Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE(r), Copyright (c) 1960, 1962,
1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.
Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE(r), Copyright (c) 1960, 1962,
Please turn to Proverbs chapter 3 verse 6. This verse speaks of acknowledging God and of being led by God.
How are we to acknowledge God?
How are we to be led by God?
It is by living for the glory of God.
If we are living for the glory of God, we will acknowledge and think about God in everything we do. And if we consider God in all of our decisions, even as one might listen for direction, we will be led by Him down straight paths, for our Lord delights to be the leader of His people. So in the next few minutes I will attempt to show that the way to acknowledge God and the way to be led by God is through living for the glory of God. And I especially want to show that living with a singular focus on the glory of God is the way to overcome one of the most vexing problems in the Christian life, the problem of bitterness. Thus the title, Overcoming Bitterness and Living for the Glory of God.
In Proverbs 3:6 we read, "In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight." The Holman Christian Standard Bible translates it this way, "Think about Him in all your ways, and He will guide you on the right paths."
What does it mean to have God guide us on the right paths, to have God direct our paths?
First of all, we note that it seems to be conditioned upon acknowledging God, thinking about God in all our ways. The opposite of acknowledging God is to ignore Him.
Most people ignore God. After the attack on the World Trade Center, we were happy to see many churches experience an upsurge in attendance. Many people who had been ignoring God suddenly showed up at church. Yet, not even two years later, most of those people have returned to their old patterns of ignoring God. How is God to guide them if they don't care to hear from Him?
Sadly, even many who profess to be Christians often reach a point where they are content to ignore God. There are many things that might distract them from God. They might be distracted by prosperity and affluence. They might be distracted by family, industry, and obligation, where demands on their time appear to leave no time for God. They might be distracted by struggle and loss. Finding it too hard to obey God's laws when life is difficult, they might ignore God and fall into deeds of dishonesty.
How are we to be led down straight paths while ignoring God?
Surely we cannot. Rather, we need to make the effort to understand how God wants us to live. We do this by considering God in every aspect of our lives.
What does it mean to acknowledge God in all our ways? What does it mean to acknowledge God in everything that we say, think, and do? Here are just a few examples.
When we listen.
We acknowledge God when we are attentive to Godly instruction, whether it comes from pastors, books, Sunday School teachers, parents, or friends, and when we treasure it, even if it comes in the form of rebuke or correction. Proverbs tells us that by loving instruction we demonstrate a love for knowledge, "Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid." (Proverbs 12:1)
When we remember.
We acknowledge God when we seek to remember what we have learned from Him. For example, memorizing scripture and keeping a journal can help us remember what He has taught us. Regarding the scriptures, God tells you to "Bind them on your fingers; write them on the tablet of your heart." (Proverbs 7:3)
When we treasure His commandments.
We acknowledge God when we seek to live by His word. So it is that we find this advice in Psalm 119:9-11, "How can a young man keep his way pure? By keeping it according to Your word. With all my heart I have sought You; do not let me wander from Your commandments. Your word I have treasured in my heart, that I may not sin against You."
When we live by faith.
We acknowledge God when we trust Him more than our senses, that is to say, when we live by faith rather than by sight, as it is written in 2 Corinthians 4:18-19, "… We look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal."
When we fear Him.
We acknowledge God when we are afraid to offend or grieve Him. "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge…" (Proverbs 1:7)
When we seek His kingdom.
We acknowledge God when we give seeking His kingdom priority over seeking personal possessions, or honor, or anything else, "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." (Luke 12:34)
When we love our neighbor.
We acknowledge God when we sacrificially reach out to those around us. "… You shall love your neighbor as yourself." (Matthew 22:39)
When we are zealous for Him.
We acknowledge God when we love Him with an undivided heart: with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, as it is written, "… You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind…" (Luke 10:27)
Are we zealous for God? Is He the singular focus of our motivation, the underlying reason for every thought, word, and deed? Or do we have divided hearts? Do we allow other things to compete with our zeal for God?
The Divided Heart.
