Woven into the fabric of creation are some of God’s richest lessons. They are lessons that God desires to teach us and they are all around us…for those who have eyes to see and ears to hear.
Located right in the heart of Israel is one of the most vivid illustrations of the blessings that come to those who freely receive and allow the blessings to flow into the lives of others. Stitched into the same illustration are the consequences that await those who receive blessings from God, but refuse to allow those blessings to bless the lives of others.
This powerful lesson of God has never preached a sermon or spoken a word, but every Israelite has seen its message. The reminder comes in the form of two bodies of water—theSea of Galileeand theDead Sea. The two bodies of water are connected by theJordan River. There are streams that flow into theSea of Galileeand bless the body of water. Small streams and theJordan Rivertake water from the Sea of Galileeand flow out from it to nourish and bless those who live inIsrael. TheJordan Riverflows directly from the Sea of Galileeinto theDead Sea, but once it gets to theDead Sea it stays there. There are no streams or rivers that flow out of theDead Sea – it keeps everything for itself. It has the highest salt content of any body of water in the world. The salt content is so high that nothing can live in its waters, no plants can survive on its banks, and all of us know that you can’t drink salt water. As a result of theDead Seabeing a “taker” and not a “giver” the Sea is dead.
This is a powerful lesson for all of those who callIsraelhome. It is a powerful illustration whose lesson should reverberate far beyond the borders ofIsrael. God gifts us in order that we might give. He blesses us so that we might be a blessing. He sets us apart as His people so that we might serve those around us by sharing with them the Good News that we have found in Jesus.
This morning I want us to carefully consider the Scriptures and what they have to teach us about this biblical principle of being gifted to give. I want us to consider four truths that I have found in the pages of God’s Word regarding the gifts of God given to His people.
First, God has gifted every person. The Apostle Peter wrote to the Church and encouraged them to use the gifts they had been given to serve those the Lord had put into their lives so that God might receive glory and honor. Read with me from 1 Peter 4.
10Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.11If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.(1 Peter 4:10-11 NIV)
This powerful section of God’s Word makes it more than apparent that the Lord has blessed us with abilities. We can also learn from the Scriptures that God has a purpose and a plan for the gifts He has given to you and me. Peter writes that we are to use the gifts God has given us to“serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.” Now, some of you may be convinced that you don’t have any real gifts, but my friend Scripture says that you are wrong. Everyone has abilities. You might be able to talk to people – so talk to them about the glories of God and the truths of Scripture! God may have given you a tender heart— so comfort folks with the grace and mercy of the Savior! You might keep the best checkbook of anyone in town— so use those gifts of administration and financial integrity to bless the church and to teach others how to have financial integrity. God may have given you a deep love for children or the elderly— so use that tenderness to let them know that they matter to God. You might be a wonderful cook— so use that gift to bless the lives of others with your delicacies. You may have been blessed with a wonderful intellect, lots of gray matter—so use your intelligence to glorify the Lord and bless His people. I could go on and on, filling page after page with the wondrous and various gifts God has so freely given to His people, but the bottom line is that He has given us every ability that we possess. We can’t allow what we can’t do to keep us from doing what God has called us to do.
Fanny Crosby suffered from an eye infection just six weeks after she was born. The doctors administered the wrong treatment and Fanny was left blind for the rest of her life. As Fanny grew into her teenage years she recognized two great loves in her life: poetry and God. She combined those two loves and the world began to sing! “Blessed assurance Jesus is mine. Oh what a foretaste of glory divine!” “Tell me the story of Jesus. Write on my heart every word. Tell me the story most precious. Sweetest that ever was heard!” “To God be the glory great things He hath done. So loved He the world that He gave us His Son.”And the world is still singing today! By the time Fanny died in 1915, she had written almost 9,000 hymns during her life!
Second, we must realize what an honor and privilege it is to be called into His service. Some of the most gifted people who have ever lived surrendered their lives and their own ambitions in order that they might follow God’s leading. Let me give you an example.
