How do I stay focused on what is important to God? Part 3

“He who speaks from himself seeks his own glory; but He who seeks the glory of the One who sent Him is true, and no unrighteousness is in Him.” John 7:18

So far in our discussion about how to stay focused on what is important to God, we have learned to avoid hiding behind foolish stereotypes (John 7:14-16) and to ascertain God’s will by doing it (John 7:17). Today we learn to ASSESS THOSE WHO TEACH US (John 7:18-23). We all have teachers. We should have those who disciple us. However, we must be careful to whom we entrust ourselves. In Matthew 7:15, Jesus warns us to watch out for false prophets or teachers who are wolves in sheep’s clothing. Outwardly, they may appear to be Christians. They may be very gentle, kind, loving and quite popular, but if they are teaching a message that is contrary to Jesus’ message, they are false teachers and they are to be avoided.

Jesus gives us a clear warning – “He who speaks from himself seeks his own glory.” (John 7:18a). Jesus gives us several things to look for in a teacher:

1.  Who is the teacher seeking to glorify? Himself or God the Father? Jesus sought to glorify the One who sent Him by teaching the doctrine His Father gave Him (John 7:16; cf. 5:19-20; 12:49-50). Jesus did not seek His own glory. What Jesus taught was always true. What Jesus taught was always consistent with what His Father taught. When a person advances the ideas of another person, it glorifies his teacher rather than himself. However, when he advances his own ideas instead of his teacher’s, it dishonors his teacher and glorifies himself. When we distort or mishandle God’s Word, we are seeking our own glory instead of God’s.

For the sake of illustration, let’s say my earthly father told me to invite people to meet him for a free meal at Mullets Restaurant in Des Moines at 8 am this Saturday by using the Dart Bus local route 6, but I told everyone I knew to meet him there at 8 am this Saturday by taking the Dart Bus route 52 because it is a more popular route (which does not go to that destination). Imagine the consequences!

First, no one would make it to the right destination because I had not communicated my father’s directions correctly. Second, all of them would miss out on a free meal. Third, they would think less of my father for sending them on a bus that took them to a destination where he was not present, thus wasting their time. By failing to communicate my father’s message accurately, I would damage his reputation and cause many people to miss out on his blessings. In addition, it would draw much attention (albeit negative) to myself from both my father and those I invited. On the other hand, if I had communicated his message accurately, many would enjoy a free meal and look up to my father for being so generous and gracious.

This is much more than semantics or splitting hairs. God has chosen specific words to communicate how to spend eternity with Him in Heaven (cf. John 3:16; Acts 16:31; Ephesians 2:8-9; et al.). His word is truth (John 17:17), not our opinions. When we distort or mishandle His saving message by inserting unclear clichés such as “give your life to Christ,” “invite Jesus into your heart,” “surrender to Christ” instead of the words Jesus taught about how to obtain eternal life (believe or faith), we do not please the Lord even if that is our sincere desire. In addition, we are also making it easier for people to arrive at the wrong eternal destination. However, when we tell people the same condition for obtaining eternal life that Jesus taught (believe in Him – John 3:15-18; 5:24; 6:40, 47; 7:38-39; 11:25-26; et al.), we are glorifying Jesus Christ and the Father who taught Him, and we are giving lost people the Good News they desperately need to hear.

2. Are they telling the truth about Christ and our need for Him? Jesus claimed something about Himself that could not be said about any other person – “But He who seeks the glory of the One who sent Him is true, and no unrighteousness is in Him.” (John 7:18b). Jesus is the sinless Son of God. He is fully God and fully human. He never said, did, or thought anything wrong. Even His motives were sinless. He always sought to glorify His Father. Jesus’ listeners were the opposite of Him. They were sinners. “Did not Moses give you the law, yet none of you keeps the law? Why do you seek to kill Me?” (John 7:19). This is true of all of us. None of us can keep all of God’s laws. “For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all.” (James 2:10). No matter how well you keep the rest of God’s laws, if you fail at one point, you are considered a lawbreaker and deserving of eternal punishment. And the Bible tells us that all of us fall short of His glory or perfection (Rom. 3:23).  

