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Wives and husbands! – Ephesians 5:22-33

Wives and husbands! – Ephesians 5:22-33
By Pastor Lee Hemen
March 19, 2017

Interestingly there have been some articles recently that show that marriage is coming back into vogue. In fact, research has shown that married couples live from 5 to 10 years longer than singles do. Married couples are more financially, emotionally, and spiritually secure. And contrary to what you may have been told about divorce, recent studies show that evangelical Christian couples’ divorce rate is around 10% and nowhere near the regurgitated story of 50% like you often hear.

Contrary to what we may know about the Bible we are more often shown what not to do in marriage than what to do as we look at the lives of some of the biblical characters. This is because God deliberately gave us his words concerning his interaction with mankind with warts and all. However there are some great verses that do teach Godly concepts of how wives and husbands are to interact. Here in Ephesians Paul teaches us about the church and in doing so also instructs us about wives and husbands; let’s see what he teaches us…

READ: Ephesians 5:22-33

A happy and secure marriage begins and ends with what its focus is; if it isn’t focused solely on God first at its core it is misdirected. And within this relationship…

I. Wives are to willingly yield to their spouse! (Vv. 22-24)

Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

1. This has become one of the most talked about, misunderstood, or disdained pieces of Scripture there is within the Bible. Millennials hate it because it suggests they must be submissive and in a “me first” society this is an anathema! However when Paul wrote “Wives, submit to your husbands” he did not end his thought there but he continued by writing what he meant exactly: “as to the Lord”! All believers are to be in total submission to the Lord, period. The original Greek word for “submit” (hupotassō) means to be subordinate to, to be under obedience, or willingly submit oneself to another. It is a personal willful choice as in when one willingly submits their selves by faith to Jesus! Was Paul a misogynist, a narrow-minded bigot, or just plain old fashioned in his thinking? No way! In fact he was very progressive because he continues by sharing his reasoning: “For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior.” Like Jesus who established the church through is willing sacrifice, husbands are to be respected or submitted to by their wives because of their willingness to make sure their wives are successful in marriage by their own sacrifice! It is done just “as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.” Paul never meant this as a form of slavery or second class citizenship but rather as a godly union of a couple where the man should do his manly duty and be the wise, kind, and compassionate example like Jesus he should be so his wife can submit to him! Wives are to yield to their spouse!

EXAMPLE: Does this mean a woman should be a willing doormat to her husband? No way! God never endorses one sin over another. Paul is teaching relationship. Just as Jesus sacrificed everything for his church, his bride, husbands should be willing to sacrifice everything in their relationship with their wives so she can willingly submit to his displayed wisdom, kindness, and compassion! Wives are to willingly yield to their spouse!

Paul continued in discussing what he meant a married couple’s relationship should be like. Wives were to willingly submit to their husbands however…

II. Husbands are to surrender to their spouses! (Vv. 25-28)

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.

1. Far too often folks have a tendency to ignore the fact that in the New Testament that when the word “love” is used it is most often translated from the Greek word agapaō, meaning “sacrificial love” and not the emotional kind of love the world at large wants to give it. This is the love Paul uses and is the same we find in verses like John 3:16 where we learn that God so sacrificially loved the world that he sent Jesus. So Paul writes, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church”. So often we hear liberal Christians putting the emphasis on the emotional aspects of Jesus’ love; that he was kind, compassionate, and “loved” people while ignoring the action part of the word. Jesus showed, displayed, and proved his love by his actions and especially by his willingness to die for our sins! So husbands are to sacrificially love their wives “just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word”! It is a husband’s duty to love their wives by making sure she is exposed to and mentored in God’s Word the gospel message! To make sure his family, beginning with his wife, is in Jesus’ body his church! Why would this be so important? Paul knew that any family is centered in how the home is run and that always begins with the mother and wife. Husbands are to make sure his wife’s needs are met; especially her spiritual needs “to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless”! So Paul writes that “In this same way”, just as Jesus sacrificed himself “husbands ought to (sacrificially) love their wives as their own bodies.” We want to make sure we are taken care of and so as husbands we are to make sure our wives are taken care of first because Paul understood that “He who (sacrificially) loves his wife loves himself.” Husbands are to surrender to their spouses!

