June 22, 1997
Hebrews 13 teaches that we are to live thankfully in a manner that pleases God. But we can’t do so alone. Our lifestyles are shaped not by our own knowledge but through the transforming power of experience and example. If we wish to please God, Alistair Begg teaches, we must learn from the family of God itself as it loves one another, shows compassion, and upholds the purity of marriage. In these ways, God’s family distinguishes itself from the world.
Sermon Transcript: Print
Now, can I invite you to take your Bibles, and we’ll pause for a moment in prayer before we turn to the Word:
O God our Father, we bless you for the truth that our sins had left a crimson stain, and you washed them white as snow. We thank you that this truth runs through all of our studies in Hebrews―the wonder of the sacrifice of Christ, and then the implications of what it means for that sacrifice to be worked out in our lives. We pray now that you will teach us through your Word, that far beyond the voice of a mere man, we might hear your voice. We need to. We want to. And we pray that we might be freed from every distracting influence that we bring to bear upon these circumstances, so that in hearing you we might understand and we might obey. And we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Well, if you look at the thirteenth chapter, here, of Hebrews, you will recognize that we have at least the potential of concluding our studies in Hebrews between now and next Sunday. That is at least the plan, although I have to acknowledge that I did poorly in the first hour. Whether I’m able to rectify this now remains to be seen.
All of us understand the importance of hands-on experience, especially if we have the responsibility and privilege of tutoring others in some area of activity. There’s all the difference between reading about what it means to ride a bicycle or describing what it means to ride a bicycle and actually helping somebody to get on the saddle and peddle away and learn. The making of a cake seems to me, at least, to be fairly straightforward when I look at the recipe books. But I haven’t had any success, mainly because I’ve never really tried, and that the times that I’ve tried, it just seemed horribly complicated. And what I needed was a hands-on activity—somebody to live it in front of me, and do it before me, and then have me try my hand at it too.
I’ve listened as medical students have told me the great difference that they felt that came about as a result of making an injection into living tissue as opposed to injecting those big plastic dummies that they have in nursing school. You can describe it, but it’s another thing to live it. It’s one thing to put down on a sheet of paper the way in which the law of aerodynamics operates, and then quite another to feel the amazing thrust of all those thousands and thousands of pounds of power as the law of aerodynamics takes over from the law of gravity and you fly.
Now, I begin like this this morning because the ethical terms of Hebrews 13―these moral principles which are here―are to be trained and formed in our lives not so much as a result of learning to apply abstract principles but as a result of learning to see these principles worked out in a family of faith. So, for example, we can read about what it means to love one another, and we can observe what it is in the life of loving people. We can understand that we’re supposed to care for strangers, but we can experience what it means if we’re brought up in that kind of home. We can read the principles and the demands for sexual purity, but we will do far better, as a child, living in the framework of a home where those principles are modeled. We can learn what it means to live contented with what we have, but far better if we find ourselves in the company of someone who, as we drive to work with them every day, lives out the principles of contentment, or if we find ourselves going on a trip with our grandparents and discovering that they model the reality of a contented heart.
You see, I think the myth, which is an all-embracing myth at the moment, is this: that we can cover all of this kind of material in one great, sweeping movement—that if we just simply introduce a movement of some kind, then we will all be caught up in the movement. If we can all commit to certain things, then we will all be inevitably committed. But in point of fact, the establishing of these ethical norms which we’re about to consider is demanding. It takes time, patience, and it takes involvement of our lives. It cannot be achieved on large-screen videos, and it cannot be achieved by simply throwing it up on the Web. There is a notion abroad that as long as we can disseminate enough good information, simply to get the information out will be to see it happening.
Well, we have done a masterful job at disseminating the information that directly links smoking to cancer, but there are still some twenty-five million people smoke in the continental United States, and that list is added to at the moment at the rate of five thousand individuals a day—most of whom are teenagers. So if information was enough to bring about transformation, then that would be right. All we would need to do would be to write it down or say it. But you can’t really learn love from a video. You can’t learn honor by remote control. You can’t understand faithfulness simply because you discover it on a website. No, if we are to be contented people, pure people, loving people, hospitable people, submissive people, then that is going to have to be discovered and worked out in the reality of a family of faith.
