Heart Cry: A Call To Drink, Steal, Lie, And Swear
I wish to read for you these verses from Paul’s letter to the Philippians. They’re Paul’s words, yes. But in fact, they are the Word of God.
“Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed not only in my presence but now much more in my absence, continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. Do everything without complaining or arguing so that you may become blameless and pure children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life in order that I may boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor for nothing. But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you. So you too should be glad and rejoice with me.”
May God bless to us the reading and the hearing of this portion of His holy Word.
Pray with me, please. Give me, Jesus, Lord. Give me Jesus. You can have all the rest. Just give me Jesus. Amen.
I am a simple man. I have a simple faith. I simply believe in Jesus Christ. That is why I have a hard time these days with our tendency to try to complicate anything and everything in life. I keep thinking of what Alfred Lord Tennyson had to say about the great duke of Wellington. Tennyson said, “As the greatest only are, he was, in his simplicity, sublime.” Oh, I believe that I could say the same thing about the great Apostle Paul. He was, in his simplicity, sublime. You see. Paul, for all of his intellectual firepower, for all of his sophisticated theology, Paul, in his heart, was a man who understood that the things that really matter in life are simple, clear, easy to understand.
I would hold up this passage in Philippians as a case in point. For here, Paul gives us some simple teachings about living the Christian life in our world, teachings which, in their simplicity, are sublime. Now, I’ve come to view this particular passage as a call to drink, steal, lie, and swear. Don’t panic. You don’t have to cover the children’s ears. Just give me a chance to explain.
I call you to steal.
Steal a few minutes at the beginning of every single day, and commit that you will, in that day, be faithful. Listen to what Paul says. “Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed not only in my presence but much more in my absence, continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.” In other words, be faithful. Trust in the Lord because it is God who is at work in you.
I heard about a Methodist camp meeting over in the state of Georgia. It was a week-long event and was featuring some of the best-known preachers in the state. Well, midway through the week, one of those well-known preachers was stricken ill, and he was not able to deliver his assigned sermon. And so the bishop approached a young preacher who was attending the camp meeting. And he said to the young man, “I want you to step up and preach right after lunch today.” Well, the young man, recoiling in horror, cried out, “Bishop, I’m not prepared. I don’t even have a sermon with me.” And the bishop replied, rather piously, “Just trust in the Lord, young man. Just trust in the Lord.” Well, the young preacher was desperate. And he was whispering prayers asking for God’s help. And he was scrambling around trying to figure out what to do. And he noticed the bishop’s bible resting on the table there. And so he picked it up and was frantically thumbing through the pages looking for a text, any text upon which he might preach. And as he was thumbing through the pages, he noticed some note cards. And on those cards, there was, typed, a sermon. Well, he believed that God was answering his prayer of desperation. And so he took those note cards, and he preached the sermon. And it was a thundering success. And afterwards, people were crowded around him to commend him on what he had done.
But the bishop came busting through the crowd, sputtering in anger. And he cried out, “You just preached the sermon I was going to preach at this evening’s session. What am I going to do now?” The young man replied, “Just trust in the Lord, bishop. Just trust in the Lord.” Ah, the great Apostle Paul wants us to understand that trusting in the Lord does not mean that we do nothing and expect God to do everything. No, no, no, no. Trusting in the Lord means that we work—that’s what Paul says, that we work at creating the vision of who and what we want to be under Christ. And then we work to discipline ourselves to pursue that vision for all we are worth. And we do that knowing, believing, trusting that God will make good on His promises to us.
A number of years ago, now, Notre Dame was playing Army in football. The coach at Notre Dame at the time was Knute Rockne. It was fourth quarter, few minutes left in the game. Notre Dame was down by six points. Coach Rockne called a player from the bench. And he said to him, “Take this play into the huddle. And then I want you to score a touchdown and win this game. Will you do it?” The young player responded, “I’ll try, coach.” And coach Rockne said, “Just go sit down. I’ve already got 11 people out there just trying. I want somebody who will do it.”
Well, do you understand that trusting in the Lord means going forward in the power of God and just doing it. Therefore, my beloved people, please work, work, work at building your own faith in Jesus Christ because it is God who is at work in you. That’s the first simple lesson that Paul wants us to learn. Be faithful.
And then I call you to swear.
Swear your undying allegiance to Jesus Christ. And swear that as you live for Him every day, you will be honest, be faithful. Be honest. In this business of preaching, I learn to live by the scriptures, by the words which are contained here. And here are the words Paul shares. “Do everything without complaining or arguing so that you may become blameless and pure children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation in which you shine like stars in the universe. In other words, be honest. Build your life upon integrity.
I get by in the business of preaching, also, with a little help from my friends. Not long ago, one of my friends sent me a newspaper column, set my mind stirring. A portion of a column went like this. “In 1776, three million Americans produced Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, John Adams.” And the list goes on and on. “Today, 300 million Americans have produced whom?” Question, why? Answer, could it be what they were taught? According to the Thomas Jefferson Research institute, in 1776, over 90% of our educational thrust was of an ethical or religious nature. By 1926, the percentage had dropped to 6%. By 1956, the percentage was so low, it could no longer be measured. Think about that. To become a leader, a person must start with a solid, ethical foundation. Without integrity, no one listens. Without trust, no one follows. Hmm. Without integrity, no one listens. Without trust, no one follows.