EXAMPLE: We live in such a “me first” society that we have often lost what marriage is to be all about. It is not making sure your needs are met, rather it is an investment in a deep personal relationship that is to last a lifetime. Marriage is based on personal sacrifice and not emotional needs. Yes, certainly emotional needs are to be met within marriage but they cannot be until we are willing to do whatever it takes to have a successful marriage. Husbands are to be like Christ in leading in personal sacrifice with their wives. Husbands are to surrender to their spouses!

Paul understood what personal sacrifice meant because he had given up everything, including being able to have a family for the ministry of the gospel! So he understood what it meant to be totally committed and he understood that in marriage…

III. Both spouses must give their all! (Vv. 29-33)

After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church–for we are members of his body. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a profound mystery–but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

1. Paul realized that both wives and husbands might have a problem with what he was trying to teach them. He also knew one of the first arguments would be that he was not married. How could he understand what it took? Yet Paul did and he wrote that “After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church–for we are members of his body.” Jesus had come to seek and save the lost but he also left behind something so radical that it would change the world within a few hundred years; namely his body the church. And just as Jesus cared for and fed his church, as married couples we are to make sure each other is fed and cared for in every way: emotionally, physically, and spiritually. The church is to care for one another. So Paul was not just making a point about marriage but about the church body. The body of Christ is to sacrifice for one another just as Christ did for his church. Each member is now part of the whole because of what Jesus did “for we are members of his body”. Marriage is the same, we are no longer our own we become part of something bigger than ourselves and it is “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” We spiritually, emotionally, and physically become something more than we are as ourselves as a church body and as a married couple! This is why Paul would continue by stating that “This is a profound mystery–but I am talking about Christ and the church.” Jesus’ love for his church should be reflected in marriage by both husband and wife and so Paul finishes by writing, “However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.” Both spouses must give their all!

EXAMPLE: Just as there are many reasons for people joining a church there are many reasons why folks get married; some for personal fulfillment, some for personal gain, some for love, and some for utterly selfish reasons. And just as folks have forgotten how the church is sacred thing established by Jesus; marriage is sacred as well. It is not to be entered into lightly. It demands more than some individuals are willing to give but if they want to be successful in marriage they must learn and respond to the fact that both spouses must give their all!

Conclusion:

Wives are to willingly yield to their spouse! Husbands are to surrender to their spouses! Both spouses must give their all!
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This article is copyrighted © 2017 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.

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Unity in the body! – Ephesians 4:1-16

Unity in the body! – Ephesians 4:1-16
By Pastor Lee Hemen
February 26, 2017

I have found it humorous that over the past few decades there has been a humanistic mantra repeated over and over that was expressed best by a felon and addict, “Can’t we all just get along?” There are those that honestly think that all we have to do is be agreeable and then everyone will be pleasant with one another. Of course if you disagree with them then you are a bigoted, hurtful, homophobe.

We have heard the mindless chant of the unruly crowd of “No justice no peace!” But the truth is the reality that without the Prince of Peace there is never any peace! Unity does not come from being more agreeable with one another nor by repeating that all we need is love. The sin-corrupted world does not care and the spiritually weak believer has forgotten that without the presence and power of God there can never be peace or love. Paul addresses this issue here in Ephesians by relating that it is only through the body of Christ, his church, where we find unity; let’s discover what he teaches us about unity in the body…

READ: Ephesians 4:1-16

Recently I received a phone call by a group that wanted to sell our church a “Netflix-style discipleship” program on how to reach millennials. I honestly believe that the reason the world has so much problem with the Christian church today is not because of Christ but because they see so much of the world in the church! Paul reminds the believer of their…

I. Conduct in the church! (Vv. 1-6)

As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit–just as you were called to one hope when you were called–one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

