Recent Sermons

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Member’s Ministry: Pray (1 John 5:14-15)

1 John 5:14–15 1 Samuel 12:23 Hebrews 5:7 Genesis 16:11

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Member’s Ministry: Speak (Eph 4:11-16)

Ephesians 4:11–16

Sunday, January 3, 2021

Member’s Ministry: Love (1 John 4:19-5:3)

Ephesians 4:11–12 Romans 12:10 1 John 3:16–18 1 John 4:10–11 John 14:15

Manuscripts and Blogs
Member's Ministry: Pray (1 John 5:14-15)
Member's Ministry: Pray (1 John 5:14-15)

Marc Sims • January 19, 2021

Sermon Audio:'s-ministry:-pray-(1-john-5:14-15)

Sermon Manuscript:

And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him. – 1 John 5:14-15

In 1883 a bright young man from London was invited to attend a prayer meeting held by the famed Hudson Taylor, the pioneer of China Inland Missions. The young man was in the midst of contemplating his own future and wondered whether or not the Lord would call him to become a missionary to China. But, upon arriving at the prayer meeting, the young man found Mr. Taylor to be somewhat underwhelming:

His appearance did not impress me. He was slightly built, and spoke in a quiet voice. Like most young men, I suppose I associated power with noise, and looked for physical presence in a leader. But when he said, "Let us pray," and proceeded to lead the meeting in prayer, my ideas underwent a change. I had never heard anyone pray like that. There was a simplicity, a tenderness, a boldness, a power that hushed and subdued me, and made it clear that God had admitted him to the inner circle of His friendship. Such praying was evidently the outcome of long tarrying in the secret place, and was as dew from the Lord.

This last Summer, as we reflected on John 15 and the benefits of union with Christ, we reflected on this quote from Hudson Taylor: “It little matters to my servant whether I send him to buy a few cash worth of things, or the most expensive articles. In either case he looks to me for the money and brings me his purchases. So, if God should place me in serious perplexity, must He not give much guidance; in positions of great difficulty, much grace; in circumstances of great pressure and trial, much strength? No fear that His resources will prove unequal to the emergency! And His resources are mine, for He is mine, and is with me and dwells in me.” 

God has promised to supply everything we need for life and for godliness; He has promised that if we seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, then we don’t need to worry about our food and our clothes. He has given us every resource we need! And for Taylor, this brought about a radical kind of peace: “I am no longer anxious about anything, as I realize this; for He, I know, is able to carry out His will, and His will is mine. It makes no matter where He places me, or how. That is rather for Him to consider than for me; for in the easiest position He must give me His grace, and in the most difficult His grace is sufficient.” This is what is available for every Christian and one of the primary ways we can draw this blessed benefit up into our souls is through prayer. In prayer we pour out our hearts before God, and in God we find the resources we need.

We want to reflect on prayer today as we think about how the members of this church can fulfill the work of the ministry that God has given them to create a covenant community who worships Christ above all. As Samuel the prophet is making his farewell address to the nation of Israel, exposing their sin and charging them to uphold God’s Law. At this, the nation of Israel wails and laments their sin, but Samuel responds: “Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the LORD by ceasing to pray for you, and I will instruct you in the good and the right way,” 1 Sam 12:23. Friends, far be it from us friends that we should sin against the Lord by failing to pray for each other. So, let’s consider the power and resource of prayer we have at our fingertips (and prayer closets) and how this can help the members of our church fulfill the mission of our church. 

Let’s look at our text once again: “And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him,” 1 John 5:14-15. 

This text tells us that: (1) God hears us, (2) God answers us, and (3) this makes us confident.

God Hears

In the book of Genesis, Hagar is taken advantage of by Abraham and Sarah. The patriarch and matriarch of our faith lacked faith in God’s plan to give them a son, so Sarah forced her servant Hagar to bear children for her—a wicked thing to do. However, after Hagar became pregnant Sarah was inflamed with anger and jealousy and chased Hagar away. While languishing in the desert, the angel of the Lord appeared to a downtrodden Hagar and promised that God would care for her and her soon-to-be-born son, telling her, ““Behold, you are pregnant and shall bear a son. You shall call his name Ishmael, because the LORD has listened to your affliction,” Gen 16:11. The name “Ishmael” in Hebrew means: “God hears me.” Our God is a God who hears.

We all long to be heard. One of the great frustrations in relationships is when it feels like you are not understood, like the other person isn’t listening to you. This is especially true when the person who isn’t listening to you has authority and power over you. Children, doesn’t it feel frustrating when it feels like your parents don’t listen to you? One of the great frustrations of our political moment is that it feels like politicians—who hold this massive amount of power in our society—are disconnected from the people they are meant to represent. Imagine what it would be like if the mayor of our city were to knock on your door today and say, “I would like to hear what you have to say about this issue.” How shocking would that feel? You care about my opinion? My problems? Imagine how much more shocking it would be if it were the governor of our state? The president of our country? What would you do if the most powerful person alive today were to sit down and ask you, “Tell me what’s bothering you?”

But friends, in prayer we don’t simply have some fallible, fallen human being who has been elected to some temporary position of power whose plans and efforts can be flawed or thwarted who wants to lend us their ear. We have the omnipotent, infinite, omniscient, eternal God who rules as the sovereign Lord over the cosmos who hears us. It would be staggering for the president to stop by your house for lunch today because, ultimately, you aren’t important enough to matter to him, he doesn’t have the time for you. But that isn’t true of our God! Our God is not limited, He is the Lord of time, so His schedule isn’t too busy to listen to you pour out your pain, your trivialities, your joys, your frustrations.

But, most importantly, because a Christian has been united to Christ by faith, we now stand in Christ and are therefore now sons of God! So our prayers now have just as much right to be heard by the Father as Jesus’ prayers did—this is why Christians have traditionally closed their prayers “in Jesus’ name.” Perhaps something that is prohibiting you from prayer is the thought that you are not worthy or that because of your sins God shouldn’t listen to you. There is some measure of truth to that. The Psalms tell us that if we cherish iniquity in our heart, the Lord will not listen to us (Ps 66:18). 1 Peter warns husbands that if they do not live with their wives in an understanding way their prayers will be hindered (1 Pet 3:7). If you have excused your sin, decided to live with your sin, and justify it rather than repent and forsake it, then your heart and mind will be clouded and prayer will feel like you are pushing through a dark wall. But, if you have repented of your sins, acknowledged what they are, and asked God to forgive you, then your prayers are heard by the Father! Just as much as Jesus’ prayers were heard!