Dear friends, in our time, we need some heroes, I mean genuine heroes, I mean authentic women and men who are admired for their sterling character, their splendid achievements, their noble qualities, their unwavering courage, I mean women and men who, with all their human flaws and feelings, nevertheless pursue what is right in their lives when no one is looking or for that matter when the whole world is looking. Until his death in August of 2008, Alexander Solzhenitsyn came as close to being a modern-day hero as anyone I can think of when he was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature. At the end of his magnificent acceptance speech, he repeated a one-line, old Russian proverb. “One word of truth outweighs the whole world.” I’d actually like to change two words in that old proverb because then, it would reflect what I believe to be true about heroes like Alexander Solzhenitsyn. One person of truth impacts the whole world. Oh, my beloved people, we need people in our time who build their lives upon integrity. Nothing could be more heroic than that. That’s the next simple lesson that Paul wants us to learn. Be honest.
And then I call you to lie.
Lie upon your bed each evening, and thank God for all that He has done for you in Jesus Christ. And then ask God to help you in the face of life’s challenges to be persevering, be faithful, be honest, be persevering. Once more, the great apostle Paul. Hold fast to the word of life in order that I may boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor for nothing. Hold fast to the word of life. Be persevering. It is as we hold fast to the word of life, as we hold fast to the truth of the Bible, we begin to build a tenacity into our lives that will enable us to stick to the business of living for Christ no matter what may come along the way.
A few years ago, a couple, Mildred and Victor Goertzel, wrote a book entitled Cradles of Eminence. In that book, they examined the lives of 300 people who had managed to achieve significance in their living, people like Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt and Clara Barton and Albert Schweitzer and Mahatma Gandhi, 300 of them. And as they dug into those 300 lives, they made a remarkable discovery. Three-fourths of the 300 came from either homes that were broken or homes where there was poverty. One-half of the 300 endured some major trauma in the early portion of their lives. One-fourth of the 300 had some physical disability. The message of the book is absolutely clear. These people achieve significance in their lives simply because they would not be stopped by the difficulties of their circumstances. They persevered.
Make no mistake about it. The Christian life is not always easy. Sometimes it is incredibly hard. And as a matter of fact, it certainly was hard for the great Apostle Paul. But here’s the point. Paul stayed at it, and he stayed with it. He would not be stopped or diverted by his circumstances. He stayed true to Christ and true to his calling in Christ. He persevered. That’s the next simple lesson that Paul wants us to learn. Be persevering.
And then I call you to drink.
Drink deeply of God’s sacrificial loving spirit and determine that in your life, you are going to be generous, be faithful, be honest, be persevering. Be generous. Once more, listen to Paul. But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you. So you too should be glad and rejoice with me. In other words, be generous. It is, as we give our lives away for Jesus Christ, that we discover our greatest joy in life.
Not so long ago, I had the blessing of visiting with a young couple in this church. They are just beginning to achieve some monetary success in their lives. And quite frankly, they’re worried about that. They wanted to sit down and visit with me to talk about what kind of home they should live in, what kind of example they ought to set for their children, what kind of steps the ought to take so that their abundance that’s coming can help to fuel the spread of the kingdom of Christ in the world. And with a wisdom far beyond their years, they understand that prosperity can be paralyzing or even polarizing. And they are determined to work to see that that never happens in their lives. Wise indeed they are. You know it’s true, and I know it’s true. Sometimes when people achieve financial success, what happens? They change. Sometimes they become tyrants in their home. Sometimes they’re no longer at home much anyway. Sometimes they’re way too busy to go to worship and Sunday school anymore. Sometimes selfishness kicks in so that no matter how much they have, it’s not enough. The more they have, the more it has them. Write this on your heart. “You can never be so successful in life that you can stop being obedient to the God who made you who you are. You can never be so comfortable in your life that you can stop being loving toward the people whom God has brought into your life. You can never be so affluent in your life that you can stop being a good steward of what God has given you in the first place.
A number of years ago, now, I was asked to deliver the opening prayer at the running of what was called then the Special Olympics in the city of Orlando. It was an experience I shall not forget. The very first event in those Olympics was the 400-meter run. And as that race was drawing to its close, a young man with down syndrome was actually leading the race coming into the final turn. He was giving it all that he had. And suddenly, he tripped and fell flat. You know what happened? At that point, every other runner in the race, all of them who had been struggling to overtake him and win for themselves, every last one of them stopped in order to help him up. And I learned then—and I never forgotten it—that those who run the race of life best are those who care the most. That’s the final simple lesson that Paul wants us to learn. Be generous.
Well, there they are, Paul’s sublimely simple lessons for living the Christian life in our world. Let me remind you of them so that you’ll never forget them.
I call you to steal. Steal a few minutes at the beginning of every day, and commit yourself to be faithful.
I call you to lie, to lie upon your bed each evening, and thank God for all He’s done for you in Christ. And ask Him to help you to be persevering.
And I call you to drink. Drink of God’s sacrificial spirit, and determine that in your life, you are going to be generous.
Then I call you to swear. I call you to swear your undying allegiance to Jesus Christ and to Jesus Christ alone. And I call you to swear that you will live for Jesus Christ every single day of your life.
Soli Deo gloria.
To God alone be the Glory.
Amen and Amen.