1. Paul reminds his readers of his condition that “As a prisoner for the Lord” then they should “live a life worthy of the calling you have received.” This was Paul’s urgent message to them that they would live (walk) in a sin-soaked world a “life worthy” of the gospel they were called to! This should not be a surprise to any believer but rather the goal of every Christian! Paul is not telling us how to earn part of our salvation because Jesus did it all, however, in a world that is completely fallen how in the world do we live a life that is worthy; especially in the body of Christ the church? Paul reminds us that since we have been redeemed by the grace of God we are to also take part in the life we now have in him! We are to be like Jesus! So Paul reminds us of how he lived in reminding us how we are to live as well! It begins with how one thinks about themselves, we are to “Be completely humble” in our thinking; not arrogant or prideful. And we are to be “gentle” which carries the notion of a sweet and kind attitude. He tells us to “be patient” with each other by “bearing with one another in love.” This is a message for believers in how to treat other believers! Today’s Christian has forgotten that we are part of the body of Christ; his church. So we are to “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” The church and its members are to reflect Jesus! Paul teaches us that “there is one body” the church and “one Spirit” in which all members, all Christians share because we were all “called to one hope when (we) were called”! In fact, least we should forget there is only “one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” Paul teaches us about the believer’s conduct in the church!

EXAMPLE: There is an old saying that states, “Be careful how you live your life; there is not a lot of room on a tombstone”, meaning that there is not much room to write about one’s life on your tombstone. Usually you only see a small pity statement, the birth date and the date of the person’s death so you had better be careful how you live in between those dates! My Dad would remind us that “How one lives their life says a lot about who they are.” How do you live your life as a Christian? How do you treat your fellow believers? Paul teaches us about the believer’s conduct in the church!

Our personal conduct as believers as we display it to the world around us is extremely important. But in a world that does everything it possibly can to influence us how do we keep ourselves pure? How do we hold out the word of truth to this darkened world? This is why also Paul reminds us of our…

II. Preservation in the world! (Vv. 7-10)

But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. This is why it says: “When he ascended on high, he led captives in his train and gave gifts to men.” (What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions? He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.)

1. As Paul reminded his readers of what their conduct should be in the church he continued by relating that we are able to do so because “to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.” There are those who think that they do not need the forgiveness of God and then there are others who think that God could never forgive them, but Paul reminds us that it is God who gives to each of us just the right amount of his grace. And part of that grace is the gifts he readily gives us. It is according to the measure we need: “We have different gifts, according to the grace given us.” (Romans 12:6 NIV) He would write the Corinthian church that God gives his gifts “just as he determines.” (1 Corinthians 12:11) Paul also explains that “This is why it says: ‘When he ascended on high, he led captives in his train and gave gifts to men.’” Paul uses Psalm 68:18 that he changed from the second to the third person, and changed the direction of the gifts from having received them from men to the giving of gifts to men. However the Hebrew can and has been translated just as Paul intended. “The essence of the psalm is that a military victor has the right to give gifts to those who are identified with him. Christ, having captivated sinful people by redeeming them, is the Victor and gives them as gifts to the church.” (Bible Knowledge Commentary) Paul then explains why he said what he did: “What does ‘he ascended’ mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions? He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.” Jesus did just that! Paul reminds us of our preservation in the world!

EXAMPLE: I grew up in a family that depended a lot on what we could grow, hunt or fish. My mother would spend weeks and months canning all kinds of food from berries, fruits, vegetables, pickles, cabbage to all kinds of meat. She would make jams, jellies, and preserves. Later, after I was married I tried my hand at smoking fish and jerking different meats. These things are not new and some of the means to preserve food have been around for centuries. This was true for Paul’s day as well and is why he understood the necessity of good preservation. He knew this was true for our spiritual lives in Jesus also and so Paul reminds us of our preservation in the world!

The wonderful truth of the gospel narrative is the fact that we are not alone. Every Christian has an advocate, defender, and guide in God through the Spirit and Jesus! However, Jesus also provided us his body the church to do his work and will in the world. And it is here where we can find encouragement, strength, and spiritual mentorship. In Ephesians Paul reminds us about God’s…

