If Men Will Pray

I am part of a spiritual fellowship that, among other things, seeks to encourage and equip men to become godly men who seek first the Kingdom of God and desire to extend it into every sphere of their lives.

Resources for Godly Manhood

Below are some resources from The Fellowship of Ailbe that are intended to help men do just that (a video, booklet, article, as well as the opportunity to subscribe to an email newsletter that focuses on how men of God can pray for themselves, their families, churches, communities, and so on. (And, of course, you can always check back here to the “Godly Manhood Blog” where I hope to provide helpful resources, as well as my own reflections, that will spur you on to love and good deeds as godly men.

(You can also take a look at… and order… these booklets on the different facets of godly manhood that I wrote. I’ll soon be putting together some videos on these booklets to share details concerning what to expect in each booklet, as well as ways to make the best use of them.)

The Question

And so, here’s the question: What might happen if men truly begin praying… crying out to God in petition and intercession? How might God move in and through the lives of godly men who are calling on him to do a great work of reformation and revival? The possibilities are as limitless as God. And so, on that note, please take a look at these resources from The Fellowship of Ailbe…

“God is seeking men who are earnest about seeking Him in prayer. He promises great blessings to us if we will heed His call and take up the work of prayer with greater consistency and power. Our booklet, If Men Will Pray, can lead you through 30 days of prayer to a richer, fuller, more powerful and more satisfying life of prayer. Watch this brief video, then order your copy of If Men Will Pray.”

Rooted and Built Up

Colossians 2:6-7 – So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, [7] rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.

Off to a Great Start

We start off so well. With great gratitude and enthusiasm we bow before the throne of our King. Upon placing our trust in Christ alone – “receiving” him – we take on the world in his name.

But motivation and inspiration can wane. That which does not become habit and done out of joyful and obedient self-discipline will not last for the long haul. That is why church history is littered with travelers who fell by the wayside on the narrow road to the celestial city. Jesus taught that the seed of God’s Word sometimes falls on shallow soil and does not take the necessary root it needs to live and grow (Matthew 13:1-23).

Continue In Him

Thus, Paul exhorts us to “continue to live in him.” This is much more than simple encouragement to attend church and have your quiet time, both of which are good. He is indeed saying followers of Christ are to persevere in such means of grace. But even more than that, Paul is declaring that our very power source is the Lord himself. He is our power, foundation, anchor, and compass – our all in all. The Lord Jesus Christ must not be sprinkled on our lives to simply add a little flavor to an already okay meal. Instead, he is to be our life. To claim we are in Christ means we died with him in his crucifixion and are raised with him in his resurrection. The life we now live we live by faith in the Son of God who loved us and gave himself for us (Galatians 2:20).

Root, Shoot, and Fruit

I love the language Paul uses to undergird his thesis. He adds that we are to be “rooted and built up in him.” In John 15:1-8, we discover Jesus is the vine and we are the branches. Apart from him, he tells us, we can do nothing. If we would bear fruit, we must remain connected to Christ. He must be our root, for it is only then he will bear fruit in and through us. If we as branches ever become detached from our vine, we become useless.

Our Chief Cornerstone

Changing our imagery, Jesus is our chief cornerstone and we are to be built up in him. He is our only sure foundation. All else is shifting sand. If we are not built up in him, we will crumble during the storms of life (Matthew 7:24-27).

What does it mean to be “built up” in Christ? Paul helps us here. He says it means to be strengthened in the faith we were taught. When those in the early church first came to faith in Christ, they sat at the feet of the Apostles and learned from them (Acts 2:42). Today we have their authoritative teaching in Holy Scripture. We are built up and strengthened in Christ when we meet him in his Word and listen to his instruction. More than that, we must obey what we hear (Matthew 7:24-27).

And so be encouraged. You have the greatest resource at God’s disposal to enable you to bear much, good, and lasting fruit in your life, Christ Jesus our Lord and the power of his Spirit. Without him you cannot do anything. With him, all things are possible.

Walking Points

  • I have provided Scripture references throughout this devotion. Look up these texts and meditate upon them as you reflect on the following questions.
  • What is the hardest part for you when it comes to persevering with Christ?
  • Does it encourage you to know God has provided his greatest resource to help you live your life well?
  • What are three ways you can deepen your roots in Christ?
  • Share your answers with a friend and start “deepening your roots” today.