God Answers Us

1 John doesn’t merely say that God hears our prayers, but, “...if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him,” 1 John 5:15. If God hears us, we have what we have asked for. What an astonishing promise!

Do you know the story of Elisha at Dothan? In 2 Kings 6 a Syrian army is marching towards the city of Dothan where Elisha and his servant are staying. When everyone wakes up the city is surrounded by horses and chariots of a very, very powerful army. But Elisha is utterly unworried. His servant begins to panic, asking Elisha what they are to do and Elisha prays and the servant’s eyes are opened and suddenly he is aware that the mountains around them are filled with horses and chariots of fire, a heavenly army that far outnumbers the Syrians. Elisha prays again for the Lord to blind the enemy and the entire Syrian army is struck blind. Boom! God heard Elisha’s prayer and answered it. We read that story and think: That’s what I’m talking about! But, why are so few of my prayers answered like that?

Well, long ago, in that same city of Dothan, Joseph, one of Jacob’s twelve sons, arrives to check in on his brothers. When he arrives, however, they apprehend him, throw him into a pit, and then sell him into slavery, where he languishes and suffers unfairly for years (Gen 37). Same city, same God, but why in one does God immediately grant a request and shows up, but in the other He is totally silent and let’s His people suffer?

The clue is found in verse 14 of 1 John: “And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us,” 1 John 5:14. According to his will. So, what was God’s will for Joseph? Well, of course, it was through his suffering and difficulty that he was eventually exalted to the position of authority in Egypt whereby he was able to then provide his administrative help to prepare for a great famine, and thereby saved millions of lives—including the lives of his very brothers who sold him into slavery. Certainly Joseph prayed several times for God to deliver him from his trials, from his imprisonment, from his suffering, and as days pooled into months and months pooled into years, Joseph didn’t get the answer he wanted. But, of course, he had no idea what God was doing in positioning Joseph to be in the final position that he would arrive at. If God had simply granted Joseph’s request to be delivered early on, millions of people, including his own family and father, would have died.

This is why our prayers are not like a genie in a lamp where God automatically grants our every desire. Because God loves us, He grants us what lies in accordance with His plan. This is why Paul explains in Romans, “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words,” Rom 8:26. Tim Keller calls this the “safety valve” of prayer. There are many times where we do not know what the right thing to prayer for is, but God’s Spirit helps us by interceding for us in our prayers. Keller explains, “God will always give us in prayer what we would have asked for if we knew everything that God knew.”

George Macdonald, C.S. Lewis' hero, once wrote a children’s story called The Princess and the Goblin about a young princess who lives in a castle that is surrounded by mountains filled with goblins. Above her room, in the tower of the castle, lives the princesses’ fairy godmother. The fairy godmother gives her a ring that is attached to an invisible thread that only the princess can see. The godmother promises that anytime she is lost or in danger she can follow the thread and it will lead her to safety. One night, the princess thinks she hears a goblin in her room. So, she quickly grabs the invisible thread and begins to follow it out of her room. However, instead of going upstairs to her fairy godmother, the thread leads in the opposite direction, out of the castle itself. The princess trusts her godmother, so she follows the thread up till it leads to the very cave where the goblins live. Terrified, she panics and contemplates going back, but realizes that when she attempts to go back the thread disappears. The only option she has is to go forward into the cave. Upon arriving in the cave, however, she finds it deserted and discovers that her best friend, a young boy, has been trapped by the goblins and is being held prisoner. She frees her friend and continues to follow the thread back to the castle and to her fairy godmother. 

The moral of the story: sometimes God’s will for our life does not look like what we thought it would look like, and so often our prayers can look like they are simply going unanswered. But we need only to trust the thread of God’s will as it leads us forward and continue in prayer. And if you are struggling with how to trust God when it feels like there is no way forward, consider our Savior. The book of Hebrews tells us, “In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence,” Heb 5:7. Jesus’ life was a life marked by prayer, and He prayed with fervor “to him who was able to save him from death” and He was heard. 1 John just told us that if God hears us we know that we have the requests of what we asked. But was Jesus spared from death? Well, yes and no. When Jesus is praying the Garden of Gethsemane and asks the Father to take this cup away from Him, He closes by saying, “but nevertheless not as I will, but as you will.” But Jesus’ request to be spared is manifestly denied. Jesus’ “thread” led to the cross, to the ultimate death, where He would go to bear the wrath of God for the sins of His people. And because Jesus did that, no matter where God’s will guides us, we know that we will never have to face that kind of judgment—God’s thread will never lead us to the outpouring of his wrath upon us and the eternal destruction, so we can rest assured and trust Him.

But, Jesus’ thread also shot through the grave into the resurrection! Jesus’ was spared the finality and victory of death because He overcame them! So, He was spared ultimately from death, even if the victory came through death. So now, as we follow our great captain, we know that God’s will sometimes leads through scary, difficult places, but we know that the biggest, scariest problem has been dealt with, and we know that no matter what happens, on the other side of this life awaits resurrection hope.

So we pray with confidence.


How are we to pray if the future of God’s will for us is mysterious? We pray with confidence. We know that when God hears us, whatever we ask according to His will will be granted to us. This is why it so important to let God’s word guide us as we pray—look at how Jesus and the apostles prayed and use that as a template for how you ought to pray. We may not know precisely what God has in store for our lives in the future, but we know with certainty that it is God’s will that we grow in our sanctification, that we bear the fruit of the Spirit, that we be conformed to the image of Christ. There is no uncertainty about those truths, and those truths are the realities that will matter most in eternity. And we know that if those things are God’s will and we ask them of God, we will have what we have requested. 

I ask great things; expect great things; shall receive great things. - "Voyage" from Valley of Vision

Read more
Member's Ministry: Speak Truth (Eph 4:11-16)
Member's Ministry: Speak Truth (Eph 4:11-16)

Marc Sims • January 14, 2021

Sermon Audio:

Sermon Manuscript:

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. – Eph 4:11-16

Public protests devolved into riots; tensions over police brutality and racial hostilities boiled over; the American people felt uneasy as a bellicose president attempted to use his position to steamroll over those who opposed him and intimidated the media into only giving him positive press. The year is 1968 and Lyndon B. Johnson is stuck in the mire of Vietnam, steadily losing support for the war as the days go by. The landscape of America had been rocked and reeled by the advent of French existentialism and postmodern philosophies that had been imported into its universities, questioning the very idea of objective truth, identity, or meaning in life. The creation of teenage culture just a decade earlier had devolved into the sharp cultural divide between youth and their parents, creating suspicion and distrust in one another. These together gave rise to young people questioning many of the moral systems of their parents, bringing about the sexual revolution of the 60’s and alternative political ideologies which sought to radically correct the failures of past generations. You better start swimming or you’ll sink like a stone, because the times they are changing.