III. Contribution! (Vv. 11-16)

It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

1. Paul then goes into some of the gifts God has given us. God as Jesus, because he ascended and descended, showed and proved who he was and that he is more than able to give us his grace gifts. After all he fills the whole universe. So Paul tells us that “It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers”. Far too many focus on the gifts of God rather than why they were given in the first place. His gifts were given “to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up”, literally, this purpose is “for the perfecting or equipping as in mending” or “preparing” fishing nets. There is a definite progression here. Paul begins with those who were called out — the apostles, then those who preach the gospel – the prophets and evangelists, and then finally those who were called to be pastors and teachers within the church itself. The gifts are not as important as to why they were given in the first place: “until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” The early church needed these gifts to mature in their faith just as we do today. Today’s church is less prepared than perhaps Paul’s Ephesians simply because we have forgotten the importance of personal discipleship. These gifts are given so that “we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming.” We have forgotten that the world is corrupted however if believers use the gifts God has given them then “Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.” The church today has become spiritually stunted and we have forgotten “From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” Paul reminds us about God’s contribution!

EXAMPLE: We live in such a dependent society that we have been duped into thinking that others should take care of us. Now I am not talking about those who need assistance because of personal handicaps or unforeseen hardships. Our society has become so dependent that it sees that government only exists to take care of them from the womb to the tomb. Businesses are seen only as a means to create work and churches have become handout stations. So much so that people no longer join to serve God’s kingdom but rather to see what the church can provide for them. How wonderful to learn that God has provided for his church! Paul reminds us about God’s contribution!

Conclusion:

Paul teaches us about the believer’s conduct in the church! Paul reminds us of our preservation in the world! Paul reminds us about God’s contribution!
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This article is copyrighted © 2017 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.

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Just Wondering…

Just Wondering…

By Pastor Lee Hemen’

July 19, 2014

 

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness… (Matthew 6:33 NIV) For we know that our old self was crucified with him… (Romans 6:6 NIV) You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds… (Ephesians 4:22-23 NIV) Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace… (1 Peter 4:10 NIV) The greatest among you will be your servant. (Matthew 23:11 NIV)

 

What is up with all the “selfies” people take? What does this say about us? We go to different places and then stick a cell phone in our own faces, snap an intimate shot of our facial imperfections and nose hair to share with thousands of others. We cannot even see what is behind us because the whole focus of the picture is us! I am not speaking to the world here but to believers who say they love Jesus and want to live for him. Could this modern-day electronic digital affliction be problematic of what we have allowed society to implant in us? Perhaps this is true. If we take the snapshot selfishness into our church membership, our relationship with Christ, or our spiritual growth what we will end up with is a lot of the focus being on us instead of the big picture – namely God’s kingdom. Couldn’t we take one picture of our nose hairs and simply lie to others about where we are in our selfies? Are we so focused on ourselves that we do not serve, we do not seek ways to grow God’s kingdom, or we have become static in our spirituality? Perhaps we need to take the cell phone out of our faces and take a snapshot of our lives in Christ instead. Would we like the hairs and imperfects we would see there? If so, then what will you do about taking so many selfies instead of sacrificially serving the Savior? Makes one wonder…

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Just Wondering…

Just Wondering…
By Pastor Lee Hemen
April 21, 2014

While he was still speaking a crowd came up, and the man who was called Judas, one of the Twelve, was leading them. He approached Jesus to kiss him, but Jesus asked him, “Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?” (Luke 22:47-48 NIV)

I was just wondering; how do you feel about being betrayed? You know what I mean, you trust someone is your friend because they have said so and yet they betray that trust. One of history’s harshest examples of personal betrayal is when Judas betrays Jesus with a kiss. He is selling out Jesus, his friend and Rabbi, out to those who would falsely convict Him on trumped up charges and then crucify him. We are all appalled at the almost flippant way Judas betrayed Jesus and he did it with a sign of friendship, a kiss on the cheek. Perhaps, he did it for money, perhaps to force Jesus’ hand so that He would proclaim Himself Israel’s King. But whatever the reason, he betrayed Jesus and we hold most betrayers with contempt. Kind of like many do when they betray fellow believers. Now, have you ever betrayed a friendship or a trust? We have all been dumped by a schoolyard crush who then says something like, “We can still be friends!” Yeah, right. Yet don’t we do the very same thing when we say we love our church, our fellow Christians or church members and yet dump them at our slightest whim? It is kind of like kissing them on the cheek and slapping them as we slam the door. The Apostle John experienced the frustration of this kind of betrayal when those who said they loved Jesus and His church, but then left. “They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.” (1 John 2:19 NIV) Why is this seen as betrayal? Because we forget that Jesus views fellow church members as His body in the world doing His work and will and not their own work and will. Today many think that they can leave a church for whatever reason they desire or they simply never join a church. Both are not biblical. Just as the disciples fell asleep and were chastened by Jesus, many of those who think church membership is simply going through the doors of worship or leaving when things get tough will find that it is a form of betrayal as well. Not just to the church in general, Jesus’ Body, but to the Lord Himself. We cannot “kiss” Jesus on the cheek, then walk away whenever we desire from His church. We cannot remain “fiends” with Christ when we still have thirty pieces of silver jingling in our pocket as we take a hike. Makes one wonder…