Now, I use the phrase “family of faith” purposefully, because if I said “church,” you would just sort of tick it in your mind: “Oh, yes, that’s supposed to happen in church.” But what is church? “Oh,” you say, “church is a building.” No, it’s not. You say, “Church is people.” Well, it is in part. But what is to be the reality of a company of people being brought together? Well, it is that they are to be brought together as a family; they are to be brought together as a family of faithful people, and those faithful people are supposed to be revealing their faith in action. And it is in that environment that you find the necessary condition for passing on these principles from one generation to another.
Now, there are some classic examples of this—for example, in the Amish community. Last evening, in the company of others, I found myself with the opportunity to speak with two young ladies from the Amish community. And in the course of a fairly prolonged discussion with one of them, I was struck most forcibly by the wonderful way in which the Amish are able not only to share their values but also to pass them almost untainted from one generation to another. Why is that? It’s not simply because they wrote them down. It’s not simply because they’re committed to them in a head knowledge. It is because they are absolutely committed to living them out. When they sing, “I’m seeing my father in me,” they know exactly what they mean, ’cause they literally look like their dads―that young boys start to look like the older men, that the younger women start to look like the older women, that the younger women start to live like the older women. What is this about? It is about principles―normative, regulative, moral, ethical principles―established not in a fierce individualism but established in the reality of a framework of faith in which men and women are accountable to one another.
And the one thing that mitigates against our being able to discover and display the principles we’re now about to consider is the fact that most of us are endemically fierce individualists. And it has been bred in us with our mother’s milk. We regard it as part and parcel of our American heritage that we really need to pay attention to very few people—and indeed, the ones to whom we’re going to pay attention are only the ones that we have flat-out decided we’re gonna pay attention to, and the rest can go fly a kite. So when anybody says, “Now, listen: these principles are gonna have to be founded and framed and established and developed within a committed family in which faith is in action,” that presupposes a lot, loved ones. And I want to work it out for you in the time that I have now.
Probably it would have been better, from some perspectives, if chapter 12 had ended with verse 27 and chapter 13 had begun with the “therefore” of verse 28. Now, I say that simply to make the point that the “therefore” which begins verse 28, at the end of chapter 12, introduces us to the responsibility and privilege of being thankful and worshipping God acceptably. What does it mean to “be thankful” and “worship God acceptably?”
Well, interestingly, J. B. Philips paraphrases it in this way: “Let us serve God with thankfulness in the ways which please him.” Now, if you were taking notes, you ought to write that phrase down. It is a paraphrase of the phrase “Let us be thankful, and … worship God acceptably.” “Let us” be thankful “in ways which please him.”
Now, if that was being read out to the congregation as it was for the first time, the people listening to it being read would have said to themselves―at least in their own minds―they would have said, “Well, I wonder what some of the ways are in which we can express our thankfulness by pleasing him?” And then they would have been so gratified to discover that chapter 13 would be the very answer to that question: What does it mean to live in the kind of thankfulness which pleases God?
Answer number one: “Keep on loving each other as brothers.” What does it mean for me to live thankfully before God and please him? It means that I would love my brothers and sisters in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Now, let me just simply mention in passing that these principles here are founded upon all of the previous twelve chapters. And in those twelve chapters, the writer has made it clear that he is writing to those who have come to hold firmly to Christ. In other words, they have acknowledged their sin, they have embraced Christ as their Savior, they have been included in the family of faith, and these principles are not a list of regulations whereby individuals may make themselves acceptable to God and one another, but these principles are the principles which are to be worked out of the life of faith, which reveals itself in a certain kind of lifestyle. For those who do not have the engine attached to the trucks, then it’s an impossibility, because all we have are these trucks, one marked “love,” one marked “purity,” one marked “contentment,” and the notion is you’re supposed to try and pull these trucks through your life. No, that’s not the message of the gospel. That’s the message of externalized religion. The message of the gospel is that the Lord Jesus comes, as it were, to give to us the very engine which drives the power train, which enables us to do the very things that he calls us to do. So our lifestyle is an evidence of our life. These principles do not create the life; they reveal it.