In 1965 news reporters from CBS stationed in Vietnam showed footage of US troops using flamethrowers and zippo lighters to torch thatch-roofed villages of non-combatants while Vietnamese women and children wailed in the background. Public support of Vietnam began to plummet and university students began to organize protests against the war. American journalists, up to this point, had never questioned or sought to undermine the American government in a war effort, but more and more often younger journalists sought to make it clear that they found the American war in Vietnam to be wrong. There was one journalist, however, who sought to keep personal evaluations out of his news reports, whose aim was to tell America “the way it is…”. Walter Cronkite, the CBS news anchor from 1962-1981, was known as “the most trusted man in America.” Seen as a paragon of impartiality and objectivity, Cronkite’s nightly news broadcasts rarely ever involved his personal commentary. Thus, when Cronkite traveled to Vietnam in 1968 and returned to report on the status of the American war effort, the country eagerly looked to hear from “Uncle Walter” on what was really going on. Cronkite himself had been frustrated with the cynicism of younger reporters and wanted to see for himself whether or not the Vietnamese offensive was as morally problematic and pyrrhic as they claimed.

Cronkite’s report spent the majority of time interviewing generals, soldiers, and recounting the military strategies, remaining typically impartial and objective in his reporting. However, at the very close of the program Cronkite noted that he, unusually, was going to give his own “subjective” opinion. He famously noted that “from his vantage point” the only conceivable outcome of continuing to fight in Vietnam was to arrive at a bloody stalemate, thus America must negotiate for peace. Lyndon B. Johnson, after watching Cronkite’s report, switched off the TV and told an aide, “If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost middle America.” And he did. Support for the war bottomed out and a few weeks later LBJ made a news announcement that all bombing would cease in Vietnam and, much to everyone’s surprise, that he would not be seeking re-election as President.

As we look at the turmoil in our country, the upheaval and division, we lack a unifying voice like Cronkite. There is no one who can tell our country “the way it is.” At least, no one we all will listen to. Postmodernism has only soured into a more vitriolic, angered force—you have your truth and I have my truth, but if you don’t affirm my truth then you are a danger to me. Trust in institutions like the government, media, and universities have only sunk lower. And the rise of information technologies coupled with social media platforms have given us oceans upon oceans of information with little wisdom in how to navigate it well. Like a toddler dumping over a bucket of BB’s, the internet scatters millions of data-points before us—some of them reliable, many not—and we have to try to discern who to listen to. A piece of objective, peer-reviewed, well-researched journalism can pop-up on our Facebook feed right next to a meme that makes wild, baseless accusations. And both will be seen in the same medium, giving them both an air of similar credibility. Add on to this that our society has emphasized feelings as a source of truth, and we are left with simply choosing what to believe based on what we want to believe. So logic, evidence, reason matter far less than emotional anecdotes, outrage, and fear. Truth, therefore, is in the eye of the feeler, and there are as many “truths” as there are people.

What does this have to do with our text? I am bringing all of this up to show that our current cultural location has presented a grave, grave danger for the church. Far more dangerous than any political outcome, revolution, or upheaval, the demise of Truth presents an existential crisis for our faith. Truth in the capital “T” sense—not the personal, subjective idea of “my truth,” but the Truth; truth that is regardless of who affirms it, regardless of whether or not we like it, Truth that is true for all peoples of all cultures in all places. Scripture teaches us that the church, and therefore the Christians who comprise the church, live and grow through Truth.

Give a plant water, and it grows. Give God’s people the Truth, and they will grow. More specifically, give them the truth spoken in love to one another, and they will grow in every way into Christ. 

Sifting through our befuddling times, growing in wisdom and discernment, knowing who to listen to and who to ignore is a much needed task for Christians today. We dishonor God and hurt people when we champion things as “true” that are actually false. But long before we can enter into the puzzling exercise of doing that, we need to be trained by the schoolmaster of God’s eternal, unchanging Truth: God’s Word. While there may be a cacophony of contradictory voices screaming for your attention and your belief today and you are overwhelmed about who to listen to, here in this Sacred Book we need not be left wondering who to listen. Here, in these pages we can meet our Savior and listen to Him. And as we do that, we will be better equipped to face this ever-shifting world with the solid, unshifting bedrock of Truth under our feet. And this task, this ministry, is a ministry for us all.


Paul begins this section by explaining that God has given gifts to the church through specific offices: “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,” Eph 4:11-12. A few verses prior to this we are told that upon Jesus’ ascension to Heaven He has given the church gifts (Eph 4:8). These gifts given from Jesus Himself are apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. While we would hold that some of these offices are no longer functioning in the post-apostolic church, we can notice the common denominator among all of these offices: they all have a gift in speaking God’s Word. Apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers all are charged with bringing God’s Word to His people. This is important because it helps us understand how they are supposed to “equip the saints for the work of the ministry.” Christians are prepared for the work God has given them by receiving God’s Word from the pastors that Jesus has given them as a gift.

So, my role as your pastor and any other pastor here is to so speak God’s Word to you that you become competently prepared to fulfill the work of the ministry that God has given you here in this church. This is why I devote the lion share of my time in preparing to teach God’s Word. If I do not, then you will be unprepared for your work: “building up the body of Christ.” As we noted last week, this text assumes that “the work of the ministry” is actually carried out by the members of the church, not just the pastors. Perhaps that seems odd to you: isn’t that why we pay you? Isn’t it your job to do the ministry? But, alas, the Bible says otherwise. 

But I want you to think about this from another angle. This is true not just because the Bible explicitly says so, but also because it makes sense in why it produce the healthiest disciples. If you were to attend a workout class where the instructor stood up and showed everyone how to do the exercises, how to lift the weights, and then sent everyone home without having them doing the exercises at all, would they be getting any healthier? Wouldn’t it be better to have your instructor show you how to do the exercises and then put the weights in your hand and say, “Okay, now you do it.” It will certainly be more difficult, but it will also make you stronger, healthier than the other class who just watches their instructor workout. The design of the ministry in the New Testament is a ministry that is led by the pastors who are equipping the saints, but is finally accomplished by the members themselves picking up the weights and doing the work themselves. 