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Just Wondering…

Just Wondering…
By Pastor Lee Hemen
April 13, 2014

They brought the donkey and the colt, placed their cloaks on them, and Jesus sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Hosanna in the highest!” When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, “Who is this?” (Matthew 21:7-10 NIV)

I was just wondering if you would be willing to suffer a whole lot, be bloodily beaten to unrecognition, for others who could care less and then be willing to be horrendously killed just so those same uncaring folks could decide if they wanted to believe in your willingness to die for them or not. Come on, sounds like a real deal, doesn’t it? Yet here we find Jesus willingly doing just that. In our day and age we would not be surprised if he had just spurred the donkey on and headed for the Judean hills in a cloud of dust and hardy “Hi oh Silver, away!” (Yes, we do not know if the donkey’s name was “Silver” or not, but you get my drift.) In fact, we find Jesus knowing that he would be betrayed by one of his own men whom he had personally chosen, that he would be dragged around town by a greedy and corrupt religious establishment, be tortured, mocked, and crucified for those who were doing the mocking, torturing, and crucifying! I can hardly wrap my brain around this. Jesus knew. He knew as he rode on that little donkey colt’s back into Jerusalem. He knew as he whipped the hypocrites out of the temple area. He knew as he knelt before his prideful disciples, washed their feet, and he knew as he sat by the one who had already betrayed him. He knew as he broke the bread and shared the wine of his last Passover meal. Few of us find it hard enough to get up on Sunday morning, go to church and Bible Study, let alone suffer and die for a stranger! “Sacrifice this!” is our retort. It should make one wonder…

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Just Wondering…

“Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.” Jesus declared, “Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.” (John 4:19-24 NIV)

I read recently that we are a nation of consumers and this includes much of what we think we do for the Lord as believers. Christians consume Christ, not in the Eucharist sort of way, but rather in the commercial self-driven self-centered way of the world. So much so that our worship of God has become what we emote out of it and not what God desires from us. We leave churches because we feel a certain way rather than because God is actually calling us to a new ministry to sacrificially serve Him. We read the holy words of God for a momentary emotional boost rather than for the eternal truths that transform our lives. Our Christianity has become like a brown paper bag full of cheap wrapped candy, if we suck on a piece of it and do not like the taste we spit it out on the ground and look for another piece in the bag we can enjoy. Tragically, we are suffering the consequences of our ungodliness. We readily pat ourselves on the back for our momentary ministry minutes while the world and our nation goes to hell. We ignore the rampant hedonism of our lives with excuses and conceited platitudes about the love of God. I believe the time has come for “true worshippers” to worship God in “spirit and in truth”, not from our emotional consumerism and selfishly defined reality. Makes one wonder…

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Get Real! – Isaiah 58:3-14

Get Real! – Isaiah 58:3-14
By Pastor Lee Hemen
April 6, 2014 AM

Like poor fitting underwear, our sins can creep up on us without our ever noticing and then we get frustrated when it begins to bind! This can happen with our worship of God as well. When we go to worship to feel better about ourselves; to gain some kind of happiness for the moment; as a requirement, or to try to please others or God are all examples of subtle sin that has crept into our worship. As a child I remember going to worship in fear, not knowing what God expected from me and that perhaps somehow in some way if I worshipped Him, He would be pleased with me. Nowadays there are those whose worship is all about anything but God.