Now, with that, let me look at this: “Keep on loving each other.” “Love shared among us.”
Now, you know your Bibles and English well enough now to know that this is Philadelphia: two words, one a verb, phileo, which means “to love” or “to have great affection for”―same thing―and adelphos, a noun, which means “brother” or “from the same womb.” “From the same womb.” Now he says, “What I want you to do is to love those who came from the same womb.” What does this mean? Well, it means that the level of commitment is on the basis of a shared experience. And the experience is the grace of God, whereby he has brought us to an understanding of our need of a Savior and introduced us to the reality of forgiveness. And while the Christian family is marked by diversity of all kinds of dimensions, those things, he says, are to be subservient to this one great unifying principle: that we all came out of the same womb.
Now, I came out of the same womb as two girls, Maureen and Kathleen, one four and a half years younger, one nine years younger. It is unthinkable to me that I would be abusive to them, that I would offend them, that I would do anything to denigrate them, but only that I would love them as a brother should honestly love his sisters. Now, I didn’t always feel that way when I was ten, and I didn’t necessarily feel that way when I was fifteen. But maturity yields something, and I understand it now.
Now, he argues from the lesser to the greater; he says, “You know, in the same way that family life is supposed to work, where we would not be abusive of one another within those brother-sister relationships,” he says, “let that kind of thing be the hallmark of your relationships with one another. Because, after all, we are all God’s children. And we ought then to treat one another with humility.” Philippians 2: “In humility [treat] others [as] better than yourselves.”
Now, you see, loved ones, this is not a call, as I’ve told you so many times, to some kind of mushy sentimentalism. This is a call to realism: “Keep on loving each other as brothers”―and sisters. This means that we should be free to acknowledge when someone is a pain in the neck—as I frequently am! I am a pain in my own neck. So it would not be a surprise if I was a pain in anyone else’s neck. So for you to love me is to love me, Alistair, the pain in the neck. It is not that you need me to quit being a pain in the neck so that you can love me. Because frankly, you may have a little pain in your neck as well! And I’ve got to love you.
You see, it’s not a call to do all this oozy stuff. It’s to say, “You know what? You bug me. You absolutely drive me nuts. Do you understand that? But I’m going to love you, as a brother! Sometimes I feel like throwing you out. Sometimes I know you feel like throwing me out. Sometimes I feel like ignoring you. Sometimes I feel like avoiding you. But you know what? The Bible says that I’m to keep on loving you as a brother. And the unifying factor in our relationship is not that we both came from the same social background. It is not that we both like the same kind of music. It’s not that we both do the same kind of things when we’re not here doing church stuff. The unifying factor is we both came from the same place—that the same grace of God which redeemed me, which was a very unlikely thing for God to do, is the same grace which redeemed you, which, frankly, looking at you, is a rather unlikely thing for him to do!” Right?
So we all start on the same basis. What are we? We’re all a bunch of sinners! We’re all a bunch of limpers, and we’re just a bag of bones. From dust to dust. “Through many dangers, toils and snares…” If you only love the person when they’re lovable, how many days in the year are you gonna love them? Less days than there are sunny days in Cleveland! But if we make a commitment to love irrespective of whatever, then we can love 365 days! That’s the call.
The unifying factor is Christ. It’s not racial. It’s not cultural. It’s not social. Colossians 3, Paul writes to the church, he says, “Listen, here there is no Greek, Jew, circumcised, uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.” There’s a revolution, is it not? Was it revolutionary in his day? Of course it was! Because what did society do? Society divided itself on the basis of all these things: Greeks over here, Jews over there. Jewish restaurants, Greek restaurants. Barbarians hanging out in this club, Scythians in that club. Circumcised abusing the uncircumcised and so on. Everybody all over the place. You couldn’t find them together in one place at all, except perhaps at the games. Isn’t that interesting? ’Cause that’s the only place you can find them in contemporary American culture—provided they don’t make the tickets too expensive! The only place that you can find all of this racial, social integration is in sporting events, by and large. Or in the church of Jesus Christ.