Prayer

Merciful God, I praise you for your goodness. You have graciously revealed yourself in and through holy Scripture and I am thankful. Through your Word you have made us wise for salvation and given us what we need to train us in righteousness. It is there we meet with you and hear your voice, learn your ways and wisdom, and grow in grace and knowledge. But only when we are rooted and built up in your Word. Father, protect me from laziness, lack of focus, intentionality, and self-discipline. Please give me the gifts and graces I need to abide in you and for your Word to abide in me, that I might truly know you better, love you more, and follow you more faithfully. For it’s in your Son’s name I pray. Amen.

The Right Side of Truth

John 18:36-37 Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.” [37] “You are a king, then!” said Pilate. Jesus answered, “You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

An Audacious Claim

Truth is a very big deal in the Gospel of John. Jesus, in a good number of verses, begins his teachings with phrases like, “I tell you the truth.” In John 14:6, Jesus claims not only to speak the truth, but to actually be truth itself. In our text above Jesus says he came into the world to testify to the truth. Furthermore, he says, if you are on the side of truth you will listen to him.

It’s an incredibly bold move to say you are truth itself and your purpose for coming into the world is to testify to the truth. In fact, it’s downright arrogant, unless your claim is true. And that’s where the rub is. If it is true that Jesus is the truth, (and that he came to testify to the truth), then it would be prudent to listen to what he has to say. In fact, it would be an imperative.

Just A Good Teacher?

The thrust of our text reminds us, rather loudly, Jesus was not simply an interesting teacher. He claimed to be much more. People who say Jesus was just a good teacher are actually revealing at least two things about themselves.

The first thing is there is a high probability they have never read the gospels for themselves. If they had, they could say they do not believe the things Jesus taught, but it would be intellectually dishonest to say his self-referential claims were not audacious. The “good teacher” response is evidence a person has not likely read what this “good teacher” taught.

The second revelation is they do not want to submit to Jesus’ Lordship nor trust in him as their Savior. Autonomous man still wants to be God. Even postmodern man, with his many “relative truths” – however contradictory they may all be – does not desire the One who claims to be the Truth (capital “T”). The sinful inclination of their hearts suppresses the truth they know (Romans 1:18).

Who Are You Listening To?

The words of verse 37 are powerful: Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.

You don’t have to be an expert in logic to understand the implications here. If you don’t listen to Jesus, then you are not on the side of truth. And if Jesus is the truth and his purpose in coming was to bear witness to the truth, then what Jesus says about every sphere of life matters. It matters a lot.

Of course, “listens to me” means much more than simply hearing what Jesus has to say. It implies “responding in obedience” to him as well. Submission is key here. Jesus is not suggesting he would be happy if you went to Starbucks, sat down with your favorite cup of coffee, and merely listened to someone tell you about Jesus. The person, work, and words of Jesus Christ demand a response. For centuries people recognized this and chose to either submit to him or reject him. But today some folk opt for patting him on the head and then moving on, ignoring him. But as the wise philosopher-theologian Geddy Lee, from the rock group Rush, sang, “If you choose not to decide you still have made a choice.”

Jesus will not be ignored, at least not with impunity. He will not be placed on the backburner of your life, only to be thought about at funerals and on Christmas mornings. He is the truth. He testifies to the truth. In fact, as Jesus put it in verse 37, he is a King.

Does all of that really describe a person you can blow off if you want to, without consequence?

The Right Side of Jesus

It’s popular today to talk about being on the right side of history. Jesus wants us to be on the right side of truth. And to be on the right side of truth is to be on the right side of Jesus.

Therefore, let me encourage you to pick up your Bible today and begin listening to Jesus. Start with the Gospel of John. Then move to Matthew, Mark and Luke… then read John again. After that, you should start listening to Jesus as he speaks through his appointed apostles and prophets. God’s ordinary and significant means by which he has ordained his Son to be encountered and heard is through his Word – the Bible. So pick it up and side with him today.

Walking Points

  • Reading and studying the Bible on your own is profitable. However, when you talk about it with others who are also reading Scripture, it can be a real blessing. Ask a couple of friends if they’ll start reading the Gospel of John with you so your group can discuss it together.
  • Move through John’s Gospel one chapter at a time, recording in a journal the significant teachings of Jesus. Ask yourself why each teaching you highlighted stands out to you. What implication would that teaching have in your life if you started believing it was true and obeying it? What are the implications for not believing and obeying it?
  • Give special attention to the claims Jesus makes about himself and the implications those claims have on your life.
  • Lastly, what miraculous works in John’s Gospel capture your attention? Why? What do they tell you about Jesus?