So maybe you have never murdered anyone or committed adultery, but have you ever misused God’s name or have you ever failed to love Him more than anyone or anything else? Our innocence in one area does not excuse us in other areas. All of us are sinners and sinners need a Savior. Instead of looking to Jesus to save them, Jesus’ listeners were seeking to kill Him. If a teacher depreciates the Person and work of Christ (denies He is fully God who took the punishment for all our sin and rose from the dead) and denies their own sinfulness, and therefore denies the need to trust in Christ alone for salvation, they are not from God and should be avoided.

First Timothy 6:3-5 tells us: 3 If anyone teaches otherwise and does not consent to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which accords with godliness, 4 he is proud, knowing nothing, but is obsessed with disputes and arguments over words, from which come envy, strife, reviling, evil suspicions, 5 useless wranglings of men of corrupt minds and destitute of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain. From such withdraw yourself.” In other words, there is a fungus among us and they need to be avoided. If a church or denomination ever goes down this slippery slope of depreciating the Person and work of Christ by denying His deity or distorting His gospel, it will be decision time. Will we follow Jesus and His teachings or will we follow people’s opinions and traditions?

We are living in an age similar to what Paul describes: “For there is going to come a time when people won’t listen to the truth but will go around looking for teachers who will tell them just what they want to hear.” (2 Timothy 4:3 Living Bible). We need to ask ourselves when we listen to teachers at church, on TV, the radio, the internet or even in a book, “Are these teachers telling us the truth, (which is sometimes painful) or are they telling us what they think we want to hear? Are they teaching salvation by grace through faith alone in Christ alone or are they teaching a faith plus gospel?” If a teacher is focused on glorifying God, if they seek to get across what God has said so that people might be delivered from sin’s penalty and obtain the free gift of eternal life simply by believing in Jesus alone who is the true God and eternal life, then you can trust that kind of teacher.

3. Are they living by a double standard? Instead of admitting their desire to murder Jesus, the crowd lies: “The people answered and said, ‘You have a demon. Who is seeking to kill You?’ ” (John 7:20). Because Christ’s grace conflicts with their legalistic understanding, they accuse Jesus of having a demon. 21 Jesus answered and said to them, ‘I did one work, and you all marvel. 22 Moses therefore gave you circumcision (not that it is from Moses, but from the fathers), and you circumcise a man on the Sabbath. 23 If a man receives circumcision on the Sabbath, so that the law of Moses should not be broken, are you angry with Me because I made a man completely well on the Sabbath?’ ” (John 7:21-23). The religious leaders accused Jesus of violating the Sabbath by healing a man who had been lame for 38 years (see John 5). However, these same people did not feel it was a violation of the Sabbath to circumcise a child on the Sabbath. According to their logic, it was right to make one part of the body right before God, but not the entire body. Their logic was falling apart. Jesus did more for that lame man than the religious leaders did for the boy who was circumcised. They thought their act was consistent with what God desired but they couldn’t see that with Jesus. That’s a double standard.

When I was having a discussion with another pastor a few years ago, he said to me that if I was humble, I would agree with his understanding of a particular passage of Scripture. And I did agree with him about that passage. And then I asked him if he was open to understanding another passage in a way that may be new to him, and he said, “No.” This same person, who was ready to accuse me of being proud for not agreeing with his understanding of Scripture, turned around and was very close-minded to a different interpretation of Scripture. That kind of double standard inhibits growth. If we are not teachable and open to learning new insights from God’s Word, we are going to remain spiritually stunted like the legalistic Jews that Jesus was encountering.

If we are going to stay focused on what is important to God, we must avoid hiding behind foolish stereotypes (John 7:14-16), ascertain God’s will by doing it (John 7:17), and assess those who teach us (John 7:18-23). If the person who instructs us does not magnify the Person and work of Jesus Christ for the glory of God, then we are to avoid his or her teaching so we may remain focused on what is important to God.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to be wise in terms of whom I place myself under to receive instruction. Also, please enable me to resemble You in my teaching of others. May all of us who teach be consistent in teaching what You taught so You are most glorified and people will be most satisfied in You. Help us to magnify the Person and work of Jesus Christ. He is fully God and fully Man Who paid our sin debt in full so all anyone must do to have everlasting life is believe in Him alone. If other Christians depart from sound doctrine to follow those who teach what they want to hear, help us to remain faithful to Your words which give eternal life. Forgive us for closing our hearts off to Your instruction. Please give us an open heart that longs to gain new insights from Your Word so we may continue to focus on what matters most to You – Your glory and Your gospel. In Jesus’ name. Amen.  