Now, President Clinton has established a commission in order to address the issue of race in America. This is a noble thing, and I applaud him for it, and it certainly deserves of attention. But the one place in which it can and should happen is by and large a nonstarter when it comes to modeling the truth of this phrase in our contemporary culture.
You see, unless there is an energizing force from outside of a man or a woman that diminishes our external preoccupations with socioeconomic class, with race, color, and all of those things―unless that power comes from outside of an individual to engender in its unifying principle a reality that is unknown elsewhere, then it’s a chronicle of despair. Because men and women are essentially sinful. Men and women are essentially selfish. We as individuals go with our own kind, do our own thing, hang with our own group. Who can change that? Only Jesus.
Now, what does that mean? Does it mean that socioeconomic factors are irrelevant? No. This is what it means, and I quote Sinclair Ferguson: “Whenever we find ourselves attaching importance to possessions, backgrounds, schooling, or accent as the basis of fellowship, then we are out of step with the example of Christ, and such wrongful attitudes need to be dealt with at the foot of the cross.”
And here’s the deal, loved ones: churches—especially bourgeois churches such as ours—are riddled with all of this stuff. We’re full of it! We are so infected with it that we don’t even know how infected with it we actually are. Now, this is not to condemn us. This is to say, “Okay, let’s step up!” What is it gonna mean?
Do you remember Dusty Springfield? That’s a rhetorical question. You don’t have to answer; that’s fine. Remember her song “I Can’t Stop Loving You”? Nope? Well, let me sing it for you right now: “I can’t stop loving you, I’ve made up my mind.” Now there’s an interesting phrase, isn’t it? It doesn’t go, “I can’t stop loving you, I feel it in my gut.” “I can’t stop loving you, I’m head over heels for you.” “I can’t stop loving you, I made up my mind.” When you and I make up our minds to love each other as brothers and sisters, then all of these other things fall into the place where they’re supposed to fall. But until we make up our minds to do so, you can have somebody stand up here till they’re blue in the face; it won’t make one bit of difference. Because it is volitional. It is a commitment. It is an energized commitment by the power of the Holy Spirit, it is an instructive commitment by the truth of God’s Word, but it is nevertheless a commitment.
And until individuals―that means me and you―until we make radical commitments to this notion, we will be able to continue to be sidelined by our late-twentieth-century culture. But as soon as we begin to do this, believe me, they will be beating down the doors to get in here: “How in the world can you bring all those disparate people together? How is it that they all come together? What is the reason? What are you doing? What are you offering them? What’s happening in there?” And then when they come in, they say, “Only Jesus. Jesus changes the heart.” It’s not, you see, community at the basis of the lowest common denominator; it is a community that is based on the fact that we all come from the same womb. And because we all come from the same womb doesn’t mean we all equally like each other—’cause we flat-out don’t! And it doesn’t mean that we’re removed from personal preferences. And it doesn’t mean that we want to go to breakfast with everybody that we ever see. But it does mean this: that we are committed to loving each other from the heart.
Secondly, in the community of faith there needs to be the entertaining of strangers. Entertaining of strangers.
Now, the key word here is “strangers.” “Do not forget” to show hospitality to strangers, or “entertain strangers.” Hospitality is not having a few of your friends over to the house. Having a few of our friends over to the house is okay. We’re allowed to do that; indeed, we should do that. That’s part of what makes life life. But having people we like over to our house is not the fulfilling of the principle here in Hebrews chapter 13. It’s not a friends club. This is having strangers over to the house, people we don’t know. Well, why would we have somebody we don’t know over to the house? Because if we don’t know them, maybe no one else knows them! And if no one else knows them, where are they? No-names, no-faces, no-place. So, who’s gonna take the no-name, no-face, no-place if you don’t? Or if I assume that you will and you assume that I will, and neither of us does?