A divided heart seeks to serve two masters. The divided heart seeks a balance between the secular and the spiritual. A divided heart seeks to serve both God and self. The divided heart looks to both God and self for happiness.
But Jesus warned of the danger of the divided heart, the danger of living for self. "And He was saying to them all, 'If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it. For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world, and loses or forfeits himself?'" (Luke 9:23-25)
Jesus set the perfect example of the undivided heart. For it was out of His undivided zeal for God that He cleansed the temple, fulfilling the prophecy, "For zeal for Your house has consumed me, and the reproaches of those who reproach You have fallen on me." (Psalm 69:9) Jesus took the dishonoring of His father very personally.
Jesus was focused on pleasing His Father; He lived to please Him. In John we find these words, "So Jesus said, 'When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He, and I do nothing on My own initiative, but I speak these things as the Father taught Me. And He who sent Me is with Me; He has not left Me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to Him.'" (John 8:28-29)
Jesus did not seek His own glory. Rather He sought to glorify His father. "But I do not seek My glory; there is One who seeks and judges." (John 8:50)
We note his unwavering obedience to His father, " But so that the world may know that I love the Father, I do exactly as the Father commanded Me." (John 14:31)
Again, we see His unwavering devotion to His father, even in His darkest hour, when in the Garden of Gethsemane He prayed, "… My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will." (Matthew 26:39)
Now, contrast the singular focus and devotion of Christ to our divided hearts. Our zeal is mixed. We are not focused on one thing over all. Rather, our zeal for the glory of God is very much diluted by the zeal for self: our prosperity, our honor, our glory, and our pride.
Bitterness and the Divided Heart.
In recent days, God has made it clear to me how my own heart has been divided. One of the symptoms of a divided heart is the inability to completely forgive. This is indicated when we retain bitterness over a long period of time. Bitterness is a demand for retribution, excited by painful memories. It is usually demonstrated by an angry, hateful, and an excessively critical disposition towards the offender. It might be played out in several ways:
- It might be played out mentally, where the offended person relives the painful encounter and imagines taking revenge through words and deeds.
- It might be played out verbally, where even the mention of the offender's name lead to outbursts of anger and rage.
- It might be played out sub-consciously, where bitterness over an event in the past leads one to overreact against a more current offense.
- It might be played out in conversation, where even if gossip is avoided, the offended party is zealous to describe the offender in the worst possible way.
- It might be played out socially, where the offending party is snubbed, conversation is kept short, and the offending party is deliberately excluded and isolated from his circle of friends.
These expressions of bitterness are all manifestations of revenge, and the Word of God forbids it. Bitterness is exercised in direct revolt against the love for the brethren that our Lord demands.
In most churches bitterness occurs with the frequency of the common cold. Yet, bitterness contains the potential to kill and destroy like cancer. It undermines our communion with God and blinds us to sin in our lives. It inhibits our ability to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit so that we stumble into crooked paths, as it is written, "But the one who hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going because the darkness has blinded his eyes." (1 John 2:11)
Oh, how I have struggled with bitterness, and perhaps some of you have struggled with this as well. If you do not struggle with this, then praise God for giving you a heart that forgives easily and pray for the rest of us, because in talking with many people, I am convinced that bitterness is a common problem.
Perhaps there was an ugly incident that violated your personal dignity and honor. Perhaps you were falsely accused. You were treated disrespectfully and unfairly. Perhaps you were maliciously slandered. You suffered physical injury due to someone's neglect or irresponsibility. Maybe you were the victim of someone's greed or hatred. Perhaps your childhood innocence was violated by the very ones that you should have been able to trust.
You might have responded with much grace at the time. Or perhaps you responded in kind: eye for eye, tooth for tooth, action for action, and word for word. What has happened since then?
- You forgave and got over it.
- You forgave the best you knew how, but you often find yourself reliving these moments, becoming upset and angry all over again.
- You never forgave and you never got over it.
- You struggled for a long time, trying to forgive, but now so much time has passed that it does not bother you anymore.
