, and he washed their feet. He said in John 13:14 the following:
“If I then, you Lord and Master, have washed your feet, ye also ought to wash one another’s feet.”
Have you ever washed anybody’s feet? You all are Christians. Your Lord said you should wash one another’s feet. Have you ever done that? Perhaps you had better think about that before you go to face him. He may ask you if you have washed anybody’s feet. He probably wouldn’t give you too hard a time because he is not in that business really, but it would be embarrassing, wouldn’t it? There are places that wash feet. People go there and they wash others feet, and they say, “We all have washed feet.” But many of them have never washed feet. Is that a paradox? Jesus is not just telling us to wash feet. Sometimes we wash feet, for example, if your feet were dirty, and I could wash them as a service, I should. This would apply to the washing of your hair, or your ears, or whatever part of you needs washing. Jesus is telling us that we are to take the place of a servant. Who is greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven? It is the one who is servant of ALL. The one who serves everyone. He is the greatest. Some are servants of certain ones. “I’m John Wayne’s butler!” or something like that. “Aren’t I big.” Simple service is what shows who is the greatest. It sounds like work salvation, doesn’t it? They ought to throw that verse out.
We have not begun to think about the way of redemption until we have begun to think about the way of service. There is no such thing as a Christian who is not a servant. Do you think of yourself as a servant? Many people will say: “Oh, yes I am a servant. I serve the Lord! All of you mullies had better watch out. I am not your servant. I don’t wash feet. I am the Lord’s servant.” I have heard a preacher get up and beat a congregation half to death with that; that is with the theme, I am the servant of the Lord, I am not your servant. There is of course a sense in which that is right, but there is also a sense in which it is deadly wrong. I cannot serve the Lord unless I serve my brothers and sisters. I can’t do that anymore than I can love God, whom I’ve not seen, unless I love man, whom I have seen. I cannot profess to be humble before God unless I am humble before man, and that is not just selective men, but all men. If I am humble before all men, that includes children. They are human too. I have a hard time remembering that sometimes, but it’s true. The little buggers, maybe they will turn into human beings . . . if they can live through what I do to them, if they get over being under me. I am to be a servant of children. I am not someone to lord it over them. Now, of course, being someone’s servant does not mean that you always do everything they want you to do. Rather, it does mean doing what is good for them. If someone wants to shoot his neighbor, and wants to borrow my gun to do so, I am not serving him if I give it to him. If I seek his good, I’ll not loan him that gun. I may even lay down my life not to loan him the gun. You see Jesus was a servant, but he was a servant without position. That is what we are to be.
Jesus’ followers wanted him to tell them when their position was to come. Lord, when is the Kingdom going to come so we can have our positions, and then do all those good things. You have to have a position to do things that are good. Everyone knows you have to be a preacher to preach, you have to be a teacher to teach, you’ve got to be a father to fath . . . Right? That is all a bunch of bologna. Jesus said that it is not given for you to know these things, but you shall receive power after the Holy Ghost is come upon you. What you need to do things is simply the power; you need the strength to do it. You need the ability to do it. That ability may be something simple or it may be something very complex. As I have said before, this society, like all societies is long on credential and short on enablement. We credential people to do all kinds of things which they can’t do. We credential them to teach, to preach, to doctor, or to do all kinds of things. They have that credential; there it is on the wall, and yet they cannot do the job. There are of course, some who can do the job, but the credential doesn’t do it. What is needed in order to be a servant, is simply the power and the inclination to serve.
All of those people with Jesus in that room had the power to wash the feet of the others, but there was something in their way, and that was that they were not going to be servants to anyone. They wanted others to serve them. Jesus said to them that among the Gentiles, the one who is greatest is the one who lords it over everyone, but it shall not be so in the Kingdom of God. He who is greatest in the Kingdom of God, is the one who is servant of ALL. Who does that mean? It means the next person you meet. If there is a sensible way in which you can help that person, you will help them.
There is so much I need to say on that, because that can bring a person into bondage. It does bring many people into bondage because they try serving everyone, and they wind up with their lives completely exhausted. Nothing is left of them. They couldn’t serve anybody; they are in fragments. I don’t have the time to go into that in depth right now, but there is a balance that must be struck. You are to serve all, but only in as much as you have the power under God to do so. So, we are to serve the next person we meet, and we don’t first find out if they are black or white, if they are male or female, if they are Democrats or Republicans, if they are Christians or not; we come to them simply as human beings, and if we have in our hand that, which by a simple act of transmission will help them, we serve them. Suppose that Jesus would have had to give us His vocation as Messiah in order to wash those feet, he wouldn’t’ have washed those feet. If you want to see someone who is stiff necked and stubborn, look at Jesus. Yet He was a servant. Would you think about that some? I wish I had time to discuss 1Timothy 5, in which there is a discussion of widows. I won’t do anything here right now but point you to it for your reading and study of the way service was looked at in part by the early church.