Living life with the right priorities

“Jesus said to them, ‘My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work.’” John 4:34

During COVID-19 restrictions, I have noticed my waist line growing in size. If you are like me, you may be in the process of finding a diet plan to take off that COVID-19 fat to look good in your warm weather clothing. And there are as many diet plans out there as there are people. But that is not the case in our spiritual lives. God has one diet plan that will answer the needs of every person. His plan will reduce unwanted spiritual fat and fatigue. It will give you benefits which last far beyond this life. What is God’s diet plan?

LIVE YOUR LIFE WITH THE RIGHT PRIORITIES (John 4:31-34). While the Samaritan woman went back to her village to tell people about Jesus, Christ’s disciples focus on Jesus’ physical needs. “In the meantime His disciples urged Him, saying, ‘Rabbi, eat.’ But He said to them, ‘I have food to eat of which you do not know.’ Therefore the disciples said to one another, ‘Has anyone brought Him anything to eat?’”(John 4:31-33). The disciples were encouraging Jesus to eat and He told them that He had food to eat. The disciples are asking themselves, “How can this be? He didn’t carry any food with Him. Did that woman give Him something to eat?” Before they left to get food, Jesus was tired and hungry (John 4:6), but now food and rest was not important to Him. Whatever food Christ spoke of, they weren’t familiar with it.

Have you ever gotten so wrapped up in what you were doing that you forgot to eat? Christ was so consumed with love for lost souls He had no interest in food or rest.

As followers of Christ, we must be careful that we do not get so focused on the physical realm that we forget about the spiritual needs of others. Christ shares the key to God’s diet plan. “Jesus said to them, ‘My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work.’” (John 4:34). His focus is on doing what God wants Him to do. It was God’s will for Christ to give eternal life to the Samaritan woman and through her to the people of Sychar. Consequently, He felt no hunger while doing the will and work of God. God was seeking true worshipers (John 4:23-24) and that is why He gave the woman eternal life so she could worship the Father. Now it was time for the disciples to find worshipers for God. To eat and enjoy that task as one who eats and enjoys food was what Jesus was teaching them now. The Samaritan woman seemed to know this intuitively as she quickly went back to the village to tell others about Christ

Jesus says the priority now is to DO God’s will and FINISH His work. He is not talking about just knowing His will, but doing it. There may be 101 things you can do this week, but how can you get it all done? There is housework, homework, schoolwork, office work and church work. In a world full of things that need to be done, where do we go to get some sense of what to do first? How do we determine our priorities? Most of us just jump right in and overload ourselves. As a result, we begin to get very nervous. We say to ourselves, “Well, I will just have to try harder.”

Learn from Jesus how to determine your priorities:

1. Pray and seek wise counsel from the Lord. We can have problems determining our priorities if we are not taking time to hear God’s voice. Look at the order of determining priorities in Psalm 46:10: “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!”

a. I must be still enough to hear God’s voice.

b. I will be able to know God and what He wants me to do.

c. God will be exalted as His priorities are carried out.

2. Plan and prioritize. We need to plan. Jesus did not choose to go with His disciples. He found a quiet place and had a one-on-one conversation with the Samaritan woman. He started talking about water, because that’s what the woman came to the well for. Then He gave her water that would satisfy her forever. Prioritize and you will be able to DO and FINISH the works God has entrusted you. 

Prayer: Father God, this is such a convicting message for me. It has been a struggle maintaining the right priorities in my life lately. I can easily become preoccupied with my own physical needs and the physical needs of those close to me during this COVID-19 crisis, so that I forget about the spiritual needs of others. Thank You for the example of Jesus with the Samaritan woman. Even though He was tired from His journey, He focused on her need for everlasting life. His food was to do Your will and finish Your work. Father, I want the same food that Jesus consumed. Please show me Your will for me at this time so I may finish the work You have set before me. I believe it involves sharing Your message of everlasting life with those You have prepared to hear and believe it so they may worship You in spirit and in truth. By Your grace, help me to finish well what You have set before me so that all the glory is given to You. Thank You for hearing my prayer, Father God. In Jesus’ name. Amen.