God pointed out a subtle sin in Israel. The people worshiped but only for the purpose of getting what they wanted from God. God called them back to center their worship on what He desired of them. And, after having punished His people, God then would restore them, creating a new heaven and new earth of beauty and peace. After a final judgment God would restore Israel, bringing all nations to have faith in and serve Him with true worship. However, their first hurdle was to get real about their worship of God! This has not changed, Christians today need to get real about their worship also. Let’s discover how…

READ: Isaiah 58:3-14

Like the old saying goes, “Denial is more than a river in Egypt!” So too is our denial of…

I. Self-Focused Religion! (Isaiah 58:3-5)

“Why have we fasted,” they say, “and you have not seen it? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you have not noticed?” Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers. Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists. You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high. Is tHis the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for a man to humble himself? Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed and for lying on sackcloth and ashes? Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the LORD?

1. The Israelites fasted in Isaiah’s time, assuming God would be impressed by their worship and grant their desires. When God did not act according to the Israelites’ timetable, the people complained, “Why have we fasted and you have not seen it? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you have not noticed?” Kind of like folks today who complain, “I went to worship and I still feel the same!” “I prayed to God when I made a mess of my life, but God did not answer me the way I wanted!” Isaiah declared the Israelites misunderstood fasting. The people performed the ritual, but their actions indicated selfishness. While employers fasted, they forced their employees to work, perhaps while demanding they fast as well! The employers wanted their desires satisfied, if not by God, then by their oppressed workers. Kind of like Christians who demand their church meet all their emotional needs, but offer little in return. “Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers.” They did as they pleased, so their piety was false. Sound familiar? Fasting should have brought the Israelites closer to God and prepared them to serve Him, but instead their fasting ended “in quarreling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists!” God rejected the Israelites’ fasting and told them, “You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high.” No one can continue to sin and expect God to honor their prayers or worship. Israel’s fasting focused purely on external actions, what they did as a show. They acted automatically, however, rather than from a genuine desire to repent and seek God. As wind blows a reed and makes it bow down, so their selfish desires made them go through the motions of worship. God asks, “Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for a man to humble himself? Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed and for lying on sackcloth and ashes? Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the LORD?” Do we honestly expect God to honor us when we give only our selfish ritual worship or prayers? Isaiah declared God would never respond to self-focused religious ritual. Such a fasting from selfishness and strife would never be acceptable to the Lord. Get real, God does not honor self-focused religion!
EXAMPLE: The people needed to repent and demonstrate a changed life focused on God rather than on themselves. Worship, regardless of the style, that focuses on pleasing ourselves does not please God. Religion that focuses on getting what we want from God for the moment rather than on allowing God to transform us more each day into His image fails to be acceptable to God. We need to do more than just go through the motions of worship and church involvement. We need to allow God to help us focus on Him and others rather than ourselves. How has your worship and church involvement sometimes been more for yourself than for God? Get real, God does not honor self-focused religion!

Perhaps what is needed is that we forget about ourselves, magnify the Lord and enter into…

II. Other-Focused Service! (Isaiah 58:6-12)

Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter– when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the LORD will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I. If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. The LORD will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail. Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.

