Pastor Joe's Last Sermon from the ROC
This last sermon I preached to the church, I am now preaching to myself. ROC Family, I pray you will continue to forgive one another, ask questions, and grow in grace.
WHEN THE OLD LIFE COMES BACK…
FIRST MESSAGE IN A SERIES ON JAMES
If you have your bibles, turn to James 4 and stick your bulletin there, and then turn to Acts Chapter 2.
I see striking similarities to what the people of the ROC went through, and what the first church in Acts went through. For a few weeks we are going to camp out in the Letter that James wrote.
The author of James was the half-brother to Jesus, and the pastor of the first Church in Jerusalem. The first church had over 20,000 members..
I consider the Letter of James, the Proverbs of the New Testament. It is practical yet so very deep because he addresses issues that must be addressed within the church. I want to ask each of you to read through the Letter of James once a week for the next 4 weeks. It will transform your life.
This Church that James Pastored was dispersed and persecuted at the hands of Saul, who later was saved and became Paul. Instead of a church destroyer, he became a church builder.
James was writing to his church members, scholars say roughly 15 years after these Christians had fled because of the Persecution of Saul and his cohorts.
At one time, they were on fire for the Lord. In Acts 2:42-47 we get to see not only the first actions of the church, but their heart as well.
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Acts 2:44-47 (NLT) 44 And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. 45 They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. 46 They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity— 47 all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved.
The believers were together! They were unified! They gave sacrificially to help one another! They treated one another as ‘better than themselves.’ Those on the “outside” wanted desperately to know Jesus and be forgiven for their sins, because of the difference that they saw Christ make in the lives of those who were in the church.
But then, with the stoning of Stephen, the church began to experience great persecution.
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Acts 7:59-8:1 (NLT) As they stoned him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 He fell to his knees, shouting, “Lord, don’t charge them with this sin!” And with that, he died. 1 Saul was one of the witnesses, and he agreed completely with the killing of Stephen. A great wave of persecution began that day, sweeping over the church in Jerusalem; and all the believers except the apostles were scattered through the regions of Judea and Samaria.
They were frightened, confused, and overwhelmed.
They left their church.
They were scattered through the regions.
They ran for their lives.
They had sold their possessions.
Many sold their homes.
Perhaps they had nothing left but the clothes on their backs and their children in their arms.
Initially, churches began popping up where they went…perhaps handfuls of believers stayed together and began leading others to the Lord… But lasting joy seemed to be missing.
Compare the emotion and joy we read in Acts 2:44-47 with what James wrote to some of these very same people:
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James 4:1-3 (NLT) 1 What is causing the quarrels and fights among you? Don’t they come from the evil desires at war within you? 2 You want what you don’t have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous of what others have, but you can’t get it, so you fight and wage war to take it away from them. Yet you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it. 3 And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure.
This seems like two different groups of people! Could these possibly be the same?
Even though they were leading others to the Lord and the churches seemed to be growing…negative and bitter attitudes and actions began to seep into their hearts and minds.
Over the time span of 15 years it seems, they began taking care of themselves. Instead of focusing on others, they built walls of protection around their hearts. They stopped trusting others….They became guardians of the flesh.
It is clear, that slowly they lost their passion for the Lord. They lost their hunger for Jesus. They began walking in the flesh – attitudes got in the way and began to quench the Spirit of the Lord.
James uses two words to describe the conflicts: Fighting and Wars.
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Fighting: MACHE (Mak-hay) – Controversy, striving, strive, fighting.
Wars: POLEMOS (Polaymose) – a single encounter or series of battles.
Mache (Mah-kay) suggested ongoing battles, feud, or controversy with others. Constant tension. Constant division.
Polemos: (Polaymose) suggested one time encounters that are unresolved. The battle wounds are still there. On the surface, things may appear ok. But deep in the heart – there remains the remnant of hurt, persecution, and betrayal.
These Christian believers hadn’t always behaved this way.
Division. Ongoing conflict. One time conflict. Anger. Betrayal. Gossip. Resentment. Unforgiveness. Stubbornness. Greed. Coveting. Unanswered prayer. Wrong motives all seeped into the church.
And, I am sure initially it began to grow and spread under the radar. That is what a “Root of Bitterness” does. Roots grow underground, unnoticed. They spread out and eventually take over. Hebrews 12:15 warns early Christians to…
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Hebrews 12:15 (NLT) 15 Look after each other so that none of you fails to receive the grace of God. Watch out that no poisonous root of bitterness grows up to trouble you, corrupting many.