Prayer

God of truth, I give you praise that you have not left me to grope in the dark, seeking your path on my own. I am grateful that you have provided me with the Way and Truth, indeed, Life itself. And so forgive me Father when I seek to go my own way or when your truth scares me. I confess that I have sometimes been so fearful of obeying the truth you have so clearly given me that I have chosen to ignore it at best and rebel against it at worst. Both are sin and I ask you to please forgive me. Instead, gracious Lord, fill me with your Spirit, the Spirit of truth, and enable me to not only want to follow your truth, wherever it leads me, but to also be able to do so. I pray my faithfulness to your truth will lead others to give you praise in heaven and make a difference for the sake of your Kingdom here and now. In the name of the one who was and is the Truth, I pray. Amen.

Dying So They May Live

John 12:24-26 – I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. [25] The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. [26] Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.

Hold On Loosely

In our scripture Jesus teaches his disciples he is going to die, but that he must if they would live. A kernel of wheat must die if it would produce many seeds.

Have you ever wondered why reformation and revival has not broken out across the church at large or yours in particular? There are perhaps many reasons, but one reason is we are holding on too preciously and tightly to our own lives, unwilling to die. Jesus said in order to reproduce many seeds we must die. Do we love our lives too much in this world?

The Rule

My life for yours. Genuine, substitutionary, and sacrificial living. Following and serving our King wherever he may lead, to whatever end. This brings honor from the Father. This glorifies the Father. This universal principle is the rule, not the exception, because it reflects the very character of the Lord we worship.

My life for yours. God calls us as Christian parents to train and nurture our children in the Lord – when they rise, when they go to bed, as they live throughout the day, when it’s convenient, when it’s inconvenient.  We must make sure our children are not merely “taught at” but saturated in the things of God each day, all day, because they are eternal beings and heirs of the King. “I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.”

Your Legacy

Are you leaving a godly legacy to and for your children and your children’s children for a thousand generations? Are you dying so they can live – really live? Can you think outside your individual life to see how your own death will extend the Kingdom of God by producing many seeds? Will you believe the promises God has made regarding faithful, covenantal parenting? Your life for theirs and for a thousand generations after them. Talk about a payoff!

But this is hard. That’s why it’s called death. Death to self. It is intentional, committed, disciplined. It’s every day, all day. It’s the discipling of your children because it is your joy, blessing, and responsibility before God to do so. Your life for theirs. The Kingdom of God grows in such ways. Darkness is engulfed by light through such ways. Reformation and revival are ushered in through such faith and obedience. God promises blessings to such as these.

But First You Must Die

Do with less stuff if it means more time with your family. Play with your children at the end of the day, even when you are tired. Discipline your children, even when you would rather not. Cast a God-glorifying vision before your children of who they could be for Jesus. Read great stories to your children so their imaginations are ignited as they put themselves in the places of the characters in the stories. Tell them about the heroes of the faith who have gone before them, so they might see how others have given themselves for Christ and his Kingdom.

Teach your children who God is – his person, plan, power, and purpose. Drive home again and again what the gospel is and is not (after all, we’re not trying to merely make better citizens or “behaviorally correct” robots). Teach and show them God’s grace. They must learn what it means to know, love, and follow Christ. They have to understand that the Christian faith is a total world and life view that addresses every sphere of life.

Create A Christian Culture

We are called to create Christian cultures in our homes through the power of God’s Word and Spirit, so our children will bring that salt and light influence into every other sphere of their lives for Christ. This is first and foremost the responsibility of Christian parents, not others, not even the church. Our lives for theirs. We must die so they can live.

Can we let go? Of our wants, things, desires, passions – our very lives? We must if we would find real life – abundant life – eternal life. Life in service to the King is not our own. It’s better. Only in dying are we raised. Only in dying are more seeds produced, and therefore, more fruit. Our lives for theirs.

Faithfulness Now

From our commitment and hard daily labor now, what might God do later in response? Might he use one of our children, (or one of our children’s children), to bring many to Christ, transform the culture, usher in reformation and revival in the church, extend the Kingdom of God as never before? We have every reason to believe he will! But we must die. We must fall to the ground and die. We must give our lives for our children’s lives, and for their children after them, so God may be pleased and choose to honor us by blessing those for whom we gave our lives.