Let us look at the discipline of celebration in Deuteronomy the 14th chapter. Celebration is a discipline; it is something we do,
a definite place of action we undertake. In celebration and in all the disciplines we meet the grace of God. They are not in themselves worth anything. They are only repositories of the grace of God. Remember I said these are ways in which we sow to the spirit. I want to show you something in Deuteronomy 14 which you may not know about the tithe. The tithe was in part, the saving up for a paid vacation down in Jerusalem. A part of the tithes is to be given to ourselves. Do you tithe to yourself? Let us follow Deuteronomy 14 from the 22nd verse:
“Thou shalt truly tithe all the increase of thy seed, that the field bringeth forth year by year.
And thou shalt eat before the Lord . . . “ (Deuteronomy 14:23)
Not at home, not up in Gideon, or Zebulon, or any of those places, and not in Nazareth, but where?
“ . . . before the Lord thy God in the place He shall choose to place his name there, the tithe of they corn, of thy wine, and of thine oil, and the firstlings of thy herds and of thy flocks: that thou mayest learn to fear the Lord they God always.” (Deuteronomy 14:23)
Now there are several things I want to say about this. Notice, you are directed to eat the tithes. Have you ever been told to eat the tithe? The tithe will be eaten by you, and not just you, but by your whole household and others too. Also notice that you are to do this in order that you “mayest learn to fear the Lord.” What in the world is it talking about here? It is talking about respect and awe of the Lord because of the abundance in the life that he has provided you with in all the provision that he has made for you. Deuteronomy 14, Verses 24-27:
“And if the way be too long for thee, so that thou art not able to carry it: of if the place be too far from thee, which the Lord thy God shall choose to set his name there, when the Lord hath blessed thee:
Then thou shalt turn it into money . . .”
That is you are to see your steer, put the money in your pocket and take off for Jerusalem. Now what are you going to do when you get there? Oh this next verse looks blasphemous!
“And thou shalt bestow that money for whatsoever thy soul lusteth after, for oxen, or for sheep, or for wine, or for strong drink, or for whatsoever thy soul desireth . . .”
This is terrible! Such things ought not to be in the Bible.
“ . . . and thou shalt eat there before the Lord thy God and thou shalt rejoice, thou, and thine household, And the Levite that is within thy gates: thou shalt not forsake him; for he hath no part nor inheritance with thee.”
Celebration! You cannot fear the Lord your God unless you celebrate the Lord your God, and you cannot celebrate the Lord your God unless you feel good: unless you are enjoying things.
Today in church, people will sometimes get up in funeral tones and say so sadly, “Now we are going to praise the Lord. It is all so bad, and it is the end of everything, but we are going to praise the Lord.” The way you praise God is when it wells up from the tips of your toes and exalts your stomach and finally blows out your ears. That is the way you praise the Lord! That is celebration. The Old Testament made specific provision for it and even called it the tithe, for a paid vacation in which you filled yourself with the good things of God and then praised him for it. If we can’t celebrate the goodness of God we don’t have much to go on. Celebration as a discipline allows the power of God to flow through us better than most anything else, but it must be natural, it cannot be a forced experience. You cannot force joy. People tell you, you must praise the Lord. Let me tell you how that often is.
You have been put down on that old juice squeezer until life has wrung out almost every last drop of joy, and someone comes along and says, “I’ll tell you how to do this. What you need to do to make things go right is to praise the Lord. Praise God. Praise God. All you have to do is to just start praising God.” Then you say, “Ah, well, ah praise ah God. Praise, praise ah God ah suppose . . .” Now you see, like most of the advice that comes to you in a spiritual way, there is an element of truth in there. But we have to be careful with it because if we don’t, we will try it and it will backlash on us and we will be even more juiceless than when we started. The secret is celebration of God. The secret is to take the good things which are available, to dwell in them, to enjoy them to their fullest, and to thank God for them. There is nothing to lead you to repentance like the goodness of God. In so far that I was ever won over to anything good, it was because I found goodness in the elders in my family. I lived for years and didn’t suspect it, but then a little bit began to appear, and I found goodness, and my life was transformed. If you wish, I found out how good goodness was. I became an addict. It is in the celebration of good things that we rightly praise God.
I’m not done with that. We will take that up a little next week. I want to emphasize that one of the main functions of the community, is to celebrate God together. I want you to meditate on the last Psalm; that is Psalm 150 for next week.