In 1916 young Martyn Lloyd-Jones headed off to the big city ofLondonto begin his education as a doctor. His education was at Saint Bartholomew’s Hospital. St. Bartholomew’s was the most prestigious of all medical schools. Martyn was the brightest student at St. Bartholomew’s from the time he arrived. As a matter of fact, he was so young when he passed all of his medical exams that he had to wait to take his final MD exam. By this time he was already the chief clinical assistant to Sir Thomas Horder, one of the best and most famous doctors of the day. Martyn was promoted as aHarley Streetdoctor, one of the doctors of the royal family. Martyn was so young, so brilliant, and his future looked so bright. He would spend the rest of his life in the lap of luxury and prestige caring for the royal family, or so it would seem. God had other plans for Martyn Lloyd-Jones.
Martyn had committed his life to Jesus Christ when he was young, but it was more of a Sunday morning faith. While serving as a doctor Martyn felt the call of God to leave medicine and teach the Word of God. Martyn made the announcement that he was leaving medicine and going into full-time ministry. Everyone was dumbfounded.
With no formal education as a theologian or Bible teacher, Martyn accepted a church back in his home ofWales. Sandfields,Waleswas a lower class area which was described by one author by saying,“Sandfields contains at least 5000 men, women and children living for the most part in sordid and overcrowded conditions.” Another person described the town by saying that Sandfields was for”the bookie, prostitute, and publican.”
After Martyn had been at theBethlehem Forward Movement Churchfor about one year a reporter from theLondonnewspaper came to interview him. The reporter began a question by saying to him,“Martyn, you have given up so much…” Martyn Lloyd-Jones held up his hand and interrupted the reporter,“I have not given up anything. I have gained everything.” Martyn Lloyd-Jones served that little church faithfully for eleven years before he accepted the call to preach at Westminster Chapel. By the time Martyn came to the end of his life he was known as the greatest preacher in all ofEnglandand many placed him on the same level as Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the “Prince of Preachers.”
“ Give up? I’ve given up nothing. I’ve gained everything!” Those are the words of a man called by God. That is the passion of a man who knows that is a greater honor to serve God rather than to be praised by men. Lloyd-Jones knew that being called by God was far greater privilege than being called by the Queen.
The Apostle Paul was overwhelmed by God’s call even though it radically changed every plan that he had made for himself. Years after the Lord turned Paul’s life upside down, he wrote these words.
7But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.8What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ…(Philippians 2:7-8 NIV)
Third, we must not allow other’s fear and apathy to infiltrate our hearts and cool our passions for serving the Savior. Fear and apathy have been the cold water that has cooled many a soul that was, at one time, on fire for the things of God. Fear has paralyzed many an impassioned heart that knew God was calling them to cry out,“Here am I Lord, use me!”Fear comes in many forms. Sometimes we are afraid of serving God because we don’t feel that we have the ability that is needed; we don’t know where God will lead us, what it will cost us, or what others will think about us. These fears have kept many from experiencing the fullness of pouring out their lives for the King.
The most devilish and diabolical form of fear comes not from within, but from the outside. Others, who love us, fear what might happen to us if we give up the American Dream and serve the King. We have to realize that their love and concern for us might very well lead to some of the worst counsel that we could ever receive—if it keeps us from pursuing God’s will for our lives.
John G. Paton was called by God to leave his country and minister to the people on the islands of New Hebrides. As he was preparing to leave he met with some people from his church. One man spoke up and said,“John you can’t go! The Cannibals! You will be eaten by Cannibals!” The passionate young man said,”Mr. Dickson, you are advanced in years now, and your own prospect is soon to be laid in the grave, there to be eaten by worms; I confess to you, that if I can but live and die serving and honoring the Lord Jesus, it will make no difference to me whether I am eaten by cannibals or by worms.” (John G. Paton, SJP, 28)
Unlike many others who had gone before him and many others who have come along since, John Paton would not allow other’s fears for his life to distract him from offering his life in service to the Lord.
Fear and apathy are virus-like in that they have a strong tendency to spread and infect the lives of those around the infected. During the days of the Exodus, Moses sent out Joshua, Caleb, and ten other spies to spy out the land where God was leading them. God freed the Hebrew slaves fromEgyptand He was leading them to a land that was flowing with milk and honey. Now who couldn’t be excited about that? Yet, when we read Numbers 13-14 we see how fear among a few spread throughout the whole camp. Turn with me to Numbers13:30and let’s begin reading.