My life for yours. Our lives for theirs. This is biblical faith.

Walking Points

  • What makes dying to self so difficult, even for your children?
  • What are some practical ways you can give your life for theirs?
  • Write down some ideas of new things you can do to produce fruit in the life of your children.
  • Discuss these ideas with two or three other people who will hold you accountable for putting your ideas into practice and who will pray for you and your children. Don’t wait to do this… start today.

Prayer

Heavenly Father, it’s hard for me to die to myself. And when I see all that my Lord Jesus sacrificially did on my behalf, it makes me feel even more ashamed that I’m not willing to do a fraction of that for those I love most in this world. Please forgive me. Create within me, by your grace-giving Spirit, a deep desire to pursue this sacrificial life and give me the strength and direction to live it out the rest of my life. I want to love and glorify you as well as lovingly bless my children. Give me a sanctified self-forgetfulness so I may truly put others, my children included, before myself. Remind me often that, “unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” In the name of the One who gave his all that I might live. Amen.

Kingdom Disciples

Luke 13:20-21 – And again he said, “To what shall I compare the kingdom of God? 21 It is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, until it was all leavened.”

A Definition

A Kingdom Disciple is a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ. The phrase, Kingdom Disciple, is my shorthand way of communicating what it means to live faithfully as Christ’s follower, under his Lordship, and for his Kingdom. This distinctive is not mine. It’s neither innovative nor original. However, my goal in emphasizing Kingdom Discipleship is to help Christians see more fully what God has revealed in and through his Word about following Christ.

Jesus Christ is Lord

By using the phrase, Kingdom Discipleship, I wish to remind disciples of Jesus Christ that our calling is to faithfully and obediently follow Christ in every sphere of life. This is imperative because Jesus Christ is Lord over every sphere of life. It was God who granted Jesus authority over heaven and earth (Matt. 28:18) and gave him the name above every name (Phil. 2:9). It would, therefore, run counter to the biblical witness regarding our Lord’s authority, for Christians to live compartmentalized lives as his followers. God doesn’t want us to submit to Christ for just 70 or even 95 percent of our lives. He wants all of us. To paraphrase Abraham Kuyper, there is not a square inch in all the universe Christ has not claimed for himself.

Therefore, our calling as his followers is to intentionally, faithfully, obediently, and joyfully extend his Kingdom – his rule, reign, will, and influence – into every sphere of our lives (in every area of responsibility, interest, relationship, and authority). Everything, the common and the uncommon, the sacred and the secular, is to be done for God’s glory (1 Corinthians 10:31) and according to his will.

God’s Kingly Influence

The influence of Christ and of his Kingdom must come through gracious, loving, and truthful persuasion, modeling, and witness, never through coercion or manipulation. The kind of transformed individual, family, church, state, society, and world God desires will not, indeed, must not, come through violent political revolution or rebellion but by the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit and the subsequent “salt and light influence” of God’s people.

The Local Church

The primary means, humanly speaking, by which God’s Kingdom is extended in this way is through local assemblies of God’s people. It is in and through the life of the local church that the life-giving, life-transforming Gospel of the Kingdom is proclaimed, taught, and lived out. It is only as men, women, boys, and girls are reborn by the Spirit of God that they can enter the Kingdom of God (John 3:3-8). Then, as they grow in their faith, having their minds continually renewed and lives transformed, they become better educated, equipped, and encouraged to take this good news of the Kingdom into every sphere of their lives. And just as the woman’s yeast is mixed into the dough and worked until it permeates all of it (Luke 13:20-21), so too is the Kingdom of God extended into every sphere of life by his disciples.

Walking Points

• Based on this devotional, how would you explain what it means to “extend your faith into every sphere of life?”
• Have you tended to compartmentalize your faith or does it permeate and influence the different areas of your life?
• What are some ways your faith ought to influence your home, workplace, and community?
• What are you presently doing to be such an influence?
• How can you help other Christians gain a larger vision of the Christian life?
• Meet with two or three Christians and pray for such a “kingdom expanding” revival among God’s people to begin today.