It is number two that I wish to address at this time: you forgave the best you knew how, but you often find yourself reliving those moments, becoming upset and angry all over again.
I will never forget the life-threatening incident that I faced several years ago while working for a company in North Carolina. Having finished my work for the day, I went to an ATM machine and took out about fifty dollars. Then I went to my car, which was in a near-by parking garage. The car always started on the first try, but this day was different. It wouldn't start. I tried to start it several times, delaying my leaving by a few minutes. Finally it started. I pulled out of the garage and drove through another parking lot to get to a different street. As I waited to turn left, I stopped to let a man walk in front of me. He motioned for me to go on. Trying to be polite, I again motioned for him to walk in front of me. He did, then he came up to my window and asked for a lift. He looked safe enough, so I let him in. Within just a few minutes, he pulled out a gun and motioned for me to pull over at a dark secluded spot. I refused. I pulled down a ramp that fed into a major highway, a much more visible place, and stopped. He told me that he would shoot me if I didn't give him my wallet. I told him that he could have the money but not the wallet. Finally, he got out of the car with just the money, and I pulled up to the closest gas station and called the police.
When the police came, rather than make an immediate effort to find the criminal, they put me through some kind of strange interrogation. It appeared that they were asking the same questions, over and over again, with minor variations, as if to trick me into contradicting myself. Then they would also misrepresent my answers so that I had to say, over and over again, "No, that is not what I said." Meanwhile, the criminal was getting away.
Later at church the following Sunday, people seemed to go out of their way in telling me what a foolish thing I had done, while no one showed the slightest compassion. One man even suggested that if I had the same relationship with the Holy Spirit that he had, I would know when to reach out to strangers and when to avoid them.
So I had anger COMING OUT ALL OVER THE PLACE! I was angry with myself for allowing this criminal to take advantage of me, I was angry with the criminal, I was angry with my church for being so aloof, and I was angry with the police for treating me so disrespectfully.
Weirdest of all, I was angry about the car not starting that day. I drove that car for several more years before it ever again failed to start. It was as if some spiritual force had kept my car from starting in order to make sure that I met this criminal at just the right time. Who knows?
On top of this, I had that demand from scripture that I forgive my enemies, joined to a pretty serious threat if I didn't. "For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions." (Matthew 6:14-15)
So I attempted to forgive. Not having any inward inclination to forgive the guy, I tried doing some positive things that exercised forgiveness:
- I asked God to forgive him.
- I prayed for the robber's conversion.
- I prayed that he would be prevented from hurting other people.
Eventually, I got over my anger with the robber. However, I was so focused on the robber that I neglected to deal with the bitterness that I now held towards police officers. This exacerbated the situation when, more recently, I was treated rudely by a park ranger in Tennessee.
I wanted to get even. It was like all the bitterness that I had failed to deal with regarding the policemen in North Carolina was now directed towards this park ranger. I tried reasoning with myself. I tried to persuade myself that both the policemen and the park ranger might have had legitimate reasons for doing what they did. But this didn't help; I was still bitter. No matter how hard I prayed, seeking to forgive the man and asking God to forgive him, deep down in my heart what I really wanted was revenge. This troubled me greatly.
So I went to the Lord about it. I asked the Lord to show me why bitterness towards this park ranger had such a hold on me and why this bad memory kept coming back into my mind. I asked him to show me why I couldn't get free from it.
Isn't it great that we can do this? Isn't it great that we are not on our own in trying to live a godly life? What a blessing to know that God is there for us. Deep inside we have Christ revealed to us though the Holy Spirit, prompting us, teaching us, leading us into all truth, and working to replace sin with holiness.
It was the kind of prayer that God delights to answer, and over time He began to reveal to me my divided heart. He took me back to that time when, as a young child, I looked up at my Dad and said, "Dad, when I get to be a grownup, I'm not going to let people push me around." I remembered the way my Dad just looked at me and said, "Son, people will run all over you."