30Then Caleb silenced the people before Moses and said, “We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it.”31But the men who had gone up with him said, “We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are.”32And they spread among the Israelites a bad report about the land they had explored. They said, “The land we explored devours those living in it. All the people we saw there are of great size. We saw the Nephilim there (the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim).33We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.” 141That night all the people of the community raised their voices and wept aloud.2All the Israelites grumbled against Moses and Aaron, and the whole assembly said to them, “If only we had died inEgypt! Or in this desert!3Why is the LORD bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword? Our wives and children will be taken as plunder. Wouldn’t it be better for us to go back toEgypt?”4And they said to each other, “We should choose a leader and go back toEgypt.”(Numbers13:20-14:4 NIV)
Those who had been freed by God from 400 years of slavery were willing to forfeit the blessings of God because of a report from a few faithless men. Joshua and Caleb didn’t bring back the same report as the faithless ten, but the virus of fear was spreading like wildfire throughout the camp.
Those skeptical and fearful folks are still with us today. How many believers have been stirred by the Spirit of God to get involved in serving the King only to have someone else throw cold water on them? I’ve heard folks tell their stories of the “giants” that have discouraged them and caused them to go back toEgyptto others who wanted to get involved and serve the Lord. These stories discourage folks and those of us who complain and grumble cause others to rethink the call of God upon their own life. The Spirit of God and the Word stir hearts to action, but then they hear, “I got involved in the church one time, but folks were critical of what I did so I decided that I would never volunteer again.” “The pastor asked me if I could meet with someone who was going through a hard time, but I ended up being taken advantage of so I decided I would say, ‘No’ next time he calls.” I would like to help out, but you know church folks—you can ever please them.” You know what? You are absolutely right! Church folks are a weird sort of people that are never satisfied. There is always something to gripe about, something to argue about, something to point out that wasn’t done in the way they would have done it—if we choose to give credence to those kinds of things. When you serve the Lord you will be taken advantage of by believers and unbelievers alike, but after all, wasn’t Jesus hung on a cross by those He came to serve? Weren’t 11 of the 12 disciples killed for their faith as they served the Lord? Here is the key to avoiding the impact of the disgruntled and those who will seek to take advantage of you and me—keep your eyes on Jesus and your ears tuned to His call. The writer of Hebrews wrote,
10God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them.(Hebrews6:10NIV)
Along with the virus of fear there is the equally deadly virus of apathy. I well remember when I first came to know Christ. I came home wanting to change the world. I knew that Jesus was alive. I knew that His love was for real. I knew that others needed to know what I had learned. Do you know what was waiting on me when I got back home? I heard from my friends,“Give it a couple of weeks and you’ll be back with us again.”
The Church is mired in lethargy and apathy today. She only cares that her needs are cared for and that the Church provides the kind of opportunities that will keep her fat and happy. Where has the passion for the lost gone? Where has the burden for the broken gone? Where has the unbridled commitment to the spread of the Gospel gone? Where has the mercy for the addicted and enslaved gone? Where has the love gone for those who do not know yet Jesus? Those who have never heard that He has come to set us free?
The great preacher Charles Spurgeon wrote about this malady in his own day in a sermon that is titled, “A Solemn Warning For All Churches.”
Ah! we have an abundance of cold, calculating Christians, multitudes of professors; but where are the zealous ones? Where are the leaders of the children of God? Where are your heroes who stand in the day of battle? Where are your men who “count not their lives dear unto them,” that they might win Christ, and be found in him? Where are those who have an impassioned love for souls? How many of our pulpits are filled by earnest, enthusiastic preachers? Alas! Look, at the church. She has builded herself fine palaces, imitating popery; she hath girded herself with vestments; she has gone astray from her simplicity; but she has lost the fire and the life which she once had. Let us speak of things as we find them. We do believe that the church has lost her zeal and her energy. But what do men say of us? ‘Oh! you are too excited.’ Good God! Excited! When men are being damned;Excited!When we have the mission of heaven to preach to dying souls. EXCITED!Preaching too much!When souls are lost? Why should it come to pass that one man should be perpetually laboring all the week, while others are lolling upon their couches…Can I bear to see the laziness, the slothfulness, the indifference of ministers, and of churches, without speaking. No! there must be a protest entered, and we enter it now. Oh! Church of God, thou has a name to bear, but you are dead; thou art not watchful. Awake! Awake! Arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light.(Charles Haddon Spurgeon, A Solemn Warning for All Churches.February 24, 1856.)