This is why we are considering this for these four weeks. Members of the church can fulfill the work of the ministry through their love, speaking, praying, and giving. But here in Ephesians, Paul is going to highlight “speaking.”


You’re work is defined as such: “building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,” Eph 4:12-13. The last two statements, “mature manhood, to the stature of the fullness of Christ,” are, in many ways, simply parroting the call to “build up the body of Christ”—to make it stronger, more mature, to look like Jesus. It is the phrase in the middle that helps shed considerable light on what that actually looks like: “until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God.”

What should you be prioritizing as a member of this church? Unity. Earlier in Eph 4:1-3 Paul defined “unity” as the defining marker of what it means to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling of Christ.” But, this isn’t a “unity at all costs” kind of unity. It is a unity “of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God.” Our unity flows from a unity around God’s truth. The “faith” here refers to the objective content of our faith; what we believe in,namely, the knowledge of the Son of God. So our unity is not a unity that comes from arriving at the lowest common denominator in our doctrine or watering down the truth and shaving off the sharp edges so that we can stretch our tent as widely as possible. Our unity is a unity that is found in truth. 

But, dear friend, I hope you see this danger. If our aim is to preserve the unity of our church, and that unity comes from our shared convictions of truth, then that means that we need to be discerning enough with knowing where to draw those lines of doctrine and where not to. In other words, there are doctrines that we will divide over, but that does not mean that we divide over every doctrine. So, that means that you need to know your Bible well enough to know when a doctrine is central enough that it must be fought over, and when it is just something that we can simply disagree on but maintain our unity together. This is the intent of our Statement of Faith. It is a collection of doctrines that we require for membership in the church because it includes what we have deemed to be central to our faith and unity as a church. If you’re wondering what doctrines are important enough to divide over, it might serve you to read through that statement. Also, it might help you to go back through the video series we did on conscience last year.

So, what is the work of the ministry? Building up the body until we reach the unity of faith and knowledge of the son of God, till we are mature, till our life reflects Christ’s life. And how do we do that? Look down to verses 15-16, “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love,” Eph 4:15-16. 

This looks like speaking truth in love to one another. This phrase (speaking truth in love) doesn’t primarily refer to telling someone an inconvenient or uncomfortable fact in a kind way; it isn’t the equivalent of “with all due respect” (“Hey man, I’m just trying to speak the truth in love, but your breath smells terrible”). “Truth” here is referring to God’s Truth, right doctrine. As we will shortly see, it is set in direct contrast with false doctrine in verse 14 that destroy people’s souls. It is when we speak robust, Biblical, orthodox doctrine to each other, that the whole church grows. This shows us that we cannot think that doctrine is some arid, boring, dead thing that inflates your brain but does little else. The Bible teaches us that God’s truth brings life, growth, vitality. We can throw away the false dichotomy of a warm heart or rigorous intellectual life. Our handling of right doctrine, our speaking of it to one another, is the vigor and lifeblood of growth in the church. 

But this assumes two things are necessary: (1) you must speak these truths to one another, (2) and it must be done in love. 

These truths were never meant to simply be understood, believed, and then kept to ourselves. What good is it for a doctor to receive his years of training, his understanding of ailments, his medical equipment, only to be brought before the sick and dying and remain quiet, do nothing? God’s truth was never intended to be kept safe and secure in the quiet museum of our minds, but was intended to be raked through the mud in the rough and tumble of life. It must be used or God’s people will not grow. This means that we are willing to prioritize other people’s good over our own comfort. It may feel awkward and uncomfortable to speak truth to another person—but we aren’t waiting for things to feel easy, we are trying to be obedient to our Lord in our work of the ministry.

But, of course, this cannot be done without love. Of course, speaking the truth to another is a display of our love for them. If our love for this person is lacking in our heart, if it is not evident, not communicated, then the truth may cause them to wilt, not grow. This is why we need to strive to build the relational bridges of love now so that when the time comes to drive the truck of God’s truth over that bridge, it is strong enough to bear the load. So this is why we ought to strive to practice hospitality, be faithful in our small group attendance, share meals together, pray for one another, so that our hearts can be knit together in love.

So, if a brother begins to wander off into sin, we pursue after them and speak the truth of the gospel, reminding them of God's grace and of the need for repentance.

If a sister is struggling with assurance of her salvation, we speak the truth of the eternal security that is found in her being predestined from before the foundations of the world.

If our child is questioning why God lets bad things happen, we speak the truth in love to them, reminding them of God's good and (sometimes) mysterious sovereign purposes.


What happens if we fail to carry out this task? Look back to verse 14: “so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.” So, we need to speak the truth in love to one another, build one another up in Christ until we reach the unity of the faith, we need to do the work of the ministry because, if we do not, we will remain children in the faith who are susceptible to making a shipwreck of our souls. The image Paul gives us is of a small boat bounced around by the waves, blown about by every crosswind, and behind those forces are deceitful, cunning people who are looking to take advantage of you. Friends, do you see the dire consequences of what happens if we fail to do the work of the ministry? People’s souls are on the line!

Notice, that we are told that it is “human cunning” and “craftiness in deceitful schemes” that empowers this false teaching. This tells us that false teaching that wants to make a shipwreck of your faith doesn’t presentitself as something dangerous. It is “crafty,” the word used to describe Satan in Eden (Gen 3:1). Satan made his temptation to Eve sound attractive, plausible, wise. So, young people, be warned: there are a thousand ways that the world wants to trick you, wants you to believe its lies, and they will advertise almost all of them in positive, attractive, even moral ways. But if the only concept of “false teaching” you have in your mind is of something that looks bad from the get-go, there will be a great deal that will sneak past you. But how can you guard yourself from that? Read your Bibles and be intimately connected into the life of the church where other people will speak God’s truth to you in love.


Friends, while the tempest of misinformation and information swirls around us, while we see a lack of a unifying voice to make sense of current events, what can we do? 

1.     Make first things first. I may not be able to know with confidence what news stories are reliable and which aren’t, but in God’s Word I have something that is unquestionably reliable. So I will set my heart and my mind primarily on this Truth. Phil 4:8 tells me that I should set my mind on what is “true”—so God’s perfect, inerrant truth should be what dominates the majority of my mind and heart. So, friend, read your Bible.