I just shrugged my shoulders and ignored him, thinking, "He doesn't know about my plan." You see, I had a plan to study hard, make good grades, get a high paying job, and through diligence and hard work, obtain for myself power and influence. And so far, as a child, I was meeting my objectives. I was making better grades than most of my peers and seemed to be on the right track. The possibilities seemed limitless. Having noted that my classmates with influential parents were treated with greater courtesy and preference, I looked forward to similar treatment as an adult. And if anyone tried to hurt me, I would use my power and influence against him. That was my dream.
By the time I became a Christian in the third grade, this sinful pattern was so deeply engrained that I did not notice it. I merely responded to the direction it set for me.
Bitterness and Honor.
Then the Lord brought something else to my mind. He brought to my memory the day when I read a pledge that some Karate students were required to say. They would commit themselves to not using Karate against anyone except to either defend themselves or their honor. I remember puzzling over what it meant to defend one's honor.
Then it hit me: I was very much committed to defending my honor. Not only that, but my heart was divided between my commitment to defending my honor and my commitment to living for the glory and honor of God.
Bitterness remained for the sake of my honor. I retained bitterness because my honor had been assaulted and demanded satisfaction.
Suddenly I saw this self-seeking demand for my own honor as my worst enemy. It was the source of my greatest misery, the most unyielding obstacle to contentment, and a major roadblock to achieving my chief end, which is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever. This self-indulgent demand for my own honor had to go.
Then it seemed that God made me realize that I could turn each painful memory into a God glorifying moment. Each time a memory of the hurts of the past returned, I had a choice: I could let it lead me down the path of bitterness, or I could use it to glorify God.
A Different Kind of Bitterness.
There is another kind of bitterness, where no one has sinned against you. It is the bitterness you feel when your sin is exposed. It is the bitterness you experience when your honor is assaulted by the truth.
Several years ago, while our friend Clyde was working his way through seminary, his wife Valerie secured a job as a bookkeeper for a small company. Seminary was expensive and the couple badly needed the money.
One day one of the partners told Valerie that an auditor was coming and that when he came she was to give him a different set of ledger books from the ones they normally used. It was obvious that the partner was hiding something. This greatly troubled Valerie's conscience, and she talked to Clyde about it when she got home. Clyde called to mind that passage from Ephesians 5:11, which says, "Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them." Clyde agreed to go with Valerie to meet with the partners about this problem.
Not only were the partners bitter and not only did Valerie lose her job, the partners were volcanic, spewing forth cursing and blasphemy such as Clyde and Valerie had never heard before.
But these partners were non-believers. How would we respond as believers?
Several years ago a Christian friend of mine was doing something wrong and very much wanted me to take his side. I could not with a clear conscience. He was very offended and threatened to end our friendship. Then I asked him, "What kind of friend do you want: one who will tell you what you want to hear or one who will tell you the truth?"
In the end, he was wise enough to know the difference, and his bitterness was replaced with gratitude that God had given him a true friend. Hear the word of the Lord from Proverbs 27:6a, "Faithful are the wounds of a friend."
Brothers, may it be that should you catch me in sin, and should you wound my pride by confronting me, and should this embarrassment lead to bitterness, that by God's grace I will repent and say, "Faithful are the wounds of a friend."
This kind of embarrassment is likely to remain for awhile. It could easily turn into bitterness. For a while it could be a very painful memory.
Using Painful Memories for the Glory of God.
Thankfully, there are several ways to use painful memories for the glory of God:
- Each time a painful memory returns of having our sin exposed, and the sting of embarrassment tends to make us bitter, we have a chance to glorify God by humbling ourselves and by blessing the one who exposed it.
- Each time a painful memory returns, you have a chance to glorify God by replacing bitterness with love.
- Each time a painful memory returns, you have a chance to practice forgiveness by responding graciously, and kindly towards the offender, living by principle rather than by feelings, and each time you do this you glorify God.
- Each time a painful memory returns, you have a chance to overcome evil with good by praying for the offender. When we pray for our enemies we glorify God.