Prayer

My great God and King, Lord of all, I ask you to forgive me for not submitting all my life to you and, therefore, not seeking to advance your rule and reign into every sphere of my life. Awaken me with your Spirit and enable me to see and hear more clearly the needs of the world around me. As your ambassador of salt and light, use me how you will to hold back the darkness and slow the decay of this world. Let my life be a shining city on a hill that cannot be hidden so that, upon seeing my good works, you will receive all the praise and glory in heaven. In Christ’s name I pray. Amen.

Being a Paul, Barnabas, and Timothy

2 Timothy 2:2; 1 Timothy 1:2; Acts 13

One-On-One Discipleship

In my reading over the years I’ve been often reminded of how important one-to-one ministry really is. As a man invests his life into the life of another man, real growth can occur in remarkable ways. This is one of the key ways our faith has been passed down through the centuries. And I can certainly attest to the power and influence such a ministry has played in my own life.

A helpful way of thinking about one-on-one ministry is to think about three names: PaulBarnabas, and
Timothy. Below is a description of what each name represents as we think in terms of ministering to other men.

Paul

1.) Paul represents that person in your life who mentors, leads, and directs you. This is the man who comes along side you to disciple you along the road of faith and life. This is someone who has traveled further down the road of faith and life than you. This man doesn’t have to be a great deal older than you, but it probably ought to be someone who has walked faithfully with God long enough and far enough for you to profit from his wisdom – his reflected-upon experience, study of God’s Word, etc. And it usually is the case that, though not exclusively so, this man will be older than you as well. But, as I said, sometimes this simply means, “older in the faith.”

I hasten to add that you must beware of someone who says he has been a Christian for 25 years when in reality, he has been a Christian for only one year, 25 years in a row. In other words, there has been no growth and maturation over that 25 years. My own observation as a pastor is that this sort of person abounds in the church. There are many people who, by their own admission, haven’t learned much more about God’s Word and walking along the road with him, than when they were children in Vacation Bible School. And so brothers, you must be careful about this. Pray for discernment.

Also, just because a man is at the top of his game in his profession, does not mean he is likewise mature and advanced in his faith. Success in one field of endeavor doesn’t necessarily mean success in another area of life. As I heard one person describe it, a man may have a Ph.D. in psychology, but have a second grade Sunday school degree in Bible. This is not the sort of man you want to have as your Paul.

Barnabas

2.) Barnabas is someone who encourages you and holds you accountable in your faith and life. This is more or less a mutual friendship, or what’s called in the world of spiritual formation, a “spiritual friendship.” In the book of Acts, Paul and Barnabas traveled together side by side. Barnabas was a key person in Paul’s life, especially at the beginning of his walk with Christ as he introduced Paul to the Christian community. Their relationship then became one of mutual encouragement, ministry, and accountability.

There are men I have discipled for years who have gone from being a Timothy in my life to becoming a Barnabas to me. And while I can still disciple them, they also minister to me in many ways.

Timothy

3.) Timothy is that man you help guide along the road of faith and life. This is generally someone who has not traveled as far as you have in your walk with Christ. Such a man is marked (or should be) by an eagerness to grow in his relationship with Christ and is humble and teachable enough to receive what you have to share and to interact with you on the things of faith and life.

This “mark of a Timothy” should not be ignored just for the sake of having a Timothy. There are many smart guys out there who don’t have teachable spirits. They feel they have nothing to learn from another man. So too, some are indifferent to the things of God. Timothy, Paul’s “son in the faith,” as Paul called him, was humble, teachable, and eager to know, love, and follow God through Jesus Christ. So too, a “Timothy” shouldn’t expect to only receive guidance and wisdom from his “Paul,” but should plan on becoming a Paul himself one day so he can begin the whole process over again with another man.

This is a process in a man’s life that ought to last a lifetime and be produced, reproduced, and multiplied over and over again throughout the course of the man’s lifetime, as well as in the lives of the men he invests in. We are Christians today, humanly speaking, because those who went before us were faithful to this process.

In sum, we need to be a Paul, Barnabas, and Timothy and we need to have a Paul, Barnabas, and Timothy. Such men in our lives are gifts from God. And we have the blessed opportunity to be such a gift to other men.

Walking Points

·         Who is your Paul? To whom are you a Paul? Describe those relationships.
·         Who is your Barnabas? To whom are you a Barnabas? Describe those relationships.
·         Who is your Timothy? To whom are you a Timothy? Describe those relationships.
·         If you drew a blank on any of those questions, begin praying for God to bring men into your life who will invest in you or who will be open to you investing in them.