1. God tells them succinctly, “This ain’t the kind of fasting I desire!” God then listed specific actions Israel could take. The people could “loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke.” They could ensure the hungry had adequate food, the homeless had adequate shelter, and the poorly clothed had adequate clothes. We do not need to turn our homes into homeless shelters complete with food and clothing closets; but we do need to find ways to meet the physical, mental, and spiritual needs of others. God relates that believers are “not to turn away from your own flesh and blood” no matter the nation, ethnic group, or background! To ignore the needs of other Christians is to ignore our families! If the people would refocus on God, they would find exactly the opposite of what they had experienced. Instead of darkness, Israel would see a new dawn as God’s special people with a special mission to the world. “Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the LORD will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.” Instead of separation from God, Israel again would enjoy His guiding presence. When the people called in prayer, God would answer. They would be His people and would worship Him as their God. Only a new, deeper understanding of and commitment to God and a resulting substantive change in behavior toward others would bring these blessings to the people. The Israelites needed to “do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk”! They needed to stop enslaving and maliciously gossiping against one another! If God’s people could practice God’s fast, the light of the nation and its righteous ways would never be dimmed or extinguished. The Israelites’ commitment to God would bring hope and abundant life to them and be a witness to others! Following God would provide all Israel’s needs. God promises that “if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. The LORD will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame.” Israel’s renewed faith and ministry to others would lead to their renewal! Perhaps you do not find renewal in your life as a believer because you have not overcome your selfishness? While the people of Israel could not undo their sins and their consequences, they needed to ask forgiveness of one another and to work together. Christians need to get real and enter into other-focused service!
EXAMPLE: The Israelites would help right some of their ungodly wrongs and be involved in their physical and spiritual rebuilding. The work would bless people far into the future; it was not just for their momentary pleasure! Like Israel we face the temptation to give God something other than ourselves and our lives. Our faith is to be more than biblical refrigerator magnet Facebook quotes. Worship and/or Bible study is not all God expects of us, he desire more. Worship and Bible study are but the beginning of our growth in God. Worship empowers us to focus on how we can represent Christ faithfully and minister to others in God’s holy name in our daily lives. How can you faithfully minister to others this week? Christians need to get real and enter into other-focused service!

It all comes back to real worship for God’s people and here we discover our lives should be founded on…

III. God-Focused Worship! (Isaiah 58:13-14)

If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath and from doing as you please on my holy day, if you call the Sabbath a delight and the LORD’s holy day honorable, and if you honor it by not going your own way and not doing as you please or speaking idle words, then you will find your joy in the LORD, and I will cause you to ride on the heights of the land and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob. The mouth of the LORD has spoken.

1. God shifted from the ritual of fasting to the ritual of keeping the Sabbath. He gives them some specifics that he knew they had not done, “If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath and from doing as you please on my holy day, if you call the Sabbath a delight and the LORD’s holy day honorable, and if you honor it by not going your own way and not doing as you please or speaking idle words” then they would be honorable. However, the Israelites had desecrated the Sabbath by working, which showed the false belief they could supply their needs and desires better than God. They needed to cease work, reflect on God’s goodness, and recognize God supplied their needs. God suggested the proper way to honor the Sabbath. The Israelites needed to refrain from their normal work and reflect on God and their relationship with Him. They needed to treat the Sabbath as a “holy day” a day of “delight”, meditating on God’s goodness and joyfully committing to serving Him who provided their needs. They needed to “honor it by not going (their) own way and not doing as (they) please or speaking idle words”! How do you honor God on your day of worship? Is it just another day of fun for you to enjoy and please yourselves or do you use it to honor God? God’s kingdom is more than the fulfillment of our eternal happiness or daily gratification. His kingdom is developed in and through us as we honor and worship him. The people needed to focus their lives on God rather than on their selfish wants. By developing their relationship with God, the Israelites would find a fulfilling life that abounded in righteousness, selflessness, and service. If the Israelites could delight in God and live for Him and others rather than pursue their selfish desires, they would find new life. God would bless His people by fulfilling the promises He made to Jacob. By losing their lives in God they would find more satisfying lives, not in material wealth, power, and fame but in God’s presence, the joy of service, and reconciliation with God and others! Wow! What a concept! God’s people need to get real and return to God-focused worship!
EXAMPLE: We cannot serve others as God wants if we do not maintain intimate fellowship with God. When we try to deceive ourselves and God, we are just going through the motions, and we will suffer the consequences of our actions. However, when we actually do maintain our intimate fellowship with God we find completeness. Remember, Jesus taught that loving God totally and others are the two greatest commandments! Worship leads to service; and service requires continued refueling through prayer, praise, Bible study, and worship. When we link genuine worship focused on God with loving service given in His name, we please God and experience the abundant life. What steps can you take to link God-focused worship with ministry in His name? God’s people need to get real and return to God-focused worship!

Conclusion:
1. Religion focused on pleasing ourselves is not genuine.
2. Religion focused on meeting others’ needs is genuine and receives God’s blessing.
3. Worship focused on God is genuine and pleasing to Him.

This article is copyrighted © 2014 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless

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