Now, just test yourself against it: How many strangers have you had over to your house lately? And I’m not talking about workmen.
You see, the way in which this was manifested was on account of the fact that the people who moved from place to place did not have the opportunities that we have of accommodation. The inns that were available were extortionately priced, and they had low moral standards—not dissimilar to the present day! You can talk to any traveling businessman. He’ll tell you he paid too much, and he had the potential of having moral filth pollute his bedroom twenty-four hours of the time that he was there. So it was extortionately priced and a low moral standard. What do you think he would have enjoyed? Probably would have enjoyed the companionship of another Christian. How would he ever meet another Christian? Well, he’d go to church. “Well, what’s church?” Well, people come together, they sit in rows. “Do they talk to one another?” I don’t know. Maybe, maybe not. Well, if they did talk to one another and they found out he was a stranger, do you think anything would happen from there? Well, probably not. Why? ’Cause our lives are too complicated to include strangers in it. We can hardly stand our own lives as it is without having some poor soul that came from Toledo get involved in this nonsense with us. We’re looking at the afternoon wondering if we can make it. Why would you ever include a stranger in this? That would discourage him.
Somebody said to me, “We drove three hours from Findlay to see you.” I said, “Hey, nice to see you!” I said, “I bet no one invited you for lunch.” She said, “No, they didn’t.” I said, “Well, tough! See ya around.” What am I gonna say? I preached my heart out. They’re strangers! Nobody turned to the person and said, “Hey, are you a stra—” You know, “Do I know you?” And they could at least have gone to Bob Evans, for crying out loud! It would have been nice! But they couldn’t do it, ’cause their life’s too complicated. So’s mine.
I’ve been thinking about, this week: Why were my mother and father able to have so many people in our home when I was a kid growing up? They’d come for lunch without planning. They’d come for dinner without planning. They’d come, come, come in all the time. It was like Grand Central Station. How’d they do that? ’Cause their lives were simple. They had one car. My mother didn’t drive. She’d stay home, make the meal—make a good meal, so my dad had confidence it’d be a good meal. There would be a meal.
I say to myself, “Well, why is it? Am I just not a nice person like my mother?” Say, “Well, that’s true. I got that one right.” But Sue is equally nice as my mother, maybe a little better. So it can’t be that. What is it? We have set up our stalls, most of us, so chaotically that we can’t get involved with strangers. We can’t even make time to get with the people we want to get with. So how in the world are we going to get strangers in here?
So where do strangers go in big, lonely metropolitan places? They go to bars, exercise clubs, gyms, coffee shops, bookstores—anywhere you can hang around in the possibility of getting a conversation. Wouldn’t it be a great idea if we had, like, a gym, you know, where people…? Maybe they’re coming past, see the lights on, go in, get a coffee? Maybe get a Christian book? Maybe somebody with a kindly face and a light on in the darkness? I think you get the point.
When’s the last time you read 3 John? Okay, fine; I appreciate your honesty. Turn to it for a moment, would you? Three John. If you start at Revelation and come back the way, you’ll do better than starting at Genesis. If you start at Genesis and you don’t know where you’re going, it’ll be next Sunday before you get there.
Three John. If love doesn’t issue in a hospitable home, love has not begun to work. We surely must understand that Christian homes are vital factors in our generation for reaching non-Christians, for encouraging one another. “Dear Gaius,” he says: “My dear friend Gaius.” What about Gaius? Look at verse 5: “Dear friend, you[’re] faithful in what you[’re] doing for the brothers, even though they are strangers to you. They[’ve] told the church about your love.” Love in action, practice, to strangers. “You will do well to send them on their way in a manner worthy of God. It was for the sake of the Name”―namely, the name of Christ—“that they went out, receiving no help from the pagans. We ought therefore to show hospitality to such men so that we may work together for the truth.” Gaius. An unfamiliar name, doing the job.