Faithful Discipleship

Southside’s Mission

Before I arrived at the church I presently serve, a vision committee was formed to prayerfully study, discuss, and articulate our church’s mission. They were then tasked with writing a mission statement based on their effort. The statement declared Southside United Methodist Church’s mission was to,

Build the Family of God into Faithful Disciples of Jesus Christ.

The committee also wanted to make sure Southside was not just another church with just another mission statement. They wanted to make the mission statement an ongoing reality. With that in mind, the church put together a search committee assigned with the purpose of finding someone whose ministry would focus on helping to build the family of God at Southside into faithful disciples of Jesus Christ.

In doing this they were showing how seriously they took the familiar words of Jesus at the end of Matthew’s Gospel, what we call the Great Commission. There Jesus said,

Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them…and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”

By God’s grace, at least from my perspective, I was hired as Southside’s Minister of Discipleship. The idea and goal of discipleship is vital to the life of Christ’s Church. There is not a day that goes by that I don’t thank the Lord for putting the burden of discipleship on my heart and allowing me to serve with the congregation at Southside.

Making Disciples

Can any church faithfully live out its calling and mission if making disciples of Jesus Christ is not a priority? That question raises an even more fundamental question: What exactly is a disciple? After all, you can be a disciple of practically anything or anyone. Therefore, what defines a disciple of Jesus Christ is the question before us.

To help us unpack what a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ looks like, we’re going to take a look at Matthew 7:24-27.

The Sermon

Our text comes at the end of the Sermon on the Mount. For three chapters Jesus taught what has sometimes been called, “The norms of the Kingdom.” In these three chapters our Lord focused on what our character and conduct should look like if we would be faithful citizens of his Kingdom.  

Jesus concluded his remarks in the Sermon by saying in Matthew 7:24,

Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine…”

What “words” was he talking about? He was referring to the words he had been preaching throughout the Sermon on the Mount. Those “words” of Jesus are important in helping us understand what it means to be a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ.

The message of the Sermon on the Mount is powerful, convicting, and even devastating. But someone may well ask whether Jesus’ message can really be relevant to us, some 2,000 years later. Here is a small sampling of what Jesus taught in the Sermon, to help answer that question.

In chapters 5, 6, and 7 of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus’ words focus on:

  • Our character
  • God’s blessings
  • How to influence others
  • God’s Law
  • The righteousness God expects from us
  • Murder
  • Anger
  • Hate
  • Reconciliation
  • Adultery
  • Lust
  • Divorce
  • Taking oaths
  • Truth telling
  • Revenge
  • Going the extra mile for another person
  • Loving your enemies
  • Giving to the needy
  • How to pray
  • The Lord’s Prayer
  • How to fast
  • Humility
  • Treasures in heaven vs. treasures on earth
  • Putting God first
  • Priorities
  • Worry
  • God’s provision for your family
  • God’s Kingdom
  • Judging others
  • Hypocrisy
  • Persistence in prayer
  • God’s goodness to his children
  • How to enter into heaven
  • True and false prophets and how to tell the difference between them
  • The right foundation for building your life

That is a pretty contemporary and relevant list.

A Tale of Two Builders

To bring his teaching to life and emphasize what it means to be a faithful disciple, Jesus told his listeners a story about two builders, one he called wise, and the other, foolish.

There is one part of this familiar story that may be easy to miss. In this story, Jesus was not comparing and contrasting a “Church-goer” from a “non-Church-goer.” He was not comparing and contrasting a committed Christian and an outspoken pagan who had never darkened the door of a church.

If that was the case, we might all breathe a collective sigh of relief, as if to say, “Whew, at least he’s not talking about me.”

In this parable Jesus focused his attention on two different kinds of people who, for all practical purposes, looked just alike in almost every way. To put it in our own language, we might say both people went to church. Both could recite the Apostles’ Creed and Lord’s Prayer from memory. Both could sing every verse of every hymn. And both sat and listened to every word of the sermon.

Jesus’ point was that both houses the builders built looked identical, with this crucial exception: The foundations were completely different. One builder searched, found, and labored to build his house on a firm foundation of rock. The other took the path of least resistance and built his house in any old place, in this case, on nothing but sand.