The virus of slothfulness and apathy has been around for a long, long time. Long before Spurgeon ever preached his powerful sermon the writer of Hebrews sought to stir his audience by writing in Hebrews 6:12,
12We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.(Hebrews6:12NIV)
We must not allow the apathetic and fearful to turn us away or infect us with this insidious disease of apathy, we must keep our eyes on the Lord and our ears tuned to His glorious call to serve Him with all of our hearts. If we must seek encouragement from people then let us be moved by the great men and women who have gone before us. Remember the faith of the faithful. Remember the prayers of George Whitefield. Remember the compassion of Mary Slessor, the great missionary toNigeria. Remember the passion of the Apostle Paul who counted everything as nothing for the privilege of serving the King. Remember the faith of Rahab, Joseph, and Gideon. Remember the mercy of Mother Theresa and the diligence of Billy Graham. Remember the giants of faith and give no thought to those small souls whose eyes are fixed on the “giants of the land.”
Last of all, stay faithful to the end. Fight the good fight. Serve with diligence. Refuse to be distracted. Never shrink back from fulfilling the mission God has set before you. Never give up!
Jim Elliot was a young student atWheaton Collegewhen the Lord burdened his heart with the Indians of South America. Jim Elliot told some of his friends and God began to stir their hearts as well. Once they graduated the young men left forSouth Americaand began ministering to two native villages, but the Lord began to burden their hearts for the dreaded Auca Indians, the most fierce and blood thirsty tribe in all ofSouth America.
OnOctober 28, 1949, Jim Elliot wrote in his journal these powerful words:”He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”Jim did not know how prophetic those words would be for his life in the next decade.
In the Autumn of 1955, one of Jim Elliot’s missionary partners, pilot Nate Saint, spotted an Auca village. During the next few months, Elliot and several fellow missionaries dropped gifts from a plane, attempting to make contact with the Aucas. In January of 1956, Elliot and four companions landed on a beach of theCuraray River in easternEcuador. Jim and his friends made several positive contacts with members of the tribe who had killed several Shell Oil company employees.
Two days later, onJanuary 8, 1956, all five men were speared and hacked to death by warriors from the Auca tribe. Many today would hear the story of Jim Elliot’s death and conclude that it was a waste. He was such a bright young man who had everything to look forward to in life, but my friend Jim had more to look forward to than life—he was looking forward to seeing his King.
Most people would read the story of Jim Elliot’s death and conclude that it was a tragic and unnecessary waste, but you need to know the rest of the story. The passion for the Aucas that the Lord had given to Jim and his wife would not escapeElizabeth, even though the men had killed her husband. Elizabeth Elliot decided to go back and fulfill the call of God upon her life.Elizabethmade contact with the Auca Indians and was accepted into their village where she lived many years spreading the Gospel. The very men that had killed Jim ended up giving their lives to Christ.
Faithful to the end. Elizabeth Elliot wasn’t the first follower of Jesus who had chosen to faithfully serve the Lord regardless of the cost. The Apostle Paul wrote in his final letter to a young man named Timothy,
6For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure.7I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.(2 Timothy 4:6-7 NIV)
Timothy needed to hear those powerful words. Evidently Timothy was prone to timidity. He was a tender soul who had a tendency to shrink back when the heat got too hot in the kitchen. Paul, just three chapter earlier in his letter to Timothy, tried to spur the young man on to faithfulness with these words.
5I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also.6For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands.7For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.8So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me his prisoner. But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God,9who has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace.(2 Timothy 1:5-9 NIV)
For those whose flame has died down, Paul says, “fan the flame!” Fame the flame of passion so that you might allow the Lord to use you to the full! Fan the flame so that those around you might see the glories of the Savior as you serve Him with an undivided heart! Oh, how the Lord would love to fan the flame of your love, devotion, and passion this very morning so that you might know the joy of serving the Lord in each and every situation.
I want to invite you to allow the Lord to search your heart this morning. Is the flame of your faith burning brightly? Is the flame flickering because of discouragement from others, fears that you hold tighter than His purpose for your life, or apathy that has crept into your heart and has drawn you away from fulfilling what He has purposed for you? It’s not too late my friend. This very morning you can confess your apathy, fear, and discouragement and watch Him ignite the flame once again.
There maybe someone who is here who does not know the Lord as Savior and Lord of your life. I want to invite you to allow Him to ignite the flame of faith this morning and begin to walk in His will for your life. Won’t you ask Him into your heart as Savior before you leave here today?