Now, the deal is that when we operate in this way, we will discover that the benefits we derive are greater than the exercise of hospitality that we give. He says, “There were people in the past who entertained angels, and they didn’t even know about it.” That’s in Genesis 18—Abraham and Sarah—and Judges 13, in relationship to a man called Manoah. This is not the motivating factor. We can imagine our children saying, “Can we have Mr. So-and-So over for lunch? I want to see if he’s an angel.” I’m forced to conclude that a lot of the people we had in our home were certainly not from the angelic department. They might have been from another department, when I was a kid growing up. So it’s not that we’re motivated by the desire of maybe waking up and finding an angel in the guest room. He says, “If you do this, you will derive a benefit that far exceeds the extension of your own resources. And after all,” he said, “there were people in the past, and they entertained angels, and they didn’t even know about it.”
Okay. Loving his brothers. Entertaining strangers. Thirdly, sympathizing with prisoners: “Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners.”
Christians, you see, in the first century were landing in prison. They were landing in prison on account of their faith. These folks could not attend the gatherings; therefore, they could not be welcomed as strangers; therefore, they could not experience hospitality. They were removed from all the routine benefits of everyday life. And what are we to do with such? He says, “Well, since they cannot enjoy hospitality, they can experience our sympathy. So I want you,” he says, “to empathize with people in prison.”
In other words, think about the prisoner and say, “Now, what would I like if I was in prison?” So, “If I was in prison, I think I’d like somebody to send me a card.” Okay. Send a card. “If I was in prison, I’d like a visit.” I’m going to find out if I can visit. “If I was in prison, I’d like a visit, and I’d like somebody to bring me a big two-liter bottle of Diet Coke.” Fine, I’ll get him a two-liter bottle of Diet… Whatever it would be! But in other words, he says, “Get yourself under the burden of who these people are. Try and think yourself into their circumstances. Write notes of encouragement to them. Do what you can for them.”
Now, we’re thankful for the involvement that we have here in prison ministry. And there are more opportunities. There are far more opportunities than there are people involved. The prison ministry which began in my previous church began, I’ve told you before, by a lady who’d read a good book, and as she read the book, she thought it would be good to give the book to someone. She was driving past the prison, which was a few miles from her home out in the country, and the thought struck her, “Maybe I could give the book to a prisoner.” She was far removed from prisoners. She was a well-heeled lady, nice husband and family and everything. She didn’t know a prisoner. She wouldn’t know a prisoner if they ran in and stole something out of the refrigerator.
She went home, put the idea out of her mind. It came back to her again; couldn’t get rid of it. Went to the prison, asked to speak to the governor, said, “You know, I have just this thought. I don’t know if it’s crazy, but I read this book, and I thought maybe I could give it to one of the prisoners. They could read it.” The governor said, “That’s a fabulous idea. Do you have any more books like this?” “Oh, yes,” she said. He said, “Well, you go, bring more books like this, and we’ll start a library in here for these prisoners.” So they started the library.
And after a few months had passed, she went back again, and she said, “You know, I’ve been telling people about the library here in the prison, and there’s a few men, and they’re willing to come up here on Friday evenings; they’re gonna do a Bible study. We’ll just read the Bible and read a few verses and talk about what it means.” The governor said, “Bring ’em up!” They came up on a Friday evening to start it. I’ve been here for fourteen years. It began six years before I left. Friday evening, I know, they were in Dungavel Prison. Why? Because they got underneath the burden of what was happening to those folks.
You see, if the church of Jesus Christ doesn’t believe in human rights—if the church of Jesus Christ does not make a commitment to the cesspools of our culture, to the challenging dimensions of our humanity—someone else will. Now, we ought not to be motivated by the fact that we want to get there before someone else gets there. We’re supposed to be motivated by the fact that the Lord Jesus said, “Inasmuch as you’ve done it unto the least of one of these my brethren, you’ve done it unto me.” “When did we ever see you in prison, Jesus? When did we ever see you in the hospital?” He said, “Well, you never saw me in prison or in the hospital. But you’ve seen others in prison and in the hospital, and when you looked in their eyes, you looked in my eyes. Now, go get it done.”