2.     Create an alternative to the world. As the world fractures and splits, the Church provides an alternative community. 

a.     Here, when we speak the truth in love to one another it means that we reject the idea that Truth is a personal creation, but an objective reality that exists outside of us that we submit to—regardless of whether we like it or not. 

b.     Thus, when we speak the truth in love to one another we grow in humility because we learn that sometimes we are wrong and need to be corrected. 

c.     When we speak the truth in love to one another we are showing that a deep love for one another can be displayed in speaking truth. Speaking truth is not something we reserve for crushing our opponents, but for loving our brothers.

d.     When we speak the truth in love to one another we demonstrate that we know that we are responsible for one another. When one of us begins to walk into sin, when one of us begins to struggle, we do not “cancel” them, we do not condemn them, we lovingly go after them.

When we create a community like that, that is built on an ecosystem of love and truth, then we are met by the misinformation of our age, we will be far better prepared because: (1) we’ve lived our lives in connection with people who are different than us, so we understand that our perspective is sometimes limited, (2) we know that Truth isn’t dependent on our feelings or preferences, (3) we’ve been humbled by our own sin and know that we have certainly been wrong before, so that gives us pause before brashly asserting our own interpretation, (4) and we have been discipled by the Biblical pattern of wisdom, which exhorts us to be slow to speak, quick to listen, patient in evaluating evidence, willing to examine a matter fully, check sources, and in detail before pronouncing a verdict.

Read more
Member's Ministry: Love (1 John 4:19-5:3)
Member's Ministry: Love (1 John 4:19-5:3)

Marc Sims • January 05, 2021

Sermon Audio:

Sermon Manuscript:

We love because he first loved us. 20 If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. 21 And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.

1 Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him. 2 By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. 3 For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. – 1 John 4:19-5:3

We are taking a brief break from our sermon series in Mark to reflect on our church’s mission statement and specifically, over these next four weeks, how the members of our church can functionally pursue that mission. Ephesians 4 explains: “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,” (Eph 4:11-12). This teaches us that God gives pastors to the church so that they may equip the members of the church to do the work of the ministry. So, the assumption of the Bible is that every member of the church has a ministry—they are, in a way, the ministers. What is that ministry? It is summarized by “building up the body of Christ,” and further expanded upon by everything else Paul says through verse 16. But what I want to drill into is this idea of each member’s ministry. 

What is your role in “creating a covenant community who worships Christ above all”? 

Your responsibility could be summarized with four verbs: love, speak, pray, give. Today we will be focusing on “love”. 

If you are exploring Christianity or are new to Christianity I wonder if you have considered the centrality of “love” to our faith. So central, in fact, that if one lacks love they prove that they are not actually a Christian. Listen to what John says just a few verses earlier in his letter: “So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him,” 1 John 4:16. God is love, therefore it is impossible to have an authentic encounter with God without also being confronted and transformed by His divine love. In Paul’s famous teaching on love from 1 Corinthians 13 (which we read earlier in the service) we learn that love is the integral component of all of our Christian life. If we know everything there is to know about the Bible, if we can manifest the most spectacular display of spiritual gifts and power, if we are the most devout of Christians—willing to sell everything we own to give to the poor, even to die for the faith—but lack love, all of it is pointless. Paul literally calls it the most important of all of the traits of a Christian (1 Cor 13:13; cf. Gal 5:22). If Christians should be defined by anything, known for anything, it should be our love (John 13:35).

Love looks like a response

John explains, “We love because God first loved us,” 1 John 4:19. We love because He first loved us. If you reverse the order of that sentence—God loves us because we first loved—you  lose Christianity. In the way that moon reflects the sun, our love (for God and for others) is a reflection of God’s love for us. If you are not a Christian here today and are wondering how Christianity works, you should know that (unlike other religions or worldviews) Christianity doesn’t fundamentally begin with you and your performance. In traditional, conservative cultures, your status and identity are contingent on you accepting the traditions and identity the wider community / parents place on you. In a progressive, liberal culture, your status and identity are contingent on you throwing off the shackles of tradition and finding out who you want to be for yourself, forging your own identity and personhood. Both of these will require you to adopt particular values, political commitments, and ideologies in order for you to continue to maintain your identity and your status. The common denominator in all of these, however, is that all of this is ultimately up to you, begins with you, and is about you. 

Christianity begins with God and what He has done to make you His own, to give you an identity and a status. Our love of God is not first and foremost a feeling we have mustered up, it is not a lifestyle and set of values we have adopted—it is a response. We love because He first loved us. John makes this even more explicit just a few verses earlier, “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another,” 1 John 4:10-11. What is love? John begins by explaining what it is not. It isn’t that we loved God. In fact the Bible explains that our natural disposition towards God is one of enmity, hostility—we don’t naturally want God in our life. Our sin has so darkened the eyes of our soul that when the light of God is revealed we prefer the darkness. John explains, “The light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil,” John 3:19. We don’t love God; we loved darkness. We loved our sin. Our heart’s posture is that of Satan in Paradise Lost: “Better to reign in hell than to serve in heaven.” Leave us alone to our misery and wretchedness—at least we feel like we have some semblance of control here.

And it is there, in that pit of darkness, in our waywardness that God stoops down and loves us, loves you. It appears baffling that God would do such a thing, but so it is. In Victor Hugo’s masterpiece, Les Misérables, the main character, Jean Valjean, spends years in prison for attempting to steal a loaf of bread. Upon his release he wanders from town to town but is shunned as a pariah. He is finally shown hospitality and kindness by a priest who provides shelter and food for him. In the middle of the night, however, Valjean decides to rob the unsuspecting priest and run off to town to sell the church’s silverware. The priest is then woken up by the authorities who explain that they have just apprehended Valjean trying to hock the items in town. The priest, however, welcomes Valjean like an old friend and explains that the silverware was a gift and quickly hands the church’s silver candlesticks as well to a thunderstruck Valjean, explaining he could get at least 200 franks for them. Valjean is left speechless. At the moment when he is dead-to-rights guilty, when he flagrantly abused the kindness of an old man (a priest, nonetheless!), and is caught red-handed, he is received with love, with grace. This becomes a catalyst for change in Valjean’s life, leading him to spend the rest of the book showing this same kind grace and love to his friends, family, and enemies. Love, the kind of love the Bible describes, only is produced out of a response.

In this is love, not that we loved God but that He loved us and gave His Son up to be a propitiation, a payment, for us. When we were in darkness, loving our sin, hating God, God broke in—not to pin to us to the wall with our guilt, not to read us the long list of judgment that was now finally going to be doled out upon us, not to finally let the hammer fall—but to shower us with love. To send His only Son to pay the debts of our sins, to wipe away our guilt. Friend, now if you will turn to Christ and believe in Him and submit to Him, you can experience that love, that forgiveness, that welcome, right now. If you want to know more about what that looks like, feel free to talk to one of our elders here or your friend or family who brought you here today.