- Each time we endure a painful memory of great loss or an injustice, we have a chance to glorify God by demonstrating unconditional trust in Him through praise and worship.
- Each time we have a painful memory of being treated unfairly and disrespectfully, we have a chance to glorify God by laying aside present revenge in favor of God's promised future justice.
These responses demonstrate forgiveness in action. The essence of forgiveness is that you cancel the debt of retribution that you hold against the offending party. You lay aside all thought of getting even.
Ability to Forgive.
Someone might object that we cannot forgive a person until that person has repented and asked for forgiveness. I would agree that in most of the places in the Bible where forgiveness is granted or commanded, it is done in the context of someone asking for forgiveness. But I would also argue that there are several places in the scriptures where forgiveness is practiced where no one is clearly asking for forgiveness. We certainly see this in (Luke 23:34) when the crucified Jesus says, "… Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing…" Here Jesus set a clear example for how we should exercise forgiveness while suffering at the hands of our enemies. And Stephen followed His example, even while he was being stoned, crying out, "… Lord, do not hold this sin against them! …" (Acts 7:60) We must follow their examples. We must forgive immediately.
Someone else might cry out, in the midst of the pain of a shattered and broken relationship, and say, "Trust has been rewarded with betrayal, and intimacy has been replaced with dread and disgust." How can I possibly forgive?
When Christ teaches us to forgive in the Lord's prayer, he tells us to forgive one another's debts. There is a debt of retribution, and Jesus tells you to forgive it. You don't need the other person's agreement, repentance, or consent to do this. You just need to obey Jesus.
Confusion arises when we fail to see any distinction between the forgiveness of debt and reconciliation. Forgiveness and reconciliation are not the same thing. Rather, there has to be forgiveness before the process of reconciliation can even get started. Forgiveness is the prerequisite to reconciliation. The forgiveness of debt is that thing which we are obligated to do immediately, laying aside malice and revenge and committing ourselves to unconditional love. When we do this we glorify God.
We are also obligated to seek to be reconciled, to seek the restoration of Shalom in our relationships, to be peacemakers, and as much as it is within our power, to live in peace with everyone. This is the end that forgiveness makes possible. However, reconciliation requires cooperation between parties; someone needs to repent and say, "I'm sorry." Due to no fault of our own, we might not get this kind of cooperation. Nevertheless, when we seek reconciliation we glorify God, whether or not the other parties cooperate, for it is written, "Blessed are the peacemakers …" (Matthew 5:9)
Someone like Dr. Jay E. Adams, while agreeing with the specific actions that I am describing as immediate forgiveness, probably would not call it that. Rather, he would probably choose overcoming evil with good as the more biblical term. In fact he wrote a book with almost that title, "How to Overcome Evil." Adams would also maintain that we cannot truly forgive someone who has not repented. In fact, on page 28 of his book, From Forgiven to Forgiving he says, "On the cross, Jesus did not forgive; He prayed. The same is true of Stephen." Here is where I respectfully disagree with Adams, and please note that I am speaking for myself, not for the elders or for Grace Baptist Church. I would maintain that forgiveness is not what you feel; forgiveness is what you do. And when you pray for your enemies and when you, with unyielding determination to live for the glory of God, return good for evil, when you lay aside any claim to the debt of retribution, you are forgiving your enemies.
God is probably much more interested in our obedience than our terminology. However, if we fail to see this overcoming of evil with good as an aspect of immediate forgiveness, we will fail to see this as means for obeying Christ's command to forgive. By sliding this over into some category other than forgiveness, we will dilute the force of those commands and those solemn warnings that underscore the requirement that we live as people who forgive our enemies. Too much is at stake here. Sometimes a correct understanding of terminology, like the word forgive, is worth fighting for.
The Cost of Not Forgiving.
For there is a danger in not forgiving debts immediately, and I will never forget the price I have paid for failing to do this. Shortly after Steve died someone asked me to consider writing down what I might do differently, now, as a father. I have been reluctant to do this, for I have no illusion that Stephen's death suddenly turned me into an expert on parenting.