What about the people who are prisoners in geriatric wards? What about the prisoners in their own bodies, unable to comb their hair, unable to scratch their nose? Who’s gonna go to them? You want to go? Go!
You say, “Well, I don’t know how to start.” Well, just like the lady started: go make a telephone call. Whatever God lays on your heart, say, “You know what? I can’t do much. But I can put a few little booklets together. I can make a commitment to Ward Three. I know where Ward Three is. I know where that nursing home is. I saw it as I was driving in my car. I can drop down there. I don’t need to go in with a gigantic, big Thompson Chain-Reference Bible and start laying on the people all this stuff. I just go in as a nice lady. I don’t have to go now for the rest of my life, starting today. I can just go on Fridays. And as God opens doors of opportunity, as I speak into the lives of prisoners, I can tell them about the love of Jesus.”
You see, that’s what Onesiphorus did, and he stood out from the crowd, in 2 Timothy 1: “May the Lord show mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, because he often refreshed me[, he] was[n’t] ashamed of my chains,” and “on the contrary, when he was in Rome, he searched hard for me until he found me.” As opposed to “everyone in the province of Asia has deserted me, including Phygelus and Hermogenes.” “But oh boy, oh boy, how thankful I am for Onesiphorus!”
Now, we may not experience the immediacy of this as in the first century, or as in the Cultural Revolution in mainland China, or as under the dreadful ravishings of the Pol Pot regime in Cambodia. But believe me, when we gather around the throne of heaven, there will be countless numbers there who will testify to the dramatic impact of Jesus Christ as a result of the silent, committed testimony of people who were prepared to do ministry just like this.
Let me do one more: purity in marriage. Purity in marriage.
The political prisoner may seem a long way from me, but this one touches right where I live my life. “Marriage should be honored by all,” he says. In other words, “Don’t cop out of it. Don’t embrace asceticism―hair shirts, beds of nails, and monasteries. But on the other hand, don’t allow permissiveness to invade your marriages.” This is not an open-ended contract. It’s a covenant. He says, “You understand that God has set it up in a certain way, and you must live in that way.”
This is a counterculture, folks. The statistics are horrible for the church on this subject. Horrible! See, if I wasn’t a Christian, and I had some of the people coming out of here laying the trip on me, you know: “Oh yeah, Jesus Christ, he changes your life, man. Yeah. Oh, yeah. Yeah, that’s it.”
Say, “Well, like, in what way?”
“Well, like, you don’t go to hell.”
You say, “Well, that’s good. But you’re talking about changing your life. In what way did it change your life? I mean, do any… I mean, is it only white people that go to your church? Or is it only black people that go to your church? I mean, has he broken through those barriers? Are there Asian people that go to your church? I mean… Or does everybody go to your church have to make twenty-seven thousand dollars a year before they can come? How does he change? And has he been changing the statistics on divorce?”
Say, “No. We’re pretty well the same as the pagan world.”
Say, “Well, where’s the change?”
Now, we can’t squirm out of this. We can’t sidle out of it. We can’t say that Jesus makes a change if there is no change. So what do we do? We do what the Bible says. The Bible says, “This is what you’re to do,” then this is what you’re to do. We don’t need a committee meeting on it. We don’t need to take a year and a half to discuss it. We just have to do it. And we’ve got to do it so that our children will see us do it, and then we’ve got to live it in front of our children so that they will do it in front of their children’s children, and so that we’re able to offer to our culture a radical alternative.
Now, I don’t have time to get into all of this just now, but even from the strangest places we’re hearing this, albeit for pragmatic reasons. But here’s Men’s Health:
Monogamy may not sound like much fun, certainly not in comparison to its alternative. Monogamy. Sounds an awful lot like monotony, doesn’t it? Or monopoly? Do I hear mahogany? Yet we dare not relate monogamy to tedium, an endless board game, or a great aunt’s dining table. True happiness—the deep, sustaining contentment we seek—lies somewhere down “Monogamy Road.”