So, how does God love us? He loves us despite our sinfulness; He doesn’t love us because it is convenient or easy, but in a way that is costly; He loves us consistently.

John continues, “Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought to love one another,” 1 John 4:11. This love that God shows us has implications for how we treat one another.

Love looks like family

John makes some staggering claims here: “If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him,” 1 John 4:20-5:1. What is John saying?

Love of God necessarily leads to loving your brother. “Love” here is directed vertically and horizontally.

Who is your “brother”? This is a title used specifically in the New Testament to address other Christians. This is not the same thing as loving your “neighbor.” Your neighbor is anyone and everyone that the Lord puts in your life. “Brother” is referring specifically to others (men and women) who have been adopted into the family of Christ (cf. Rom 8:14-17). Everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him. If anyone claims to love God but hates his brother, he is a liar. You cannot see God, but you can see your brother who is made in the image of God, and is being conformed day by day into the image of Christ (Rom 8:29). If you cannot love these people that you see, how do you suppose to love an invisible God that you cannot see? (cf. 1 Pet 1:8). Friends, if we want to create a covenant community who worships Christ above all, this is telling us that it is impossible to worship Christ above all if we don’t love each other.

What does it look like to love your brother? Again, John helps us a little earlier in his letter: “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth,” 1 John 3:16-18. In a day where we tend to think of love primarily as a feeling that happens to us, John shows us that love should look like concrete actions. Our lives should not be these hermetically sealed off capsules, keeping our time, our money, our food, our homes, our resources to ourselves. Rather, there should be a kind of permeability to them—we are aware of each other’s needs and abundances. This assumes that the lives of those who have truly experienced the love of God are lives that are marked by openness, generosity, humility, and willingness to be inconvenienced for others. 

Of course, brotherly love includes feelings of love as well. Paul exhorts us: “Love one another with brotherly affection,” Rom 12:10. There should be a warmth of affection between fellow Christians, between church members. This should always be our aim. But our hearts often follow our actions. 

When a brother or sister comes into our church let’s not make them feel like they have to earn the right to be loved, to be welcomed. Let’s not tell our more introverted, quiet members that they are less valuable because it is easier to engage with the outgoing ones. Let’s aim to have a life that is open to our brothers and sisters.

“By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:35

Love looks like holiness

John concludes by rounding out our understanding of love with a look at the law: “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome,” 1 John 5:2-3. 

This is fascinating. Earlier John wanted to show that you could not love God unless you loved other Christians, but here John says that you cannot love other Christians unless you love God and keep His commandments. So, this means…

1.     That my personal relationship with the Lord and obedience to His commands has a direct effect on my ability to love you all well. According to the Bible, we cannot compartmentalize our lives into “private and public” or “sacred and secular.” What we do while we are alone affects what we do when in public. 

2.     That if another person’s definition of love requires me to break God’s commandments, like giving approval of what God hates or joining them in their rebellion, then no matter what, it isn’t loving. 1 Corinthians 13 explains that love, “does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth,” 1 Cor 13:6. 

3.     Love of God naturally spills over into a desire for holiness. John explains that this is the love of God: that we keep his commandments. Jesus explained: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments,” John 14:15. If we find a painful lack of obedience to God’s commandments in our life, that likely means that there is a lack of love. God’s commandments are not burdensome—they are a delight! Because they bring more intimacy with the Lord, greater clarity to see Him.

Read more
The Beauty of God and the Mission of the Church (1 Sam 4:1-11)
The Beauty of God and the Mission of the Church (1 Sam 4:1-11)

Marc Sims • December 27, 2020

Sermon Audio:

Sermon Manuscript:

1 And the word of Samuel came to all Israel.

Now Israel went out to battle against the Philistines. They encamped at Ebenezer, and the Philistines encamped at Aphek. 2 The Philistines drew up in line against Israel, and when the battle spread, Israel was defeated before the Philistines, who killed about four thousand men on the field of battle. 3 And when the people came to the camp, the elders of Israel said, “Why has the LORD defeated us today before the Philistines? Let us bring the ark of the covenant of the LORD here from Shiloh, that it may come among us and save us from the power of our enemies.” 4 So the people sent to Shiloh and brought from there the ark of the covenant of the LORD of hosts, who is enthroned on the cherubim. And the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were there with the ark of the covenant of God.

5 As soon as the ark of the covenant of the LORD came into the camp, all Israel gave a mighty shout, so that the earth resounded. 6 And when the Philistines heard the noise of the shouting, they said, “What does this great shouting in the camp of the Hebrews mean?” And when they learned that the ark of the LORD had come to the camp, 7 the Philistines were afraid, for they said, “A god has come into the camp.” And they said, “Woe to us! For nothing like this has happened before. 8 Woe to us! Who can deliver us from the power of these mighty gods? These are the gods who struck the Egyptians with every sort of plague in the wilderness. 9 Take courage, and be men, O Philistines, lest you become slaves to the Hebrews as they have been to you; be men and fight.”

10 So the Philistines fought, and Israel was defeated, and they fled, every man to his home. And there was a very great slaughter, for thirty thousand foot soldiers of Israel fell. 11 And the ark of God was captured, and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, died. – 1 Sam 4:1-11

The most important relationships in our lives are covenantal, and less important ones are contractual.

A covenantal relationship puts primary emphasis on the relationship itself; a contractual relationship puts the emphasis on the actions, the output. In a covenantal relationship, our main focus is on the other person, in a contractual relationship our main focus is on what benefit we can get from it. And we must discern which relationships in our lives should be covenantal or contractual. 

But what about our relationship with God? Is our relationship with God primarily focused on God Himself, or is it focused on what God has to give us? Is it covenantal or contractual?

In the book of 1 Samuel we see story after story after story of what happens when people assume that their relationship with God is contractual. The story of our text today is simply illustrative of this bigger picture. 

Why Am I Preaching on This?

Perhaps you are wondering why I have decided to preach this sermon. As we approach the end of 2020 and look forward to what God has in store for us in 2021 I want to take some time to calibrate our church’s expectations and unify us together in the mission that God has given our church: to create a covenant community who worships Christ above all. The end of the year is a time where we reflect on making new decisions, changes we want to make to our lives. And it is no different for a church. Emerging from 2020 and looking forward to what the future holds for Quinault can create an air of anticipation. This last year was shrouded by so much frustration…being unable to meet for months, Zoom calls, quarantining, cancelled small groups, seeing ones we love be put into isolation, not being able to have pastors make home visits on our members, seeing loved ones grow sick, and seeing many hopes and dreams of what we wanted the last year to be to go up in flames—all of that creates a collective sense of “ugh, let’s hope next year is better.” 