Nevertheless there is at least one thing that I would do differently. If I could father another child, there is a least one thing I would change. Never again would I discipline my child before I was certain that I had completely forgiven him of his debt to me. I would not engage in discipline until I was certain that I had laid aside all wrath, all malice, and any inclination towards bitterness.
To do less is to discipline with mixed motives. In our eyes, me might be discipling them for their own good, while deeply hidden in our hearts are those mixed motives of demanding from the child retribution for violating our authority, our dignity, and our honor.
Several days before Stephen died he made a comment that deeply hurt and offended me. While my wife dealt with it in a godly and constructive manner, I let it turn into bitterness. As a result, I badly overreacted to some fairly minor offenses during the last week we had with Stephen.
That I had overreacted was clear to me on that final Thursday of his life. I was looking forward to a chance to make up with Stephen, and I had very much looked forward to our going to the park, because we were going to talk; I was going to try to make things right with Stephen, to try to restore that sense of shalom. That was a good thing about our relationship, that no matter how badly I messed up or he messed up, we had always been able to talk and to make things right between us.
However, within ten minutes of our arrival at the park, Stephen was unconcious, and before two hours had passed, he was dead.
Parents, please learn from my mistakes. Don't use your loud voice, your anger, and your rage as a paddle. Be careful not to discipline your children in wrath. Be careful not to provoke them to frustration. You may not get a chance to make up for it.
There are many pitfalls and many mistakes that we could avoid in this life by, first, simply being committed to living for the glory of God, second, by being cautious and pro-active against those self-exalting intrusions in our motives that are over-zealous for our own dignity and honor, and, thirdly, by valuing the glory of and honor of God over everything else.
Just as clean oil and gas are essential for a car to run right, likewise, this god-centered focus is essential for us to walk right, to walk down straight paths, to be directed by God in our paths. We must acknowledge God in everything, including our motivation. And we must be zealous to take corrective action when it is clear that our motivations are self-centered rather than God-centered.
However, this will be of no value to you if it is not clear why living for the glory of God should be our singular focus.
Why We Should Live for the Glory of God.
Certainly we never really add to God's glory. There is that glory that God has in Himself, that intrinsic glory. To be God is to be glorious. He has no need of man to glorify Him.
Nevertheless, it is our privilege and calling to labor to bring glory to God through appreciating Him, adoring Him, loving Him, and obeying Him.
It is our privilege because He made us. "Know that the LORD Himself is God; it is He who has made us, and not we ourselves; we are His people and the sheep of His pasture." (Psalm 100:3)
Not only did God make us, but He made us for Himself. As it is written, "The people whom I formed for Myself will declare My praise." (Isaiah 43:21)
It is our privilege to live for the glory of God because of Christ's painful demonstration of love for us. "Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends." (John 15:13)
It is our privilege to glorify God because we are depending on Him to raise us from the dead, even as Jesus said, "… I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die..." (John 11:25-26)
However, one of the most compelling reasons is this: that Jesus died for us so that we might live for Him. For it is written, "… He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf." (2 Corinthians 5:15) Jesus died to free us to live for God rather than for ourselves.
Now, if our chief end is to live for Jesus, to live for the glory of God, then we need to be aware of what actually brings glory to Him. What is it that glorifies God?
What Glorifies God?
We glorify God when His approval is preferred over the approval of others: relatives, friends, colleagues, and peers.
We glorify God when we esteem His will over our own. This is implied in the Lord's prayer when we say, "Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven." (Matthew 6:10)
We glorify God when in all our ways, we acknowledge Him, when every response has a God-centered direction, and when every action has a God-centered focus.
Has anyone other than our Lord ever attempted to live this way?
The Life of Paul.
The apostle Paul was such a man. He knew suffering more than most of us will ever know. Hear what he said about his own struggles: "Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches. Who is weak without my being weak? Who is led into sin without my intense concern?" (2 Corinthians 11:24-29)
If anyone had reason to complain, it was Paul. If anyone had reason for bitterness, it was he. The Jews beat him five times. Yet in Romans 9, we read that Paul would even be willing to suffer damnation for their sakes, were such a thing permitted. "For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh." (Romans 9:3)
Paul overcame all these things because He was a man of one focus: he lived for Christ. He lived for the glory of God.