Put Into Practice

What does the foundation of each builder represent? Jesus said the foundation signifies the words Jesus taught. Both people heard Jesus. According to Jesus, what made a person wise or foolish was what he did with those words. Only one builder put those words into practice. Jesus called that person wise. The other builder also heard the words of Jesus. However, he ignored them. Jesus called him foolish.

James, the brother of our Lord, must have paid attention to what Jesus was saying here because he wrote these words in James 1:22-25,

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. [23] Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror [24] and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. [25] But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it–he will be blessed in what he does.

The word to describe what Jesus was talking about is obedience. A faithful disciple is the follower of Jesus who hears his words and obeys them, puts them into practice. That is faithful discipleship.

This emphasis is found in the Old Testament as well. God gave the same message through his prophet, Ezekiel. In Ezekiel 33:31-32, we read,

My people come to you, as they usually do, and sit before you to listen to your words, but they do not put them into practice. With their mouths they express devotion, but their hearts are greedy for unjust gain. [32] Indeed, to them you are nothing more than one who sings love songs with a beautiful voice and plays an instrument well, for they hear your words but do not put them into practice.

God’s Word isn’t just to be admired, but obeyed. A number of years ago the men’s ministry at my church studied a book entitled, Point Man by Steve Farrar. It focused on helping Christian men live as the godly husbands, fathers, workers, and churchmen God desires. One of the chapters spoke to our need to study and obey Scripture. Farrar wrote,

“The Enemy does not mind if you revere the Bible, just as long as you don’t feed from it.”

He continued,

“The danger in the Christian life comes when I listen to a sermon or go to a Christian seminar or listen to a series of teaching tapes without applying the truth I hear to my life.”

He concluded this thought with these words,

“In the Christian life the opposite of ignorance is not knowledge, but obedience. God does not want to take a new Christian and move him from ignorance to knowledge. He wants to move him from ignorance to knowledge to obedience.”

Information for Transformation

From ignorance to knowledge to obedience. That is an essential element to faithful discipleship. God does not want men to read or study the Bible purely for informational purposes, but for transformation. To be sure, we must know and understand what the Bible says before we can put it into practice. But faithful disciples of Jesus Christ do not simply “collect” Bible-information so they can win Bible-trivia contests. They read and obey God’s Word so they can meet with God and be transformed by him.

My First Time with the Sermon

Have you ever read the Sermon on the Mount? I remember what I experienced when I finally started getting what Jesus was talking about. I felt despair. I felt so because in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said things like,

Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven.” (5:19)

“Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” (5:20)

“I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment.” (5:22)

“Anyone who looks at a woman (or man) lustfully has already committed adultery in his heart.” (5:28)

“If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away…If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away.” (5:29-30)

That’s just from the first half of chapter 5. It is those words, and others like them, that we are actually commanded to read, study, and put into practice. That is why I felt despair and guilt the first time I really started understanding what Jesus was talking about.

The Point of Those Words

And that’s the point. Those feelings of despair, guilt, and hopelessness are there to drive us to the Cross of Christ. They are meant to move us to God’s gracious provision in the person and work of his Son, Jesus Christ. Only Jesus perfectly practiced those words. That is why he was the only acceptable sacrifice on our behalf.

We are saved only when we place our trust in Christ alone and love him as our Savior, Lord, and all-sufficient Treasure. He is the pearl of great price.

We must indeed strive to increasingly grow more obedient to God’s Word. It is how we glorify God and become more like Christ. Like the wise builder, we must build a strong foundation by putting our Lord’s words into practice.

Yet we do not obey Jesus in order to save ourselves by our own good works. Instead, a faithful disciple seeks to obey Jesus because he has already been saved by God’s grace. Our obedience, while required in a qualified sense, is evidence of a grateful and loving heart.

That is how faithful disciples show Jesus and the world they love him. By obeying him, they will bear much good and lasting fruit. Jesus said in John 14:15,

If you love me, you will obey what I command.

And in John 14:21, our Lord taught,

Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.

That is what it means to be a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ. Thanks be to God who gives us eyes to see and ears to hear.

Walking Points

  • Have you ever read the Sermon on the Mount? If so, what did you think? What parts are you drawn to? What parts scare you?
  • What part is the hardest for you to put into practice? Why?
  • If you haven’t read it, take time now to do so. You will find it in Matthew 5-7. Ask God to reveal to you what it would look like in your life to obey what you’re reading. Then, ask for God’s Spirit to enable you to do so.