But, perhaps the Lord knows what He is doing in giving us what He did in 2020. While we were unable to gather for a few months, in the last year we have been able to spend the majority of our Sunday’s together, singing, praying, and listening to God’s Word read and preached. We have been able to grow in our efforts to pray more regularly for one another through our prayer guides and membership directory. When I arrived here one year ago today, our church had 38 members. In the last year we have added 20 new members, which is more than a 50% increase. We have seen three brothers and sisters be baptized. We have seen new discipleship opportunities for men and women through men’s and women’s studies that started this Fall. We adopted a new Statement of Faith, and amended our membership covenant as well as our by-laws. We voted to support a new set of missionaries working in Bible translation, and ended the year coming in $10,000 over our expenses which we will use to install a new lighting system in our auditorium. And not to mention all of the tiny ways the pressure of the last year has caused us to lean more on the Lord, pray more, be more transparent with one another, reach out to one another for help, and practice hospitality more than we normally would have. We have much to be grateful to God for in the last year. 

But what should we expect for the next year? While the exhaustion and frustrations of 2020 can lead us to an anticipation of “Man, let’s just do something,” so too can the blessings of 2020: “Should we anticipate that God is going to increase our membership by another 50%? Should we declare that God will baptize even more or balloon our budget to new heights? What do we do with this momentum?”

This, of course, isn’t only a question for our church. What should your family anticipate for the next year? What would you like to have happen in your marriage? In your parenting? In your day-to-day war against sin? We want to see real change in our lives, we want to see change in our church, we want to see healthy, positive steps be taken in 2021. I want to see our church grow in its different ministry opportunities in reaching out to the community around us; I want to see a culture of evangelism and hospitality take hold in our church; and I want to see new opportunities for discipling our children take shape. But how do we bring that about? How do we approach this new year?

Here is what I want to emphasize to our church: there is nothing more important for our church, for yourself and your families, for the next year than to prioritize your relationship with the Lord. Surely you have all heard of this from some podcast or leadership book, but if you take a jar and a handful of larger rocks and a good deal of smaller pebbles and place the smaller pebbles in first and then try to put the larger rocks in afterwards, the rocks won’t fit into a jar. But if you put the big rocks in first and then pour the smaller rocks in around the larger rocks, then, surprisingly, all of the rocks will fit into the jar. That analogy is used often to explain why you should prioritize first and foremost the big tasks in your life—because you will be able to fill in the small tasks around them. While that might be true for productivity and scheduling, it is certainly true for the Christian life.

If we focus on the things that are to flow out of our relationship with the Lord (our evangelism, church growth, marriages, parenting, etc.) over our relationship with the Lord itself, we will suddenly find that we have no room for God in our lives. And we will wind up being like those that Paul warns of, “having an appearance of godliness, but denying its power,” (2 Tim 3:5). We may even begin to treat God as if we were in a contractual relationship with Him rather than a covenantal relationship, like we commune with God only to get what we want from Him. This is the warning of our text today.

The Cautionary Tale of Israel

The book of 1 Samuel is a picture of what two different relationships with God look like: a covenantal and a contractual. Those in a contractual relationship with God (Eli, his sons, most of Israel, Saul) use God to get what they want, to bring about the changes and results in their lives that they desire. Those in a covenantal relationship (Hannah, Samuel, and David) want God Himself; they are those “after God’s own heart,” (1 Sam 13:14).

The book explains how God has risen up Samuel to replace the wicked sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, who have used their positions as priests to forcefully rob others from the offerings given to God and to sleep with the women who were trying to worship at the tabernacle (1 Sam 2:12-17, 22). We are simply told that, despite the fact that they are priests of God, “they did not know the Lord,” (1 Sam 2:12). How shocking: men who are intended to be mediators between God and men, to help others know God more clearly and worship Him more rightly, they don’t even know God. They have no relationship with Him. They are simply using God as a free ticket to money, food, and sex. 

These two sons are set in direct contrast with the son of Hannah, Samuel. Hannah opens up the entire book of 1 Samuel with her prayers for a son. She is barren and wants a son more than anything. But she promises God that if He will give her a son, she will give Him back to God by devoting him to work in the tabernacle under Eli. God grants her request and gives her a son, and Hannah faithfully follows through with her promise. What does this tell us? God is Hannah’s highest priority. She offers up her son, the thing that she loves and desires most, to God. Samuel is an icon of contrast with Eli’s wicked sons, who use God to get what they want. One is a picture of a covenant relationship, the other of contractual relationship.

Sadly, most of Israel has followed the model of Eli’s sons. 1 Samuel occurs directly after the book of Judges. The time of the judges is a bleak one for Israel. Israel descends into a kind of moral perversion that is unparalleled in the Old Testament, making Sodom and Gomorrah look junior varsity in comparison. The constant refrain we are told over and over again is that, “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes,” (Judges 17:6; 18:1; 19:1; 21:25).

Our text today, 1 Samuel 4, is a story that takes place before any of the kings have arisen and right as the sons of Eli and Samuel have been contrasted with each other. We are told of the Philistines arising to wage war against Israel. Earlier, God foretold that Israel would face enemies in the Promised Land, but He also promised that He would help them in their battles so long as they remained faithful to the covenant that they had entered into with God at Mt. Sinai. Every Hebrew there at that battle would have known that promise and they would have know of the great and famous stories of God’s deliverance from past enemies, where God would part seas and send fire from heaven to consume their enemies. That would have been a great comfort as the foot soldiers prepared to fight.

However, much to their surprise, the Hebrews were spectacularly defeated, leaving nearly four thousand men dead (1 Sam 4:2). “And when the people came to the camp, the elders of Israel said, “Why has the LORD defeated us today before the Philistines? Let us bring the ark of the covenant of the LORD here from Shiloh, that it may come among us and save us from the power of our enemies,” 1 Sam 4:3. They acknowledge that it is Yahweh Himself who has defeated them; they know something is wrong—the Philistines shouldn’t be able to defeat them. Didn’t God promise He would help them? Ah, that’s the problem! We forgot the Ark! 