Christ was his very life. "For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain." (Philippians 1:21)
We see this zeal for Christ in his instructions to the Colossians, "Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve." (Colossians 3:23-24)
Again, in Colossians 3 we read, "And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him." (Colossians 3:17)
What a high calling we have -- to live for the glory of God.
Therefore, let this be the direction in which we move in the days ahead. Let us join with Paul who said, "Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 3:13-14)
To the Unregenerate.
I would speak briefly to the unsaved. You must know by now that you cannot live for the glory of God. Even your most sacrificial actions are tainted by the sin that holds you captive. Is there a stirring in your heart towards something higher than yourself? Could it be that even now, God is drawing you away from this world to serve only Him. Do you really want to place your hope in this world?
This world will never, never satisfy your soul.
Many years ago, Jonathan Edwards wrote this about the satisfaction that we find in God.
"The enjoyment of God is the only happiness with which our souls can be satisfied. To go to heaven, fully to enjoy God, is infinitely better than the most pleasant accommodations here on earth. Earthly fathers and mothers, husbands, wives, children and earthly friends, are all shadows. But God is the substance. All earthly delights are but scattered beams. But God is the sun. All earthly delights are but streams. But God is the ocean."
Won't you glorify God by repenting of your self-focused life and receiving Jesus Christ as your savior, your king, and your rightful Lord?
For the Believer That is Struggling with Bitterness.
I would speak again to the believer, especially the believer who is struggling with bitterness. You might object and say, "You have no idea what I have been through! You have no idea how people have hurt me. I will always, always be bitter! I will never get over it. Never!"
You might be right, in one sense. For example, while I know what it is like to bury my child, I don't know what it is like to lose a child to a drunken driver or to the murder's bullet.
But this is not about me, anyway. It is about Jesus Christ. He understands your heart and your pain even more than you do. And it is Jesus who says, "Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls." (Matthew 11:29)
Jesus not only taught us how to die, but He taught us how to live. And through the Holy Spirit, He will continue to teach us how to die to self and live for the glory of God, if we will just acknowledge Him and consider Him in all our ways.
The Days Ahead.
In conclusion, it is worth noting that last week (February 8, 2003) marked the second anniversary of God taking our son home to heaven. It seems that each year since that time has been marked by a theme. The theme for the first year was Hold on tight to your faith and trust in the Lord. It was a time of learning to live by faith and by principle, rather than by feeling and emotion.
The theme for the second year built upon the first. It was Draw near to the Lord; Spend Much Time in Communion with Him. It was a time of exploring the intimacy, reality, and sometimes felt experience of divine comfort. There is nothing like being comforted by Jesus Christ, Himself, and I will never forget that year. Indeed, there is no greater joy in all the world than that which is found in close fellowship with Jesus Christ.
The theme, as we enter our third year, builds upon both: living for the glory of God. There were probably times when Nan and I lived for parenthood and when we lived for Stephen. In the loss of Stephen, we were sometimes tempted to think that God had placed us on a shelf, that our season of usefulness was over, and that the primary reason for our living had been taken away. But I see clearly, now, that this is not the case at all. For there is no greater reason for living than to live for the glory of God.
In the days ahead, I look forward to exploring what this means, what it means to live for the glory of God. It is likely that I will fall down many times. My wife, Nan, reminded me that when Stephen was learning to skate at the age of five, he fell many times, but he kept getting back up. He was persistent.
Likewise, God is worthy of our persistence here, no matter how many times we fall. Let us seek to love God with our whole being: with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.
Let us serve Him with undivided hearts and with singularity of focus: His honor and glory. And in our remaining days on this earth, let us spend and be spent for the glory of God.
Recommended reading, When We Receive Injuries and Abuses from Men, from John Flavel's sermon, Keeping the Heart.