James didn’t simply address fighting and quarreling among these believers. In a mere 5 chapters he addressed:
Temptation to Sin
Acting foolishly and lacking Wisdom
Christians listening to the Word but not doing what it says.
Prejudice against the poor.
Pride of the rich.
Controlling the tongue.
Division, fighting, quarrelling
Power of prayer
A root of bitterness had begun to grow, was not recognized early on, and took on a life of its own in ALL THE CHURCHES! It wasn’t just one church:
James 1:1b (NLT) ... I am writing to the “twelve tribes”—Jewish believers scattered abroad.
We all understand that a root begins its journey into the soil first as a seed…
(Hold up bucket of seeds.)
Seeds are small. Harmless. Insignificant. Too tiny to bother with.
They were corrupted because “seeds” had been sown into the lives of the church.
(Begin to spread seeds around the stage or the congregation.)
Seeds of favoritism. Seeds of Gossip. Seeds of unchecked anger. Seeds of laziness. Seeds of discord and strife. Seeds of grumbling. Seeds of complaining. Seeds of insecurity. Seeds of worry. Seeds of doubt. Seeds of mistrust.
If you read the full chapter of Hebrews 12, you will see that the Author of Hebrews is discussing the discipline of God. 10 times in 7 verses, the word Paideia (Pie-DAY-uh) is used to talk about receiving the discipline of God. To obey the correction of God. To make sure they continue to receive God’s discipline in their lives. What happens when we fail to listen to the Holy Spirit and walk in obedience? We become sowers of the seeds of bitterness in the church.
Now that we understand that, let’s go back to James. James seems to be saying, “15 years ago, it seemed like the "entire world" was coming to Christ through the way you lived your lives - you were radiating and displaying the light of Jesus! And now you are arguing and bickering and greedy…” Enough!
I love that James simply doesn’t address the problem and stop writing the letter. He gives them a solution. He tells them how conflict and division is fixed and corrected.
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James 4:8-10 (NLT) 8 Come close to God, and God will come close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world. 9 Let there be tears for what you have done. Let there be sorrow and deep grief. Let there be sadness instead of laughter, and gloom instead of joy. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up in honor.
First Step: Draw close to God.
How do we draw close to God? Confess sin and repent. Receive discipline from the Lord. Receive correction. Be teachable and willing to learn.
Be sorrowful. I don’t think we need to get caught up in the tears and deep grief…I think James is trying to say, truly be upset with yourself for allowing this sin to take over. Tell him you are wrong and He is right. That is HUMBLING yourself!
Humility was the attitude of the first believers before they were persecuted - and it seems that humility is what was lacking 15 years later. If a person is truly humble, they are constantly receiving correction and discipline from the Lord – because whom the Lord loves, he disciplines.
Remember the joy you experienced when you first trusted Christ as Savior? Because you had freshly humbled yourself to receive forgiveness from Jesus - you could easily humble yourself before your fellow man. You overflowed with joy. If somebody hurt you with carelessness of their words, or intentionally hurt you - you were quick to forgive because you knew those things really did not matter compared to the Coming Kingdom of Jesus Christ.
…Yet now, for some, they do.
Jesus tells us how to manage conflict in the church in a way that brings Him Glory and creates resolution:
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Matthew 18:15-35 (NLT) “If another believer sins against you, go privately and point out the offense. If the other person listens and confesses it, you have won that person back.
Matthew 5:23-24 (NLT) 23 “So if you are presenting a sacrifice at the altar in the Temple and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, 24 leave your sacrifice there at the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God.
Tonight as we move into a time of invitation – I want to challenge you to a couple of things: If you know you have offended somebody – and they are not here tonight – write their name down. Then before you go to bed tonight - apologize to that person.
If that person happens to be here tonight – I challenge you to go to them and apologize. If somebody comes to apologize to you, forgive them.
If somebody has offended you, and you are able to forgive them without going to them – then forgive them and let go of the grudge:
But you can only do this, by taking that first step of “drawing close to the Lord.”
Maybe you have never trusted Christ as your Savior. Your first step to forgiveness and repentance is to trust in Christ as your Savior.
If that is you, let me help you call out to the Lord: You can say this loud or you can say it within your heart:
Dear Jesus: I need you. Tonight, I humble myself and acknowledge that you are the Lord and confess I have been living for myself and not for you. I acknowledge that I am a sinner in need of you. Thank you for paying the penalty for my sin on the cross. Tonight, I humbly receive Jesus as my Savior. Jesus, thank you for saving me. You paid the penalty for my sin. You suffered and died on the cross for my sin...you rose from the dead and will return again.