The Ark of the Covenant was a small box that God had commanded Moses to construct while up on Mt. Sinai. It held the tablets of God’s commandments and was to be kept inside of the holiest place in the tabernacle. It represented God’s presence, acting as a sort of footstool of God’s heavenly throne (it was where heaven and earth met). No one was ever allowed to touch the ark or they would be struck dead, so priests would carry it on poles that supported it. It had previously been carried into battle during the siege of Jericho, so why not bring it out now? “So the people sent to Shiloh and brought from there the ark of the covenant of the LORD of hosts, who is enthroned on the cherubim. And the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were there with the ark of the covenant of God,” 1 Sam 4:4. 

Now, of course, the problem is not that the ark has been missing. The problem is that the nation of Israel has rejected God (1 Sam 8:7); they are all like Hophni and Phinehas and their presence with the ark is symbolic of what all of Israel’s standing before God is like: they do not know the Lord. But still, the arrival of the Ark brings a great deal of encouragement: “As soon as the ark of the covenant of the LORD came into the camp, all Israel gave a mighty shout, so that the earth resounded,” 1 Sam 4:5. No one present second guessed that the arrival of the Ark was a sure sign that God was going to bless them, no one stopped to consider that perhaps the problem was that the nation had violated the covenant that the Ark contained. No one even said that they needed the Lord Himself—what do they need? The ark of covenant! We don’t need God, we just need His firepower. The box rolls into the camp like an Abrams tank rolling in to reinforce the front. Israel isn’t the only one who interprets it this way; so do the Philistines.

“And when the Philistines heard the noise of the shouting, they said, “What does this great shouting in the camp of the Hebrews mean?” And when they learned that the ark of the LORD had come to the camp, the Philistines were afraid, for they said, “A god has come into the camp.” And they said, “Woe to us! For nothing like this has happened before. Woe to us! Who can deliver us from the power of these mighty gods? These are the gods who struck the Egyptians with every sort of plague in the wilderness,” – 1 Sam 4:6-8.

The Philistines know what Yahweh has done to the Egyptians in the Exodus. They think that the god (or gods) of the Hebrews is now walking among them, so they are trembling in terror. This really seems to be working! The troops are heartened, the enemy is left quaking in their boots—what more could you ask for?

Only, this time, Israel suffers a defeat so severe that it utterly breaks the spirit of the nation. “So the Philistines fought, and Israel was defeated, and they fled, every man to his home. And there was a very great slaughter, for thirty thousand foot soldiers of Israel fell. And the ark of God was captured, and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, died,” 1 Sam 4:10-11. Their defeat here is over seven times worse than the causalities from the first battle, plus Eli’s sons attending the ark are killed, plus the Ark itself is lost! The connection between heaven and earth, the footstool of God’s throne where His presence was made manifest…has been lost. When Eli hears this news he falls over and dies immediately (1 Sam 4:18).

Why would God let Israel lose so painfully? Why would He let a bunch of pagan Philistines march off with the Ark of the Covenant? Does this mean that the Philistine’s god (Dagon) is more powerful than Yahweh?

God is not a Genie

The Israelites viewed the Ark of the Covenant with the eye of superstitious folk-religion, not of faith. They did not know the Lord of the Covenant that the Ark was intended to represent. God was simply a force, a talisman of energy that they could appropriate for their own end. But God will not be batted around like some toy. He is not a tool we hold in our hands—we are held in His hands! Do you remember when Joshua was confronted by the angel of the Lord before the battle of Jericho and he asked him, “Are you for us, or for our adversaries?” And he said, “No; but I am the commander of the army of the LORD. Now I have come,” Joshua 5:13-14. God is not another player on the field who chooses a “side” to be on. It is we who have the choice: are we on God’s side or not?

As you look forward to the next year and think of what you want to have happen, what resolutions you want to make—maybe you want to lose ten pounds, pick up gardening, or maybe you want to simply be more intentional in your relationships, maybe you want to spend less time on your phone—whatever it is, we should be cautious of treating God like a means to those ends, like we are in some kind of give-and-take, contractual relationship with Him: Okay God, I will give you my time and attention if you will help me become more self-confident, if you will help me grow my business. 

We can even pursue spiritual goals this way. We can want to get rid of sin in our life or become more faithful in our spiritual disciplines, but pursue those things without actually pursuing God Himself. We should ask ourselves why we want to grow in those things—maybe you want to remove that habitual sin in your life not so much because it is keeping your from further intimacy with the Lord, but more because you are just embarrassed by it and it is making life more difficult. 

Tim Keller helpfully summarizes the dilemma this way: “Religious people find God useful. Christians find God beautiful.” Is God primarily useful to you? Or beautiful? Do you desire Him, or what He has to offer you?

This temptation is present for our church as a whole as well. Why do we want to see our church grow, to see people become disciples of Christ, why do we want to create a covenant community who worships Christ above all? If our answer is anything other than: we want to see God and we want as many other people

God is not whatever you want Him to be

It is normal and natural for people treat God as useful. This is the ethos of our day: everybody needs something that helps them get along in life. Life is hard and we need something to give us purpose, meaning, something that helps us deal with demons we all fight. So, whatever “religious” pursuit floats your boat, go for it! For some people that is traditional religion, for others it is found in a more self-guided experience, and for others it is found in (fill in the blank). All that matters is that we find something that works for us. But, of course, this assumes that (1) God is ultimately unknowable, and (2) what is most important is our felt-needs being met.

But what if God wants to speak to us? What if He wants us to quiet our soul’s constant yammering and to reveal Himself to us? And what if that overwhelms and transcends every man-made conception we had of Him? God is not a pool of energy, He is not some distant and aloof grandfather, He is not a calculating lawyer waiting to twist the screws to you for every fault and transgression: He is the covenant Lord who wants to enter into a covenant relationship with you. Not because you have anything special to offer Him—He just wants you. And He has sent His Son to pay for your sins, to take your penalty, so that you may be forgiven.

God has revealed Himself, made Himself known, and He has not done so primarily to take our natural, worldly desires and satisfy them, shape-shifting into whatever form of a deity or higher power we want Him to be. God has revealed Himself so that we might have a covenantal relationship with Him, to love Him, to know Him. And, to be sure, when we love God for God, then there will be a great change in our life, in our marriages, in our homes, in our church. If we “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you,” Matt 6:33. 

So, friend, as you look to the New Year, and as you look to your life, to our church, and think about everything you want to change, where you want to see growth, know this: there is nothing more important than prioritizing your relationship with the Lord. This should be the goal of everyone in this room: I want to know God more in 2021. Ask yourself: do I view God primarily as useful? Or as beautiful?

Read more