These are the pagans writing! Say, “You know what? I got a great quote in that magazine.” “You’re dead right! Look at what it says in here, and let me tell you how it’s achievable.”
The lyrics of pop songs, the movies that we embrace—I’m ashamed. I’m ashamed of the fact that I can be so excited about what William Wallace did in Braveheart that I’m prepared to tolerate the adultery that is part of his life. Everywhere you go, people say, “Braveheart. Hey! There’s the stuff. There was a guy, wasn’t it?” Even all the Christians! The Bridges of Madison County. The Loneliness of the Everyday Housewife. Glen Campbell. What was The Bridges of Madison County? Absolute rubbish! That’s what it was. A bestselling book, a major film, and the plot is nothing other than a sorry tale of adultery wrapped up in the disguise of romance. Loved ones!
Now, let me say this to you as well—a little word of encouragement, somewhere in here. Adultery is not the unforgivable sin. It’s a terrible offense that afflicts emotional pain and scars, but no one should feel that his actions, her actions, have placed them outside the love of God. We should be seeing far less divorce and far more reconciliation than we do within our Christian family. Society continues to be ravished by divorce and lives in the shadows of dejection, desolation, and heartache of broken relationships. The Christian community should be alive and available to provide the love and acceptance that so many wounded people have been denied.
Now, our time is gone, and so we will conclude. Let us pray.
Let’s just take a moment to allow the Word of God to settle in our minds―its challenge, its exhortation, its encouragement. Remember that God never exhorts us to activities that he does not provide the resources for us to be able to fulfill. This is not a chronicle of despair. When he wants us to love one another in this way, it’s because he provides the grace enabling us to do it—to start to genuinely be concerned for strangers because he, the Lord Jesus, looked on people and saw them as sheep without a shepherd. And he lives in our lives, and we learn to see through his eyes. When we think about entering in empathetically to the lives of those who are buffeted and bruised, imprisoned, we hear the voice of Christ: “Inasmuch as you’ve done it unto the least of one of these, you did it unto me.”
And when we think about marriage, with all of its challenges, with dark shadows, shafts of sunlight, thorn-strewn pathways, broken-down walls, torn hedges, immense joys, great anticipation, we ask, loving God, that you will make us different by your grace; that you will help us not to fail; that in failing, you will help us not to quit; that in stepping up and heading on, that you will give to us all the grace that we require.
And as we think about our nation, torn and scarred in these most practical areas of life―love, and sex, and what to do with the penal system, how to handle prisoners, what to do about this and that―O God, we pray that as the century ends and a new era dawns, you’ll show us something of what this means as a church in the development of ministry, in the giving of ourselves, in the discovery of whole new avenues that have never even crossed our minds, so that the world might know that Jesus is alive and may come to trust in him.
We commit ourselves afresh, then, on this first Sunday morning of a new week. We pray that we might hear your voice.
And grant that your grace and your mercy and your peace, from Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, might rest upon and remain with each one of us, today and forevermore. Amen.
 Elvina M. Hall, “Jesus Paid It All” (1865).
 Paul Overstreet, “Seein’ My Father in Me” (1990).
 Dave Bilbrough, “Let There Be Love Shared” (1979).
 Philippians 2:3 (NIV 1984).
 John Newton, “Amazing Grace” (1779).
 Colossians 3:11 (paraphrased).
 Don Gibson, “I Can’t Stop Loving You” (1958).
 3 John 1:1 (NIV 1984).
 Hebrews 13:2 (paraphrased).
 Matthew 25:40 (paraphrased).
 See Matthew 25:44–45.
 2 Timothy 1:15–17 (NIV 1984).
 Hugh O’Neill and Greg Gutfeld, “Your Honey or Your Wife,”Men’s Health, January/February 1996, 72.
 See Matthew 9:36; Mark 6:34.
Copyright © 2023, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.